Need-to-knows For Buying Your First Home

Buying your first home can be one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of your life, but it can also be a scary and stressful process. To ensure you have a smooth transaction from start to finish, familiarize yourself with the home buying process, note the tools and resources available to you, and get all your ducks in order. To get you started, we’ve made a list of our top three ways to set yourself up for success.

Outline Your Musts and Wants

Before starting your search, make a list of must-have and nice-to-have features for your home and neighborhood. This will help you narrow down your search early on and prevent the hunt from becoming overwhelming.

Solidify Your Financing

When starting the home buying process, ensure your finances are in order by reviewing your credit score and taking steps to boost it, saving for a down payment, and avoiding any major purchases. Then select a lender that is right for you, talk to him or her about your loan options, and get preapproved for a mortgage. Once you know your budget, you can more effectively find the right home for you.

Find a Real Estate Agent

Working with a great real estate agent can make a world of difference when it comes to navigating the ins and outs of the home buying process. With their vast background and experience and local knowledge of neighborhoods and cities, they will be your go-to resource every step of the way. By implementing these tips and remembering to enjoy the process, you can set yourself up for a great first home buying experience!

How Your Daily Drive Time Can Factor Into Your Mortgage

It’s easy to overlook some of the things that can affect your budget and purchasing power when you’re considering a home, and one of the biggest factors that buyers overlook is the cost of their daily commute.

We’ve all heard that real estate is all about “location, location, location,” and properties in more desirable locations typically come with a higher price tag than similar properties that aren’t in a hot neighborhood.

Yet the overall cost of living for choosing one location over another might be negligible when you factor in the commuting costs that are required—gas, vehicle maintenance, insurance—if you purchase a home that is significantly further from your workplace. If your mortgage is $200 less per month, but you’re spending an extra $200 in commuting costs, are you really saving money?

Commuting costs aren’t just about the disposable income left in your bank account, either. It can even affect how much money you can borrow. If you’re a long-distance commuter, a loan officer may factor your travel costs into your debt-to-income ratio.

Aside from how commuting affects your purchasing power or disposable income, there’s also the question of how it affects your quality of life—no one wants to spend hours a week just getting to and from work.

The real estate market varies greatly from location to location, so the best way to get a complete picture of your purchasing power—and all the factors that go into your home budget—is to speak to a trusted real estate professional.

Wallpaper: Don’t Call It A Comeback!

Guess who’s back, back again? Wallpaper has risen to the top of homeowners’ favorite ways to spice up a room again and its easy to see why.

Options

With a variety of colors, patterns, and styles on the market, it’s nearly impossible for you to not find one that matches exactly what you’re looking for. The texture and finish options are endless as well, ranging from silk to leather to suede to mother of pearl. Some of the wallpaper trends we are loving right now include watercolor-inspired designs that transform any room into an artistic haven and nature-forward designs that help bring the outdoors in.

Ease of Use

One of the biggest benefits of wallpaper is it is a fantastic DIY project for you and your spouse, family, or friend. Not only does it go on easily, but it is simple to remove and replace when you are ready to revamp the look of the room. Additionally, this is a great option if you’re a renting a home or apartment. Generally, landlords prefer you do not paint during your rental period, so this easy-to-remove option is a great alternative.

Value

Most wallpaper costs on average $3 to $8 per square foot, depending on the brand and the material. Although the upfront cost of wallpapering a room can be a little more than the cost to paint, the value it offers is substantial. Wallpaper can last anywhere from 15 to 25 years, making it an incredibly cost-effective décor solution in the long run, while a painted wall requires more upkeep and touch ups and generally you will need to repaint every 5 to 10 years or so.

Tips For Speeding Up Your Home Sale

Selling your home is a huge undertaking to begin with, but if the process drags on for months and interest trickles in much slower than expected, it can be frustrating and stressful. To avoid this, there are a few steps you can take to prep your home and sell quickly.

Declutter

Survey your home and store any items that are not essential to the décor of the room. This can include personal photos and mementos, excessive throw blankets or pillows, children’s artwork, vases, lamps, knick-knacks, and more. The cleaner you keep counters, shelves, and mantles, the easier it is for potential buyers to picture themselves in your house.

Paint

A fresh coat of paint on the exterior or interior of your home can go a long way and is one update you can likely do yourself for fairly cheap. Repaint your home with a neutral color, like taupe, cream, or gray, that will allow potential buyers to easily envision adding their own touches to each room.

Availability

Buyers are drawn to sellers who are flexible with showings and can accommodate their schedule on short notice. The more open you are to showing times, the more buyers will see your home and the less likely they are to choose another home before seeing yours.

Photos

First impressions are key, and the first one your home makes is generally through photos online or on flyers and brochures. Investing in a professional real estate photographer can boost interest in your home. They have an eye for design and know how to highlight your home’s strengths and move the spotlight off any flaws.

Mortgage Rate Math

Shopping around for the best possible mortgage terms is an important part of the home buying process. A few percentage points can make a difference of thousands of dollars over the life of the mortgage. Mortgage rates can be a bit of a mystery—especially for first-time homebuyers—so here’s an overview of the most important factors.

YOUR FICO SCORE

This is the part of the mortgage equation that should come as no surprise. From a lender’s perspective, your financial history is the best indicator of whether you’ll be a stable, responsible borrower. It’s the primary factor in determining your mortgage rate, so if you’re planning on purchasing a home in the near future, concentrate first and foremost on improving your FICO score.

LOCATION AND SIZE MATTERS

“Location, location, location” is an old cliché in real estate, but it also applies to mortgage rates. The city, county, and state that you live will factor into your mortgage rate. Mortgage rates can also vary among local lenders and the size of the loan will come into play. The more money you borrow, the higher your interest rate is likely to be, unless you’re also increasing your down payment.

LOAN LENGTH AND TYPE

Lenders incentivize shorter mortgage terms with lower mortgage rates, so you’ll get a more favorable rate for a 15- or 20-year mortgage versus a 30-year mortgage. If you can afford the higher monthly payment, you’ll pay much less in interest over the course of the loan term.

New Home? Here’s How To Save

Here are a few things new homeowners can do to save on energy and maintenance.

When you’ve just purchased a new home, there’s a ton on your mind. There’s moving, decorating, getting to know your new neighborhood, and more. Here are a few things that should be at the top of your to-do list, because they’ll save you a lot of money.

CHECK ON YOUR WATER HEATER

Set your water heater for 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This is plenty hot enough for bathing, washing dishes, and any other household use of hot water, so heating water above 120 degrees is a waste of energy and money. And if your water heater is an older model, it’s worthwhile to invest in a water heater blanket to keep it insulated.

REPLACE AIR FILTERS

Sellers often put in a lot of cosmetic work to get the home move-in ready, but they often skip or forget about air filters in the HVAC system. Filters can be found at your local hardware store (just make sure to get the right size) and are easy to replace. Doing so will improve air flow and quality, and save on energy costs.

GET A SMART THERMOSTAT

A smart thermostat, such as Nest, will cost you some money up front but is well worth the long-term savings. It’s programmable so that your AC and furnace run at lower levels when you’re not home, so you’re not wasting money to cool or heat an empty house.

SET UP A SPACE TO AIR-DRY CLOTHES

Whether it’s a rack in your laundry room or a clothesline in the back yard, air-drying clothes is a big money saver over even the most energy-efficient dryers. Air-drying your garments will also help them last much longer.

CHECK FOR LEAKS

A leaky faucet or a constantly-running toilet will use up water unnecessarily, and that’ll show up on your utility bill. And in the worst case, they’ll cause expensive water damage and mold.

Create The Gallery Wall Of Your Dreams

Creating a gallery wall in your home is an easy, do-it-yourself way to bring your personal style into any room. There is no right or wrong way to create one and no limit to the possibilities. Before you get started, check out the following tips for creating an eye-catching gallery wall that you will love.

Find Your Wall

Creating a great gallery wall doesn’t require a huge area to work with. Select a nook or corner in your living room, a small stretch of hallway, or your entry area.

Choose A Focal Piece

Find a favorite piece of art and use that as the center piece for your gallery wall. This could be a large canvas painting, family portrait, metal feature piece, or stylish mirror. Then choose pieces that complement and highlight it.

Determine Your Theme

Is this gallery wall going to contain artwork and images of all the same texture, color, and materials? Or are you going to mix and match different prints, photographs, décor pieces, frames, and drawings?

Decide On The Arrangement

Gallery walls usually lean one of two ways — linear and orderly or abstract and dimensional. Select the one that matches the look you’re going for and start hanging!

Tie The Room Together

Your gallery wall doesn’t have to end where the wall hits the flooring. Considering tying in other aspects of the room by coordinating colors and materials on pieces such as rugs, furniture, lamps, plants, bedding, decorative pillows, and more. Or, if you’ve already styled the rest of the room, use those colors to inspire the pieces in your gallery wall.

Big Ideas For Small Spaces

Smaller rooms can be difficult to decorate, because if you don’t know a few important tricks, the space can end up feeling a little claustrophobic. Here’s how you can keep a room feeling airy and spacious, even if it’s just a studio apartment or an attic.

Breathing Room

Your first inclination might be to arrange all your furniture flush against the walls. Though this may add a little extra room to move through the room, it’ll make everything feel more crowded and congested. Instead, try arranging items at an angle, or pull them six inches away from the wall.

Mirrors And Strategic Colors

Dark paint will make the room feel smaller. Instead, opt for whites, light grays, and other light colors. A well-placed mirror will also expand the room’s appearance—think of the times you’ve been in a restaurant and a mirror made the space look twice as large.

Multi-purpose Items

Look for storage everywhere—you can keep books and DVDs inside an ottoman, or store blankets in a bench or hollow coffee table. If you don’t have room for a dining table, you can invest in a coffee table with a pop-up section.

Raise Your Window Treatments

It’s common to hang your curtain rods just a few inches above your windows, but to make the ceilings appear taller, you can hang them just a few inches below the ceiling. It can have a dramatic effect.

Swap Out The Sofa

The sofa is likely the biggest, most unwieldy item in your living room. What if you swapped it out for a settee or a pair of comfortable chairs? You won’t lose much in functional seating, but you’ll gain some precious space and room for foot traffic.

What Affects Your Home Insurance?

Research suggests that about 1 in 20 homeowners will make an insurance claim each year. So while it may seem that your monthly home insurance expenses aren’t worthwhile, the chances of needing your insurance are higher than you might think.

There’s are countless factors that influence your insurance rates, so here are few examples—some you’ve probably considered, and some that might be surprising.

Location: Some areas are simply naturally more prone to damage than others. Potential for weather and natural disaster-related damage will factor into your insurance, as will crime rates and fire protection.

Home value: This may seem like a no-brainer at first glance, but there are some extra considerations. The value of your home and the cost to replace your home from a total loss may not be the same—it can often cost more to rebuild.

Pets: Just like certain HOAs and neighborhoods forbid specific dog breeds, your insurance company may also increase your premiums for a specific breed. Breeds with reputations for being aggressive (fair or not) like pit bulls, German Shepherds, and rottweilers can cost you more.

Trampolines and swimming pools: All that fun comes at a price! Insurance companies see trampolines and pools as big risks for injury and even death, and that’ll affect your insurance rates.

Thinking About Buying Soon? Make Sure Your Credit Is In Order

There’s no more important time to work on your credit score than when you’re about to apply for a mortgage. Improving your credit can save you a ton of money—we’re talking about thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. Here are the actions you can take that will have a notable impact on your score.

Pay Down Your Credit Card Balances

Credit utilization is one of the biggest factors in determining your credit score. Your credit utilization should at least be less than 30 percent of your limit, and it’s even better if you can get it below 15 percent. This rule applies to both individual cards and your overall credit limit.

It may even be worthwhile to use some of the cash funds you were planning to use for a down payment to pay off credit card balances.

Do No Harm

While you certainly want to improve your score if possible, at the very least you’ll want to keep it steady. Avoid opening new lines of credit if you’re applying for a mortgage in the very near future. This will cause a hard inquiry to show up on your credit report.

Take Care Of Negative Items

It’s good practice to check your credit report for negative items a few times a year—you can get one free report from each of the three major bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) per year.

If you find any negative items (collections, late payments, etc.), write a letter to the original creditor. Explain the circumstances that led to the negative item, and request that it be removed from your report. It can be surprisingly effective, and removing a negative item will improve your credit score in a hurry. You can find some good templates for a request letter online.