Date Archives: January 2015

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January
30

Buying a home is a huge milestone – especially if you are buying for your first time. Although buying a home is exciting, there is a lot to keep track of and manage. It's imperative to have a solid team behind you. Aside from having an excellent real estate agent to guide you through showings and the closing process, there are other essential people that you should have on deck.     Meet your home buying team:   1. Real estate agent: Your agent will help you research the homes that cater to your needs, negotiate with the seller, and help you find the rest of your home buying team. (Learn more about how your agent can help you.)   2. Lender: If you're purchasing a home, you will most likely need a loan. Your lender can come from your bank, mortgage company, credit union, etc. Once you apply for a loan the lender will then decide if you qualify.   3. Home Inspector: An inspector will make sure that the home you hope to purchase is in good shape. Even if the seller has already had the home inspected, it's a good idea to have someone else double-check and triple-check.   4. Appraiser: An appraiser will determine a "fair price" for the home by evaluating the home and comparing it to similar homes on the market. It is best to have an appraiser come before you negotiate with the seller.   5. Attorney: Your attorney will write contracts, settle any disputes, and review all documents before the closing.   6. Escrow officer: An escrow officer takes care of everything happening during escrow-the amount of time between when the purchase contract is signed and the date of the closing. The officer works for both the buyer and seller. Their main job is to hold onto all the documents and money during escrow, making sure that everything is taken care of.   With a team of professionals to take you step by step through the process, you'll have a very positive home buying experience so that you can enjoy what matters most – your new home.   Source: https://blog.century21.com/2015/01/how-to-build-a-winning-home-buying-team/
January
20

If you're considering a home improvement project, you may need a permit. Permits can cost as little as $25 and up to $1,000 or more, or can be calculated as a percentage of the total remodeling budget.   Remont   How do you know if you need a permit? Permits are generally not necessary for projects that update the aesthetics of the home, such as new appliances, flooring and carpeting. Major renovations, such as a kitchen or bath remodel, almost always need a permit. A good rule of thumb is to evaluate whether the project will disrupt the layout of the home, i.e., cutting a new window or tearing down a load-bearing wall.   For safety purposes, some municipalities require permits for projects that can affect the wellbeing of the home's occupants. These projects include things like electrical wiring, plumbing or a new fence.   If you'll be enlisting the help of a qualified contractor, research their practices before hiring. Don't be afraid to ask for the contact information of the person responsible for pulling permits, and verify that they are, in fact, playing by the book. Your contractor should also tell you if their estimate includes permit fees – if not, ask.   If you're going to complete the work yourself, always check with your local permitting department before beginning any project. Talk to someone who can tell you whether a city inspection is necessary and what documents are needed before you apply. Source: Homes.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
18

(BPT) - The average American spends an hour a day in the kitchen preparing food and cleaning up afterward, according to the American Time Use Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Add in the time it takes to put groceries away, load and unload dishwashers, organize cabinets and pantries or just hang out, and you spend a whole lot of time in your kitchen.   Modern Kitchen with a hardwood floor.   But do you really enjoy that time? Whether cooking is your favorite activity or you would rather clean the bathroom, the livability and usability of your kitchen can directly affect how you feel about the time you spend there.   If you're considering a kitchen renovation - among the most popular and profitable of all home improvements - keep in mind the value of upgrades that will enhance the efficiency, practicality and beauty of the space. This type of improvement will not only pay off at the time of resale, but can improve the time you spend in your kitchen.   Here are three key kitchen upgrades that can elevate the appeal and usability of your kitchen:   Improved natural lighting and ventilation The positive effects of natural lighting on mood are well documented. If your kitchen is small and dark, it can feel dingy and tired, no matter how new your appliances or shiny your granite countertops. Consider adding natural light sources such as skylights and roof windows. Not only can these natural light sources improve the feel of your kitchen, they can decrease the need for artificial lighting.   What's more, if you opt for an Energy Star-qualified, solar-powered fresh air skylight, like those made by Velux, you can improve your kitchen's ventilation as well. These skylights create a chimney effect that passively vents fumes, odor, humidity and cooking smoke from the kitchen without the need for a noisy, less efficient exhaust fan. Adding energy efficient solar blinds can allow you to control the amount of sunlight that enters your kitchen, closing the blinds to keep the room cooler in summer and opening them to admit more warming light in winter. Operated by remote control, solar skylights and blinds, as well as the installation costs, are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit. Visit www.veluxusa.com to learn more.   Upgraded fixtures Sinks and faucets are functional essentials for a kitchen, but they can - and should - also make a design statement. Replacing a basic, dated faucet and swapping out an older sink can have a significant impact on the overall look and utility of a kitchen - for a fraction of the cost of grander renovations.   It's possible to find new sinks that fit virtually any design taste. Stainless steel provides a sleek, modern look while delivering outstanding durability. Apron sinks, which come in a variety of materials, blend well with a rustic design theme. Undermount and integrated sinks eliminate unsightly edges on countertops. You can also find a variety of basin styles in virtually every material, from single to double basins and prep sinks.   Whatever sink you choose, be sure to accent it with a high-tech faucet. Pull-down faucets make cleaning and filling pots a breeze, while touch-free faucets allow you to turn the flow of water off and on without ever touching the faucet itself - thereby avoiding the spread of germs. A vast array of colors, styles and handle types ensure you can find an upscale faucet that improves usability and looks great in your kitchen.   Energy-efficient appliances Appliances are a kitchen element well worth a little extra investment. Considering how much the average American family uses their refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave and stove, improving the usability and efficiency of these appliances can both elevate your enjoyment of the kitchen and save you some money in the long run.   In the typical American home, appliances represent 13 percent of the household's total energy consumption, according to the Department of Energy. Replacing older appliances with newer, more energy-efficient models can reduce your energy costs. For example, replacing an older refrigerator with an Energy Star certified appliance could reduce your energy costs as much as $300 over the lifetime of the refrigerator, according to the Department of Energy.   What's more, newer appliances offer many of the high-tech features that make life in the kitchen easier, from touchscreen interfaces and temperature controls on dishwashers to Wi-Fi enabled refrigerators. For more kitchen ideas visit www.houzz.com.
January
16

(BPT) - When buying a first home, most people are making one of the biggest purchases of their lives. Without home buying experience, it's hard to separate fact from fiction.     'Buying a first home can be exciting and stressful for most young buyers, especially the financing process,' says Clete Thompson, vice president at imortgage, a division of loanDepot LLC. 'There's a lot of paperwork, many choices, and sometimes budgets don't stretch very far. Our licensed loan officers specialize in helping first-time buyers navigate the home finance process, which can be stressful if you're not working with a seasoned professional.'   To help first-time buyers, the experts at imortgage are uncovering prevalent myths about financing a home purchase:   Myth: It takes a 20 percent down payment to buy a home. Reality: Required down payment amounts vary by type of loan and they are on average much smaller than people think. Last year, the median down payment for all first-time buyers was 6 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. One reason is that many first-time buyers use FHA loans, which require down payments as low as 3 to 3.5 percent. VA loans require nothing down for qualified veterans or active military personnel. If you want to take out a conventional loan, many lenders do require 20 percent down, but you can lower that percentage with private mortgage insurance. There are also hundreds of down payment assistance programs that eliminate or reduce down payment requirements for qualified borrowers.     Myth: If you owe a lot of student loan debt, there is no way you can get a mortgage. Reality: Don't assume that having a lot of student loan debt automatically disqualifies you from getting a mortgage. The key factor is not necessarily the size of your loan obligation, but the amount of your total monthly debt payments compared to your monthly income. This is called DTI. imortgage, for example, has approved thousands of loans to first-time buyers whose monthly student loan payments were as high as $300, and many more could qualify by increasing their monthly income.     Myth: If your credit score is low, you should not even try to get a mortgage. Reality: Millions of potential buyers assume they will not be approved for a mortgage even though many could qualify, according to a national survey commissioned by loanDepot LLC. Today, median FICO scores for mortgages to buy a home are 683 for FHA loans and 754 for conventional loans. But hundreds of thousands of buyers with scores lower than those are getting mortgages if they have good income and low levels of debt.     Myth: Buying a home isn't a good investment. Reality: Real estate, like other assets, rises and falls based on supply and demand. Over the past two years, home values in most markets have been rising. While all real estate is local, if you bought a home in March 2012, by August 2014 the national median home price as measured by Case-Shiller had risen 29.6 percent.     Myth: The mortgage-interest tax deduction is going away. Reality: Though the deduction has its critics, most observers believe it is unlikely that Congress will eliminate the mortgage interest deduction any time soon. Many states also allow homeowners to write off the interest they pay on their mortgages from their state income taxes. Check with your accountant or CPA on if you can qualify for this type of tax deduction.     Myth: I'm about to get married and the wedding is so expensive I won't be able to buy a home. Reality: According to TheKnot, the average wedding has 138 guests who typically give a gift valued at $100 each. That's $13,800 in spatulas, baking pans and other things. If every guest contributed to a Down Payment Fund, you could have enough saved for a down payment on a $276,000 home in San Diego.     'These are just a few of the myths about home buying that surface frequently in our conversations with first-time buyers,' says Thompson. 'I always advise potential buyers, especially first- time buyers, to get in touch with one of our local imortgage loan officers if they're interested in straight answers to specific questions about financing a home. We are here to help.'
January
11

(BPT) - Unless you majored in accounting, the thought of filing your own income tax return may evoke feelings similar to your first job interview. Though understandable, this is an unfounded fear, given the simple taxes most individuals have in their early to mid-20s and the easy digital tax programs available.   Tax accounting   "All you need to file your own tax return is a little self-confidence, the desire to get your maximum refund, and a computer or mobile device," says TaxACT spokesperson Jessi Dolmage. "You're well qualified to do your taxes because you're the expert of your finances."   Follow these tips to successfully file your taxes for the first time and every year after that.   Don't procrastinate. Waiting until the last minute causes undue stress, and rushing increases the potential for typos and overlooked information. While you can do your taxes in one fell swoop, it's unnecessary. Online tax programs save as you go, so you can stop and finish at your leisure. You may reap benefits from starting early because many tax programs point out potential savings requiring action before December 31 or April 15.   Compare tax products before using them. Read expert and user reviews. Look at the situations and tax forms each includes, as some require you to upgrade for certain forms. If you have to file a state return, compare prices. Using a mobile filing app? Choose one that also provides access to your data on a browser for convenience and peace of mind in case you lose your smartphone or tablet.   Gather all forms and documents. Before starting your return, compile all tax forms and documents, including:  
  • Form W-2 from your employer (Received by January 31)
  • Form 1099 if you're self-employed or a contractor
  • Form 1098-E from your lender if you've paid student loan interest (Even if you don't receive this form, you can still deduct interest paid.)
  • Form 1098-T for tuition paid and scholarships or grants received
  • Statements for retirement savings accounts
  • Receipts for charitable donations
  After filing, keep these papers or make electronic copies to save with a copy of your return. Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
7

Following a move by mortgage lenders to loosen standards for homeowners, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae will begin backing home loans with down payments as low as three percent. This could bode well for the millennial generation, many of whom have yet to own their first home.     "This is exactly what our industry needed to propel millennials into homeownership for the first time and to keep Main Street growing and thriving," said Don Frommeyer, CEO of NAMB – The Association of Mortgage Professionals.   Under the new programs, first-time homebuyers and low- and moderate-income individuals who finance a fixed-rate mortgage can expect a less stringent lending process as opportunities for loan approvals without the required five percent down payment become readily available.   Applicants seeking the lower down payment must demonstrate an ability to repay the loan, secure mortgage insurance and attend pre-purchase counseling.   Source: NAMB Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
4

(BPT) - Making a New Year's resolution is common, and many people set goals for ways to improve themselves. If you have set a goal to lose weight, learn a new skill or get promoted, congratulations. But while you are striving to attain your personal goal, have you ever thought of setting a goal to refresh your home in a way that will have your friends talking?     Setting a home improvement goal is more common than you may think and you can make a dramatic improvement to your home with a complete remodel. You can take on several smaller projects - any time of the year - that will leave you loving your home all year long. Here are a few ideas to get you going.   * A fresh coat of paint. Nothing reinvents a room like a fresh coat of paint. Yet many people put off painting a room because they can't afford professional painters and they don't have time to do the job themselves. But you can achieve that professional quality finish at a fraction of the time and cost by visiting RentalHQ.com and renting your own paint sprayer. Use your sprayer to add a neutral color, which provides visual appeal and works with most furniture patterns, leaving you plenty of decorating options.   * Change hardware. Faucets and cabinet hardware can quickly date a room. Replacing hardware can add beauty to your kitchen without adding a lot of extra cost. Be sure to find knobs and pulls that are the same size as the existing ones so you don't have to re-drill the cabinets. Do this for any furniture and in any room for an instant decor face-lift.   * Replace old tile. Outdated tile can make a bathroom look old and dull. Replacing it with new tile that is in style will give the space a rich, modern look. Tiling is a DIY project that anyone can tackle with the right tools. Rent the necessary items like a tile stripper, a tile saw and a mortar mixer to keep your costs down.   * Update curtains and blinds. Textiles play a major role in the overall decorating scheme of a room. New window treatments offer an inexpensive way to introduce bold color and patterns for an instant refresh. Pair your new curtains with decorative throw pillows for a striking impact to the living room.   * Recreate your flooring. If your carpet doesn't need to be replaced but it could use a little refreshing, cleaning your carpets will do the trick. If you can't afford to hire professional carpet cleaners or you feel like taking on the project yourself, renting a carpet cleaner can give your carpets the professional look you've been dreaming of. And if you have hardwood floors that need to be refurbished, renting a floor sander is an excellent first step for this project.   Home improvement projects do not have to include a complete overhaul to provide a new look. These smaller projects will dramatically improve your home all year long. To learn more about the tools you can rent for your next project and to see more ways those tools can help you, visit rentalhq.com.   Published with permission from RISMedia.
January
1

  With uncertainty over mortgage rates growing and new Fannie- and Freddie-backed programs rolling out next year, those seeking to buy a home will continue to contend with changing standards. If you're planning to become a homeowner, take these steps before borrowing. 2015 1. Get preapproved. Stay ahead of the game by actually getting preapproved for a loan – not by getting an estimate from a lender. Not sure if you've been officially preapproved? Take note of what your mortgage professional does – if your credit report was submitted to an underwriter, you're in good shape.   2. Don't alter your credit habits. Don't risk hurting your credit score while securing a mortgage. Keep all balances within normal range and avoid opening or closing credit cards – your debt-to-income ratio may suffer. 3. Avoid moving funds. To mitigate your financial liability, put off moving funds until after you've closed on the home. That means no cashing out on investments, retirement accounts or CDs. Additionally, don't use your savings to pay off debt or fund a CD – this can be a red flag to lenders.   4. Get your down payment gift early. If family is helping you with a down payment, have them deposit the money in your account more than two months prior to applying for a loan. You'll avoid hassle with the banks trying to track down the source of the funds.   5. Create a PDF of all documents. Round up all documents related to your finances: bank statements for checking, savings and investment accounts, pay stubs, W-2s, tax returns and canceled rent checks. Compile these into one PDF for your lender's convenience.   6. Be prepared to write letters. Lenders will want to know details about every potentially harmful financial scenario before approving your loan. If there are any discrepancies in your financial history, such as frequent moves in a short amount of time or a substantial monetary gift, be prepared to explain these situations thoroughly in a letter.   7. Cut costs on mortgage insurance. The new Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage programs require as little as three percent for a down payment – but insurance premiums through the FHA will come at a higher cost. Opt for private mortgage insurers, which generally have cheaper premiums.   Source: Bankrate.com Published with permission from RISMedia.

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