Date Archives: July 2016

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July
27

In life and in real estate, first impressions matter. Before placing your home on the market, it's worth taking a look at the paint on the outside, which may have been impacted by elements from the past winter. "If you've been huddled inside for the past few months, you may not be aware of the price your exterior paint has paid keeping winter weather at bay," says Debbie Zimmer, paint and color expert with the paint Quality Institute. "Freeze-thaw cycles, rain, sleet and snow can cause paint to fail quickly, especially if you didn't use top-quality paint to begin with." Zimmer suggests starting by inspecting for flaking or peeling paint on the exterior siding and trim. If the compromised paint is confined to a small area, a touch-up may be all that's needed. Begin any touch-up project by scraping off loose paint, then sanding the edges smooth, Zimmer explains. Next, prime any areas where bare wood is visible, and then apply a coat of leftover paint. If the paint damage is beyond touch-up repair, Zimmer advises re-painting the home sooner rather than later. "Assuming that you're a do-it-yourself painter, you'll find it much more comfortable to do your surface preparation and painting now, when the weather is mild," Zimmer says. "Your paint may even last longer if you act quickly.  Exterior paints tend to 'cure' better in moderate temperatures, which enables them to form an especially durable paint film." It's doubly important to act fast if you plan to hire a painter, Zimmer adds. Professionals tend to book up this time of year. No matter which route you choose, don't skimp on the product—it will make all the difference. "A top-quality 100-percent acrylic latex paint will provide the best-looking and longest-lasting results, no matter where it is used," Zimmer says. Source: Paint Quality Institute

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.

July
27

Real estate is again the most popular investment option among Americans who do not need money for 10 or more years, ahead of cash, precious metals, stocks and bonds, Bankrate.com recently reported. Preferred investment options, ranked by Americans in the Bankrate.com report, are: • Real Estate (25 percent) • Cash (23 percent) • Precious Metals/Stocks (16 percent) • Bonds (5 percent) "The preference for real estate is well-suited for investment horizons of more than a decade, but the apathy many investors feel towards the stock market is detrimental to achieving their long-term financial goals," said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com's chief financial analyst, in a statement. "Yes, the market is volatile, but the market has rewarded long-term investors that show patience and discipline." Cash, second in terms of preference in Bankrate.com's report, are not a sustainable long-term investment, McBride added. "While cash investments are entirely appropriate for short-term needs, such as an emergency fund, they are completely inappropriate for long-term investment horizons. Returns on cash investments often trail the rate of inflation, with savers losing buying power as a result," said McBride. In the report, households with an annual income of $50,000 or less tended to side with cash investments. Older age groups, including millennials aged 26 to 35, tended to favor real estate. Source: Bankrate.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
July
27

When homes sell in minutes and accept offers way over list price, how do you stand a chance? I work in one of the most competitive markets in the country and have seen how frustrated buyers can become. After seeing a few horror stories myself, here are five tips that will help manage expectations (for both buyers and agents) and make their journey smoother and more enjoyable. The Learning Curve In this new age of technology, buyers are drowning in information and starving for wisdom. The majority of buyers I work with today have done their homework, but unfortunately, they did all the work before the first day of class. As a buyer, you need to learn how to utilize your agent, your lender, your inspectors, etc., to get the information and guidance you need. Now, this isn't to say you can't get to the finish line all by yourself, but you're going to wind up with a lot more gray hairs. Obsession with Comps In the market where I work (Los Angeles), I separate my buyer clients into two categories: New buyers and veteran buyers. A new buyer will ask questions like, "What are the comparable sales in this area?" "Isn't that house overpriced?" "What do you think it will sell for?" New buyers want to know the exact "fair market value" of a home and not pay a penny over that amount. A veteran buyer will ask questions like, "What do the sellers need from us?" and "What will it take to get this home?" They've gone through the romance of the process, written offers, and lost many times before. They're tired of playing "arts and crafts" (writing offers) and ready to actually buy a home. At the end of the day, one of these people will end up with a new house. The other will end up with an appraisal. Which one would you rather have? Leverage Your Agent As a buyer, your agent might know the listing agent and have insight about how they operate. Even though the seller is calling the shots, the agent will find ways to add their flavor to the negotiations. Every agent has his strong suit, so make sure you leverage it as a buyer. For example: Are they good at numbers and finance? Have them use that skill when writing offers and communicating that value with the other side. Are they funny and likeable? Make sure they're on the phone with the other side as much as possible building a relationship. It really isn't about "playing hardball." All things being equal, people do business with people they like. Oh, and let's talk about the "Listing Agent Groupies." These are buyers who go straight to the listing agent. It sounds good because the agent gets a big incentive to "double end" the deal and increase their income. But just so you know, the agent's allegiance is to their seller. Also, in a competitive market, you'll find fewer and fewer listing agents who want to represent a buyer. My advice: Find an agent you trust and would like to represent you throughout the entire process. The Disappearing Price Range In a very hot market, you can almost see the prices moving upwards. For example, in 2014, an online brokerage named Eagle Rock, Los Angeles the No. 2 most popular neighborhood in the entire country. Later that year, we heard people say things like, "One of the last homes under $500,000." As you might imagine, that home didn't stay on the market very long and probably sold for well over $500,000. If that was your budget, you were an "endangered species" and would soon find yourself completely priced out of the market. When that happens, you either raise your budget or you find a new place to look. Expect Issues during Your Transaction When it comes to buying and selling real estate, there is one thing that I am sure of: there will be issues. I can almost guarantee that at one point of the transaction, the whole thing will be hanging by a thread. This is very common and is almost expected. (You've been warned.) Just like on an airplane, keep your seatbelt buckled because there will be turbulence. When things get bumpy, look to your agent for advice or even to simply hear someone say that everything is going to be OK. Now, you might hear other agents talk about a smooth transaction, but just know that phrase is relative. A smooth transaction to a real estate agent might be a deal that closes and the house is still standing afterwards. Your definition might be a little different. Obviously there are a million other tips that we could go into about buying in a competitive market, but the main takeaways here are to be reasonable, roll with the punches, and work together with your agent. Most agents live and breathe real estate, so hold them close as your most valuable resource. Tyler Harman is a Los Angeles real estate agent focusing on the hottest and busiest areas of Los Angeles including Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Los Feliz, etc. Tyler follows city-wide real estate trends and writes about the popular neighborhoods in L.A. This post was originally published on RISMedia's blog, Housecall. Check the blog daily for top real estate tips and trends.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.

July
27

There's no better time than back-to-school season to organize for the upcoming school year. Begin with these five back-to-school, get-organized tips from the experts at Merry Maids: 1. Draw up a family calendar to keep schedules on track throughout the year. Hang it within view of all members of the household, including your child(ren), so that they know—and can change, if needed—appointments or obligations. 2. Set up color-coded files for your child(ren) to store assignments and projects as they come in through the year. Clear out the folders periodically, either over the weekend or over school vacations. 3. Organize a school supply cabinet with labeled baskets or bins. This will come in handy at homework time, guide your child(ren) during clean-up, and help you take stock when items need replenishing through the year. 4. Establish a time to pack lunches for the entire week—and enlist your child(ren) to help prepare them. Store the lunches in an accessible area in the refrigerator, so your child(ren) can grab-and-go each morning. 5. Designate a day each week for your child(ren) to participate in household chores—folding the laundry, picking up their toys, or setting the table, depending on their age and ability. Putting school-time routines in place now not only starts the year off stress-free, but also ensures your household stays well-ordered in the months to come. Start with these tips! Source: ServiceMaster Global Holdings, Inc.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.

July
27

Did you know water can enter and damage your home at any time, whether your house is in a low-lying area or otherwise? "There are common water hazards that every homeowner faces at one time or another," explains Michael Petri of Petri Plumbing and Heating, Inc. "It's a lot simpler than many people think to waterproof their homes and avoid those issues." Waterproofing your home not only guards it against flooding, but also eliminates unseen internal leaks. (Leaks, in fact, account for close to 15 percent of the average household's water use.) To waterproof your house, Petri recommends: Scanning Pipes – Walk your property and note areas of mud or soil erosion, or wet spots on the driveway. These findings could indicate a broken pipe, which will require the services of a professional plumber to remedy. Inspecting Sprinkler Heads – Look for vibrant green vegetation or moss growth on or around the sprinkler heads on your property. These may be signs of broken heads or damaged valves leaking into the ground (and potentially breaching your home). Testing Toilet(s) for Leaks – Drip a few drops of food dye into the tank of the toilet. Wait 20 minutes; if a leak is found, replace the valve inside the tank. These three types of leaks can develop in any house, both new and older, or on any property. If you suspect an irrigation or underground leak, call a professional plumber as soon as possible for help—continuous leaking can not only lead to extensive damage, but also can result in additional month-to-month costs. Source: Petri Plumbing and Heating, Inc.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.

July
27

Homes are selling an average of a week faster than they did a year ago, meaning home shoppers should be prepared to move quickly in a competitive housing market, according to the June Zillow® Real Estate Market Reports. Tight inventory continues to be a major factor for home shoppers. The supply of homes for sale is nearly 5 percent lower than it was a year ago, and 38 percent lower than its peak level in 2011. With fewer available options, home shoppers are moving quickly to buy homes, with the average U.S. home closing after 78 days on the market. The 78-day average includes the time it takes to close, which is usually one or two months after the home goes under contract. This means that homes are pending within about a month of being listed. The length of time homes stay on the market before selling has been steadily decreasing since 2010, when homes took an average of five months to sell. The average time home buyers had in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C. dropped by at least wo weeks, the biggest change among the largest U.S. metros. The low inventory and quick-moving market combine to create a competitive home shopping market, especially for potential buyers looking for less expensive homes. The most expensive third of the market has experienced the smallest drop in available inventory compared to the rest of the market. "Homes are selling faster than ever as the home shopping season hits its peak," says Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. "If you're looking for a home, be prepared to move quickly. Adding to this difficult buying environment is low inventory – there simply aren't many homes to choose from. And while this looks like a good time to be a seller, potential move-up buyers may hesitate to list their homes and become buyers. Until the supply increases, it will remain a tough market to find a home." Tips for buyers in a competitive market Meet with your lender early and get pre-approved for a loan – even before you begin seriously shopping for your new home. Work with an agent who has expertise in the local market. Read reviews on local agents and find someone with a successful record in a tough market. Request to pre-inspect a home before submitting an offer. You risk losing a few hundred dollars if you end up not wanting the house; but if you do, you'll be able to submit an offer not contingent on home inspections. The limited supply of homes is driving home values higher. The average U.S. home is worth $187,000, a 5.4 percent increase from June 2015. Home values have been increasing at 5 percent or faster on an annual basis for the past eight months. For more information, visit www.zillow.com/research/. Published with permission from RISMedia.
July
27

Regardless of the size of your kitchen remodel, adding an island to your design is one of the best things you can do to make your home more livable. There are many ways to fit an island into your kitchen. Here are some types of kitchen islands to consider: 1) Go traditional. If you have a small kitchen, you may not think you have room for a separate island. But even spatially limited kitchens have space for an island. Choose an appropriately sized island that blends well with the rest of the room. The blend-in strategy works best for small kitchens, so choose colors and materials that are similar to what you already have. Whether you blend a butcher-block kitchen island into a wood-grain kitchen or select a small, black granite island to complement your black and white kitchen, you will end up with a stunning result. 2) Add more storage. Many older kitchens suffer from two distinct, but interrelated, problems: a lack of room and a lack of storage space. You can solve both problems by converting an old table into a stunning kitchen island. Just add some storage shelves underneath one side of the table and some barstools to the other side. You can top off your new kitchen island with a stunning butcher block or sturdy granite top. This idea works well in all kinds of kitchens – just choose a smaller table for a tiny kitchen and a larger one for a roomier space. 3) Build in versatility. One of the smartest things you can do is make your kitchen island versatile enough to serve a variety of different uses. Position your island to help with meal prep, provide additional storage space and even offer a place for your children to do their homework. You can please everyone by using various bench heights in your new kitchen island. Higher barstools will allow your kids to do their homework, while low-slung benches will help you to prepare meals or enjoy a romantic dinner with your significant other. 4) Create a private area. Whether you want to give the kids a private space to do their homework or create a cozy cooking nook for yourself, you can use your kitchen island to create a sense of privacy and block off a new space. You can use your kitchen island to create a sense of openness. But sometimes it can do the opposite. If your kitchen is already fairly open, walling off a corner is a great way to restore a sense of privacy. 5) Use it for cooking. Kitchen islands also provide extra room for prep work. Be sure to choose an island that can withstand sharp objects and hot pots and pans. A butcher-block counter, for example, is great for cutting up meats and baking prep work. You can use your kitchen island in many different ways. Whether your kitchen is small and cozy or large and open, you can design a kitchen island that fits your needs, brings your family together and enhances the livability and value of your home. This post was originally published on RISMedia's blog, Housecall. Check the blog daily for top real estate tips and trends. Published with permission from RISMedia.
July
27

Did you know approximately 40 percent of employees telecommute to the office? Remote work has made the home office a necessity for many of us, but without space to spare, dedicating an area for work can be difficult. Enter the multi-tasking office—not only functional during working hours, but also practical for a range of activities, from entertaining to exercising. To make a multi-tasking office in your home: Use every square inch. Work with the room's existing layout—tuck a desk into an attic dormer, for example, or convert a closet into a workspace. Divide the room visually. Cordon off work space with curtains, a folding screen or partition, concealing other areas of the room not in use while "at the office." Look up. Make use of wall space for maximum storage. To stay organized while the room is not an office, install layered shelving on just one accent wall. Go mobile. Attach locking coasters to the desk and other furniture; this will make moving pieces simple when it is time to repurpose the space. Double up. Turn the space into a guest bedroom—take a break (or host clients) on a compact daybed that doubles as a sofa, or install a stowaway Murphy bed against the wall. Source: Brandpoint Published with permission from RISMedia.
July
27

What makes a homeowner happy? A safe community? A short commute? What about walkability? The answer is all of the above, according to HomeAdvisor.com's recently released Homeowner Happiness Index, an industry indicator ranking the happiest cities in the nation. "A homeowner's quality of life is more likely to be dependent on their community and access to important attractions and services than it is on the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in their home," said Dr. Karen Ruskin, HomeAdvisor's happiness expert, in a statement. Square footage is indeed less of a factor in determining a homeowner's happiness, the Index shows. Natural light, on the other hand, is an important consideration—naturally-lit homes tend to appear more spacious. The Index also reveals a happiness trend among empty-nesters and married couples without children, who reported feeling satisfied more so than other homeowners. "Empty-nester homeowners feel most connected with their neighborhoods and are most satisfied with the condition of their homes," Ruskin said. "They have likely settled in a community they enjoy and in which they plan to stay—and they generally have the most economic stability and time available to make their houses happy homes." Homeowners in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, St. Louis and Seattle are among the happiest, according to the Index. "Our research shows that homeowners are happiest in urban cities with good weather, an active culture, arts scene and higher income levels," said Ruskin. Homeowners outside of these areas don't have to capture happiness in a bottle to feel a higher sense of satisfaction. Simple improvements, such as outfitting the home for entertaining, can make a world of difference. To find out where your city ranks on HomeAdvisor's Happiness Index, visit HomeAdvisor.com/survey. Source: HomeAdvisor.com Published with permission from RISMedia.
July
27

The U.S. Census Bureau recently unveiled the latest national annual data on the characteristics of new, privately-owned residences, gathered in the 2015 Survey of Construction (SOC). The SOC's statistics divulge trends in homebuilding, painting an insightful portrait of the American home today. According to the SOC, the median size of a single-family house built last year is 2,467 square feet. Of the 648,000 single-family homes built last year: • 600,000 have air conditioning • 282,000 have at least four bedrooms • 246,000 have at least three bathrooms • 183,000 have a fiber-cement exterior • 137,000 have an open foyer • 122,000 have a patio and porch • 66,000 have at most two bedrooms • 25,000 have at most one and one-half bathrooms The median size of a single-family house sold last year is 2,520 square feet, according to the SOC. Of the 501,000 single-family homes sold last year: • 453,000 are detached homes • 348,000 were paid for with conventional financing • 327,000 have a two-car garage • 278,000 have two stories • 200,000 have one story • 131,000 have at least a three-car garage • 49,000 are attached homes • 42,000 were VA-guaranteed • 24,000 have at least three stories The median sale price of a new single-family house sold last year was $296,400—the average sale price, conversely, was $360,600, per the SOC. To learn how your home aligns with these trends, view the interactive graphic, "New Single-Family Homes in 2015," at www.census.gov/construction/chars/interactive/. Published with permission from RISMedia.
July
21

(BPT)—Homebuyers traditionally face competition at the height of real estate season. Now, with market indicators reaching record post-recession milestones, competition is stiffer than ever. To gain an edge as a buyer, real estate professionals advise: Getting Pre-Approved – Getting pre-approved for financing will give you significant leverage in negotiations with the seller—and knowing exactly what you can afford will keep you on track if a bidding war ensues. Thinking Long-Term – As a homebuyer, your decision regarding which home to purchase should align with your future expectations. Planning to grow your family? Consider a larger house in need of work instead of a completely updated two-bedroom bungalow. Looking to downsize? Consider purchasing a ranch home without stairs. Researching the Neighborhood – Researching areas in advance can save you time spent hunting for houses that do not suit your needs. Do you need easy access to commuter rail and bus lines? Where will your children attend school? These factors, and more, will influence your home-buying decision. Keep in mind that in addition to these tips, the best ally in a competitive market is a real estate professional. If you're ready to purchase a home, contact your local real estate agent for guidance. Published with permission from RISMedia.
July
15

Slow growth in China and the Brexit vote in the U.K. have played a major role in driving down mortgage rates, according to Freddie Mac's recently released monthly Outlook for July. In the most recent Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.41 percent, just slightly above the all-time record low. This is likely to result in a boost in housing activity, particularly refinance, as homeowners take advantage of the current low rates. "With the U.K.'s decision to exit from the European Union, global risks increased substantially, leading us to revise our views for the remainder of 2016 and all of 2017," says Sean Becketti, chief economist, Freddie Mac. "Nonetheless, the turbulence abroad should continue to create demand for U.S. Treasuries and keep mortgage rates near historic lows; thereby, allowing home sales to have their best year in a decade, along with a boost in refinance activity." Results lead experts to expect growth rebound in the remaining quarters of 2016 to show GDP at 1.9 and 2.2 percent in 2016 and 2017. In light of recent global pressures, the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage forecast has been revised down for both 2016 (by 30 basis points) and 2017 (by 50 basis points) to 3.6 percent and 4.0 percent, respectively. Based on these low mortgage rates, expect the refinance share of originations to rise to 49 percent for 2016, 8 percentage points above last month's forecast. This translates to about $100 billion more in originations, bringing the total for 2016 to $1,825 billion. With June's much-improved employment report over May's release, expect unemployment to average 4.9 percent in 2016 and 4.8 percent in 2017. The house price appreciation forecast for 2016 remains at 5.0 percent, and in 2017, 4.0 percent. For more information, visit www.freddiemac.com.
July
7

A down payment is an initial payment made by a homebuyer with financing, generally ranging from 5 to 20 percent of the home's value, according to the American Bankers Association (ABA) Foundation. A down payment of 20 percent will save the expense of private mortgage insurance (PMI), which is often imposed on borrowers who finance more than 80 percent of their purchase, and can also result in a lower mortgage interest rate. To grow your down payment to 20 percent, the ABA Foundation recommends: Saving – Open a separate savings account strictly for your down payment. Setting these funds aside from other types of savings will reduce the chance you'll draw from it in times of need. Budgeting – Your down payment will depend on the amount you plan to spend on a home. Assess your current financial obligations to determine how much you can save each month toward the down payment. Consider that many obligations can be reduced or even eliminated. Tracking – Keeps tabs on the discretionary income you spend—this can help pinpoint areas where you can spend less and save more. Researching – You may be able to save more with a down payment assistance or other housing-related program. Discuss the options available in your area with your real estate professional. Bear in mind a 20-percent down payment is not a necessity, and ultimately, your budget and savings will determine the percentage. Contact a real estate professional for further guidance. Source: American Bankers Association (ABA) Published with permission from RISMedia.
July
7

(BPT) - Why do you want to remodel your kitchen? Sure, the cabinets date back to the disco era, but the doors and hardware all still work. Your stove may be older than your college senior, but you can still bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies in it. So why invest the time, money and emotional capital in renovating the most-used room in your home? If you're like most Americans, you'll undertake a kitchen renovation to make your life easier and happier. In a Houzz survey, 79 percent of homeowners who planned a kitchen project said they were doing it to improve the look and feel of the room, while 59 percent wanted to improve functions. The popular home improvement website Homeadvisor says that people incur, on average, $11,300 to $28,900 on kitchen remodeling projects. However, you can improve the look and functionality of your kitchen with a much lower investment. Here are three simple changes you can accomplish in a single weekend with a modest outlay of cash: * Upgrade your faucet to touchless A kitchen faucet is a critical tool for numerous kitchen tasks, while also having a major impact on the overall look of your kitchen. A new faucet can improve the beauty and functionality of your kitchen, and touchless options fit the bill perfectly. Hands-free kitchen faucets are easy to use for kids, seniors and people with mobility issues. Plus, they allow you to operate your faucet without spreading germs — even if your hands are messy from food preparation and cooking. Touchless faucets like the sleek, high-arc Beale Selectronic Kitchen Faucet from American Standard offer advanced flexibility to make common kitchen tasks feel effortless. You can operate this electronic faucet with a wave of your hand, or switch to manual operation by simply sliding an innovative movable door to cover the sensor when guests are visiting. Two spray patterns, plus a convenient pause feature, provide optimum functionality for casual users and home chefs alike. * Hush those cabinets and drawers Anyone who has been woken from a deep sleep by a drawer or cabinet door closing loudly in the kitchen will appreciate the idea of a device that prevents slamming. When the quiet-close feature first appeared on the scene, it was considered a luxury upgrade, and one generally available only by installing completely new cabinets and drawers. Now, a variety of kits are available to turn ordinary cabinets and drawers into ones that close softly and quietly. Enhancing kitchen drawers to soft-close is as simple as emptying them, sliding them out, and replacing the standard slide hardware with a quiet-close apparatus. Silencing kitchen cabinets is even easier to do — simply add sound-dampening hardware, which is available at any home improvement store. * Organize your storage Perhaps your kitchen storage space is simple, with a few basic cabinets on hand. Or it may be substantial, encompassing numerous cabinets, drawers and even a generous pantry. No matter the size, cluttered kitchen storage areas can seem inadequate and inefficient, especially when they spill over onto counters, where you end up storing things that don't fit into drawers and cabinets. Fortunately, a variety of budget-friendly kitchen organization solutions are available for homeowners. From cabinet racks that hold dishes, pots and pans, lids and bakeware to over-the-door racks to contain spices, soup cans, and more in your pantry. Make finding things in cabinets easier by installing pull-out racks. Under-shelf baskets allow you to use every available inch of space in cabinets, and are great for storing dish towels, place mats, measuring cups and more. Most of these organizers require little or no expertise to install. No need for a major renovation budget to achieve maximum impact with kitchen upgrades. By focusing on key areas like the faucets, cabinets and storage, you can greatly improve the look and function of a kitchen with a modest investment of time and money.
July
1

(BPT) - Finally! The economy is improving, interest rates are low and many consumers now find themselves in a great position financially to become a first-time homeowner. There's a small problem though for some locations around the country — the booming real estate market is resulting in rising home prices and increased competition for the most desirable properties. The S&P/Case–Shiller national home-price index recently estimated that 2016 prices are within four percent of the peak in 2006. In some areas, low inventories around the country are making the situation even more challenging. These conditions are introducing first-time buyers to common challenges and frustrations while searching for their dream home. "Don't get discouraged," says Travis Peace, executive director of mortgage at USAA Bank. "Buying a home requires some fortitude and the process intimidates many —not just those doing it for the first time." As a result, Peace says it's easy to concentrate too much on home buying "can'ts" rather than "can-dos," and he offers this advice on how to overcome some common barriers. "I Can't" No. 1: I can't figure out the home-buying process. Peace notes that it's essential to do research and to be equipped with basic information, but also be willing to ask for help when needed. For example, an experienced real estate agent can keep a buyer apprised of everything from area sales trends to the latest changes in state and federal laws that could impact a mortgage application. "This is where experienced, licensed professionals can help," Peace says. "Real estate agents can be an advocate for the buyer throughout the entire process." "I Can't" No. 2: I can't find the perfect home for my family. Finding the perfect home may not be realistic, but shoppers can find the right home. Personal situations will dictate buyers' ability to wait for a home in a particular neighborhood or design style to come on the market, but not everything has to be left to chance. Peace says the key is to set realistic expectations and not fixate on negatives that can be changed. "Whether it's the number of bedrooms or distance to work or school, it's alright to have some non-negotiables. However, buyers should be willing to be flexible on things that can be relatively easy to change, like paint colors or landscaping." "I Can't" No. 3: I can't afford a 20 percent down payment. Putting 20 percent down on a home has become more of a guideline than a rule. Today, not being able to put 20 percent down does not mean buying a home is out of reach. Peace notes that depending on a buyer's financial situation, there may be a responsible way to get into your new home without putting 20 percent down. Government-sponsored loan programs from the Federal Housing Authority, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provide loan options that require down payments as low as three percent. Veterans Affairs (VA) loans don't require any down payment. While those programs are often great options for consumers who qualify, Peace notes that buyers should keep an eye on their potential total monthly payment. "Some of these loans include fees and private mortgage insurance (PMI) that could significantly impact your overall cost," Peace says. Even private lenders are offering more competitive loan options. For example, USAA Bank's Conventional 97 loan allows borrowers to acquire a mortgage with only three percent down and the bank pays the PMI costs. Scott McEniry, a USAA member, recently moved into his new home with the help of the Conventional 97 loan. "It felt like a lifeline had been thrown to me as suddenly a house purchase was within reach again," McEniry says. Whether a house-hunting novice or seasoned expert, Peace underscores that being informed, getting the right help and having a healthy dose of determination are the best ways to turn a dream home into a reality.

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