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Your Stress-Free Guide to Shopping for Home Loans

by The Schnoor Team

With this super-simple breakdown of loan types, you won’t get overwhelmed — you’ll find the right mortgage.

When it comes to buying a house, most people know what they prefer: a bungalow or a condo, a hot neighborhood or a sleepy street.

Mortgages, too, come in many styles — and recognizing which type you should choose is just slightly more involved than, say, knowing that you prefer hardwood floors over wall-to-wall carpeting.

First things first: To pick the best loan for your situation, you need to know what your situation is, exactly. Will you be staying in this home for years? Decades? Are you feeling financially comfortable? Are you anxious about changing loan rates? Consider these questions and your answers before you start talking to lenders. (And before you choose a lender, read this.)

Next: You’ll want to have an understanding of the different loans that are out there. There are lots of options, and it can get a little complicated — but you got this. Here we go.

Mortgages Are Fixed-Rate or Adjustable, and One Type Is Better for You

Let’s start with the most common type of mortgage, that workhorse of home loans — the fixed-rate mortgage.

A fixed-rate mortgage:

  • Lets you lock in an interest rate for 15 or 30 years. (You can get 20-year loans, too.) That means your monthly payment will stay the same over the life of the loan. (That said, your property taxes and insurance premiums will likely change over time.)

It’s ideal when: You want long-term stability and plan to stay put.

Here’s what else you need to know about fixed-rate mortgages:

  • A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage offers a lower monthly payment for the loan amount (for this reason, it’s more popular than the other option, the 15-year).
  • A 15-year fixed-rate mortgage typically offers a lower interest rate but a higher monthly payment because you’re paying off the loan amount faster.

Now let’s get into adjustable-rate, the other type of mortgage you’ll be looking at.

An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM):

  • Offers a lower interest rate than a fixed-rate mortgage for an initial period of time — say, five or seven years — but the rate can fluctuate after the introductory period is over, depending on changes in interest rate conditions. And that can make it difficult to budget.
  • Has caps that protect how high the rate can go.

It’s ideal when: You plan to live in a home for a short time or you expect your income to go up to offset potentially higher future rates.

Here’s what else you need to know about adjustable-rate mortgages:

  • Different lenders may offer the same initial interest rate but different rate caps. It’s important to compare rate caps when shopping around for an ARM.
  • Adjustable-rate mortgages have a reputation for being complicated. As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau advises, make sure to read the fine print.

A general rule of thumb: When comparing adjustable-rate loans, ask the prospective lender to calculate the highest payment you may ever have to make. You don’t want any surprises.

Conventional Loan or Government Loan? Your Life Answers the Question

Which fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage you qualify for introduces a whole host of other categories, and they fall under two umbrellas: conventional loans and government loans.

Conventional loans:

  • Offer some of the most competitive interest rates, which means you’ll likely pay less in interest over the period of the loan.
  • Typically you can get one more quickly than a government loan because there’s less paperwork.

Who qualifies? Typically, you need at least a credit score of 620 or above and a 5% down payment to qualify for a conventional loan.

Here’s what else you need to know about conventional loans:

  • If you put less than 20% down for a conventional loan, you’ll be required to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), an extra monthly fee designed to mitigate the risk to the lender that a borrower could default on a loan. (PMI ranges from about 0.3% to 1.15% of your home loan.) The upshot: The lender has to cancel PMI when you reach 22% equity in your home, and you can request to have it canceled once you hit 20% equity.
  • Most conventional loans also have a maximum 43% debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, which compares how much money you owe (on student loans, credit cards, car loans, and other debts) to your income — expressed as a percentage.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac set limits on how much money you can borrow for a conventional loan. A home loan that conforms to these limits is called a conforming loan:

  • In most cities, the maximum amount for a conforming loan is $453,100.
  • In high-cost areas, such as New York City and San Francisco, the limit is $679,650.
  • Limits are revisited annually and are subject to change based on each area’s average home price.

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A home loan that exceeds these limits is called a jumbo loan:

  • Jumbo loans typically require a higher down payment (up to 30% for some lenders) and a credit score of at least 720. Some borrowers can qualify while putting down 20%, but their credit score has to be higher.
  • They also tend to have stricter debt-to-income requirements, generally allowing for a maximum DTI ratio of 38%.

There are practical considerations to take into account before getting a jumbo loan too, mainly: Are you comfortable carrying that much debt? The answer depends on your current financial situation and long-term financial goals.

Government loans:

  • Include loans secured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development.
  • Are meant to stimulate the housing market and enable folks who may be unable to qualify for conventional loans to still become homeowners.

Who qualifies? That depends on which government loan you’re looking at.

If you’ve had trouble qualifying for a mortgage because of income limitations or credit:

FHA loans are used by a broad swath of people, including those with lower credit scores and income.

  • You can get an FHA loan with a downpayment of 3.5% if you have a minimum credit score of 580. You can still qualify with a credit score below 580 — even with no credit score — but the down payment and other requirements will be much higher.
  • FHA loans conform to loan limits set by county; these limits typically range from $294,515 to $679,650 in high-cost areas. You can view the FHA mortgage caps for your county at hud.gov.
  • If you get an FHA loan, you must pay an upfront mortgage insurance premium (MIP) and an annual premium of 0.85%. Currently, the MIP is 1.75% of the loan amount — so, $1,750 for a $100,000 loan. This premium can be paid upfront at the mortgage closing, or it can be rolled into the monthly mortgage payment.

Also, a heads-up — the date an FHA loan was issued affects the MIP.

  • If you received an FHA loan on or before June 3, 2013: You’re eligible for canceling MIP after five years, but you must have 22% equity in your home and have made all payments on time.
  • If you received an FHA loan after June 3, 2013: To stop paying MIP, you’d have to refinance into a conventional loan and have a current loan-to-value of at least 80%.

If you’re in the military, a veteran, or a veteran’s spouse:

  • VA loans offer active or retired military (or a veteran’s surviving spouse) a mortgage with a 0% down payment.
  • VA loans also can have more lenient credit requirements — typically around a minimum 620 credit score — and lower DTI requirements.
  • The VA only allows lenders to charge 1% maximum to cover the costs of originating and underwriting the loan, so you save money at closing. There is, however, an additional upfront, one-time funding fee of 2.15%.

VA loans also don’t charge borrowers mortgage insurance — potentially helping you save a significant chunk of cash on your monthly payment.

Given the benefits, a VA loan is often the best mortgage option for people who qualify.

If your income is limited and you live in a small or rural town:

USDA loans are mortgages for limited-income home buyers in towns with populations of 10,000 or less, or that are “rural in character,” meaning that some areas that now have bigger populations are grandfathered in. You can see whether your town is eligible on the USDA’s website.

  • USDA loans typically have lower interest rates than non-USDA loans.
  • Down payments can be as low as 0%.
  • USDA mortgages also have more lenient credit score requirements than conventional loans.
  • Income limits to qualify depend on location and household size.
  • USDA loans charge an upfront mortgage insurance fee of 1% of the loan amount and annual mortgage insurance premium of 0.35%.
  • And USDA loan borrowers must buy a “modest home” — a property with a market value deemed reasonable for the area, though the USDA does not set specific price limitations.

Only a select number of lenders offer USDA loans; here’s a list of USDA-approved lenders nationwide.

If your job is to help people:

Niche programs, like the Neighbor Next Door from HUD, allows teachers, law enforcement officers, first responders, and government workers — as much as 50% — on eligible homes in revitalization districts.

Note: Downpayment assistance programs offer qualified buyers such things as grants and interest-free loans. Start with your state’s housing finance agency to find options.

Now You Know the Basics. It’s Time to Call for Backup

Speaking of your lender: Ultimately, you’ll be working with your loan officer or broker to narrow down these choices, and to find a loan that works for you and your finances. (Just another reason why it’s important to choose a lender you’re comfortable with.)

Your real estate agent should be able to offer some insight, too. And because they don’t earn a paycheck from your loan selection, their advice about mortgages should be impartial.

You know your stuff. And you know whom to ask for help. Who’s overwhelmed? Not you.

Source: "Your Stress-Free Guide to Shopping for Home Loans"

New Mexico True Ed-Ventures

by The Schnoor Team

When is a vacation more than a vacation? When it’s an ed-venture! We’ve pulled together a list of the best learning opportunities for kids to deliver a double dose of excitement and education during your next family vacation. Whether you have a few hours to kill or a few days to commit, your child will love these special events, camps, and workshops found in all four corners of the state.

Is your child a Space Superhero?

Rocketeer Academy Summer Camp

New Mexico’s roots in space history run deep. From re-entry capsules to rockets, the Land of Enchantment is home to many of the technology breakthroughs behind space exploration as we know it today.

During this 5-day camp that repeats weekly in June and July at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, budding astronauts and astrophysicists (K – 9th) have the opportunity to experience hands on intergalactic adventure like building and launching rockets, designing and testing parachutes, having close encounters with unmanned vehicles at New Mexico State University, and practicing rock retrieval techniques like the ones used by NASA.

Bonus: Travel the New Mexico Space Trail to 52 historic sites important to our nation’s space history, and plan a night at the City of Rocks State Park for astronomical camping surrounded by information about the solar system.

Is your child an Extraordinary Explorer?

Candlelit Lantern Tour

Prepare for awe as your budding geologist gets an eyeful inside one of the world’s most impressive natural wonders. Each day at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Carlsbad, park rangers lead a candlelit lantern tour through Left Hand Tunnel, an undeveloped section of the caverns. Children 6 and over (with a parent or guardian) will be amazed as they learn about natural science during this top-notch tour.

Bonus: Stick around to see thousands of Brazilian Free-Tailed Bats exit the caverns each evening from mid-April to late-October.

Summer Outdoor Adventure Programs

With classrooms ranging from the riverbeds and canyons of the Rio Grande Valley to the headwaters of the Jemez River, the Summer Outdoor Adventure Programs at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center are wonderful ways to explore the diverse ecosystems and cultures of Northern New Mexico. Camps include The Nature Odyssey Outdoor Adventure Program (grades 4-6), Living Earth Adventure Program (grades 7-8), and Backpacking Adventure for Teens (grades 9-12).

Is your child a Class Clown?

Circo Latino

This lively program engages a diverse group of students ages 8-13 in an exciting and intensive circus arts curriculum, including trapeze, clowning, juggling, hula hoops, stilting, acting, music, unicycle, and acrobatics and then allows these students to create a performance using these skills. The four-week program at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque is committed to teaching wellness and resiliency through circus arts and incorporates skill building, physical activity, Spanish language, and training in leadership, cooperation and creativity.

Is your child a Wild Thing?

Take a Llama to Lunch

Kids learn the basics of ecology, sustainability, history and wilderness skills as they hike with llamas from Wild Earth Adventures. Each guided hike is accompanied by a gourmet meal (all fresh ingredients carried in by the llamas) to be enjoyed in the pristine wilderness surrounding Taos. Multi-day adventures are also available, where families may choose to summit peaks, explore ancient forests, or discover hidden alpine lakes and meadows. Educational nature games and lessons about tracking come standard, and evenings are enjoyed sitting around the campfire, telling stories, and having fun.

Bonus: Walk with a wolf near El Morro National Monument at the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, or learn all about alpacas during an educational tour and feeding at Victory Ranch in Mora.

Is your child a Budding Buckaroo?

Cowboy Days

Curious cowpokes can get up close and personal with the Wild, Wild West during this two-day event each March at the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces. Sharpshooting, blacksmithing, and gunfight reenactments take center stage as families are invited to learn about life as an old New Mexico cowboy. Also on the agenda are stagecoach rides, sheep shearing, wool dyeing and lessons about the importance of cattle, sheep, farming techniques and practices that are unique to New Mexico’s ancient agricultural history.

Fort Stanton Live and Old Lincoln Days

Kids on the hunt for action need look no further than these two events. Each July at the Fort Stanton Historic Site, and in August at the Lincoln Historic Site (both in SE New Mexico), families will encounter reenactments in period costume, old-fashioned kids games, and dynamic opportunities to learn the important history that forts played in the settling of the great American West, as well as experience what life in the 1800’s was like. As a bonus, Old Lincoln Days boasts the country's oldest running Western Pageant "The Last Escape of Billy the Kid."

Is your child a Creative Genius?

Arts Alive!

Every summer at the Museum of International Folk Art and Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Arts Alive! brings kids K-through-12 together with some of New Mexico’s most prominent folk and Native American artists. Children will learn about traditional art forms from different cultures as they make their own pottery, baskets, and notched paper picture frames. While enjoying the creative process, children learn the unique history and uses of their art creations and the place they hold in New Mexican culture.

Is your child a Cultured Character?

Flamenco Kids Camp

Held each June in concert with the Festival Flamenco Internacional de Albuquerque, children ages 6-12 are invited to learn the full range of flamenco arts and culture via classes in dance, guitar, cajón (percussion), cante (singing), Spanish language, and literacy. This two-week camp at the Conservatory of Flamenco Arts concludes with a student performance at the historic KiMo Theater in downtown Albuquerque.

Bonus: Check out the Kids Camp at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center for hands-on workshops in printmaking, pottery, and painting. Children also learn to cook their own Pueblo-inspired cuisine.

Is your kid a Math Whiz?

MathAmuseum

The MathAmuseum provides programs at the intersection of science, technology, engineering art, and mathematics. Its services include a traveling math museum, education programs, and communication training for subject matter experts. The soul of mathematics is recognizing and celebrating patterns.

Source: "New Mexico True Ed-Ventures"

 

Summer Events

by The Schnoor Team

August 31 – September 1

As summer cools down, the Village of Hatch heats up. Labor Day weekend heralds the annual Hatch Chile Festival, a two-day celebration of New Mexico’s most esteemed crop. Festivalgoers can sample famed chile recipes, watch the crowning of the Chile Festival queen, or toss a horseshoe in celebration of our most famous crop.  Hatch Chile Festival!

 

Please click: http://www.hatchchilefest.com/

Source: "Summer Events"

Here’s How You’ll Know You’ve Found the Right Agent

by The Schnoor Team

A great real estate agent is like an Oprah for living your best real estate life.

For every journey, there is a guide. To explore the West, Lewis and Clark had Sacagawea. To navigate his magical powers, Harry Potter had Dumbledore. And to discover our best lives, America has Oprah.

Then there’s the all-too-real journey of buying a home. For that, you have an Oprah of your own: your real estate agent — a licensed professional who’s familiar with local home values and neighborhood perks, understands real estate trends, can write an offer on your behalf, and who negotiates with home sellers so you don’t have to.

Think of your agent as a therapist/consultant for your home search. A collaborator. A co-conspirator. A mentor. Someone who amps up your confidence and counsels you through big decisions (teamwork makes the dream work, after all). And, someone who wants you to find a house you can be happy in because they’re invested in your happiness.

If the housing market doesn’t line up with your needs and budget, your agent will go back to the drawing board with you. They interpret raw housing data through the filter of your unique search, then tell you what’s important and why. They help you map the path to your goal, and connect you with trusted experts who can get you into your dream home. (Cue selfie of you drinking wine in your new living room. First like on Instagram? Probably your agent.)

That’s a lot of responsibility. And a lot of pressure. There’s obviously a lot at stake: money and time, of course, but also your happiness. So reach out to an agent sooner in the process rather than later, and you’ll be on the fast track to picking out paint swatches for your new kitchen.

Agents, Brokers, and REALTORS®: What’s the Difference?

“Agent” is a catchall phrase that is used, in casual conversation, to describe the three types of professionals who buy and sell real estate: agents, brokers, and REALTORS®.

No, they’re not really the same. Yes, you should care about what makes them different. Here’s a breakdown:

A real estate agent is a licensed professional who helps people buy, sell, rent, or invest in homes. To become an agent, a person must take pre-licensing training from a certified institution (these vary from state to state) and pass their state’s real estate licensing exam. Once they have their license, an agent must affiliate themselves with a real estate brokerage.

Some agents specialize in representing buyers, some specialize in representing sellers. Some do both. An agent who represents both the buyer and the seller in the same real estate transaction is called a dual agent. By law, a dual agent must disclose dual agency to both parties. (If an agent is seeing other people, you obviously need to know.)

A real estate broker is a professional who has additional education beyond the agent level, as required by state law, and who has passed a broker’s exam. In some cases, brokers also have more years of experience than agents. The biggest difference between a broker and an agent is that a broker may work independently. An agent must be overseen by a broker.

A REALTOR® is a broker or agent who belongs to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), the largest trade group in the country. (Full disclosure: NAR publishes HouseLogic.com). A REALTOR® commits to following a strict Code of Ethics intended to protect buyers and sellers; for example, REALTORS® pledge themselves to protect and promote the interests of their client. Agents and brokers who are not NAR members can’t call themselves REALTORS®. There are more than 1 million REALTORS® in the United States. You can use realtor.com®’s Find a REALTOR® tool to connect with one in your area.

In most cases, using an agent, broker, or REALTOR® won’t cost you a penny because the seller typically pays both the listing agent and buyer’s agent’s commissions. However, some buyers’ agents request a representation fee from the buyer. That’s rare.

The Best Agent for You Depends on ... You

Before you seriously partner with anyone, you’ll probably survey family, friends, and trusted acquaintances for at least some input. Finding a real estate agent is no different: A great starting point is to ask your inner circle and neighbors for recommendations. According to recent NAR research, 52% of buyers 36 and younger found their real estate agent through a referral.

Then there’s the internet.

Each of the major property listing websites — realtor.com®, Zillow, Redfin, and Trulia — has an agent-finder tool that lets you search for agents in your area. These property sites also collect reviews and ratings from an agent’s past clients, which gives you insight into an agent’s reputation. Keep in mind, though, that the sites vary in their policies about whether agents can edit or remove reviews. (Like with Yelp, use your own discretion.)

The sites also show an agent’s sales history, so you can see how many homes a person has sold. In general, it’s best to choose an agent who has a large number of sales under his or her belt (a sign they’re committed to real estate work). Perhaps even more important: an agent who has sold homes at the price point and in the neighborhood where you’re looking to buy — a sign they understand the local market.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on online listings alone. Always interview prospective agents — at least three — in person. A meet-and-greet will give you the perspective you need on the agent’s personality and style. Is this someone you’ll like working with? Who has a sense of humor? Who has your back? Who communicates in the ways you want to be communicated with? Best to find out in person.

How to Know If An Agent Is Knowledgeable

Once you’ve gathered all the information, listen to your gut: It won’t steer you wrong about who’s the best agent for you.

But, that said, there are a few qualities you’ll want to look for in any agent (your gut would agree):

  • Local expertise. Does this person know their stuff about neighborhood home value trends, shops and restaurants, schools, commute times, and geographic factors such as floodplains? These things are important, especially if you’re looking for a home in a new city or town. If the agent seems lost or like they’re winging it, keep looking.
  • Responsiveness. You’ll have a lot of questions, and will be asked to produce documents at certain steps during the buying process. Think about how available you want your agent to be, and how quickly you want him or her to respond. One way to figure that out? Contact a prospective agent online or by phone and see how long it takes them to reply. If you don’t hear back within a timeframe that works for you, it’s probably best to move on.
  • Reputation. This is when to consult your inner circle again. The agent-finder tool mentioned above can also help. In addition, you’ll want to verify the agent’s license; search “[state] real estate license lookup” in your browser to find a resource for your state. If you want to confirm whether an agent is a REALTOR®, you can call NAR at 1-800-874-6500.

There are a number of professional designations that indicate an agent has obtained additional education beyond their licensing work. An accredited buyer’s representative (ABR®), for instance, is someone who specializes in working with home buyers and has taken a course on buyer-client relationships.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask a Lot of Questions

Congratulations! You now have a list of agents you like based on their stats, and you’re ready to get to know the finalists. Binge a few episodes of "The Bachelor" for pointers — just kidding, don’t do that.

What to really do: Schedule interviews with the top three agents, at least. During each conversation, your goal is to understand the agent’s experience, personality, and working style.

Here are 13 questions that will help the vetting:

  1. How many years have you been in the business? Having more experience doesn’t guarantee that someone is a great real estate agent, but a lot of the business is learned on the job.
  2. How many homes have you sold in the last year? Volume isn’t the most important factor when choosing an agent, but you want someone who is active in the industry. Also, the more transactions an agent has under their belt, the more adept the person should be at solving complicated problems that can crop up during a home sale. Remember: Your transaction is unique.
  3. How will you help me determine my needs and priorities? The agent’s first task is to help you identify your list of “musts” and “wants” — the home features that you need, versus the features that you’d like to have but can live without.
  4. Is your real estate license in good standing? You can also check with your state’s Real Estate Commission to confirm the agent has no disciplinary actions.
  5. How will you stay in touch with me? Your agent’s communication style should align with yours. If you prefer to be contacted via text when new listings crop up, make sure your agent is able to do that.
  6. What neighborhoods do you specialize in? You want an agent who’s intimately familiar with the neighborhood(s) you’re interested in. Another way of framing this question is to ask, “How many homes have you sold in this neighborhood in the last year?”
  7. What price range do you typically work in? In addition to being a neighborhood expert, your agent should do a large portion of their business with home buyers in your price range. It’s important because challenges and negotiation strategies can vary based on what type of home you’re buying.
  8. How many other clients are you working with? You want someone who can give you quality, one-on-one customer service when you buy your first home. If the agent seems spread thin, it’s probably because they are.
  9. How are you a good agent for first-time buyers? First-time home buyers face specific challenges. Every buyer has a unique transaction. Good agents can explain what you should expect and how they’re going to help you navigate your special circumstances.
  10. How will you find homes that match my criteria? Seasoned real estate agents don’t just use the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) — a regional database of registered property listings — to help home buyers find homes. They also keep track of listings through colleagues, door-knocking, and canvassing neighborhoods to find the right properties for their buyers. They’ll also work their industry connections.
  11. Have you ever recommended that a buyer not buy a property? Why? An agent should work in your best interest, which means being honest with you about when to pass on a house that will not meet your needs — even if you’re starry-eyed about it. It’s your choice, obvs, but they should empower you to make a sound decision.
  12. Do you have a list of recommended vendors who can help me get a mortgage, inspect a home, and so on? To buy a home, you’re going to need other important players on your team — specifically a mortgage lender, home inspector, settlement/title company, and attorney. An experienced agent has already developed relationships with reputable pros, and should provide you with several references for each; though it’s ultimately your decision to choose who you want to work with.
  13. Can you provide contact information for your three most recent buyers? Past clients can offer valuable insight into an agent’s skills. Don’t just ask an agent for references, or you’ll get three pre-vetted clients who are guaranteed to sing their praises. Instead, ask for phone numbers and email addresses of the agent’s three most recent buyers. Contact those people directly to learn about their experiences.

Whew, you made it through the interviews. (Are you thirsty? We could use a glass of water.)

By now, there’s likely one agent left standing. Someone you can trust. Someone who listens. Someone who knows more about real estate than you, but who also really cares about finding your house.

Now that you’ve got a partner in buying a home, it won’t be long before you own it.

Source: "Here’s How You’ll Know You’ve Found the Right Agent"

What Does Homeowners Insurance Cover?

by The Schnoor Team

You’d be surprised at what your home insurance policy doesn’t cover. Here’s what is and isn’t covered by your insurance.

What does your homeowners insurance cover? The short answer is: “A basic homeowners insurance policy (called HO-1 in insurance lingo) covers your home and possessions if they’re damaged or destroyed by these things:

  • Fire     
  • Lightning
  • Windstorm (unless you live in a hurricane zone)
  • Hail (not available everywhere)
  • Explosion
  • Riots
  • Civil commotion
  • Aircraft  (and things falling from aircraft)
  • Vehicles (and things thrown from vehicles)
  • Smoke
  • Vandalism (although some policies exclude this)
  • Malicious mischief
  • Theft
  • Volcanic eruption

But many states don’t allow this basic policy to be sold. Instead, you have to buy an upgraded policy that covers more perils.

Upgraded Homeowners Insurance

That upgraded policy (called HO-2) adds protection to your home and possessions from even more perils. You get protection from everything on the HO-1 list (above) plus:

  • Falling objects
  • The weight of ice, snow, or sleet
  • Flooding from your appliances, plumbing, HVAC, or fire-protection sprinkler system
  • Damage to electrical parts caused by artificially generated electrical currents (such as a power surge not caused by lightning). But damaged electronics such as computers aren't covered.
  • Glass breakage
  • Abrupt collapse (say from termite damage)

That same list applies to the homeowners insurance you buy for a condominium or co-op (except then it’s called HO-6 instead of HO-2).

With HO-1, HO-2, and HO-6, what you see is what you get. So if zombies attacked your home, your HO-1 or HO-2 wouldn’t cover the damage because zombies aren’t on the list of specific things those policies cover.

The Most Complete Homeowners Insurance

The most complete and protective form of homeowners insurance (called HO-3) covers you for all perils except some specific ones like:

  • Floods
  • Earthquakes
  • Wars
  • Nuclear accidents
  • Landslides
  • Mudslides
  • Sinkholes

With this policy, if zombies attacked, you’d be covered because zombies weren’t specifically excluded by your HO-3 policy.

What Homeowners Insurance Doesn’t Cover

No matter which basic policy you get, it’s not going to cover everything than can damage or destroy your home. Typical homeowners policies don’t cover:

  • Bad things that happen because you failed to maintain your home (like mold)
  • Hurricanes
  • Floods
  • Earthquakes
  • Mudslides
  • Landslides
  • Sinkholes
  • War
  • Nuclear accidents
  • Sewer backups
  • Sump pump failure
  • Ground movement and holes caused by mining (known as mine subsidence insurance)
  • Pollution


You can buy additional policies to cover some but not all of those perils (a quick Google search didn’t turn up any nuclear accident coverage).

And even if insurance is available for the most common natural disaster in your area, you may not be able to buy it if your home has features that make it vulnerable. For example, a home with unrated wood shake roof shingles may be tough to insure in an area where wildfires are common.

Other Things Homeowners Insurance Covers

In addition to covering your home, homeowners insurance also covers four more things:

1. Your outbuildings, landscaping, and hardscaping. If you have outbuildings (like a barn), landscaping, or hardscaping (like fences), your homeowners policy most likely covers those for up to 10% of your policy amount (5% for plants).

For example, if you have $100,000 in homeowners insurance and someone drives into your fence, the policy would cover 10%, or $10,000 in repairs.

Sometimes policies exclude damage to outbuildings, landscaping, or hardscaping caused by a particular peril (like wind).

2. Damage or loss of your personal belongings. Your homeowners policy covers your family’s belongings, even when you take them out of the house. If your child heads to college with a laptop and it’s stolen, that’s probably covered by your homeowners insurance policy.

A home insurance policy covers a lot of your personal belongings, but not necessarily everything.

You’ll need additional insurance if you have many expensive items like jewelry, furs, or antiques.

Policies will either state that your personal belongings are insured for replacement cost or cash value.

Replacement cost means that the insurance company will pay the full cost of replacing an item (such as the laptop mentioned above, or a sofa damaged in a fire) once you show a receipt. Cash value means the insurance company will issue you a check for the amount that the laptop or sofa would have been worth when it was stolen or destroyed.

3. Temporary living expenses if your home is so damaged you can’t live in it. When you can’t live in your home, your homeowners insurance covers your living expenses, including hotel bills and meals. But, you can’t live in the hotel forever and eat lobster every night on the insurance company’s tab. Your policy will have limits on how long you stay and how much you can spend.

4. Injuries or accidents at your house. Homeowners insurance coverage includes liability – meaning it covers you when you or your family members cause injuries or damage. This coverage also pays when your dog bites someone (medical payments) or someone falls and injures themselves.

Add an umbrella policy to boost your liability coverage into the millions.

Homeowners Insurance for Older Homes

There’s another kind of homeowners insurance (HO-8) used when your home is so old it would be impossible to replace. It couldn't be built like the original -- that is, new electrical code wouldn't permit the same electrical, etc.

An HO-8 policy covers the same perils as the basic HO-1, but will only pay you the repair cost or market value instead of the replacement value.

If your home is old, but not so old that it’s historic, you might want another homeowners insurance coverage. A “law and ordinance” policy covers the cost of rebuilding using today’s building codes. It’s good to have if the building codes have changed a lot (for example, in Florida) since your home was built.

Source: "What Does Homeowners Insurance Cover?"

7 Home Improvement Ideas That Stretch Your Dollars the Most

by The Schnoor Team

Enjoy your home more today — and sell it for the best price tomorrow.

When it comes to home improvement ideas, some are more financially savvy than others. And if you’re on a limited budget, it becomes even more important to be savvy.

Here are seven affordable home improvement projects that’ll help you enjoy your home more today and provide excellent financial return in the future.

#1 Add the Finishing Touch of Molding

Crown molding makes rooms seem both bigger taller. It's an elegant addition to any home.

Plus, wood moldings come in hundreds of options -- from simple to ornate -- that you can stain, paint, or leave natural.

You can also find moldings in flexible materials, such as foam, that make installation a whole lot easier. Some moldings even include lighting that casts a soft, ambient glow. 

And at $1.50 per foot if you DIY it, or $8 per foot if you hire, it’s a no-brainer in terms of personalizing your home while adding value. (Although we don’t recommend DIY unless you’ve got above-par mitering skills.)

A few tips about molding:

Be careful about proportions. If your ceiling height is 9 feet or less, go with simpler styles to avoid overwhelming the room.

Place a chair railing at one-third the distance of the ceiling height. Chair railing placed incorrectly can make a room seem out of proportion.

Don’t forget entryways, doors, and windows: Bump up the trim around these areas to give rooms a completed and expensive feel.

#2 Hang Quality Ceiling Fans

If your ceiling fans are old and outdated, new ones (coupled with a fresh paint job and crown molding) could give your rooms a refreshing update while saving money.

Some tips about ceiling fans:

  • Hang 7 to 8 feet above the floor.
  • If you’ve got a low ceiling, buy a hugger ceiling fan that’s flush-mounted.
  • Go for the biggest Energy Star-rated fan that will fit the space.
  • Choose quality. You’ll get better cooling results, less noise, and good looks at a digestible price point of $200 to $600.

​​

#3 Plant Some Trees

Say what? Adding trees doesn’t instantly pop into your head when you think of adding value to your home. But trees are moneymakers that get better with age.

A mature tree could be worth between $1,000 to $10,000, says the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers. A 16-inch silver maple could be worth $2,562, according to a formula worked out by the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.

In urban areas, money really does grow on trees. A recent study of home sales by the Pacific Northwest Research Station of Portland showed that street trees growing in front of or near a house boosted its sale price by an average of $8,870 and shaved two days off its time on the market.

There’s more. Trees also:

  • Save $100 to $250 annually in energy costs
  • Lower stress
  • Prevent erosion from downpours and roof runoff
  • Protect your home from wind, rain, and sun

#4 Install a Deck or Patio

But don’t go crazy and trick out your outdoor space with high-end amenities, like an outdoor kitchen — especially if you’d be the only one on the block with one. When it’s time to sell, you won’t get back much — if any — of your investment on outdoor kitchens and other high-end amenities. Instead, keep it simple and functional to see a return on investment.

A professionally installed deck costs about $10,000 to install, but if you DIY it, you'll save more than half that while adding to your equity.

Don’t skimp on deck lighting. It can make all the difference in functionality and beautification.

#5 Upgrade Your Insulation

It's not as sexy as a kitchen remodel, but it doesn't cost as much either ($65,000 vs $2,100).

Plus, you'll save all year long on your utility bills. Win-win!

#6 Add Some Creative Storage

We don’t have to sell you on the value of storage and built-in organization. Since when have you heard someone complain about too much storage? Never, we bet.

Adding storage is a no-brainer, but it does take a little brainpower to find your home’s hidden storage.

Here are a few ways to think outside of the toy box:

  • Open drywall to create storage cubbies between your wall’s studs.
  • Install platform storage that hangs from your garage ceiling.
  • Even stairs can give you more storage. One clever mom repurposed an old chest of drawers and created storage within a basement staircase.

#7 Install Landscape Lighting

Exterior lighting makes your home shine in the evening, accents features you like most about your house, and helps keep burglars away. Installing motion-detecting lights can even lower some homeowners’ insurance premiums.

Landscaping lighting tips:

  • Place accent lights under your favorite trees to show off your landscaping’s top earners.
  • Put them on a timer so you don’t waste energy running them during the day.
  • Choose a warm, white light. It'll make your home look and feel welcoming.

Source: "7 Home Improvement Ideas That Stretch Your Dollars the Most"

Spend your summer in New Mexico

by The Schnoor Team


There’s always a reason to celebrate in New Mexico.

Aug 16, 17, 18

Meow Wolf’s immersive weekend experience in Taos, New Mexico. Three days of live music, adventure, experimental interactions, and friends. Dive in!

 

Source: "Spend your summer in New Mexico"

 

 

8 Simple Rules for Negotiating Your Offer and Getting That House

by The Schnoor Team

You and your agent are going to use everything you’ve learned to seal the deal.

Here’s the dream: Your offer is perfect, you don’t need to negotiate, and you can spend the next few weeks addressing more pressing home-ownership questions, like “Why is it called wainscoting?” and “Do I want a new couch in blush or emerald green?”

And it could happen. Many sellers accept the best offer they receive, and for a variety of reasons.

But sellers are also known to reject offers for a variety of reasons. Or make counteroffers. This is especially likely if you bid low, or when you’re up against multiple competing offers.

If you do receive a counteroffer, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to accept the new contract, negotiate the terms, or walk away.

In cases such as these, look to your agent. He or she is your spirit guide. If you decide you want to negotiate — that is, make a counteroffer to the seller’s counteroffer — your agent will use their negotiating skills to help get you the best deal. This is what agents do every day.

But you’re not just going to sit there. If you understand what negotiating tactics your agent may deploy — they depend on the local market and your position — you can back them up. And cheer them on.

Here are eight rules every buyer should know before they — and their agent — start negotiating:

#1 Act Fast — Like, Now

When you receive a counteroffer, you should respond quickly — ideally within 24 hours. The longer you wait, the more space you leave for another buyer to swoop in and nab the property. Also? If a seller senses hesitation, they may decide to withdraw their counteroffer before you even have a chance to respond.

#2 Raise Your Price (Within Reason)

While you obviously don’t want to overpay for a house, you may have to up the ante — especially if you initially made a lowball offer. Lean on your agent’s expertise to determine how much money you should add to the sales price to make it more enticing to the seller.

Then, through their powers of persuasion, your agent can make the counteroffer look even more attractive by pointing out similarly priced “comps” — recently sold homes in your area that are comparable in terms of square footage and features.

As your agent negotiates, it can feel like things are escalating quickly. It’s stressful. You may feel a sudden urge to do whatever it takes to win.

Before you go overboard, there are two things you must keep in mind:

  • You can’t exceed the monetary confines of the pre-approved mortgage you received from your lender.
  • You shouldn’t overextend your budget.

Because your counteroffer has to be an amount you’re comfortable spending on a home. You want that new house and to keep living your life. Plus: You’re not out of options yet.

#3 Increase Your Earnest Money Deposit

Increasing your earnest money deposit (EMD) — the sum of money you put down to prove to the seller you’re serious (i.e., “earnest”) about buying the house — is another way to show the seller you have more skin in the game. A standard EMD is typically 1% to 3% of the sales price of the home. Making a counteroffer with a 3% to 4% deposit could be what you need to persuade the seller to side with you.

#4 Demonstrate Patience About Taking Possession

Depending on the seller’s timetable, changing your proposed possession date — the date you take over the property — could butter them up, too. If the seller wants to stay in the home for a few days after closing, try offering a later possession date. You could also draw up a “rent-back” agreement, meaning the seller pays you rent for staying in the home for a set period of time after the closing date.

#5 Let Go of a Few Contingencies — With Care

Want to give your counteroffer an even bigger boost?

Reduce the number of contingencies you’re asking for. It’s your way of saying, “Hey, look, I have fewer ways to back out,” which gives the seller more reassurance that the deal will close.

But be selective: Some contingencies are too important to give up. A home-inspection contingency — the right to have a home inspection and request repairs — gives you an out if you spot major problems with the home (and protects you from buying a total money pit).

You might waive a termite inspection if you’re in a state where the risk is lower.

But ultimately, waiving contingencies depends on your market, your loan program requirements, your risk tolerance, and the circumstances of the house in question. And if you waive contingencies and then you find a problem, the seller isn’t responsible for fixing it.

#6 Ask for Fewer Concessions

At a mortgage settlement, home buyers have to pay closing costs for taxes, lender’s fees, and title company fees. Closing costs vary by location, but you can expect to shell out between 3% and 4% of the home’s sales price. The seller pays an additional 1% to 3%. (Smart Asset and Nerdwallet have simple calculators you can use to get a rough idea of what your closing costs might be.)

When making an initial offer, you have the option to ask the seller for concessions — a settlement paid in cash to help you offset your share of the closing costs. (This move is less feasible if you’re going up against multiple offers.)

Concessions effectively lower the seller’s net proceeds from the sale. Making a counteroffer that removes the concessions you would have otherwise received at settlement puts cash back in the seller’s pocket — and can improve your bid.

#7 Pick Up the Cost of the Home Warranty

Sometimes sellers offer prospective buyers a home warranty. This is a plan that covers the cost of repairing major home appliances and systems, like the air conditioner or hot water heater, if they break down within a certain period (typically a year after closing).

A basic home warranty costs about $300 to $600 a year, according to Angie’s List. If it seems like waiving the home warranty can sweeten negotiations, but you still want the peace of mind of having one, tell the seller they don’t need to cover it — then buy it yourself.

Just keep in mind, whether you or the seller buy the warranty, you’ll need to pay the service fee (typically between $50 and $100) if something does, indeed, need to be repaired while under warranty.

Also, FYI: A home warranty is entirely separate from homeowners insurance. Homeowners insurance — the security blanket that covers your home's structure and possessions in the event of a fire, storm, flood, or other accident — is required if you take out a mortgage. It can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per year.

#8 Know When to Walk

When negotiating with a seller, trust your gut — and your agent. If he or she says a deal is bad for you: Listen.

And if you don’t want to make any more trade-offs — and the seller won’t budge — it’s smart to walk. That can be a tough decision to make, and rightfully so! Negotiating is tough. It’s draining.

And losing something you’ve worked hard to get can be disappointing. But don’t worry. There’s a better deal for you out there. And after those strong feelings of frustration pass, you’ll realize: Now I know how to do this.

Source: "8 Simple Rules for Negotiating Your Offer and Getting That House"

 

A Checklist for Moving Into a New House

by The Schnoor Team

Peace of mind begins with changing the locks.

It's easy to get super excited about moving into your new house. But for your own safety and security, be sure to cross these tasks off your checklist before you call it home. (And also, be sure to buy these new home essentials).

Here's your new home checklist:

#1 Change the Locks

You really don’t know who else has keys to your home, so change the locks. That ensures you’re the only person who has access. Install new deadbolts yourself for as little as $10 per lock, or call a locksmith — if you supply the new locks, they typically charge about $20 to $30 per lock for labor.

#2 Check for Plumbing Leaks

Your home inspector should do this for you before closing, but it never hurts to double-check.

Keep an eye out for dripping faucets and running toilets, and check your water heater for signs of a leak.

Here’s a neat trick: Check your water meter at the beginning and end of a two-hour window in which no water is being used in your house. If the reading is different, you have a leak.

#3 Steam Clean Carpets

Do this before you move your furniture in, and your new home life will be off to a fresh start. You can pay a professional carpet cleaning service — you’ll pay about $50 per room; most services require a minimum of about $100 before they’ll come out — or you can rent a steam cleaner for about $30 per day and do the work yourself.

#4 Wipe Out Your Cabinets

Another no-brainer before you move in your dishes and bathroom supplies, especially if the house has been vacant. It's not uncommon for mice and other pests to move in quickly. Make sure to wipe inside and out, preferably with a non-toxic cleaner, and replace contact paper if necessary.

And if you do find traces of unwanted roommates, take the next step.

#5 Invest in Pest Control

That includes mice, rats, bats, termites, roaches, and any other uninvited guests. There are any number of DIY ways to get rid of pests, but if you need to bring out the big guns, an initial visit from a pest removal service will run you $100 to $300, followed by monthly or quarterly visits at about $50 each time.

#6 Introduce Yourself to Your Circuit Breaker Box and Main Water Valve

It’s easier to do with two people: one to stand in the room where the power is supposed to go off, the other to trip the breakers or fuses and yell, “Did that work? How about now?

You’ll want to know how to turn off your main water valve if you have a plumbing emergency, if a hurricane or tornado is headed your way, or if you’re going out of town. Just locate the valve — it could be inside or outside your house — and turn the knob until it’s off. Test it by turning on any faucet in the house; no water should come out.

Source: "A Checklist for Moving Into a New House"

 

5 Things That REALLY Will Put a Serious Dent in Your Energy Bills

by The Schnoor Team

Stop sending so much money to your utility company with these simple strategies.

Your Mexican beach vacation was great, but, man, those margaritas sure can put on the pounds. It’s been two months, and you’re still carrying around an extra tenner — despite a new running routine and a lot of #&*&@$ kale. So why isn’t your weight dropping?

It’s like that with energy bills, too.  Eighty-nine percent of us believe we’re doing the right things to lower energy costs, and almost half of us think our homes already are energy efficient. Yet, 59% of us say our bills are going up, not down, despite our efforts to economize.

Suzanne Shelton, CEO of the Shelton Group, a marketing agency that specializes in energy efficiency and that did this research, says we’re rationalizing: “I bought these [LEDs] so now I can leave the lights on and not pay more. I ate the salad, so I can have the chocolate cake.” Denial much?

Her research also shows consumers, on average, made fewer than three energy-efficient improvements in 2012 compared with almost five in 2010. It looks like we’re giving in to higher utility bills. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You just need to know what improvements really will make the biggest difference to lower your bills. There are five, and the good news is that they’re really (seriously) cheap. You can go straight to them here, but there’s also another thing you can do that doesn’t cost a dime — and will drop your costs:

Be Mindful About Your Relationship With Energy

Think about it. Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis without knowing how much it costs until a month later, says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a research and policy-making nonprofit focused on improving buildings’ energy efficiency.

With other services you get a choice of whether to buy based on price. With energy you don’t get that choice — unless you intentionally decide not to buy. You can take control by making yourself aware that you’re spending money on something you don’t need each time you leave home with the AC on high, lights and ceiling fans on, and your computer wide awake.

That mindfulness is important because your relationship with energy is getting more intense. You (and practically every other person on the planet) are plugging in more and more. Used to be that heating and cooling were the biggest energy hogs, but now appliances, electronics, water heating, and lighting together have that dubious honor, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, based on data from U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the research arm of the Department of Energy (DOE).

Being mindful means it’s also time to banish four assumptions that are sabotaging your energy-efficiency efforts:

1. Newer homes (less than 30 years old) are already energy efficient because they were built to code. Don’t bank on it. Building codes change pretty regularly, so even newer homes benefit from improvements, says Lee Ann Head, vice president of research and insights with the Shelton Group.

2. Utilities are out to get us: They’ll jack up prices no matter what we do. It might feel cathartic to blame them (Shelton’s research shows consumers blame utilities above oil companies and the government), but to get any rate changes, utilities must make a formal case to public utility commissions.

3. Energy improvements should pay for themselves. Nice wish, but it doesn’t work that way. When the Shelton Group asked consumers what they would expect to recoup if they invested $4,000 in energy-efficient home improvements, they said about 75% to 80%.

Unless you invest in some kind of renewable energy source like geothermal and solar, you won’t see that kind of savings. (Sorry.) Even if you do all the right things, the most you should expect is a 20% to 30% reduction annually, says Head, which is still significant over the long term.

What does 30% translate into? $618 in savings per year or $52 per month, based on the average household energy spend of $2,060 per year, according to Lawrence Berkeley and EIA.

4. Expensive improvements will have the biggest impact. That’s why homeowners often choose pricey projects like replacing windows, which should probably be fifth or sixth on the list of energy-efficient improvements, Shelton says.

There’s nothing wrong with investing in new windows. They feel sturdier; look pretty; can increase the value of your home; feel safer than old, crooked windows; and, yes, offer energy savings you can feel (no more draft).

But new windows are the wrong choice if your only reason for the project was reducing energy costs. You could replace double-pane windows with new efficient ones for about $9,000 to $12,000 and save $27 to $111 a year on your energy bill, according to EnergyStar. (The savings are higher if you replace single-pane windows.)  Or you could spend around $1,000 for new insulation, caulking, and sealing, and save 11% on your energy bill, or $227.

The 5 Things That Really Work to Cut Energy Costs

1. Caulk and seal air leaks. Buy a few cans of Great Stuff and knock yourself out over a weekend to seal around:

  • Plumbing lines
  • Electric wires
  • Recessed lighting
  • Windows
  • Crawlspaces
  • Attics

Savings: Up to $227 a year -- even more if you add or upgrade your insulation.

2. Hire a pro to seal ductwork and give your HVAC a tune-up. Leaky ducts are a common energy-waster.

Savings: Up to $412 a year.

3. Program your thermostat. Shelton says 40% of consumers in her survey admit they don’t program their thermostat for energy savings. She thinks it’s even higher.

Savings: Up to $180 a year.

4. Replace all your light bulbs with LEDs. They’re coming down in price, making them even more cost effective.

Savings: $75 a year or more by replacing your five most frequently used bulbs with Energy Star-rated models.

5. Reduce the temperature on your water heater. Set your tank heater to 120 degrees — not the 140 degrees most are set to out of the box. Also wrap an older water heater and the hot water pipes in insulating material to save on heat loss.

Savings: $12 to $30 a year for each 10-degree reduction in temp.

NOTE: Resist the urge to total these five numbers for annual savings. The estimated savings for each product or activity can’t be summed because of “interactive effects,” says DOE. If you first replace your central AC with a more efficient one, saving, say, 15% on energy consumption, and then seal ducts, you wouldn’t save as much total energy on duct sealing as you would have if you had first sealed them. There’s just less energy to save at that point.

Bonus Tip for More Savings

Your utility may have funds available to help pay for energy improvement. Contact them directly, or visit DSIRE, a database of federal, state, local, and utility rebates searchable by state. Energy Star has a discount and rebate finder, too.

Source: "5 Things That REALLY Will Put a Serious Dent in Your Energy Bills"

 

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