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Cancel Your Private Mortgage Insurance

by The Schnoor Team

Private mortgage insurance is unavoidable for some homeowners, but don’t pay PMI premiums a day longer than required by your lender.

Private mortgage insurance provides protection to a lender in case you default on your home loan. Unless you make a 20% downpayment on a house, you'll most likely be required to purchase PMI. PMI premiums on a median priced home ($170,600 in 2010) can run between $50 and $100 per month, according to the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America.

PMI might be unavoidable, but it isn't eternal. Knowing exactly when you're entitled to cancel coverage can save you a bundle. If you own a median priced home, you'll pocket between $600 and $1,200 for each year's worth of premiums you can avoid. That extra cash can be used to pay down your principal instead.

When PMI Is Cancelled Automatically

Though often maligned, PMI plays an important role. Many aspiring homeowners, especially first-time buyers, simply can't afford to put down 20% on a house. Without the safeguard offered by PMI, lenders would be reluctant to extend mortgages to low-equity purchasers.

For many borrowers, the coverage is short-lived. The Mortgage Insurance Companies of America, the industry trade group, estimates that 90% of homeowners are done paying PMI premiums, which are tax-deductible for some, within five years.

If you purchased a house since 1999 and are still paying PMI, you probably fall under the Homeowners Protection Act (HPA) of 1998. Your lender is required to automatically cancel your insurance once you've paid down your mortgage to a 78% (0.78) loan-to-value ratio, or LTV. Put another way, once you have 22% equity built up. Many lenders will treat pre-HPA loans in a similar fashion. Call to confirm.

To calculate your LTV, divide the outstanding loan amount by the original price of your home. If you have a $190,000 mortgage on a house you purchased for $200,000, the LTV is 95%. You'd need to get the mortgage balance down to $156,000--78% of the original value--to qualify for automatic cancellation of PMI.

When You Need to Request Cancellation

You don't necessarily have to wait for automatic cancellation. When your LTV hits 80%, you can petition your lender to end its PMI requirement. The process can take several weeks. Your lender isn't obligated to grant your request, but you'll bolster your case if you have a good payment history.

Start by calling your lender, not the PMI provider. You'll probably need to make a formal request in writing and pay out of pocket for an appraisal. The average cost of an appraisal is $362, according to a 2009 Bankrate.com survey. Your lender will usually select the appraiser.

Although an appraisal is conducted primarily for the benefit of the lender to confirm that your property hasn't declined from its original value, a high appraisal can work to your advantage. As your property value increases, whether due to a general uptick in real estate prices or specific home improvements, your LTV decreases.

Justine DeVito Tenney, a CPA and financial planner with Weiser LLP in Lake Success, N.Y., points out that even if you don't meet the 78% or 80% milestones, you can get PMI cancelled when you hit the mortgage midpoint. On a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, that would occur after 15 years of payments. This can come into play for certain high-risk loans that call for a longer PMI period.

A Way Around PMI Premiums

In search of a PMI loophole? Look for so-called piggyback loans, also known as 80/10/10 or 80/15/5 loans. Basically, the home lender finances 80% and immediately gives you a second loan for 10% to 15%. You put down 5% to 10%. No PMI is required.

This alternative has traditionally been available for homebuyers with minimal capital but excellent credit. In tight lending environments, however, this arrangement is harder to come by. And even when piggyback loans are available, the extra interest you usually pay on the second mortgage may actually cost more than PMI premiums. Do the math.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Readers should consult a tax professional for such advice, and are reminded that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Source: “Cancel Your Private Mortgage Insurance"

 

Chile Capital of the World

by The Schnoor Team

 

No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced our cuisine.


Unlike any other, it is a blend of flavors from Spanish and Native American cultures that has been perfected over the course of 400 years. At the center of it all is the New Mexican chile, in both red and green varieties, which is used in everything from enchiladas to ice cream. Whether you are looking for a dining experience that has received a James Beard award or an authentic dive off the beaten path, you will find it here.

Click the link below to find Culinary Treasures, Ale Trail, Wine Trail, Chocolate Trail, Green Chili Cheeseburger Trail and Breakfast Burrito Byway. 

Source: "Chile Capital of the World"

 

 

How to Get Your Home Show Ready

by The Schnoor Team

Keep your home in stunning shape throughout the listing period.

Everyone knows that selling your house is a big decision, and there are so many emotions involved, not to mention all of the work it takes to get your house ready to sell! 

Well, having been through the process multiple times and having to sell homes super quickly, I thought I’d share my simple tips for getting your home ready to show. You ready?

To make this as clear and easy to follow as possible, I broke down the process into three categories: things to do before listing, things to do consistently during the listing period, and things to do the day of a showing.

Things to Do Before Listing Your House

1. Enlist a real estate agent! You can interview several and choose the one who you feel the most comfortable with. Having an agent you trust and respect is crucial for a happy selling experience.

2. Give your agent a house tour. Have your agent walk through your home and advise if any remodeling work is warranted before you list the house. You might be surprised at the things that they will tell you to leave alone.

For example, in one of the houses I sold, I had this adorable little girl’s room with large floral wallpaper (pictured above). It was clearly catered to a young girl, so prior to listing our home, I was worried we would need to remove the wallpaper or paint over it.

However, our agent advised us to leave it alone because the room showed well with the decorative style. It turns out one of the first guests who toured the house had a two-year-old daughter who fell in love with that very room! For them, the room was a big selling point of the house. However, even if someone with boys walked through, they might have thought, "No big deal, we can repaint that one wall."

3. Dejunk your house. Go through each room in your home to remove clutter. Throw away or donate belongings that you no longer need, or use and box up items that you won’t need during the listing period. Too much stuff can crowd your space and make it feel smaller than its actual size.

Even though dejunking an entire house can seem totally daunting, it’s actually my favorite step! Getting rid of all the excess we've accumulated over the last years always feels so liberating. Plus, it means less for you to pack up, move, and unpack later.

Once you've done these steps you’re ready to move onto the next phase of preparations!

Things to Consistently Do During the Listing Period

1. Maintain the best possible curb appeal. While this tip might seem obvious, you would be shocked at how many open houses I went to where sellers put no effort into their home's outside appearance. In fact, when I worked in a real estate office, I heard plenty of stories of agents pulling up to houses with clients and having the clients want to drive away before even going inside!

First impressions are crucial, and your home's front is no exception. During the listing period, you should take extra care to make sure your lawn is mowed, your garden is weeded, and flowers are planted. At the very least, make sure your porch is swept and you've sprayed for bugs; nothing turns someone away on a house tour like staring spiders in the face while waiting for the agent to unlock the door.

In the fall and winter, make sure leaves are raked, stray branches are picked up, and sidewalks are shoveled and salted.

2. De-Personalize. While prepping for house tours, take out anything that is super kitschy or specific to your tastes. The goal here is to make your home appeal to as many different people as possible. Don't worry, this doesn't mean you have to go crazy and eliminate everything with personality. For instance, if you have a nice focal gallery wall of family photos, leave them as it might give potential buyers decorating ideas. Plus, it looks more appealing than a big empty wall.

3. Stage your home. Staging your home means rearranging furniture and decor, or even repainting,  to make it look most pleasing to the eye. For example, your side tables might typically not be decorated because you’re worried about little people breaking things, but for the tour, it’d be nice to place little plants and candles on them (like pictured above).

You don't have to spend a ton of money doing this; sometimes just rearranging items from room-to-room or shifting around furniture can make a huge visual difference.

You're almost done, time to move on to the last phase!

Things to Do the Day of a Showing

1. Make sure your home is clean and shown in it's best light. When we sold our first home, our agent instructed us to turn on all of the lights, open the blinds, and keep all bedroom doors open before any showing. Basically, do anything to make your home feel brighter or bigger.

Don’t worry, you don't need to freshly vacuum before every showing if you aren't able to, but make sure to make the beds, stow away toys, and generally ensure everything is neat and tidy!

It’s especially important to ensure your bathrooms are clean --  make sure toilets are flushed, seats are down, towels are picked up and counters are wiped. This can be especially difficult if you have a baby, but it’s worth it! I had a friend who threw all her baby's belongings (chair, changing pads, bassinet, etc.) into the back of her trunk before each listing.

2. Try to use all of a potential buyer’s senses. I have a vivid memory of the time I walked into our first home (before it was ours). The woman who lived there had just baked cookies and left a plate on the counter for us. The smell of cookies was in the air, and the house was clean and homey.

Now, I can't say for certain how much that impacted my final decision, but I still think about it eight years later. It was the feeling of "this could be our home" that was comforting. You obviously don't have to bake cookies before every showing, but you can light a candle or burn incense. And minimize distractions by turning off TVs and electronics. 

3. Disable alarms, gather your pets, and get out! Last step in the process: Leave your house. I know some people stay in their home for various reasons during showings, but honestly, I don’t believe it's the best idea. It makes potential buyers feel uncomfortable or want to leave more quickly.

Often, homeowners want to give tips about the house or gush about the neighborhood, then unknowingly say the wrong thing and turn off prospective buyers. Even if you have a house full of kids and nowhere to go, ask a neighbor if you can hang out in their backyard for a bit, or load everyone up in the car and go get yourself a treat. (You've earned it!)

Well, there you have it friends! I hope these tips will make you feel a little more comfortable throughout the listing process.

Good luck!

Source: "How to Get Your Home Show Ready"

6 Creative Hacks to Put a Shoe Organizer to Work

by The Schnoor Team

Simple over-the-door shoe organizers are brilliant hacks when it’s time to tame the clutter in your home.

Bulk shoppers and anyone with more stuff than storage, rejoice: You can reclaim your home from clutter with hanging shoe organizers. Sure, they're amazing tools for wrangling homeless sneakers and ballet flats. But there's another reason pro organizers adore them: Their numerous cubbies are perfect for containing odds and ends that drive homeowners mad. You know, that mass of knotted cords, your messy cabinet full of cleaning goods, that one disappearing mitten.

Pick up a few of these genius inventions and let your inner neat freak take over. Here are six shoe organizer ideas to get you started.

#1 Keep Bulk Buys in Check

Instead of piling up towers of paper towels or toilet paper, hang a cloth shoe organizer from your basement or bathroom closet rod and store each roll in its own individual cubby to free up floor space. As a bonus, you won't have to fumble around trying to extract a roll from its plastic covering — just open the closet, grab, and go. (This tip applies to all kinds of bulk purchases, from canned goods to seltzer water.)

#2 Corral Gift Wrap

Not sure where to tuck away your collection of festive wrapping paper? Don't waste precious floor space by stuffing those awkward tubes in a box. Homeowner Angie Holden used a standard over-the-door organizer to keep her gift wrap in order after her under-the-bed storage system grew "too cumbersome to get out when I need it."

Reserve three rows of the organizer's slots for the long wrapping paper tubes. The rolls will sit in the lowest one. To keep those puppies upright, attach elastic bands to the organizer, between the upper two rows of slots, and slide the tubes down through the elastic before they reach their resting place in the lower row. Make it a complete gift station by sewing a catchall bag to the bottom of the organizer for ribbon, tape, and bows.

#3 Cut the Cord on Clutter

Don't let tangled tablet chargers and extra iPhone cords rule your home. Instead, use a shoe organizer to keep your electronic accessories out of sight and ready when you need them. Organization blogger Stefanie Sliger divided her various cables by type, stuffed each set into its own pocket, and labeled accordingly. (Think "iCables," "outlet adapters," and "HDMI.") "It's definitely easier to see, grab, and store cords using the shoe organizer," Sliger says. If you have extra space, those additional pockets are perfect for batteries and lightbulbs.

#4 Feed Your Kids

Tired of your little ones leaving a trail of displaced soup cans and sideways pasta boxes as they dig through the pantry in search of something to snack on? Using a shoe organizer to sort your snacks "makes it easy for kids to snag grab-and-go snacks," like granola bars, applesauce, raisins, and juice boxes, says personal organizer MaryJo Monroe. Hang it over the pantry door for easy access.

#5 Tame Winter Garb

As fall becomes winter, figuring out how to keep your endless collection of mittens, gloves, and extra fluffy socks organized and accessible can be a nightmare. After a basket storage system failed to keep her family's winter accessories under control, blogger Jamie Rannila turned to a shoe organizer — a solution that has been particularly popular with her triplets. "This way of organizing makes it so easy for them to reach and put their items in their own compartment," Rannila says.

#6 Create a One-Stop Cleaning Station

Is your under-sink space cluttered with myriad sponges and half-empty spray bottles that needed to be pitched months ago? Stop digging through the dark to find the glass cleaner. A hanging shoe organizer in your pantry can make life so much easier — just stick each product and cleaning accessory in its own pocket. Voila! No more hunching and hunting.

Source: "6 Creative Hacks to Put a Shoe Organizer to Work"


6 Ways to Lose at Negotiating a House Price

by The Schnoor Team

Real estate negotiation tips so you can buy your dream home — and not overpay.

You've looked at enough houses to fill an entire season of House Hunters and finally picked one to buy. Now you're ready to make an offer.

Your agent can help guide you through this nail-biting phase of negotiating a house price, but ultimately, you call the shots. Here's how to negotiate like a boss.

Fail #1: Thinking House Price is All That Matters

That house with a price point $15k below your budget? It may seem like a deal — until you add on the costs of maintenance and replacing the aging appliances.

Planning on repainting, remodeling, or landscaping, too? Suddenly the price looks a whole lot higher.

When developing your offer, calculate in the costs that will go above and beyond a mortgage payment. Then you can negotiate with an eye on the total cost of owning the house, not just the sticker price.

On the flip side, the price may not be all that matters to the seller, either.

She may have to start a job on the other side of the country in a month and value a quick closing. Or she may be looking to rent from you for a bit after the sale until her next home is ready. Sometimes being accommodating is negotiation gold.

Fail #2: Refusing to Back Down on Small Repairs

Before you draw a line in the negotiation sand over, say, a deck with some rotten boards, ask yourself if it's worth losing the house over a repair that would cost less than a thousand dollars.

Say the house price is $250,000, which makes that deck repair less than half of one percent of the cost of the house. There's a lot of emotional energy at this point in the process, so give yourself a break rather than dickering over it.

A house negotiation is not about winning for the sake of winning. It's about getting the house you want at a fair price on good terms.

Fail #3: Waiving Formalities Because You're So in Love With the House

Don't be so blinded by house love that you do something silly like skip some of the formalities of home buying, such as the home inspection or the appraisal, in an effort to close the deal.

Those steps, and others like a termite or septic inspection, are known as contingencies. They're there to protect you from ending up with a six-figure money pit.

Imagine how quickly the house-honeymoon would end if you found a termite colony or that the identical house across the street sold for much less?

Besides, if you're taking out a mortgage, your lender won't let you skip an appraisal because they don't want to loan money on a house that isn't worth the loan amount. So even if you want to make it easy for the seller, your lender may stop you.

There are other ways to sweeten your offer and get that house:

  • Pay some of the seller's closing costs.
  • Offer a fast close.

If this is your first house, speed is an ace up your sleeve because you can move faster than someone who can't buy a new house until they sell the old one (another type of contingency).

And remember, while there's a lot of emotion tied up in choosing a house, it's still a business deal.

Fail #4: Getting Hung Up On a Few Grand

You offered $198,000. The seller won't budge from $200,000.

Before you walk away, consider this: Two grand is a lot of money, but in the house-buying world it's not so much. At an interest rate of 4%, with 20% down on a 30-year mortgage, that additional $2,000 will add just $8 a month to your payment.

If you can swing it -- maybe you can cut a small thing out of your budget each month -- it could be worth it.

Fail #5: Folding Because the Inspection Turned Up Issues

A good home inspection is going to turn up something. Usually several somethings. That's good. It means the inspector is doing their job. It's a rare day when a home passes inspection with no problem at all.

Plus, many things that turn up on an inspection are easily handled. You can ask the seller to do the repairs or knock some off the price so you can pay for repairs.

And while some problems may seem scary at first, like a roof leak or plumbing problem, they're almost always fixable and negotiable.

Fail #6: Offering Less Because the Decor is Hideous

The faux-Tiffany swag lamp and trippy orange-and-brown wallpaper make your eyes itch. So you're planning on offering less — way less.

Before you do that, know the market. If it's a seller's market, your offer may be seen as an insult especially if the home's in good shape. And just like that, you've lost your dream home.

When you're ready to make that offer, look past the little stuff that you can easily change, and focus your negotiations on what matters, like the location and the bones of the house.

Source: "6 Ways to Lose at Negotiating a House Price"

Summer Home Maintenance Tips — Specifically for June

by The Schnoor Team

Invest in quality tools while they’re on sale this month.

Temps start to soar in June when days start to get longer.

Stop your energy and water bills from soaring, too, with these summer home maintenance tips:

#1 Stop Buying Cheap Tools

Happy Father's Day to everyone: It's tool-sale month! Repairs and home improvement projects go much smoother with quality tools — and you'll like the results more. This month, take advantage of sales to buy quality brands for less, or buy used tools at a local auction or estate sale. Then ditch those make-do tools that have always frustrated you.

#2 Stop Heat-Drying Your Dishes

You're already paying extra to pump cool air into your house. Don't pay even more to use the heat-dry setting on your dishwasher. It can double your electrical load.

Instead, open the dishwasher immediately after it runs, and pull out the racks. The evaporating steam will speed-dry the dishes. Some dishwashers have an air-dry button that will automatically prevent heat drying.

#3 Stop Watering Your Lawn So Much

Lawns are a bit picky about their drinking schedule. Rather than daily soaks, they prefer deep, infrequent watering, which promotes deeper root growth. In general, lawns need about 1 inch of water per week. In a well-watered lawn, you can stick a screwdriver 6 to 8 inches into the dirt without resistance.

#4 Stop Putting Bricks in the Toilet

Summer may be water-conscientiousness season, but putting a brick in your toilet is the wrong means to that well-meaning end. Brick crumbles when exposed to water for too long. Instead, switch to a high-efficiency toilet. At $100-$300 per toilet, the $230 annual water savings is worth it. Or just swap your brick with a half-gallon milk jug filled with sand.

Source: "Summer Home Maintenance Tips — Specifically for June"


Sharp Homeowners Know June Is the Best Time to Do These 5 Things

by The Schnoor Team

Like cleaning your siding — just be sure to start from the bottom and go up.

Could it really be summer?!

Tackle these five summer maintenance tasks during June's longer days and better weather — and save yourself time and money this winter.

#1 Update Outdoor Lighting

In June, winter nights are probably the last thing on your mind. But early summer is the perfect time to plan for those "OMG it's only 4:30, and it's already dark " moments by adding or updating landscape lighting.

The most energy-efficient, easy-to-install option is solar lighting, but it won't perform as well on dark or snowy days. For light no matter the weather, install electric.

LED bulbs last up to five times longer and also use less energy than comparable bulbs.

#2 Clean Your House's Siding

With a bit of preventative maintenance, your home's siding will stay clean and trouble-free for up to 50 years. Fifty years! Clean it this month with a soft cloth or a long-handled, soft-bristled brush to guarantee that longevity.

Start at the bottom of the house and work up, rinsing completely before it dries. That's how you avoid streaks.

#3 Focus on Your Foundation

There's no better time for inspecting your foundation than warm, dry June. Eyeball it for crumbling mortar, cracks in the stucco, or persistently damp spots (especially under faucets). Then call a pro to fix any outstanding issues now, before it becomes an emergency later.

#4 Seal Your Driveway Asphalt

Your driveway takes a daily beating. Weather, sunlight, cars, bikes, and foot traffic – all of these deteriorate the asphalt. Help it last by sealing it. Tip: The temperature must be 50 degrees or higher for the sealer to stick, making June a good month for this easy, cost-effective job.

#5 Buy Tools

Thanks to Father's Day, June is the month everyone can get a deal on tools, tool bags, and that multitool you've had your eye on. If it's time to replace a bunch of tools, or you're starting from scratch, look for package deals that offer several at once. These can pack a savings wallop, offering 30% off or more over buying the tools individually.

Source: "Sharp Homeowners Know June Is the Best Time to Do These 5 Things"

 

The Tip I Learned While House Hunting That Changed Everything

by The Schnoor Team

Nope, we weren’t ready to buy a fixer upper. Here’s how we figured that out.

Profession: He's a meter reader for an electric company, and she's a pattern maker for a swimsuit company.

When Drew Ader and his wife, Meg Dewey, decided they were ready to buy a house, they knew exactly what they wanted: a fixer-upper. After years of watching home makeovers on TV, they wanted a house they could get for a song and transform into exactly what they wanted. They'd gain the value of sweat equity and have their dream house.

Instead, they ended up buying a house that was totally move-in-ready, no hardhats needed. Here's how they went from wanting a "before" house to buying an “after" one.

So, you wanted a fixer-upper. I bet you're big HGTV fans and dreamed of Chip and Joanna Gaines-style makeovers.

Drew: Yes, we are big fans of Chip and Joanna! Who isn't? We watch all of the HGTV shows and have always talked about wanting to do our own fixer-upper so we could make our home exactly what we want. We also thought that we might be able to save some money by doing the work ourselves. We wanted to spend around $225,000 [on the home purchase, before renovations].

Have you ever done a home renovation before?

Drew: No. Neither of us has experience fixing houses, but they make it look so easy on TV that we considered giving it a try.

So tell us about the house hunt.

Drew: We looked at fixer-uppers. We looked at a lot of different houses, some that needed to be completely gutted and were considered distressed properties, and some that needed only a few rooms updated and renovated. We were trying to get a house that was around $100,000 less than the market and redo it to save money.

Did you just look at fixer-uppers?

Drew: Initially, yes. Lisa [Johnsen, their agent] was great throughout the whole process, giving us ideas on how we could fix up the houses and pointing out things we should be looking for that, as first-time homebuyers, we would have missed — like an aging septic system or mold.

But she suggested we look at some houses that were already done, too, before we decided. That way we could see what you got if you paid for a house where someone else had done the work vs. what you got if you bought [a house] that needed renovation. So we looked at some houses that had been renovated and flipped by others, and some that just didn't need a whole lot of work.

What made you decide that a fixer-upper wasn't for you? What was the a-ha moment?

Drew: After seeing the prices of the fixer-uppers vs. the ones that were done, and considering the amount of work and money we would have to put into a house to make it what we wanted, we decided looking at move-in-ready houses would be a smarter decision. It would've been too much work trying to balance working 40-plus hours a week and fixing a house. Paying more for a house was preferable for us to buying one that was cheaper and renovating it. Lisa helped us see that.

So what did you end up buying?

Drew: We ended up purchasing a turnkey home. It has four bedrooms, 2,550 square feet, plus a finished basement. It had the exact floor plan we were looking for — one large great room. It just happened to be a turnkey home and in the upper end of our price range, which was honestly the best of both worlds. There was nothing that had to be fixed before we moved in; it was all just cosmetic things to make the home feel like ours.

So no sledgehammers were involved?

Drew: No. When we moved in, the first thing we did was repaint the basement in fresh, modern paint colors. Now we have moved upstairs and are working on the main floor powder room, as well as the foyer and hallways. We haven't had to do any demo on any rooms, mostly just painting, except in the bathroom where we are repainting the vanity, installing a new vanity top, and putting up a fun Joanna Gaines wallpaper.

But, shiplap?! Any shiplap?

Drew: Nope. We're not that handy.

Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about buying a fixer-upper?

Drew: Go for it if you're a handy person who has the time to do the renovations. With the right house, you could save money. But it's harder than it looks. Just doing little cosmetic upgrades in our house has taken a lot longer than I expected. I couldn't imagine if we had to redo an entire house. They make it look so easy [on TV], and I have a lot of respect for what they do on all of those shows.

What's your favorite thing about your house?

Drew: The pellet stove! It is so easy to use and maintain — much easier than a wood-burning fireplace, which we thought we wanted. It works so well and is a big time and money saver during the winter. We also like that we didn't have to spend a year working on our house and can sit by the stove instead.

Source: "The Tip I Learned While House Hunting That Changed Everything"


How We Bought Our First Home: Getting a Mortgage When Self-Employed

by The Schnoor Team

Two freelancers buy their first home in a sellers’ market.

After nine years in a 550-square-foot apartment, Kaitlin Wadley and Bryce Bordenkecher were ready for more space and their own place. And since Kaitlin works from home, they weren't just shopping for a house; they were shopping for a workplace, too. But they had a challenge: These creative professionals were both self-employed. Getting a mortgage can be a little harder when you're a freelancer.

Professions: She's a freelance illustrator who also runs an online vintage clothing store; he's a photo retoucher.

Home style: 103-year-old bungalow

Sale price: $249,900

Year of home purchase: 2018

City: Minneapolis

Names: Kaitlin Wadley, 30, and Bryce Bordenkecher, 32

Plus, they were in a seller's market, with houses getting multiple offers as soon as they were listed. Here's how they made it work.

You'd been in the same apartment for nearly a decade. What finally made you say, “House. Now."?

Kaitlin: I work from home. I was like, “I need out of this tiny apartment.” I was the one pushing to buy. I wanted another cat, and we needed more room for that, too.

Did you know what kind of house you wanted?

Kaitlin: We wanted something older, with architectural details. We didn't want anything built after 1950. We didn't want a 1970s house covered with carpet and paneling.

What was the first thing you looked at?

Kaitlin: A condo, because it was cheap, $150,000. It was seven blocks from where we were living, and it was in a 1915 building. We went the first week it was listed and put in an offer. It wasn't accepted. We realized we needed to be serious.

And being serious meant?

Kaitlin: Zeroing in on what we wanted. You couldn't just casually browse in that [seller’s] market. We sat with [our agent] Mike Smith and had a candid conversation about what we were looking for in a house. The style, condition, number of bedrooms, price range, and neighborhood. He took us on a first round of showings, so he could get an idea of what we wanted.

Then he set up a custom search that would email us new listings every night that fit our criteria, and we would go through those and see if there were any we wanted to look at. You had to put in an offer that minute in that market, so screening the houses helped us move faster.

How long did you shop before you found The One?

Kaitlin: Two-and-a-half weeks. But we looked at a lot of homes. We saw a three-bedroom house we liked and decided we wanted to make an offer, only to be told that the seller had accepted an offer while we were looking at it. We had to pick up the pace of things because homes were going fast.

 

How did you know that a bungalow was the house for you?

Kaitlin: The size and the architecture were right. It's Arts and Crafts, a style that goes with any type of furniture. It had two bedrooms, so we would have one to use as an office/studio space and one to sleep in. We liked the neighborhood, and there were mature trees in the yard. It didn't need a lot of work. The price was right, too.

You were in a tough market. Was it hard to get the house?

Kaitlin: There were three offers in addition to ours. One was an escalating offer. But the owner took ours because our agent has a good relationship with the seller's agent. He convinced the seller to take our offer. I don't know why, but I think it was because we were a young couple buying our first house.

Getting a mortgage when you don't have a W-2 is tougher than when you do. What was it like for a couple of self-employed creatives to get a six-figure loan?

Kaitlin: It was tricky. Bryce had two years where his income was, like, $16,000 less from one year to the next, because he had taken on fewer clients. He had to provide a couple of years [of tax returns] to show it was a one-time dip. He also had to write a letter explaining that it was because he had taken on [fewer] clients.

[The lender] didn't ask for lists of clients, and we were glad. A friend of ours who's a freelancer referred us to our broker, and I think the fact that [our broker] had worked with freelancers in the past probably worked in our favor.

What type of mortgage did you get?

Kaitlin: We went with traditional. We had enough to put 20% down without using up our savings, and we didn't want a mortgage where we had a lower down payment because it felt good to get a chunk of that house paid for.

What's your advice to first-time home buyers?

Kaitlin: Don't start looking until you have saved up your down payment. Get an agent. It's worth it to get one to help you hone your search. Know what you're willing to compromise on because the faster you can come to a consensus on a house, the better.

There's also a really scary period between when the offer is accepted and your financing is secured and when you close on the house. It's totally normal to get cold feet and worry you've made a mistake. Chances are, you haven't.

Finally, did you get that cat you wanted?

Kaitlin: Yes. We got our fourth one when we knew we were moving. It was another one of those things where I had to convince [Bryce]. Now that's his favorite cat.

Source: "How We Bought Our First Home: Getting a Mortgage When Self-Employed"

35 Money-Saving Household Habits

by The Schnoor Team

Adopt a few of these home tips to find a bit more cash each month.

Your house gives you so much: security, pride, shelter. With all that on the line, it's easy to assume the costs of keeping it up just are what they are. But wait. There are plenty of expenses you probably make to keep your home in good order that are simply a waste.

Here's how to save money each month without putting a dime of home value at risk.

#1 Clean Your Light Bulbs

What? Who does that? Well, smart people. A dirty bulb emits 30% less light than a clean one. Dust off both the bulb and fixture, and you might be able to cut back on the number or brightness of lights in each room without noticing any difference.

#2 Keep Your Fridge Full

Solid items snuggled together retain the cold better than air and help keep each other cold — requiring less energy overall. Leaving town for awhile and fridge is empty? Fill voids in the fridge or freezer with water bottles.

#3 Switch Your Bulbs to LEDs

By replacing just five of your most-used incandescent bulbs with uber-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, you could save $75 a year on your energy bill.

And LEDs last 15-20 times longer than incandescents, so you won't have to replace them nearly as often.

#4 Use Power Strips

Appliances like coffee makers, TVs, and computers continue to suck power even when they're off — which can cost you $100 a year. And did you know the AC adapter for your laptop keeps drawing power even if the laptop isn't plugged in? Stop this slow money burn by connecting them to an easy-to-switch-off power strip.

#5 Use a Toaster Oven When Possible

Toaster ovens use 50% to 70% less energy than a full-size oven.

#6 Set Your Water Heater to 120 Degrees

Hot water heaters often come with a factory setting that's higher than you need. You'll cool your water heating costs by 3% to 5% every time you lower the temperature setting by 10 degrees.

#7 Insulate Your Water Heater

For $30 or less, an insulating jacket or blanket can shave 7% to 16% off your water heating costs for the year. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer's directions to avoid creating a fire hazard.

#8 Wash Clothes in Cold Water

Just switching from hot to warm water will cut every load's energy use in half, and you'll reap even more savings taking the temp down to cold. And don't worry: Your clothes will get just as clean from cold water, thanks to the efficiency of today's detergents (except in the case of sickness; you'll want hot water and bleach then).

#9 Use the Right Dryer Cycle

If you're using a high-heat setting for each load, you could be using more energy than you need. Almost all fabrics can be dried with a lower heat setting, such as the permanent press setting. It uses less energy and has the added bonus of extending the life of your fabrics. Save the higher heat for items such as sheets and towels.

#10 Use Homemade Cleaners

Many commercial products rely on baking soda or vinegar for their cleaning power, so why not make your own? Most homemade cleaners cost less than $1.

#11 Cut Back on Laundry Detergent

Never mind the barely visible measurement lines in the cap: You typically only need a tablespoon of detergent. And, clothes actually get cleaner when you use less, because there's no soap residue left behind.

#12 Ditch Disposable Sweeper and Mop Head

Stop throwing money away every time you clean! Refill your Swiffer Sweeper with microfiber cloths. Just cut to size and use them dry for dusting or with a little water and floor cleaner for mopping. Or switch to a microfiber mop with a washable head.

#13 Stop Buying Dryer Sheets

Another easy swap? Give up your dryer-sheet habit (about $7 for 240 loads) in favor of wool dryer balls (about $10 for six, which last more than 500 loads each). Of course, depending on your laundry preferences, you can always just go without either.

#14 Cut Scouring Pads In Half

Most clean-ups don't require a full one.

#15 Don't Rinse Dishes

Two minutes of rinsing with the faucet on full-power will consume 5 gallons of water — the same amount efficient dishwashers use during an entire cycle. Shocking, right? And it's an unnecessary step, since most newer models are equipped to remove even stubborn food debris. Just be sure to clean the dishwasher trap regularly to keep your dishwasher running efficiently.

#16 Keep a Pitcher of Water in the Fridge

You won't have to waste time and money running the faucet, waiting for it to get cold enough for a refreshing sip.

#17 Set a Timer for the Shower

The average American takes an eight-minute shower and uses about 17 gallons of water. It's easy to linger, so set a timer for five minutes. Or try this more entertaining idea: Time your shower to a song or podcast segment.

#18 Install Low-Flow Fixtures

In addition to water-conserving practices, low-flow showerheads, which cost less than $10, and other fixtures can drop your water use in the shower by 43%.

#19 Hack a Water-Hogging Toilet

If you don't have a water-conserving toilet, there are water-saving retrofitting kits that could yield about $110 in savings every year. Or place a half-gallon milk jug filled with water into the tank — in the corner and away from the flapper and ball-cock assembly. Every time you flush, you'll save.

#20 Close Closet Doors

Each closet and pantry may hold a paltry amount of square footage, but you're still heating and cooling it. Add up all the storage space, and you've got the equivalent of a small room. Shut the doors to keep the conditioned air out.

#21 Program the Thermostat

Program your thermostat to turn the heat down by 3 to 5 degrees when you're not home and at night, and set it to bump the temperature up by the same amount when the A/C is cranking. You'll save $10 to $20 a month and never feel the difference.

#22 Don't Crank the Thermostat Up or Down Too Far

Varying the setting by 10 or more degrees when you're gone for work or over the weekend is overkill. Your HVAC system will have to work overtime to get back to the ideal temperature, erasing your savings.

#23 Use Fans Year-Round

Ceiling fans can reduce your summer cooling costs and even reduce winter heating bills — but only if used correctly. Flip the switch on the base to make the blades rotate counterclockwise for a cooling effect or clockwise to help distribute heat in the winter. And in the warmer months, an attic or whole-house fan can suck hot air out and help distribute cooler air so you can give the A/C a little break.

#24 Caulk or Weatherstrip Around Doors and Windows

Caulk may not have the charisma of something like solar panels, but using it to seal air leaks around doors and windows will deliver immediate savings rather than a 14-year payback. You'll spend $3 to $30 and save 10% to 20% on energy bills.

For gaps between moving parts that can't be caulked, add weatherstripping.

#25 Add Insulation

This is a bigger weatherizing project than caulking or weatherstripping, but it could yield more than $500 in yearly savings. While your home should be properly insulated from the roof down to the foundation, prioritize the attic, under floors above unheated spaces, around walls in a heated basement and in exterior walls.

#26 Plant Shade Trees

Block the summer sun to lower cooling costs. Planting one shade tree on the west side and one on the east side of your home can shield your home from the sun during the summer months (but avoid south-side trees, which block winter sun). By the time they're 15 years old, these two trees can reduce your energy bill by 22% , while adding value to your home.

#27 Use Curtains as Insulation

Another way to practice energy-saving passive heating and cooling? Open curtains on sunny windows in the winter and close them up in the summer.

#28 Cool with a Cross Breeze

On a breezy day, open a window on the side of your house that's receiving the breeze, then open another on the opposite side of the house. Make sure the window on the receiving side is open a little less than the exhaust side to accelerate the breeze. You can also use a fan if there's no breeze outside.

#29 Check Your Mortgage's PMI

If your mortgage was for more than 80% of your home's purchase price, you could be paying more than $50 a month, and as much as $1,000 a year, for private mortgage insurance (PMI). So as soon as you have at least 20% equity in your home, contact your lender to terminate the policy — they aren't necessarily required to notify you when you reach that threshold.

Another option for ditching PMI? If your credit score or debt load has improved since securing your mortgage, look into refinancing with more favorable terms.

#30 Check Your Home Insurance for Savings

Your homeowners insurance should change as your life changes. Buying an automatic generator or installing security alarms could reduce your premium by 5% or more.

Bundling your home and auto coverage could save even more — up to 20% off both policies. But the point is to compare and do a price check to see if you can save.

Surveys have found you could be paying a lot more than what another insurer would charge for the same coverage. So you could save by going with a new company, or by using their quote to bargain with your current provider.

#31 Borrow Tools Instead of Buying

How often are you going to use that $600 demolition hammer once you remove your bathroom tile? Not so much? Rent it from a home-improvement store for a fraction of the cost. Be sure to do the math for each tool and project though; sometimes the rental price is high enough to justify buying it.

Or join a tool lending library or cooperative to borrow tools for free or much less than retail stores.

#32 Cut Back on Paper Towels

Two rolls of paper towels a week add up to about $182 every year! Instead, try machine-washable cotton shop towels. They clean up messes just as fast and cost less than $2 for five. Save paper towels for messes that need to go straight into the trash, like oil and grease.

#33 Stop Buying Plants for Curb Appeal Every Year

A pop of color in your landscaping perks up your curb appeal. But instead of wasting household funds on short-lived annuals, invest in perennials that will keep giving for years to come.

#34 Water Grass in the Morning to Save on Your Water Bill

Turning the sprinkler on midday is kinda like watering the air — especially when the mercury soars. Lose less to evaporation by watering during cooler hours (but avoid overnight watering, when too-slow evaporation can invite fungus growth).

#35 Make Your Yard Drought-Tolerant for Long-Term Savings

Save $100 or more yearly by replacing water-hogging plants and grass with drought-tolerant and native species, and beds of rock or gravel. You'll save time on maintenance, too.

Source: "35 Money-Saving Household Habits"


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