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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"

Mouth-Watering Outdoor Kitchens (And Surprise! Their ROI Is Great)

by The Schnoor Team

What they typically cost, and tips for getting the most return on your investment.

Building an outdoor kitchen is more than an indulgence: These backyard beauties can improve your home's value. Outdoor kitchens typically get a 71% return on investment, according to the "Remodeling Impact Report" from the National Association of REALTORS® — and that's on top of your own outdoor-cooking joy.

The investment can be a little — or a lot. These five outdoor kitchen ideas fit a range of budgets and homes.

#1 A Tiny Outdoor Kitchen for Limited Spaces

If you boil down an outdoor kitchen to the basics, what more do you need than a grill, a little oven, cupboard space, and a cozy place to sit? This setup does it all efficiently, for as little as a few hundred dollars if you already have outdoor electricity. An electrician will add to the cost.

#2 An Outdoor Kitchen From a Kit

Modular kits, like this one from WWOO (starting around $1,500), can be customized to suit your backyard. Some companies even offer design help for additional cost.

The galley-inspired layout here also does double duty by adding privacy. (Keep in mind the cool outdoor sink requires additional plumbing, which will increase the cost.)

#3 An Outdoor Kitchen Made of Concrete & Steel

DIY-savvy homeowners used concrete and cement board to create this L-shaped outdoor kitchen that mimics today's indoor layouts. Guests relax at the counter while the host flips burgers — it's open-concept living in the great wide-open.

No, this isn't DIY 101, but if you've got the skill set you can do it for the cost of materials — and concrete is cheap. If you hire a pro, though, the typical cost is about $14,000 for a kitchen that includes an inset grill, steel drawers, ice chest, sink, and concrete countertop, according to the "Remodeling Impact Report."

#4 An Outdoor Kitchen With Personal Style

Your outdoor kitchen doesn't have to look like everyone else's. But it should match your home's style if you want to get a return on your investment. This DIY kitchen fits the home's rustic style and comes with enough storage any indoor cook would envy.

#5 An Outdoor Kitchen That Says "Sit a Spell"

Your outdoor kitchen can play the same role in your yard that your kitchen inside does: as the heartbeat of every gathering where guests will want to stay awhile. And bonus: The added deck and pergola could also kick up your home value a couple of notches.

Source: "Mouth-Watering Outdoor Kitchens (And Surprise! Their ROI Is Great)"

 

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"


9 Essential Things Every New Homeowner Should Have

by The Schnoor Team

These must-haves will make things a lot easier in the first few weeks.

When Lauren Hunter and her husband moved into their first home in Hilliard, Ohio, the previous homeowner had left behind a ladder. "It turned out to be awesome," Hunter says. "You don't realize how many situations where ladders make things easier. Hanging pictures is one thing, but try hanging curtains in a two-story great room."

Whether it's the need to hang a clock just a few feet higher or the realization that you really can't hold a flashlight and get that nut loosened under the sink, there's always something catching you by surprise as a homeowner.

With the right items on hand, however, you can be prepared for every scenario -- just like Hunter was, thanks to that ladder. When her family moved to a larger home, they paid it forward by leaving the ladder behind for the new owners.

Do yourself a favor by stocking your home with the following items, and you'll be ready for every home ownership challenge.

#1 Wet-Dry Vacuum

You're gonna be spilling stuff. Look for a wet-dry vacuum that can handle everything from paint to nails and small stones. "We inherited one of those with our first house, and it was an awesome thing to have for vacuuming the car and cleaning the garage," Hunter says. Unlike the ladder, "we kept that Shop-Vac when we moved."

#2 (The Right) Fire Extinguisher

"Whenever anyone I know moves, I give them a fire extinguisher as a housewarming gift," says Nina Patel, a Silver Spring, Md., homeowner who, years ago, accidentally set her apartment on fire with a homemade candle. "I was able to put out the fire with a pan of water, but it was a panicked moment. I've had my own fire extinguisher ever since."

But before going out and buying the first extinguisher you see, check out the U.S. Fire Administration's guide. There are five different types of fire extinguishers with different uses, from extinguishing cooking oils to wood and paper. Choose the best type or types for your home.

#3 Extension Cord Organizer

Home ownership seems to breed extension cords that grow into a tangled nest. Save yourself time and hassle, and splurge on one of several cord management devices. Or make your own with a pegboard, hooks, and velcro straps to keep each cord loop secure. Either way, your cords will be knot-free and easy to find. And be sure to include a heavy-duty extension cord in your organizer that's outdoor-worthy. You don't want to really have to use that fire extinguisher.

#4 Big-Kid Tools

Odds are you already own a bunch of the basics: drill, screwdriver, hammer, level, tape measure, wrench, pliers, staple gun, utility knife, etc. But home ownership may require a few new ones you might not have needed before, including a:

  • Stud finder. You can make as many holes in the walls as you want now. Use the stud finder to figure out where to hang those heavy shelves so they're safely anchored.
  • Hand saw. Much easier (and cheaper!) than a power saw, you can get a good cross-cut saw for smooth edges on small DIY projects.
  • Ratchet set. Every bolt in your new house belongs to you, so you'd better be able to loosen and tighten them when needed. Crank that ratchet to get to spots where you can't turn a wrench all the way around. Great for when you're stuck in a corner.
  • Pry bar. Get one with a clawed end to pull nails and a flat end to separate drywall, remove trim or molding, and separate tile.

#5 Tool Kit

You'll need something to carry all those tools around from project to project. Create a tool carrier using a tool bucket liner and an old 5-gallon bucket. Or invest in a handyman belt filled with the basics to keep on hand in the kitchen.

#6 Headlamp

Take that flashlight out of your mouth and work hands-free. From switching out a faucet to figuring out what's making that clicking noise behind the washer, there are plenty of homeowner tasks that require both hands and a little artificial light.

#7 Emergency Preparedness Kit

FEMA has a great list of supplies you should have in your kit, including cash, food, water, infant formula and diapers, medications, a flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, matches, sleeping bags, and a change of clothing. The agency recommends you stock enough for every member of your household, including pets, for at least 72 hours.

#8 Ladder(s!)

But not just any old ladder. Consider:    

  • How high you need to go. If you use an extension ladder for a sky-high job, school yourself on safety tips, such as not standing above the support point.
  • Where you'll use it. Make sure all four legs on a stepladder rest safely on a flat area. A straight ladder must be set up at a safe angle, so if a ceiling is too low, it might be too long for the room.
  • How heavy-duty it is. Check the ladder's duty rating so you know how much weight (you, your tools, paint cans, etc.) it'll support.

And don't forget about the all-important escape ladder. The Red Cross recommends them for sleeping areas in multistory homes.

#9 Confidence

“Especially for first-time home buyers. You're inheriting the responsibilities a landlord would have if you were renting," says Hunter. "Mowing isn't a big deal, but maybe fixing a shingle or changing a faucet is." But with a little self-confidence — and some YouTube tutorials — there's (almost) no DIY project you can't master.

Source: "9 Essential Things Every New Homeowner Should Have"

 

Tips for Managing Property Taxes

by The Schnoor Team

Understand how they affect your budget when you’re shopping for homes.

This article was contributed by financial expert and blogger Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP, author, speaker, and founder of Workable Wealth. She provides financial coaching for individuals and couples in their 20s to 40s across the country, helping them make smart, educated choices with their money.

If you’re in the market for your first home, you’re probably trying to figure out how to calculate what the property tax is going to cost you. Chances are you’ve considered how property taxes are going to impact the amount of home you can (or can’t) afford.

Property taxes are taxes that are assessed on real estate and are typically based upon the value of the property (land included) that you own. They’re assessed by the governing authority of the jurisdiction where the home is located and can vary greatly depending upon the state, county, and school district lines you live within.  They typically go towards the creation of roads, school or park maintenance, trash collection, and other similar needs.

Where to Find Local Rates

Property rates vary significantly across the country, so instead of using a generalized assumption, it’s best to do your research to narrow in on what to expect for your area. A simple Google search of the name of the county or city and state and the term “property tax rates” should provide you with the rate you can anticipate paying.

How Property Taxes are Calculated

The amount of property taxes you’ll pay is determined by multiplying the current assessed value of the property by the property tax (mill) rate. For example, a home in San Diego County worth $800,000 will have a property tax rate of 1.17%. Therefore, the annual property taxes owed would be $800,000 x 1.17% = $9,360.

If you’re not up for calculating out and researching rates in your area, you can typically find a good estimate of what you’ll pay through home listings or by using an online home affordability calculator.

Considerations for Your Budget

Property taxes are important to keep in mind as a part of your home buying budget. Due to the huge range you can experience, be sure to factor this into your expenses early in your shopping.

For example, while a home in San Diego, California may cost $800,000 with a 1.17% property tax rate, a similar home in McKinney, Texas, could cost $400,000 with a 2.66% property tax rate (and an annual property tax bill of $10,640). You’ll pay more in property taxes in McKinney than you’d pay for a home in San Diego at double the price.

However, it’s important to note that putting down 20% and making payments on a mortgage on a home valued at $400,000 versus one valued at $800,000 will look significantly different when it comes to your overall budget. So while some areas may have higher property taxes, if their homes are priced more moderately, you’re likely looking at saving more money on an overall basis.

Keep in mind that in general, property taxes tend to increase over time, so allow for some wiggle room in your budget when it comes to your housing budget; don’t tap yourself out by spending the max early on.

Federal Deduction for Property Taxes

You’ll be able to deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes combined if you itemize.

Property taxes may get a bad reputation, but the fact is they can go towards supporting some substantial needs in your community and they may provide you with some tax savings depending your circumstances. They’re going to be a factor no matter where and what type of home you purchase, so ensure you evaluate your budget and determine how they impact the amount of home you can afford.

Source: "Tips for Managing Property Taxes"

7 Painting Hacks to Get the Look of a Pro — Without the Pro Price

by The Schnoor Team

Like this easy hack: coat paint brushes in fabric softener to keep bristles soft.

A DIY painting job doesn’t have to equal crooked lines, besmirched floors, and ceramic sinks speckled with robin’s egg blue.

Use these easy painting hacks, to make the process faster and less messy — and ensure a fresh, modern look for your home.

#1 Soak Brushes in Fabric Softener to Keep Brushes Soft

Every DIY painter has been privy to the horrors of a day-old brush with stiff bristles that makes round two nearly impossible. Try this painting hack instead:

To keep paint brushes soft:

  1. Rinse thoroughly (no soap).
  2. Mix half a cup of fabric softener with a gallon of warm water
  3. Swish brushes in the mixture for 10 seconds or so.
  4. Lay them flat or hang them on a peg for overnight storage.

“That way, the bristles won’t develop a bend and will retain their usefulness for your next painting adventure,” says Artem Filikov, vice president of marketing and product development for home improvement website HomeYou.

Also, there’s no need to rinse before using. The softener actually helps distribute paint more smoothly.Sweet!

#2 Use Plastic Wrap to Prevent Mishaps

When painting around a large, awkward item you want to keep clean, like a toilet or a standalone sink, use this painting trick from the pros: surround it with plastic wrap to keep drips from destroying its finish.

For an extra tight wrap, choose a wrap with an adhesive backing — your hardware store will even carry special painter’s plastic wrap, if you really want to go all out — which will help it stick to the surface and prevent the odd drop from inching its way in. Once you’ve finished the job, just unwrap for a paint-free finish.

#3 Use Vanilla and Lemon Extracts to Reduce Paint Odor

Paint’s intense odor can get really old really fast. Overpower it with a little bit of vanilla.

Although there are vanilla-scented products specifically designed to use with paint, you can get the same effect with what’s in your kitchen cabinet.

For darker paints, add a couple drops of vanilla extract (artificial is fine) per gallon to reduce the nasty smell and keep your room smelling sweet for weeks to come.

Because you don’t want the tint of vanilla to ruin the color of your paint, swap it with lemon extract for light-colored paints.

#4 Repurpose Old T-Shirts as Rags to Reduce Waste

Painting’s a messy job, but using roll after roll of paper towels is neither efficient nor environmentally-friendly.

And while you could pick up a mega-pack of plain cotton towels to keep paint from splattering, why not use something you can find stuffed at the back of a drawer?

Geoff Sharp, the owner of Sharper Impressions Painting Co., recommends cutting up old T-shirts to use as rags, saving money and resources (not to mention a trip to Goodwill).

“If paint runs down your roller or brush, it gets really messy, really quick,” he says. “Always have a rag in your pocket so you and your brush or roller stay clean.”

#5 Keep Q-tips Handy for Mistakes

Oh no! A drop of Naples Sunset just splashed on your white window frame. You’ve only got a few minutes to clean up the mess before your mistake is sealed for eternity.

That’s where Q-tips come in handy. Just stash some in your pocket for these types of emergencies.

Here’s another use for that pile of cotton swabs tucked in your jeans pocket: Use them to touch up imperfections on newly-painted walls without dirtying an entire paintbrush.

#6 Put Petroleum Jelly on Small Spots You Don't Want Painted

A little bit of Vaseline can go a long way toward keeping your paint job clean.

Using a Q-tip (another reason to keep them handy), go over all the bits and pieces you don’t want painted, like screws or hinges. With the petroleum jelly applied, even an accidental slip won’t leave you heartbroken.

Here’s another tip for a hassle-free paint job: “Run petroleum jelly along the seals of your doors and windows to prevent them from sticking,” Sharp says.

#7 Use a Hair Dryer on Painter's Tape for Easy Removal

Painter’s tape is supposed to make your paint job easier and stress-free.

But when strips of perfect paint peel off along with the adhesive — or you just can’t get the darn tape to come off at all — you might feel like you wasted your effort.

To help stubborn painter’s tape get a move on, turn a hair dryer (low heat only) toward your handiwork.

Holding it about three inches from the wall will help soften the adhesive and ensure an even line, making removal a stress-free affair — and ensuring you keep that dreamy, crisp paint line.

Source: "7 Painting Hacks to Get the Look of a Pro — Without the Pro Price"


How Long Does It Take to Buy a House?

by The Schnoor Team

There are a lot of steps to buying a house, and that takes time: It takes 50 days on average to just close on a home.

How long does it take to buy a house? A lot depends on how much time you spend shopping for one. But once you have a contract, it takes an average of 50 days to close on a house.

There are a lot of steps to buying a house, and any of them could drag out the timeline, especially if you’re not prepared. Here’s the home-buying timeline, broken down step-by-step, so you can be in control:

1. Do Your Homework

Time: 1-14 days

Dreaming about owning your own home is one thing; making it happen is another. To get beyond the dream stage, you need to do some critical research to help you figure out what you do and don't want — along with how much can you afford.

It’s mighty disappointing to fall in love with a house only to find out you can’t afford it. A quick chat with your bank can help you avoid that heartbreak — it’s called pre-qualifying. But it’s no guarantee you’ll get a mortgage (that comes later), only an indication of how much you can afford.

2. Find An Agent

Time: 1-7 days

Finding an agent who suits you is key to the home buying process. They should be your most trusted adviser. Look for one with intimate knowledge of your desired community. If they know the inside scoop, they’ll know a great deal (or a bum one) when they see it.

3. Get Pre-Approved for a Loan

Time: 5-8 business days

Getting pre-approved for a loan signals you’re a serious buyer. Most agents recommend you have a pre-approval in hand before you make an offer, and they can offer reccomendations of lendrs. But pre-approval goes deeper than pre-qualification. It needs a ton of documents from you. A couple of tips to help make this a speedier process:

Get all your documents for mortgage pre-approval organized and ready to go.

Compare rates from lenders within a 14-day window: Credit bureaus will count all their checks as just one. (That’s good news for your credit score).

4. Shop

Time: A few days to a few months

 

Here’s where things really vary. There are so many variables. If you’re set on a particular neighborhood where the inventory is low, it could take longer… or you could discover “the one” on day one. It all depends on what you’re seeking and what’s available. But the typical buyer actively searches for 10 to 12 weeks and looks at a median of 10 homes.

5. Make an Offer, Negotiate, and Sign a Contract

Time: 1-7 days

Work with your agent on price, contingencies, and other terms of the deal. A couple of tips to help make this step proceed smoothly:

  • Include the pre-approval letter from your lender in the offer, and put down earnest money. (Commit 3% to 4% of the sale price instead of the standard 1% to 3%, and you might really put a fire under them.)
  • If you receive a counteroffer, respond ASAP. You don’t want to give another buyer time to jump in with a better offer.

6. Get Final Mortgage Approval

Time: A few days to 3 weeks

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage doesn’t automatically mean you get a loan on the home you have under contract. The lender has a few other requirements once the home is chosen, such as an inspection and appraisal. And they’ll want to see even more current copies of your financial documents.

From this point on, the steps to buying a house will often overlap, so you’ll have several wheels in motion.

7. Get a Home Inspection

Time: 3-7 days to schedule; 2-3 hours to inspect

As soon as your contract is accepted, contact an inspector to get on their books. The inspection itself will only take two or three hours, but unfortunately, they’re not quite Amazon. They seldom show up the next day.

However, they can get the report to you quickly. Many inspectors take pictures and fill out the report as they go, then send it to your inbox within hours of completion. But it can take up to a couple of days if they’re backed up.

If the inspection turns up issues, it can cause some delays. This can range from a day or two to renegotiate, or longer if, for example, you have an FHA loan that requires certain safety standards. A home with peeling lead paint may need to be repainted, which can take weeks.

8. Get a Home Appraisal

Time: Up to 5 days to schedule; a few hours to do the appraisal; up to 5 business days to get the report to the lender

 

The appraisal is key to getting a mortgage. If the home fails to appraise for the mortgage amount, you may have to put more down or renegotiate the contract. That’s why you want to line up an appraiser as soon as you have a house under contract. And unlike the home inspection, this report goes to the lender instead of you and takes longer because the appraiser has to do additional research on what homes are selling for in the area.

9. Get Title Insurance

Time: 1-3 business days for title check; 2 weeks for insurance policy

Your title company will perform the check, which means they’ll look at deeds and other documents to make sure you will own the home free and clear of any liens or former claims to the property.

10. Get Homeowners Insurance

Time: Up to 2 weeks

Your company may send someone out to assess the property for potential risks, which can take several days. And your mortgage lender may require other types of coverage, such as flood insurance.

11. Arrange for Closing Funds

Time: A few minutes to a few days

Find out from your agent whether you need to bring a cashier’s or certified check or transfer funds digitally. Transfer the funds to the right account, and get your money ready to release.

If you ever receive wiring instructions by email, call your agent or lender to confirm one of them sent it. Call the phone number you have on record for your agent, not the one listed in the suspect email.

12. Conduct a Final Walk-Through

Time: 1 hour, the day of or day before closing

This is your chance to make sure the sellers made any agreed-upon repairs and left the property in as good (or better!) condition than the last time you saw it.

13. Close on the House

Time: 50 days on average; 1-2 hours to actually sign the paperwork

Each step after you’ve got a contract on a home is part of the closing process. And that process —  which includes getting the loan, inspection, appraisal, title, insurance, etc. —  takes the average home buyer about six weeks.

When it’s time for the main event, bring your photo ID, and stretch your hand muscles; you’ve got a lot of signing to do! But getting the keys? Takes hardly any time at all.

Source: "How Long Does It Take to Buy a House?"

In Closing: How to Seal the Home-Buying Deal

by The Schnoor Team

Sign that paperwork. Write those checks. Get those keys!

The closing. It all comes down to this. The grand finale. Once you have the keys, the house is yours. (Cue: Air horn sound!)

Nice work getting this far. You’re almost a homeowner! Let’s run through some questions you may have as you cross the finish line.

What Does "Closing" Mean?

The close or settlement is when you sign the final ownership and insurance paperwork and get the home’s keys.

The closing process technically begins when you have signed a purchase and sale agreement. That agreement should specify a closing date. Typically — from the signing date to the closing date — closing takes four to six weeks. During this time, purchasing funds are held in escrow, where your money is safe until the deal is officially done.

What's a Closing Disclosure?

Lenders must provide borrowers with a Closing Disclosures,  or CD, at least three days before settlement. This form is a statement of your final loan terms and closing costs.

You have three days to review the CD. Compare it to the Loan Estimate you received shortly after you applied for the loan. If you need a refresher on Loan Estimates, you can view a sample version here.

The point of this formal review process is to ensure there are no surprises at the closing table. If there’s a significant discrepancy between the Loan Estimate and CD, notify your lender and title company immediately. Depending on what the underlying issue is, the closing has to stop and a new closing disclosure must be sent out with a new three-day review period.

There are a couple things on the LE that can’t change by the time you get the CD — namely interest rate and lender fees. Some items can change by only 10% (fees paid to local government to record the mortgage might be one); and others can change without limit, like prepaid interest, because it can’t be predicted at the start of the loan process.

When Will the Final Walk-Through Happen?

Most real estate sale contracts allow the buyer to walk through the home within 24 hours of settlement to check the property’s condition. During this final inspection, which usually takes about an hour, you and your agent will make sure any repair work that the seller agreed to make has been completed.

During the walk-through, you’ll also double-check that everything in the house is in good working order. Be sure to:

  • Run water in all the faucets and check for leaks under sinks.
  • Test appliances.
  • Check the garage door opener.
  • Flush toilets.
  • Open and close all doors.
  • Run the garbage disposal and exhaust fans.

If the home is in good shape — woo-hoo! Your next stop is the closing table.

If anything is amiss, your agent will contact the listing agent and, in most cases, negotiate to get the seller to compensate you at closing — typically in the form of a personal check — for the costs of fixing the problems yourself.

Worst-case scenario: You have to delay closing to resolve problems. In the unlikely event that happens, your agent will help you address the issue.

Who’s Invited to The Closing?

Certain people will be there. Who, exactly, depends on your state. Typically, you will be joined by:

  • Your agent
  • The seller
  • The seller’s agent
  • A title company representative
  • Your loan officer
  • Any real estate attorneys involved in the transaction

The closing usually takes place at the title company, attorney’s office, or the buyer’s or seller’s agent’s real estate office. FYI: Some states, like California, don’t require an in-person, sit-down closing because they’ve enacted legislation that allows for electronic closings with remote notaries.

Nonetheless, as the home buyer, you’ll have to sign what might seem like a mountain of paperwork — including the deed of trust, promissory note (promising the lender you’ll pay back the loan), and other documents. That cramp in your wrist will be worth it once everything is done.

How Much Will I Pay for Closing Costs?

If you’ve heard people vent frustration with the process of buying a home, then you’ve likely heard complaints about unexpected costs at closing. Let’s unpack what you should expect so you’re not surprised, too.

Closing costs can vary widely by location and your home’s purchase price. Costs are split between you and the seller, but as the buyer you’ll cover the lion’s share. You can generally expect your closing costs to be 3% to 4% of the home’s sales price. So, on a $300,000 home, you can pay anywhere from $9,000 to $12,000 in closing costs. (Meanwhile, the seller typically pays closing costs of 1% to 3% of the sales price.)

You can try to predict closing costs with calculators like Nerdwallet;s, which lets you plug in your mortgage details to get a rough estimate of what your costs will be.

Closing fees often include (but are not limited to):

  • Commission for the buyer’s agent and seller’s agent
  • A loan application fee
  • An origination fee, which lenders charge for processing your loan
  • The appraisal fee
  • A fee for pulling your credit report
  • An underwriting fee, which covers the lender’s costs of researching whether to approve you for the loan
  • A title search fee
  • Property taxes, which are due within 60 days of the purchase
  • A recording fee for filing a public land record with the courthouse

These fees are a bummer. The bright side: Almost all of them are one-time deals.

What Should I Bring? (Other than Champagne?)

At the closing you should have:

  • A government-issued photo ID
  • A copy of the ratified sales contract
  • A homeowner’s insurance certificate
  • Proof of flood insurance, if you’re buying a home in a flood zone
  • A cashier’s check, or proof of wire transfer,  to cover the remainder of the down payment and your closing costs

Also, talk to your attorney about anything else you might need to bring depending on your state or personal circumstances (such as a separation or divorce decree, should your relationship status affect the closing).

What Is Title Insurance and Why Do I Need It?

Every lender requires borrowers to purchase title insurance — a policy that protects you and the lender from outside claims of ownership of the property. Wait, you may be asking, some random person could show up and claim they own the house? Sounds crazy, but it happens.

Let’s say a previous owner didn’t pay all of their property taxes. Because those taxes remain against the property, the taxing entity could potentially take your home if you don’t have a “clean” title. Title insurance also protects you from ownership claims over liens, fraudulent claims from previous owners, clerical problems in courthouse documents, or forged signatures.

The title company will perform a comprehensive search of deeds, wills, trusts, and public records to trace the property’s history and verify that you’re becoming the rightful sole owner of the property.

Typically, lenders have a preferred title company they work with, but it’s ultimately the buyer’s decision as to which title company to use. Your agent could offer a few referrals.

Title insurance comes in two forms:

  1. Lender’s title insurance, which (no surprise) protects the lender. It’s required.
  2. Owner’s title insurance, which protects you. It’s optional but recommended because it covers your interest in the property. If the insurance company loses a battle over the title in the future but you purchased owner’s title insurance, you’re fully protected. Owner’s title insurance will also cover your legal fees if you have to defend your ownership rights in court.

Unlike most insurance policies, such as homeowner’s insurance, car insurance, and life insurance, title insurance is paid as a one-time fee at closing. The average cost of title insurance is about $544 for the lender’s policy and about $830 for the homeowner’s policy, according to ValuePenguin data. However, costs can vary significantly depending on the home you’re buying, where it’s located, and how much legwork the title company has to perform.

What If There are Last-Minute Issues? Should I Panic?

For your loan to be approved, it has to go through underwriting. The underwriter’s job is to validate all of your financials - confirming that your income, credit, and debt haven’t changed since you were pre-approved for the loan —  as well as to review the property’s characteristics and appraisal. If everything checks out, your mortgage will be approved.

If something goes wrong during underwriting though, you’ll have to address the problem before you can close on the home. Let’s say your credit score dropped because you recently purchased a car with an auto loan, or maxed out your credit cards.This isn’t necessarily dire, but you may need to delay closing as you work with your lender to take steps to raise your score. (Also, for that reason, it’s a good idea to hold off on big purchases, avoid overusing a credit line, and doing really anything that could result in a credit inquiry until after the closing.)

OK — Can I Celebrate Now?

If you’ve made it through close … YES! Once you’ve climbed that mountain of paperwork and have those keys in your hands, you now officially, finally own a home.

Congratulations! You put in a lot of hard work — including to build relationships with your agent, your lender, and other experts along the way.

Now it’s time to start investing in other relationships. Like with your new neighbors :)

Source: "In Closing: How to Seal the Home-Buying Deal"


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