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5 ‘Gotta-Dos’ In April for a Worry-Free Summer

by The Schnoor Team

 

Battle bugs before they bite (or sting!) you — and check the attic for problems.

Tackling five simple tasks now gives you a head start on spring.

That leaves you plenty of worry-free time to enjoy the warmer weather.

#1 Tell Insects to Bug Off

Early spring warmth awakens insects, so start to protect your home now. Seal openings in eaves, decks, and other structures to keep out carpenter bees.

Nix mosquitoes by eliminating standing water or treating it with larvicide. Call a pro to destroy wasp and yellow jacket nests, unless you’re experienced enough to engage in a bee battle.

#2 Prep Tools for Lawn Care

Ladies and gentlemen, start your mowers. April’s the month to get this vital piece of equipment ready to roll. An unmaintained machine can cost money, slow you down, and leave your lawn vulnerable to disease. So, before you pull the starter rope:

Replace spark plugs and the air filter.

Change the oil and sharpen blades.

Fill the tank with fresh gasoline.

While you’ve got your gloves on, clean, sharpen, and repair your garden tools. When your azaleas are ready to prune, you’re not going to want to keep them waiting.

#3 Tune Up the Air Conditioner

With flip-flop weather comes another summer tradition: cranking up the air conditioning. Tune your AC in April, before the mercury and service rates rise.

Ask your HVAC company if they have a twice-a-year maintenance plan. Often, you can get discounted rates if you join, and you don’t have to worry about finding someone to do it each spring and fall.

Now you only have to worry about which pair of Havaianas to wear.

#4 Check the Attic (and Garage)

How long has it been since you looked in the attic? Yeah, us too.

April’s the time to inspect this oft-ignored space — before it gets too hot. Look for signs of animal activity (raccoons love attics), and repair or replace damaged insulation or wiring.

Ensure stored items are still secure; tighten container lids and dust covers and replace moth repellants.

While we’re talking storage, how’s the garage? If soccer balls, bikes, and luggage have taken prime parking space, regain control with a storage system. Your car (and your partner) will thank you.

#5 Clean Up Bird Feeders

Besides spreading diseases to birds, dirty bird feeders attract rodents and hurt curb appeal. Gross.

Give your bird feeders a deep clean — not just a rinse-out.

Empty them, take them apart, and wash with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts hot water. Rinse well to remove all traces of bleach, air dry, and refill with seed.

Clean under feeders, too, because moldy or spoiled seed on the ground can make pets sick. Don’t forget the bird bath.

A pretty yard that’s a healthy haven for birds makes a good impression — one that says “this is a well-cared-for home.”


Source: http://pexels.com/search/home organization/

KELLEY WALTERS

is a Southern writer and editor. She focuses on interior design and home improvement at outlets from HGTV to Paintzen. She lives in Italy a month every year, drinking Negronis and writing in internet cafes.

5 Awesomely Easy Landscaping Projects

by The Schnoor Team

 

It’s your yard — yours to do with as you wish. And while that’s great, that doesn’t mean you have to be one of those people who spends every spare moment in their yard, sprucing it up.

But, still, your landscaping could use a little something. But something easy.

Here are five totally doable projects that your budget will barely notice, but your neighbors definitely will:

#1 Add Some (Tough) Edging

Tell your grass who’s boss with edging that can stand up to even the crabbiest of all crabgrasses.

But don’t make the mistake that many homeowners make of buying the flexible plastic stuff, thinking it will be easier to install. It’ll look cheap and amateurish from day one.

Worse, it won’t last. And before you know it, you won’t be able to tell where your garden bed ends and your “lawn” begins.

Instead buy the more rigid, tough stuff in either fiberglass, aluminum, or steel.

Tips on installing edging:

Lay out a hose in the pattern you want.

Sprinkle flour or powdered chalk to mark the hose pattern.

Use a lawn edger (or spade) to make an incision for the edging.

Tap the edging into the incision with a rubber mallet.

The cost? Mostly your time, and up to $2.50 a square foot for the edging.

#2 Create a Focal Point with a Berm

Berm built in front yardImage: Jon Jenks-Bauer

A berm is a mound of gently sloping earth, often created to help with drainage. You can also build them to create “island beds,” a focal point of textures and colors that are so much more interesting than plain ol’ green grass.

Plus, they’ll give you privacy — and diffuse street noises. What’s not to like about that? Especially if you live in more urban areas.

For most yards, berms should max out at 2-feet high because of the space needed to properly build one.

They need a ratio of 4-6 feet of width for every foot of height. That’s at least 8 feet for a typical 2-foot high berm. So be sure you have the room, or decrease the height of your berm.

Popular berm plantings include:

Flowering bushes, such as azaleas

Evergreens, such as blue spruce

Perennials such as periwinkle

Tall, swaying prairie grasses

Lots of mulch to keep weeds away

The cost?  Usually less than $300, depending on how big you make it, how much soil you need to buy to get to your desired height, and what plants you choose.


#3 Make a Flagstone Wall

Aim to build a wall no more than 12 inches tall, and it becomes a super simple DIY project — no mortar needed at all!   

How to build an easy flagstone wall:

Dig a trench a couple of inches deep and wide enough to accommodate the flagstones.

Fill with pea gravel and/or sand and tamp to make level.

Lay out the flagstones to see their shapes and sizes.

Stack the smaller stones first.

Save the largest, prettiest flagstones for the top layer.

Backfill with gravel.

Choose a stone of consistent thickness. Flagstone might be limestone, sandstone, shale — any rock that splits into slabs.

The cost? About $300 for stones and sand (a ton of 2-inch-thick stone is enough for a wall 10 feet long and 12 inches high).

 #4 Install a Path with Flagstone or Gravel

There’s something romantic, charming, and simply welcoming about a meandering pathway to your front door or back garden — which means it has super-huge impact when it comes to your home’s curb appeal.

You can use flagstone, pea gravel, decomposed or crushed granite, even poured concrete (although that’s not easy to DIY).

A few tips for building a pathway:

Allow 3 feet of width for clearance.

Create curves rather than straight lines for a pleasing effect.

Remove sod at least 3 to 4 inches deep to keep grass from coming back.

If you live in an area with heavy rains, opt for large, heavy stones.

The cost? Anywhere from a couple of hundred bucks to upwards of $500 depending on the material you use, with decomposed granite being the least expensive, and flagstone (also the easiest of the bunch to install) the costliest.

#5 Build a Tree Surround

Stone tree surroundImage: Clean Green Landscape

Installing a masonry surround for a tree is a two-fer project: It looks great, and it means you’ve got less to mow. Come to think of it, it’s a three-fer. It can work as extra seating when you have your lawn party, too!

All it takes is digging a circular trench, adding some sand, and installing brick, cement blocks, or stone. Just go for whatever look you like best.

The trickiest part is getting an even circle around the tree. Here’s how:

Tie a rope around the tree, making a loop big enough so that when you pull it taut against the tree, the outer edge of the loop is right where you want the surround to be.

Set your spade inside the loop with the handle plumb — straight up and down. Now, as you move around the tree, the loop of rope keeps the spade exactly the same distance from the base of the tree, creating a nice circle.

Then build the tree surround:

Dig out a circular trench about 8 inches deep and 6 inches wide.

Add a layer of sand.

Set bricks at an angle for a saw-tooth effect or lay them end-to-end.

Fill the surround with 2 to 3 inches of mulch.

The cost? Super cheap. You can do it for less than $25 with commonly-available pavers and stones.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/by-room/yard-patio/easy-landscaping-projects/?site_ref=mosaic

 

Make an Offer Like a Boss

by The Schnoor Team

 

These 10 money- and time-saving steps can help you craft a winning bid.

Ah, the offer!

Cinematically speaking, this is the iconic moment — we’d forgive you if you imagined, say, putting a hand on your agent’s shoulder and whispering (in your best Vito Corleone) that you’re going to make them an offer they can’t refuse.

In reality, it’s not that simple (or dramatic). Your offer marks the beginning of a back-and-forth between you and the seller, typically with real estate agents advising you both.

The more intentional you are about your offer, the better your chances of making a successful bid. Follow these 10 steps, and you’ll be well prepared — that’s a true story. (“The Godfather” again. We couldn’t resist.)

#1 Know Your Limits

Your agent will help you craft a winning offer. You can trust your agent’s advice on price, contingencies, and other terms of the deal: It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. The more collaborative you are with your agent, the more quickly you’ll be able to move.

But ultimately, it’s you who decides what the offer will be — and you who knows what your financial and lifestyle limits are. Buying a home means mixing strong emotions with business savvy, so now is also a good time to reflect on your “musts.”

Have a top limit to your offer price because you’re also saving for retirement and love beach vacations? Stick to it. 

Want a vegetable garden or to paint your home’s exterior purple? Make sure your homeowners association rules permit it. 

Besides reading HOA rules, find out how much the HOA has in reserves to cover common area repairs. You don’t want to be slapped unexpectedly with a special assessment. 

Want a dog-friendly community? Make sure there are no pet weight limits or preventing you from cohabitating with your (extra-large) 

#2 Learn to Speak "Contract"

Essentially, an offer is a contract. The documents and wording vary across the country.

In the spirit of due diligence, take time to review sample offer forms before you’ve found a house (LawDepot.com has purchase agreements for each state). If you’re high-maintenance, a real estate attorney can explain the documents to you so you’re familiar with their vocabulary when you’re ready to pull the trigger on an offer with your agent. Your agent will have offer forms for your state. 

#3 Set Your Price

Homes always have a listing price. Think of it as the seller’s opening bid in your negotiation to buy a home.

As the buyer, your offer will include an offer price. This is the first thing home sellers look at when they receive a bid.

Your agent will help you determine whether the seller’s listing price is fair by running comps (or comparables), a process that involves comparing the house you’re bidding on to similar properties that recently sold in the neighborhood.

Several factors can also affect your bargaining position and offer price. For example, if the home has been sitting on the market for a while, or you’re in a buyer’s market where supply exceeds demand, the seller may be willing to accept an offer that’s below the list price. Or if the seller has already received another offer on the home, that may impact the price you’re willing to offer. Your agent will help you understand the context here.

#4 Figure Out Your Down Payment

To get a mortgage, you have to make a down payment on your loan. For conventional loans (as opposed to government loans), making a 20% down payment enables borrowers to avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), a monthly premium that protects the lender in case the borrower defaults on the loan.

But 20% isn’t always feasible — or even necessary. In fact, the median down payment was 10% in 2017, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Your lender will help you determine what the best down payment amount is for your finances. Depending on the type of loan you get, you may even be able to put down as little as 0% on your mortgage.

You might qualify for one of the more than 2,400 down payment assistance programs nationwide. Many of them make funds available to households earning as much as 175% of area median income. In other words, middle-income households. And the savings can be substantial: Home buyers who use down payment assistance programs save an average of $17,766 over the life of their loan, according to real estate resource RealtyTrac. Find out more about down payment assistance programs in your state.

You can use an online mortgage calculator to see how different down payments would affect your mortgage premiums and how much you’ll pay in interest.

#5 Show the Seller You’re Serious: Make a Deposit

An EMD — short for earnest money deposit — is the sum of money you put down as evidence to the seller that you’re serious (read: earnest) about buying the house. If the seller accepts your offer, the earnest money will go toward your down payment at closing. However, if you try to back out of the deal, you might have to forfeit the cash to the seller.

A standard EMD is 1% to 3% of the sales price of the home (so, that would be $2,000 to $6,000 on a $200,000 loan). But depending on how hot the market is where you live, you may want to put down more earnest money to compete with other offers. 

In most cases, the title company is responsible for holding the earnest money in an escrow account. In the event the deal falls through, the title company will disperse the funds appropriately based on the terms of the sales contract. Title companies also check for defects or liens on a seller’s title to make sure it can be transferred cleanly to you.

#6 Review the Contingency Plans

Most real estate offers include contingencies — provisions that must be met before the transaction can go through, or the buyer is entitled to walk away from the deal with their EMD.

For example, if an offer says, “This contract is contingent upon a home inspection,” the buyer has a set number of days after the offer is accepted to do an inspection of the property with a licensed or certified home inspector.

If something is wrong with the house, the buyer can request the seller to make repairs. But most repairs are negotiable; the seller may agree to some, but say no to others. Or the seller can offer a price reduction, or a credit at closing, based on the cost of the repairs. This is where your real estate agent can offer real value and counsel on what you should ask the seller to fix.

Just remember to keep your eye on the big picture. If you and the seller are bickering over a $500 repair to the hardwood floors, keep in mind that’s a drop in the bucket in relation to the size of the bid.

In addition to the aforementioned home inspection contingency, other common contingencies include:

A financing contingency, which gives home buyers a specified amount of time to get a loan that will cover the mortgage.

An appraisal contingency, where a third-party appraiser hired by the lender evaluates the fair-market value of the home to ensure the home is worth enough money to serve as collateral for the value of the mortgage.

A clear title contingency, where the buyer’s title company verifies that the seller is the sole owner of the property and can legally convey ownership to the buyer.

A home sale contingency, where the transaction is dependent on the sale of the buyer’s current home.

Although contingencies can offer protection to buyers, they can also make offers less appealing to the seller because they give buyers legal ways to back out of the sale without any financial repercussions. So, if you’re going up against multiple offers, making an offer with fewer contingencies can potentially give you an edge over the competition.

In other words: A chill offer is an attractive offer. But keep in mind you have to be comfortable with the risks that come with this strategy. If you don’t have a financing contingency, for example, and you can’t get a mortgage, you’d likely lose your earnest money deposit since you’re on the hook. (An outcome that’s decidedly un-chill for you.)

#7 Read the Fine Print About the Property

The sales contract states key information about the property, such as the address, tax ID, and the types of utilities: public water or private well, gas or electric heating, and so on. It also includes a section that specifies what personal property and fixtures the seller agrees to leave behind, like appliances, lighting fixtures, and window shades. The seller provides prospective buyers with a list of these items before they submit an offer. This can be another area of negotiation.

Carefully reviewing the property description also helps you know, for example, if the seller plans to take that unattached kitchen island with them when they move. (Stranger things have happened.)

#8 Make a Date to Settle

The sales contract you submit to the seller must include a proposed settlement date, which confirms when the transaction will be finalized. The clock starts as soon as the purchase agreement is signed. If you don’t close on time, the party that’s responsible for the delay may have to pay the other party compensation in the form of “penalty interest” at a predetermined rate.

A 30- to 60-day settlement period is common because it gives the typical home buyer time to complete a title search and obtain mortgage approval, but settlement periods can vary. Some sellers, for example, prefer a longer period so they have more time to move or look for their next house. Being flexible, with respect to the closing date, could give you more negotiating power in another area of the deal.

One thing that’s the same no matter where you live is that you’ll have a three-day period prior to settlement to review the Closing Disclosure, or CD — a five-page form that states your final loan terms and closing costs.

Once the sales contract is signed, the parties can change the settlement date if they both sign an addendum specifying the new day.

#9 Write a Fan Letter to the Seller

Want to make a truly compelling offer? Pull on the seller’s heartstrings by attaching a personal letter to the bid documents. Tell a compelling story about your family and your connection to the area. Get deep about your roots.

Also, sincere flattery can go a long way. Compliment the seller on how their kitchen renovation looks Apartment Therapy–worthy, for instance, or how the succulents in their landscaping remind you of a resort in Palm Springs.

Your agent can help you gather background on the sellers (e.g., are they crazy about their labradoodle, like you are about yours? Did they run a small business from the home, like you dream of doing?). And you should — of course — refer to information you gleaned during the open house or private showing. Use this intel to write a message that really speaks to the seller, and it may very well seal the deal.

#10 Brace Yourself for a Counteroffer

If you’re making a lowball bid or going up against multiple offers, the seller may decide to make you a counteroffer — a purchase agreement with new terms, such as a higher sales price or fewer contingencies.

At that point, it’s up to you to accept the new contract, make your own counteroffer to the sellers, or walk away.

Don’t panic: The next part of our guide walks you through the counteroffer process, and it offers strategies to give you more negotiating power.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/buy/how-to-buy-step-by-step/tips-for-making-an-offer-on-a-house/?site_ref=mosaic

HOUSELOGIC
helps consumers make smart, confident decisions about all aspects of home ownership. Made possible by REALTORS®, the site helps owners get the most value and enjoyment from their existing home and helps buyers and sellers make the best deal possible. 

Spring Weather Lures Homebuyers into Market

by The Schnoor Team

Warmer weather brought homebuyers into the market and pushed pending home sales up 3.4% in March, data from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® shows. NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said a gain was inevitable.

 
“After a dismal winter, more buyers got an opportunity to look at homes last month and are beginning to make contract offers,” he said. “Sales activity is expected to steadily pick up as more inventory reaches the market, and from ongoing job creation in the economy.”
 
The March gain was the first uptick in pending home sales in the past nine months.
 
 
Regional pending home sales were mixed:
 
Region         March 2014         Compared with March 2013
Northeast     Up 1.4%              Down 5.9%
Midwest      Down 0.8%          Down 10.1%
South           Up 5.6%               Down 5.3%
East              Up 5.7%              Down 11.1%
Although home sales are expected to trend up over the course of the year and into 2015, this year began on a weak note and total sales are unlikely to match the 2013 level.
 
Existing-home sales are expected to total more than 4.9 million this year, slightly below the nearly 5.1 million in 2013. However, with ongoing inventory shortages in much of the U.S., the national median existing-home price is expected to grow 6%-7% in 2014.
 

 
 
DONA DEZUBE
has been writing about real estate for more than two decades. She lives in a suburban Baltimore Midcentury modest home on a 3-acre lot shared with possums, raccoons, foxes, a herd of deer, and her blue-tick hound. 

Spring Cleaning Guide If You Love, Love, LOVE Houseplants

by The Schnoor Team

An outdoor shower and dirt massage will do wonders.

You like having a clean house, and you LOVE having a green house. But a trail of dead leaves on the floor isn’t a good look no matter what.

This plan will help keep your home clean and green, while helping your plants stay healthy, too.

Give Plants a Spring Check-Up

Use a magnifying glass to check for bugs. Look for the marks they leave, like scarring, a cotton-like “fluff,” or webbing. (Hint: The undersides of leaves are a favorite hiding spot.) A few applications of a standard houseplant insecticide should take care of the critters.

Trim yellow and dead leaves. ”Aesthetically, plants look nicer without dead or dying leaves,” says Liza Wheeler, an “interior landscaping artist.” And creating a clean, green slate will make it easier to spot new problems as they arise, she says.

Massage the dirt to break it up. “The soil can get kind of cruddy from watering, so breaking it up makes it look cleaner,” Wheeler says. “It also helps aerate the soil slightly.”

Give them an outdoor shower. A little fresh air and a drizzly spring day — or a gentle spray from the hose — will help plants shake off the dust and cobwebs of winter. Don’t forget to wipe off the saucers and exteriors of pots.

Clean the Areas in Your Home That Your Plants Cover Up

Moisture and dirt can find their way out of pots and onto your floor, countertop, or shelf.

While your plants are drying outside after their shower,

clean the spots where they sit, checking for any damage, which could be caused by a cracked pot. Also clean any walls and baseboards that your greenery hides.

Clean the Windows

Crystal-clear windows allow more sunlight to reach plant leaves, fostering photosynthesis and respiration, freshening your indoor air. Besides clean windows make the entire home feel fresh and bright.

Organize Your Plant Supplies and Tools

Make lovin’ on your plants easier with some simple organizing solutions:

  • Do some organizing and purging to clear space in a cabinet or on a shelf to keep all your supplies together and easily accessible.
  • Stow frequently used items like a spray bottle and fertilizer in an easy-to-carry cleaning caddy.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/organize-maintain/cleaning-decluttering/house-plant-care/?site_ref=mosaic

AMY HOWELL HIRT

has written about home design for 13 years. Her work has been published by outlets including “The Home Depot,” “USA Today,” and Yahoo! Homes. She previously served as home and garden writer and columnist for “The Cincinnati Enquirer.”

5 ‘Gotta-Dos’ In April for a Worry-Free Summer

by The Schnoor Team

Battle bugs before they bite (or sting!) you — and check the attic for problems.

#1 Tell Insects to Bug Off

Early spring warmth awakens insects, so start to protect your home now. Seal openings in eaves, decks, and other structures to keep out carpenter bees.

Nix mosquitoes by eliminating standing water or treating it with larvicide. Call a pro to destroy wasp and yellow jacket nests, unless you’re experienced enough to engage in a bee battle.

#2 Prep Tools for Lawn Care

Ladies and gentlemen, start your mowers. April’s the month to get this vital piece of equipment ready to roll. An unmaintained machine can cost money, slow you down, and leave your lawn vulnerable to disease. So, before you pull the starter rope: 

 

Replace spark plugs and the air filter.

Change the oil and sharpen blades.

Fill the tank with fresh gasoline.

While you’ve got your gloves on, clean, sharpen, and repair your garden tools. When your azaleas are ready to prune, you’re not going to want to keep them waiting.

#3 Tune Up the Air Conditioner
   
With flip-flop weather comes another summer tradition: cranking up the air conditioning. Tune your AC in April, before the mercury and service rates rise.

Ask your HVAC company if they have a twice-a-year maintenance plan. Often, you can get discounted rates if you join, and you don’t have to worry about finding someone to do it each spring and fall.

Now you only have to worry about which pair of Havaianas to wear.

#4 Check the Attic (and Garage)

How long has it been since you looked in the attic? Yeah, us too.

April’s the time to inspect this oft-ignored space — before it gets too hot. Look for signs of animal activity (raccoons love attics), and repair or replace damaged insulation or wiring.

Ensure stored items are still secure; tighten container lids and dust covers and replace moth repellants.

While we’re talking storage, how’s the garage? If soccer balls, bikes, and luggage have taken prime parking space, regain control with a storage system. Your car (and your partner) will thank you.

#5 Clean Up Bird Feeders
   
Besides spreading diseases to birds, dirty bird feeders attract rodents and hurt curb appeal. Gross.

Give your bird feeders a deep clean — not just a rinse-out.

Empty them, take them apart, and wash with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts hot water. Rinse well to remove all traces of bleach, air dry, and refill with seed.

Clean under feeders, too, because moldy or spoiled seed on the ground can make pets sick. Don’t forget the bird bath.

A pretty yard that’s a healthy haven for birds makes a good impression — one that says “this is a well-cared-for home.”

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/organize-maintain/home-maintenance-tips/when-to-spray-for-bugs/

KELLEY WALTERS
is a Southern writer and editor. She focuses on interior design and home improvement at outlets from HGTV to Paintzen. She lives in Italy a month every year, drinking Negronis and writing in internet cafes. 

5 Surprising (and Useful!) Ways to Save for a Down Payment

by The Schnoor Team

 

One of the biggest misconceptions of home buying? The 20% down payment. Here’s how to buy with a lot less down.

Buying your first home conjures up all kinds of warm and fuzzy emotions: pride, joy, contentment. But before you get to the good stuff, you’ve got to cobble together a down payment, a daunting sum if you follow the textbook advice to squirrel away 20% of a home’s cost.

Here are five creative ways to build your down-payment nest egg faster than you may have ever imagined.

1. Crowd source Your Dream Home

You may have heard of people using sites like Kickstarter to fund creative projects like short films and concert tours. Well, who says you can’t crowdsource your first home? Forget the traditional registry, the fine china, and the 16-speed blender. Use sites like Feather the Nest and Hatch My House to raise your down payment. Hatch My House says it’s helped Americans raise more than $2 million for down payments.

2. Ask the Seller to Help (Really!)

When sellers want to a get a deal done quickly, they might be willing to assist buyers with the closing costs. Fewer closing costs = more money you can apply toward your deposit.

“They’re called seller concessions,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional mortgage sales manager for the New York metro area at TD Bank. Talk with your real estate agent. She might help you negotiate for something like 2% of the overall sales price in concessions to help with the closing costs.

There are limits on concessions depending on the type of mortgage you get. For FHA mortgages, the cap is 6% of the sale price. For Fannie Mae-guaranteed loans, the caps vary between 3% and 9%, depending on the ratio between how much you put down and the amount you finance. Individual banks have varying caps on concessions.

No matter where they net out, concessions must be part of the purchase contract.

3. Look into Government Options

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, offers a number of homeownership programs, including assistance with down payment and closing costs. These are typically available for people who meet particular income or location requirements. HUD has a list of links by state that direct you to the appropriate page for information about your state.

HUD offers help based on profession as well. If you’re a law enforcement officer, firefighter, teacher, or EMT, you may be eligible under its Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program for a 50% discount on a house’s HUD-appraised value in “revitalization areas.” Those areas are designated by Congress for  homeownership opportunities. And if you qualify for an FHA-insured mortgage under this program, the down payment is only $100; you can even finance the closing costs.

For veterans, the VA will guarantee part of a home loan through commercial lenders. Often, there’s no down payment or private mortgage insurance required, and the program helps borrowers secure a competitive interest rate.

Some cities also offer homeownership help. “The city of Hartford has the HouseHartford Program that gives down payment assistance and closing cost assistance,” says Matthew Carbray, a certified financial planner with Ridgeline Financial Partners and Carbray Staunton Financial Planners in Avon, Conn. The program partners with lenders, real estate attorneys, and homebuyer counseling agencies and has helped 1,200 low-income families.

4. Check with Your Employer

Employer Assisted Housing (EAH) programs help connect low- to moderate-income workers with down payment assistance through their employer. In Pennsylvania, if you work for a participating EAH employer, you can apply for a loan of up to $8,000 for down payment and closing cost assistance. The loan is interest-free and borrowers have 10 years to pay it back.

Washington University in St. Louis offers forgivable loans to qualified employees who want to purchase housing in specific city neighborhoods. University employees receive the lesser of 5% of the purchase price or $6,000 toward down payment or closing costs.

Ask the human resources or benefits personnel at your employer if the company is part of an EAH program.

5. Take Advantage of Special Lender Programs

Finally, many lenders offer programs to help people buy a home with a small down payment. “I would say that the biggest misconception [of home buying] is that you need 20% for the down payment of a house,” says Rodriguez. “There are a lot of programs out there that need a total of 3% or 3.5% down.”

FHA mortgages, for example, can require as little as 3.5%. But bear in mind that there are both upfront and monthly mortgage insurance payments. “The mortgage insurance could add another $300 to your monthly mortgage payment,” Rodriguez says.

Some lender programs go even further. TD Bank, for example, offers a 3% down payment with no mortgage insurance program, and other banks may have similar offerings. “Check with your regional bank,” Rodriguez says. “Maybe they have their own first-time buyer program.”

Not so daunting after all, is it? There’s actually a lot of help available to many first-time buyers who want to achieve their homeownership dreams. All you need to do is a little research — and start peeking at those home listings!

https://www.houselogic.com/buy/first-time-home-buyer/down-payment-assistance/?site_ref=mosaic

ERIK SHERMAN

covers business, technology, finance, personal finance, and economics for such outlets as CBS MoneyWatch, Inc.com, Fortune.com, and Forbes.com. He’s the author or co-author of 10 books on a variety of subjects.

 

How to Rent Your Home

by The Schnoor Team

 

Step-by-step directions for getting the highest possible rent and the best tenants when you rent your home.

Whether you plan to turn your home into a rental property, or if you purchased a property specially as a rental property, the steps for finding a tenant are the same. You’ll need to:

  • Check local laws.
  • Get yourself the right paperwork.
  • Price the property to appeal to renters.
  • Vet the people who want to move in.

Regardless of whether you manage the rental yourself or hire a professional real estate manager, you’ll earn top dollar from your investment property by following these 10 steps:

1. Make sure you’re allowed to rent the property.

If you live in a homeowners association, check for rental restrictions and find out if local government requires a rental license or inspection. A professional property manager will know the local laws, but may not know your HOA’s rules.

2. Know the local eviction laws.

Talk to a real estate attorney or your professional property manager to find out how the eviction process works in your area. In some places, you can remove a non-paying tenant within a month, but in others, it can take months and months — during which you’re not being paid.

3. Establish the rent.

Do market research to set your rental price. See what similar homes are renting for on Craigslist, in the local newspaper, and on the local multiple listing service. If you allow pets, compare pet-friendly properties’ prices. If you have a REALTOR® managing your rental, she will show you comparable prices.

4. Do your rental home paperwork.

You’ll need to set up these finance and legal items before you rent your home:

Apply for any rental licenses your local jurisdiction or community association requires.

Open a savings account to hold the security deposit. Most states require deposits be held in a separate account rather than an account where you keep your own money.

Purchase a landlord’s insurance policy.

If you’re doing your own property management:

Open an account with a company that does credit and criminal history background checks on prospective tenants.

Have a local real estate attorney draft a lease and a rental application for you.

Set the minimum credit score, credit history, and income you’ll take. In an upscale community, you can demand a credit score of 720 or higher and no late payments (that’s stellar credit), but in a low-income area where tenants are often unskilled laborers and therefore more at risk of unemployment, expect to reduce that to 620 and no late-rent payments.

The tenants should have income of about three times the rent. So if your place rents for $1,000 a month, look for at least $3,000 a month in income.

5. Photograph your home with your furniture in it.

Stage and take pictures of the rooms before the first tenants move in. That way, if your current tenants have awful decorating taste or are clutter bugs, you can use your pictures to show your house in its best condition when searching for new tenants.

6. Advertise everywhere you can.

If you’re in a college town, contact the university’s housing office.

If there’s a large employer within walking distance of your home, contact its employee relocation division to see if it posts rental listings.

Sites such as Craigslist offer free ads, but watch out for check scammers who answer your ad along with the legit renters. A REALTOR® can help you post your property in the local multiple listing service.

These last four steps apply if you’re showing the property yourself, rather than having a REALTOR® find tenants for your rental:

7. Group showings into one or two days per week.

When you respond to prospective tenants, showing the house every day wastes your time and annoys your current tenants. Having multiple groups viewing the property at the same time will make prospective tenants realize they could lose the place if they don’t make an offer.

A Friday night showing gives you a jump on the landlords doing Saturday showings. Follow up with a Sunday showing to catch everyone who couldn’t make Friday night.

8. Get your deposit ducks in a row.

Get an application, a deposit check equal to at least one month’s rent, and a signed lease from everyone who wants to rent your place. Process them in the order in which you received them. You’ll cash the check and sign the lease back to them only after their background and credit checks come back clean and you’ve verified income and employment.

Anyone who won’t give you a deposit check isn’t a serious applicant, so don’t waste your time vetting them.

9. Verify everything the tenant says on the application.

You’ll definitely want to weed out prospective tenants who give you a cell number that’s answered by a friend pretending to be the applicant’s employer or landlord.

Look up the phone number for the employer and verify employment and income with someone in human resources.

If you can, call your prospective tenants’ previous landlord — not the one they currently have. If they’re bad tenants, their current landlord may tell you they’re wonderful — just to get rid of them.

Call the bank branch listed on the deposit check and verify that there are sufficient funds in the account to cover the check.

10. Take the first tenant that meets your income and credit requirements.

If you don’t, you risk violating Fair Housing Laws. The credit checking company will give you the paperwork you must send to anyone who fails the credit check. Call everyone else who wanted your house promptly so they can move on.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/home-thoughts/how-rent-your-home/

DONA DEZUBE

has been writing about real estate for more than two decades. She lives in a suburban Baltimore Midcentury modest home on a 3-acre lot shared with possums, raccoons, foxes, a herd of deer, and her blue-tick hound.

Spring Cleaning List

by The Schnoor Team

 

Don’t you just love that feeling you get when you check items off a list? Get that adrenaline going with our spring cleaning list.

Spring cleaning isn’t quite the ritual it once was, but there’s still a basic human need to open up and spruce up our homes when the weather gets warmer.

To help you scratch your itch to spring clean, we’ve put together a spring cleaning list for those pieces and parts of your home that are most neglected throughout the year. Plus, we’ve added tips to make the chores easier.

Before you begin: Turn up the tunes with our Spotify spring cleaning playlist. Now you’re ready to tackle your spring cleaning list:

Walls: Dust your walls with your vacuum brush attachment, then clean using an all-purpose cleaner and rinse. Repair your walls by patching holes and dings and touching up paint.

TIP: Don’t use a spray cleaner, which will only leave streaks on your walls. Soak a cloth in cleaner, then wipe. To rinse, follow up with a clean cloth soaked in plain water.

Baseboards: Dust with a microfiber cloth or use your vacuum brush attachment, then spray with an all-purpose cleaner and wipe clean.

TIP: Clean your baseboards after you clean your floors since cleaning floors tends to kick debris up onto baseboards.

Windows: Use a microfiber cloth soaked in a solution of ¼ cup vinegar, ¼ to ½ teaspoon dish soap, and 2 cups water.

TIP: Don’t be tempted to use more vinegar. Too much can make windows appear cloudy.

Window screens: To deep clean your window screens, you should remove them. Place outside on a tarp or other clean waterproof surface, then use a garden hose, an all-purpose cleaner, and a soft brush (gently on the screen) to clean. Repair any torn window screens.

TIP: When removing your screens and hardware, label their location as you go to make re-installing them a breeze.

Shelves: Remove all items from shelves, and dust both the items and the shelves.

TIP: Use museum putty to secure items that tend to fall over, especially if you live in earthquake-prone areas.

Driveway: Use a pressure washer to give your driveway (and garage floor) a good cleaning. It’s amazing what a difference a sparkling driveway makes to your home’s curb appeal.

TIP: Try using Coke or Pepsi to remove oil and grease stains. It’ll take a little elbow grease, too, but the acidity of dark colas helps remove oil stains, as well as other tough stains, such as rust.

Siding: Using warm, soapy water and a soft-bristled brush attached to a long handle, clean your home in sections small enough to keep soapy water from drying before you can rinse.

TIP: Pressure washers can make the job go easier, but if you’re a power-washer newbie, you risk stripping off paint or damaging your siding. Try one of the newer, lighter, electric power washers, which are easier to handle, or stick with the old-fashioned method. Either way, wash from the bottom up to help prevent streaking.

Upholstery: Vacuum your sofas and chairs. Spot clean or steam clean as needed. Freshen dusty pillows, throws, and curtains by tossing them in the dryer on low or no heat. Or, take them outside on a nice day to fluff and bask in the sun as an energy-saving alternative.

TIP: To spot clean, use “whipped detergent” — a mixture of half dish soap and half water. Beat to a froth. Soak a cloth in the mixture, wash the stain, then rinse with a cloth soaked in fresh water.

Ceiling fans: Spray the inside of an old pillowcase with cleaning solution, then slip the bag over each blade and wipe clean.

TIP: Before you go up a ladder to clean your ceiling fan, check to see if the fan is turning in the right direction to keep your home cool. If you feel a breeze underneath the blades when turned on, your fan is set for summer. If you don’t feel a breeze, change the direction.

Air conditioners: Change your air conditioner filter, or clean it by soaking it in a vinegar-and-water solution for 1 to 4 hours (depending on how long it’s been since you last cleaned). Let dry completely before replacing.

TIP: Let the filter dry outside in bright sunshine to kill bacteria and to help remove odors.


Source: https://www.houselogic.com/organize-maintain/home-maintenance-tips/spring-cleaning-list/

LARA EDGE

has bought four homes, sold three, and downsized into an urban home less than half the square footage of her old one. She has 20 years of editing experience, most recently at HGTV, which inspired her to do some DIY, and to know when it pays to hire a pro.

How to Spring Clean If You’d Rather Play With Your Kids Instead

by The Schnoor Team

 

The key is to focus on the things your kids touch. Oh, and throw a party.

Ah, the guilt of parenthood: Your kiddos deserve real QT, but also a clean home.

Since there are only so many hours in a day, this spring cleaning plan hits the hot spots that tiny ones tend to find, so your fam can get back to the fun in a clean (if chaotic) space.

Clean Soft Surfaces

Kids are all over carpets, couch cushions, pillows, and duvets, and somehow even curtains (is that … peanut butter?).

These dirt-collecting materials need a deep-cleaning to get rid of allergy-causing dust, food particles, and all the general eww that little hands smear around.

Wash throws, pillow covers, and (most) pillows in the washer. Use a steam cleaner (or hire a pro) for carpet and upholstery. Some curtains may require dry cleaning (always a good idea to check the tag to see what the manufacturer recommends).

Then notice how your whole home feels and smells infinitely cleaner.

Involve Kids in a Purge Party

Kids can accumulate a staggering amount of toys and doodads. Help them sort through what they can donate: They’ll learn the value of decluttering, helping others, and taking care of a house. Also: less stuff.

“The benefit for parents is that they can spend more quality time with their children because they aren’t spending all of their time cleaning and organizing,” says Alyssa Trosclair, a professional organizer with Centsibly Organized.

Hit the Undersides of Tables, Counters

Wipe off the bottoms of high-chair trays, the dining table, and the underside of countertops ledges, where sticky stuff often festers, missed during daily wipe-downs — but easily accessible to tiny hands.

While you’re at it, pull apart any tables with leaves and wipe down the cracks. You may find enough crumbs to make the grossest loaf of bread ever.

Clean Low-Lying Surfaces

The track of a sliding door is a sterile place to stash your pacifier, right? Little ones sure think so.

Cleaning door thresholds, baseboards, as well as the lower portions of doors, walls, and furniture is important when you’ve got crawling and toddling hands in the household. Oh, and don’t forget the floor registers.

Do a Size Check on Winter Clothing

Puffy coats, wool hats, scarves, gloves, and ginormous snow suits practically need their own house. And that’s not counting those 2-inch-thick sweaters. Purge the items you know won’t fit a fast-growing child next year, and clean the rest.

Because when the first big snowfall hits, kids won’t want to wait while you wash their crusty hat from last season.

Don't Forget Door Knobs, Light Switches, Etc.

Light switches, door knobs, cabinet handles, and remotes are some of the germiest places in your house. Cleaning them might be the most consequential to-do on your spring cleaning list.

Source: https://www.houselogic.com/organize-maintain/cleaning-decluttering/cleaning-with-kids-in-the-house/?site_ref=mosaic

AMY HOWELL HIRT

has written about home design for 13 years. Her work has been published by outlets including “The Home Depot,” “USA Today,” and Yahoo! Homes. She previously served as home and garden writer and columnist for “The Cincinnati Enquirer.”

 

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