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7 Important Repairs to Make Before Selling A House

by The Schnoor Team

The most critical things to do to increase your home’s value before putting it on the market.

As a smart seller, you’ll want your home in tip-top shape — but you don’t want to eat into your profits by overspending on home improvements. You won’t be around to enjoy them anyway. The key is to focus on the most important repairs to make before selling a house to ensure every dollar you spend supports a higher asking price.

“Smaller and less expensive updates in combination with good staging will have a great return,” says Colorado Springs agent Susanna Haynie. But how do you know what things to do before putting your house on the market? Prioritize these updates — and consider letting the rest go.

#1 The Most Important Repair to Make Before Selling: Fix Damaged Flooring

Scratched-up wood flooring; ratty, outdated carpeting; and tired linoleum make your home feel sad. Buyers might take one step inside and scratch the property from their list. Want to know how to increase the value of your home? Install new flooring.

“Replace what’s worn out,” says Haynie. “Buyers don’t want to deal with replacing carpet, and giving an allowance is generally not attractive enough. Spring for new, neutral carpeting or flooring.”

If your home already has hardwood floors, refinishing does the job. Expect to spend about $3,000 on the project — and recoup 100% of the cost, according to the “National Association of REALTORS® Remodeling Impact Report.”

Consider swapping any old flooring for new hardwood. This project costs more at around $5,500, but you could recoup more than 90% of that at resale. If that’s not in the budget, any flooring update makes an enormous difference.

#2 Fix Water Stains

You’ve learned to live with the results of a long-fixed plumbing snafu, but for buyers, a water stain suggests there could be a dozen pesky problems hidden beneath the surface. That’s why this is one of the things to do before putting your house on the market.

“No buyer wants to buy a money pit,” says Haynie.

First, make sure the problem is fixed: Bring in a plumber to look for leaky piping or poor yard drainage if your basement is damp. Diverting rainwater from your foundation may cost as little as $800, and repairing a leaking pipe costs approximately $300.

As for the repair work, replacing a water-stained ceiling runs about $670, and drywall costs around $1.50 per square foot.

All are cheaper than a lost sale.

#3 Repair Torn Window Screens

So super inexpensive — and even DIY-able. You can purchase a window screen frame repair kit from a home improvement store for $10 to $15.

Considering the simplicity of this repair, making the fix is always worth it — and so are other small but highly visible issues. When you’re debating how to increase the value of your home, nix any small problems, snags, or ugly spots that might make buyers scrunch up their brows.

#4 Update Grout

Is your grout yellowing or cracked? Buyers will notice. New grout, on the other hand, can make old floors look like they came straight from the showroom.

“The best return-on-investment projects before selling a home involve making a home look like new,” says Malibu, Calif.-based agent Shelton Wilder. She recently sold a home above asking price after a complete re-grout.

This is another small fix with a big impact: Simple bathroom re-grouting may cost just $1 to $2 per square foot, increasing to $10 per square foot for more complicated jobs. And if you’re handy, you can save even more DIY-ing it.

#5 Resuscitate a Dying Lawn

Nothing says, “This one’s gonna take some work” like a brown, patchy, weedy lawn.

Fixing the problem doesn’t cost a ton of money — and you’ll get it all back (and then some!) once you sell. Hiring a lawn care service to apply fertilizer and weed control will cost about $375. Once you sell the home, that comparatively cheap fix could recoup $1,000. That’s an unbeatable 267% return on investment.

#6 Erase Pet Damage

Did your (sort of) darling kitten scratch your bedroom door? Fix the damage before listing your home. Otherwise, buyers may consider the scuffs a canary in the coal mine.

“If you have pet damage, buyers will [then] look for pet stains on the floor,” says Haynie.

Refinishing a door costs between $100 and $215 (or less, if you’re willing to DIY). Replacing pet-damaged carpeting or hardwood may be a bigger job than buffing out some scuffs — but it’s worth the cash.

#7 Revive an Outdated Kitchen

A full kitchen renovation is rarely worth it when it comes time to sell — even though buyers love a fresh look. “Kitchens are still one of the most important features for buyers,” says Haynie.

The problem is, this $65,000 upgrade isn’t something that buyers will pay you back for. Sellers recoup about 62% of a full-on kitchen renovation. If you’re updating the space just for your sale, focus on low-cost, high-impact projects instead.

“Updating the kitchen doesn’t need to be expensive,” says Wilder. “Painting wood cabinets, updating hardware, or installing new countertops or appliances could be enough.”

Setting up your home for selling success doesn’t have to be expensive. Focus on the most important repairs to make before selling a house by picking projects that do more than look pretty. Choose updates that get your home in selling shape and justify a higher asking price.

Source: "7 Important Repairs to Make Before Selling A House"

The Best Time of Year to Buy Things for Your Home

by The Schnoor Team

When to look for sales on mattresses, appliances, tools, furnishings, and materials.

Buying stuff can be stressful. Cheap out, and you could regret it. Overspend, and you’ll cut into your budget. Knowing the best time of year to buy appliances and other household items can lessen the anxiety.

Here’s a list of the best time of year for sales.

Furniture: January and July

You could save 30% to 60% buying furniture in January and July, as stores try to clear out inventory and make way for new pieces, which manufacturers introduce in February and August.

Floor samples especially often sell for a song, so don’t hesitate to ask.

Storage Essentials: January and August

In August, retailers slash prices and offer free shipping on shelving, organizing systems, baskets, and storage bins, baiting parents who are packing kids off to college or getting organized for a new school year. (No offspring? No problem. Proof of parenthood is not required to qualify for deals.)

It happens again in January, when stores roll out more sales — and selection — to help you find a home for all those holiday gifts and meet your organizing goals for the New Year.

Linens and Towels: January

Department store “white sales” — launched in 1878 — are still a favorite marketing tactic and make January the best time to binge on high-quality bedding and towels. If the exact color or style you’re seeking is out of stock, ask in-store for a rain check, so you can get exactly what you want at the price that can’t be beat.

Major Appliances: January, September, October, and the Holidays

The prices on this year’s appliances bottom out when they suddenly become last year’s models. With the exception of refrigerators (more on that below), you can pick up last year’s models for way less in September, October, and January, when stores are making room for new inventory.

For good deals on this year’s models, wait for Black Friday and the holidays. The season rivals inventory clear-out bargains as the best time of year for sales on appliances. And if you’ve got more than one appliance on the fritz, holidays are often the time to find incentives for buying multiple items.

Mattresses: February and May

Even the most obscure holiday seems to inspire mattress sale commercials. Annoying, yes, but also a reminder that you should never pay full price for a mattress. The best time of year for sales is February (courtesy of Presidents Day) and May (Memorial Day).

Many department stores offer coupons for additional savings on the sale price, while specialty chains — which have the biggest markups — can drop prices 50% or more. But don’t waste your time price shopping: Manufacturers have exclusive deals with retailers for each model, so the only way to find a lower price is to snuggle up to a different mattress.

Refrigerators: May

Unlike other big-ticket appliances, new fridges are released in May. Combine the need for retail turnover with Memorial Day sales, and you get epic savings nearly all month long, making it the best time of year to buy a new refrigerator.

Snow Blowers: March and April

The best time to pick up a low-cost snow blower is exactly when you DON’T need it: in March and April. That time of year, no store wants them taking precious floor space away from spring merch like patio furniture and grills.

Vacuums: April and May

New vacs debut in June, so last year’s models go on sale in April and May — just in time for spring cleaning.

Roofing: May

For the lowest price on materials, buy in May.

But if you’re paying a pro to install a new roof, contractor rates begin their climb April 1 and stay high through fall. So if weather allows for wintertime installation, you could save big.

Gas Grills: July and August

Come July 5, there’s still smoke in the air from Fourth of July fireworks, but stores are already moving on to Halloween, with Christmas not far behind. So, they’ll cook up juicy savings on grills and other summer staples in July and August. Sales peak by Labor Day, so you could pick up a new grill and still have time to host one final summer hurrah.

Lawn Mowers: August, September, and May

August and September are the perfect time to retire an ailing mower. You’ll find the lowest prices of the year (but also the slimmest selection) as stores replace mowers with snow blowers. Retailers also kick off the season with sales every April. You generally won’t save quite as much, but you’ll have more choices.

Perennials: September

Unlike non-perishable goods, there’s not much retailers can do with last season’s perennials, so September brings savings of 30% to 50% and two-for-one offers on plants like hostas, daylilies, and peonies. And note that independent gardening stores can typically offer deeper discounts than big chains.

Cooler weather also makes this a great time of year to plant. How’s that for a win-win? If you prefer planting in the spring, many nurseries offer 10% to 20% off when you pre-order in February or March.

Power Tools: June and December

Power tools are a favorite go-to gift for Father’s Day and the holidays, so June and December are the best time to buy tools like cordless drills.

Paint: January, May, July, November, and December

Prices for interior and exterior paint bottom out when the mercury (and demand) falls — in November, December, and January, but also when it rises back up, in May and July.

HVAC equipment: March, April, October, and November

Like snow blowers, the best time to buy furnaces and whole-house air conditioning systems is when you don’t need them. Prices are lowest during months with moderate temperatures — generally March and April, then October and November.

Many installers also run promotions during these slow seasons to help load their books. They also may be more willing to negotiate a lower price or throw in a free upgrade like a fancy thermostat.

Flooring: December and January

From mid-December and into January, homeowners tend to take a break from major remodeling projects because of the holidays. Flooring retailers and installers are looking for business, so that gorgeous wide-plank flooring or luscious carpet can be yours for an even more scrumptious price. Happy Holidays to you.

Source: "The Best Time of Year to Buy Things for Your Home"

Hey, Buyers: These Home Appraisal Tips Are for You

by The Schnoor Team

What to expect, when to negotiate, and how to deal when things don’t go your way.

Most people have deeply personal reasons for wanting to buy a home. Maybe it’s the bathroom that feels like a dreamy, modern spa. Or that two-tiered deck just made for parties.

Your lender doesn’t care about the freestanding tub. Or the built-in outdoor fire pit. Their only concern is that the house you buy is worth as much as the value of your mortgage.

To them, a house isn’t a home. It’s collateral. (Harsh, but true.) If someday, for some reason, you can’t make your mortgage payments, the lender can foreclose on the home and sell it to recoup all or some of its costs. (Even harsher, but also true.)

For that reason, a home must be valued at, or above, the agreed-upon purchase price, and this has to happen before you can close on a house. That’s where a home appraiser comes in.

A Home Appraiser Is Neutral (Like Switzerland)

After you sign a home purchase agreement (the contract between you and the seller about the terms of the pending sale), and before your lender approves your loan, the home you’re buying must pass an appraisal — an assessment of the property’s value by an unbiased third party: the appraiser.

An appraiser is a state-licensed or -certified professional. Their job is to assess an opinion of value —how much a house is worth. The appraiser is on no one’s side. They don’t represent you or the seller; instead, this person is a contractor chosen by your lender through an appraisal management company (AMC), a separate, neutral entity that maintains a roster of appraisers.

Appraisers survey a house in person, using five main criteria to determine the value of a home:

  • Location
  • Age
  • Condition
  • Additions or renovations
  • Recent sales of comparable homes

Be Prepared to Pay for the Appraisal — or to Negotiate

Generally speaking, the home buyer is responsible for paying for the appraisal — and the fee is typically wrapped into your closing costs. However, who pays for appraisal is negotiable. It never hurts to see if the seller is willing to cover it.

How much money are we talking about? The average professional home appraisal will run between $287 and $373, according to estimates by the home-professionals resource HomeAdvisor.com. Costs can vary depending on the square footage and quirks of the house, with higher appraisal prices for larger or more unique homes.

Appraisals Take a While, So Be Patient

Typically, a purchase agreement has a “home appraisal contingency” requiring that the appraisal be completed within 14 days of the sales contract being signed. Because it takes appraisers some time to visit your house and write a report — up to a week, or longer in a busy housing market — your lender will order the appraisal immediately after you sign the purchase agreement.

So, You Have a Valuation. Here’s What It Means — and What to Do Next

When the appraisal is finished, the appraiser issues a written report with his or her opinion of the value of the home. To produce the report, they use their analysis of the property and data from comparable homes, as well as review the purchase offer. The report will outline their methodology and also include photographs that they’ve taken of the property, inside and out.

You and your lender will both receive a copy of the report. Three things could happen next:

  • If the appraiser’s valuation matches the price you and the seller agreed to for the home: Your lender will proceed to underwrite your loan. Great news: This is the final step in your loan-getting process!
  • If the appraiser’s valuation is higher than what you’re paying for the home: Congratulations! You’ve gained immediate equity. How, you ask? Let’s say, for example, you’re paying $200,000 for the house. If the appraiser says it’s worth $250,000 — jackpot. That’s an instant $50,000 in equity. (Keep in mind, this is very rare.)
  • If the appraisal is lower than what you’ve agreed to pay for the home: Your lender won’t give you a loan for more than the appraised value. If you and the seller agreed on $200,000, for example, but the appraisal is $190,000, that creates a $10,000 shortfall. So what happens next?

Don’t despair — not yet. If you’re faced with a low appraisal, there are several ways the deal can still go through.

If an Appraisal Is Low, You Can Still Make It Work

Before we talk strategy, some reasons why appraisals come in lower than expected:

  • The seller overvalued the price of the home.
  • The appraiser isn’t familiar with the neighborhood.
  • The appraiser overlooked pending sales data.
  • The appraiser had trouble finding comparable homes, or missed comparable homes, so they compared your home with properties outside the neighborhood.
  • Home prices in the area are changing so fast that the listing agent’s price no longer reflects the market.
  • The appraiser rushed the job.

If the appraisal comes in low, your agent will offer recommendations about how to proceed. In general, your best strategy is to persuade the seller to lower the sales price, or to split the difference between the home’s appraised value and the price with you. This is when you can rely on your agent — and their negotiating skills — to go to bat for you.

You can also appeal the appraisal assessment. You’ll work with your agent to research comparable homes that support the sales price you agreed upon with the seller and present this information to your lender, who will forward it to the appraiser for a re-evaluation of the home’s value. Ultimately, though, it’s up to the appraiser to decide whether to revise their valuation of the property.

Alternately, you can ask your lender for a second appraisal, though there are caveats:

  • You’ll have to pay for it out of pocket (or persuade the seller to foot the bill).
  • You’re more likely able to challenge an appraisal for a conventional loan than a government loan. And you’d need solid facts to back it up in either case.
  • There’s no guarantee that it will be higher and meet the sales price.

The last option: You can come up with the cash yourself to cover the difference between the home’s price and the appraised value.

If you don’t want to take that route (and who could blame you?), a purchase agreement’s home appraisal contingency gives you the ability to walk away from the deal scot-free, and with your earnest money deposit in hand.

But today, let’s assume it all works out. With the appraisal behind you, you’ll be one step closer to closing on that house.

Source: "Hey, Buyers: These Home Appraisal Tips Are for You"

Holiday Lights & Luminaria Bike Tour

by The Schnoor Team

Presented By: Routes Bicycle Rentals & Tours, Inc

Recurrence: Recurring every December 24th

Location: Routes Bicycle Rentals & Tours, Inc

Address: 2113 Charlevoix St NW, Historic Old Town, Albuquerque, NM 87104

Phone: (505) 933-5667

Time: 5:30pm; 6:45pm: 8:00pm

Price: $20-25 Per Person

EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC OF THE HOLIDAYS ON OUR TWINKLE-LIGHT BICYCLE TOUR OF ALBUQUERQUE!

Join us as we take you through the heart of Albuquerque, down luminaria-lined avenues in Old Town and past some of the most impressive light displays in the Southwest. Our unique and intimate bike tours are the perfect way to experience the holiday sights, sounds, scents, and magic of New Mexico without the traditional headaches of heavy traffic and slow moving lines.

Now in our 8th Annual holiday season, Routes Bicycle Tours ‘Lights & Luminara’ Bike Tour has become a festive tradition for friends and families all over New Mexico!

Historic Old Town Albuquerque and the nearby Country Club neighborhood close their streets to automobile traffic on Christmas Eve, and together host one of the most extensive luminaria displays in the state. Old Town is also home to the City’s impressive holiday tree and the famous decorations and ceremonies of the San Felipe de Neri church.

Your breathtaking Christmas Eve bike tour begins with a stunning ride through Old Town and around the San Felipe de Neri church to view the city’s largest concentration of Luminarias.

We then proceed into the Country Club neighborhood, where every street is twinkling with holiday cheer and impressive light displays. This fantastic neighborhood also hosts an annual hot air balloon “glow” at sunset for your enjoyment. With this year’s VIP tickets,  guests can fill up on even more holiday cheer throughout the evening, in the tasty form of spiced cider, hot cocoa, New Mexico Piñon Coffee (unlimited refills with your special, keepsake Routes mug), and locally-made biscochitos (a traditional NM cookie).

The entire tour is approximately one hour in length and will be experienced from the comfortable seat of our signature cruiser bicycles, which have been festively transformed into impressive light displays of their own!

Multiple routes, times, and bicycle options are available for your enjoyment. You may choose to rent a bike from us or bring your own bike at a discount (BYOBike). All rentals come with a helmet, bicycle lights, our festively decorated “twinkle light” bicycles, and -as always- Routes’ coveted goodie bags for each rider!

This year, compliment your heart-warming bike tour with a body-warming beverage and keepsake mug!

General tickets include a cup of locally made cider or New Mexico’s favorite pinon coffee. Want to enjoy your hot beverage throughout the events? Purchase a VIP Mug Club ticket and receive unlimited refills throughout the evening in our collectible Routes Bicycles mug – choices for VIP mug club tickets include Cider, NM Pinon Coffee, or local artisan Hot Cocoa from the Chocolate Cartel!

Source: "Holiday Lights & Luminaria Bike Tour"

The Secret to Programming Your Thermostat the Right Way for Each Season

by The Schnoor Team

Before you get started, you’ll need to pick a programmable thermostat you’ll actually use. Here’s how.

According to a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, nearly 90% of Americans say they’ve rarely (or never) programmed their thermostat because they’re not sure how to do it.

But it’s really not that hard, and it’s definitely worth doing because it can save at least 10% a year on heating and cooling costs.

The U.S. Department of Energy says you can achieve that 10% by turning your thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees F from it’s normal setting for 8 hours a day.

The first step is to pick the thermostat that best suits your scheduling needs so you can “set it and forget it,” an approach the Energy Department advocates to get the most savings.

Pick the Right Thermostat

There are four types of programmable thermostats, each with a distinctive scheduling style:

7-day programming. Best for individuals or families with erratic schedules, since this is the most flexible option. It lets you program a different heating/cooling schedule for each day of the week.

5-1-1 programming. One heating/cooling schedule for the week, plus you can schedule a different heating/cooling plan for Saturday and Sunday.

5-2 programming. Same as 5-1-1 programming, except Saturday and Sunday will have the same heating/cooling plan.

1-week programming. You can only set one heating/cooling plan that will be repeated daily for the entire week.

You’ll need a program for both the cooler months and the warmer months.

TIP: Before buying a programmable thermostat, identify the type of equipment used to heat and cool your home so you can check for compatibility. For example, do you have central heating and cooling, or just a furnace or baseboard heating? Otherwise, you may not reap the rewards of energy savings and may risk harming your heating and cooling equipment.

Change the Factory Settings

Most programmable thermostats have a pre-programmed setting that’s supposed to be for the typical American family. But what family is typical these days? You need to adjust the thermostat’s settings so it’s in sync with the life you and your family lead instead of some mythical family.

Programming options are based on:

  • Wake Time
  • Sleep Time
  • Leave Time
  • Return Time

The Department of Energy suggests the following settings as an energy-saving rule of thumb:

Winter months:

  • For the hours you’re home and awake, program the temp to 68°F.
  • Lower at least 10 degrees for the hours you’re asleep or out of the house.

Summer months:

  • For the hours you’re home, program air conditioning to 78°F.
  • For the days you don’t need cooling, manually shut off the AC. Keep in mind, it will kick back on if the house gets too warm.
  • Program it to be warmer than usual when you’re out of the house.

Here are a few programming timing tips that can help you create the best set-it-and-forget-it heating and cooling schedule for your home:

  • Shut down heat or air conditioning 20 to 30 minutes before you leave home each day.
  • Turn on heat or air conditioning 20 to 30 minutes before you come home each day.
  • Reduce the heating or cooling 60 minutes before you go to sleep each night.
  • Increase heating or cooling about 30 minutes before you wake up each morning.
  • Spend time tweaking your program for a few days to make sure it feels right.

TIP: With a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat, you can control your home’s temperature while on the go. That way, you’re not wasting energy if you’re running late or forgot to create a new program before going on vacation.

FYI: A furnace does NOT have to work harder to warm a house after the temperature has been set low during the day.

Use a Wifi Thermostat to Make It Super Easy

Want something that’s simpler? Newer more high-tech models have simplified the process:

The Nest Learning Thermostat: It creates a custom heating and cooling schedule for your home based on motion detection technology. Plus since it is Wi-Fi, it can be controlled remotely. Price: Usually a bit more than $200.

Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat: This device makes it easy to create a custom heating and cooling plan. Unlike conventional programmable thermostats, it has a large color interface that displays a simple menu that walks you through all the programming steps. It also “learns” your home and will send you personal notifications if the temperature is not right, or if there’s a power outage. Price: Usually under $200.

FYI: Thermostats made prior to 2001 may contain mercury. To see if your programmable thermostat contains mercury, check with the manufacturer. If you decide to dispose of a thermostat that contains mercury, check out how to do so safely in your area at Thermostat Recycling Corp. (Not sure why mercury is so bad? Here’s the skinny: It’s toxic and it never breaks down. When it enters the waste stream, it permanently damages the ecosystem.)

Source: "The Secret to Programming Your Thermostat the Right Way for Each Season"

Little-Known Ways You Can Buy A House With No Down Payment

by The Schnoor Team

The city where you plan to buy a home may offer loans with no money down.

Can you buy a house with no down payment?

Yes, you can.

“Paying 20% down is, quite frankly, a myth,” says Karen Hoskins, vice president at NeighborWorks and bearer-of-great-news. “Most buyers pay only 5% to 10% down — some even pay zero.”

The key to finding a no-money-down home loan is finding the right assistance program. And there’s no shortage of them if you qualify.

Of the roughly 2,500 home-buying programs tracked by Down Payment Resource, a nationwide database of home ownership programs that helps match buyers and properties, 69% offer down payment assistance.

Even better: The average amount of assistance from those programs nationwide tops $11,000 — though amounts would vary greatly between disparate cost-of-living markets like Southern California and Iowa, according to Down Payment Resource. Some 87% of properties are eligible for some kind of assistance.

Here’s where to find the financial help you need to buy a home:

National Government Programs

Because they’re at the national level, they’re often the ones people turn to first:

  • FHA. Helps first-time buyers — especially those with lower credit scores — buy with down payments as low as 3.5% (low-down).
  • USDA Rural Development Loans. For low-to-middle income families buying homes in towns with populations of 10,000 or fewer people or that are “rural in character.” That means some areas with bigger populations have been grandfathered into the program (zero down).
  • VA Home Loans. Helps service members, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses (zero down).
  • Government-sponsored enterprises. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which set the rules for mortgages nationwide, both offer programs allowing eligible buyers to put down as little as 3% of the purchase price. That’s even lower than FHA (low-down).

But those aren’t the only options. Too often, buyers neglect to look for help locally, which may offer even better assistance.

State and Local Home-Buying Programs

Responsible homeowners are vital to a community’s stability and economic health, so municipalities and states have a vested interest in helping you buy a home — even if you don’t have the down payment.

Qualifications vary based on the agency or the community requirements, but assistance programs generally:

  • Have income limits
  • Have purchase price limits
  • Require participants to take home buyer counseling

Other requirements — like whether you’re a first-time buyer, how good your credit is, where you have to buy, whether you have to rehab the home, or if you need to be part of a group, such as active military, veterans, or teachers — depend on the program.

Assistance comes in these forms (Note: Specific programs named as examples below may change or close over time.):

Forgivable loans and grants. These are literal gifts for some or all of the down payment and closing costs, which means there’s no recorded lien or mortgage on that money. Eligibility and terms will vary and funds are limited. Example: The National Home Buyers Fund, Inc. offers down payment and closing cost assistance up to 5% of the mortgage loan amount as a gift or zero-interest second mortgage that’s forgiven after three years.

Second mortgages. As the name suggests, these loans are in addition to your primary home mortgage. They take a variety of forms, and the differences can be confusing. The most important thing isn’t the terminology, though; it’s knowing they exist, because they can offer substantial down payment assistance (DPA) and favorable terms.

  • Soft mortgages. These DPA loans are deferred for some period of time based on a particular program’s requirements. Occasionally, they’re forgivable. Example: The Home Purchase Assistance Program in Washington, D.C., defers payments for five years for moderate-income borrowers.
  • Silent seconds. DPA repayment is deferred until you sell or refinance. The city of Napa, Calif., for instance, offers eligible first-time buyers up to $58,000 or 30% of the purchase price, whichever is less, at 1% interest. The loan can be deferred for the 30-year term if you stay in the home.
  • Hard seconds. You start paying off the DPA loan as soon as you close. Programs offer a variety of loan amounts and interest rates (some below-market) depending on your eligibility.

First mortgages at below market interest rates. Local and state agencies subsidize a mortgage to make it more affordable for the buyer by reducing the interest rate, or offering 100% financing (which means no down payment), and sometimes waiving mortgage insurance, too.

Mortgage credit certificates (MCCs). Issued by some state or local governments, MCCs allow taxpayers to claim a tax credit (Form 8396) for some portion of the mortgage interest paid during a given tax year. A credit, unlike a deduction, is a dollar-for-dollar savings on your tax liability.

You don’t have to itemize to use this credit, according to Greg Zagorski, senior legislative and policy associate at the National Council of State Housing Agencies. It’s capped at $2,000 per year, and you can claim it throughout the life of the loan.

A cool tax benefit of MCCs is that if your tax liability one year is lower than the credit, you can roll over the amount you can’t claim to the next year. If you make more the next year (and therefore have more tax liability), you can claim what you couldn’t before.

How to Find a Program You Qualify For

  • Housing counselors, who are free (!) and can discuss what mortgage options are best for you, are available through housing finance agencies and organizations like NeighborWorks. Find HUD-approved housing counselors by state here. Or contact your state’s housing finance agency.
  • Check your eligibility for a host of DPA programs at Down Payment Resource.
  • Find a good mortgage broker, who should have information about down payment programs in your area and can help you determine your eligibility.
  • Talk to your real estate agent.

A final note: When you put down less than 20%, you pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) each month to protect the lender’s interest. On the other hand, not having to save up for a 20% down payment can get you into a home a lot faster. And you can cancel PMI (except for FHA loans) once you reach 20% equity.

Source: "Little-Known Ways You Can Buy A House With No Down Payment"

OUR FAVORITE HOLIDAY RECIPES

by The Schnoor Team

Including biscochitos, green chile tamales, green chile posole, and pre-contact pudding.

CELINA ALDAZ-GRIFE, founder and co-owner of Celina’s Biscochitos, in Albuquerque, says her biscochitos often bring customers to tears as they think back to their own grandmothers, aunts, or mothers baking the customary Christmas cookie. Traditionalists, though, have sometimes become heated upon discovering that she’s riffed on the recipe with versions like red chile, green chile–pecan, lemon, and walnut-cranberry. “One thing I’ve learned is that it’s extremely personal to people,” Aldaz-Grife says. “I went into this thinking I was just making cookies. I realized I’m making something that means so much more.” Even as she adapts her grandma Maggie’s biscochito recipe, she makes sure each one is recognizably a biscochito. “We don’t want to stray away so far from the tradition that you can’t taste the original,” she says.

Like her, three other New Mexico chefs take similar liberties with some of the state’s favorite holiday treats. Among them: Chef Brent Moore of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s Pueblo Harvest Café, in Albuquerque. Native Americans, he notes, once ate  only heritage crops, like corn, beans, and squash; foraged for ingredients, like sage and wild spinach; and hunted wild game, like deer and rabbit. Some tribal members are returning to these pre-European-contact ingredients—a journey that Roxanne Swentzell chronicles in The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook. Moore taps into the trend, too, albeit by adding modern culinary flair. “It’s a fine line between tradition and innovation,” he says. “We’re trying to highlight these old flavors without losing ourselves in it.”

When he was in elementary school, Jeff Posa’s side gig was lugging buckets of tamales made by his grandmother Aurora Lujan to sell at the Roundhouse. She founded the tamale-centric family business in 1955 and ran it until his parents took over in 1976. Jeff took the helm in 1990, overseeing Posa’s El Merendero Tamale Factory and Restaurant, renowned for making each tamale by hand—about 12,000 a day during the Christmas season. In addition to ordering the classics, customers requested vegetarian and vegan options, so Posa’s added green chile–cheese and calabacitas–black bean varieties, which have become a tradition over time, too.

Marie Coleman, Church Street Café’s owner, based the Albuquerque restaurant’s menu on her aunt Regina’s family recipes. Regina Jaramillo didn’t have a green chile posole in her recipe box, but when customers asked for it, the cooks ginned up a version with Hatch green chile. Coleman says diners like having the choice of red or green, even when it comes to their posole. Or they can opt for both and get it “Christmas.” And what’s more festive than that?

THE RECIPES

Celina’s Biscochitos’ Cranberry-Walnut Biscochitos

Celina Aldaz-Grife bakes this variety from November through Christmas; $17 for two dozen, in person or online (404 Osuna Road NW, Suite A, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, 505-269-4997, celinasbiscochitos.com).

Makes 4–6 dozen

  • 6 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound lard, at room temperature (or vegetable shortening)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 heaping teaspoons aniseed
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Cinnamon Sugar Mix (for coating)

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together.
  3. Separately, cream lard with sugar and aniseed. Add eggs one at a time until blended well. Add orange juice and brandy in a steady stream.
  4. Begin to add dry ingredients, including cranberries and walnuts, to the creamed mixture a little at a time. Hands are best for working the dough until it is somewhat flaky, like pie crust.
  5. On a lightly floured surface, begin to roll out the dough. It should be a quarter-inch thick. Cut out cookies, place on cookie sheet, and bake until lightly golden to golden, 7–12 minutes.
  6. Let cookies cool for at least a minute and then dunk them in the cinnamon-sugar mix. Place on a cookie rack until completely cooled.

Pueblo Harvest Café’s Pre-Contact Pueblo Pudding

This was a popular item last year, and Chef Brent Moore plans to bring this recipe back to his winter menu. He garnishes it with a glass-like ginger candy and candied pepitas (pumpkin seeds) to highlight contemporary culinary techniques (2401 12th St. NW, Albuquerque, 505-724-3510, puebloharvestcafe.com).

Makes 4–6 servings

Pumpkin Pudding

  • 2 pounds diced pumpkin or other hard squash
  • 3 cups walnut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped, plus extra for garnishing
  • 1 cup agave syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Place all ingredients in large saucepan, bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20–25 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. When finished, pumpkin should be easy to flatten with the back of a spoon. Allow to set and cool slightly.
  3. Sprinkle with candied pepitas (recipe below) and garnish with fresh or fried sage leaves. Enjoy warm.

Candied Pepitas

Makes 1/2 pound

  • 1/2 pound pepitas
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 cup water
  1. Place half the sugar and all of the water in a saucepan and stir while bringing to a boil.
  2. Add pepitas, stir, and simmer 10 minutes.
  3. Drain the pepitas. Arrange on a lightly greased sheet pan.
  4. While they’re warm, cover in the remaining sugar, tossing until all are coated well. Let cool at room temp in an even layer.

​​

Posa’s Green Chile–Cheese Tamales

Lucky Santa Feans can walk into El Merendero (Posa’s) for fresh tamales, but the company also ships nationwide; 10 tamales for $19.75 plus shipping (1514 Rodeo Road, Santa Fe, 505-820-7672).

Makes 2 dozen, 4-ounce tamales

To start: Soak 24 cornhusks in warm water for about 30 minutes until pliable while preparing the other ingredients.

Masa

  • 4 pounds masa harina
  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup water
  1. Combine all of the above ingredients and mix well either by hand or with a mixer, until masa is smooth.
  2. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Green Chile–Cheese Filling

  • 4 pounds mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups diced green chile
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons granulated garlic
  1. Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly by hand.
  2. If you enjoy a little more bite in the tamale, add another 6–8 ounces of diced green chile.

To Assemble:

  1. Spread about 4 tablespoons of prepared masa on a cornhusk, covering about  of it.
  2. Place 4 tablespoons of the filling on top of the masa in the center. Gently fold the left side of the husk over the center so that the masa covers the filling. Repeat on the right side. Fold edges of the husk over the masa and filling to close the tamale. Optional: Tie it with a strip of husk.
  3. Place in steamer with open ends of the tamales up. Steam until the cornhusks separate from the masa, approximately 1 hour.
  4. Carefully remove a test tamale from the steaming pot. Unfold the husk from one side. If it slides off the masa cleanly, the tamales are ready to enjoy.

 Church Street Café’s Green Chile Posole

Church Street Café serves Christmas Eve dinner, but you’ll need to make a reservation in October. “If you see balloons, then it’s time to make a reservation,” owner Marie Coleman says, referencing the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Thankfully, the green chile posole is on the menu year-round (2111 Church St. NW, Albuquerque, 505-247-8522).

Makes 8–12 cups

  • 1 pound pork loin, cut to bite size
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 pound of dried posole corn
  • 1 medium to large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 cups green chile
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  1. Rinse posole corn until water runs clear; drain.
  2. Place posole, pork, and 10 cups water in large stewing pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 hours.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and additional water, if needed, and continue to simmer for another 2 hours or until posole kernels burst and are soft but not falling apart.
  4. Serve warm with tortillas and butter.

MARIE'S TIP: Posole and pork may be cooked in a pressure cooker for 45 minutes on medium heat. Posole stew freezes well.

Source: "OUR FAVORITE HOLIDAY RECIPES"

10 Simple Comforts Every Houseguest Will Adore You For

by The Schnoor Team

Never underestimate the power of an extra iPhone charger.

You're expecting houseguests. Fun! You want them to feel welcome, comfortable, and — dare we say it? — maybe even a tad envious of your hosting prowess.

No need to moonlight at hospitality school. We asked Airbnb hosts with tons of great reviews on their cozy bungalows and light-filled island condos for some quick, easy (and cheap!) ideas to turn your guest quarters into a vacation haven. Be careful, though – your guests may not want to leave!

#1 Stock Up on Extra Chargers and Cords

A dead phone equals getaway misery. Airbnb host Valarie D’Elia sets out a bowl with power strips and cords, outlet converters, and even an iHome speaker. Nothing sets the stage for feeling at home IRL like feeling at home digitally.

And that includes posting your Wi-Fi name and password in the guest room so they don’t have to bug you.

#2 Offer Sample-Size Toiletries in Your Bathroom

Put your stockpile of Sephora samples and hotel toiletries to good use. Tiny shampoos and lotions arranged in a basket or vintage apothecary jar are as welcoming as they are practical. Guests will be relieved if they forgot their own, but even if they didn’t, they’ll love the luxury of washing their hair on the house.

#3 Raise Your Cleanliness Standards

When you miss a dust bunny at home, it’s just your own skin flakes and dried up sneezes in your own corner. To guests, it’s disgusting at best and insulting at worst.

So clean it all. Airbnb even tells hosts to scrub the entire bathroom, not once but twice, including the toilet, sink, bath, and floors after every guest.

“We make sure you can smell the cleaner,” says Cheryl Trotta, who rents out her vintage bayside cottage in Warwick, R.I.

#4 Give It Your Personal Touch

People choose Airbnbs over sterile hotel rooms because, in part, they want an authentic, personal experience.

So give it to them!

Trotta intentionally markets her rental as a family cottage and scatters pictures and family treasures throughout the cottage. Frame a couple of your childhood photos and hang them up alongside some mementos from your own travels.

How else would your guests discover that you were drum major of your high school marching band?

#5 Put a Radio in the Bathroom

Your guests may like to sing along in the shower, but the real reason for putting some tunes in the bath is to provide them with plenty of, well, privacy. Add an essential oil diffuser — or poo-pourri drops — and you’re in business.


#6 Set Up a DIY Cafe

If your guests are early birds — or will just want some occasional alone time — put a coffeemaker in their room along with a well-stocked basket of coffee and tea. Maybe even blow their minds with a mini fridge full of snacks.

To pull this off right, ask how they take their coffee in advance, and stock up appropriately.

#7 Designate Drawer and Closet Space Just for Guests

If your guest room closet could be featured on Storage Wars, it’s time to rethink your stuff strategy.

Consider some serious Marie Kondo-izing — maybe donate your to-be-regifted pile and sell those designer jeans you’ll never fit into again — to make room in the closet and dresser for guest to have plenty of space (and the key word is plenty).

Label a few guest drawers and crack the closet so they can see there’s space to hang their clothes.

#8 Fancy Yourself a Travel Agent

Give guests a local’s-eye view by filling a basket with menus from nearby restaurants, brochures from local businesses that cater to tourists, and a current issue of your community newspaper. It’s a great way for guests to feel like a local and customize their time in your town.

#9 Hang a Robe – or Two – in the Closet

Bonding with their host over morning coffee is one of the best parts of staying with friends. But they can miss it completely when they realize they only packed a ratty grandma nightgown or — even worse — NSFW lingerie.

Help your guests feel right at home by hanging a couple of cozy (and freshly laundered), one-size-fits-all robes in the guest-room closet.

Not only can they wear their pajamas to breakfast without feeling self-conscious, but they’re also super-comfy and great to wrap up in after a shower.

#10 Expect the Unexpected with Extra Personal Supplies

And let your guests know where they are so they won’t feel guilty for bothering you (or worse, go without!). Here’s a list of things that rock-star Airbnb hosts always keep in stock:

  • Disposable razors
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • First-aid kit
  • Towels, pillows, and extra blankets
  • Umbrella
  • Flashlight
  • Replacement light bulbs

Being the perfect host is perfectly achievable. With a little forethought, you’ll start racking up your own stellar reviews from your friends and family. Get ready to be the house everyone vies to visit.

Source: "10 Simple Comforts Every Houseguest Will Adore You For"

8 Lesser-Known Fees That Factor Into the True Cost of Home Buying

by The Schnoor Team

Application fees, appraisal, inspection … a lot of little costs start to add up. Here’s how to be prepared.

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.

With your focus on building your down payment fund and figuring out what your mortgage payment will be, it’s easy to overlook some of the smaller fees that come along with a home purchase. Here are eight and what they could cost you.

#1 Home Inspection

A home inspection helps protect you from purchasing a home that could be a lemon. So you don’t want to forgo it. Inspectors will look for signs of structural issues, mold, and leaks; assess the condition of the roof, gutters, water heater, heating and cooling system; and more. Inspections cost between $300 and $500, and whether or not you end up purchasing the property, you still need to pay this fee.

#2 Appraisal Fee

This appraisal report goes to your lender to assure it that the property is worth what you’re paying for it. This report worked in our favor a couple of years ago when our home came back appraised for $10,000 less than our bid; the sellers had to reduce their asking price in order to move forward. An apprasial can take about 2 hours and costs between $200 and $425

#3 Application Fees

Before ever approving you for a loan, the lender is going to run your credit report and charge you an application fee, often lumping the credit report fee in with the application fee. This can run $75 to $300. Be sure to ask for a breakdown of the application fees to understand all costs.

#4 Title Services

These fees cover a title search of the public records for the property you’re buying, notary fees for the person witnessing your signature on documents, government filing fees, and more. These can cost between $150 and $400, and it’s important to get a line item for each cost.

#5 Lender’s Origination Fees

Your lender will charge you this upfront free for making the mortgage loan. This includes processing the loan application, underwriting the loan (researching whether to approve you), and funding the loan. These fees are quoted as a percentage of the total loan you’re taking out and generally range between 0.5 to 1.5%.

#6 Survey Costs

This report ($150 to $400) confirms the property’s boundaries, outlining its major features and dimensions.

#7 Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

When you put down less than 20% on your new home, the lender requires that you purchase PMI, which is a policy that protects the lender from losing money if you end up in foreclosure. So PMI is a policy that you have to buy to protect the lender from you. PMI rates can vary from 0.3% to 1.5% of your original loan amount annually.

#8 Tax Service Fee

This is the cost (about $50) to ensure that all property tax payments are up to date and that the payments you make are appropriately credited to the right home.

Always ask questions when it comes to understanding the fees you’re paying. If possible, print out documents and go through them with a highlighter to indicate any areas you have concerns about. Discuss them with your lender or real estate agent and determine if you can negotiate any of them down.

Don’t be afraid to price shop to ensure you’re getting the best value. Just because you’re spending hundreds of thousands on a home doesn’t mean you should be comfortable throwing thousands of dollars at fees.

Source: "8 Lesser-Known Fees That Factor Into the True Cost of Home Buying"

11 Easy-Up, Easy-Down Decor Hacks for Stress-Free Holidays

by The Schnoor Team

Start saving those egg cartons!

Give or take a Scrooge or two, everybody loves the holidays: Decorating the tree, hanging lights, hanging holly … all those things! But you know what nobody loves? Taking all those things down.

Because, wow, what an unorganized mess.

Before you go all Scrooge, get your jolly back with these simple holiday decorating hacks.

#1 Protect Ornaments With Holiday Recyclables

Trimming the tree should feel like the happy ending of a Lifetime holiday movie, not a game show guessing which box will contain broken memories.

Keep ornaments safe for next year by stowing them in leftover party cups, hot-glued onto a piece of foam board cut to fit inside a storage bin, recommends Lisa Woodruff, a Cincinnati-based professional organizer.

Or pack ornaments away using bubble wrap from holiday packages, or egg cartons from those countless cookies you made.

All of these options make for shock-absorbent padding that’s more durable than paper towels or tissue paper.

#2 Create a Year-Round Focal Point

You dream of decking every hall, every year, but when the holidays roll around, you’ve got a brisket to bake and cocktails to clink.

So focus your festive energy on just one iconic focal point — a wreath on the front door or greenery on the mantel — something that easily changes with the seasons.

Or, create a display that makes you feel merry year-round. (Try repurposing storefront letters to spell out “LOVE” or “JOY” — sentiments that never go out of season.)

#3 Get a Decorating Toolbox

Before you can hang a single strand of lights or sprig of mistletoe, you have to find the gosh-darn zip ties, track down the floral wire, and repurpose a few extension cords.

Just thinking about the prep work makes you ready for a long winter’s nap. But this year’s gonna be your prep for next year, and the years to follow.

As you put everything up, keep a running checklist of what you need. Then stock a toolbox that gets replenished every year.

#4 Leave Your Light Hooks and Nails in Place for Next Year

If you like to trim your home’s roof and siding with holiday lights, you know what a hassle it is to find last year’s nail holes while balancing on a ladder with your extremities slowly freezing.

So, this year, use hooks that match your siding (not nails because they fall out easier) or paint them so they are indistinguishable from your siding or trim before you put them up.

Then leave them up when you take down your lights.

Come next year, just rehang your lights and bask in your twinkling success.

#5 Wrap Lights Around Cardboard

There’s nothing like a multicolored knot of lights to put a damper on your bright holiday spirit.

So as you take down this year’s lights, wrap them around empty gift boxes or cardboard. Make a small notch on each side to keep the ends snugly in place.

Next year you’ll spend less time untangling your lights and more time basking in them.

#6 Hang Wreaths on Rods or in Rafters

All year you look forward to hanging that wreath you got for a steal at an after-Christmas sale.

Rather than tossing it in a trash bag, where it can too easily get seriously mushed or even forgotten, hang it on a rod or from nails hammered into the attic rafters or garage walls, Woodruff recommends.

It will be easy to find, and will be in pristine shape for next year.

#7 Store Your Tree With the Decorations on It

No, seriously.

If strategizing the placement of skiing Garfield and his 107 dangly friends is your least favorite part of holiday decorating, skip it after this year.

Ask someone to help you tightly wrap this year’s decorated (artificial) tree — yep, ornaments and all — with heavy-duty stretch plastic wrap (the type that professional movers use, which you can find at home improvement stores).

Next year, just cut the wrap and reshape the branches.

Happy holidays indeed.

#8 Or Give In and Buy a Tree Bag

Every December 26, you begin to dread awkwardly wrestling your artificial tree back into its original packaging.

This year, go ahead and spend the 50 bucks on a tree bag or box, Woodruff says. It will seal out dirt, dust, and bugs, won’t smash the branches, and some styles even allow you to store your tree fully or partially assembled.

Plus, just knowing you can skip the reassembly next time makes for an extra happy New Year.

#9 Trim Those Trimmings

Getting out decorations should be a welcome walk down memory lane — not a guilt trip through items you “should” display but … ugh.

So when you take down this year’s decor, follow the old rule for paring down your wardrobe and get rid of anything you didn’t use — you know, that carol-singing mounted fish from your dad or Nana’s crocheted coaster set — and donate them.

“If it’s a sentimental item, take a picture of it,” Woodruff says.

You won’t waste storage space and, come next year, you’ll be greeted only by items you love and use.

#10 Organize By Room

If you’ve got snowmen in every bathroom and a jingle bell on every drawer, you may end up with mountains of half-empty boxes piled everywhere for longer than you spend enjoying the decor.

Get your halls decked more efficiently by sorting your boxes of trimmings by room, Woodruff suggests.

Then, label each light strand by location — mantel, doorway, tree, etc. Decorating is merrier when you can grab a bin and make an evening of it, one room at a time.

#11 Create a "Must-Have" Bin

Put all your favorite decorations in one “first-up, last-down” bin.

Next year, you’ll spend more time enjoying your cherished menorah or manger and less time rummaging to find it.

Source: "11 Easy-Up, Easy-Down Decor Hacks for Stress-Free Holidays"

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