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November
2

Cleaning your carpets may seem like a hassle, but it's a necessary task. This guide will make the process easier.

While a nice, clean carpet is often a key component of a comfortable living space, it doesn't take long for it to get nasty. Carpet is a harbor for germs, dust, debris, dirt, and so regular cleaning is important for keeping your family healthy and your home's interior looking good.

A good carpet cleaning routine involves more than just regular vacuuming; however, the process doesn't have to be difficult. Establishing a regular cleaning cadence is key. Our real estate agents pulled together this quick guide to carpet cleaning options so you can help preserve the floors and air quality in your home:

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July
18

It's not always easy to inspect your plumbing. Here's how you can ensure hard water won't ruin your pipes and appliances.

Did you know hard water can negatively impact your home over time? While it's safe to drink, hard water can lead to many interior problems, which is why our real estate agents recommend addressing it as soon as possible. Hard water is common across much of the US, especially in the Midwest. As a result, it's an issue most homeowners have to contend with. Below, we'll tell you all about hard water and share some simple solutions for treating it in your home

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June
20

Great landscaping requires a lot of prepping and skill, which is why it's so easy to make these mistakes. Here's how you can avoid them.

With so many of us spending summer weekends doing yard work, our real estate agents thought it'd be a great time to share some landscaping tips.

Great landscaping is both an art and a science. We know creating the perfect yard takes time and practice, and it's well worth it. Remember, beautiful landscaping can make or break your curb appeal. Therefore, learning best practices and avoiding mistakes can really help boost your property value and attract attention when it comes time to sell your home.

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May
16

The home appraisal is a crucial step in the process of selling a home. Here's how you can prepare for it.

Planning to sell your property or refinance your mortgage this year? Our real estate agents usually recommend an appraisal as a good first step. Knowing your home's true value can ultimately help you land more money when you sell (though keep in mind, that the buyer's lender will likely require their own appraisal). An appraisal is also required if you're planning to refinance.

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March
28

The 10 Best Sports Bars in Michigan!

Sports bars are the perfect place to unwind after a long week and watch the big game with friends. Michigan's best sports bars provide an atmosphere comparable to that of a live event. So if you're looking for a great spot to snack on some wings, drink with friends, and watch your team go for the win, check out our favorite sports bars in Michigan! 

1. Jamboozies Sports Bar and Grill, Sterling Heights, MI

Featuring a wide array of food and drink—pretzel pizza with the beer cheese dip comes up frequently—and a 107-inch television backed up by 13 smaller screens to show all the gaming, Jamboozies delivers on the watching and eating. It will even round out the experience with trivia nights, karaoke, and theme events just to round it out.

2. Andrews on the Corner, Detroit, MI

It's not just the "million 60-inch plasmas" that get people coming in here-though there's no shortage of screens showing games. It's the frequent appearance of actual sports figures from broadcasters to coaches, and even former players, that pop in for a bite and a relaxing evening of sport.

3. Monelli's Italian Grill and Sports Bar, Portage and Wyoming, MI

The watchword of the day at Monelli's Italian Grill and Sports Bar is "versatility." Whether at the Portage or Wyoming location, Monelli's is not just a sports bar with plenty of screens—including a nice projector at the Portage location—but it's also a fully functional Italian restaurant. Pizza, pasta, burgers...all the best in sports bar and Italian food are right here to go with your sports viewing. Throw in a substantial array of live tap beers—including beer flights—and you'll have an evening on your hands.

4. Steel Cat Bar, Grand Rapids, MI

Regarded as one of the best sports bars in Grand Rapids, the Steel Cat Bar focuses on its delivery. Featuring the first Frost Rail system Michigan has ever seen—and at last report, the only such item—a cold drink is top priority for the Steel Cat. It also boasts a Chillrite 32 tap system that serves up draft beer at exactly 32 degrees. That's amazing enough—any colder and it'd be solid—but throw in a wide array of draft options and plenty of live events and Steel Cat will deliver in a big way.

5. Big-E Bar and Grill, Holland, MI

Head to Holland for the Big-E, billed as the "only true sports grill" in downtown Holland. Featuring a staggering array of televisions for game watching, a few playable games—including a claw game—for good measure, and a dizzying array of food choices, it's all about big at Big-E. Throw in such spectacles as over 80 taps of beer and a "video wall" measuring nine feet in height and Big-E will deliver big...in a big way.

6. Booyah's Bar and Grill, Muskegon, MI

Muskegon sports fans have a friend in Booyah's, a sports bar that focuses on the food first. Featuring an array of dishes from burgers and wings to ribs and perch, Booyah's is out to fill up its sports fans just as much as—potentially even more than—entertain them. Naturally, the array of flat screens showing the games off won't disappoint sports buffs, but the sheer variety of dishes on hand here will make Booyah's the match of most any restaurant around.

7. Nuthouse Sports Grill, Lansing, MI

Michigan's capital, Lansing, plays host to Nuthouse Sports Grill, a sports bar that pushes value. Featuring regular daily specials—Tuesday, for example, features dollar-off drafts and half-off wings—alongside the normal lineup of exciting food and beverage options, the Nuthouse seeks to deliver a value that few can match. From pizza to grinders to even salads, there will almost certainly be something new at the Nuthouse every time you go in.

8. State Street Grille, Traverse City, MI

Leave it to Traverse City to offer up a top-notch sports bar in the State Street Grille. It's a local haven in many senses, offering an array of beers including plenty of Bells, New Holland and Petoskey as well as spirits from the Valentine Distillery and Traverse City Distillery. You'll also be able to get in on what amounts to the Monte Cristo pickle, a dill pickle wrapped in ham and Swiss cheese, then deep fried in a wonton shell. After that, the sports will almost be an afterthought.

9. Merl's Tavern, Saginaw, MI

One of the most recent additions to the sports bar space in Michigan, Carrolton Township's Merl's Tavern offers an array of choices in food and drink as well as special events. For Cinco de Mayo, Merl's brought out the Cinco de Merl combo dinner featuring beans and rice and a taco, along with $3 margaritas. Add in Team Trivia functions—always fun—and signature drink the Merlixer, which is a combination of wine and vodka along with a suite of fruit juices, and Merl's Tavern will be a great destination.

10. The 906 Sports Bar and Grill, Marquette, MI

Not even the Upper Peninsula has escaped the sports bar fondness the rest of Michigan enjoys, and in Marquette lies one of Michigan's best. The 906 Sports Bar and Grill offers plenty of food and drink options, including a full bar. Throw in pool tables and keno for those who want to play rather than watch, and 13 separate televisions for those who prefer watching, and the whole waterfront is covered. Add in a special "country night" every Friday with live performances, and the 906 will deliver a top-notch value for area residents. Just to round it out, the 906 even boasts a view of the Ore Dock, one of the greatest sights in Marquette.

March
23

Creative strategies to buy a house in 2022

Want to become a homeowner in 2022?

The 2022 housing market looks a lot like 2021: bidding wars abound, houses are getting snatched up in record time, and demand still outstrips supply.

How can home buyers succeed despite the obstacles?

Get creative, say the experts.

Following the status quo when home shopping and making an offer just won't cut it in today's market.

Read on for pro tips that can help you score a deal, outmaneuver your rivals, and achieve your homeownership dreams.

Verify your home buying eligibility. Start here (Mar 23rd, 2022)

What to know about the 2022 housing market

Sure, the market is tough. That's no secret. But homes sold at a record pace in 2021 – which means millions of buyers were successful in their quest.

So how did they do it? What tactics can you use to score a home when competing against many other buyers?

"If you want to own a home, and believe that homeownership is a strong financial move for you, then you must be prepared to fight for the available inventory," says Glenn Pizzolorusso, a licensed associate real estate broker with Compass in Connecticut. "Winning a multiple offer situation takes creativity today."

Jay Zigmont, a certified financial planner with Live, Learn, Plan, based in Mississippi, echoes those thoughts.

"Rising house prices require buyers to be smarter about what, where, and when they buy a home. This may require, for example, looking at smaller homes and different locations or buying with a partner to keep the house affordable," says Zigmont.

But being inventive and resourceful doesn't mean you have to go it alone.

Work closely with a trusted real estate agent, or at least a real estate attorney, who can help you devise the right approaches that can help you find and claim the right home. Once you have strong representation lined up, explore each of the following strategies.

Verify your home buying eligibility. Start here (Mar 23rd, 2022)

Creative ways to save for the down payment and closing costs

You don't need 20% down to buy a home. In fact, many buyers can get into a home with as little as 3% or even zero down.

But saving up for a bigger down payment can help your chances of scoring a home in today's competitive market. Remember that the more money you put down, the stronger your offer appears to a seller and the more motivated they will be to accept.

If you're having trouble coming up with funds for your down payment and closing costs – or want to boost the savings your already have – try these tips:

Tighten your financial belt

The ability to reduce your spending depends on your current income and financial situation, of course.

But, where possible, experts recommend that you stop eating out, cancel unnecessary subscriptions, shop around for cheaper insurance, choose a less expensive grocery store, and cut out unnecessary spending as much as you can.

These might feel like sacrifices in the short term, but even small changes can make a big difference in your long–term homeownership goals.

Look into a down payment assistance program

There are thousands of down payment assistance (DPA) programs available nationwide and locally that offer grants, loans, and credits to qualified home buyers. To help find DPA programs, check out these links:

Ask for help from loved ones

Most mortgage loan programs allow you to cover part or all of your down payment using gifted money from a loved one. Note that the donor will need to write a gift letter to the lender verifying that the funds are a gift, not a loan that needs to be repaid.

Use a low– or no–money–down loan

If your primary goal is to buy a home sooner rather than later, your best bet might be a low–down–payment mortgage. By lowering the down payment bar you can often buy much earlier than if you waited to save 20% down.

Conforming mortgages – the most common type of home loan – have flexible down payment requirements: You could put 3%, 5%, 10%, or 15% down if you don't have the full twenty.

FHA loans are another great option with just 3.5% down. And qualified buyers should look into the government–backed VA and USDA loan programs, which allow 0% down.

Compare home loan options. Start here (Mar 23rd, 2022)

Creative ways to find an affordable home

"Locating an affordable property in an area you prefer is the single most important box on the list to check," says Pizzolorusso. "My advice? Find the worst house on the best street and take your time improving it into your own oasis."

Evan Rosenblum, a Realtor with JMG Realty in Los Angeles, has simple advice.

"Look for homes that you can make perfect, not homes that are perfect right now that everyone else is fighting for," he says.

Keep in mind that the prices of homes tend to decrease the further you get from a city center or other similar location. So it doesn't hurt to broaden your horizons and widen your map.

"Look for homes that are technically further away but are a short commute or near public transportation," Zigmont suggests. "You might find considerable savings by adding a bit more to your commute."

If you work from home, you can get more creative about the location.

"Living out in a country area further from a city may save you considerably, while you can still visit the city for fun occasions. Just make sure the rural location you choose has sufficient infrastructure, resources, and amenities, including broadband access," notes Zigmont.

Creative ways to get the seller to accept your offer

Here's where you'll need to be extra clever and have the right timing.

"Choose a real estate agent or broker who understands game theory and valuation comparables," says Nik Shah, CEO of San Francisco–based Home.LLC. "A quality real estate agent can be the difference between closing the deal or losing it."

"Speed and simplicity will help you with your offer. In this market, you can't wait weeks or even days to put in an offer on something you love," Zigmont cautions. "Know your math going in, and then you can make informed decisions when you find the right house."

For best results, consider these suggestions:

  • Focus only on the homes you truly want to purchase. "Don't put in offers on every home just because you haven't gotten accepted," says Rosenblum. "Tighten up your criteria and be hyper–focused on your search"
  • Use an escalation clause. This clause says that you will offer "X" amount but beat any higher offers that are presented by the amount you specify. "This will allow you to always try and present the highest offer," Rosenblum explains. "Just be sure to put a cap on your escalation to the max price you are willing to pay for the property"
  • Consider waiving key contingencies. "In a competitive market, you might want to rethink how many contingencies you include. Removing your financing contingency, appraisal contingency, and/or inspection contingency could give you a better shot at winning the offer," Shah suggests
  • Request an appraisal waiver from your lender. "If you are putting at least 20% down, see if your lender can confirm that the property will qualify for an appraisal waiver; therefore, you can waive your appraisal contingency," says Rosenblum
  • Ask your lender about tightening your terms. "Can you shorten the length of the escrow period? Can you get the loan pre–underwritten so that you can reduce the timeline for or remove your financing contingency completely?" Rosenblum asks
  • Ask your agent to reach out to the listing agent and establish a stronger relationship. "By developing a rapport, your agent can help you put a face to the name on the offer," recommends Rosenblum
  • Write a love letter to the seller. Explain who you are and why you love this home
  • Explore an all-cash offer. Companies like Ribbon, Knock, and FlyHomes can lend you the money to make an all–cash offer, which should convince the seller to choose you

Creative alternatives in case you can't find a home you want

Still no luck finding the right house or cinching a deal? Drastic times call for even more creative measures.

Buy a fixer–upper on the cheap

"Find a fixer–upper. You will be able to purchase at below–market prices and improve to above–market prices," says Pizzolorusso. "If you can take an outdated home and bring it into the modern day, you will come out far ahead when it's time to sell."

To make this strategy easier, there are special loan programs that let you finance the home purchase and repairs with a single mortgage. If you're considering the fixer–upper route, look into:

Build your home instead of buying

Alternatively, explore hunting for a parcel of land or infill site and constructing a new home on it.

The benefit here is that no one else will be bidding against you on your new home. And you can have it built to your exact specifications.

However, "the problem with this tactic is that building prices are still way too high to make this a wise choice in most markets. You don't want to find yourself upside down on your mortgage upon completion," Pizzolorusso continues.

Split the cost of buying

Or, get a partner to come in on the deal with you as a co-borrower or co-signer on the loan, which can come in handy if you're having trouble qualifying for a mortgage loan or you're worried about affording the costs of homeownership.

"Buying a house with a friend or other person you are not married to is an option, but you need to make sure you have a good lawyer to help on the paperwork," says Zigmont.

Start your home buying journey

Are you ready to get serious about buying a home in 2022?

If so, then it's time to connect with a mortgage lender and get preapproved.

Every prospective home buyer needs a preapproval to learn how much they can afford, which types of mortgage they qualify for, and how expensive their payments will be. Not to mention, your preapproval letter gives you the clout to make a serious offer on a home you love.

March
21

Your home is usually your largest investment. Here's how you can make sure it holds its value.

Your house isn't just a place to live, it's also a major investment and vehicle for accumulating wealth. While homes generally appreciate over time if you keep them in good shape, there are also things you can do to help generate an extra return when it comes time to sell. At the end of the day, investing in a more livable home is the best way to boost your sale price.

Here are some top recommendations from our real estate agents to maximize your home value:

  • Focus On Curb Appeal
    The view of your home from the street is so important when it comes to selling because it's usually front and center in your listing photo. Good curb appeal is critical for garnering online attention, but it's also the first thing buyers see when they pull up to the home. Simple things like painting the front door, installing a new mailbox, and keeping up with lawn care are all great ways to keep your curb appeal top-notch. Some of our favorite Grand Haven homes for sale have stunning curb appeal!

  • Focus On Energy Efficiency
    Green living is an important characteristic for buyers today, so energy-efficient features are a must. You don't have to install solar panels to make your home energy efficient — there are many simple things you can do, including:
    • Install a smart thermostat to optimize heating and cooling costs.
    • Reapply caulking around your windows.
    • Replace incandescent bulbs.
    • Invest in double-pane windows for extra insulation
    • Install ceiling fans in bedrooms and living rooms to minimize cooling costs.

  • Fix-up Your Kitchen and Bathrooms
    If you're planning a remodel or a major renovation, prioritize the kitchen and bathroom over other areas of the house. These are often the two most important rooms when it comes to attracting buyers. Installing new flooring, lighting, sinks, or counters in the kitchen and bathroom are often considered to be some of the best ways to improve home value. Need some inspiration? Check out some of the beautiful kitchens in these Hudsonville homes for sale.

  • Finish The Basement
    An unfinished basement presents an excellent opportunity to unlock additional value in your property. Buyers seek finished basements to serve as game rooms, dens, extra living rooms, or even home offices. Make upgrading unfinished basement space a top priority.

  • Upgrade The Major Appliances
    Buyers don't want to worry about making major replacements or upgrades shortly after moving in. Furnaces and hot water heaters typically last 10 to 15 years, so if yours is reaching the end of its lifespan, it might be worth upgrading prior to listing your home. Convincing buyers they won't need to worry about major fixes for years to come can really help increase the home's appeal.

  • Take Care Of The Roof
    An aging roof comes with an expensive price tag, and this could quickly turn off buyers. You may want to consider a roof replacement prior to listing your home. However, depending on the cost — it can be difficult to recover your entire investment. At a minimum, make sure to take care of any cracked, missing, or warped shingles that may be leading to leaks in the attic.

When thinking of what repairs and upgrades can drive value, put yourself in the shoes of a buyer. Try to imagine what would make your home more comfortable, liveable, and convenient. Contact us today for more home improvement tips.

February
21

Holland State Park Beach, Holland, Michigan

Holland State Park Beach, Holland, Michigan

Holland State Park Beach, Holland, Michigan

Holland State Park is well known for its enormous sandy beach on Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa. Popular among locals and tourists alike, the beach is perfect for any beach activity you like, from sunbathing and volleyball to building sandcastles, surfing, or just relaxing. Holland State Park has two large campgrounds, a number of picnic tables, grills, and fire pits.

It also has beach volleyball courts and a small beach house. If you like to fish, the walkway and pier along the harbor channel are the best spots for it. You can also enjoy watching the passing sailboats, waiting for the sunset, or taking photos of the Big Red lighthouse. There is a concession stand if the kids get hungry from all the activities. Holland State Park Beach is one of the best things to do in Holland, Michigan.

2215 Ottawa Beach Rd, Holland, MI 49424, 616-399-9390

Fun day trip ideas close to me, things to do this weekend, small towns, best weekend getaways: Getaways in CaliforniaEast Coast beachesNC quick tripRomantic weekend getaways

Holland State Park Beach, Holland, Michigan

February
21

If you're not used to cooking seasonally, now is the time to start! Here's how you can pick the best ingredients throughout the year.

If you love cooking at home, the best way to eat fresh all year long is by cooking seasonally. Seasonal cooking means creating meals and menus around ingredients as they come into season. Seasonal ingredients taste delicious and are less expensive, and the best part is that you're supporting local farmers, businesses, and the community when you add them to your meal plans.

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February
18

How to buy a house in 2022

What to consider

Is now a good time to buy a house?

Yes and no. Mortgage rates reached record lows in early 2021 and have stayed low by historical standards throughout the year even as they fluctuated.  However, strong demand for homes pushed prices up and frustrated many potential homebuyers. According to the CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index, property prices rose by 18 percent between September 2020 and September 2021. Time may be running out to lock in an affordable mortgage because experts predict interest rates will continue to trend upward this year. In many areas of the country, Realtors reported intense competition for homes last year, with some properties getting dozens of offers and going into contract within days of being listed.

That reality has created inevitable concerns about buying at the peak. Home values go up over time, but there is a possibility that prices in some places have hit a plateau.

"I would be careful about buying near the top of the market, especially if I want to be in the home for only a few years," says Ken H. Johnson, a real estate economist at Florida Atlantic University and co-author of the Beracha, Hardin & Johnson Buy vs. Rent Index. "If you look to buy, bargain aggressively and be willing to walk away. Real estate most definitely is a good investment, but don't just buy now because that's what everybody else is doing."

Should I buy a house?

Taking the leap to homeownership can provide a feeling of pride while boosting your long-term financial outlook, if you go in well-prepared and with your eyes open.

When thinking about buying a home, consider whether you want to put down roots or maintain flexibility with your living situation. How secure is your job, and can you comfortably budget for home repairs and maintenance on top of monthly housing payments? Are you ready to stay in one place, and do you have kids or family members to consider?

When should I buy a house?

In normal times, spring is the traditional start of the home-buying season, with many listings typically hitting the market. The market still hasn't quite returned to normal since the coronavirus upended that schedule, however.. This winter should be relatively slow for buying, but with low housing inventory, it will still feel competitive compared to pre-pandemic off-seasons. 

At any rate your own financial readiness is more important than the time of year. This means having your finances organized and your credit in order so that you'll be able to smoothly secure a reasonable mortgage.

In addition to a down payment, potential homebuyers should have enough money set aside to cover closing costs, which can range from 2 percent to 4 percent of the purchase price.

When budgeting for your monthly mortgage payment, factor in not only the principal amount and interest, but also property taxes, homeowners insurance, homeowners association fees (if applicable), plus private mortgage insurance if you're putting down less than 20 percent. Don't forget to set aside money for ongoing maintenance and those unexpected repairs that are bound to pop up, too.

Here's a step-by-step guide on buying a house:

1. Understand why you want to buy a house

Purchasing a home is a major decision that shouldn't be taken lightly. If you're not clear on why you want to buy a house, you could end up regretting your decision.

How to get started: Define your personal and financial goals. "Buyers should think about things like when they intend on moving, what they want in a home (such as) amenities, ideal location and how long it could take them to save for a down payment," says Edwence Georges, a sales associate with RE/MAX in Westfield, New Jersey. "These are all important to help define the goals they would like to meet."

Key takeaways:

2. Check your credit score

Checking your credit score will help you determine your financing options; lenders use it (among other factors) to set your loan pricing and see if you're able to repay your mortgage. The better your credit history, the better the chances you'll have of securing financing with the best terms and rates. 

How to get started: You can get your credit report and score from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, for free once a year. Your bank or credit card company might offer free access to your score or credit report, too.

Key takeaways:

  • Consider how different credit score ranges impact your interest rate, monthly payments and total interest. In general, the lower your credit score, the more expensive your mortgage will be.
  • Pull your credit reports from each of the credit bureaus for free every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you discover any discrepancies, contact each agency and report the error.
  • Learn other ways to get your free credit report and score from Bankrate.

3. Create a housing budget

Setting a realistic budget for your new home will help inform what you can afford and how much your all-in costs will be.

How to get started: The purchase price isn't the whole picture. Carefully factor in other expenses to determine what you can afford.

"Buyers tend to forget to factor in other costs like (homeowners association) fees and setting money aside for maintenance costs. Just because you can afford a mortgage and a down payment doesn't mean you can afford those long-term costs after you move."

– Paige Kruger, Realtor, Founder, Signal Real Estate, Jacksonville Beach, Florida

Key takeaways:

  • Determine the maximum loan you qualify for.
  • Decide how much you can set aside for a down payment, plus a buffer fund for ongoing or unexpected maintenance costs. 
  • See if your monthly budget can handle the mortgage payment along with other bills such as day care, tuition, utilities, groceries and more.

4. Save for a down payment

To avoid private mortgage insurance, or PMI, you'll need to save at least 20 percent of the home's purchase price for a down payment. Some lenders offer mortgages without PMI with lower down payments, but expect to pay a higher interest rate.

How to get started: Research the down payment requirements for the loan you want so you know exactly how much you'll need. If a friend, relative or employer has offered to provide a down payment gift, initiate a conversation early on to learn how much they plan to contribute and if there's any shortfall you'll need to cover — and secure a gift letter from them well in advance, too.

Key takeaways:

  • If you don't have much saved for a down payment, consider options backed by the federal government. FHA loans, insured by the Federal Housing Administration, require just 3.5 percent down, while VA loans and USDA loans have no down payment requirement.
  • Conventional loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require just 3 percent down.
  • Look into a local or state first-time homebuyer assistance program to help with closing costs or your down payment.

5. Shop for a mortgage

Getting preapproved for a mortgage is helpful when you make an offer on a house, and it gives you a firmer handle on how much you can afford.

How to get started: Shop around with at least three lenders or a mortgage broker to increase your chances of getting a low interest rate.

Key takeaways:

Sign up for a Bankrate account to determine the right time to strike on your mortgage with our daily rate trends.

6. Hire a real estate agent

An experienced real estate agent can save you time and money by helping you find your dream home and by negotiating with the seller on your behalf. 

How to get started: Contact several real estate agents and ask to meet with them for a conversation about your needs before choosing one. "Someone with knowledge of an area can also tell if your budget is realistic or not, depending on the features you desire in a home," Kruger says. "They can also point you to adjacent areas in your desired neighborhood or other types of considerations to help you find a house."

Key takeaways:

  • Before hiring a real estate agent, find out about their track record, knowledge of your desired neighborhood and what their workload is like. You don't want someone who is over-scheduled.
  • Agents can refer you to other professionals like home inspectors, contractors, appraisers and title companies; however, you should still shop around and compare fees from other professionals.

7. See multiple homes

Simply viewing listing photos isn't a substitute for visiting homes in person — with appropriate precautions in the pandemic — and getting to know the neighborhood and its amenities.

How to get started: Let your real estate agent know what specific kinds of homes you want to see, or search for homes online yourself. Your agent can create your profile in the local multiple listing service (MLS), a database of homes for sale, and set up automatic searches for those that meet your criteria. You may not be able to check off everything on your home amenity wish list, so you'll want to prioritize what's most important to you aside from location.

Key takeaways:

  • Drive through neighborhoods you like to see what's for sale, and attend open houses for homes that pique your interest. Remember to keep notes on each property you visit. After a few showings, it's easy to forget which homes you liked and why.
  • Keep your schedule open so you can pounce when a great home is listed, especially in a competitive seller's market. You could gain an edge over other buyers the sooner you see it and put your offer in.

8. Make an offer

Understanding how to make an attractive offer on a home can help increase your chances the seller will accept it, putting you one step closer to getting those coveted house keys.

How to get started: Once you find "the one," your real estate agent will help you prepare a complete offer package, including your offer price, your preapproval letter, proof of funds for a down payment (this helps in competitive markets) and terms or contingencies.

Key takeaways:

  • Sellers might counteroffer on your price, terms or contingencies. You can respond to the counteroffer if you wish, or reject it and move on.
  • Once an offer is accepted, you'll sign a purchase agreement that includes the price of the home and estimated closing date. You'll need to pay an earnest money deposit, typically 1 percent to 2 percent of the purchase price. The seller may have a right to keep the money if you back out.
  • Contingency clauses are designed to protect the buyer and typically include appraisal, financing and home inspection. If a home inspection report shows major problems, you can often back out of the contract and get a refund.

9. Get a home inspection

home inspection helps you get an overall picture of the property's mechanical and structural issues. The home inspection will help you determine how to proceed with the closing process. You might need to ask the seller for repairs, or you might decide to back out of the deal if you have a contingency in the contract.

How to get started: You can get recommendations for home inspectors from your real estate agent, but also be sure to do your own homework before choosing one. Depending on your contract and state of residence, you'll generally need to complete a home inspection 10 to 14 days after you sign a purchase agreement. As a buyer, you're usually responsible for paying the home inspector, and while the fees can vary, you'll pay an average of $270 to $400, according to HomeAdvisor by Angi.

Key takeaways:

  • To make sure the home inspector has enough experience, read online reviews, ask for past client references and look at their credentials.
  • Look at the home inspection checklist to understand what is and isn't covered.

10. Negotiate repairs and credits

Your home inspection report may reveal major or minor issues. Major problems will likely need to be dealt with before your mortgage lender will finalize your loan, while minor issues can often wait till you take possession of the home.

How to get started: Enlist your agent's help to negotiate with the seller. Ask for the seller to either do the repairs or give you a credit at closing.

Key takeaways:

  • If there are hazards like structural damage or improper electrical wiring, your lender might not approve your loan. Likewise, you might not have the budget or desire to handle such repairs after buying the home.
  • Some sellers won't agree to extensive repairs, and that's why a home inspection contingency is a good idea — to give you a way out of the purchase if the home isn't in ideal shape.

11. Secure your financing

Getting final loan approval means you need to keep your finances and credit in line during underwriting. Once you're ready to close, you won't want to open new credit lines or make other major purchases until the paperwork is signed.

How to get started: Respond promptly to requests for more documentation and double-check your loan estimate to ensure all the details are correct so there are no hiccups later. You may need to submit additional paperwork as your lender completes the underwriting process, such as:

  • Bank statements
  • Tax returns
  • Additional proof of income
  • Gift letter or written statements explaining major deposits into your bank account

Key takeaways:

  • A preapproval doesn't mean you're in the clear until a lender has given the final stamp of approval. Keep your finances and credit in good shape from preapproval until closing day. If you can, avoid changing jobs before closing on your new home, too.

Also, avoid running up credit cards, taking out new loans or closing credit accounts. Doing any of these things can hurt your credit score or impact your debt-to-income ratio, and that can imperil your final loan approval.

12. Do a final walk-through

final walk-through is an opportunity to view the property before it becomes yours. This is your last chance to view the home, ask questions and address any outstanding issues before the house becomes your responsibility.

How to get started: Come with your home inspection checklist and other documents, like repair invoices and receipts for any work the owner conducted, to ensure everything was done as agreed upon and that the home is in move-in ready condition.

Key takeaways:

  • Ask your real estate agent to be there so they can act as a witness and help answer any questions you may have.
  • If repairs or issues haven't been addressed, have your agent communicate immediately with the seller and your lender. Your closing date might have to be delayed to ensure those issues are remedied first.

13. Close on your house

Once all contingencies have been met, you're happy with the final walk-through and the closing agent has given the green light to close, it's time to make it official and close on your home. In this final step, your lender will issue you a "clear to close" status on your loan.

How to get started: Three business days before your closing date, the lender will provide you with a closing disclosure that outlines all of your loan details, such as the monthly payment, loan type and term, interest rate, annual percentage rate (APR), loan fees and how much money you must bring to closing. At the closing, you (the buyer) will attend, along with your real estate agent, possibly the seller's agent, the seller, in some cases, and the closing agent, who may be a representative from the escrow or title company or a real estate attorney. This is also the time where you'll wire your closing costs and down payment, depending on the escrow company's procedures.

Key takeaways:

  • Before closing, review the closing disclosure carefully and compare it to the loan estimate to ensure closing fees and loan terms are the same. Ask questions about your loan and correct any errors (like your name or personal details) before you sign closing paperwork.
  • On closing day, review all of the documents you sign carefully, and ask for clarification on anything you don't understand.
  • Make sure you've been provided all house keys, entry codes and garage door openers before leaving closing.
  • You'll leave closing with copies of the paperwork (or a digital file) and your new house keys. Be sure to store your paperwork in a safe place for future reference.

Once all of the paperwork has been signed, the home is officially yours and you'll get those house keys. Congratulations! Now comes the fun part: moving in and making the house your home.

February
4

4 Tips for Buying a Home in 2022

A happy couple looks sitting on the floor between moving boxes and drinking coffee.

There are plenty of good reasons to buy a home -- financial stability, building equity in a place of your own, and not having to follow a landlord's rules. If you're eager to buy a home in 2022, here are four important tips to help make that happen.

1. Research home prices ahead of time

Home prices have soared this year due to high buyer demand and limited housing inventory. Come 2022, those circumstances could remain unchanged. It makes sense to research different neighborhoods in advance and see which ones have home prices within your financial reach.

Some buyers embark on a home search before looking at numbers. But it's better to take the opposite approach -- first figure out where you can afford to look, and then start driving out to see different homes in person. If you go the opposite route, you might fall in love with a home or town you can't afford.

2. Work on boosting your credit score

Chances are, you don't have the money to buy a home outright next year. Rather, you'll probably need a mortgage. The higher your credit score is, the more likely you'll be to get approved not only for a home loan, but for an affordable interest rate as well.

You can boost your credit score in a number of ways. First, make sure to pay all of your bills on time. Next, if possible, pay off a chunk of existing credit card debt, especially if you're carrying a high balance relative to your total credit limit across all of your cards. Finally, check your credit report for errors and correct those that could be dragging your score down.

3. Sock away extra money for a down payment

Because home values are so inflated, you should expect to pay up in 2022. And if you want to avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI), you'll need to bring a 20% down payment to the table for a conventional loan. If you don't have that much saved yet, work on boosting your cash reserves. A good way to do so is to get a side gig on top of your main job.

4. Be prepared for competition

Though housing inventory may pick up in 2022, there's no guarantee that will happen. It could also take months for enough inventory to hit the market to satisfy buyer demand. That's why if you're aiming to buy a home next year, you'll need to prepare to duke it out with other buyers. Now is a good time to read up on different strategies for winning a bidding war.

One step worth taking in this regard is getting a mortgage pre-approval letter. That sends the message you're a serious home buyer whose finances have already been vetted. And it may prompt a seller to accept your offer over a comparable one.

Though 2022 may end up being a challenging year to buy a home, there are steps you can take to increase your chances of success. Be sure to check off these boxes if your goal is to become a homeowner over the next 12 months.

A historic opportunity to potentially save thousands on your mortgage

Chances are, interest rates won't stay put at multi-decade lows for much longer. That's why taking action today is crucial, whether you're wanting to refinance and cut your mortgage payment or you're ready to pull the trigger on a new home purchase.

Our expert recommends this company to find a low rate - and in fact he used them himself to refi (twice!).

December
29

Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Preparing to buy tips

1. Start saving early

Here are the main costs to consider when saving for a home:

  • Down payment: Your down payment requirement will depend on the type of mortgage you choose and the lender. Some conventional loans aimed at first-time home buyers with excellent credit allow as little as 3% down. But even a small down payment can be challenging to save. For example, a 3% down payment on a $300,000 home is $9,000. Use a down payment calculator to decide a goal, and then set up automatic transfers from checking to savings to get started.

  • Closing costs: These are the fees and expenses you pay to finalize your mortgage, and they typically range from 2% to 5% of the loan amount. You can ask the seller to pay a portion of your closing costs, and you can save on some expenses, such as home inspections, by shopping around.

  • Move-in expenses: You'll need some cash after the home purchase. Set some money aside for immediate home repairs, upgrades and furnishings.

2. Decide how much home you can afford

Figure out how much you can safely spend on a house before starting to shop. NerdWallet's home affordability calculator can help with setting a price range based on your income, debt, down payment, credit score and where you plan to live.

3. Check and strengthen your credit

Your credit score will determine whether you qualify for a mortgage and affect the interest rate lenders will offer. Take these steps to strengthen your credit score to buy a house:

  • Get free copies of your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — and dispute any errors that could hurt your score.

  • Pay all your bills on time, and keep credit card balances as low as possible.

  • Keep current credit cards open. Closing a card will increase the portion of available credit you use, which can lower your score.

Mortgage selection tips

4. Explore mortgage options

A variety of mortgages are available with varying down payment and eligibility requirements. Here are the main categories:

  • Conventional mortgages are not guaranteed by the government. Some conventional loans targeted at first-time buyers require as little as 3% down.

  • FHA loans are insured by the Federal Housing Administration and allow down payments as low as 3.5%.

  • USDA loans are guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They are for rural home buyers and usually require no down payment.

  • VA loans are guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are for current and veteran military service members and usually require no down payment.

You also have options when it comes to the mortgage term. Most home buyers opt for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, which is paid off in 30 years and has an interest rate that stays the same. A 15-year loan typically has a lower interest rate than a 30-year mortgage, but the monthly payments are larger.

5. Research first-time home buyer assistance programs

Many states and some cities and counties offer first-time home buyer programs, which often combine low-interest-rate mortgages with down payment assistance and closing cost assistance. Tax credits are also available through some first-time home buyer programs.

6. Compare mortgage rates and fees

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends requesting loan estimates for the same type of mortgage from multiple lenders to compare the costs, including interest rates and possible origination fees.

Lenders may offer the opportunity to buy discount points, which are fees the borrower pays upfront to lower the interest rate. Buying points can make sense if you have the money on hand and plan to stay in the home for a long time. Use a discount points calculator to decide.

7. Get a preapproval letter

A mortgage preapproval is a lender's offer to loan you a certain amount under specific terms. Having a preapproval letter shows home sellers and real estate agents that you're a serious buyer, and can give you an edge over home shoppers who haven't taken this step yet.

Apply for preapproval when you're ready to start home shopping. A lender will pull your credit and review documents to verify your income, assets and debt. Applying for preapproval from more than one lender to shop rates shouldn't hurt your credit score as long as you apply for them within a limited time frame, such as 30 days.

Home shopping tips

8. Choose a real estate agent carefully

A good real estate agent will scour the market for homes that meet your needs and guide you through the negotiation and closing process. Get agent referrals from other recent home buyers. Interview at least a few agents, and request references. When speaking with potential agents, ask about their experience helping first-time home buyers in your market and how they plan to help you find a home.

9. Pick the right type of house and neighborhood

Weigh the pros and cons of different types of homes, given your lifestyle and budget. A condominium or townhome may be more affordable than a single-family home, but shared walls with neighbors will mean less privacy. Don't forget to budget for homeowners association fees when shopping for condos and townhomes, or houses in planned or gated communities.

Another option to consider is buying a fixer-upper — a single-family home in need of updates or repairs. Fixer-uppers usually sell for less per square foot than move-in ready homes. However, you may need to budget extra for repairs and remodeling. Renovation mortgages finance both the home price and the cost of improvements in one loan.

Think about your long-term needs and whether a starter home or forever home will meet them best. If you plan to start or expand your family, it may make sense to buy a home with extra room to grow.

Check out potential neighborhoods thoroughly. Choose one with amenities that are important to you, and test out the commute to work during rush hour.

10. Stick to your budget

A lender may offer to loan you more than what is comfortably affordable, or you may feel pressure to spend outside your comfort zone to beat another buyer's offer. To avoid financial stress down the road, set a price range based on your budget, and then stick to it.

Look at properties below your price limit to give some wiggle room for bidding in a competitive market.

11. Make the most of open houses

Online 3D home tours have become more popular amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These tours let shoppers virtually walk through a home at any hour and observe details that regular photos don't catch. They don't supply all the information in-person visits do — like how the carpets smell — but they can help you narrow the list of properties to visit.

Open your senses when touring homes in person. Listen for noise, pay attention to any odors and look at the overall condition of the home inside and out. Ask about the type and age of the electrical and plumbing systems and the roof.

" MORE: How 3D home tours work

Home purchasing tips

12. Pay for a home inspection

A home inspection is a thorough assessment of the structure and mechanical systems. Professional inspectors look for potential problems, so you can make an informed decision about buying the property. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Standard inspections don't test for things like radon, mold or pests. Understand what's included in the inspection and what other inspections you might need.

  • Make sure the inspector can get to every part of the house, such as the roof and any crawl spaces.

  • Traditionally the buyer attends the inspection. By following the inspector around you can get a better understanding of the home and ask questions on the spot. If you can't attend the inspection, review the inspector's report carefully and ask about anything that's unclear.

13. Negotiate with the seller

You may be able to save money by asking the seller to pay for repairs in advance or lower the price to cover the cost of repairs you'll have to make later. You may also ask the seller to pay some of the closing costs. But keep in mind that lenders may limit the portion of closing costs the seller can pay.

Your negotiating power will depend on the local market. It's tougher to drive a hard bargain when there are more buyers than homes for sale. Work with your real estate agent to understand the local market and strategize accordingly.

14. Buy adequate home insurance

Your lender will require you to buy homeowners insurance before closing the deal. Home insurance covers the cost to repair or replace your home and belongings if they're damaged by an incident covered in the policy. It also provides liability insurance if you're held responsible for an injury or accident. Buy enough home insurance to cover the cost of rebuilding the home if it's destroyed.

December
20

Looking for a fun way to build some holiday cheer with your family? Try making one or all of these holiday crafts at home.

Nothing gets our real estate agents in the holiday spirit quite like DIY holiday crafts. Holiday crafting is not only a great opportunity to spend time with friends and family, but it also is a chance to create some beautiful holiday decor that you can use to liven up your home for the holiday season. If you're looking for some creative ideas before heading out to the craft store, here are our four most popular DIY holiday craft ideas:

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