4 Tips For Buying Your First Home

If “Buy my first home” is at the top of your list of life goals, here are 4 tips to getting those papers signed and having the keys in your hand.

1. Clean Up Your Credit

Your credit score is one of the main factors that determines whether you get a loan to purchase your home – and what interest rate you’ll pay on said loan. The better your credit score, the better rates you’ll get on your mortgage, which can save you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your mortgage.

The first step to cleaning up your credit is knowing your number. A recent survey conducted by LendingTree found that nearly 60% of Americans don’t know their credit score. Don’t be that person! Not knowing your credit score can ruin your chances of getting a loan. Most of the major credit card companies, like Chase and American Express, allow you to check your FICO score directly from your account interface. But you’ll also want to check your credit report for inaccuracies, so use a service like LendingTree or Credit Karma to get a more accurate picture of what’s going on with your credit.

Once you know your score, it’s time to do damage control if necessary. Contact the credit bureaus to correct any misinformation on your credit report. If you have any delinquent accounts, pay them off. If you’re struggling to pay down your balances, look into consolidating your debt or working with a credit repair company to get your payments down and your credit back on track.

2. Don’t Accrue Any New Debt

Once you’ve got your credit under control and are working to raise your score, it’s important that you don’t accrue any new debt. Credit inquiries can bring down your credit score, and large balances (like a new car loan) can make you look like a riskier borrower to lenders.

If you’re on the market for your first home, keep your spending to the necessities and don’t take on any new debt.

3. Stash Away Savings

You also need to make savings a priority. A good motto for potential homebuyers is “the more savings, the better.”

No matter which way you slice it, purchasing a home is an expensive ordeal, and while a mortgage certainly helps to offset the costs, there’s a lot of things you’ll need to pay for out of pocket. You’ll need a good chunk of the purchase price set aside to use as a down payment, money for closing costs, cash to cover moving from your current place to your new home… the expense list goes on and on, which is why it’s important that you have plenty of funds in the bank to facilitate the home-buying process without putting too much strain on you and your family.

Talk to your lender about how much you should realistically have in the bank before you make the purchase. Then, do everything you need to do to hit that number before you buy your home.

If you have trouble saving, set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account that pulls a certain amount from every paycheck to add to your savings. Immediately put any “found money”, like bonuses or tax refunds, into your savings account. Download an app like Digit that analyzes your spending habits and transfers small amounts into your savings – you won’t even notice it’s missing, and every dollar counts!

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

One of the best weapons in a first-time-buyer’s arsenal is the right real estate agent. Working with the right real estate agent can make you fall in love with the process of buying home or make you wish you could go back to renting for all of eternity.

When choosing an agent, you’ll want to work with someone who has experience in the type of property you’re looking to buy in your desired location. You’ll also want to work with someone who isn’t overloading with clients and who has experience working with first-time-buyers. You’re likely to have a lot of questions along the way, and you don’t want to work with an agent who’s too busy or frustrated to answer them for you.

With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to making your dream of owning your first home a reality.

Sellers, Take Note: A/C, Kitchens, And Energy Efficiency Top Criteria For Buyers

When you’re getting ready to list your home, you want to make sure any changes or renovations are going to give you a return on your investment by making your home more appealing to potential buyers. But what, exactly, are the things buyers are looking for?

According to Zillow’s 2017 Consumer Housing Trends Report, there are a few clear winners when it comes to upgrading your home to make it more appealing to sellers. According to the report, 62% of buyers require a home has air conditioning before they make a purchase. And while the perfect kitchen and an energy efficient home aren’t exactly “needs” for most buyers, they do rank high on their list of “wants” (at 48% for both).

The Takeaway

If you’re thinking about making changes to your home in order to generate more interest from buyers, your money would be best spent installing central air. Improving your kitchen and making your home more energy efficient come in a close second.

National Dog Day

It’s National Dog Day. Unlike many of these National days, it’s not just a day to celebrate your love of dogs. It has a pretty clear mission…

It was started to bring awareness to dogs who need homes. Dogs who were abandoned. Dogs who were “unwanted”.

I’m sure there are dogs who were “unwanted”, but it’s not always about not wanting a dog. A lot of times, it’s about not being able to keep a dog. In fact, many dog owners are devastated when they find themselves in a position to have to give up their dog for adoption.

While there are many sad, legitimate reasons to have to give up a dog, one of the ones I hate hearing about the most is when someone has to because they can’t find a place to live that allows dogs.

Most often, it’s because they’re renters, and it’s difficult to find a rental that allows pets.
Or, perhaps there are restrictions on the size or breed of dog.

This is avoidable. Not always easy. But avoidable.

There are a couple of solutions:

Find a rental that permits dogs (the most obvious solution).
Buy a house.

The problem is, many people avoid looking for a solution until they have no other choice than to give up their dog.

So, keep this in mind…

If you, or anyone you know, owns a dog and it looks like it’ll be affecting their housing situation, please reach out to me as soon as possible.

There’s got to be a better solution than giving up the dog, and I’m glad to help find it.
Luke-Large-Print

First time Home Buyers checklist

Buying a first home is one of the most exciting times in a person’s life. But it’s also a huge decision and it can be overwhelming for potential homeowners who don’t know the steps to take to get them from “thinking about buying a first home” to “time to move in”.

Here’s a first timer’s checklist for purchasing property to help homeowners manage the buying process for the first time:

Finances

Before homeowners start thinking about purchasing a home, it’s important to take a look at finances.

Pay Down Debt

The first thing that potential homeowners will want to do before looking for homes is to pay down any outstanding debt, especially credit card debt. Credit card debt typically has a high interest rate and paying down large balances can be a drain on finances. Credit card debt also has a big impact on credit scores, which will directly affect the interest rates homeowners will secure on their home loans.

It can be a challenge, but paying down high-interest debt before purchasing a home is the best long-term strategy for potential homeowners.

Know The Numbers and Gather Documentation

It’s also important for homeowners to have a solid understanding of their financial history before they apply for loans and looking for homes.

It’s important that homeowners know their credit score, and the credit score of their spouse, partner or co-purchaser. They should also plan to review their credit reports to look for any errors or discrepancies; even minor dings on a credit report can cause higher interest rates on a mortgage.

Potential buyers will also want to gather the documentation they’ll need when applying for a mortgage. This includes copies of credit reports, paycheck stubs, copies of federal tax returns and documentation outlining any student loan or credit card debt.

Rework Budgets

There’s no way around it – owning a home is an expensive endeavor. In order to purchase a home that won’t put them under financial strain, homeowners need to take a close look at their budgets and figure out how much house they can afford.

Homeowners should track their expenses, see where they can cut expenses and then figure out a realistic and comfortable home budget. It’s also important to factor in all home-related expenses when creating a budget. Obviously, there will be a mortgage payment, but homeowners should also factor in things like property tax, any HOA fees and utilities.

Determine Mortgage

Once a budget has been decided, it’s time to determine what type of mortgage will be the best fit. Most homeowners elect for a 30-year mortgage, but there are shorter term mortgages available (like 15-year mortgages), which typically carry lower interest rates.

Homeowners should also determine whether they’ll be applying for a fixed rate or an adjustable rate mortgage. While adjustable rate mortgages can save money on the front end, they can cause higher payments down the line should interest rates increased. Fixed rate mortgages guarantee a fixed interest rate throughout the life of the loan, which offers homeowners security in knowing their mortgage payment won’t change.

Homeowners should speak with a mortgage specialist to determine the best fit for them and get pre-approved for a mortgage before beginning the home buying process.

Choose An Agent

Choosing the right agent is essential for first time home buyers. The process of purchasing a home can be overwhelming, and having the right agent can help homeowners navigate through this new territory relatively stress-free and find the home of their dreams.

When choosing an agent, homeowners should consider:

Does this agent have experience working with first time buyers?

Ideally, potential homeowners will want to work with an agent who has experience working with first time buyers. First timers typically have a lot of questions and, having never been through it before, need additional support, guidance and reassurance throughout the buying process.

A real estate agent who has worked with several first time buyers will expect these additional questions and concerns and will make room in their schedule to accommodate it.

Does this agent specialize in the desired market?

First time and seasoned buyers alike should always work with an agent who specializes in their desired market. Every area is different and working with an agent who understands the ins and outs of an area gives buyers an advantage over the competition.

Start Looking At Properties

Once an agent is in place, the fun can begin: it’s time to look at properties. Before homeowners look at properties, they should set clear expectations with their agent about what they’re looking for, share their “must haves” and their “nice to haves” and let the agent know any potential deal breakers.

Many first timers wonder how many properties they should view before making a decision. And again, there’s no magic number. Some homeowners may jump on the first property they see, and some may view 100 before finding a home that feels true to what they’re looking for.

When viewing homes, homeowners should consider whether the property is a place they could see themselves comfortably and happily living for the foreseeable future. Other considerations include:

  • How much work will need to be done on the home before it’s move in ready?
  • What will be the cost of necessary repairs and renovations?
  • How is the neighborhood? Does it feel safe?
  • If children will be living in the home, how is the school system?
  • Is the area noisy?
  • Does the property feel private? If not, is that something that’s manageable?

There’s no formula to follow for finding the right house as a first time home buyer. But following this checklist will get homeowners a few steps closer to finding their dream home.

Don’t forget to request your free copy of my Ultimate Home Buyers Guide as well

17 Household Products You’ve Been Buying But Could’ve Made Yourself All Along

Having a well kept home requires maintenance and the occasional decor upgrade. Between cleaning supplies, Mod-Podge, and the ever important dog shampoo, a wallet can be strained to keep a place in tip top shape. Here are some handy DIYs for making a number of important household items that will take the pressure off of your finances while helping the environment and impressing your friends.


1. Create your own eco-friendly dish washing detergent.

Use 1 cup borax, 1 cup washing soda (or baking soda will work, as well), 1/2 cup citric acid, and 1/2 cup of kosher salt as a scrubbing agent. For a rinsing agent, vinegar does the trick.

2. Want to create your own Swiffer WetJet Solution? This is the formula for you.

3. Bug spray is a valuable commodity in some places.

It is always a wise idea to be able to make your own natural protection against the crawly, buzzy and bity things in the world. Here’s a page with a number of helpful DIY recipes.

4. Get your homemade febreze on with this DIY.

5. Drano can be a real drag on your pipes. Plumbers will often charge more to work on pipes that have had drano applied due to the wear and tear it causes with their equipment.

We have good news for you! With 1 cup of baking soda, 1 cup of salt, and ¼ cup of cream of tartar, you have an all natural powder of drain cleaning dynamite. Pour the mix down the drain and then pour two cups of boiling water over it. After an hour, just run fresh water from the sink to flush it out.

6. We aren’t the only ones that benefit from bug spray. Your precious plants can always use a helping hand.

This DIY will help you create the eco-friendly insecticide you need to keep your thumb just a little greener.

7. You can turn your whole place into a giant chalkboard.

All you need is chalkboard paint made from 1 cup latex house paint, 1 cup acrylic craft paint, and 1 tablespoon of unsanded tile grout. Give your wee ones plenty to keep them captivated!

8. Mod-Podge is a must among home renovators. Here’s a snazzy DIY for making your own from Elmer’s glue and water.

9. Need to get that wood good and shiny, but you are tired of chemical wood polish?

Just mix 2 parts oil (preferably linseed oil or olive oil) with one part lemon juice. Polish it on with a soft cloth. Buff that beauty with beeswax and a microfiber cloth for a shiney finish.

10. Homemade polymer clay is perfect for making any number of household decor items.

Your imagination is the only limit. See how to make it from common household ingredients here.

11. This DIY will give you the skinny on making some amazing laundry soap. Save your clothes, and your money in one swoop.

12. Do your clothes look like they are imitating the neighbor’s pug? Get those wrinkles out with your own homemade solution.

Simply pour 1/4 cup of vinegar, 1/4 cup of water, and 3 tablespoons of liquid fabric softener into a spray bottle and apply to smooth out the wrinkles.

13. Do you have those stubborn (and perhaps embarrassing) stains you need to get rid of?

Mix one part hydrogen peroxide, one part baking soda, and two parts water to create your own stain remover and save the day.

14. Make buying glass cleaner a thing of the past with 1 cup of rubbing alcohol (isopropyl), 1 cup of water, and 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Spray it on and do your thing.

15. With 1 cup of water and 2 teaspoons of cornstarch, you can starch up any fabric around the house you need to.

16. If there is one important way to keep a house smelling and looking pleasant, it’s to bathe the household pups.

Some of them need some pretty consistent bathing, which can get expensive. Now you can learn to make 3 different doggy shampoos with this DIY.

17. Ever wonder why kids eat glue? It’s because it is made out of all natural (and edible) ingredients.

Glue is deceptively easy to make. Check out this DIY for the details.

Broker Meg’s Pet of the month!

prissy
Once a month I sponsor the adoption fee for an animal waiting for their home in the Clarke County Humane Foundation. For July I am cover the adoption fee for Prissy. She is such a sweet lady and has been waiting for her family since October.

She was brought into the shelter when her owner passed away and is patiently waiting for her new people. They do know she would prefer a home without kids since the chaos tends to make her hide. Please help spread the word so we can find this girl her home!

Three-Quarters Of Americans Believe Now Is A Good Time To Sell Your Home

believe-sell-home-cover

There’s no arguing that the housing market in the US is currently favoring sellers; historically low inventory is heating up competition and driving up prices. And even with those higher prices, homes are flying off the market faster than ever before (according to recent data from the National Association of Realtors, homes stayed on the market for an average of 26 days in April 2018—the fewest number of days since the Association began tracking the data in 2011).

This favorable market is having a dramatic effect on seller confidence.

According to the National Association of Realtors’ most recent Housing Opportunities and Market Experience (HOME) Survey, a whopping 75% of Americans believe that now is a good time to sell a home—up from 61% just two years ago.

The Takeaway

Three-quarters of the country believes that now is a good time to sell, and they believe it for a reason. The market has never been better for sellers than it is today, but these favorable conditions won’t last forever. So if you’ve been thinking about putting your home on the market, now is the time to make a move.

How Selling Your House Is Like Making Lasagna

How many layers are there in a lasagna?

There’s no right or wrong answer to that. Other than, “more than one” probably. Even two is pretty skimpy.

So, let’s say three is minimal for argument sake. (But, four or more is better.)

The number of layers probably just boils down to using up all the lasagna noodles and sauce you have, or getting to the top of the pan you have to use. No exact amount. Use what you’ve got.

But, if all you’ve got won’t stretch to make three layers in the size pan you have, perhaps you should use a smaller pan. At least have the three layers.

This isn’t a lasagna lesson.

You could say that it doesn’t really matter how many layers there are, as long as it tastes good.

And, there really isn’t any rule that you can’t have a one or two layer lasagna. So, you’d be “right”.

It just wouldn’t look exactly right. Not a big deal. It’s lasagna.

But, this article isn’t really about lasagna, it’s about real estate. Specifically, the critical “layers” you need to have when you list your house for sale.

Like we were talking about above with lasagna, for the sake of argument, you definitely need three layers. More would be better.

So, let’s look at the three most important layers when listing your home for sale.

The 3 layers

The three “layers” you need to have when you list your home for sale are:

1- Price
2- Exposure
3- Ease of access

Price

The price of your home is the first, and most critical layer when you are listing your home. If you don’t nail the pricing, the next two layers won’t matter a whole lot.

It won’t matter how much exposure your home has if the price isn’t in line with the market. Buyers have a good handle on values, and they won’t waste their time looking at a house if the price is way out of whack.

There’s certainly a little room to be on the “high” side. You don’t need to “give your house away”. But, you really need to be priced well against the current competition, and justifiable against similar homes to yours which have recently sold.

Exposure

Exposure has gotten easier over the years because of the Internet. But the easiest way to ensure you reach every single buyer in the market is to make sure you’re on the local multiple listing service (MLS).

Beyond that, you want to make sure your listing “populates” or “syndicates” to all of the real estate sites out there. Again, the easiest way to do this is typically to list your home on the local MLS. Most agents have a system that then allows your listing to be picked up by more real estate websites than you can imagine.

Beyond that, it doesn’t hurt to have some other exposure in terms of marketing. This will vary from agent to agent, and company to company.

But the bottom line is this — your home needs to be easily found. And since most buyers are actively looking online, make sure it’s on there as “everywhere” as possible.

Ease of access

Your home needs to be easy for buyers to come and see.

Sounds simple enough…

You want your home sold, so of course you figure you’ll make it easy to come and see.

But not everyone does. More people than you can imagine make real estate agents and buyers jump through hoops to schedule a showing.

Saying no to a showing, or trying to corral every showing into a tight window of time during the week is going to hurt you.

So, just make sure you keep your house ready to show at any given moment, and say yes to any request to come see the house. (Within reason, of course…)

If you just do all three of those things, you’re in pretty good shape to get your home sold for as much as the market will bear, in as short a time as possible.

But, it won’t necessarily be as good as it could be if you were to add just a few more layers to your “listing lasagna”.

The “extra” layers.

While the first three layers are more or less non-negotiable, and will most likely get you as close to the highest offer as possible, as quickly as possible, you may want to consider these extra layers.

Adding these into your mix will increase your chances of getting the highest and best offer possible, as quickly as possible.

1- Hiring an agent who knows and understands the market.
2- Hiring an agent who is a strong advisor.
3- Hiring an agent who can negotiate.
4- Hiring an agent who keeps things together.

Knows and understands the market

It’s easy enough to hire a real estate agent. There’s plenty of them. But, you should really make sure to hire one who truly knows and understands your local real estate market.

You want one who can analyze the activity on your house, and the overall market, so that the agent can…

Advise you

There’s a lot of talk about selling homes “as quickly as possible”. The key words there are “as possible”.

Sure, you and your agent want your home to sell, and sell quickly. But “quickly” depends on the market. And you want an agent on your side who, after analyzing the market and activity, can advise you on what to do…

Should you stay firm on your price and just be patient?

Should you lower your price? If so, how much?

Is there something you can change about your house that buyers are getting hung up on? If so, is it worth doing, or will the cost be too much for it to make sense?

There’s way more than that to list, but those are just a few examples of advice your agent should be relied upon for, and be able to provide to you.

Negotiate

This is another thing that gets a lot of lip service. But an agent who negotiates well is a huge asset.

Sure, you want one that will negotiate a “win-win” enough to make a deal come together. But, you really want one that gets you the fatter end of the win. And that isn’t always just about price.

A good negotiator will get you the best price and terms.

And, more importantly, it’s important to have an agent who will…

Keep the deal together

There’s a lot of time, and a lot of things that can lead to a deal falling apart between signing the deal and a closing.

Things go wrong. People get cold feet. Buyers get greedy and ask for credits and repairs, or threaten to bale on the whole deal. Appraisers throw their opinion into the mix.

Again, just to name a few examples… but there are so many things that can make a deal fall apart.

Having a strong agent on your side, who can almost predict and nip problems in the bud before things get out of control, is a huge layer to add to your listing lasagna. And, if things do get dicey, you want an agent who can wrangle it all in and get things back on track.

Looks can be deceiving.

People often look at selling a house as pretty simple. And the truth is, it is pretty simple…in terms of the first three layers.

But that doesn’t necessarily make the best “lasagna” possible. It might look OK enough to be called lasagna, but it’s not gonna be quite as tasty as it could be, if you take enough care to add the next four layers.

What do real estate and Independence Day have in common?

Fourth of July and real estate
Fourth of July and real estate

What’s the first thing you think of when you think 4th of July?

Probably fireworks, right?

Okay, maybe you think about barbeques, pool parties, or parades first.

The point is, the first thought for most people isn’t about the nitty-gritty that we’re actually celebrating — our independence as a nation.

Deep down, we all know that’s what it’s all about. And we respect it. But, we’re also human. Who can blame us for enjoying our freedom watching fireworks, without giving all that much thought about everything our founding fathers did to get us here?

So it is in real estate…

There’s a lot of focus on the “fireworks” in real estate. The big, glorious, flashy, exciting moments. Like…

The moment your house first hits the market.
Seeing the pictures of your house all over the Internet.
Throngs of people walking through your first open house.
Receiving offers from buyers…maybe even multiple offers.
Going under contract.
Walking into “the” house, and falling in love with it.
Making an offer on the house you love, and having it accepted.
Closing on the sale or purchase of your home.

All really exciting “firework” moments.

But they’re not the full story. There’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes in order to get to those fun, celebratory moments. A lot of thought, knowledge, skill, and work… Not necessarily fun, or sexy stuff. But it’s all important. It’s all necessary to get to those exciting “fireworks” moments.

Not that the behind the scenes stuff should be something you think about. As a consumer, you should enjoy the glorious moments. Leave the nitty-gritty to your agent.

Just know that there’s more to it than the “fireworks” you want to see when you buy or sell a house.

6 Reasons Your Agent Wants You Pre-Approved Before Showing You Homes

Ever had an agent deny to show you a home because you weren’t pre-approved for a mortgage? It’s not because they’re mean, or they don’t value your business… it’s actually because they’re looking out for your best interests.

Let’s face it, shopping for a home before getting pre-approved for a mortgage is like walking into a grocery store without a wallet. You may have the desire to buy, but you lack the ability. Let’s cover some basics…

What is a mortgage pre-approval?

In a nutshell, a mortgage pre-approval is written assurance from a lender or broker that you’re able to borrow money to purchase a home up to a certain amount. It’s based on the income, employment and asset documentation you supply at the time of application, in conjunction with your credit history. So let’s look at the 6 reasons you should get pre-approved.

1. It carries more weight than a “pre-qualification”.

A pre-approval differs from a pre-qualification. With the former, the lender has actually checked your credit and verified your documentation to approve a specific loan amount (usually for a particular time period such as 30, 60 or 90 days). A pre-qualification can be useful as an estimate of how much you can afford to spend on your home, but it’s a less accurate indicator of your ability to purchase. A pre-approval always carries more weight.

2. You’ll know how much house you can afford.

Getting pre-approved before you begin house hunting allows you to know how much house you can realistically afford. Knowing this narrows down the options and makes the selection process more efficient. Not to mention, it protects you from the unpleasant surprise of realizing the home you fell in love with doesn’t fit your budget.

3. It adds clout to your offer.

In many markets, homes attract more than one offer. If the sellers are weighing one offer against another, they may lean towards the one accompanied by a pre-approval letter. That’s because pre-approvals instill confidence that the buyer is financially capable of purchasing their home.

4. It could increase your negotiating power.

In addition to strengthening your offer when compared to buyers who haven’t taken this step, getting pre-approved may give you the upper-hand when negotiating the price. If the homeowner is eager to sell, they may be more willing to accept a lower offer from someone they’ve been assured is financially capable of purchasing their home.

5. It saves time.

Obtaining a mortgage is a lengthy process. Getting pre-approved ahead of time shortens the time between contract to close — this way you’re ready to proceed with finalizing the mortgage once you’ve found the home you want to purchase.

6. Without it, most agents won’t work with you.

Makes sense, too. Right? Think about it: when you hire an agent, he/she will invest countless hours showing you homes over the course of your house hunt. If you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you want assurance that your hard work would lead to a favorable outcome for both you and your client?