Relocating for a new job can be a challenge to navigate, especially when juggling a mortgage. Review the details that matter to your lender.
It’s true that changing jobs can affect your loan approval, but, like most mortgage-related questions, the devil is in the details. So long as you are moving from one position to one with equal or higher income, and you are able to provide documentation of your work and income history, any changes to your loan approval chances should be minimal. The most important thing for lenders and their underwriters is ensuring you can repay the loan, and the best indicators of that are your income and history of employment.
Lenders want to know you have reliable, steady income that is ongoing, for at least the next three years.
If you’re thinking about accepting a new job or recently moved positions, consider the ways it may hinder your mortgage acquisition.
What to expect when changing jobs before getting a mortgage
If your new job is within the same industry as your last, and if the transition earns better pay, then lenders likely will not have a concern. Promotions are looked at favorably. Even lateral moves to stronger companies offering increased salary or improved benefits are sensible business decisions that shouldn’t impede loan acquisition.
Your lender likely will want to ensure the longevity of your new role and confirm your new salary. Full-time positions with long-term contracts are ideal. Expect to work in your new role for at least 30 days before earning loan approval. Typically, you’ll need to provide your first pay stub from the new company and disclose your offer letter confirming your salary. Be prepared for lenders to omit commission earnings from your total salary since your commission is unproven in the new role, which could affect your total loan amount.
How to get a mortgage with a new job
Avoid transitioning to a job that doesn’t make financial sense, such as a lateral move for less pay, a change from full-time employee to contractor or a major industry change. Employment history showing frequent career moves could be a red flag for lenders that you may not be able to maintain steady income.
Another red flag for lenders is an extended gap in employment history. Chances of acquiring a mortgage may be stronger if your period of unemployment was less than six months. However, some exemptions include military service members returning from deployment or full-time students transitioning into the workforce; these paths are viewed as forms of employment.
How to get a home loan when relocating
If your new job requires you to move, you’ll need to solidify living arrangements before relocating. If you don’t mind renting in your new location for at least 30 days to provide lenders with your first pay stub, it’s likely the least stressful solution. Extended-stay hotels are popular options while familiarizing yourself with the surrounding community and local real estate market. On condition that you’re sticking to the same industry and the new role offers a financial or career advantage, the new job should not restrict quick loan acquisition in a new city.
Alternatively, you could attempt purchasing and closing on a home in the new location before giving notice to your current job for a smooth, one-time move. If you’re moving fast, understand a purchase offer takes 30-45 days to close, on average. Lenders verify employment during loan application and then again just prior to closing, so be sure to maintain employment until the sale closes.
If you’re a homeowner and need to sell while shopping for a new home, and possibly live in a rental simultaneously, finances can become demanding. Selling your current property before buying can provide cash from closing to help fund your down payment, which could boost your loan eligibility. But if you can afford carrying two mortgages for a period of time, you can purchase a home in the new location, move in directly and then work to sell the initial property remotely. Again, you’ll be limited to the speed of the purchase agreement or expect to disclose your new role to the lender.
Can relocation packages help with home purchases?
Often, companies offer relocation packages that range in coverage from paying for a moving service to a generous Guaranteed Buy Out (GBO). A GBO is when the company buys your home for an average appraisal value if it does not sell in a fair timeframe. Other relocation packages might help with closing costs of your home sale or pay the real estate commission fees. If you’re underwater on your home, your new employer might cover the loan difference at resale.
Some relocation packages assist their new employees purchase a local home within a year of moving, they may buy down your interest rate or contribute to a down payment.
Whether buying a house out of necessity or preference, acquiring a new job within the same industry for better pay likely won’t prevent loan approval, but it may slow the process down by a month.
When you purchase a condominium, townhouse or another type of property in a planned development such as a leased land property or a gated community, you are obligated to join that community's homeowners' association (HOA) and pay monthly or annual HOA fees for the upkeep of common areas and the building. If you are considering purchasing one of these types of properties, you should be aware of the following nine things about homeowners' associations and how they work before you buy.
First, let's take a look at what HOAs are all about. HOA fees often range from $200 to $400 per month. The more upscale the building and the more amenities it has, the higher the homeowners' association fees are likely to be. In addition to monthly fees, if a major expense such as a new roof or a new elevator comes up and there aren't enough funds in the HOA's reserves to pay for it, the association may charge an extra assessment that can run into thousands of dollars.
Because multiple parties live in the same building or complex, all residents of condominiums and townhomes must be equally responsible for maintaining the common areas such as landscaping, elevators, swimming pools, clubhouses, parking garages, fitness rooms, sidewalks, security gates, roofing and building exteriors. Many of these types of common areas, such as pools and tennis courts, also exist in subdivisions of single family homes. Regardless of whether the HOA governs a building, such as a condo or townhome structure, or a neighborhood of individual houses, HOA fees help maintain the quality of life for the community's residents and protect property values for all owners.
In addition to maintaining common areas, HOAs also set out certain rules that all residents must follow called covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs). In a common building, rules may include what color front door you may have, whether you are allowed to line dry your laundry outside, whether you can have a satellite dish, the size and type of pets permitted, and so on. In many ways, these rules are similar to the kinds of rules apartment dwellers must follow.
In a subdivision with individual homes, regulations may include what color you can paint your home, the exterior landscaping you can do, the types of vehicles you can park on the street or in your driveway (no RVs, for example), permissible type and height of fences, and restrictions on window coverings for windows facing the street. If you want to do anything that differs from these rules, you will have to convince the HOA to grant you a variance, which is probably unlikely.
No matter where you live, you are likely to be subject to city ordinances and restrictions related to the use of your property. HOAs add yet another layer of restrictions, and because their members are more likely to know what you're up to, the HOA is more likely to enforce the rules. Below, we'll take a look at some of the rules and regulations you need to know about before you decide to join one of these communities.
What You Need To Know
While there are laws governing the behavior of HOAs, these associations can still have a powerful impact on your rights as a homeowner. Before buying a property in a community that has an HOA you should:
1. Learn the HOA's rules.
You may be able to find an HOA's CC&Rs online as well as information about what happens if you violate a rule. Make sure any online information is current. If you cannot find this information online, ask your real estate agent to acquire these documents for you or contact the HOA yourself.
Pay particular attention to rules regarding fines and whether the HOA can foreclose on your property for nonpayment of HOA dues or fines resulting from CC&R violations. Also, learn about the process for changing or adding rules, and whether HOA meetings are held at a time you will be able to attend if you wish to do so. If the rules are too restrictive, consider buying elsewhere.
2. Make sure the home you want to buy is not already out of compliance with HOA rules.
Buying into an existing problem can be a headache, so find out what the rules are and whether you would have to make changes to the home to comply.
3. Assess environmental practices.
If environmentally friendly living is important to you, be aware that some HOAs may dictate that you use fertilizers, pesticides, sprinkler systems and whatever else it takes to keep your lawn picture-perfect. They may not allow xeriscaping (an environmentally friendly form of landscaping) and may limit the size of gardens, ban compost piles and prevent you from installing solar panels. So make sure you check the fine print first.
4. Consider your temperament.
Are you the type of person who hates being told what to do? If so, living in a community with an HOA may be a very frustrating experience for you. One of the major benefits of homeownership is the ability to customize and alter the property to suit your needs, but HOA rules can really interfere with this.
5. Find out about fees.
Fees will differ for each community. Because of this, you should make sure to ask your HOA the following questions:
Compare dues for the complex or neighborhood you are considering to the average dues in the area. Keep in mind that you will have to pay for recreational facilities whether you use them or not. Find out the hours for amenities like pools and tennis courts. Will you be around during those hours, or will you be paying for facilities you'll never be able to use? Be aware that the HOA may have rules about how many guests can use common facilities. If guest restrictions are severe, forget about that housewarming pool party you envisioned.
6. Try to get a copy of minutes from the last meeting or sit in on an HOA meeting before you buy.
The meeting minutes can be very telling about the policies of the HOA. Some questions to ask are:
Be alert for potential drama. Power trips and petty politics can be an issue in some HOAs. Talk to some of the building's current owners, if possible – preferably ones who are not on the HOA board and who have lived in the building for several years. Talk to the HOA president and get a sense for whether you want this person making decisions about what you can do with your property. If a private company manages the HOA, investigate it before you buy. Some HOAs are professionally managed, but it is common for associations to be managed by building residents who hold their positions as volunteers. Even if you like the current HOA board or management company, it can change after you move in and you may end up getting something totally different than what you expected.
7. Watch for under-management.
Not all HOAs are over-managed. The opposite problem may be an HOA where no one really cares and where no one is interested in maintaining the building, making repairs, hearing resident grievances or being on the board. Residents may simply take turns serving as HOA president or randomly appoint someone, so be prepared to serve in this role whether you want to or not if that is the case with your community's HOA.
This would also be a good time to check into any restrictions preventing you from renting out your property or that make it difficult for you to do so. If your property is being under-managed you might not have an issue, but if you've got a hyperactive manager it could be a totally different story.
8. Find out what kind of catastrophe insurance the HOA has on the building.
This is particularly important if you're considering a condo or townhouse purchase and you live in an area that is prone to floods, earthquakes, blizzards, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes or any other type of potential natural disaster – and that is virtually anywhere.
9. Consider the impact of HOA fees on your short- and long-term finances.
A condo with high HOA fees might end up costing you as much as the house you don't think you can afford.
The Bottom Line
Homeowners' associations can be your best friend when they prevent your neighbor from painting her house neon pink, but your worst enemy when they expect you to perform expensive maintenance on your home that you don't think is necessary or impose rules that you find too restrictive. Before you purchase a property subject to HOA rules and fees, make sure you know exactly what you are getting into. Then, once you've found your dream community, use a resource like a mortgage calculator to secure a favorable mortgage.
Thinking about buying? Be sure to include these five items in your calculations.
Homeownership may be a goal for some, but it’s not the right fit for many.
Renters account for 37 percent of all households in America — or just over 43.7 million homes, up more than 6.9 million since 2005. Even still, more than half of millennial and Gen Z renters consider buying, with 18 percent seriously considering it.
Both lifestyles afford their fair share of pros and cons. So before you meet with a real estate agent, consider these five costs homeowners pay that renters don’t — they could make you reconsider buying altogether.
1. Property taxes
As long as you own a home, you’ll pay property taxes. The typical U.S. homeowner pays $2,110 per year in property taxes, meaning they’re a significant — and ongoing — chunk of your budget.
Factor this expense into the equation from the get-go to avoid surprises down the road. The property tax rates vary among states, so try a mortgage calculator to estimate costs in your area.
2. Homeowners insurance
Homeowners insurance protects you against losses and damage to your home caused by perils such as fires, storms or burglary. It also covers legal costs if someone is injured in your home or on your property.
Homeowners insurance is almost always required in order to get a home loan. It costs an average of $35 per month for every $100,000 of your home’s value.
If you intend to purchase a condo, you’ll need a condo insurance policy — separate from traditional homeowner’s insurance — which costs an average of $100 to $400 a year.
3. Maintenance and repairs
Don’t forget about those small repairs that you won’t be calling your landlord about anymore. Notice a tear in your window screen? Can’t get your toilet to stop running? What about those burned out light bulbs in your hallway? You get the idea.
Maintenance costs can add an additional $3,021 to the typical U.S. homeowner’s annual bill. Of course, this amount increases as your home ages.
And don’t forget about repairs. Conventional water heaters last about a decade, with a new one costing you between $500 to $1,500 on average. Air conditioning units don’t typically last much longer than 15 years, and an asphalt shingle roof won’t serve you too well after 20 years.
4. HOA fees
Sure, that monthly mortgage payment seems affordable, but don’t forget to take homeowners association (HOA) fees into account.
On average, HOA fees cost anywhere from $200 to $400 per month. They usually fund perks like your fitness center, neighborhood landscaping, community pool and other common areas.
Such amenities are usually covered as a renter, but when you own your home, you’re paying for these luxuries on top of your mortgage payment.
When you’re renting, it’s common for your apartment or landlord to cover some costs. When you own your home, you’re in charge of covering it all — water, electric, gas, internet and cable.
While many factors determine how much you’ll pay for utilities — like the size of your home and the climate you live in — the typical U.S. homeowner pays $2,953 in utility costs every year.
Ultimately, renting might be more cost-effective in the end, depending on your lifestyle, location and financial situation. As long as you crunch the numbers and factor in these costs, you’ll make the right choice for your needs.
Whether you're a social butterfly or a homebody, getting friendly with the folks next door will make your new house feel like home.
Leaving friends and neighbors behind can be the toughest part of moving to a new home.
These five tips will help you make connections and settle into your new community in no time.
1. Knock, knock
For an extrovert, walking over to a neighbor’s home to say hello may feel like a no-brainer. But for more reserved personalities, this tried-and-true method usually requires a bit of a warmup.
Start with a friendly wave as you drive by, then work your way up to a face-to-face introduction. Remember, timing is everything. You don’t want to disturb your neighbors in the middle of dinner or while they’re struggling to get a fussy toddler down for the night.
Try to catch them when they’re already outside, or aim for a weekend afternoon when everyone is much more likely to be relaxed and open to a brief, friendly chat.
2. Snail mail
Can’t work up the nerve to knock on doors? In this age of electronic communication, a nice handwritten note can be a welcome surprise.
Write a few lines for your closest neighbors, introducing yourself and inviting them over for a cup of coffee or cocktail at their convenience.
Be sure to personalize each note by including a small conversation starter (e.g., the roses in front of your home are absolutely stunning! We’re poodle lovers too!), then drop your letters at your neighbors’ front door or in their mailbox.
3. Magic school bus
If you’ve got school-age children, accompany them to the bus stop for the first few days of class.
You’re likely to run into at least one other parent who can fill you in on both neighborhood and school happenings — and people love to talk about their kids, so you won’t have to worry about awkward silences and finding common ground.
Exchange contact info and invite the family over for some weekend fun.
4. Man’s best friend
Our pets often are the friendliest members of the family, so let your four-legged companion break the ice for you.
Dog parks are a natural spot for meeting new friends, both canine and human. You can also meet fellow pet lovers while walking your dog through your neighborhood — cleaning up any messes, of course.
You can get recommendations for trails, vets and parks, as well as ask about any pet-themed meetups in the area.
5. Turn the page
Don’t let the name fool you: Book clubs are as much about socializing as they are about reading.
Check out your library or local bookstore for groups near you, or you can find one online. If possible, contact the host ahead of time to ask whether you should bring any refreshments (wine!), and come armed with a few key insights about the book and recommendations for the next session.
Who knows? You could pick the next talk of the town.
Bonus: life of the party
Once you’ve made a few connections, team up to host a neighborhood block party. Volunteer to handle snacks and other logistics, and ask your more established neighbors to spread the word.
Pick a seasonal theme — hot dogs and lemonade for summer, cookies and warm cider for fall — and spend an afternoon meeting new friends and getting the inside scoop on the best places to eat and play near your new home.
Before you call it a day, pass the torch to another neighbor and make the block party a new tradition.
Find a school that makes the grade — all it takes is a little homework.
If you’re a parent, buying or renting a new home isn’t just about where you’ll tuck the kids into bed at night — it’s also about where you’ll send them off to school in the morning.
So, how can you be sure your dream house feeds into your child’s dream school? You’re going to have to do some homework.
1. Go beyond the numbers
Every state’s education department publishes an online “report card” for each district and school. But just as you wouldn’t buy a house based solely on square footage or listing photos, you shouldn’t select a school just for its test scores and teacher-to-student ratios.
Dr. Steve McCammon, chief operating officer at Schlechty Center, a nonprofit that helps school districts improve student engagement and learning, cautions that most reported test scores are for English and math. They don’t provide insight into arts or music programs or how well a school teaches critical thinking skills.
The right school isn’t something you can determine based on any statistics, numbers or even reputation, says Andrew Rotherham, co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners and writer for the Eduwonk blog.
“Don’t go where the highest test scores are or where everybody else says you should go,” he says. “Different kids want different things. Go to the school that fits your kid.”
Adds Rotherham: “The most important things are what does your kid need and what does the school do to meet those needs. Whether you’re talking public, private or charter, you can find excellence and mediocrity in all of those sectors.”
2. Take a school tour
Just as you’d look around potential homes before signing a contract, you’ll want to do the same with potential schools. Call and arrange to tour the school and observe.
“Be suspicious of any school that isn’t into letting you visit,” says Rotherham. Some schools may say visitors are too disruptive, but he calls that a cop-out. “With some fairly basic norms, you can have parents and other visitors around without disrupting learning.”
Sit in on a class or two and take notes. You want to see students who are genuinely engaged, not wasting time or bored. It’s OK for a classroom to have lots of talk and movement if it’s all directed toward a learning goal.
Schools should be relatively noisy places. McCammon says, “If you go into a middle school, and you hear no noises, I would be concerned that the principal is more interested in keeping order than in making sure kids are learning.”
Observe how teachers and administrators interact with the students and vice versa. Do they display mutual respect? “You don’t need to be an education expert,” says Rotherham.
See if student work is on display. “A good school is a school where, regardless of grade level, student work is everywhere,” McCammon says. “It means that place is about kids and their work.”
Talk to kids, too — they’re the subject matter experts on their school. And if you have friends with kids in schools you’re considering, ask them what they like and don’t like about their schools. Kids won’t try to feed you a line. “They’re pretty unfiltered,” Rotherham says.
Check out the physical space, suggests National PTA President Jim Accomando. However, don’t get caught up on the building’s age and overlook the quality of the programs going on inside.
Look for signs that the school community takes pride in the facility. It might not be pristine, but trash on the floors or signs of rampant vandalism are red flags. If you see something that seems off or odd, ask if there’s a plan to address it.
3. Check out the community
Go to a school board meeting for clues about the district. Are parents there because their children are being honored or their work is being showcased? Or are they there because of a problem? Likewise, attend a PTA or PTO meeting, and chat with the parents there. They are likely the most involved “outsiders” and can share school challenges and successes.
Another consideration: the makeup of the students. Chances are, if you opt for a neighborhood school, you’ll find a certain similarity between your kids and their classmates, because there are probably a lot of similarities between you and your neighbors. But a school that has a diverse student body offers a big benefit.
“We live in a diverse society,” Rotherham says. “If you want to prepare your kids for what their lives are going to be like in this country going forward, it’s important for them to have experience with diverse groups.”
Even if your child’s school isn’t particularly diverse, avenues like sports and music give them a chance to interact with students from different backgrounds.
4. Think long term
Today’s first-grader will be heading to middle school before you know it. Unless you plan on moving relatively soon, be aware of the middle and high schools in your district.
“If you pick a house because you love the elementary school, you’d better be psyched by the middle school and high school,” Rotherham says. “Or have some kind of a plan” for post-elementary years.
Of course, there is such a thing as planning too far ahead. The music prodigy wowing your friends at her third-grade recorder performance may decide she hates band and wants to focus on soccer by the time she hits middle school. Rest assured: If upper-level schools in your prospective district are about kids doing great work, they’ll likely be a good fit.
5. Watch for boundary issues
Pay attention to the boundaries of prospective school districts. The houses across the cul-de-sac could be in a different school service area or even a different school district. And boundaries often change. To be sure, call the school district and give them the specific address you’re interested in.
Don’t assume you can fudge an address or get a waiver to enroll your children in a school or a district that doesn’t match your address. Things that were allowed last year may not be this year. If an individual school or district is at capacity, they will get very picky about enrollment outside of the school assigned to your home, which can lead to heartbreak if you find yourself on the wrong side of that boundary line.
6. Look for a place where you feel welcome
Whatever involvement you put into your child’s school will pay off, says Accomando. “If you can be engaged at school, you will understand the pulse of what’s happening there.”
He also says that doesn’t mean getting sucked into a huge commitment. “You can read in your child’s first-grade class. You can hand out water at a fun run or contribute something for a teacher appreciation party at the high school. And when you do, walk the halls and see what’s happening.”
McCammon says good schools should welcome parents as volunteers and visitors. “Look for evidence of parents feeling comfortable and engaging with the school,” he says. The principal should be someone you feel comfortable talking with if there’s a problem.
No matter how welcoming the school, it’s natural to have some butterflies on the first day in a new school. Just as it takes time for a new house to feel like home, it takes time for kids to settle into a new school.
Once they’ve found their way to the restroom without asking directions, made some friends and gotten to know their teacher, they’ll be comfortable with their new learning home. And your research will have been well worth the effort.
Win and woo your next-door friends with a little neighborly know-how.
If you want good neighbors, you’ll first have to become one yourself. Master these seven techniques, and even you (yes, you!) can win the approval of your entire neighborhood.
1. Good neighbors bring cookies
Whether you’re new in town or haven’t kept in touch, a delivery of freshly baked goods is a perfect way to break the ice and let neighbors know that you’re thinking of them.
If cookies can keep Santa returning year after year with a bag full of loot, then surely they can train your neighbors to do your bidding. Consider the following scenario.
“Honey, somebody’s robbing the neighbor’s house again.”
“Wait, Janet. The ones who brought cookies yesterday?”
“Exactly. This time I’ll call the cops.”
2. Good neighbors rarely gossip
If your neighbor seems to know the dirt on everyone within a two-block radius, you can count on them to keep tabs on your personal life as well.
The next time Nosy Nellie gleefully describes the contents of the Rickenbacker’s trash again, move the conversation along by refocusing the conversation on her. “So, what are you growing in your garden this year?”
You aren’t in high school anymore, so preserve relationships with your neighbors and avoid the gratuitous gab fests.
3. Good neighbors share phone numbers
For such a connected age, you should really question why you don’t have your neighbors’ phone numbers. After all, what if they receive your package by mistake? What if the house floods while you’re on vacation? Worse yet, what if you need a babysitter?
If you feel uncomfortable bringing it up, ask during one of your cookie deliveries (you are following rule number one, right?) or right before a trip. Jot down your name, number and email address on a piece of paper and ask if your neighbor is comfortable sharing theirs.
4. Good neighbors help before they’re asked
The neighbor who says, “Let me know if you need anything,” probably isn’t going to help whenever you actually need something. You, on the other hand, are a good neighbor and genuinely want to help out.
To get ahead of the meaningless small talk, anticipate their needs. If they have kids and you’re comfortable babysitting, tell them up front. If they’re clearly struggling to mow the lawn during a heat wave, ask for the best time to stop by with your lawnmower.
5. Good neighbors are tidy
Even if you lack self-respect, respect the sensitive tastes of others and clean up your act.
Keep the ironic lawn ornaments to a minimum. Keep trash receptacles hidden in the side yard, or better yet, the garage.
Whenever you’ve finished gardening or landscaping for the day, put away your tools and bags of unused mulch. Rake the leaves and clean up grass clippings and all the other stuff your dad used to bug you about.
And if it’s not too much trouble, pressure wash and paint your house periodically.
6. Good neighbors mow the lawn
An unkempt and weedy lawn is embarrassing for your neighbors, so it should be embarrassing for you as well. Keeping it mowed every week or two is a good start, but it will take more than that to win the approval of the locals.
Trim the edge of your lawn regularly, fertilize on schedule and keep weeds to a minimum. Keep your foundation plantings simple, neatly trimmed and topped off with mulch.
If your neighborhood allows it, go the no-lawn method by planting swaths of low-maintenance, drought-tolerant ground covers. Crucially, don’t overdo it on the sprinklers — especially when it’s raining.
7. Good neighbors communicate
That old “good fences make good neighbors” quote had to come up at some point, right? A good neighbor must respect boundaries. That said, they should also be crossed when the fences themselves start losing pickets and falling over in a storm.
Even if it’s technically their fence, you might not be happy with the shoddy workmanship and resentment that you’ll have to live with when they get around to fixing it themselves.
Address shared interests like fences, drainage ditches and troublesome trees ahead of time so that you can work out a plan that both parties can agree to.
Oh, and don’t forget to bring cookies.
Do you need one? Do they pocket the whole commission? Let’s set the facts straight.
Buyers and sellers often enter the market with misconceptions about real estate agents — how we work, how the process works and what the agency relationship is all about.
It’s helpful to point out, without getting too far into the weeds, that in any one real estate transaction, there are most likely two agents: one for the buyer and one for the seller.
Here are five myths (and five truths) about working with both buyer’s and seller’s agents.
1. Agents get a 6 percent commission, no matter what
Most people assume that their agent is pocketing the entire commission. That would be nice, but it’s just not accurate.
First, it’s helpful to know that the seller pays the commission, and they split it four ways: between the two brokerages and the two agents.
Finally, the brokerage commission isn’t fixed or set in stone, and sellers can sometimes negotiate it.
2. Once you start with an agent, you’re stuck with them
If you’re a seller, you sign a contract with the real estate agent and their brokerage. That contract includes a term — typically six months to a year. Once you sign the agreement, you could, in fact, be “stuck” with their agent through the term. But that’s not always the case.
If things aren’t working out, it’s possible to ask the agent or the brokerage manager to release you from the agreement early.
Buyers are rarely under a contract. In fact, buyer’s agents work for free until their clients find a home. It can be as quick as a month, or it can take up to a year or more. And sometimes a buyer never purchases a house, and the agent doesn’t get paid.
Before jumping into an agent’s car and asking them to play tour guide, consider a sit-down consultation or a call, and read their online reviews to see if they’re the right fit.
Otherwise, start slow, and if you don’t feel comfortable, let them know early on — it’s more difficult to break up with your agent if too much time passes.
3. It’s OK for buyers to use the home’s selling agent
Today’s buyers get most things on demand, from food to a ride to the airport. When it comes to real estate, buyers now assume they need only their smartphone to purchase a home, since most property listings live online.
First-time buyers or buyers new to an area don’t know what they don’t know, and they need an advocate.
The listing agent represents the seller’s interests and has a fiduciary responsibility to negotiate the best price and terms for the seller. So, working directly with the selling agent presents a conflict of interest — in favor of the seller.
An excellent buyer’s agent lives and breathes their local market. They’ve likely been inside and know the history of dozens of homes nearby. They’re connected to the community, and they know the best inspectors, lenders, architects and attorneys.
They’ve facilitated many transactions, which means they know all the red flags and can tell you when to run away from (or toward) a home.
4. One agent is just as good as the next
Many people think of “agent” as a generic term and that all agents are created equal.
A great local agent can make an incredible difference, so never settle. The right agent can save you time and money, keep you out of trouble and protect you.
Consider an agent who has lived and worked in the same town for ten years. They know the streets like the back of their hand. They have deep relationships with the other local agents. They have the inside track on upcoming deals and past transactions that can’t be explained by looking at data online.
Compare that agent to one who’s visiting an area for the first time and needs their GPS to get around. Some agents aren’t forthright and might be more interested in making a sale. Many others care more about building a long-term relationship with you, because their business is based off referrals.
5. You can’t buy a for sale by owner (FSBO) home if you have an agent
In a previous generation, sellers who wouldn’t deal with any agents tried to sell their home directly to a buyer to save the commission.
Smart sellers understand that real estate is complicated and that most buyers have separate representation. And many FSBO sellers will offer payment to a buyer’s agent as an incentive to bring their buyer clients to the home.
If you see an FSBO, don’t be afraid to ask your agent to step in. Most of the time the seller will compensate them, and you can benefit from their knowledge and experience.
The sign just went up next door. How does your neighbor's impending sale affect you?
Most people think their real estate concerns end once they’ve closed on and moved into their new homes. But when a neighbor’s house goes on the market, there can be some important implications for you.
Here are some tips for staying real estate aware.
1. Document important disclosure items
For the most part, good fences make good neighbors. But sometimes the folks on the other side of the fence don’t cooperate, and unresolved neighbor conflicts tend to arise when one of the homes goes on the market.
Have a property line dispute? Or an issue with a broken fence and you want the new buyer to know about it? While sellers in most states have a duty to disclose issues to potential buyers, not all areas require this.
Do your new neighbor-to-be a favor and alert the seller’s agent to anything the buyer needs to know about your neighbor’s property.
2. See things differently
Open houses allow buyers to spend some time exploring a home, but these events also present you with a chance to see your home from your neighbor’s perspective.
Once at a busy open house in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, an open house visitor made a somewhat obvious beeline for the back of the house. He immediately got on the phone and started talking with someone about where he was standing, giving orders to move left and right.
It turned out this visitor lived in the home behind, and he was checking to see the neighbor’s view into his home.
The open house is your chance to check your home’s paint job from the neighbor’s yard or simply to see your home from a different perspective.
3. Know and learn the market in real time
Typical sellers claim and save their home online, but they also keep searches going after the fact. Why? To keep tabs on the market, see the comps and have a real-time sense of what’s happening nearby.
Just like when you were a buyer, knowing about the area and types of homes in the market is a good move for any homeowner. Take a neighboring home for sale as an opportunity to see what the market bears. You can also learn about the latest trends in home design.
Speaking to a real estate agent can keep you informed of changes to property taxes or how assessments are changing in your town. A smart real estate agent, working their listing, will be an incredible resource to would-be clients down the road. Leverage their experience when your neighbor sells.
Take note when your neighbor goes to sell their home. It’s not just a time to nose around, but to document, inspect or learn from the home sale. Some homes get listed once in a lifetime — take advantage of the opportunity.
Mind your party petiquette — don't leave your furry friends hanging.
Whether you throw a housewarming party or a backyard barbecue, it’s important to understand that your pets may not share your enthusiasm for entertaining.
Despite the term “party animals,” many dogs and cats don’t like raucous gatherings with strangers invading their space. Some pets get really spooked by unusual activity in the home — even moving furniture around can upset them.
Try these tips for keeping your pets calm, cool and collected come party time.
Prevent great escapes
Party guests often leave front doors and outside gates open and unsupervised, which means that pets can slip out and run away. And by the time you notice their absence, several hours may have passed. This can happen during party setup too — especially if you have caterers or delivery people coming in and out.
Both cats and dogs, even if they are microchipped, should wear a collar with an up-to-date ID tag on it. And before the party, check that your pet is wearing its collar. Often the collar comes off for a bath or a grooming session, so double-check to be safe.
Give pets a private “party”
Many pets will be much happier and safer if you sequester them in a designated room or portion of your house, away from your guests. It’s a good idea to do this during setup too.
Give them their own “party” with lots of distraction toys and treat puzzles in the area where you’ve decided to confine them. Include food and water — and a litter box if you have a cat. Take your dog for a long walk beforehand so it can have a potty break.
Once they’re settled in their playroom, put a note on the door telling guests not to open it because there are pets inside.
Tricks to reduce stress
If your pets are particularly anxious around noise and people, it may be a good idea to use a pheromone plug-in to help them relax.
Pheromones are a substance that mother dogs and cats produce to calm their young. They help alleviate stress-induced behaviors, such as inappropriate marking, chewing and barking. Plug-ins need time to allow the pheromones to circulate in the room, so do this a couple of days in advance. They usually last a month.
Another alternative is to consider a ThunderShirt for your dog or cat. They come in all sizes, not to mention some fun patterns and colors too. They work by the swaddling principle that mothers use to calm babies and small children, and many animal behaviorists recommend them.
“Please DON’T feed me!”
If you’re entertaining on a small scale and don’t need to keep pets contained, make sure they don’t eat any food you may have put out in advance.
It’s OK to politely ask your friends not to feed your pets at the table or outside — even if your four-legged pal begs. Some foods, such as onions and grapes, are toxic to cats and dogs. And it’s not cute to give your pet a glass of beer. It can make them really sick.
When you’re barbecuing, watch those bones and corncobs. They’re choking hazards for pets.
Hazards of post-party cleanup
Don’t let your guard down once your guests leave and you let your pets back out — they might clean up too! Make sure they don’t get into the kitchen when your back is turned and help themselves to leftovers or raid the trash. Or, even worse, get into that box of chocolates a guest brought as a gift.
Speaking of gifts, if you’re planning to entertain, it’s a really good idea to give your pet a new toy. The novelty of something new will keep your dog or cat engaged while you’re with your friends.
Taking proper precautions helps ensure that everyone enjoys the party, including your pets.
True or false: All real estate advice is good advice. (Hint: Well ... it depends.)
Everyone has advice about the real estate market, but not all of that unsolicited information is true. So when it comes time to list your home, you’ll need to separate fact from fiction.
Below we’ve identified the top five real estate myths — and debunked them so you can hop on the fast track to selling your property.
Myth #1: I need to redo my kitchen and bathroom before selling
Truth: While kitchens and bathrooms can increase the value of a home, you won’t get a large return on investment if you do a major renovation just before selling.
Minor renovations, on the other hand, may help you sell your home for a higher price. New countertops or new appliances may be just the kind of bait you need to reel in a buyer. Check out comparable listings in your neighborhood, and see what work you need to do to compete in the market.
Myth #2: My home’s exterior isn’t as important as the interior
Truth: Home buyers often make snap judgments based simply on a home’s exterior. Therefore, curb appeal is very important.
“A lot of buyers search online or drive by properties before they even enlist my services,” says Bic DeCaro, a real estate agent at Westgate Realty Group in Falls Church, VA. “If the yard is cluttered or the driveway is all broken up, there’s a chance they won’t ever enter the house — they’ll just keep driving.”
The good news is that it doesn’t cost a bundle to improve your home’s exterior. Start by cutting the grass, trimming the hedges and clearing away any clutter. Then, for less than $50, you could put up new house numbers, paint the front door, plant some flowers or install a new, more stylish porch light.
Myth #3: If my house is clean, I don’t need to stage it
Truth: Clean and tidy is a good first step, but professional home stagers have raised the bar. Tossing dirty laundry in the closet and sweeping the front steps just aren’t enough anymore.
Stagers make homes appeal to a broad range of tastes. They can skillfully identify ways to highlight your home’s best features and compensate for its shortcomings. They might, for example, recommend removing blinds from a window with a great view or replacing a double bed with a twin to make a bedroom look bigger.
Of course, you don’t have to hire a professional stager. But if you don’t, be ready to use some of their tactics to get your home ready for sale — especially if staging is a trend where you live. An unstaged house will pale when compared to others on the market.
Myth #4: Granite and stainless steel appliances are old news
Truth: The majority of home shoppers still want granite counters and stainless steel appliances. Quartz, marble and concrete counters also have wide appeal.
“Most shoppers just want to steer away from anything that looks dated,” says Dru Bloomfield, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Platinum Living in Scottsdale, AZ. “When you a design a space, you need to decide if you’re doing it for yourself or for resale potential.”
She suggests that if you’re not planning to move anytime soon, decorate any way you like. But if you’re planning to put your home on the market within the next couple of years, stick to elements that have mass appeal.
“I recently sold a house where the kitchen had been remodeled 12 years ago, and everybody thought it had just been done because the owners had chosen timeless elements: dark maple cabinets, granite counters and stainless steel appliances.”
Myth #5: Home shoppers can ignore paint colors they don’t like
Truth: Moving is a lot of work, and while many home buyers realize they could take on the task of painting walls, they simply don’t want to.
That’s why one of the most important things you can do to update your home is apply a fresh coat of neutral paint. Neutral colors also help a property stand out in online photographs, which is where most potential buyers will get their first impression of your property.
Hiring a professional to paint the interior of a 2,000-square-foot house will cost about $3,000 to $6,000, depending on labor costs in your region. You could buy the paint and do the job yourself for $300 to $500. Either way, if a fresh coat of paint helps your home stand out in a crowded market, it’s probably a worthwhile investment.
Want to create wealth through homeownership? Build equity.
Home equity is the percentage of your home’s value that you own, and it’s key to building wealth through home ownership. Let’s take a closer look at how to build home equity without blowing your budget — and how to access it when you need it.
How much equity do you have?
Equity is easy to calculate when you first buy a home because it’s basically your down payment. For example, if you put $11,250 down on a $225,000 home, your down payment is 5 percent and so is your equity.
From 2016 to the first quarter of 2018, most first-time home buyers in the U.S. started with about 7-percent equity, according to Inside Mortgage Finance. This is encouraging because it shows you don’t need to spend years saving for 20 percent down or more before you buy. Repeat home buyers started with more equity, at about 17 percent.
How to build your equity
Here are six ways your home can create wealth for you. Some require time, money — or both. A lender can help you decide what works best for you.
1. Let your home appreciate
Building equity through appreciation can take little time or a lot, depending on the market. With home prices going up like they have in recent years, appreciation has been a boon for many home owners.
Zillow research indicates that the median home value grew from $185,000 in April 2016 to $216,000 in April 2018. If you bought a home for $185,000 in April 2016 with a down payment of $12,950, your beginning 7-percent equity would have grown to 23 percent by April 2018.
We calculate this by subtracting your current loan balance ($165,600) from your home’s current value ($216,000). Then we divide the difference by your home’s current value. One-eighth of this additional 16 percent equity is from paying down your mortgage, and the rest is market appreciation.
If you waited two years and bought the same home in April 2018 with a 20-percent down payment of $43,200, you started off with 20-percent equity. You also used 3.3 times more cash to make the purchase. And here’s the kicker: Your total monthly housing cost would be the same — about $1,050 in both cases.
This example illustrates two things:
First, the power of home appreciation. It’s a lot like buying stock and benefiting as its value goes up. But there’s also a difference: While you’ll pay capital gains on rising stock value, you’re exempt from paying taxes on primary-home capital gains up to $250,000, or $500,000 for married couples.
Second, waiting to “save enough” isn’t the primary factor in determining if you can afford to buy a home. When it comes to qualifying for a loan, lenders do indeed look at your down payment. They’ll also want to know how much you’ll have in cash reserves after closing. But there are lots of options for low down payments that require minimal reserves.
Your monthly budget is the primary factor lenders consider when deciding whether you can afford a home. Lenders will allow you to spend between 43 percent and 49 percent of your income on monthly bills, which is actually on the high side and could strain your budget.
Since 2016, most first-time buyers have spent about 38 percent of their income on housing and other debt, which is a pretty safe cap for budgeting.
2. Make a larger down payment
You can do this but, as we’ve seen, waiting to save extra cash can go against your broader financial interests if you lose the chance to build equity through appreciation. Therefore, you must strike a balance among down payment, monthly budget and savings for other priorities. A good lender can provide rate and market insight to help you do this.
3. Use financial windfalls
Take advantage of work bonuses, family gifts and inheritances to pay down your mortgage. If you do pay down in lump sums, see if your lender will recalculate (or “recast”) your payment based on the new, lower balance.
4. Make biweekly payments
Make mortgage payments every two weeks instead of once a month. Over the course of a year, this will add up to 13 monthly payments instead of 12. You’ll build equity faster and shave five to six years off a 30-year mortgage. Just make sure your lender isn’t charging extra for processing semimonthly payments.
5. Cut your loan term in half
Take out a 15-year mortgage instead of a 30-year mortgage, and you’ll build equity twice as fast. Two caveats here: You’ll have a significantly higher monthly payment and, because of that, you may have a tougher time qualifying.
6. Make home improvements
New appliances or cosmetic features like paint are unlikely to increase value. Only big improvements like new kitchens, or additional bathrooms or other rooms will add meaningful value. Make sure the cost of such improvements will create the added value you’re looking for.
How to use your equity
You must borrow or sell your home to use your equity. The three most well-known ways to get to your equity through borrowing are a home equity line of credit (HELOC), home equity loan or cash-out refinance. Compare the pros and cons of each.
Rates are rising right now, so these borrowing options might cost more in the future. Talk to your lender to determine the best approach for you.
This landmark legislation passed 50 years ago — learn your rights and how to defend them.
If you’ve searched for a new place to live recently, you’ve likely seen the Equal Housing Opportunity logo (an equal sign inside a house) on a landlord’s, real estate agent’s or lender’s paperwork.
But the Fair Housing Act is more than just a logo. It’s a federal law designed to protect renters and buyers from discrimination.
Here are some key points to know about the Fair Housing Act when you’re searching for a place to live.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
Also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who had championed the cause for many years.
The act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status (sex was added in 1974, and disability and familial status were added in 1988).
At the time the act was signed, overt housing discrimination was a huge problem throughout the country, including the attempted segregation of whole neighborhoods and the outright rejection of qualified renters based on race and other factors.
Today, much of the discrimination in the housing market is less obvious, but it’s still an unfortunate reality.
According to the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), over 25,000 housing discrimination complaints were filed with the federal government and local and national fair housing agencies in 2017. Over half of the complaints were based on disability, followed by race at 20 percent.
But these numbers reflect only reported incidents. The NFHA estimates that over 4 million instances of housing discrimination occur annually, but many people don’t realize they’ve been discriminated against — or know what steps to take when it happens.
What does housing discrimination look like?
Most of the people you encounter in your home search, including real estate agents, sellers, landlords, property management companies and lenders, are bound to Fair Housing Act regulations and additional state and local laws, based on where you live or are looking to live.
Fair Housing Act violations can occur in all phases of buying and renting, including in advertising, while you search, throughout the application process, in financing or credit checks, and during eviction proceedings.
Here are a few examples of discrimination people in protected classes have encountered:
What do I do if I’ve been discriminated against?
If you’ve been discriminated against in any of the ways above, or if you suspect that other actions taken by a property manager, landlord, real estate agent, broker or lender may be discriminatory, there are many resources at your disposal.