Whether you've lived in your home for a day or a decade, buckle up — homeownership can be a wild ride
You may live in your home for two years, or you may hunker down for two decades. But no matter how long you call it yours, you’ll likely experience these four key stages of homeownership — from the day you get your keys to the day you hand them off to your home’s new owner.
Read on to learn more about what to expect from each phase.
Phase 1: Starting out
The “sold” sign is posted, your belongings are packed, and the day finally arrives — you get the keys to your new home. You open the front door, and possibilities abound. How will you decorate? Where will that new couch go? Which rooms will the kids choose?
This first phase is all about unpacking, settling in, and getting to know your new home. If you’ve upsized from a smaller home, you may be tempted to jump in and start filling all that extra space.
And while you may be eager to make your mark on your new home’s interior (or exterior), Diana Bohn, a Seattle-based agent with Windermere Real Estate, warns against making extensive changes to a home right after moving in.
“It’s always good to be in your home for a year or so before knocking down any walls,” she explains. “Get your furniture in there, unpack, and see how the home lives. It’s hard to know how the space is going to feel until you’ve been there for a while. Go through all the seasons at least once.”
Phase 2: Settling in
It may take you a few months to move into the second phase — or even a few years (we won’t judge if you still have packed boxes gathering dust after a year or two). But this phase is when your house becomes a home, and you start enjoying your everyday life in the space.
You’ve figured out where all your belongings should go, you’ve done the bulk of your decorating, and you’re getting to know your neighbors and a few local hangouts. You’ve likely celebrated the holidays in your home a time or two, welcomed out-of-town guests, and gotten to know (and love?) your home’s unique quirks.
Phase 3: Fixing up
If the housing market continues its current upward trend, it’s likely that, after even a few years in your home, you’re sitting on some equity. So what should you do with it? Phase 3 is often the time when homeowners can take advantage of equity they’ve gained.
First, if you bought an older home, it may be time to update some of your home’s major systems — think furnace, roof, or windows. Portland, OR-based mortgage broker Lauren Green of Green Family Mortgage recommends researching two options for financing home improvements: home equity lines of credit (HELOC) and cash-out refinances.
“Many people have no idea they can access their home’s equity,” Green says. “They think the only way to take advantage of their home’s increased value is to sell it, but in reality, there are some great ways to access the equity in your home while still living in it.”
Second, after living in your home for a few years, you probably have a better idea of the renovations that would really make your home work for your lifestyle.
“There are lots of reasons why someone may decide to remodel instead of sell and look for a new home,” says Tyler Coke, project manager and business development manager at Marrone & Marrone, a custom home builder and remodeler in the Bay Area. “One thing that appeals to many homeowners is the custom aspect of it. You can design and create exactly the type of space that fits your lifestyle and speaks to how you use your home.”
Phase 4: Moving on
When will you know it’s time to move on? And what will prompt you to move somewhere new?
“Usually, it’s some kind of transition that causes people to sell,” says Bohn. “A new job, a growing family, or downsizing once the kids move out. In big cities, we’re also seeing people moving from more centrally located neighborhoods to farther-flung suburbs, where their money will get them more.”
Whatever your reason for putting your home on the market, the day you sign on the dotted line and close your front door for the last time is likely to be a bittersweet moment. But change can be good, and the next time you buy a home, you’ll be well-versed in all four phases and know just what you’re looking for.
Dwell shares insider tips after consulting architects, DIY home builders and shipping container experts from around the world.
You’ve decided to join the shipping container revolution. Your plans are drawn up, your site is prepared and your welding torch is ready to transform a discarded steel box into the durable, stylish and sustainable home of your dreams. Now what?
To help you get started, we asked architects, DIY home builders and shipping container experts from around the world for their insider tips on bringing home the best possible container for your building needs.
The first step, they agree, is to find a reputable distributor. “Shipping companies don’t want people calling them for one or 10 containers. They prefer to sell to dealers,” says Barry Naef, director of the ISBU Association (ISBU stands for intermodal steel building units, the term for containers used specifically for construction).
He recommends checking the extensive international list of dealers on the Eco Green Sources website. And don’t despair if you live far from the ocean. Thanks to a network of inland distribution hubs, says Naef, “there are as many [containers] in the mid-U.S. and Canada as there are at the ports, at nearly the same prices.” A dealer can help arrange for overland transport of your container via 18-wheeler truck.
Other sourcing options exist, too. In Zambia, a local NGO supplied Tokyo-based architect Mikiko Endo with old containers it had used to transport donations (she transformed them into maternity clinic housing). In Israel, architect Galit Golany purchased a refurbished container from a prefab construction company, then fixed up the turnkey unit with timber cladding, roofing, a deck and stone base.
Stephen Shoup, founder of Oakland’s building Lab, agrees that looking for a distributor that will do some basic modifications prior to sale is a good idea.
“It’s tons of fun to be standing there with a plasma cutter and a welder and be hacking into these things and pasting them back together, but if you’re encountering engineering issues, then you’re going to need licensed welders. That cost is much more controllable when done at the fabrication shop or shipyard,” says Shoup.
Another option is to purchase a container manufactured specifically for building, like the ones from Toronto-based MEKA or Silhouette Spice in Tokyo. These can be cheaply transported using existing global shipping networks, but are tailor-made to meet building codes (Japan’s are especially strict).
If you do decide to purchase a genuine seafaring container, you’ll need to keep a number of factors in mind. First is size. Although dimensions are generally standardized, your safest bet for projects that join multiple units is to purchase a single brand (perhaps one whose logo you fancy). Houston-based architect Christopher Robertson, who has designed both upscale residential and disaster-relief housing using containers, recommends choosing “high cubes” (HQ), which are about a foot taller than standard, because the smaller size can feel claustrophobic after installing insulation. Lengths vary from 8 to 53 feet, with 20 feet and 40 feet being the most common.
Whichever you choose, Robertson cautions that the costs of transportation and modification quickly add up. “There’s a real misconception that building with containers is absurdly inexpensive. Unfortunately, that’s not true at all,” he says.
Assuming you’re still hooked on the many other benefits of container construction, you’ll need to think about age and condition. Options range from virtually unscathed “one-trippers” to eight-to-10-year-old retired containers, with varying degrees of rust, dents and warping. Your choice depends on your design goals.
For Brook van der Linde, an artist who built a DIY container home with her husband in Asheville, cost and sustainability were more important than perfect condition. “Our goal was to use materials that were headed for the landfill. Our containers were constructed in 2005 so they had a good long life going to China and back,” she says.
Robertson, on the other hand, sought out one-trippers for his residential project. “They’re a little more expensive but they look a lot better,” he explains. “If they start having a lot of dings and rusts, you lose the aesthetic pleasure.”
Although a container’s history is trackable via its serial number, the best way to assess its condition is through a visual once-over prior to purchase. Arrive at the lot armed with a level to check for excessive warping and a checklist of potential problems, such as holes, dents, damaged door seals, and corrosion (a little rust is par for the course). Don’t forget to use your nose, as well. The wood flooring of most containers is treated with toxic pesticides, which you’ll need to seal or remove, and others may have been used to transport unpleasantly odiferous contents.
Finally, once you’ve made your choice, take a deep breath. The toughest — and most enjoyable — phase of building your container home is still to come.
Your partner’s credit history can influence your future interest rate.
Whether you’re a seasoned or first-time home buyer, be prepared to know your FICO score and have a firm understanding of your credit history. And if you’re buying with another person, their credit history can affect your joint home purchase.
What is a FICO score?
First things first — what’s a FICO score and why does it matter? FICO is an acronym for the Fair Isaac Corporation, the company that developed the most commonly used credit scoring system. Everyone is assigned a number ranging from 300 to 850. The number assesses your credit worthiness through previous payment history, current debt, length of credit history, types of credit and new credit. For the purpose of buying a home or obtaining a loan, it’s the score most commonly used by lenders to determine the borrower’s level of risk. Many people simply refer to the FICO score as “credit score,” so we’ll do that moving forward.
Which score do lenders look at?
Typically, your lender will look at three credit scores reported from each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — and then take the median score of the three for your application. Borrowers should hope for at least a 680, which is generally the minimum score for getting approved for conventional loans. For borrowers with lower credit scores, FHA loans allow a 580 score, or even as low as 500 if a 10 percent down payment is made. In any case, the higher the score, the better interest rate you’ll be offered.
Should I apply with my spouse or alone?
Deciding whether or not to include a spouse or a co-borrower on a mortgage application often comes down to whether it makes the most financial sense.
There’s not a ton of wiggle room when it comes to qualifying for a loan. You typically qualify or you don’t. If the only way you can qualify for the loan is by applying jointly to include the total income of both borrowers, then that might be your only option. But even if your credit and income are good enough to qualify for a loan on your own, applying together still might be a better option, as each scenario has its tradeoffs.
My partner has bad credit
When applying jointly, lenders use the lowest credit score of the two borrowers. So, if your median score is a 780 but your partner’s is a 620, lenders will base interest rates off that lower score. This is when it might make more sense to apply on your own.
The downside in applying alone, however, limits you to just your income and not the combined amount from you and your partner. While your credit score might be better, having a lender evaluate you on only your income could lower the total loan amount you qualify for.
If having your name on the home is a big deal, don’t worry. You can still be on the title of the home, just not on the mortgage.
Map out everything you need to do, week by week, until the big day.
When it comes to moving, proper organization is the defining difference between ultimate success and complete failure.
Even if you’re already an excellent organizer, you might still feel overwhelmed by the number of relocation-related tasks you have to complete before moving day — unless you find a way to bring order to the chaos.
Here’s a moving timeline that will do the trick. It will help you organize your time, prioritize your tasks, track your progress, and reduce moving stress. What’s more, you’ll never forget anything important, because your week-by-week moving checklist will remind you of what to do every single day until moving day.
Eight weeks before moving day
Organizing a safe, efficient, and trouble-free relocation requires about two months of careful planning and hard work. So, start your moving preparations about eight weeks before the big day:
Six weeks before moving day
Four weeks before moving day
Two weeks before moving day
One week before moving day
Two days before moving day
Even though most moving tasks are common for all residential moves, you can modify them to meet your personal needs and requirements. Certain aspects of your move will be unique and will require a different approach, so personalize this moving timeline checklist and make it work perfectly for you.
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.
Millennial veterans and military members are helping fuel the resurgence of the historic VA loan program. Last year’s 700,000-plus loans were more than double the agency’s total from five years ago.
Younger buyers in particular have flocked to these government-backed mortgages during a time of tight credit and flatlining wage growth. The VA says millennials accounted for about a third of all VA loans last year.
These low-interest loans offer qualified buyers a wealth of benefits. That’s especially true for millennial borrowers, who often have dented credit or minimal savings. This $0 down payment loan program was created to help level the playing field for those who serve our country, and it’s still doing so today.
“VA loans offer an extraordinary opportunity for veterans because of lower interest rates, lower monthly payments, no or low down payments, and no private mortgage insurance,” said Jeff London, director of the VA home loan program.
Here’s a closer look at three of the big benefits that make VA loans such a good match for millennial home buyers.
1. No down payment requirement
This renowned benefit of VA loans helps veterans purchase without having to spend years saving for a down payment. When determining affordability, qualified buyers in most of the country should know that they can purchase a home for up to $424,100 before having to factor in a down payment. That ceiling is even higher in costlier housing markets.
The average VA loan last year was for about $253,000. Getting a conventional loan for that amount often requires a down payment of at least $12,000. FHA loans require at least 3.5% down. That’s no small sum in either case, particularly for younger veterans and military families.
2. No mortgage insuranceVA buyers also don’t have to pay extra each month for mortgage insurance, a common feature of low-down-payment loans. Conventional buyers typically need to pay for private mortgage insurance unless they can put down 20%. FHA loans come with both upfront and annual mortgage insurance premiums.
For example, FHA buyers shell out an additional $140 per month for mortgage insurance on a typical $200,000 loan. That extra outlay can limit your purchasing power, as well as put a hole in your monthly budget.
Most VA buyers encounter a funding fee that goes straight to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans and military members can finance this cost over the life of their loan. Borrowers who receive compensation for a service-connected disability don’t pay it at all.
3. Flexible credit guidelinesVA loans were created to boost access to homeownership for veteran and military families. They’re naturally more flexible and forgiving when it comes to credit underwriting.
Lenders typically have lower credit score benchmarks for VA loans than for conventional mortgages. The average FICO score on a VA purchase last year was 50 points lower than the average conventional score, according to Ellie Mae.
Compared with conventional borrowers, qualified VA buyers can also bounce back faster after a bankruptcy, foreclosure, or short sale.
Despite their flexibility, VA loans have had the lowest foreclosure rate on the market for most of the past nine years. That’s due in large part to the VA’s commitment to helping veterans keep their homes.
Loan program officials can advocate on behalf of veteran homeowners and encourage lenders and mortgage servicers to offer alternatives to foreclosure.
“VA is even there to assist veterans who encounter difficulty making payments,” London said. “Last year, VA and servicers helped over 97,000 veterans avoid foreclosure. Using the VA program is a win for veterans, lenders, and taxpayers.”
More than seven decades after their introduction, VA loans are still making a big difference for veterans, military members, and their families.
“A home and its equity becomes the bedrock of their economic future,” said Curtis L. Coy, deputy undersecretary for economic opportunity at the Department of Veterans Affairs. “Money that would have typically been used for the down payment is now money in their pocket—money that can be the beginning of their savings or can be used to fix up their home. It is a win-win for the veteran and the community where they spend that money.”
This article was written by Chris Birk, director of education at Veterans United Home Loans and author of “The Book on VA Loans: An Essential Guide to Maximizing Your Home Loan Benefits.”
This article was written by Chris Birk, director of education at Veterans United Home Loans and author of “The Book on VA Loans: An Essential Guide to Maximizing Your Home Loan Benefits.”
NMLS 1907 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org) Veterans United Home Loans is not endorsed or sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs or any government agency; does not reflect DOD endorsements. Equal Opportunity Lender. 1400 Veterans United Drive, Columbia, MO, 65203.
Buying your first home is an unforgettable experience as a first-time homebuyer, and one you’ll always cherish. But the problem facing many first-time buyers today is home affordability. It’s become a major concern for first-time homebuyers entering the real estate market, especially for millennials, as rising median home prices combined with lower inventory levels across the nation are making home affordability a thing of the past. According to the National Association of Realtors, one of the major hindrance for many first-time homebuyers is student debt.
“It’s becoming very evident from this survey and our research released last month that the financial and emotional impact of repaying student debt is contributing to a delay in purchasing a home for many would-be buyers,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.
“At a time of quickly rising rents, mortgage rates at all-time lows and increasing housing wealth, a lot of young adults in their prime buying years are struggling to enter the market and are ultimately missing out on the stability and wealth accumulation that owning a home can provide.”
Another factor hurting first-time homebuyers is credit score — which are lowest among young adults ages 18-29 year olds. A TransUnion survey revealed that nearly a third of millennials — ages 18 to 34 — would like to purchase a home within the year, but can’t because of low credit scores.
Despite the hurdles, first-time homebuyers are still making up a large portion of sales. The month of May saw first-time homebuyers making up 33 percent of existing-home sales. In the first six months of 2016, first-time homebuyers have represented on average 31 percent of existing-home sales, while a mere 11 percent of sales were investors, the lowest since 2009.
With that said, personal-finance website WalletHub has ranked the top 300 U.S. cities in terms of their attractiveness for first-time homebuyers.
Best U.S. Cities For First-Time Homebuyers
To determine the attractiveness for first-time homebuyers, WalletHub based their rankings on three key dimensions: 1.) Affordability, 2.) Real-Estate Market, and 3.) Quality of Life. The three dimensions were then evaluated using 19 relevant metrics — each metric graded on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 representing the most favorable conditions for first-time home buyers. Metric included Foreclosure rates for the real estate market ranking; housing affordability and cost of living for the affordability ranking; and weather and crime rate for the quality of life ranking. In addition, WalletHub used data from U.S. Census Bureau, the Council for Community and Economic Research, Zillow, the FBI, the Insurance Information Institute for their rankings.
The following real estate trends list provides the top 10 cities ideal for first-time homebuyers along with their overall scores and rankings in affordability, real estate market, and quality of life:
10. Lexington, Kentucky
Total Score: 62.84
Affordability Rank: 45
Real-Estate Market Rank: 57
Quality of Life Rank: 36
9. Centennial, Colorado
Total Score: 62.98
Affordability Rank: 122
Real-Estate Market Rank: 33
Quality of Life Rank: 7
8. Lincoln, Nebraska
Total Score: 63.55
Affordability Rank: 70
Real-Estate Market Rank: 43
Quality of Life Rank: 21
7. Boise, Idaho
Total Score: 63.73
Affordability Rank: 3
Real-Estate Market Rank: 87
Quality of Life Rank: 91
6. Longmont, Colorado
Total Score: 64.11
Affordability Rank: 145
Real-Estate Market Rank: 16
Quality of Life Rank: 2
5. Westminster, Colorado
Total Score: 64.31
Affordability Rank: 127
Real-Estate Market Rank: 14
Quality of Life Rank: 8
4. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Total Score: 64.44
Affordability Rank: 17
Real-Estate Market Rank: 82
Quality of Life Rank: 47
3. Thornton, Colorado
Total Score: 65.42
Affordability Rank: 125
Real-Estate Market Rank: 22
Quality of Life Rank: 3
2. Greeley, Colorado
Total Score: 65.46
Affordability Rank: 112
Real-Estate Market Rank: 9
Quality of Life Rank: 5
1. Overland Park, Kansas
Total Score: 68.49
Affordability Rank: 58
Real-Estate Market Rank: 29
Quality of Life Rank: 11