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.
Looking for a new way to give back? Try opening your home to those in need.
When it comes to giving back, most people immediately think of donating time or money to a cause. But another just as effective — and perhaps less thought of — option is sharing your home as a force for good.
Here are six ways to make a difference with your home.
1. Connect your neighbors through reading
Perhaps you’ve seen charming little structures in your neighborhood that are similar to mailboxes but filled with books. Started in 2009, the Little Free Library inspires a love for reading while building community. Purchase or build one of these book-exchange boxes to place in front of your home, and fill it with books you want to share.
2. Host a soldier for the holidays
Live near a military base? Many organizations offer the opportunity to host a soldier for a holiday meal at your home. Connect with your local U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) or Navy MWR resource office to find hosting opportunities.
3. Share your home with a cancer patient and their family
Cancer patients seeking treatment may end up at hospitals and communities far from home. While many hospitals provide lodging, there’s also an opportunity for hosts to step in and provide a homey place to stay.
Programs vary by area, so connect with your local hospital. If you’re in the greater Philadelphia area, check out Hosts for Hospitals or Boston’s Hospitality Homes.
4. Open your home to evacuees
When a natural disaster strikes, entire communities are unable to return home. Launched in 2017, Airbnb Open Homes is a program that works with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to book homes for people in need, for free. When a disaster occurs, hosts near affected areas are contacted with requests from displaced families and individuals.
5. Provide a safe place for refugees
Those forced to flee their country may not always have the connections and immediate financial resources to find shelter. A spare room or unused part of the house could be a great temporary solution for these refugees while they get on their feet.
Room for Refugees started in the United Kingdom and now works in the U.S. and Canada too. Many other refugee resettlement services offer hosting opportunities, so research the relevant needs in your area.
6. Get creative
Invite your neighbors over for dinner, or throw a progressive dinner party. Hosting a Death Over Dinner party is a great way to talk about end-of-life care for you or someone you love. Other ideas include hosting a lecture series, documentary viewing or craft night, all in an effort to build community right where you live.
It's essential to have the right marketing plan, pricing strategy and real estate agent.
When shopping for a home, it’s not uncommon to come across one that truly stands out. It’s not because the home is an old fixer-upper or that it’s a newly renovated home with a designer kitchen. It’s a home that’s architecturally significant or in some way conveys a “different” attribute. For instance, it might be a castle, a church or even a fire station that has been converted into one or more living spaces.
With an unusual home, pricing and marketing can be a challenge. Here are three things to keep in mind when either buying or selling a truly unique property.
1. Buyers should be cautious
As crazy as it sounds, a would-be buyer may want to reconsider purchasing an offbeat home. While it may be a home you love, it is also an investment. A home with a unique, unchangeable structural feature will likely alienate a large portion of the market.
If you’re faced with the opportunity to purchase a unique home, don’t get caught up in the excitement of it all. Think long term. Understand that when it comes time to sell, it may be a burden, particularly if you try to sell in a slow market.
2. When selling, don’t assume buyers will love what you love
As the owner of an interesting or different home who is considering a sale, be aware that not everyone will have the same feeling about the home as you did when you bought the place. While you’re likely to get lots of activity, showings and excitement over your property, a lot of that may simply be curious buyers, nosy neighbors or tire kickers.
Time after time, sellers with unique homes believe that since they fell head over heels, another buyer who might feel the same. But that person could be hard to find.
3. Hire the right agent and have a serious marketing/pricing discussion
A unique home requires a unique marketing plan and pricing strategy as well as a good agent. The buyer may not even live in your local market, and instead might be an opportunist buyer open to a unique property. So you should consider advertising outside the mainstream circles. Media and press can help get the special home the attention it may need.
The buyer may not want to live in your town but is fascinated by an old church or castle. The more you get this out there, the better your options for finding the specific buyer.
If you get lots of action but few offers, you may need to drop the price below the comparable sales to generate interest, particularly if you really need to sell. Just like a home with a funky floor plan, on a busy intersection or with a tiny backyard, the market for your unique home is simply smaller.
With online home listings, blogging and real estate television shows, unique homes stand out and get more exposure than ever. But selling a distinctive or offbeat property requires out-of-the-box thinking early on, and with a top agent. You only have one chance to make a first impression. Be certain to price the home right, expose it to the masses and have a strategic plan in right from the start.
Five good reasons to have a pro on your side throughout the process.
Buying new construction seems simple, right? Just pick out the floor plan you want, choose the perfect lot, and watch it go up. No sellers to deal with, no unexpected repairs that come up during inspection, no drawn-out negotiations. Right?
Not so fast. In any real estate transaction, it’s important to have a professional on your side, even if the process seems straightforward.
“Having your own agent provides a sense of security,” says Seattle-area homeowner Kristy Weaver, who has bought two new construction homes from two different builders. “It gives you some peace of mind, knowing that someone is looking out for your best interest.”
Peace of mind is just one benefit of having an experienced agent along for the ride. Read on for five more reasons you’ll want a local real estate agent by your side when buying a new construction home.
1. Help you find a reputable builder
“Your agent can rely on their own experience and that of their colleagues to help you find a builder you can trust,” says Portland, OR-based real estate agent Kim Ainge Payne of the Realty Trust Group. “What’s the quality of the workmanship? What kind of warranty do they offer? What’s their track record of resolving issues? Getting a clear understanding in the beginning can alleviate serious headaches down the road.”
2. Go to bat for you
The timeline for purchasing new construction is typically quite a bit longer than buying an existing home. From the first time you visit the sales center, to choosing your layout, construction, inspections, and finally closing, there are ample opportunities for things to go sideways — think construction delays, permit issues, and financing concerns. An experienced buyer’s agent can help you navigate all of these sticky situations.
3. Help you review your contract
Even if you’ve purchased a home before, the contract for new construction is a whole different animal, and an experienced agent can help you make sure you understand everything, from floor plans to earnest money requirements, deadlines for requesting changes, and timelines for completion.
“It’s crucial to have a third party who represents your interests in the transaction,” says Dmitry Yusim, a Seattle-area agent who has represented new construction buyers. “A good agent can add the proper addendums to protect you if something falls through.”
4. Assist with negotiations
Buyers’ agents know the areas where you’ll find the most wiggle room when it comes to negotiations.
“Builders are trying to keep their sales price up so that the next buyers through the door see the higher closing price,” explains agent Britt Wibmer of Windermere Real Estate in Seattle. “They’d much rather throw in closing costs or additional upgrade credits.”
5. Point you toward smart upgrade choices
Builders will offer you endless options for finishes and upgrades, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. A seasoned real estate agent can recommend the upgrades that will get you the most bang for your buck in resale value, suggest finishes that might be cheaper to do on your own, and help you avoid over-improving, which can jeopardize your appraisal before closing.
Even though a friendly sales representative will greet you with a smile the moment you walk through the door of the sales center, don’t forget that they work for the builder. Bring your own agent with you starting with your first visit — in fact, many builders require your agent to register with them from the very beginning in order for them to be involved in the process and receive their commission.
With a professional you trust by your side, you’ll rest easy knowing someone is there to protect your money, your time, and your new home.
Wondering if new construction is right for you? Search new construction listings, and get more home-buying tips and resources to help you decide.
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.
Don't let anyone slip through the cracks.
When you’re preoccupied with important relocation-related tasks, it’s easy to forget about informing relevant people and institutions of your upcoming residential move and subsequent change of address.
But notifying specific organizations and individuals of your relocation is essential for ensuring a smooth moving process and preventing various hassles and troubles with your mail and accounts.
Here’s a checklist of the people and institutions you need to contact when moving.
Family and friends
Naturally, your relatives and close friends should be the first to know that you are about to move house. Informing them of your imminent relocation as early as possible will not only give you the chance to ask them help you move, but, if you’re moving far away, will also provide you with enough time to say a proper goodbye and plan for different ways to stay in touch despite the distance between you.
Unless you’re relocating to a different branch of your current company, you should inform your employer about your decision to move and leave your job as early as a month in advance.
This way, the company will have time to find a new person for your position, and you will be able to put all the relevant paperwork in order without any hassle.
Remember that your old boss will need your new address to send you tax documents and insurance information at the end of the year.
If you live in a rental home, you should carefully review your tenant rights and responsibilities contained in the lease agreement. You will probably be required to notify your landlord of your intentions to move out at least 30 days in advance.
You need to prepare a written notice that clearly states your move-out date and your future address. It is also a good idea to include a brief statement about the excellent condition of the rented property and to request your security deposit back.
Changing your address with the United States Postal Service should be among your top priorities when moving to a new house, as it will help you avoid many troubles and inconveniences.
To have your mail forwarded to your new place before you’ve updated your address with individual organizations and companies, you only need to fill out a change of address request at your local post office or at the USPS official website.
Online services such as 1StopMove can also help you complete this process.
To prevent service lapses and past-due bills you need to inform your service providers about your relocation plans. Arrange for the utilities at your old home to be disconnected on moving day, and have them reconnected at your new residence by the time you move in.
The utility companies you should contact when moving include electricity, gas, water, telephone, cable, Internet, domestic waste collection and other municipal services you may need.
When you move out of state, you’ll have to transfer your driver’s license and update your vehicle’s registration and insurance within quite a short time frame (10 to 30 days, depending on your new state).
It’s a good idea to visit the local office of the Department of Motor Vehicles at the earliest opportunity, inform them of your new address, and request all the relevant information about putting the required paperwork in order.
A number of government agencies should be notified when you’re moving to another state. Be sure to update your address with the local office of the Social Security Administration, the electoral register, and other relevant institutions.
The Internal Revenue Service will need your actual home address to mail your tax return, fiscal notes, and other documents. All you need to do is print out and mail in the IRS’ Change of Address form soon after your relocation.
To keep your finances in order, you must update your bank accounts and inform credit card companies, stockbrokers, and other relevant financial institutions of your new address either shortly prior to or immediately after your move.
The insurance agencies that provide your life, health, and homeowners insurance policies should have your current address on file, as should any other organizations and individuals (such as your family attorney) who have dealings with you and your family.
Medical and educational facilities
When moving to a new state, you will have to enroll your children in a new school, find a new family physician, and transfer all your academic records, medical records, and prescription medicines. To successfully complete these important tasks you need to tell your doctors, dentists, vets and other healthcare providers, as well as the educational facilities your kids are attending, about your relocation and your new address.
Subscription services and clubs
Last but not least, you need to update your address with any sports, professional, or social clubs you are involved with. You should also notify the subscriber services department of any magazines or newspapers you want to receive at your new home.
You may have to personally visit some companies or institutions to notify them of your relocation, but in most cases you will be able to change your mailing address online or with a simple phone call. Postcards, e-mails, text messages, and social network announcements are also viable methods to inform people of your new address.
Wait! Don't sign that lease just yet — a quick landlord check may change your mind
You’ve found the perfect new apartment or rental house. You love the neighborhood. Your application has been approved. You’re ready to sign on the dotted line, right?
Not so fast. How much do you know about your soon-to-be landlord, property manager or property management company?
There are lots of reasons why you should take the time to ask yourself, “Who is my landlord?” before you commit. Your rent payment is likely one of your biggest monthly expenses, and if you’re signing a lengthy lease, you should find out as much as you can about the person who owns and operates the place you’ll call home.
Check out these five easy ways to check your landlord’s reputation before signing your lease.
1. Make Google your friend
The internet has a way of quickly uncovering all kinds of misdeeds, so start with a simple Google search of your landlord’s name or property management company, as well as the property address.
Hell hath no fury like a renter scorned, so you’ll also want to peruse some of the many apartment and landlord review sites online that let tenants anonymously review their apartment complex, landlord or property management company.
2. Search public records
There’s a wealth of information about properties and landlords available via your local government agencies, and you’re usually able to check your landlord for free. Consider it your landlord background check!
Your county courthouse should have ownership records searchable by address, so you can find out the legal name of the person or company that owns the property — it may not be your landlord directly.
You can also search for code violations, foreclosure proceedings, evictions and small claims court settlements, all of which should be red flags for renters.
3. Get to know your (future) neighbors
If you’re moving into an apartment complex with multiple units, take a few minutes to walk around the grounds out of earshot of the landlord.
If you see any tenants out and about, strike up a conversation about what it’s like to live there. Ask how long they’ve lived there — renewed leases are a good sign of a positive landlord-tenant relationship. Get a few pros and cons, ask how complaints are handled, and find out if they have any gripes about management.
If you’re moving into a single-family home, ask the landlord if they’d mind you having a conversation with the current tenants.
If you don’t have access to any other tenants, find a neighborhood-specific blog or Facebook group to join. Tell people you’re thinking of moving into the area, and ask if they know anything about the property manager. In these hyperlocal groups, you’re likely to gain some invaluable insights for your landlord check.
4. Be the interviewer
Landlords ask you questions when you apply to live in their property, so why shouldn’t you ask them questions too?
Ask them how they handle repair requests. Find out if the landlord lives on-site, nearby or even in a different state. Ask how the move-in and move-out process goes. Learn more about their process for requesting entry to your unit.
They should be able to easily, clearly answer your questions and address all of your concerns.
5. Go with your gut
When in doubt, trust your instincts. If you experience any of the following:
Think twice — and keep looking.
With these key tasks on your to-do list, your move can be a light lift.
When Barry Blanton moved with his wife from Eugene, OR into a rented unit in a high-rise residential tower in downtown Seattle, he thought he had his bases covered.
He had measured the size of his new living room, and knew that his furniture would fit perfectly. Once the movers got his couch through the new entryway, however, they faced an insurmountable problem: The couch was too big to maneuver past two curves in the hallway.
“It sat in the hallway for a week before my wife rented a van to move it,” says Blanton. “We had to crawl over it to get into the bathroom.”
The fact that Blanton is the principal at Seattle-based property management and development consulting firm Blanton Turner — and has worked in the industry for most of his adult life — only underscores how easy it is for renters to make mistakes when moving.
Measure — then measure again
Despite best planning efforts, such logistical issues are surprisingly common when people are moving familiar belongings into an unfamiliar space, says Blanton.
Knowing the dimensions of a room and the things being moved into it isn’t enough. “Think about the bottlenecks,” Blanton advises. “Not just where something’s going to go, but how it’s going to get there.”
He recalls a situation in which a young man moving into an apartment was able to get his loaded moving truck into a building’s garage, but found that once all his furniture was unloaded, the now-lighter truck was too tall to get back out without hitting overhead ductwork and sprinkler heads (more on this later).
The man and his friends spent hours filling the truck with weights from the property’s exercise room just to lower it enough to safely exit.
When moving into any multi-story building — especially one in a crowded downtown neighborhood — it’s important to make arrangements ahead of time with the building’s management team. More than likely, you’ll need to reserve the elevator.
“This isn’t something you tell them that morning,” warns Blanton. “If you’re moving on a Saturday at the end of the month, there could be four or five other people moving that day.” (Don’t forget to schedule use of the elevator at the building you’re moving from, as well.)
And if you’re bringing a moving pod or parking a moving truck on the street, make sure you have the proper permits. Most multi-family properties will be able to help with this, as will moving companies. “Moving companies do earn their money, especially in an urban environment,” says Blanton.
Document your environment
In the age of ubiquitous technology, it’s easier than ever to take photos of any pre-existing damage in your rental.
Before you get settled, pull out your phone and snap pictures of any damage such as scuffed floors, chipped countertops or bent window blinds — then send the photos to yourself so they’re date-stamped.
It’s easier to refer to the photos at move-out than argue with the building manager about who cracked the Formica and when.
Prepare to clean
When it’s time to move, few renters look forward to the deep cleaning that’s required upon vacating a unit. If you plan to use a cleaning service, Blanton suggest hiring the same company that your building uses — that way there won’t be a gap in expectations.
“There’s nothing worse than spending the entire day cleaning your apartment, then having someone come in and point out all the things you missed,” notes Blanton.
If you want to save money and do it yourself, keep in mind some of the things renters often forget to clean: window tracks, underneath the stovetop burner pans, beneath the crisper drawers in the fridge, the rim around the dishwasher door, and behind the toilet.
Most renters know that protecting their property with renters insurance is important, but many forget to update their policy when they move to a new residence.
Renters insurance doesn’t just protect your belongings, it also covers damage you may inadvertently do to the building itself.
Remember that overhead sprinkler mentioned earlier? Accidentally breaking that off with a moving truck could cause flooding — and a great deal of damage. Depending on the building’s insurance policy — and temperament of the manager — you could be on the hook for the building’s insurance deductible, if not more.
Contact your insurance company before you move. It’s an easy call to make, and it could help you avoid costly penalties later.
If you own a home, chances are this repair and maintenance safety net could come in handy.
First-time homeowners may be in for a shock when their water heater breaks on a cold winter morning, or their dishwasher starts to leak all over the new hardwood floors in the kitchen. The instinctive call to the landlord won’t work this time around. Welcome to the joys of homeownership. So, when this happens, what do you do?
Many homeowners aren’t equipped to perform even small repairs, particularly when they come at inopportune times. For some, a handy family member nearby could do the trick. Or a new home buyer may know a plumber or an electrician — but they likely won’t have a lot of time to get bids and figure out the cause of the problem, much less get it repaired.
What’s the next best thing to a landlord for a new homeowner? A home warranty.
What is a home warranty?
Much like insurance or the extended warranty you buy for your smartphone or flat screen television, a home warranty covers the costs of repairing or replacing almost any malfunctioning system in your home. It typically costs between $300 and $900 a year.
If you had a home warranty, you wouldn’t have to call around to get estimates for repairs when a problem occurs. You wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket to get the problem fixed or have equipment replaced, either.
Instead, you would just call your home warranty provider or submit a ticket online. The warranty company would call the appropriate tradespeople with whom it has made arrangements, and send someone to fix the problem, if possible, or replace the malfunctioning appliance with a brand new one. Your home warranty premium will cover the costs — though you’d probably be responsible for a co-pay of about $50 per incident.
Who should buy a home warranty?
Home warranties are particularly great for first-time Gen X/Y and Millennial home buyers who’ve been renters until now. They’re used to calling the landlord whenever there’s a problem, and a home warranty company takes over that role.
These homeowners are often working long hours, and might not have the time or energy to call around to find a plumber or an electrician to get quotes or bids, let alone wait through the noon-to-4 p.m. window for the repair person to show up.
Sometimes, it takes just one costly and unexpected system repair — and the drama associated with it — to realize the savings of a one-year home warranty.
But home warranties aren’t limited to Gen X, Gen Y or other first-time home buyers. Any owners of any age home can purchase a home warranty at any time.
If you had your home inspected, you’ll know the condition and life expectancy of many of your systems. If some systems are on the outs, you will welcome the home warranty. Many appliances and systems start to break down after 15 or 20 years, and you don’t want to deal with multiple systems falling apart at the same time.
Real estate agents often purchase a home warranty for their clients as a closing gift. If not, you can buy one on your own. Be sure to shop around to compare premiums and coverage. The older the home, the more coverage you will want.
Home warranties are also great for investors or “accidental landlords,” who don’t necessarily want to be in the business of fielding repair calls from their tenants. If you’re not an experienced real estate investor and don’t have a network of repair folks, it might be easier to pay for the home warranty. The last thing you want is a tenant without hot water calling you all day long. If you have a home warranty, you can cut right to the chase, keep tenants happy, and minimize stress.
Home warranties can save home buyers a lot of time and money — particularly in the first year of ownership, when they are short on both.
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.
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.
11 tips that will save your garden, lawn and flowers ... not to mention your green thumb reputation.
Whether you’re dealing with California droughts, Midwest heat waves or Deep South downpours, summer can be a tricky time to garden. Here’s what you need to know before leaving air-conditioned comforts for a steamy backyard jungle.
DON’T: Plant cool-season vegetables
Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to attempt veggies like peas, lettuce, carrots and radishes in summer. They will quickly bolt in the heat, meaning they’ll devote their energy to blooming and producing seeds, making the edible parts bitter.
DO: Plant hot-season vegetables
Take advantage of summer’s sunshine by planting these heat-loving edibles:
Drought-tolerant okra produces prolific pods all summer long, and sweet potatoes make an excellent temporary ground cover, shading out weeds until the arrival of cold weather and harvest time.
DON’T: Water unless necessary
It’s tempting to set the sprinklers on a timer, kick up your feet and consider it handled. But you don’t want to run sprinklers in a rainstorm, so water plants only when they’re newly planted or wilting and/or dropping leaves.
DO: Use drought-tolerant plants
Drought-tolerant plants are all the rage, and not just because they conserve water. Grow drought-tolerant plants because they’re low-maintenance and because you’re an average person with — you know — a life.
That said, drought-tolerant does not mean you can plant it and forget it. Keep the soil moist until the plant takes off on its own.
DON’T: Turn your back on the garden
Because in summer, things can change in a heartbeat. Plants can succumb to pests, drought, wet soil or rot in a matter of days. Pay attention to weather forecasts, and watch for struggling plants.
Use those pruners on any bullies that seem to be taking over less vigorous plants. When in doubt, rip it out.
DO: Water deeply
Water like you really mean it, with a deep soak so that the water penetrates the soil without running off or evaporating in the summer heat. Watering deeply will also encourage deeper root growth, which helps plants (especially shrubs and trees) stay healthier and more drought-tolerant in the long run.
Water in the root zone with a garden nozzle, a soaker hose, or just a hose and a full stream of water.
DON’T: Scalp your lawn
If you plan on turning your summer lawn into a putting green and you mow your lawn close, you’ll be sorely disappointed by the results. (Unless you’re willing to settle for a putting brown, that is.) Shortcuts mean less drought-tolerance, patchier growth, more weeds and shallow roots. When in doubt, cut high.
DO: Fertilize warm-season grasses
Give your lawn a pick-me-up to cope with the summer heat. Your local garden center should have a good selection of fertilizers to suit your region and/or lawn type. Fertilize according to label instructions, using a broadcast spreader, handheld spreader or drop spreader for even coverage. Generally speaking, don’t feed on a hot day with temps above 90 degrees.
DON’T: Water in the afternoon
While it’s a myth that water droplets can magnify sunlight and burn the plants, watering in the hottest part of the day is still useless. Water quickly evaporates in summer, and many plants will go semi-dormant. Water in the early morning so the plants’ roots have a chance to absorb moisture.
DON’T: Let weeds go to seed
Procrastinate all you want, but pull those weeds before they have a chance to bloom and go to seed, spreading their progeny all over your garden. Don’t settle for hand-pulling everything either. Use a hoe or cultivator for new weeds in loose soil, or a heavy-duty weeding tool, like a hori-hori knife, hook or mattock for tough, established weeds.
DO: Plant tropical bulbs
Much of your garden will slow down in the heat of summer, but tropical bulbs such as caladiums, elephant ears, cannas and gingers will only grow faster. Create a lush and jungly understory beneath shady trees by planting en masse, or use sparsely for architectural interest in container combos and flower beds.
What does it take to make a home famous? In case you’re wondering how to make YOUR home famous, there are two main routes to explore: Either become famous yourself (the more difficult of the two options) or lend your home to a film project for use in a movie or even a commercial.
Found an interesting article published March 5 in the Los Angeles Times titled “The star treatment: Want a film set in your living room?” (To access this article, registration is required). It’s all about looks, marketing and good neighbors that gives some background on how to go about getting your residence into a film. The article states that “On a big-budget Hollywood film, your house can earn anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 a day.” Even though you have to register on the L.A. Times site, it’s definitely worth the effort if you are looking for the fast track to having a famous home (or if you just want to get paid $2k-20K per day to stay in a hotel)!
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
The upward trend of our economic status has fueled drastic changes within the housing sector. Inventory shortages have resulted in escalating home values and bidding wars between investors and house hunters. Of particular interest, however, are the changes seen in subsequent rental rates. Several cities throughout the United States have experienced increased rental rates, some of which have doubled in price.
While increased rental rates have burdened tenants, investors of all types have become eager to acquire buy and hold properties. Recent activity has facilitated the development of new projects and made everything from apartment buildings to existing single-family homes a hot commodity. Increased rental rates have even caused some homeowners to move out and rent their property for additional cash yields.
According to MPF Research, San Francisco has experienced the largest surge in rental rates. As such, the Northern California city was placed atop a list with the 50 metropolitan areas that experienced the highest rent growth during the second quarter of this year. San Francisco rents increased by 7.8 percent, according to preliminary estimates by MPF Research market-research firm based in Carrollton, Texas. The following is a comprehensive list of the cities that experienced the highest increase in rental rates:
Increased rental rates have therefore made buying rental properties the latest investment trend. Opportunities for passive income have never presented themselves with such promise. Further supporting the idea of acquiring a rental property are statistics released by Trulia that acknowledged owning a home may be 44 percent cheaper than renting one.
With incentives for owning more promising than ever, now is the time to buy. However, keep an eye on local rental markets while attempting to do so. It is likely not worth the hassle, or price, to have to move from one rental property to another before buying. Increased rental rates may therefore drive many towards ownership. Investors, in particular, are searching for optimal rental properties to take advantage of the increasing rates.
The home inspection portion of the homebuying process is a crucial step toward determining whether you want to own that house. While you can’t “test-live” a home beyond buying it the same way you test drive a car, you can use this opportunity to get a feel for the place and determine if it suits your needs. Plus, perhaps most importantly, a home inspection is when you can identify any potential problems with the structure that might impact how much you’re willing to pay, or even if you decide to move on to a different location.
Partner with the right inspector
Like every other portion of the homebuying process, you should conduct research and vet the best possible choice for a home inspector. Ask for sample reports from previous clients. Make sure these are extensive and provide detailed recommendations and pictures. If you get single-page reports with vague language and no clear directions, move along to the next inspector.
In addition, locate a home inspector who has been certified. Fortune Builders noted that most reputable inspectors will be a member of one of the following:
You should attend the home inspection to familiarize yourself with your potential new property.
Even though you’re not the person who will be conducting the inspection, you will definitely want to attend it. Two sets of eyes are always better than one, and you might be able to spot something the inspector might have overlooked. Plus, this provides you the opportunity to ask any questions of the inspector on what you might need to fix. The inspection also gives you the chance to become more familiar with your potential new home as you’ll be exploring every nook and cranny in the place.
Although home inspection guidelines vary from one state to the next, the ASHI provides a “Standards of Practice” that outlines the minimum foundation of what to inspect. It’s the inspector’s job to accurately and adequately describe the basic current physical condition of the home. The point is to identify any repairs, replacement or remodeling that might be necessary.
What to keep an eye on
As you’ll be also be there, you should know what the inspector will examine. He or she will be scrutinizing both the interior and exterior components of the home, including the condition of:
Since the inspector is only examining the physical aspects of the home’s structures, there are certain things that he or she will not look into, including:
Working with a qualified home inspector can save you time and money in the long run, but it will also ensure you close the homebuying process with a thorough understanding of what you’re about to purchase.
When it comes time for you to decide on how long you want your mortgage to last, you have several options to choose from, each with their own pros and cons. Since no two people or families are exactly alike, each homebuyer will have his or her own specific financial capabilities and goals.
To accommodate these differences, you can obtain different terms for your mortgage depending on how long you want to pay it back. With 30-, 20- and 15-year terms available, you can choose the option that best suits your short- and long-term financial priorities.
Let's take a look at what these different options mean for you:
While three decades might seem like a long time to pay off a mortgage, the 30-year term is actually standard for a majority of homebuyers. According to Freddie Mac, 2016 saw approximately 90 percent of homebuyers opt for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Its popularity stems from the length of the mortgage, which allows for lower monthly payments for the homeowner.
"The 30-year note allows for lower monthly payments for the homeowner."
Having to make smaller monthly payments makes a lot of financial sense for new homeowners who might not have the ability to make larger payments. However, it should be noted that 30-year terms often come with a higher interest rate than shorter mortgages.
Keep in mind that you can still make additional payments on the loan principal, which shortens the term length. This can help you speed up the repayment process and save money on interest.
After the 30-year, a 15-year note is also fairly common mortgage term. While not nearly as popular as the former, Freddie Mac noted that about 6 percent of homebuyers decided to go this route.
Since you'll pay off this loan in half the time as the 30-year one, it means you'll end up with a larger payment each month. Although you'll have a higher payment, the shortened term reduces the amount of interest that accumulates on the loan.
This is a great option if you want to finish your mortgage quickly and save money since you won't have to pay as much interest.
However, if your financial situation drastically changes, it could make it difficult to make these higher payments, so be sure you have a strong sense of your ability to pay off this mortgage.
In addition to the 15- and the 30-year terms, you can also implement a 20-year mortgage. This option typically has a repayment and interest rate that falls in between the other two options.
Homebuyers who have just started a new family or are planning on doing so shortly, a 20-year option makes for a great choice as you will have paid it off by the time the kids are ready to go to college.
The bottom line
With any major life decision that carries a long-term financial impact, it's crucial that you evaluate the different mortgage options and decide which one most closely aligns with your current and future situation. Talk with your First Centennial Mortgage loan officer to find out which term option works best for you and your financial situation.