Five basic steps to making a house your home

 

Owning a home remains a key element of the American Dream. In fact, a recent survey by TD Bank revealed that 84 percent of young renters (ages 18 to 34) intend to buy a home in the future. While it is exciting, home buying can be overwhelming and complicated if you don't have a general knowledge of the process. 
 
Equipping yourself with the right tools will allow you to navigate the complexities of the home-buying process. Here are five helpful steps to follow on your way to homeownership.
 
Step 1: Learn the home-buying ABCs: Build your homeownership knowledge by participating in a first-time homebuyer class at a local non-profit agency in your community to answer any questions you may have. Staying well-informed will help you feel confident and in control of this major financial decision and nip any initial questions in the bud.
 
Step 2: Get out your calculator: Owning a home requires a large investment of time, energy and money, so make sure you are careful when making the decision to buy. If you're like 43 percent of survey respondents, staying within budget is the top consideration. It is important to determine how much you can afford – you don't want to fall in love with a house out of your reach. When applying for a mortgage, the bank will assess your debt to income ratio. By looking at your income and current monthly debts, you can determine your ideal monthly payment. From there, you'll be able to narrow the focus of your house search to homes in your price range. Be sure to include down payments and other upfront costs in your calculations.
 
A few free, helpful online tools can help you determine just how much you could potentially afford. For example, visit TDBank.com and check out its mortgage calculator.
 
Step 3: Shop wisely: Condo? Single-family home? A fixer-upper or new construction? Once you know how much you can afford, determining your housing needs – and selecting a qualified real estate professional – before you start looking, will help make finding your perfect home much less time-consuming. In addition to being able to answer any questions that come up during the process, a real estate professional will work on your behalf to pre-screen houses and guide you through negotiations.
 
Step 4: Pick your perfect match: According to the survey, acquiring a mortgage and making a down payment is the most preferred method of payment for those who intend to own a home. With the variety of mortgage products that exists today, it's essential you choose the right one for your needs. How long do you plan on living in this house? Do you plan on making improvements to the home? Answering these types of questions will help you hone in on your financial strategy. Finding the right mortgage is about more than a rate and terms – it's about finding the right financial partner. Don't get led down the wrong path by choosing a bank that doesn't provide flexible options. Look for a bank that offers a hassle-free mortgage guarantee to ensure your first home purchase is as smooth and worry-free as possible.
 
"As a portfolio lender, we are able to set our own lending guidelines and interest rates," says Michael Copley, executive vice president for retail lending at TD Bank. "This allows us to provide our customers with the most adjustable and affordable financing options to suit their borrowing needs."
 
Step 5: Sign on the dotted line: Once your home has been inspected, your contingencies have been met and your mortgage has been approved, it's time to close the deal. In most cases, a closing officer and your attorney will be present during closing. As the buyer, you should make sure to bring a binder for homeowner's insurance (document proving you have adequate homeowner's insurance), a paid receipt for the first year's premium and a certified or cashier's check for your down payment and closing costs. Before the closing begins, review your mortgage, mortgage note and settlement statement documents to ensure there are no errors or red flags. Remember to ask questions during the closing, as the closing officer is there to help.
 
After you've signed all documents and paid your closing costs and down payment, the closing is finished. Congratulations and enjoy your new home.
 
  To get more information and to download your free TD Bank First-Time Homebuyers' Kit, visit esecure.tdbank.com/net/firsttimehomebuyers/default.aspx.

With the right approach, former homeowners can get on the path to homeownership again

 

When the housing bubble burst, a staggering number of Americans were affected – 4.8 million borrowers lost a home to foreclosure while a further 2.2 million gave up their homes in short sales, according to national data by RealtyTrac. The recovery of the housing market has been slow, but the confidence of once-foreclosed-upon homeowners has grown along with it. Sixty-five percent of Americans in Fannie Mae's national monthly housing survey for April said they would rather buy a home rather than rent if they were going to move. With a new perspective on saving and making wise investments, many of those affected are now eager to get back to being homeowners.

Many former homeowners have learned difficult lessons, and their road back to homeownership will be signposted with challenges. However, it may be possible for them to regain their dreams. These tips from Wells Fargo, the nation's leading mortgage lender, may help set prospective buyers on the right path:

* Talk to a reputable lender about owning a home again. Having someone on your side to help you through the process is important, but it's essential that that person has the experience and knowledge to help you make an informed, affordable lending choice. An experienced lender can explain the time limits that affect buyers who faced foreclosure or short sale; there is generally a set amount of time that needs to pass before you're eligible to be considered again for mortgage approval. Wells Fargo has a mortgage presence in 2,358 locations including stand-alone mortgage stores and other business partner sites. Go to www.wellsfargo.com/mortgage to find a home mortgage consultant near you.

* Make an honest assessment of your credit situation. In the current mortgage approval environment, having a foreclosure or short sale on your financial record will affect what options you may have for loan approval. You can access your credit report from any of the three agencies by going to www.annualcreditreport.com; everyone is entitled to a free annual report. If you need help in making sense of your financial status and information on how to improve it, you can talk to a Wells Fargo Home Mortgage consultant about the My Home Roadmap(SM) service. Those enrolled in My Home Roadmap receive up to two hours of free, phone-based financial coaching from an accredited credit counseling agency, paid for by Wells Fargo. Enrollees also receive emails from Wells Fargo Home Mortgage consultants that provide useful tips and reminders on handling the financial responsibilities of homeownership.

* Prepare a down payment. Homebuyers re-entering the housing market after foreclosure or short sale typically need to have a down payment – in most cases 20 percent – ready before purchasing a home. In addition to those funds, think about additional expenses you might have to pay, such as closing costs. Showing the ability to handle the financial responsibilities of homeownership beyond the monthly mortgage payment like taxes, homeowner's insurance, utilities and other household expenses will be extremely important in achieving loan approval.

* Get preapproved. It's a good idea for prospective homebuyers, even those who are re-entering the market, to work with lenders who offer a pre-approval program. The preapproval process helps borrowers determine and understand their budget before diving into a home search, allowing them to shop more confidently.

Homeownership is still part of the American dream, even for those who've dealt with foreclosure. To ensure that your next home is your dream home, plan carefully, get help and take a proactive approach to answering the tough questions.

Creating an island paradise: Tips for adding an island in your kitchen renovation

 

(BPT) – Custom cabinetry, granite countertops, reclaimed wood flooring and accents, and top-of-the-line, high-tech appliances – what more do you need to make your kitchen renovation perfect? How about adding an island? Designers and builders across the country are pointing to the addition of an island as the must-have upgrade for kitchen renovations this year.

Homeowners are embracing the island, and what's not to love about it? Adding an island can dramatically alter a kitchen's appearance, provide additional storage space and work area, and create a fresh focal point for family meals. What's more, common challenges that have historically held homeowners back from adding islands – such as the difficulty and high costs associated with adding plumbing drainage in the center of the room – are easier to solve than ever.

Plumbing problem solved

While you could add an island without plumbing, having a sink in an island can improve the workflow in a kitchen and open up counter space elsewhere. Plumbing an island can be problematic, however, if your home is built on a slab or a crawl space. The cost of cutting through concrete and adding piping can be prohibitive.

Above-floor plumbing can solve the problem. Manufacturers make a variety of pumping systems that can eliminate the need to cut concrete and reduce the cost of installing plumbing in a new island. 

"Cutting through concrete to install plumbing can easily account for 50 percent of a renovation budget," says Chris Peterson of Saniflo. "Homeowners may decide to abandon the idea of an island altogether when they face that kind of cost. Above-floor plumbing allows them to add an island, hide a single drain pipe in a decorative column, and achieve the kitchen of their dreams at a fraction of the cost of traditional plumbing options."

Top island trends

Islands are increasingly becoming the focal point of kitchen renovations, serving both practical purposes and as design statements.

More homeowners are replacing traditional dining tables and breakfast nooks with spacious islands that feature seating. "Islands are replacing tables," said Audrey Macdonald of Creative Interiors By Audrey in Mississauga, Ontario, in the National Kitchen & Bath Association's 2015 Kitchen & Bath Style Report.

In addition to seating, homeowners are incorporating restaurant-quality fittings into islands, adding charging stations for the family's personal digital devices. They're also choosing architectural and design touches such as decorative legs, and countertops and cabinetry that contrast with those around the perimeter of the kitchen.

Kitchen renovations continue to be among the most popular home improvement projects and can offer homeowners a high return on their investments. A major kitchen remodel costing about $56,000 can recoup nearly 68 percent of its cost when you sell your home, while a minor remodel in the range of $19,000 can yield a 79 percent ROI upon resale, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report.

Give your home a fresh look with color

 

(BPT) – A fresh coat of paint can give any room an instant lift, making it a great solution for converting a space from drab to fab.

Though neutrals reign as America's most popular paint choices, the National Home Color Survey from Sherwin-Williams shows people are becoming bolder with color. Three-in-four homeowners indicate they want to incorporate more color into their home, most commonly in their living room, bedroom and kitchen.

"Colorful paint is an easy and inexpensive way to stylishly transform a space," said David Bromstad, HGTV(R) star and celebrity interior designer. "Set the mood for a room with a splash of color and you'll spice up your space like a design pro."

Bromstad offers the following tips for anyone looking to add color to their home:

* Identify a colorful object as the focal point of the room. Select bold items to build your room around, such as a piece of artwork, rug or chair that really makes a statement.

* Use a color palette to guide design choices.-HGTV(R) HOME by Sherwin-Williams takes the guesswork out of choosing colors with coordinated collections of color, paint and wallpaper designed to flow beautifully throughout your home. Mix and match the colors to help guide your wall, furniture and accessory color choices.

* Coordinate your color transitions. For high-impact transitions, combine bolder shades with their more neutral counterparts and for a more tranquil transition, stick to softer or lighter shades that are from the same color family.

* Highlight unexpected areas. Turn ordinary areas like ceilings, banisters or door frames into extraordinary spaces. If you want to keep walls neutral, paint a piece of furniture, such as a chair, headboard or the back of a bookshelf.

* Use colorful patterns for the illusion of space. Horizontal stripes can help small rooms feel more spacious, while vertical stripes can add the illusion of height to low ceilings.

"Every colorful room adds personality to a home, from playful to serene to luxurious and beyond," said Bromstad. "That's what's great about paint colors; they allow you to express yourself through your home."

For more tips and color inspiration, visit sherwin-williams.com/color.

Sell your home faster with these cost-effective staging tips

 

Fortunately, many of the most effective staging trips are also inexpensive, from a thorough cleaning to decorator details. Here are five staging tricks that don't cost a bundle:

1. Cleanliness counts – Nothing turns off buyers faster than a dirty house. Before you list your house, give it a thorough top-to-bottom cleaning – something that costs nothing but the price of supplies if you do it yourself and a couple hundred bucks, tops, if you hire pros to do it for you. Don't overlook little details like baseboards, ceiling fans, blinds and shower doors. Include decluttering in your cleanup efforts, and remove excess items from your home, even if you have to rent a storage unit to do it.

2. Work those walls – Painting is one of the cheapest, easiest ways to help your home look fresh and great. Choose neutral colors that will appeal to the broadest range of buyers. Don't forget that neutral doesn't have to mean bland, either. Consider dressing up an accent wall, easily and cost-effectively with repositionable wallpaper or a removable wallpaper mural. Websites like MuralsYourWay.com offer a wide variety of repositionable wall coverings, called SmartStick, in a variety of designs. A patented adhesive makes it easy to install the mural – creating an eye-catching focal point for any room – and remove it later if buyers decide they don't want it. It's a great way to get a designer look at a fraction of the cost – and without the commitment of traditional wallpaper.

3. Fix up the fireplace – Sure, you're heading into summer selling season, but fireplaces charm buyers no matter what the weather. Make yours look its best. Old brick fireplaces can get designer flare from a coat of paint. If your fireplace is wood-burning, remove and clean the screen. If it looks tired and rusty, give it a fresh look with a coat of heat-resistant spray paint. For gas fireplaces, keep the glass clean and make sure everything is in working order. For a nominal cost, you can install a remote starter – a winning feature for buyers who can envision themselves starting a fire without ever having to leave the comfort of their couch.

4. Spruce up outdoor living spaces – If you have a deck or patio, do whatever it takes to spruce it up, from power-washing pavers and deck boards to staining tired-looking wooden decks. If you don't have a patio or deck, and don't want to spend a lot of money adding one, you can still create an appealing outdoor seating area. Mark off an area using stones or plastic edgers near the house or in a shady spot in the yard. Fill in with pea gravel or wood chips, then add an attractive bistro set – with umbrella – to create a pleasant seating spot.

5. Brighten the bath – Bathrooms and kitchens sell houses, yet many sellers are reluctant to sink any additional money into staging a bathroom. You don't have to spend a bundle to make your bathroom more appealing. After a deep cleaning, invest in some designer towels that only come out for showings. Put up a fresh shower curtain and get rid of those nasty area rugs that will make buyers think "germs." Add a small vase of fresh flowers on the vanity. Bring in more natural light by removing blinds and ensuring privacy with removable film that makes windows look frosted. Have a bathroom that doesn't have windows? You can really brighten it – and make a designer statement – by placing a removable wallpaper mural on the ceiling. Pick a sky scene with fluffy clouds on a blue background and you can even brighten a windowless powder room.

Staging a home can help make it more appealing to potential buyers, and ensure you sell it faster.