How to be the buyer every seller wants to deal with

 

So how do you ensure you not only land the home of your dreams, but get the best possible price from the seller and the best possible mortgage deal from your lender? By becoming the buyer every homeowner wants to sell to a financially stable, credit-worthy, pre-approved purchaser.

"Just as lenders consider many factors beyond your credit score, when deciding whether to finance your home loan, sellers consider more than just the offering price when evaluating potential buyers," says Barrett Burns, president and CEO of credit score model developer VantageScore Solutions. "Buyers who can move quickly and decisively, who walk through the door with their financing lined up and their credit in good shape, are best positioned to stand above the competition this year."

Steps toward being a better buyer

You can be a better buyer – one that will appear attractive to both lenders and sellers – with some simple steps.

First, understand your credit score and the role it plays in the home buying process. While a good credit score can ease the borrowing process for home buyers, it's not the only factor lenders will use to gauge whether to approve you for a loan, Burns says.

"A credit score predicts the likelihood of whether a borrower might default in the first 24 months of a loan," he notes. "But lenders will also consider how much of a down payment you bring to the table as a percentage of the purchase price, your income and your debt-to-income ratio when considering a mortgage application."

Remember that lenders will pull your score from all three major credit bureaus, so it pays to check your credit report and score with all three. Reviewing your report and score allows you to catch and correct errors, and have a better idea of how potential lenders might view your credit worthiness, and rest assured that obtaining this information does not impact your credit score.

Understanding your credit score is a more complex process than you might expect. You can test your knowledge about credit scores at www.CreditScoreQuiz.org, a website created by VantageScore Solutions and its partner, Consumer Federation of America.

When you have a handle on your credit, consider other factors that can make you a better buyer, including how much you have to put down on a house.

The days of no-money down mortgages are virtually over, industry experts say. Today, even FHA borrowers will likely need to make a down payment. How much you need will depend on many factors, including the loan program you apply for and the price of the house you're buying. Generally, it's a good rule of thumb to save 20 percent of the purchase cost for a down payment.

Keep in mind, the more you put down, the more instant equity you'll have, the lower your monthly payment, and the better your chances of not needing private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly payment. If you're able to put down more than a lender requires, a mortgage company may be willing to give you a pass on other issues on your application, such as a less-than-stellar credit score.

"Lenders and sellers are all looking for buyers who are 'the complete package,'" Burns says. "While you should take care of your credit score, you shouldn't obsess over it. Instead, look at it as an important part of the overall package of assets that can make you the kind of buyer everyone wants to work with."

Design a stunning backsplash without the whiplash

 

(BPT) – The kitchen is the heart of the home and a top-selling feature with home-buyers. Does yours convey style and functionality? Whether you've just completed a remodel or you're looking for ways to upgrade your existing kitchen, a tile backsplash will instantly transform the space into an eye-catching masterpiece.

"Tile backsplashes are timeless, providing the ideal transition between the cabinetry and the countertop," says Kirsty Froelich, design director for The Tile Shop. "It's one of the number one ways homeowners can add value to their kitchen while adhering to their personal design preferences. Best yet, the process can be simple and enjoyable."

Froelich offers her top tips for designing a stylish backsplash for your kitchen without headaches or stress:

1. Determine your style profile and take action
 Start by looking at Houzz, Pinterest and home magazines to see what styles you're drawn to. Are you more contemporary, vintage or transitional? It can help to see backsplashes in person to get a true idea of how different materials look, feel and reflect light. For up close and personal inspiration, attend your local Parade of Homes, or visit a showroom environment like The Tile Shop to view multiple styled vignettes.

2. Follow your vision
 When exploring tile or stone, think about whether you want the backsplash to be a focal point or more subdued. Subway tiles in neutral tones are timeless for those who prefer a muted backsplash. If you're looking to make a statement, clean and tumbled white marble is trending right now. Slate is comforting and earthy where metallic offers a more eye-catching and contemporary look. For added personality, consider designs with color, patchwork or patterns. "Pop art" is also really hot right now (e.g., incorporating Andy Warhol visuals into the backsplash design).

3. Consider product type and maintenance requirements
 A backsplash isn't necessarily maintenance-free, so know how much time you're willing to spend before making a final design decision. If you prefer low maintenance, the best route is ceramic tile. If you are drawn to the beauty of natural stone, keep in mind that there's minimal annual maintenance, including resealing the surface to ensure the product's integrity and beauty last.

"One of my current favorite backsplash looks is a new globally influenced Decor Mayflower pattern featured in The Tile Shop's 2015 Spring Design catalog," says Froelich. "It coordinates with the Treviso solid ceramic tiles that are available in three beautiful colors. Each piece has a handmade look and feel inspired by classic looks from long ago. This collection will definitely add a wow factor to your backsplash."

"Another collection I love is the Devonshire Cararra marble. It's crisp, clean and particularly elegant when set in herringbone pattern by itself or when paired with a picture frame design incorporating polished mosaic and marble profiles."

4. Know your budget 
 Before digging into any home improvement project, it's important to know your budget. Convey your visions and cost parameters to any experts you work with, such as a contractor or interior designer. Bring a sample of your cabinetry and countertop, or a picture of your kitchen, to the designer or showroom you're working with. It will help them maximize your budget while achieving your vision.

5. Add personal touches
 When finalizing your design, consider adding unique characteristics. Above the sink or cooktop are good places to do something more decorative. If appropriate, you might decide to add a niche with a cutout that has tile on the interior that matches the exterior tile or create a picture frame design using a completely different style of tile and stone that complements the backsplash to make a statement. Additionally, if you are doing a backsplash in a bar area, it's a great place to have fun with materials and shapes.

"Adding a backsplash does so much to dress up a room and complete the space," says Froelich. "The most common mistake I see homeowners make is letting indecisiveness cause the project to be delayed. Alas, the above tips will help create a clear path toward a backsplash design they can feel confident in and admire for years to come."

 

Home improvements that make your home more valuable

 

Curb appeal

When it comes to first impressions, house hunters first notice curb appeal, or lack thereof. In fact, according to the National Association of Realtors, curb appeal is important to 71 percent of homebuyers. So beautify the outdoor space to attract possible buyers by focusing on small exterior improvements that'll pay off big like planting seasonal shrubs, painting the front door, refreshing a rusty mailbox or replacing old porch lighting with updated fixtures. These minor details will make a major and lasting statement. At the very least, you should clean the yard of any debris, trim trees and spread mulch in planting beds.

Take outdoor renovations to the next level by transforming the look of your home completely with a fresh coat of paint. Be mindful of your home's location when selecting paint colors. Bold or bright colors might be the norm in Florida but wouldn't look right in a region like the Pacific Northwest where neutral earth tones are popular.

You can also increase the value of your home by giving your siding material an overhaul. Remodeling magazine suggests replacing aluminum and vinyl siding with a durable fiber-cement mixture, which will recoup about 88 percent of its cost upon resale. It resists fire, rotting, moisture and termites – all potential hazards that could otherwise end up costing thousands.

"Let your insurance agent know whenever you complete a renovation project to make sure any new upgrades to your home are properly covered under your existing policy. If not, your agent can work with you to make sure you get the coverage you need," says Erie Insurance Vice President and Product Manager Joe Vahey. "In addition, some home improvement upgrades may entitle you to discounts, especially if renovations make the home safer or more secure." For example, Erie Insurance offers discounts for installing smoke alarms or a central station alarm. Erie also provides a discount for installing sprinkler systems in your home.

Bed, bath and beyond

As house hunters head indoors, there are a few things that are likely to increase a sale. Most tend to look at kitchens and baths first. Experts recommend timeless fixtures instead of trendy ones since they hold their own over time and appeal to buyers who favor both contemporary and classic looks. Don't waste your money on fancy fixtures and features – they rarely make or break a sale.

Most people seem to think that a huge kitchen overhaul is necessary to snag interested buyers. However, Remodeling Magazine reports that you'll actually recoup 8.5 percent more of the costs of a minor kitchen renovation compared to a major kitchen renovation. So instead of redoing the kitchen completely, accomplish a few minor DIY kitchen updates like changing out faucets and lighting fixtures, painting cabinets, adding new hardware to drawers and cabinets, and replacing old appliances with newer (and often more energy-efficient) models.

Experts also say that adding an attic bedroom and finishing the basement are two of the largest renovations that give you the best return on your investment, allowing you to recoup more than 84 percent and nearly 78 percent of the cost, respectively.

Before jumping into complicated or expensive DIY projects, take a moment to assess which ones are worth your time and money. Test your knowledge of which home improvement projects give you the most bang for your buck at www.eriesense.com.

No matter what updates you end up doing, it's always a good idea to regularly assess the value of your home. This will assure you're asking for an appropriate return on investment when you finally decide to put it on the market.

Busting first-time homebuyer myths

 

(BPT) – When buying a first home, most people are making one of the biggest purchases of their lives. Without home buying experience, it's hard to separate fact from fiction.

"Buying a first home can be exciting and stressful for most young buyers, especially the financing process," says Clete Thompson, vice president at imortgage, a division of loanDepot LLC. "There's a lot of paperwork, many choices, and sometimes budgets don't stretch very far. Our licensed loan officers specialize in helping first-time buyers navigate the home finance process, which can be stressful if you're not working with a seasoned professional."

To help first-time buyers, the experts at imortgage are uncovering prevalent myths about financing a home purchase:

Myth: It takes a 20 percent down payment to buy a home.

Reality: Required down payment amounts vary by type of loan and they are on average much smaller than people think. Last year, the median down payment for all first-time buyers was 6 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. One reason is that many first-time buyers use FHA loans, which require down payments as low as 3 to 3.5 percent. VA loans require nothing down for qualified veterans or active military personnel. If you want to take out a conventional loan, many lenders do require 20 percent down, but you can lower that percentage with private mortgage insurance. There are also hundreds of down payment assistance programs that eliminate or reduce down payment requirements for qualified borrowers.

Myth: If you owe a lot of student loan debt, there is no way you can get a mortgage.

Reality: Don't assume that having a lot of student loan debt automatically disqualifies you from getting a mortgage. The key factor is not necessarily the size of your loan obligation, but the amount of your total monthly debt payments compared to your monthly income. This is called DTI. imortgage, for example, has approved thousands of loans to first-time buyers whose monthly student loan payments were as high as $300, and many more could qualify by increasing their monthly income.

Myth: If your credit score is low, you should not even try to get a mortgage.

Reality: Millions of potential buyers assume they will not be approved for a mortgage even though many could qualify, according to a national survey commissioned by loanDepot LLC. Today, median FICO scores for mortgages to buy a home are 683 for FHA loans and 754 for conventional loans. But hundreds of thousands of buyers with scores lower than those are getting mortgages if they have good income and low levels of debt.

Myth: Buying a home isn't a good investment.

Reality: Real estate, like other assets, rises and falls based on supply and demand. Over the past two years, home values in most markets have been rising. While all real estate is local, if you bought a home in March 2012, by August 2014 the national median home price as measured by Case-Shiller had risen 29.6 percent.

Myth: The mortgage-interest tax deduction is going away.

Reality: Though the deduction has its critics, most observers believe it is unlikely that Congress will eliminate the mortgage interest deduction any time soon. Many states also allow homeowners to write off the interest they pay on their mortgages from their state income taxes. Check with your accountant or CPA on if you can qualify for this type of tax deduction.

Myth: I'm about to get married and the wedding is so expensive I won't be able to buy a home.

Reality: According to TheKnot, the average wedding has 138 guests who typically give a gift valued at $100 each. That's $13,800 in spatulas, baking pans and other things. If every guest contributed to a Down Payment Fund, you could have enough saved for a down payment on a $276,000 home in San Diego.

"These are just a few of the myths about home buying that surface frequently in our conversations with first-time buyers," says Thompson. "I always advise potential buyers, especially first- time buyers, to get in touch with one of our local imortgage loan officers if they're interested in straight answers to specific questions about financing a home. We are here to help."

 

5 upgrades for under $5,000 to put your home at the top of every buyer’s list

 

(BPT) – It's a sobering truth of real estate that sellers often have to spend money to make money. Even if your home is relatively new, you still face costs associated with getting it ready to show, such as repainting interior rooms or hiring professional cleaners and stagers. If your home could use some TLC and updating, spending as little as $5,000 on key upgrades could improve its appeal for buyers – and ensure a speedier sale at a better price.

Here are five upgrades you can make for under $5,000 to help put your home at the top of every buyer's must-see list.

 1. Upgrade your entryway – Replacing an old, dated or worn entry door can be a cost-effective way to ensure buyers get a good first impression when they walk in your house. Whether you choose a fiberglass, wooden or steel model, installing a new entry door can cost a few thousand dollars, yet the return on investment at the time of resale can be significant. A fiberglass entry door returns about 72 percent of its investment, while a steel door recoups more than 100 percent of its value, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value report.

Enhance your new door with attractive plantings, fresh paint and clean windows around the entryway to create a memorable, attractive entry for just a few thousand dollars.

2. Increase natural light – More buyers are becoming aware of the mood- and productivity-enhancing benefits of natural light, and homes with big, bright windows have always been in demand. Adding windows to a room can be a costly, time-consuming affair. Not so with adding a skylight. For well under $5,000 and in just a day or two, a professional can install an Energy Star qualified, solar powered no-leak fresh-air skylight, like those from Velux America. Professional installation costs nationally ranges from around $900 to $2,325, with an average of $1,400, according to HomeAdvisor.com.

The low installation cost will leave you plenty of budget to enhance the skylight upgrade even further with energy efficiency-boosting solar-powered blinds. The skylight and blinds are operated by remote control and the blinds are available in designer colors and patterns to enhance your décor. The products, as well as installation costs, are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit to further reduce the cost of the improvement.

The most popular rooms in the home for fresh air skylights are baths, where they provide privacy in addition to natural light, and kitchens, where they vent cooking odors and humidity naturally while brightening this much-used workspace. Visit www.veluxusa.com to learn more.

3. Beautify a master bathroom – Bathrooms and kitchens sell homes. Making a few cosmetic upgrades to even a small master bath can help increase a home's appeal and value. For less than $5,000 you can easily repaint, upgrade faucets, replace old cabinet hardware and add decorative touches like designer towels.

If you've already done all that, take a look at the floor or countertops – two cost-effective upgrades that can wow buyers. Since counters don't make up that much square footage in most bathrooms, replacing them with granite can cost just a couple thousand dollars. Tile flooring is also a relatively inexpensive way to improve a bathroom's look and usability.

4. Heat things up in the kitchen – Kitchen remodels can offer high ROI for sellers, but a full remodel may be outside your budget. If you've already done the obvious – like repainting and decluttering – it's time to look for a few more cost-effective improvements that will appeal to buyers.

Just as in the bathroom, swapping old faucets and cabinet hardware with new designer options can enhance the appeal of a kitchen. Shabby, outdated appliances can hinder a speedy sale, so consider replacing them with new ones. You don't necessarily need to install top-of-the-line, high-priced appliances to make a good impression, either. Newer, Energy Star qualified appliances represent savings for buyers down the road.

5. Lavish landscaping – No single aspect of your home has a greater impact on a buyer's first impression than the landscaping. A great front yard sets the tone for the rest of the home, appealing to buyers on a number of levels, including beauty, practicality and savings.

With $5,000, you can accomplish a lot in terms of landscaping. You can sod a small front yard, add decorative planting beds to a lush lawn, or even install shade trees that will both beautify the yard and enhance the home's energy efficiency in summer. Decorative concrete stamping of walkways and driveways is another cost-effective way to improve a home's curb appeal.

Whether it's a buyer's market or a seller's market, no one wants to see their home linger long before selling. A few simple upgrades can help ensure your home gets plenty of attention this season.