Remodeling for resale vs. impressing your friends

 

It's one more area where we can show our sophistication and good taste. We can, and often do decorate to impress and make a statement about how successful we are.

It's an ego thing. It makes us feel good to show our financial success.

And in one way it's often men who go over the top the most. We can argue about it if you want.

They want imported everything including granite or marble, architectural designs, custom finishes and expensive kitchens and baths, along with lots of garage space for luxury cars.

But some luxury cars hold their value far batter than houses do.

A good many sports stars have bankrupted themselves buying this stuff.

A really unique house may only appeal to one person, the person who remodeled it or built it.

There are several problems when a house like this goes to resale.

1. The really expensive finishes and decorating are too individual to work well at resale. The owner might like orange granite, but no one else does.

2. The costs of certain types of décor can never be recovered at resale. It's something the owner wanted that no one else wants or will pay for.

3. The house may be over improved for the values in the neighborhood. For example fashionable granite that has gone into kitchens all over the country. The stuff costs several thousand dollars to install but houses no longer sell for enough money to recoup the cost.

4. Custom paint is a turn off to buyers when houses go to resale. It's ALWAYS the wrong color. The wrong color, meaning any color that is not neutral, just won't sell.

5. The décor that the owner has spent so much time and money on does not appeal to buyers. Often it might even turn them off and they run from the property to the next one. Decorating styles can really be a disadvantage at resale.

6. Custom houses usually only appeal to the owner/ builder. No one else wants the floor plan that has all the kids sleeping in a one-room dorm or the workshop in the bedroom wing. A poorly done remodel can mess up a perfectly good house plan, too.

7. It can be very difficult to sell a house in an area if it is very different from the other houses in the neighborhood. In the southeast for example, most buyers prefer traditional exteriors. A hard contemporary or mid century modern may take way longer to sell than something more traditional. It's the reason neighborhoods have architectural review boards. They don't want anything really different.

So if you expect to have to resell your home any time in the near future control your spending. Only spring for the expensive stuff that will move with you when you go. The house may still represent something important for your ego without being so individual you can't sell it. Resale means you want to appeal to as many buyers as you can so you can sell a house quick.

That means the property has to be sort of average.

It might be more fun to impress your friends with great food and a feeling of simple luxury. 5 stars for comfort can trump the most outrageous décor with your friends and guests.

by: Paula Stone

http://www.articlecity.com/articles/home_improvement/article_4809.shtml

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.

How to flip a house using project managers

 

With framing subcontractors coming in as scheduled, I all of a sudden realized that the floor that they would be framing over had some very serious issues.

Pounding on my cell phone to find someone… Anyone to help me on literally zero notice, I realized the only person I had that could do it… Was me.

So I dusted off the flooring toolbox, started pulling out the old flooring tools and began ripping up floorboards with my trusty Wonderbar.

Not having done this kind of work in a few years, one of the boards I ripped up broke loose and smashed me square in the jaw.

Dazed and bloodied… And luckily not having to call the emergency crew… I realized something…

When you're first learning how to flip a house, there's lots of different ways to do it.

Especially when it comes to the rehab, there are a number of different paths to take:

Some like to do all the rehab work themselves.
Some don't want to do any of the rehab work themselves.
And some pick the middle path, doing some work and then having others do the rest.

Which way is best?
How to Flip A House – Do It Yourself?

Personally, I don't mind doing some of the rehab work…just as long as I don't have to do all of it.

Unless I feel the overwhelming need to pound a sledgehammer through a few walls in the demo… I'd much rather pay someone else to do it.

Personally, I'd rather spend my time looking for the next deal.

I used to be a flooring guy for years, so if I have to do some of the work on a rehab, I will. And if my experience this past week tells me anything, I think its best to stick to overseeing the rehab work instead of doing the rehab work.

However, when you're learning the basics of how to flip a house, there's no doubt that getting your hands dirty on your first house flip is a great way of really getting to know the business.

Doing at least some of the rehab work yourself to start off isn't a bad idea… But then getting others to do it for you afterward is a great way to scale things… As well as limit potential trips to the Emergency Room.

The Pros and Cons of Hiring a GC to Do Your Flips

In an ideal world, hiring a general contractor (or "GC") to do all your rehab work is the best possible way to go when you're house flipping.

But that's only if you can make the numbers work.

It's certainly nice to have one single point of contact to do all the dirty work for your house flips and rehabs while you're out looking for the next deal or rounding up potential buyers.

This way is far easier on you (and your chin), especially if you're doing it part time or have other real estate deals to tend to.

On the flip side, in many areas of the country it's extremely difficult to get a contractor to do the work for you and still stick to your 70% Rule in hopes of getting the ARV and profit margin to make the deal work.

The issue is that the really good general contractors out there tend to use the same subcontractors and don't bid out each job they do. They have "their guys" who do the subcontracting and they're oftentimes reluctant to try to negotiate with them.

On top of that, remember that a GC adds on 10-20% over what his subcontractors charge him. There's nothing wrong with that because everyone needs to make a profit here.

And believe me, on many jobs, your GC really earns that wage!

A good tip here is if you are dead set on using a specific contractor, you might be able to negotiate a lower management percent or even none at all for a percentage of the profits on the deal. General contractors also can be good sources of potential funding as well.

If you are just learning how to flip a house…everything is negotiable in house flipping!

Should I Do The Rehab Myself?

To answer this question, it's going to depend on a lot of different factors, but the biggest factor of all is you.

For me, it was a logical step to do the rehab on my first few house flips. As I said before, I was in the building trades full time and was used to being on job sites. I love construction and to me, turning a run-down shack into a beautiful place to live is one of the coolest things around.

So I went out and got my state contractor's license, ready to GC my first house flip all on my own.

As I look back on it, despite the challenges, it was great experience. Primarily because I could see firsthand how the whole operation runs. This on the job experience has really helped me in my house flipping career – so much so that when I hired the job out in the future, I knew exactly how to set the rules and how to follow the whole house flipping process.

There's nothing like firsthand experience to teach you that.

In House Flipping…Know Thyself

Do you absolutely need to do it this way?

I don't think so. But think of general contracting your first house flip as a bit of "on the job training". It's not necessary – but it's surely an experience you'll refer back to many times in your house flipping and real estate investing career.

If you have a full time job and are rehabbing one house at a time, then you may very well have the time, but this largely depends on the kind of job you have as well.

If you have a fair amount of flexibility with your job hours, then perhaps it may work.

If you're tied to a desk all day and an hour commute away from the geographic area you do your flip in, then perhaps not.

However, only you can answer that.

Do understand this though; in order to effectively manage any real estate investing rehab, you will have to be available to manage the sub-contractors by phone, early in the mornings or in the evenings. And if you have other things on your plate, like a job, a wife, kids… This gets tiresome.

There will be times when you'll need to go on site and if you are on a business trip a thousand miles away at the time, it might be tough to pull this off.

For me, my flooring business allowed me the flexibility to stop in on the job site and check on things whenever I needed so I was fortunate enough to have the flexibility.

You on the other hand, may not.

Ideally, if you have enough money saved up to quit your day job and become a full time Real Estate Investor then this will be much easier for you to manage. Plus at that point, it IS your job!

So if you're not sure if being the general contractor is right for you, then you may want to try it to see if you like it.

But if you'd rather play it a bit safer, then there is another choice that may be right for you.

Behind Door Number 3: The Project Manager

Short of hiring a full blown general contractor, you could use a project manager instead. We've found this to be a very effective way to rehab house flips, especially where hiring a GC is cost prohibitive.

For example, you could approach a smaller, hands-on type of licensed carpenter who has experience working with other subcontractors. You could then negotiate a fee based on his involvement in the project.

I've found carpenters and other subs very receptive to this arrangement. On top of the money they make doing the other work on the property, he's getting paid an override on how well he manages others.

Like I said before, everything is negotiable in real estate investing and house flipping, so be creative here. And remember it's about "win-win".

For example, you could do any number of these financial arrangements:

    Flat Fee: Simple enough. Pay a flat fee to oversee the job. No real creativity here.

    Partnership: Work out a partnership or an equity stake in the property. This is a very creative way to handle things. I wouldn't suggest this strategy on your first flip, but its one to consider.

    Percentage: Pay a percentage of the overall job that may be smaller than a typical general contractors cut. If he's good, this could really save you.

    Flat Fee and Performance Bonus: Pay the project manager a project management fee of around $2,000 and then assign bonuses for meeting timelines and budgets. The bonuses really keep the project manager motivated because he has a skin in the game. You pay some money upfront, but even more when they hit performance metrics.

Whatever you do though, do your best to establish a fee that works for the both of you. The fee you pay is largely dependent on your location and the going rates that project managers are typically paid.

You can get this kind of information from your real estate investment mentors, from other real estate investors in the area, or at your local REIA meetings.

Where to Find Project Managers

We've found that finding someone young, hungry and motivated is the best profile for success. It may differ for you, but these are the kind of guys (it's usually guys here ladies) who will put in the extra hours and get things moving in the right direction. Young, ambitious and smart is always a good profile to look for.

There may be some ideal project manager candidates in our backyard at technical colleges. These newly graduated students are typically hungry and have a good background that could be ideal for your project. In some cases, if you find a good one and your budget allows it, put them on your payroll and keep them working for you full time.

More often than not, freshly minted students for what they may lack in "real world experience" may more than make up for it with all the background knowledge from school in addition to the computer and technical knowledge for running budgets and keeping things humming smoothly.

Of course, before you go and hire a full time person to manage your flips, make sure you're in the position to afford it as well as have enough projects going on to keep him or her busy on a regular basis.

So whether you do the rehab on your own, hire a general contractor or get a project manager, you can do well and make money any of these three ways.

Author: Mike LaCava

Mike's Website: http://www.houseflippingschool.com

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.

Four hot, new-home trends that can work for your remodel

 

If you're planning to renovate your home, you can tap some of the hottest trends showing up in new-home designs. Here are four new-home trends that offer strong returns on your time and money:

1. Creating a view – Americans continue to embrace all things green and that trend is showing up in new home construction in a number of ways, including an emphasis on energy-efficient windows that bring the outdoors inside with a great view.

If your home has older windows, they're likely not as energy efficient as newer options, so replacing them can improve your heating and cooling efficiency. Window replacements typically provide a high return on investment at the time or resale, too – more than 73 percent for wood windows and 71 percent-plus for vinyl, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report.

While you're replacing your windows, you also have the opportunity to open up your home more to outdoor views. Work with your architect or designer and contractor to determine where the best views are, and how much additional glass you can incorporate into your renovation to capitalize on those views.

2. Adding a bathroom – When it comes to renovations that improve resale value and enhance a home's usability, adding a bathroom is at the top of the list for many homeowners. While today's new smaller homes often have less square footage, demand for multiple bathrooms has not changed.

In existing homes, adding a bathroom can sometimes pose plumbing challenges. Up-flush plumbing can solve a lot of them. Up-flush systems pump waste and water from a toilet, sink or bathtub up and out, instead of into a below-floor sewage pit.

Up-flush toilets enable homeowners to easily and cost-effectively install a bathroom virtually anywhere without breaking through the floors – a special advantage when those floors are made of concrete. That means adding a basement bathroom doesn't require cutting into a home's concrete foundation, and you can easily add an attic bathroom without tearing up the first-floor ceiling. According to Saniflo, makers of up-flush plumbing products, adding a bathroom using this type of plumbing can cost about $5,000 less than one that uses conventional plumbing.

3. Defining the kitchen – Kitchens are another popular renovation that pays off in a number of ways. Architects are fine-tuning the popular wide-open floor plan concept, and the change is showing up in the kitchen. Favored designs now open the kitchen on one side to an adjoining room, such as the family room, but enclose the other three walls to create a more defined space, as well as more storage and cabinet options.

This trend works particularly well in older homes where you frequently find a completely separate kitchen. Now, rather than ripping out three walls to create an entirely open flow, you can tap the latest kitchen design trend by opening up just a single wall in the kitchen. This leaves the space well-defined, but also adds the open, social feeling that is so appealing in many new home designs.

4. Maximizing every inch of space – With smaller floor plans gaining popularity, making the most of every inch of space is vital. New-home design employs entertaining nooks, breakfast alcoves, built-ins, pocket doors and other tricks to use every inch of space wisely.

It's a trend that also works well in older homes that may have smaller rooms and less square footage than the McMansions popular a few years ago. For example, it's easier to add a built-in desk to a spare corner and create an office alcove than it is to add an entire office to your floor plan.

If you crave a fresh environment and the latest home design trends, you don't have to give up your old home and tackle the hassles of moving into something new. With some planning and creativity, it's possible to translate some of the hottest new-home design trends into your renovation project.

Buying a home: Prepare by getting your finances in order

 

For those considering buying a home, the current real estate market presents some unique opportunities. One of the side effects of the economic roller coaster ride of the past few years is that home prices have gone down and more homes have gone on the market. For buyers, that means more choices and better deals.  However, those same tumultuous years also can also teach buyers a lesson: Make smart buying decisions and be wise with your finances.
 
Impulsive buying is never a good idea when it comes to a purchase as significant as a home, but it was something of a trend at the height of the mid-2000s. Now, with banks lending far more cautiously, you need to be absolutely certain that your finances are in order – and healthy – to be able to get the best deal on your purchase.
 
There are a number of steps you can take to get ready to buy a home, and you might need to work on them simultaneously. Consider that you'll need to start saving, if you haven't already, but you'll also need to review your credit score and do what you can to either maintain it or work toward healthier credit. Both of these tasks will help make the home-buying process better for you.
 
Your credit is an important factor in determining the terms under which you can get a mortgage. Broadly speaking, the better your credit is, the more positively you'll be viewed by lenders – and that can lead to better interest rates. And because you'll be paying off your home for years to come, it's important to get the best rate possible.
 
Start by checking your credit report. You're entitled to one free check of your report, from TransUnion and other credit reporting agencies every year.  As much as you need to check your report to find out what shape your credit is in, it's also essential to review it for inaccuracies or fraudulent activity, both of which can have a negative impact on your score.
 
If your credit health needs some work, start taking action immediately. Paying bills on time, reducing your overall debt and limiting new credit inquiries can all help to build your credit – but be patient as it can take time for your positive actions to take effect. Nevertheless, the sooner you make the effort, the sooner you'll see results.
 
Making a prudent decision about buying a house comes down to an honest assessment of what you can afford. Keep in mind that you might be approved for a loan that's larger than what is practical for you to afford. While it may be tempting to buy a pricier house, the stress of struggling to make payments could diminish your enjoyment of your new home and even put you at financial risk. One rule of thumb is that most borrowers can afford a home loan that runs about two and a half times their annual salary. 
 
Buying a home is a complex process, but one that is ultimately very rewarding when done right. By organizing your finances well in advance, you'll help set yourself up for success.

For more information about credit and buying a home, visit www.transunion.com.

8 ways first-time homebuyers can make themselves mortgage-ready

 

(BPT) – It's rare to get something right the very first time you try it, but when it comes to buying your first home, a lack of knowledge and experience can lead to costly mistakes. One in four first time homebuyers say they are completely unfamiliar with the mortgage financing process, according to a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Even among those with an understanding of the overall process, the report found that many first time homebuyers still had significant knowledge gaps in important areas such as available mortgage rates, closing costs, down-payment requirements and income required to qualify for a loan.

"Not having all the information available could lead to consumers paying a higher interest rate or failing to secure an affordable mortgage for the home they want," says Eric Hamilton, President of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance. "While most first-time homebuyers understand the importance of their credit report score in securing a mortgage, it's important they arm themselves with comprehensive knowledge. Fortunately, there's plenty of useful information out there for borrowers who want to do their homework before diving into the loan process."

Here are eight tips for first-time homebuyers:

 1. Adjust your budget. A mortgage payment can increase your monthly housing expenses, so prepare by calculating what that amount will be and begin saving that same amount every month so you can get used to the budget change in advance. Use a free online payment calculator to help you predict your payment and understand your current debt-to-income ratio.

 2. Plan for a down payment. Nearly all home loans will require you to put some money down as a down payment. Some home loans may require as much as 20 percent of the purchase cost as a down payment, although some Federal Housing Administration loans may require less. Decide on the amount you think you'll need and create a savings plan to help you reach that goal.

 3. Consider the location and type of home you want to buy. Many factors influence the cost of a home, including its location, size, style and more. A larger home in a high-income area will generally cost more, and property taxes will be higher on a bigger, newer, well-located home. Many first-time homebuyers find manufactured or mobile homes are a good option. Knowing the estimated cost of the type of home you want to purchase can help you better manage your budget.

 4. Stay on top of your credit. Lenders will consider your credit score and report history when determining your mortgage eligibility and the interest rate they may offer you. Make sure to review your credit report in advance. If you're planning to apply for a mortgage, it's a good idea to review your report more frequently and to consider paying to obtain your credit score from at least one major bureau. If your report contains errors, work with the credit bureaus to have them corrected before you apply for a mortgage.

 5. Keep current on monthly bills. While it's important to save toward a down payment, don't let monthly bills slide. Paying your bills on time every month can help increase your credit score, and a good payment history is something lenders look for when reviewing your credit report. Use online tools like email reminders and automatic payment options to help ensure you never miss or make a late payment.

 6. Work on your debt. If you have delinquent balances, bring them up to date as quickly as possible. If you carry a lot of revolving credit card debt, you may want to work to reduce it by paying more than the monthly minimum payment. While it helps to have a report that shows no late payments, the most important thing is to not have any delinquent balances before you apply for a mortgage.

 7. Plan for escrow. In addition to the amount you will need each month toward repaying your mortgage, you'll need escrow – an amount added to and collected with each monthly mortgage payment that is applied toward annual homeowners' insurance premiums and/or taxes. Estimating taxes and total insurance costs can help you better understand how much your escrow will be each month, and you'll be able to budget more accurately as you prepare for home ownership. Don't forget that this amount may adjust every twelve months if your insurance premium or taxes change for the next year.

 8. Take advantage of educational resources. From lenders' websites to government agencies, it's easy to find plenty of information online. Check out resources like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Housing Administration.

This top garage trend keeps gaining momentum

 

(BPT) – The carriage house garage door is to your house what the little black dress and strand of pearls are to your wardrobe; classic style elements that never go out of fashion.

At the dawn of the automobile age, those who were affluent enough to own a car kept it in the carriage house, where the horses and buggy would have been stored. But this cohabitation became a little, well, smelly, and the need for separate storing structures was soon realized.

Enter, the garage. Built in the style of the original carriage house, the garage's sole intent was to store the car away from the animals and elements. The word garage actually comes from the French word, garer, which means to shelter and protect. Naturally, the garage needed a door to offer protection to the automobile. The ensuing "carriage house door"  was a hinged, double door that swung outwards, and can be considered the original garage door.

In the early 1920s, the kickout door was invented and progress continued from there, bringing homeowners the modern convenience of today's overhead garage doors. Today's carriage house sectional garage doors open overhead and continue to gain in popularity, constituting 35 percent of the volume in the garage door industry with projections to remain a huge trend.

When it comes to the style of garage door chosen, most homeowners want something classic, that won't fade in popularity over the years and will also enhance curb appeal. This is especially true if home resale is a factor.

The carriage house door also offers a myriad of design elements. For example, the Classica Collection by Amarr offers a dual-directional wood grain design that provides the realistic look of wood with the practicality and low-maintenance upkeep of steel. With a three-section design and the option of larger windows, this door offers a more authentic carriage house look with the benefit of additional natural light flow into your garage. Two-tone looks are also available with many color combinations and panel designs, and hardware and window choices are plentiful. These different design options can be tailored specifically to your home's facade and will further enhance curb appeal.

If you're thinking of replacing a tired garage door in an effort to boost your home's curb appeal, consider the classic carriage house door whose popularity has only continued to grow over the last century. With a timeless design that can be specifically tailored to your house, it's a choice that both you – and future owners of your home – can happily live with for a long time.

How to determine the true value of home improvements

 

(BPT) – As the U.S. housing industry continues to emerge from the Great Recession, signs are pointing toward positive recovery. In fact, a recent report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University states that the home improvement industry could see record spending this year. It's news like this that may have you contemplating an update to your house. Even if you plan to stay in your home for years to come, it's important to consider which home remodeling projects offer the potential for a positive return on investment.

"Research shows that more homeowners intend to remain in their homes after remodeling, however, resale value is still a major factor when planning renovations," says Susan Selle, chief marketing officer of exterior building products manufacturer Ply Gem Industries.

Before spending a significant amount of time and money on your next home improvement project, consider these tips.

Five home improvements with the highest ROI

The Remodeling Magazine Cost vs. Value report identifies these top five mid-range exterior home renovations as beneficial investments that allow homeowners to recoup a substantial percentage of their investment when they resell their homes:

* Replacing the front door (steel 101.8 percent)

* Adding manufactured stone veneer (92.2 percent)

* Replacing the garage door (88.4 percent)

* Replacing the siding (vinyl 80.7 percent)

* Adding a deck (wood 80.5 percent)

The cost-value ratio compares resale value to construction cost. The higher the percentage, the more of the job costs you are likely to recoup when selling your home.

"Homeowners want lasting value from their exterior renovation projects, so it's important to select the best materials for the job upfront," says Jerry Blais, senior vice president of marketing for Ply Gem Industries. "For example, when choosing siding for the home, vinyl siding provides overall better performance than wood, engineered wood and fiber cement and requires less maintenance both in the short and long term, allowing homeowners to complete their renovation and enjoy it, hassle-free, for years. In addition, vinyl siding provides the styles, textures and stylish colors homeowners want to create beautiful curb appeal."

Budgeting for success

Once you've decided which replacement and remodeling projects will offer the best ROI, develop a schedule and a budget to ensure the home makeover remains financially sound. The budget defines the project's scope, estimates overall costs, and helps to establish priorities. Generally, renovation costs should not exceed 30 percent of your home's value and should be consistent with housing trends in your neighborhood.

What should the budget include? To start, consider these likely-to-occur expenses:

* Contractor costs. These include labor and may incorporate employee benefits, professional fees, permit and inspection charges and, of course, profit. Get at least three contractor estimates to ensure your contractor is cost-effective and reputable.

* DIY costs. Should you forgo a contractor? Keep in mind you will need to rent or buy power tools and equipment and potentially learn new skills.

* Hidden costs. For example, bringing outdated electrical or plumbing installations to code, or removing lead paint.

* Site preparation costs. For exterior renovations, this may include tree trimming, clearing land, and renting a haul-away container.

* Interim housing costs. If you plan to relocate, you will need living expenses for the project's duration.

* Material cost. These include large expenses and small ones (ex. nails, trim) and could account for as much as half to 75 percent of the total cost. Factor in an extra 6-to-10 percent for waste for materials that are cut and fitted.

Bringing it home

If you're interested in near-term resale value, it's important to make sure that selling your home will at least recoup the cost of any completed projects. If you plan to stay in your home for many years, however, you'll not only benefit from an improved resale value down the road, but you're also more likely to appreciate the improved comfort and curb appeal in the meantime.