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.

Creating the perfect porch can be simple and low-maintenance

 

(BPT) – Your porch should be a warm, welcoming outdoor living space that offers comfort and helps make a house a home. Whether you want to remodel your porch from the ground up, or just give it a refreshing new look and feel, it's easier than you think to create a perfect porch.

Start with a Kleer deck as enchanting flooring for your remodeled porch, choosing from the rich, nature-inspired color palettes available for the Sierra Series and Coastal Series Decking. Sierra offers deep, solid earth tones with wood grain textures such as Sequoia, plus streaked tropical wood looks, such as Golden Teak. The Coastal Series offers charming Cobblestone and serene Sand Dune hues, which give your porch a relaxing feel reminiscent of a seaside resort.

Framing your porch, like a picture for the world to see, is easy with Kleer Trimboard. Add elegant white or colorfully painted accent trim around the top, bottom and sides of the porch using durable cellular PVC trimboards in a variety of sizes. This trim can even be crafted into ornate gingerbread or curved using heat-bending to make soaring arches. Kleer Mouldings can be readily cut so that you can add eye-catching detail anywhere. Using Kleer Beaded Sheets, you can build a porch ceiling with great warmth and charm. For a picturesque porch, enclose columns in Kleer Post Wraps to protect them from the elements while adding wood's natural, finished look.

To complete your perfect porch, dress up nearby windows and doors with distinctive touches that complement the look and feel of your outdoor living space. High-impact, budget-friendly ideas include adding Mid-America Siding Components' richly-colored shutters with matching window headers to enhance your porch's warmth and curb appeal. The sophisticated Flat Panel and geometric-style Classic Dentil headers pair perfectly with decorative shutters like the classic Open Louver or Old World-style Board-n-Batten.

Another quick, easy upgrade is an inviting door surround in cream, white or another neutral color to enhance porch aesthetics. Adding a door surround is a natural way to create that "welcome home" feeling too.

Designed for easy living, Tapco's enduring Kleer and Mid-America brand solutions never require painting or wood's time-intensive upkeep. Whether you want to transform your porch into a cozy gathering spot or grand wrap-around retreat, Tapco's exterior products can put the perfect low-maintenance outdoor living space within your reach.

Choose a certified installer to create curb appeal with confidence

 

Once you've made the decision to re-side your home with vinyl siding, however, you need a qualified contractor to install it properly to ensure long-lasting curb appeal.

"Vinyl siding is not something anyone with a hammer can install," says Matt Russo, production manager with Hollingsworth Home Improvement. "There are techniques that need to be followed."

Look for installers certified through a program sponsored by the Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI). A  VSI Certified Installer knows how to:

* Correctly fasten siding to allow for vinyl's normal expansion and contraction properties and keep it straight and secure on the wall.
* Properly prepare the area around doors, windows and other openings to prevent water infiltration.
* Pay attention to details that will give your home a beautiful appearance that will last.

When Margaret Seibert needed to have her 30-year-old siding replaced after a particularly heavy Minnesota storm, she looked to a firm that used only VSI Certified Installers to ensure a quality job. "They did a really good job, and I'm very satisfied with how it looks," Seibert says.

"The main thing is not nailing the siding too tightly, but letting it move," says Matt Ocel, owner of Ocel Buildings in Farmington, Minn., which completed Seibert's re-siding job. "Especially with a climate where you go from 100-degree days to 40-below, you have to leave room for vinyl siding to expand and contract."

With nearly 3,500 VSI Certified Installers across the U.S. and Canada, VSI offers a locator tool to help homeowners find professionals in their area. Log on to www.vinylsiding.org to learn more. Ask if your builder or home improvement contractor is using VSI Certified Installers; these qualified professionals carry a photo ID with their current certification number and expiration date.

VSI Certified Installers have demonstrated their installation skills and knowledge of the industry standard ASTM 4756, verified by an independent quality control agency. ASTM standards are used around the world to improve product quality, enhance safety, facilitate market access and trade and build consumer confidence. VSI Certified Installers must have a minimum of one year of experience installing vinyl siding and accessories, attend a hands-on course taught by a VSI Certified Trainer, pass a written test about proper installation practices, and be re-certified every three years.

Vinyl siding installation companies can also become certified. The company must have an approved quality control program, as well as a certified installer or trainer present on every job crew where vinyl siding is being installed.

For more information about VSI's program, visit www.vinylsiding.org/certifiedinstaller.

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.

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."

 

Three questions to answer before you buy a home

 

Preparing to buy a home requires more than just a down payment. Before you purchase property, take time to understand your available mortgage options and balance your debt load. Thorough planning and smart budgeting now can help you avoid running into high debt or repayment problems down the road.
 

Farhaneh Haque, director of mortgage advice at TD Canada Trust, says that first time home buyers should answer three important questions before they start hitting any open houses this season.
 

• Do I understand the process? It never hurts to meet with a mortgage specialist to learn more about the home buying process and the different mortgage options available, such as fixed versus variable rate mortgages, flexible repayment schedules, and even mortgages that offer cash back. Before falling in love with a home, consider getting pre-approved so you know what you may be able to afford and avoid getting disappointed by falling in love with a home that is outside your price range.
 

• What is my personal debt load? If you have other obligations like a car payment or student loan, ensure you are taking on a mortgage that you can manage within your total budget. Try using an online debt management calculator to help determine how much debt you can reasonably take on based on your income, current debt payments and expenses.
 

• Can I afford my mortgage and save for the future? Sometimes home buyers take on more debt than they can manage and quickly find themselves "house poor" – with no money left for future savings or a rainy day. Before you take the leap into homeownership, crunch the numbers to ensure your budget reflects the lifestyle you want after you move into your new home, and you are clear on what sacrifices you may need to make to continue to live comfortably and save for your future.

How to get your offers accepted to buy properties

 

The biggest challenge facing most real estate investors is making acceptable offers, especially when buying properties is the basic foundation of real estate investing.

Unless you buy properties, you cannot make any money.

Here is how to make offers that get accepted.

The offer you make depends on the type of property you are buying.

1) Buying from motivated sellers

If you buy houses from motivated sellers, it is necessary to have the following pieces of information:

a) Market Value

Do your due diligence to find out conservatively how much the house would be worth in perfect condition. You must have this information before you can make any offer.

b) Mortgage balance

You must get this information before you can make an offer. A seller who is not willing to disclose this information is not motivated enough. Move on to a motivated seller.

The mortgage balance must allow you to buy the house and still leave you with a profit. It must allow you to make a profit and own it free and clear.

c) Repairs needed

It is possible to estimate repair costs with the information provided by the seller.

You must know how much you need to fix up the house before you can make an offer. Of course, I like to see the house and do my own repair estimates.

d) Asking price

If the owner is asking for too much money given the above 3 pieces of information, the deal might never happen.

A good asking price must take into account the market value, mortgage balance and repairs. You can then make an offer based on the asking price. Make an offer if the mortgage balance allows you to make a profit.

Even though it is necessary to consider the seller's needs, no offer can be too low. If they are facing foreclosure, then they probably need some money to move, or their asking price might be just enough to get away from the property.

If the mortgage balance is too high compared to the value of the house, it does not make sense to make an offer. Move on to the next deal.

There is no bad offer, except the one you have not made. Always make the offers that make sense to you. You'll be surprised how many get accepted.

2) Buying foreclosed properties

The asking price and repairs are the only important considerations to make in this case. Banks selling these properties are willing to negotiate.

Most REOs are listed below market value. Depending on your exit strategy, if the numbers are close to making sense, by all means make an offer.

Lastly, remember to make your offer lower than the asking price.

by: Simon Macharia 
http://www.articlecity.com/articles/home_improvement/article_6984.shtml 

Buying a fixer-upper? How to make the most of your remodel

 

With current home prices and interest rates, it's a great time to be in the market for a fixer-upper.  By buying a house that needs some work, you can achieve your dream home for less than you would probably pay for a move-in-ready abode.

To ensure you're making the most of your investment, however, it pays to take a look at your credit before you buy and begin your remodel. You'll not only need credit to cover the purchase price of the house, but you'll need it for renovation expenses as well.

The first step you should take in your bid to buy a fixer-upper is to check your credit report and score. Websites like www.creditreport.com can help you understand your credit. Understanding your credit will help you know whether or not you can afford to buy a house that needs work and if you'll be able to pay for the needed renovations.

You should also carefully research what your options are for financing your remodel. Learn what your options are, from traditional fixed mortgages to home equity lines of credit, and decide before you buy which type of financing will be best for you. Getting a handle on your financing before you buy can help ensure you stay on budget when you're in the middle of renovations.

When you've got a clear picture of your credit status and financing options, you can start looking at fixer-uppers. When you find a good prospect, have your remodeling contractor walk through the house with you so he can give you a rough estimate of what needs to be done and how much the work will cost.

If you're buying a house that's in basically good condition but just looks dated, you'll have to make some decisions about where to invest your money. Focus on improvements that will not only look good, but will also enhance the value of your home. Resources like Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value report can give you a good idea of how much of your original investment you'll recoup on different remodeling projects at the time of resale.

Once you've signed all the paperwork and the house is yours, it's time to get to work. If you're handy, you may be able to save money by doing some of the renovation work yourself. Projects like painting, adding crown molding and even putting down new flooring are well within the skills of most do-it-yourselfers. More complex projects like drywall, plumbing or electrical work may be best left to professionals.

Whether you do the work yourself, or hire contractors, you'll need to carefully manage all aspects of the renovation to ensure your remodel stays on budget. The excitement of remodeling a house into your dream home can make it easy to get carried away on spending. Keep in mind that remodeling estimates are just that – an estimate. The final tab is rarely exactly what your contractor predicted it would be. Build in at least 10 percent extra to cover emergency overruns, and avoid making any unnecessary changes to the plans while the project is underway.

Five reasons why buying a home is still a good idea

 

* Homeownership can help make good credit even better. If your credit is in poor shape, you'll want to monitor it before seeking a mortgage. But if you have good credit, live within your means, and consistently make good financial decisions, a mortgage can be the kind of "good debt" that helps your overall financial health. Making regular payments on a mortgage shows potential lenders that you're a less risky candidate for a home loan. Before you begin home shopping, it's a good idea to check your credit. Enrolling in a product like freecreditscore.com can help you better understand and leverage your credit.
* A mortgage can function like an automatic savings plan. By now, you've read the news reports about how little we Americans save these days. Well, every year you pay on your fixed-rate mortgage, is a year of building equity, and equity is like money in the bank. When it's time to sell – whether you've stayed in your home seven years or the full 30 year term – you'll have created equity and should be able to sell your house for more than you owe.
* Homeownership comes with plenty of financial perks, including an income tax credit for property taxes you pay on your home. For detailed information on tax breaks check out IRS.gov. Buying a home also affords you the opportunity to halt your housing costs. Rent will always go up from year to year, but if you have a fixed-rate mortgage (avoid adjustable rates) your biggest annual expense – housing costs – will be locked-in.
* Mortgage interest is a good deal when stacked up against other types of interest that don't do much for you – such as high credit card interest rates or low rates on savings accounts and CDs. Mortgage rates are low right now, meaning you can pay less over the life of a loan than at practically any other time in recent history. Plus, it's the only kind of interest that you can deduct from your taxes.
* Prices are still relatively low and inventory is high. It's been a buyer's market for a long time, but that's going to change. The question is: when will the market start to improve in your area, taking home prices with it? You'll have to do some legwork and astute research to determine when is the best time for you to buy.
If you monitor your credit and are on a sound financial footing, buying a home can still be a good idea. And now is as good a time as any to make your purchase.

‚Äč5 easy fall home updates

 

(BPT) – There are so many reasons to love fall. From the brisk breeze and color-changing leaves outdoors, to prepping for the holidays and watching football inside, there couldn't be a better time to make a few updates around your house. Consider these simple fall home updates to stylishly welcome the season.

Paint to please

Throughout the year, our walls can undergo stress from energetic kids, furniture moving and everyday traffic. If your home will be busy during the holidays, welcome guests with a newly painted entryway, or, freshen up your family room with a colorful accent wall. Painting is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to transform a room, so embrace the season and try a fall-inspired hue that harmonizes with your existing space like deep emerald green, royal purple or burgundy. To achieve the best results, use painter's tape to attain sharp paint lines. To help incorporate the color of the accent wall into the room, add décor and accessories in similar shades throughout the area, such as new pillows in your family room or a coordinating rug in your entryway.

Clever copper accents

Group together the season's leaves and branches to create a unique centerpiece, or place them throughout the house to bring life to your living areas. Crafting with fall foliage is a cinch – simply gather an assortment of thick leaves, either real or faux – and after they're rinsed and dried, spray each side of the leaf with copper paint and leave to dry for a few hours. Line these leaves up along a table runner, string them from your mantle or use them to dress up place settings. To extend the life of your metallic leaves, consider using them as place cards for holiday dinners. Easily allow guests to find their seats in shimmery style by placing printed nametags atop the leaves at each setting.

Freshen up the front door

Increase your home's curb appeal with a front door refresh just in time for the fall. For starters, give your door a new identity with a distinctive paint color – consider hunter green, colonial red or cognac. The color of your door introduces the world to those who live inside, so choose one that speaks to your family's style. After you've added personality to your door with paint, add a final touch with your family's monogram to the center of the door. If your door is metal, glue magnets to the back of the letters and it will easily adhere to it.

Proper party prep 

During the fall, more time will be spent in the home's entertaining spaces to accommodate holiday soirees and family gatherings. Increase the functionality of this room – whether it's the den, family room, dining room or finished basement – and encourage guests to congregate comfortably by adding casual seating. Spice things up with a mixture of options; choose decorative stools and poufs, or upcycle vintage chairs with new, reupholstered seats. The style of your chairs can vary, but be sure to coordinate the colors and patterns. When you're not in party mode, stow away the extra seats.

Wow with a refreshed washroom

When decorating for fall, don't overlook the bathroom! A few simple changes can take this space to new heights. Start by swapping out your soap dishes and lotion pumps with new, coordinating options fitting for the season. If budget allows, replace your everyday towels with new, plush ones in fun fall colors that add a pop of color to the room. Next, add candles with autumn-inspired scents for an aromatic effect that brings the outdoor aura indoors. For subtle changes that go a long way, replace your bathroom hardware including the toilet handle, cabinet pulls or hinges and towel racks.

The fall season is a great time to revitalize elements of your home as you prepare for indoor holiday entertaining. As you choose updates, make sure they maximize your personal style.