7 Reasons to Own Your Own Home

 

  1. Tax breaks. The U.S. Tax Code lets you deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage, property taxes you pay, and some of the costs involved in buying your home.

 

  1. Gains. Between 1998 and 2002, national home prices increased at an average of 5.4 percent annually. And while there’s no guarantee of appreciation, a 2001 study by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORSÒ found that a typical homeowner has approximately $50,000 of unrealized gain in a home.

 

  1. Equity. Money paid for rent is money that you’ll never see again, but mortgage payments let you build equity ownership interest in your home.

 

  1. Savings. Building equity in your home is a ready-made savings plan. And when you sell, you can generally take up to $250,000 ($500,000 for a married couple) as gain without owing any federal income tax.

 

  1. Predictability. Unlike rent, your mortgage payments don’t go up over the years so your housing costs may actually decline as you own the home longer. However, keep in mind that property taxes and insurance costs will rise.

 

  1. Freedom. The home is yours. You can decorate any way you want and be able to benefit from your investment for as long as you own the home.

 

  1. Stability. Remaining in one neighborhood for several years gives you a chance to participate in community activities, lets you and your family establish lasting friendships, and offers your children the benefit of educational continuity.

 

To calculate whether renting or buying is the best financial option for you, use this calculator courtesy of Ginnie Mae:

http://www.ginniemae.gov/rent_vs_buy/rent_vs_buy_calc.asp?Section=YPTH


5 Reasons You Need a REALTORÒ

 

  1. A real estate transaction is complicated. In most cases, buying or selling a home requires disclosure forms, inspection reports, mortgage documents, insurance policies, deeds, and multi-page government-mandated settlement statements. A knowledgeable guide through this complexity can help you avoid delays or costly mistakes.

 

  1. Selling or buying a home is time consuming. Even in a strong market, homes in our area stay on the market for an average of ____ days. And it usually takes another 60 days or so for the transaction to close after an offer is accepted.

 

  1. Real estate has its own language. If you don’t know a CMA from a PUD, you can understand why it’s important to work with someone who speaks that language.

 

  1. REALTORSÒ have done it before. Most people buy and sell only a few homes in a lifetime, usually with quite a few years in between each purchase. And even if you’ve done it before, laws and regulations change. That’s why having an expert on your side is critical.

 

  1. REALTORSÒ provide objectivity. Since a home often symbolizes family, rest, and security, not just four walls and roof, homeselling or buying is often a very emotional undertaking. And for most people, a home is the biggest purchase they’ll ever make. Having a concerned, but objective, third party helps you keep focused on both the business and emotional issues most important to you.

 

  1. REALTORSÒ are members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORSÒ, a trade organization of more than 1 million members nationwide. REALTORSÒ subscribe to a stringent code of ethics that helps guarantee the highest level of service and integrity.

 


10 Steps to Prepare for Homeownership

 

1.   Decide how much home you can afford. Generally, you can afford a home equal in value to between two and three times your gross income.

 

2.   Develop a wish list of what you’d like your home to have. Then prioritize the features on your list.

 

3.   Select three or four neighborhoods you’d like to live in. Consider items such as schools, recreational facilities, area expansion plans, and safety.

 

4.   Determine if you have enough saved to cover your downpayment and closing costs. Closing costs, including taxes, attorney’s fee, and transfer fees average between 2 percent and 7 percent of the home price.

 

5.   Get your credit in order. Obtain a copy of your credit report.

 

6.   Determine how large a mortgage you can qualify for. Also explore different loans options and decide what’s best for you.

 

7.   Organize all the documentation a lender will need to preapprove you for a loan.

 

8.   Do research to determine if you qualify for any special mortgage or downpayment-assistance programs.

 

9.   Calculate the costs of homeownership, including property taxes, insurance, maintenance, and association fees, if applicable.

 

10.        Find an experienced REALTORÒ who can help you through the process.

 


 

 

How Big a Mortgage Can I Afford?

 

Not only does owning a home give you a haven for yourself and your family, it makes great financial sense, too.

 

This calculation assumes a 28 percent income tax bracket. If your bracket is higher, your savings will be, too.

 

Rent: _________________________

 

Multiplier: X       1.32

 

Mortgage payment: __________________

 

Because of tax deductions, you can make a mortgage payment—including taxes and insurance—that is approximately one-third larger than your current rent payment and end up with the same amount of income.

 

For more help, use Fannie Mae’s online mortgage calculators at

http://www.fanniemae.com/homebuyers/calculators/index.jhtml?p=Resources&s=Calculators

 

 


Your Property Wish List

 

While your opinions on the type of home you want to own may change during the homebuying process, use this easy checklist to help you prioritize and make the shopping process less time consuming.

 

 

Prioritize each of these options into

Must have

Would prefer

Yard (at least_________)

 

 

Garage (size________)

 

 

Patio/Deck

 

 

Pool

 

 

Bedrooms (number_________)

 

 

Bathrooms (number_________)

 

 

Family room

 

 

Formal living room

 

 

Formal dining room

 

 

Eat-in kitchen

 

 

Laundry room

 

 

Basement

 

 

Attic

 

 

Fireplace

 

 

Spa in bath

 

 

Air conditioning

 

 

Wall-to-wall carpet

 

 

Hardwood floors

 

 

View

 

 

Light (windows)

 

 

Shade

 

 

 

Tips for Finding the Perfect Neighborhood

 

The neighborhood you choose can have a big impact on your lifestyle—safety, available amenities, and convenience all play their part.

 

  1. Make a list of the activities—movies, health club, church—you engage in regularly and stores you visit frequently. See how far you would have to travel from each neighborhood you’re considering to engaging in your most common activities.

 

  1. Check out the school district. The Department of Education in your town can probably provide information on test scores, class size, percentage of students who attend college, and special enrichment programs. If you have school-age children, also consider paying a visit to schools in the neighborhoods you’re considering. Even if you don’t have children, a house in a good school district will be easier to sell in the future.

 

  1. Find out if the neighborhood is safe. Ask the police department for neighborhood crime statistics. Consider not only the number of crimes but also the type—burglaries, armed robberies—and the trend of increasing or decreasing crime. Also, is crime centered in only one part of the neighborhood, such as near a retail area?

 

  1. Determine if the neighborhood is economically stable. Check with your local city economic development office to see if income and property values in the neighborhood are stable or rising. What is the percentage of homes to apartments? Apartments don’t necessarily diminish value, but they do mean a more transient population. Do you see vacant businesses or homes that have been for sale for months?

 

  1. See if you’ll make money. Ask a local REALTORÒ or call the local REALTORÒ association to get information about price appreciation trends in the neighborhood. Although past performance is no guarantee of future results, this information may give you a sense of how good an investment your home will be. A REALTORÒ or the government planning agency also may be able to tell you about planned developments or other changes in the neighborhood—like a new school or highway—that might affect value.

 

  1. See for yourself. Once you’ve narrowed your focus to two or three neighborhoods, go there, and walk around. Are homes tidy and well maintained? Are streets quiet? Pick a warm day if you can and chat with people working or playing outside. Are they friendly? Are their children to play with your family?

 


Tips on Buying in a Tight Market

 

Increase your chances of getting your dream house instead of losing it to another buyer, with these easy steps.

 

  1. Get prequalified for a mortgage. You’ll be able to make a firm commitment to buy and make your offer more desirable to the seller.

 

  1. Stay in close touch with your real estate sales associate to find out first about new listings that come on the market. And be ready to go see a house as soon as it goes on the market.

 

  1. Scout out new listings yourself. Look at Internet sites, newspaper ads, and drive by the neighborhood frequently. Maybe you’ll see a brand-new “for sale” sign before anyone else.

 

  1. Be ready to make a decision. Spend lots of time in advance deciding what you must have so you won’t be unsure when you have the chance to make an offer.

 

  1. Bid competitively. You may not want to start out offering the absolute highest price you can afford, but don’t try to go too low to get a deal. In a tight market, you’ll lose out.

 

  1. Keep contingencies to a minimum. Restrictions such as needing to sell your home before you move or wanting to delay the closing until a certain date can make your offer unappealing. In a tight market, you’ll probably be able to sell your house rapidly. Or talk to your lender about getting a bridge loan to cover both mortgages for a short period.

 

  1. Don’t get caught in a buying frenzy. Just because there’s competition doesn’t mean you should just buy anything. And even though you want to make your offer attractive, don’t neglect inspections that help ensure that your house is sound.

 


5 Common First-Time Homebuyer Mistakes

 

 

  1. They don’t ask enough questions of their lender and miss out on the best deal.

 

  1. They don’t act quickly enough to make a decision and someone else buys the house.

 

  1. They don’t find the right real estate professional who is willing to help you through the homebuying process.

 

  1. They don’t do enough to make their offer look good to a seller.

 

  1. They don’t think about resale before they buy. The average first-time buyer only stays in a home for four years.

 

Reprinted with permission from Real Estate Checklists and Systems (www.realestatechecklists.com)

 

 


10 Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

 

 

1.        Be picky, but don’t be unrealistic. There is no perfect home.

 

2.        Do your homework before you start looking. Decide specifically what features you want in a home and which are most important to you.

 

3.        Get your finances in order. Review your credit report and be sure you have enough money to cover your downpayment and your closing costs.

 

4.        Don’t wait to get a loan. Talk to a lender and get prequalified for a mortgage before you start looking.

 

5.        Don’t ask too many people for opinions. It will drive you crazy. Select one or two people to turn to if you feel you need a second opinion.

 

6.        Decide when you could move. When is your lease up? Are you allowed to sublet? How tight is the rental market in your area?

 

7.        Think long-term. Are you looking for a starter house with the idea of moving up in a few years or do you hope to stay in this home longer? This decision may dictate what type of home you’ll buy as well as the type of mortgage terms that suit you best.

 

8.        Don’t let yourself be “house poor”. If you max yourself out to buy the biggest home you can afford, you’ll have no money left for maintenance or decoration or to save money for other financial goals.

 

9.        Don’t be naïve. Insist on a home inspection and, if possible, get a warranty from the seller to cover defects within one year.

 

10.    Get help. Consider hiring a REALTORÒ as a buyer’s representative. Unlike a listing agent, whose first duty is to the seller, a buyer’s representative is working only for you. And often, buyer’s reps are paid out of the seller’s commission payment.

 


10 Things to Take the Trauma Out of Homebuying

 

1.            Find a real estate professional who’s simpatico. Homebuying is not only a big financial commitment, but also an emotional one. It’s critical that the practitioner you choose is both skilled and a good fit with your personality.

 

2.            Remember, there’s no “right” time to buy, any more than there’s a right time to sell. If you find a home now, don’t try to second-guess the interest rates or the housing market by waiting. Changes don’t usually occur fast enough to make that much difference in price, and a good home won’t stay on the market long.

 

3.            Don’t ask for too many opinions. It’s natural to want reassurance for such a big decision, but too many ideas will make it much harder to make a decision.

 

4.            Accept that no house is ever perfect. Focus in on the things that are most important to you and let the minor ones go.

 

5.            Don’t try to be a killer negotiator. Negotiation is definitely a part of the real estate process, but trying to “win” by getting an extra-low price may lose you the home you love.

 

6.            Remember your home doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Don’t get so caught up in the physical aspects of the house itself—room size, kitchen—that you forget such issues as amenities, noise level, etc., that have a big impact on what it’s like to live in your new home.

 

7.            Don’t wait until you’ve found a home and made an offer to get approved for a mortgage, investigate insurance availability, and consider a schedule for moving. Presenting an offer contingent on a lot of unresolved issues will make your bid much less attractive to sellers.

 

8.            Factor in maintenance and repair costs in your post-homebuying budget. Even if you buy a new home, there will be some costs. Don’t leave yourself short and let your home deteriorate.

 

9.            Accept that a little buyer’s remorse is inevitable and will probably pass. Buying a home, especially for the first time, is a big commitment, but it also yields big benefits.

 

10.        Choose a home first because you love it; then think about appreciation. While U.S. homes have appreciated an average of 5.4 percent annually from 1998 to 2002, a home’s most important role is as a comfortable, safe place to live.


 

Hidden Home Defects to Watch For

 

No home is flawless, but certain physical problems can be expensive. Watch for:

 

  1. Water leaks. Look for stains on ceilings and near the baseboards, especially in basements or attics.

  2. Shifting foundations. Look for large cracks along the home’s foundation.

  3. Drainage. Look for standing water, either around the foundation of the home of in the yard.

  4. Termites. Look for weakened or grooved wood, especially near ground level.

  5. Worn roofs. Look for broken or missing copings and buckled shingles as well as water spots on ceilings.

  6. Inadequate wiring. Look for antiquated fuse boxes, extension cords (indicating insufficient outlets), and outlets without a place to plug in the grounding prong.

  7. Plumbing problems. Very low water pressure, banging in pipes.

 

 

10 Questions to Ask a Home Inspector

 

1.        What are your qualifications? Are you a member of the American Association of Home Inspectors?

2.        Do you have a current license? Inspectors are not required to be licensed in every state.

3.        How many inspections of properties such as this do you do each year?

4.        Do you have a list of past clients I can contact?

5.        Do you carry professional errors and omission insurance? May I have a copy of the policy?

6.        Do you provide any guarantees of your work?

7.        What specifically will the inspection cover?

8.        What type of report will I receive after the inspection?

9.        How long will the inspection take and how long will it take to receive the report?

10.    How much will the inspection cost?

 

Portions adapted from Real Estate Checklists and Systems and used with permission (www.realestatechecklists.com).

 


What Your Home Inspection Should Cover

 

 

 


How Comprehensive Is Your Home Warranty?

 

Check your home warranty policy to see which of the following items are covered. Also check to see if the policy covers the full replacement cost of an item.

 


 

5 Property Tax Questions You Need to Ask

 

  1. What is the assessed value of the property? Note that assessed value is generally less than market value. Ask to see a recent copy of the seller’s tax bill to help you determine this information.

 

  1. How often are properties reassessed and when was the last reassessment done? Generally taxes jump most significantly when a property is reassessed.

 

  1. Will the sale of the property trigger a tax increase? Often the assessed value of the property may increase based on the amount you pay for the property. And in some areas, such as California, taxes may be frozen until resale.

 

  1. Is the amount of taxes paid comparable to other properties in the area? If not, it might be possible to appeal the tax assessment and lower the rate?

 

  1. Does the current tax bill reflect any special exemptions that you might not qualify for? For example, many tax districts offer reductions to those 65 or over.

 


5 Things to Understand About Homeowners Insurance

 

1.        Look for exclusions to coverage. For example, most insurance policies do not cover flood or earthquake damage as a standard item. These coverages must be bought separately.

2.        Look for dollar limitations on claims. Even if you are covered for a risk, there may a limit on how much the insurer will pay. For example, many policies limit the amount paid for stolen jewelry unless items are insured separately.

3.        Understand replacement cost. If your home is destroyed you’ll receive money to replace it only to the maximum of your coverage, so be sure your insurance is sufficient. This means that if your home is insured for $150,000 and it costs $180,000 to replace it, you’ll only receive $150,000.

4.        Understand actual cash value. If you choose not to replace your home when it’s destroyed, you’ll receive replacement cost, less depreciation. This is called actual cash value.

5.        Understand liability. Generally your homeowners insurance covers you for accidents that happen to other people on your property, including medical care, court costs, and awards by the court. However, there is usually an upper limit to the amount of coverage provided. Be sure that it’s sufficient if you have significant assets.


10 Ways to Lower Your Homeowners Insurance Costs

 

1.        Raise your deductible. If you can afford to pay more toward a loss that occurs, your premiums will be lower.

2.        Buy your homeowners and auto policies from the same company. You’ll usually qualify for a discount. But make sure that the savings really yields the lowest price.

3.        Make your home less susceptible to damage. Keep roofs and drains in good repair. Retrofit your house to protect against natural disasters common to your area.

4.        Keep your home safer. Install smoke detectors, burglar alarms, and dead-bolt locks. All of these will usually qualify for a discount.

5.        Be sure you insure your house for the correct amount. Remember, you’re covering replacement cost, not market value.

6.        Ask about other discounts. For example, retirees who are home more than working people may qualify for a discount on theft insurance.

7.        Stay with the same insurer. Especially in today’s tight insurance market, your current vendor is more likely to give you a good price.

8.        See if you belong to any groups—associations, alumni groups—that offer lower insurance rates.

9.        Review your policy limits and the value of your home and possessions annually. Some items depreciate and may not need as much coverage.

10.    See if there’s a government-backed insurance plan. In some high-risk areas, such as the coasts, federal or state governments may back plans to lower rates. Ask your agent.


5 Things to Understand About Title Insurance

 

1.   It protects your ownership right to your home both from fraudulent claims against your ownership and from mistakes made in earlier sales, such as mistake in the spelling of a person’s name or an inaccurate description of the property.

 

2.   It’s a one-time cost usually based on the price of the property.

 

3.   It’s usually paid for by the sellers.

 

4.   There are both lender title policies, which protect the lender, and owner title policies, which protect you. The lender will probably require a lender policy.

 

5.   Discounts on premiums are sometimes available if the home has been bought within only a few years since not as much work is required to check the title. Ask the title company if this discount is available.


 

What Not to Overlook on a Final Walk-through

 

Be sure that:

 

§     Repairs you’ve requested have been made. Obtain copies of paid bills and any related warranties.

§     All items that were included in the sale price—draperies, lighting fixtures—are still there.

§     Screens and storm windows are in place or stored.

§     All appliances are operating.

§     Intercom, doorbell, and alarm are operational.

§     Hot water heater is working.

§     HVAC is working.

§     No plants or shrubs have been removed from the yard.

§     Garage door opener and other remotes are available.

§     Instruction books and warranties on appliances and fixtures are there.

§     All personal items of the sellers and all debris have been removed.

 


Common Closing Costs for Buyers

 

The lender must disclose a good faith estimate of all settlement costs. A check to cover your closing costs will probably have to be a cashier’s check. The title company or other entity conducting the closing will tell you the required amount for:

 

§     Downpayment

§     Loan origination fees

§     Points, or loan discount fees, you pay to receive a lower interest rate

§     Appraisal fee

§     Credit report

§     Private mortgage insurance premium

§     Insurance escrow for homeowners insurance, if being paid as part of the mortgage

§     Property tax escrow, if being paid as part of the mortgage. Lenders keep funds for taxes and insurance in escrow accounts as they are paid with the mortgage, then pay the insurance or taxes for you.

§     Deed recording fees

§     Title insurance policy premiums

§     Survey

§     Inspection fees—building inspection, termites, etc.

§     Notary fees

§     Prorations for your share of costs, such as utility bills and property taxes

 

A Note About Prorations: Because such costs are usually paid on either a monthly or yearly basis, you might have to pay a bill for services used by the sellers before they moved. Proration is a way for the sellers to pay you back or for you to pay them for bills they may have paid in advance. For example, the gas company usually sends a bill each month for the gas used during the previous month. But assume you buy the home on the 6th of the month. You would owe the gas company for only the days from the 6th to the end for the month. The seller would owe for the first five days. The bill would be prorated for the number of days in the month, and then each person would be responsible for the days of his or her ownership.

 


What to Keep From Your Closing

 

§     The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) statement. This form, sometimes called a HUD 1 statement, itemizes all the costs associated with the closing. You’ll need this for income tax purposes and when you sell the home.

§     The Truth in Lending Statement summarizes the terms of your mortgage loan.

§     The mortgage and the note (two pieces of paper) spell out the legal terms of your mortgage obligation and the agreed-upon repayment terms.

§     The deed transfers ownership of the property to you.

§     Affidavits swearing to various statements by either party. For example, the sellers will often sign an affidavit stating that they have not incurred any liens on the property.

§     Riders are amendments to the sales contract that affect your rights. For example, if you buy a condominium, you may have a rider outline the condo association’s rules and restrictions.

§     Insurance policies provide a record and proof of your coverage.

 


Tips for Packing Like a Pro

 

1.          Develop a master “to do” list so you won’t forget something critical.

2.          Sort and get rid of things you no longer want or need. Have a garage sale, donate to a charity, or recycle.

3.          Don’t throw out everything. If your inclination is to just toss it, ask yourself how frequently you use an item and how you’d feel if you no longer had it.

4.          Pack like items together. Put toys with toys, kitchen utensils with kitchen utensils.

5.          Decide what if anything you plan to move yourself. Precious items, such as family photos, valuable breakables, or must-haves during the move, should probably stay with you.

6.          Use the right box for the item. Loose items encourage breakage.

7.          Put heavy items in small boxes so they’re easier to lift. Keep weight under 50 lbs. if possible.

8.          Don’t over-pack boxes and increase the chances they will break.

9.          Wrap every fragile item separately and pad bottom and sides of boxes.

10.      Label every box on all sides. You never know how they’ll be stacked and you don’t want to have to move other boxes aside to find out what’s there.

11.      Use color-coded labels to indicate which room each item should go in. Color-code a floor plan for your new house to help movers.

12.      Keep your moving documents together, including phone numbers, driver’s name, and van number. Also keep your address book handy.

13.      Back up your computer files before moving your computer.

14.      Inspect each box and all furniture for damage as soon as it arrives.

15.      Remember, most movers won’t take plants.