The smart way to go from renting to owning

Photo of family looking at new home(ARA) – If you’ve paid attention to any news media over the past few years, you know that the housing market has dropped off. From a seller’s perspective, that makes life a lot harder. But for a buyer, it can mean a wider world of options and opportunities. For those want to become owners rather than renters, it’s vitally important to make smart decisions – as the markets have shown.

Many factors contribute to the real estate market’s current sluggishness, and one of them is the fact that lenders are reluctant to give loans to homebuyers. After the housing market crisis, it’s not surprising that they would be more demanding in their lending practices, but for those eager to buy, it means that you need to present a pristine financial profile.

There’s no limit to the amount of real estate browsing you can do – either online or in your ideal neighborhood – but before you get serious about purchasing a home, take these tips into consideration.

* Pay down your debt. Before you even apply for a mortgage, it’s important that you reduce your debt load. The smaller it is, the better for your debt-to-income ratio, which lenders use to determine how much they’ll allow you to borrow. Items like car loans, child support and alimony, credit card bills and student loans are all factors that the lender will consider. Paying down debt can have the added benefit of improving your credit, as well.

* Check up on your credit. Having good credit is another essential element in smart home buying – it can affect how lenders view you, and the terms of your mortgage. The better shape your credit is in, the better your potential to get the mortgage of your dreams. Every year, you’re entitled to a free credit report from one of the three major reporting agencies, like Equifax. Use it as a starting point that will give you an idea of your overall credit picture. Look for areas that can be improved upon and track your progress by checking your credit again after you’ve put in some work to bring it up.

* Make the biggest down payment possible. The era of zero-down is over, and for good reason. A down payment – and a sizeable one – can help ease the strain of a mortgage in coming years. A minimum of 20 percent down is a good idea, and if you can do more than that, so much the better. If you don’t think you can afford a down payment of 20 percent or more on a house you’re considering, it might be time to shop around for a less expensive home that is more budget friendly.

* Be an informed buyer. There is a seemingly endless list of things to know about buying a home, and the faster you want to buy, the faster you’ll need to learn it all. One of the best things you can do is take a first-time homebuyer class offered by a reputable organization – some cities even offer them for free. Be sure you know the ins and outs of items like closing costs, adjustable rate versus fixed rate mortgages, how your credit report affects mortgage rates and the documentation you’ll need to get a mortgage. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to make smart decisions that will make you a happy homeowner for years to come.

August 17, 2011 | Comments Closed

Secrets of a solid home inspection

Photo of Electrical Inspection

Nearly two-thirds of surveyed homeowners report that a home inspection during the selling or buying of a house saved them money.

(ARA) - Selling, buying or just putting a house on the market may raise many questions. Can I get a good price? Are there any problems I should fix prior to listing my house? If I buy this house, will I encounter problems that may make me regret my decision?

The sale price of a house depends on many factors, including the market, location, size of the property, age of the house, condition of the structure, what appliances might be included in the sale and even how nicely the property and building were landscaped and decorated - just to name a few.

Having a qualified professional inspect your house prior to putting it on the market - or for prospective buyers, before closing on a sale - can help guide your decision. But many homeowners and prospective buyers are unsure what's included in a standard home inspection, according to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). A qualified home inspector will review these aspects of a property:

* Roof, attic and visible insulation
* Foundation, basement and structural components
* Walls, ceilings and floors
* Heating and central air conditioning systems
* Windows and doors
* Water fixtures and faucets
* Decks

Nearly two out of three homeowners recently surveyed by ASHI reported they saved a lot of money as a result of having a home inspection during the selling/buying of a house. Sellers use inspections to help determine potential problems that can be repaired or replaced prior to listing - potentially getting them a higher sale price. And buyers use the inspections to determine if they want to invest in the property, or help negotiate for a better price that would include the repair and replacement of potential problems.

Not all home inspectors are certified and licensed. ASHI's "Find an Inspector" tool allows homeowners to locate an inspector in their area. Always check with your local inspector for a complete list of services provided.

"It's important for homeowners to do their homework before hiring an inspector," says Kurt Salomon, ASHI president. "Look for a home inspector certified through the ASHI Certified Inspector Program, which is the only home inspection association program approved by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies."
Photo of Roof Inspection

Inspections help sellers determine potential problems that can be repaired prior to listing their homes.

The following elements are not included in a standard home inspection:
* Septic system
* Electrical wiring and plumbing that is not readily accessible (for example, behind drywall or plaster)
* Water conditioning or softening system
* Swimming pool
* Backyard fences
* Lawn irrigation system
* Household appliances
* Compliance with local codes
* Appraisal to determine market value

Before hiring a home inspector, inquire about what is covered in the inspection and ask to see a sample report. Although some inspectors provide ancillary services, it may be necessary to consult a specialist for concerns that extend beyond a standard inspection. Often your inspector will help you make this determination.

Hiring a certified home inspector and having questions answered before putting your house up for sale - or before finalizing a purchase price - can not only help save money, but also allow you to go through the process with more peace of mind.
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Unlocking the online and mobile secrets to home buying and selling

Photo of moving boxes and a laptop(ARA) - High-tech know-how can help you find a house or get rid of one. 

"The last five years have seen a massive shift in consumer behavior, which has driven Realtors and other real estate professionals to embrace websites, social media and online videos," says Mark Flavin, director of information technology at Bay East Association of Realtors in Pleasanton, Calif., and winner of a 2010 Realtor Technology Spotlight Award.

While online listings serve as the starting point for many house hunters, a recent survey from financial services provider USAA reports that about one in five respondents would use smartphones to take photos while looking for a home. About the same number say they've already used mobile Internet service to search for a home or mortgage information. Flavin expects searches to begin with mobile devices more often in coming years.

Tools of the trade
If you're one of the 40 million Americans who typically move in a year, here are six technology trends in real estate, and ways you can use them to your benefit.

* Comprehensive online listings
With popular sites such as Realtor.com and Zillow.com, buyers can research homes for sale and sellers can advertise their listings to a national audience. One site, USAA's Home Circle, even offers rental listings for those who are not ready to buy a home. "Consumers have access to a picture of the market 24/7," says Flavin.

* Automated paperwork and cloud storage
E-signing, or electronic signature, on an iPad or smartphone, will soon become commonplace for mortgage and closing documents, predicts Brad Nix, a real estate broker in the Atlanta area and another 2010 Realtor Technology Spotlight Award winner. The U.S. lags behind other countries in e-signature use, but it will greatly improve commerce, says Stephen Ezell of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation in Washington, D.C.

The rise in cloud computing - housing data off-site instead of in on-site hard drives - also will play a major role in real estate. "Tech-savvy real estate brokers and pros can help you create a virtual folder that gives all parties access to the sales contract, inspection report, appraisal, insurance documents and closing documents," says Nix. 

* Mobile apps
"Buyers want real-time access to what's on the market based on where they've parked their car," says Nix. Smartphone apps do that now, but what's new is their growing use. And sellers benefit, too, attracting traffic not just with a "For Sale" sign, but with a mobile, media-rich listing that just might lure people down the street and across the threshold.

* Online videos
Videos help showcase homes and communities on an emotional level. "They sell more than just four walls," says Nix. "They sell a lifestyle." Video style can range from simple, man-on-the-street shots to a full-scale production.

* More data
"The key difference today is access to information," notes Ezell, who's selling his D.C.-area home with his wife, Lisa. Lisa recommends community blogs and sites such as Curbed.com for local insights. She still looks to agents, though, when online information is limited or inconsistent. In D.C., for instance, Ezell says buyers can only access property tax figures online back to 1998; if they're interested in a 20-year-old home, they're out of luck. Government agencies are working to digitize records and make online data more complete.

* Social media
Social media connects buyers with local residents, as it did for Sandee Payne, USAA's Home Circle spokesperson, when she moved to Killeen. She connected with a friend via social media to get the inside information. "The level of detail available through social media is only going to grow," says Flavin. "If you go to Netflix today, you can see the most popular movies in your local community." Similarly, community opinions and advice will influence future generations of homebuyers. Real estate agents are also experimenting with blogs, and some post listings on their business Facebook pages, where buyers and sellers can become fans - just another way to pass along or view listings.

Questions to ask your agent
Flavin believes it's essential for today's buyers and sellers to partner with tech-savvy real estate agents. He suggests asking your agent these questions:

* What's your mobile strategy for selling my home or helping me find one?
* Are you able to track website traffic to my listing?
* Are you able to promote my community and my property through video services?
* Can you help me navigate these new, technological tools?
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Tips to bring prospective buyers into your house

Image of contractor's truck(ARA) - Selling your house may be a challenge in today's real estate market, but with a bit of elbow grease and some good planning tips, you can entice potential buyers to view your home, and hopefully make a viable offer.

Before you even list your house for sale, take a good look at the property and your home. Consider curb appeal. Freshen up your landscaping, pick up any equipment or toys lying around and update your lights so the home looks as welcoming during the evening as it does during the day.

Take a walk through your house, starting with the garage. If you have a lot of tools and equipment stored there, consider finding a new place to store everything, so potential buyers can really see the garage. Keep your tools handy, but still out of sight by tucking everything into the back of your truck under an Access Roll-Up cover, manufactured by Agri-Cover, Inc., a North Dakota truck accessory company. Made of heavy-duty, double coated vinyl, the truck bed cover installs quickly and easily with a clamp-on installation and is designed specifically to fit your truck. Since the roll-up cover is lockable, it will also protect all your tools and equipment while traveling. When not in use, the cover can be rolled up behind the cab and never has to be removed.

Next move inside. As you walk through the rooms, look at the walls, flooring, ceilings, lights and furniture. Paint is inexpensive, and a fresh coat can quickly spruce up the look of a room. If the room appears overcrowded, consider storing a piece of furniture to help open up the space.

You may determine some remodeling or repair work is needed prior to listing your home. If you have holes in your drywall, or gutters that are clogged or broken, these are easy improvements that won't cost you a lot of money, but can help you sell your house faster. Transporting tall ladders to reach the gutters or large sheets of drywall isn't easy with just your pickup truck. But the Adarac Truck Bed Rack System will make this part of your home improvement project much easier. The truck bed rack sits neatly behind the cab, and is capable of carrying a 500-pound load with ease. Eyelets secure your load so you don't lose it while going down the road.

Once you have your home looking good, do a little research to determine what list price you want to put on your home. Review prices for similar homes in your neighborhood and around your community. Pay to have your property assessed, especially if you do a couple of home improvement projects prior to the sale. And determine if you'd prefer to work with a real estate agent or try and sell the property yourself. There are benefits to both options, so research which might fit you better.

Your goal is to get your house sold, as quickly as possible and close to the price you're asking. The best way to accomplish this is to get as many people looking at your property as you can. So before you decide to list your house, try some of these tips to put your best house forward.
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