Is Now The Best Time Ever To Buy Your First Home?

If you’ve been thinking about buying your first home, talk of rising mortgage rates may have you worried. But, the reality is that this may be one of the best opportunities for first-time buyers in recent memory. Conditions were already good for first-timers with new, super-low down payment loans. But the FHA’s announcement that they would be cutting mortgage-insurance premiums makes buying even more advantageous.

“The annual fees the Federal Housing Administration charges to guarantee mortgages it backs are being cut by a quarter of a percentage point,” said Bloomberg of a statement released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “With the reduction, the annual cost for most borrowers will be 0.60 percent of the loan balance.”

According to HUD, “The fee cut would save new FHA-insured homeowners an average of $500 this year. The cut would take effect on Jan. 27.”

What other factors should you be paying attention to if you’re looking to buy your first home?

Mortgage rates

Yes, rates are up from their lowest point. But the average 30-year fixed-mortgage rate right now is 4 percent, down a bit this week and waaaaaay down from decades ago when they were in the teens. You’ll pay a few bucks more per month now than you would have at this time last year, but, if you’re getting an FHA loan, those new mortgage interest cuts will help.


The Winning Team
More than anything, it’s important to be realistic. We’re not anywhere near gloom-and-doom time, despite some of the more hysterical talk out there. In fact, today’s rates are still near historic lows, which make buying a home more affordable than rent in many cities.

But, if you need to find a way to lower your monthly payment on your future home, and you’re not eager to search for less expensive homes, remember that your credit helps determine your mortgage-worthiness, and the better it is, the better your interest rate. If you’re not being offered the best rate out there, it’s time to…

Get your credit in order

Have great credit? Great! Your lender will be pleased and, presumably, you will be, too. But many of us need some help in this area, and even a small bump in your score can make a big difference not just to the rate you get but also whether you will qualify for a loan at all.

“The homebuyer’s credit score is among the most important factors when it comes to qualifying for a loan these days,” said Bankrate. Your lender will be able to give you tips for improving your score, which can range from checking your report for errors to paying off old delinquent accounts.

It’s also important to keep in mind that what you consider to be responsible credit management may not necessarily be seen as a positive when you go to qualify for a loan. “Just because you pay everything on time every month doesn’t mean your credit is stellar,” they said. “The amount of credit you’re using relative to your available credit limit, or your credit utilization ratio, can sink a credit score. The lower the utilization rate, the higher your score will be. Ideally, first-time homebuyers would have a lot of credit available, with less than a third of it used.”

BankrateLow down payment loans

For many first-time buyers, the down payment is the largest barrier to homeownership. But new loans with lower down payment requirements are helping to eliminate it.

The most popular loan for first-time homebuyers continues to be through the FHA, for a number of reasons: Because this loan is government-backed and because it requires only 3.5 percent down if you meet their credit and income requirements, and a minimum of a 620 credit score.

The new Affordable Loan Solution Mortgage from Bank of America gets those down payments even lower—to three percent—and without Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). But, there are restrictions related to income that “could rule out a lot of potential borrowers,” said The Street.

“The program, a partnership between Bank of America, Freddie Mac, and non-profit Self-Help Ventures Fund, is targeted towards low – and moderate – income borrowers. To qualify, borrowers can’t make more than the HUD area median income and must have a credit score of 660 or higher. As an example, for 2016, New York City-based borrowers with a household of one would need an income below $65,200 to qualify for the program.”

SoFi, an online lender that started out focusing on student loan refinancing, has also gotten into the mortgage game, offering a loan that has a higher down payment at 10 percent, but without PMI.

Investigate situation-specific loans

Are you a veteran, a police officer, or a firefighter? There may be a special loan for you with conditions that can make purchasing a home easier and more affordable. There are also specific loans for those who are buying a home that has (or needs) energy-efficient features, one that can be bundled with home improvement funds, and another from the USDA that can save those who are moving to a rural area money.

“This one may surprise you,” said nerdwallet. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a homebuyers assistance program. And no, you don’t have to live on a farm. The program targets rural areas and allows 100% financing by offering lenders mortgage guarantees. There are income limitations, which vary by region.”

WRITTEN BY JAYMI NACIRI

Selling Your Home This Year? 6 Reasons To Renovate Now!

Face it. Your home’s not perfect. You may keep up with general maintenance, and perhaps you’re meticulously clean. But how old is your kitchen? Do your paint colors reflect current trends? Could your living room use some updating?

When it comes to selling your home today, it’s got to be perfect, or buyers will simply move on to the next option. Doing some renovations, whether that means overhauling areas that are long overdue for a facelift or making some simple changes that freshen up the place, is typical. But if you’re thinking they can wait until you’re ready to list your home, these 6 reasons may make you rethink that plan.

1. You get to enjoy the new stuff

“A worthy update can either serve to reduce your cost of living while you remain in the home or add significant value to the home’s sale price when you decide to put it on the market,” said Scott McGillivray, a real estate investor and host of the HGTV show Income Property to US News.

But if you’re going to spend some cash on updating and renovating your place, you should at least be able to get some enjoyment out of the updates before turning the house over to someone else, right? If you’ve been waiting for 10 years for new appliances, it would be a shame to not have the opportunity to at least cook a few meals and throw a dinner party or two.


Pinterest
2. They always take longer than expected

It’s a fact of renovation. If your timeline is six weeks, it’ll take 12. At least. Giving yourself plenty of time before you’re ready to list your home will help you avoid a stressful scramble at the end when you’re trying to get it on the market.

3. There may be issues you’re unaware of

Your Realtor will point out areas that need to be addressed and recommend changes to make your home more saleable. But, getting your home ready to sell might be harder than you expect if problems like mold or termites are uncovered. Getting a jump on any big issues or anything that goes beyond the cosmetic will give you the time you need to fix the problems and hold onto your sanity.

4. They don’t have to be huge

No one said you have to take your home down to the studs. Sometimes, a light touch is all that is needed. “Start by thinking small,” said Realtor.com. “Minor cosmetic upgrades go a long way in getting more buyers through the door for a quicker sale – and time on market is key to determining what you’ll net at closing.”


Pinterest
5. You’re going to need them

You may not love the idea of having to do anything to – or spend any money on – your home, especially if you already have your eyes on a new one. But, most every home needs a little upgrading, updating, or, at least staging. You don’t want to have the one place in the neighborhood that won’t sell because potential homebuyers see a project house, without the project price.

6. You’ll get a return on your investment…if you renovate smart

Speaking of price…updated homes typically sell faster and for more money, if the updates have been done well and they’re the ones buyers are looking for. If you’re not sure which renovations to consider, take your cues from the Cost vs. Value Report, which tracks the “average cost for 29 popular remodeling projects with the value those projects retain at resale in 99 U.S. markets.” It’s a great way to look at national trends but also break down what’s trending in individual areas. “How much work you’ll need depends on your home’s value, your market, and the comps in your neighborhood,” said Realtor.com.

US News also has a great list of “popular updates that are worth the money,” including adding a backsplash in the kitchen and updating bathroom vanities.

WRITTEN BY JAYMI NACIRI

Room For 2: First-time Home Buying Tips For Newlyweds

Buying or selling a house is more stressful than getting divorced, going bankrupt or getting fired, according to a survey of 2,000 adults by EstatesDirect.com. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by home buying with your loved one, you’re not alone. Figuring out how to merge your lifestyles, budgets and expectations can be difficult, but doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Turn home buying as a newlywed into an empowering experience that symbolizes your rock solid foundation and partnership. Here are some actionable tips to get started and take control of your home purchase.

Choose the Right Neighborhood for Your Budget

Kick off your home-buying search by exploring neighborhoods that fit your lifestyle and budget. Remember to look beyond what your mortgage and home insurance will cost. Utilities, car payments, student loans, food, furniture, credit card debt and any other fixed expenses should be factored into your budget. Don’t forget to add in costs for annual repairs, as well as just some fun money to actually enjoy your home.

Take a look at the neighborhoods that appeal to you from how long your commute will be to the available recreation. Outdoor lovers and hiking enthusiasts will have completely different criteria than someone who loves the downtown nightlife, and either option will affect your budget.

Right-Size Your Life

Buying your first home as newlyweds is full of hope and excitement of the years to come. Soon you start thinking about how it could be your forever home and hold all the children and guests of your dreams. But in reality, any home you purchase should be right-sized for your current life or the not so distant future.

For example, purchasing a home for the five kids you want is expensive with a lot of upkeep and overhead. You may decide to put off having children for several years or change plans. Instead, focus on the home you need for the next five or six years that can comfortably accommodate the two of you. An extra room for guests, a new baby or an home office can add the needed flexibility to your new home.

Stay Proactive About Safety

Some couples may choose a less than desirable neighborhood to offset mortgage costs. That may work well for your finances, but shouldn’t compromise your safety. Meanwhile, couples moving into safe neighborhoods with little crime activity can lead to complacency. It’s always imperative to protect your home and personal safety regardless of your environment.

Start by installing a security camera system where you can monitor your home from the office, on the road or from your own bedroom. For example, Lorex Technology offers Wi-Fi home security cameras with two-way audio and night vision, as well as complete outdoor security camera systems. Joining your neighborhood watch or online community groups can help monitor for suspicious activity.

Keep Communication Open

Home maintenance, upkeep and ongoing chores can quickly create ripples in a marriage and impact your relationship. Keep the lines of communications open and set expectations early. Divide up who is doing what and become a reliable partner who sticks to their end of the bargain. It’s also crucial to allow for flexibility.

Your partner’s demands at work could exponentially increase, or you may find you loathe the chore you signed-up for. Talk it out and support each other through the ups and downs of maintaining a home together. Don’t let your home become an albatross. At the end of the day, you want your home to be a safe haven for love and communication.

WRITTEN BY REALTY TIMES STAFF

Use Technology For Attracting Serious Home Buyers

ERA Real Estate and HGTV reported 46 percent of consumers see smart-home technology as important for their current and future residences. But luxury homebuyers are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. According to Digital Interiors, 94 percent of buyers surveyed would sacrifice 1,000 square feet of living space for more technology in their new home. Oversized houses are no longer the driving trend in the luxury real estate market and agents are under pressure to respond to the demand. Here’s what affluent homebuyers are looking for and which gadgets are must-haves.

Get a Smart Thermostat

Outfit your listings for luxury with smart-home additions like a smart thermostat. The Nest programs itself based on your preferences and can adjust whenever you leave to conserve energy. Your clients can control the system right from their smartphones. Owners can warm up the living room before an evening entertaining clients. Talk about how they can jet set to their vacation home and simply check-in on their property as needed. The idea behind a smart thermostat is really about controlling the overall climate of the home as opposed to an exact temperature.

Enhance your Home Surveillance

Home security systems have always dabbled in the high-tech world of smart automation. In the past, most alarms simply triggered an annoying sound and contacted the police at signs of danger.

Today, home security cameras keep an eye on the inside and outside of the home with wireless cameras. A wireless camera system can be mounted to the wall or ceiling and monitored remotely. Home buyers are sure to be wowed by its sleek and discreet design. Some home security companies, like Lorex Technology, even offer subscription-free monitoring options, yet another attractive feature for potential buyers.

New owners can keep an eye on their home from vacation, at work or on a spontaneous outing without worry.

Go High-Tech Culinary

Updating a kitchen has always been a recommended way to raise a home’s price tag and attract buyers. But affluent home shoppers are looking for more than just new appliances and chef’s kitchens. The latest technology trends include no-touch faucets and smart refrigerators that can alert you when you’re running low on groceries. The LG model features an internal camera to check on its contents, built-in Wi-Fi to connect to your mobile device and offers available accessories that can be 3-D printed. Other high-tech touches like Bluetooth smart cooking thermometers tell your mobile device when your food is ready to create perfect dishes every time.

Upgrade your Luxury Entertainment

Just about every home has a flat-screen television; some piped for surround sound and home theaters. Let your clients take entertaining to a new level by controlling everything from one device like Savant. Your clients can adjust the lighting, change the channel on your smart TV and turn on music. A system like Savant can also help monitor your home’s security and adjust the climate as needed. While clients are getting ready upstairs for an evening with friends, they can adjust the entertainment area and living room downstairs to create a luxurious atmosphere.

WRITTEN BY REALTY TIMES STAFF

The Second Rule of Home Staging: Keep It Fresh

The overall goal of home staging is to make your home shine. After paring down to just the essentials, the next staging step is to give your home a light makeover to make it look – and feel – neat, fresh and pleasant.

Buyers don’t expect everything to be new, but they don’t want to be turned off by worn items or unpleasant odors. A good rule of thumb to go by: If it looks old, worn or dirty, then clean or replace it. A clean, fresh-smelling, attractive home tends to sell. Read on for some budget-friendly ways to refresh each room in your home.

Start With the Living Room

As one of the most frequently used rooms, the living room can get a worn, lived-in look pretty fast. Fortunately, it’s also one of the simplest rooms to improve.

First, give your living room a fresh coat of paint – and while you’re at it, paint every room in the home. In the living room, go for a color that is somewhat neutral, like a gray or a bone, that works with your pared-down decor.

Second, consider buying new throw pillows to jazz up that worn sofa. Go for a refreshing, trendy color or something with texture, such as a metallic linen, to bring subtle style to the room.

Next, turn a critical eye to your rug. If it looks dirty or faded, think about replacing it with an inexpensive and neutral jute or sisal rug. The simplicity and texture of these natural fibers always make a room feel cleaner and more serene. Jute and sisal are go-tos for most home stagers because they don’t cost a fortune and do hold up well under heavy foot traffic from an open house.

Olimpic Village Condo

Also, see if you can find a spot for a mirror, a classic trick for adding a light, bright element to any room. Although they may not scream personality, mirrors give a room an expansive, luminous quality that can appeal to a buyer.

Another rule that applies to almost every room is replacing any outdated light fixtures. Look to swap them with simple, neutral and stylish options that can handle high-wattage bulbs.

Finally, replace your knickknacks and accessories with a vase of fresh flowers. Use a medium or small vase so as not to distract from the rest of the room. Simple arrangements like a vase of white tulips or a cluster of peonies make a room fresh and lovely.

Move On to the Kitchen

Kitchens and bathrooms are crucial to the sale – specifically, the sale price – of a home. The more buyers feel they will need to spend on a kitchen renovation, the less they will want to offer for your house. That equation doesn’t mean that you should renovate your entire kitchen. You can make updates that cost far less than a total overhaul.

First, scrutinize your kitchen cabinets. Do they seem dirty or shabby? If so, instead of replacing them, consider the less expensive alternative of painting them. Whether you have them painted white, gray or navy, the new look can give your kitchen renewed life.

Kitchen

Next, whether or not you repaint your cabinets, inspect their hardware. You may want to replace these pieces with more modern or on-trend alternatives. Polished chrome, industrial iron and brushed brass are just some of the stylish options available today. As in the other rooms of the house, give walls a fresh coat of paint and replace any dirty, broken or dated light fixtures with clean, updated versions.

Kitchen

Freshen Up the Bathroom

As in the kitchen, you may want to replace any dated or worn fixtures in your bathroom — whether faucets or drawer pulls. Polished chrome is a good choice because it always looks sparkling and new. Brushed brass brings a trendy, elegant look.

Next, go shopping for fluffy white towels to put on your shiny new towel bar. Even if your existing towels are nice and white, purchase new ones for staging. Your towels, though probably lovely, are nonetheless used, and will continue to be used as your house is shown. Buyers don’t want to see anything personal.

Guest bathroom

Also look to replace a chipped mirror or older medicine cabinet. A newer option will go a long way to giving your bathroom a fresh clean look.

Just as in the rest of the house, give any painted walls a fresh coat. If your bathroom cabinets are a bit shabby, consider painting those as well. A dark navy, for example, could look stellar next to the crisp whites of your towels and tub.

white boxes

Speaking of the tub and shower, instead of replacing the tub, go for the much more cost-efficient option of having it professionally reglazed. This is essentially repainting the tub, making it look and feel new. Similarly, have the tile regrouted or pressure-washed. Your bathtub and shower will shine.

Finally, place something in your bathroom that smells fresh. Whether it’s a new bar of soap, a vase of fresh flowers or a reed diffuser, use something that will have a lingering pleasant scent.

Jennifer Backstein

Make Your Bedroom Oh So Calm

The bedroom is one of the most personal spaces in the house. But for selling, we don’t want it to feel so personal. An overall guide to staging your bedroom is to think of it as a stylish and serene hotel room that anyone would feel comfortable in. When your potential buyers walk into your bedroom, you don’t want them to think of you, smell anything personal about you or see your personal items left behind.

A good first step in depersonalizing your room is to replace your bedding with crisp white linens. If all white isn’t possible, look for neutrals that give the same effect. You want your bed to look inviting, fresh and comfortable. Opt for a decorative throw pillow to give a hint of color.

BY FRYD 2012

If you have outdated furniture, just as in the kitchen and bathroom, try replacing the drawer pulls with something more modern and with simple lines. Similarly, if you have lampshades that are worn, yellowed or broken, replace them too.

When possible, hang a mirror above the bed or at some other focal point of the room, such as the wall facing the bed. This can help open up the room and reflect whatever natural light you have.

Follow the same steps in the bedroom as in the living room when it comes to the rug: If your bedroom rug looks worn or dated, replace it with sisal or jute. If your bedroom carpeting needs covering up, try placing a thin dhurrie or knit rug atop it. A rug pad can help these types of rugs stay put on top of carpet.

Finally, add a small vase of flowers to a bedside table. This little touch will contribute a pleasant detail to your hotel-like oasis.

WRITTEN BY NEILA DEEN, HOUZZ

What Do Rising Rates Mean For Homeownership In 2017?

The Fed raised interest rates last week, causing a ripple of concern among those who are worried about the effects on higher mortgage rates and the greater impact on the real estate market. But what do rising rates really mean for homebuyers? We’ve taken the temperature of several housing experts to get their take on the homebuying landscape for 2017.

Rates will continue to rise… or will they?

“When the rate was raised last week, the Fed predicted it would raise rates three more times in 2017, up from two in its previous forecast. But those predicted increases are just that – predictions, said the Berkshire Eagle. “A year ago, the Fed projected that it would raise rates four times in 2016 but has ended up doing so just once.”

Many housing authorities expect that rates will, indeed rise, and are eyeing a 5% benchmark.

“My forecast is for the 30-year fixed rate to rise above 4.5 percent by year’s end, and worst case scenario, knock on the door of 5 percent,” Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere, told Inman.

Rising rates will impact homeownership…or will they?

Realtor.com predicts that home prices will continue to rise next year, increasing 3.9 percent. Their estimation of how high mortgage rates will go: 4.5 percent. Will the combination of rising prices and rates kill housing market momentum? The Mortgage Reports doesn’t think so.


TFS
The good news of rising rates, they said, is that “home price increases could finally slow. Home shoppers may once again find ‘deals’ in the 2017 market. Home values have been catapulted upward by almost-free borrowing. Home buyers were getting 30-year fixed rates in the low 3s, and fifteen year rates solidly in the 2s. That’s lower than the rate of inflation is likely to be in coming years. Cheap money makes monthly payments lower. Homes are affordable, even at very high prices. In 2017, though, that trend could reverse. Rising payments could mean fewer bidding wars and over-market-price offers.”

That could mean that buyers “have a better chance at securing a home at a reasonable price. Affordability may continue its winning streak, despite rising rates. 2017 should remain a stellar year to be a home shopper.”

But OC Housing News isn’t so sure. “Higher mortgage interest rates lead to lower sales or lower prices, but most likely, lower sales. Mortgage rates fell from mid-2010 through early 2013 just to maintain a low level of demand,” they said. “When interest rates went up, in what was supposedly a strong market recovery, demand immediately dropped off. Assuming a consistent payment, higher mortgage rates decrease the size of the loan and reduce the amount borrowers can bid on real estate. If rising mortgage rates result in smaller loan balances, then either sales volumes will go down, or house prices will go down, or perhaps some combination of both – unless you believe rapid wage inflation is on the horizon.”


TREO
Job growth will counteract the effects of rising rates and home prices…or will it?

It’s the prospect of job growth that has many people talking.

“November’s job growth outpaced October, indicating that the economy is growing at a healthy pace and should continue to do so,” said My Mortgage Insider. “The increase of jobs added is a sign that the economy is healthy. Another encouraging statistic is the decrease in the unemployment rate…from 4.9% to 4.6%. The strong economic conditions are likely going to (continue to) force mortgage rates higher. Generally speaking, mortgage rates are going to increase whenever the economy is doing well or whenever there is confidence in the market”.

The good news for those who are worried about rising rates is that “higher wage growth could offset the effect of higher mortgage rates,” said the Wall Street Journal. Although, for those who were thinking of relocating, the prospects may not sound sound so encouraging. “The fact that so many homeowners enjoy such low rates could also prove an economic brake, creating a disincentive for homeowners to move to a new city in pursuit of a new job if it means their mortgage might be more expensive,” said David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide Insurance.

WRITTEN BY JAYMI NACIRI

8 Things You Should Do Before Moving Into A New House

Moving into a new house? Your task list doesn’t end once you pack up your old place – and we’re not just talking about all the fun unpacking you have ahead of you. There’s a few more things you’re going to want to do before you get in and start living it up.

Change the locks

It doesn’t make you paranoid to want new locks on the doors to your home. It makes you smart. “Who knows how many people have keys to what’s now your home? The fix is easy: ‘It’s usually a minimum charge for a locksmith to come to the house,” said Ron Phipps, principal with Warwick, Rhode Island-based Phipps Realty and past president of the National Association of Realtors, on Bankrate. Phipps’ advice: Don’t just re-key the locks – replace the hardware, too. You get a nice update, plus peace of mind.”

Don’t forget to change your garage door opener code, too.

Do an in-depth tour of the house

Do you know where the water and gas shut-off valves are? How about the electrical box and water heater? Any idea how to use your sprinkler system? Familiarizing yourself with all the ins and outs of the house and making sure key members of the household are also aware can help avoid disasters.

Seal off rooms you don’t use – or won’t be using right away

The first few months in a new home might be a revelation financially – and not in a good way. Between moving costs, new furniture, any renovations that need to be done, and the cost of turning on all your utilities, you’re probably going to want to save a few dollars where you can. Sealing off rooms you won’t be using for a while can help lower your heating and cooling costs.

Meet your neighbors

Your neighbors may be planning to come by once they see that you’ve moved in, but think about beating them to it. You never know where you might make a new best friend (or find one for your kids), and being friendly and outgoing from the get-go establishes good will.


Mindful CommUNITY
At the very least, being able to see a friendly face or two in the neighborhood will help you acclimate – and it won’t hurt to have someone point out the neighborhood gossip, tell you which Starbucks makes the best lattes, and help you find the most traffic-free route to the elementary school.

Join Nextdoor

Need a babysitter, a dog walker, a handyman, or a recommendation for the best Chinese restaurant in your new neighborhood? Nextdoor will help you find it.

Clean your carpets

A thorough cleaning of the home should have been done when the sellers were moving out. In some cases, it’s stipulated in the contract, and a seller who fails to live up to that aspect is “at risk for a lawsuit,” said Realtor.com. But unless specific cleaning tasks are called out, the house may not be as spic-n-span as you want.

Even if the house looks clean and tidy when you move in, they may have skipped the carpets. A good cleaning can extend their life, improve air quality, and remove allergens.


Mallary Carpets
“Little do most of us realize that what we are seeing is only a tiny fraction of the soil that a carpet contains,” said the National Carpet Cleaners Association(NCCA). “The visible grime we notice is only the tip of the iceberg; up to 85 per cent of the dirt the carpet holds is buried deep within the pile. And when you consider that a carpet can eventually trap its own weight or more in soil – as much as 150 pounds for an average-sized living-room – you’ll agree it’s no trivial matter.”

Wipe out drawers and cabinets

This is another oft-ignored task, and one that could be responsible for leaving germs, or at least crumbs, behind.

Change your fire alarm batteries

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) recommends that fire alarm batteries get changed twice a year. Since you probably won’t know when the last time this was done, it’s best to change them when you move in. That way you won’t be awakened at 3am by a blaring alarm your third day in the house.

WRITTEN BY JAYMI NACIRI