5 Ways to Protect Outdoor Wood Furniture

While wood furniture is gorgeous outside, you’ll need to protect it to lengthen its lifespan, or you could face rot and unsightly discoloration in no time.

Below are several tips to help your wood weather.

Paint
A coat of paint is the top way to protect your outdoor wood, and although you will lose that natural look, it may be worth it considering how much longer that wood will last.  Go for a latex paint over an oil-based paint, as latex will last longer so you won’t need to touch up as frequently.

Seal
Don’t want to mess with your wood look? Consider a water sealant instead, especially if your area gets rain. Water sealers work in two ways: they protect your furniture from moisture outside but also allow damp wood within the sealant to dry faster, so it won’t rot, split or warp.

Varnish
If you don’t want to paint or seal, consider a varnish, which will hold your furniture’s true natural look while still offering some protection from the exterior.

Manage Exposure
Consider moving your wood furniture to the garage in the winter to keep it safe from harsh seasons, during which it won’t be used anyway. Or, consider a fitted cover to protect it from the weather when not in use.

Location, Location, Location
Your local weather will instruct you how to care for your furniture. If you live in a rainy area, a water sealant will be necessary. Live in the desert? Paint your wood for sun protection. The same goes for the area you place your furniture in. Is it tucked under an eave and lightly protected, or sitting out in the middle of the elements? Act accordingly.

Source: rismedia.com ~ Image: pixabay.com

Make These Five Energy-Efficient Improvements To Increase Your Home’s Value

It’s undeniable: Energy efficiency is in.

In 2018, there’s an abundance of reasons why you should make your home more energy efficient. As a homeowner, there are hundreds of small, tangible steps you can take to do just that. They can be as minor as replacing your lightbulbs and switching detergents, or as large as installing solar panels.

And as a real estate agent who has spent over a decade revitalizing and selling my Los Angeles clients’ homes, let me share another perk of energy efficiency: You will increase your home’s value.

What’s more, energy efficient improvements can help your home stand out in a crowded market. In states like California that suffer from droughts and strained power grids, the benefits of installing energy-efficient measures are poised only to go up in the future.

Here’s what you should — and shouldn’t — prioritize if you’re considering energy-efficient home upgrades:

1. Windows

Not all windows are created equal. Depending on your local climate, they may be doing serious damage to your energy bills by letting heat out during the winter and in during the summer.

Of course, energy-efficient windows can lower energy costs, but they can even eliminate hot or cold spots in your home. There are plenty of windows out there to choose from, so a good rule of thumb is to go with the government’s standard qualification, ENERGY STAR.

Most importantly, find beautiful windows that complement your home’s design. Energy-efficient windows add to your home’s value, but beautiful windows are what will really help make the sale.

2. Solar Panels

Of anything on the list, solar energy systems may offer the single biggest impact on your monthly energy bill, and, when implemented correctly, they can be a central feature when marketing a green home for sale.

Solar panel users have had their fair share of challenges in the past, primarily from HOAs and other groups. At least in California, however, legislators have given homeowners a lot more freedom in the past few years.

A word of warning: Leasing your solar panels can throw a major wrench in your eventual home sale by requiring your buyer to take over your leasing agreement. If a solar system fits your budget, it’s probably best to buy.

3. Water Systems

If you live in Southern California, you know how dry this state can get during the summer. It’s so bad, in fact, that this year California has set new per capita water use standard: 55 gallons per day by 2022, and 50 gallons per day by 2030.

While the new standards aren’t quite as dire as some have made them out to be, the water efficiency of your home will have a growing impact on its value over time. Water-efficient sprinkler systems, water heaters and toilets can go a long way to selling your green home down the line.

4. HVAC Systems

How your home cools, warms and ventilates affects your energy usage more than anything else, so you’re doing yourself a disservice by keeping your old system.

From fans to central air conditioners to heat pumps, ENERGY STAR makes recommendations that will ease your bills and upgrade your home. I do suggest you include a smart thermostat, which will serve as visible proof to buyers that the energy efficiency you mentioned in the listing is the real deal.

5. Avoid: Appliances And Accessories

Not everyone has the same taste. Your dream dishwasher may not be your buyer’s dream dishwasher, or your buyer may have their own unit they plan on bringing with them.

It’s best not to assume that replacing major appliances with energy-efficient models will have any impact on your home’s value — because they’re not really part of the home. That’s not to say you shouldn’t go green where possible. Just know that if you replace your washer and dryer, you’re doing it for you and not the potential buyer.

Go Green And Go Home

Even if you don’t plan on moving anytime soon, implementing a combination of smart, energy-efficient changes can pay for itself in the long term. I have to admit, it can be kind of addicting to watch those energy bills drop.

If you do plan on moving, energy-efficient is the way to go. As energy prices continue to rise, the number of buyers looking for green housing will rise with them. And what a coincidence — yours will be the greenest house on the market.

Source: forbes.com ~ By: Gina Michelle ~ Image: pixabay.com

What Does a Title Company Do?

A title company makes sure that the title to a piece of real estate is legitimate and then issues title insurance for that property. Title insurance protects the lender and/or owner against lawsuits or claims against the property that result from disputes over the title.

Title companies also often maintain escrow accounts — these contain the funds needed to close on the home — to ensure that this money is used only for settlement and closing costs, and may conduct the formal closing on the home. At the closing, a settlement agent from the title company will bring all the necessary documentation, explain it to the parties, collect closing costs and distribute monies. Finally, the title company will ensure that the new titles, deeds and other documents are filed with the appropriate entities.

Here’s what potential home buyers need to know about title insurance.

How Does a Title Company Determine That a Title is Valid?

The title company makes sure a property title is legitimate, so that the buyer may be confident that once he buys a property, he is the rightful owner of the property. To ensure that the title is valid, the title company will do a title search, which is a thorough examination of property records to make sure that the person or company claiming to own the property does, in fact, legally own the property and that no one else could claim full or partial ownership of the property.

During the title search, the title company also looks for any outstanding mortgages, liens, judgments or unpaid taxes associated with the property, as well as any restrictions, easements, leases or other issues that might impact ownership. The title company may also require a property survey, which determines the boundaries of the plot of land that a home sits on, whether the home sits within those boundaries, whether there are any encroachments on the property by neighbors and any easements that may impact an ownership claim.

Before a title company issues title insurance, it will prepare an abstract of title, which is a short summary of what it found during the title search (basically, this is the history of the ownership of the property). Then, it will issue a title opinion letter, which is a legal document that speaks to the validity of the title.

What is Title Insurance?

Once the title is found to be valid, the title company will likely issue a title insurance policy, which protects lenders or owners against claims or legal fees that may arise from disputes over the ownership of the property.

There are two main types of title insurance: owner’s title insurance, which protects the property owner from title issues, and lender’s title insurance, which protects the mortgage company. You, the home buyer, will pay for the lender’s title insurance when you close on the house, but it’s also a good idea to make sure you have an owner’s title insurance policy as well (in some areas of the country, sellers pay for these policies; in others, the buyer must purchase it).

For example: You buy a home and get both lender’s and buyer’s title insurance, but then someone comes forward claiming they are the rightful owner of the home. If, in fact, the title was wrong and they are the rightful owner of the home, your title insurance policy will likely pay you the value of the home and the lender the amount they lent you to buy the home.

How Do You Pick a Title Company?

Ask your real estate agent, peers who have recently bought a home or your lender for recommendations for a title company. Then, do your homework on the title companies recommended.

Look for a title company that has years of experience doing this (have they done hundreds or even thousands of these kinds of transactions?). Contact the Better Business Bureau to determine whether the company has any complaints against it.

You should also shop around for the best premium rates in your area; if you buy an owner’s title insurance policy, make sure you get one with as few exclusions as possible and that it covers the full purchase price of the home.

What Does a Title Company Charge?

The cost of title insurance depends on the size of the loan and varies greatly depending on the state. The good news is that the premium is a one-time fee you pay at closing, not an ongoing expense.

According to the Federal Reserve, “a lender’s policy on a $100,000 loan can range from $175 in one state to $900 in another.” You’ll typically pay an additional amount — usually a few hundred dollars or more, depending on the size of the loan and your state of residence — for a buyer’s policy.

Note that you may be able to get a discounted rate on your title insurance if the property was sold within the previous five years; just call and ask.

When Do You Meet With the Title Company and How Often?

You may meet with or talk to an agent from the title company on multiple occasions. First, you may decide to meet with a few agents from title companies before you buy your home to help you decide which company to go with.

If the title company maintains an escrow account for you, the agent may reach out to you to provide details on that account or you may contact him with questions.

If your title company handles your closing, you will meet with a settlement agent in person then. At this time, the settlement agent will explain all the documents related to the settlement before you sign anything. And, of course, if something goes wrong with regards to the title, you will likely meet with one of their agents then.

Consumers should feel free to contact their title company at any time to get answers to their questions on title searches, title abstracts, title insurance, escrow accounts or closings.

Source: zillow.com ~ Image: pixabay.com

When Listing Your Home For Sale, Remember These Best Practices

Even in a seller’s market, homes aren’t guaranteed to sell. When preparing to sell your home, following a few best practices can keep the property from sitting on the market — or even worse, not selling at all.

Price it just right.

Overpricing a listing is a kiss of death on the market. Research homes in the area that have sold recently, and make sure they are actually comparable (i.e., don’t compare a fixer-upper to a newly remodeled house). Check how long local listings are typically on the market for, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Keep your eye on what else is on the market at the same time as your listing — if there is another home that is seen as a better deal, your listing will look less desirable.

Even though a seller will always want the highest price possible, it may prove strategic to list for a lower price and let buyers bid the price up in competition. Listing at a lower price is common practice in very competitive real estate markets like San Francisco and Los Angeles. This approach often ends up getting more exposure on the listing since it will show up on more home buyers’ online feeds. 

Take beautiful professional photographs.

Some buyers love a project, but most are hoping to have to do as little work as possible (and keep their budget as low as possible). Keeping the home clean and uncluttered and presenting clear photos will present the home at its best.

The majority of buyers are starting their home search online nowadays, and can form an attachment to a house before even seeing it in person. Bad photos, or no photos at all, can completely eliminate interest.

There are inexpensive ways to spruce up your house to make it look more appealing, and pointing out all the positive aspects of the home in the listing (such as the features, upgrades and location) is also vital.

Be open to negotiations.

I can’t stress enough that keeping an open mind is key when selling your home. A buyer may come in with a low price or not-so-great terms on an offer, but it’s best not to write them off completely. If the buyer wants the house, they are likely open to negotiating. If the offer is rejected in a rude way, the buyers may feel like they do not want to work with the seller/their agent in the future at all and may not revisit an offer even after the home has been sitting on the market. Emotions run high on both the buyer and seller side of buying a home, and while it’s important for buyers to not write ridiculously low offers, it’s also key for the sellers to keep from being offended, and try to see if there is some reasoning.

In competitive real estate markets, offers are most likely to come in within the first two weeks of the listing becoming active. Serious buyers are already searching and seeing new listings as they come up for sale. Be sure the home is available and presentable right away for showings. In addition to listing the home in the MLS, it’s essential that the listing be spread to as many potential buyers and local agents as possible. If you want to sell, spread the word.

Source: forbes.com ~ By: Beatrice de Jong ~ Image: 21online Asset Library

6 Reasons Fall May Be the Best Time to Buy a Home

Traditionally, spring is considered peak season in the real estate market. Families with school-aged children find it less disruptive to move over the summer. Spring is also a time when people are eager to get outside and properties usually look their best. On the flip side, however, there are a number of good reasons for homebuyers to hold off until fall:

1. Sellers are Motivated

If they weren’t, they’d probably hold off until spring, since April is the best month to sell a home. By fall, sellers who were “testing the waters” with a listing in prime selling season are either eliminated or are now serious sellers.

These motivated sellers often want to get things settled before the end of the year, completing their own move before the holidays. Living “in limbo” for several months can be exhausting and provides another motivating factor.

The longer a house has been on the market, the more likely a seller is willing to negotiate on everything from price, to closing costs, to move-in dates.

2. There are Fewer Buyers

Potential buyers with children are less likely to be in the market once school has started. Other autumn buyers may become hampered by inclement weather, shorter daylight hours, and holiday demands. If you are flexible, less competition in the fall can pay off for you!

3. Lower Home Prices

October may be the best month to buy a home. After reviewing 32 million sales of single family homes over a 15-year period, RealtyTrac(link is external) found that properties that went under contract in the month of October sold for an average of 2.6 percent below estimated full market value.

While pointing out that specific results vary by location, RealtyTrac found that October also had more “best days” to buy than any other month in the year. Among the top 10 best days to buy, all but two were in the last quarter of the year:

4. The Focus is On You

During prime selling months, everyone involved in real estate transactions tends to be swamped. In fall, however, real estate agents, lenders, inspectors, title companies, moving companies, etc., experience a lighter schedule, giving them more time and energy to focus on helping you. In general, their response time will be improved and your experience may be less stressful and more snag-free.

5. Tax Advantages

Even if you close on the last day of the year, you can apply the property taxes you paid and any interest or points (pre-paid interest to lower interest rates) on a home purchase to offset your income for that entire calendar year. This could be a significant advantage when April rolls around.

Consult with your tax or financial planning professional to determine how to leverage the timing details and other aspects of your purchase to your benefit.

6. Needed Changes and Upgrades May be Cheaper

If you are purchasing a house that needs new carpet, paint, appliances or other upgrades, buying in the fall may save you money beyond the purchase price of the home. Many of these items are at their lowest prices in the fall. According to Consumer Reports, September is the best time to buy paint and carpeting and the best time to purchase major appliances is November and December.

With careful negotiation, you may be able to get price concessions from the seller on cosmetic issues like worn carpeting, faded wall paint, or outdated appliances that exceed the cost of the upgrades, saving money on the cost of the house and getting brand new paint, carpet and/or appliances at the same time!

Additionally, September is the best time to get deals on snow blowers as well as outdoor plants, shrubs, flowers, and trees. September and October are the best time to buy lawn mowers and tractors. The savings can really add up, leaving you with a bit more cash to cover other expenses.

The Best Time To Buy Varies By Location

Remember that the advantages of buying in the fall may be diminished in certain markets. For instance, in Florida, you may find yourself competing with “snowbirds” looking to purchase in the area, making fall months less of a buyer’s market than in northern locations.

Source: homebuying.realtor ~ By: REBAC Staff ~ Image:  pixabay.com

4 Things First-time Homebuyers Should Know About Credit Scores and Mortgage Payments

With the housing market improving, you might be tempted to finally start looking for a place to call home. Before you begin your home search and choose a real estate agent to work with, you should consider looking at your own situation and determine whether you are financially ready to apply for a mortgage and pay for a property.

Here are four things every first-time homebuyer should consider before buying a house:

1. Have a Good Credit Score
The first step you should take before looking for a home is to request your credit report from one of the three main credit reporting bureaus. You will then get a better idea of your financial standing as a potential homebuyer in the eyes of potential lenders. Lending standards have tightened since the housing market collapse and lenders will be evaluating applications for mortgages more carefully. As part of this process, lenders will look at your credit score to ensure you are able to handle a long-term obligation like mortgage payments, which not only includes the loan payments themselves, but also property taxes, insurance and private mortgage insurance if applicable. The minimum credit score lenders will consider is 620 and ideally, lenders will want to see a credit score that is in the mid-700s or above.

2. Hard Inquires Could Lower Your Score
When a lender has to pull your credit report, this event will be marked as a hard inquiry on your credit history. Similar to when banks will check your credit before deciding to approve you for a credit card, mortgage lenders will examine your history to determine whether your score is up to par after you apply for pre-approval for a home loan. Having a hard inquiry will potentially drop your credit score and when you are shopping around for the right lender or interest rate, the number of hard inquiries on your report could accumulate fast. Although hard inquires could decrease your credit score, there is good news as credit score provider FICO will consider all hard inquiries as one inquiry if they are made within a 45-day period. As long as you are able to get pre-approved for a loan within this time span, you can limit the hit hard inquiries will have on your score during your home search.

3. Higher Credit Score Means Lower Interest
Although you might be approved for a home loan, the interest associated with your loan may vary depending on your credit score. The lower the credit score, the more you are likely to spend on interest per month. Lenders tend to see consumers with higher credit scores as less of a risk. According to FICO, a score between 760 to 850 could result in the lowest interest rate. The chart provided by FICO shows an interest rate of 3.866 percent for consumers with this score. In contrast, if you have a score ranging between 620 and 639 – hovering just above the minimum score needed for approval – your interest rate could be 5.455 percent, which is more than 1.5 percent higher. Although an interest rate that is 1.5 percent more might not seem like a big difference, these payments add up significantly, especially with interest on a 30-year mortgage.

4. Be Prepared to Juggle Mortgage Payments with Other Bills
First-time homebuyers should plan out their house hunting budgets with their mortgages in mind. Mortgage payments can represent a huge chunk in their monthly spending and first-time homebuyers need to determine whether they can comfortably handle their mortgage payments in addition to their other bills. If buyers cannot juggle their mortgage payments with other credit obligations, they should seriously reconsider whether a home in a higher price range is right for them.

With these tips in mind, first-time homebuyers are more prepared to apply and be approved for a home of their dreams.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com ~ Image: 21Online Asset Library

6 Major Mistakes Buyers Make In A Seller’s Market

The real estate market often fluctuates, making it tough to predict whether the market will favor buyers or sellers when it’s your turn to buy. Buyers in a seller’s market can get what they want, but they need to bring their “A” game and be decisive. Here are six common mistakes and how to avoid them.

  • Not making your best offer

The motivation to buy what we want for as little money as possible is deeply engrained in us. So when most people see the listing price of a home, they naturally wonder what they can really get the house for. Offering lower than asking price is a reasonable strategy, especially if the house is overpriced compared with other similar homes in the area, or if it’s a buyer’s market with lots of available inventory. But trying to get a deal when you’re in a seller’s market might not be the best tactic. “In a seller’s market, many buyers do not step up with a strong enough offer,” says David Dubin, a New York broker. “There is usually a shortage of inventory, and the competition is usually fierce. I always encourage a buyer to come in with a strong opening offer.”

  • Over-Analyzing the Purchase Price

Just as impulse-buying a home is risky, over-analyzing a home purchase in a seller’s market is ill-advised as well. When you wait too long, “You are at high risk of losing [the home] you have fallen in love with,” says Dubin. Once you’ve determined the type of home you want, the location you desire, and your price range, and finally find a home that meets your qualifications, don’t wait to make an offer. To give yourself more leverage, be prepared to move quickly by having your finances in order — get a preapproval. “Know how much you can truly afford, repair any credit issues, have your down payment in hand, and delay [other] major purchases,” says John Lazenby, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor Association in Florida.

  • Working with an inexperienced agent

In a seller’s market, it benefits buyers to get all the help they can. If you have a seasoned agent on your side, you’ll probably have a better chance of getting the home you want. Plus, in most cases, buyers don’t pay real estate agents; sellers do. “When you are competing against other buyers in a fast-paced market, it is vital to be ‘offer-ready,’” says Michael Holt, a New York agent. “Working with a real estate professional saves tons of time and stress, as they know the ins and outs of the process and can provide tremendous insight regarding upcoming inventory.”

  • Not being prequalified (or better yet, preapproved) for a loan

You might know that you’ll be approved for a mortgage loan based on your steady income, your low debt-to-income ratio, and your high credit score — but the seller probably doesn’t know that. The only way to prove to the seller that you’re a qualified buyer is to be prequalified from a lender. “Prequalification is absolutely paramount,” says Teka Klopfenstein, a New York agent. “A buyer has zero advantage if they do not have the cash to purchase without a mortgage and haven’t taken the time to speak with a lender.” Not getting prequalified, she says, “sends a message to the seller that the buyer will lag on getting their ducks in order and aren’t taking their house hunting seriously.”

Prequalification means that you simply told your lender your financial story. Preapproval involves submitting a mortgage application, complete with providing verifying documents. “Preapproval from a reputable lender is key,” says New York agent Ryan Stenta. “Presenting this shows the seller that the buyer has already set the wheels in motion and is serious about making [the deal] a reality.”

  • Not being prepared for a bidding war

If there is ever a time when a bidding war could be imminent, it’s during a seller’s market. No buyer wants to be involved in such a battle for fear of possibly going over budget. But broker Michael Holt presents this solution for buyers: “Set your search below your max budget to leave room in case of an over-asking bidding war.”

  • Not learning from your mistakes

There’s no shame in learning that your offer has been declined, but it’s easy to get frustrated if your offers are declined repeatedly. Learn from your last transaction(s) so you can move in to your dream home. Stenta says that buying a house, particularly for first-time buyers, is a lot like dating. “You probably have to let a few keepers slip through your fingers, have a couple sleepless nights over it, and then come back with serious intent to lock up the next greatest opportunity in front of you.”

Source: trulia.com ~ By: By Laura Agadoni  ~ Image: 21online Asset Library

Why Your Job Matters When Buying a Home

Did you recently change jobs or receive a promotion? Despite what you might have heard, it is still possible to qualify for a mortgage to buy or refinance a home using your new income. The lending atmosphere is rife with misconceptions about job gaps, job changes and occupational changes within the course of an employment time frame. You can get a mortgage if you switched jobs or even changed industries, you just have to approach it the right way to seal the deal.

When determining your ability to pay (and therefore determining how much house you can afford), a lender will calculate your average income based on your pay from the past 24 months. It’s pretty straightforward if you’ve had the same job and same income and pay structure, but if any of those things changed in the past two years — or will change soon, you may face challenges when trying to get a mortgage.

In the past, lenders were ready to strike down loan applications in which there was a job or an industry change. Even real estate professionals will tell you not to change jobs before applying for a home loan. While that very well may be the case for most situations, it is not necessarily so black-and-white.

If you have had a job change, no matter what, a lender is going to need the following things from you — and your employer — in order to close on a mortgage: an offer letter, a role change letter if you have a title change and commensurate compensation package change, and the most recent pay stub and verification of employment.

How Lenders View Hourly Employees

Hourly employees are under the tightest microscope when it comes to getting a mortgage. Why? An hourly employee may have a set full-time schedule, which is ideal for lending purposes. However, if you work slightly less than a full-time schedule, with hours that fluctuate from week to week, this can muddy the waters.

The income gets averaged as long as you’ve been an hourly employee — even if you’re making more money now on a per-hour basis. That’s right, if you were making $40 an hour, and now you earn $50 per hour, the averaged income during the past 24 months – including the lower wage — would apply. So what can you do to get the higher hourly rate factored in to your ability-to-pay calculation?

Here’s what you’ll need from your employer: An offer letter, a current pay sub and a detailed description of the compensation structure with a new employer. These items could get you an exception due to relocation or an alternative circumstance. In either capacity, a most recent verification of employment can bridge the gap between how many hours worked in the year to date, supporting the new federal ability-to-repay requirements.

How Lenders View Salaried Employees

Lenders love salaried employees the most because a set salary streamlines the income calculation in the qualifying process. If you’re changing from one salaried role to another salaried role, despite a job gap, this should be no problem for qualifying for a mortgage so long as you can explain any gaps in the most recent 24 months.

Each job you’ve held in the past 24 months — even if you’ve held multiple jobs — all have to be detailed and itemized with dates so there is no gap in employment. If there is a gap in employment, the lender will need a written explanation detailing the transition. If you have changed jobs from one salaried role to another salaried role, with a different title and a different position — even within a different industry — that still should be fine for your lender as long as you are paid the same way — a flat salaried income.

What If You’re Salaried With Overtime, Commissions or Bonuses?

Have a new job? Or a new salaried role with big commissions, overtime or bonuses? If you do not have a history of this additional add-on income, it cannot be counted for use when qualifying for a new loan.

Here’s an example of a transition that a lender will find acceptable when calculating average income: A police officer has earned overtime plus salary for the past 24 months, and decides to change jobs to become firefighter with overtime potential. In this case, the overtime will be included in the 24-month average. The overtime, bonuses or commissions must be consistent during that time period for that type of income to be included in the average. A borrower can’t have a history of overtime, then change jobs and now have add-on commission income and expect the lender to include the add-on income in the 24-month average when there is no prior history of it.

Changing From Salary to Hourly Pay

If you are moving from a salary role to an hourly role, the lender is going to have to use your hourly income supported with a pay stub and verification of employment. As long as the change is within the same field and your title and role are similar, you should be in the clear.

Future Promotion or Raise On Deck

Congratulations, you’ve been offered a promotion! But first: Has it actually occurred yet? If not, you will be hard-pressed to get the lender to use the projected income, even if it is guaranteed.

If you cannot provide a pay stub with year-to-date income (usually a 30-day pay stub depending on your specific lender requirement), along with a letter detailing the change, you won’t get approved for the loan. Let’s say, for example, you are searching for the house and you know in the next four months your income is going to increase to $6,000 per month because you’ll have a new role within your company. In order for that $6,000 per month income to be used in the calculation, you’d have to get the details of the raise, including the role change letter and at least one pay stub.

So if you are thinking about getting a mortgage, even if it is further down the road, consider opening a dialogue with a lender now so you can be guided through any income bumps the past or future may hold. It is especially critical for homebuyers to get pre-approved with a lender upfront prior to house-hunting. This process includes allowing a lender to review your credit, debt, income and assets to assess your ability to qualify.

This is also a good time to start looking over your credit reports and checking your credit scores so you can address any problems in advance of applying for a mortgage.

Source: blog.credit.com ~ By Scott Sheldon ~ Image: pixabay.com

Homebuyers Are Willing to Make Big Sacrifices for Top Schools

  • About 75 percent of homebuyers said that access to excellent schools was important in their search.
  • Nearly 80 percent of buyers gave up some home features to land in their preferred school district, with about one in five sacrificing a garage.
  • Palo Alto is home to the top-ranked school district and high school in California this year and also claims America’s best college.

Purchasing a home in a good school district has always been a high priority for buyers who have or want children, and recent survey results show just how much a neighborhood’s educational pedigree matters.

Nearly three-quarters of successful homebuyers said that the quality of the school district was either important or very important in their purchasing decision, according to a realtor.com poll and an accompanying analysis by company Chief Economist Danielle Hale. About the same amount — 78 percent — sacrificed some features to score a home in their desired school district.

Although a separate survey conducted by realtor.com earlier this year found that a garage was the No. 1 home amenity, 19 percent of buyers gave up that essential to gain access to an excellent school district. Eighteen percent sacrificed a large backyard, 17 percent gave up an updated kitchen and additional bedrooms, and 16 percent were willing to forgo an outdoor living space.

So what criteria defines a good school in the eyes of homebuyers? For 59 percent, test scores are the most important thing to look for. Next on the list are accelerated curriculums (53 percent) and music programs (49 percent).

The analysis also examined the most popular schools in every state based on 2018 search data from realtor.com. In California, the most searched elementary school is Cordelia Hills Elementary Hills in the Solano County city of Fairfield. For high schools, buyers are performing the most searches for Clovis North High School, located on the outskirts of Fresno.

Excellent educational opportunities are one of the reasons that Silicon Valley remains such a sought-after — and expensive — destination for California homebuyers. Earlier this year, Niche.com ranked school districts in Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Saratoga, and Mountain View as the best in California. Palo Alto’s Henry M. Gunn High School ranks No. 1 in the Golden State, while Stanford University is at the head of the class on Niche.com’s 2018 list of America’s best colleges.

But buyers who are intent on providing their children with a top-tier Palo Alto education will need to dig deep to pull it off. According to MLS data, the median price for a single-family home in the Santa Clara County city in the second quarter was $3.29 million, a year-over-year gain of 15.5 percent.

Source: blog.pacificunion.com ~ Image: pixabay.com

25 AWESOME STAYCATION IDEAS

Ah vacation.  How many of us don’t sometimes wish we could escape the hustle, bustle, & day-to-day responsibilities of our normal lives for a week of fun and relaxation somewhere far, far away?

The truth is that for many of us a traditional vacation is not always in the cards.  Between restaurants, hotels, and transportation, travel costs can add up fast especially when those costs are multiplied for a family.  And even when the cost isn’t a factor, sometimes health concerns or work obligations prevent us from leaving town anytime the urge strikes.

But that doesn’t mean when Spring Break or summer vacation time rolls around and the kids are home from school that you can’t still have a great time! This year, why not plan a vacation in your own backyard?  A true Staycation is more than just a week at home, it is an intentional time of fun and relaxation for your whole family.  It does take a little effort to do it right, but can ultimately be just as satisfying as going somewhere far away.

SET SOME GROUND RULES

The point of a Staycation is to make it feel as much like a real family getaway as possible, without leaving the comfort of your own home.  Thus, to make sure the whole family is on the same page, it is good to start with some ground rules that everyone can agree on.  Start with deciding exactly when your vacation at home starts and ends, and then set a few guidelines for what your family may and may not do during this time.  These could include all or some of the following:

  • No smart phone
  • No email
  • No computer or video games
  • No television
  • No working from home
  • No worrying
  • No fighting
  • Family time only—no independent activities or outside plans
  • No cooking
  • No cleaning
  • No laundry

PLAN FOR FUN!

Just like a real vacation, the more you plan for fun, the more successful your Staycation is likely to be.  Start by setting a reasonable, realistic budget for your week of fun at home.  Set some money aside for activities, eating out, and perhaps even paying for a splurge or two such as paying for a house cleaner or treating yourself to a massage or pedicure at a local spa.

DIG DEEPER

Next, take the time to figure out just what you will do on your Staycation.  If your kids are old enough to have an opinion, hold a family meeting to discuss your ideas and to get a feel for what everyone wants to do. (The list below is a great start!)  If you like spontinaeity, consider putting everyone’s ideas into a jar, then picking one activity each day.  Or, if your family prefers more structure, use your ideas to develop an itinerary for the week.

Be sure to also spend some time prepping your home and kitchen to make things as easy—and neat—as possible for your relaxing week at home.  Gather menus to all the local restaurants that offer takeout and delivery or, if eating out every day is not an option, plan a freezer cooking session ahead of time to prepare a week’s worth of easy stress-free meals.  You might also want to consider using disposable dishes and serve ware to cut down on dishes.  Make sure to caught up on laundry before your week begins, and, if possible, do a family power-cleaning session the day before your Staycation starts.

GET CREATIVE

Chances are there are dozens of fun things to do in your own hometown that you either never have time for, or don’t even think about because they are so close by.  Here are 25 fun and creative ideas to get you started:

  • Try Geocaching-According to the official Geocaching website, “Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”  Get more information here, or find local Geocaching groups here.
Go on an a family adventure by getting out the map and exploring your neck of the woods.
  • Try Paintballing or Laser Tag-Invite a few other families to join yours and battle it out for the title of Most Awesome Family.  There are paintball or laser tag facilities almost everywhere—use Google to find one nearby.
  • Visit a Nearby National Park-National parks truly are one of our country’s greatest treasures, and most NPs have a variety of awesome family friendly activities to choose from.  After finding a park in your area, first visit the Ranger Station to pick up a Junior Ranger kit, then complete the required number of activities to receive a badge.  You can also purchase a Passport to National Parks at any NP gift shop, then collect passport stamps at every park you visit.  Most park fees are nominal, but you can also check out this page to find free entrance days.
  • Enjoy Your Local Theater-Check the local newspaper or theater website to see what plays, musicals, concerts, or family-friendly comedy shows will be playing during your planned Staycation time, then book tickets and plan for an evening at the theater.
  • Visit a Nearby Amusement Park-While Disney World may not be in the cards this year, that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a blast at a nearby theme park.  Check out this list to find an amusement park in your own state or town.
  • Visit a Local Children’s Museum-If you’ve got younger kids it can sometimes be hard to find activities that the whole family can enjoy, but a great Children’s Museum can definitely fit the bill!  Most have a variety of fun and interactive activities that can keep you busy the whole day.  Check out the Association of Children’s Museums website to find one in your area, and consider purchasing a Family pass—you can usually get your money back in just two visits.
  • Visit the Zoo or Aquarium-Who doesn’t love seeing animals?  Check out the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to find an AZA accredited zoo or aquarium in your area, then be sure to also check what special programs your zoo has available.  Some offer Junior zookeeper programs or opportunities to feed the animals, while some others even allow you to spend the night in the zoo!  Be sure to pack a lunch to save on pricey zoo fare!
  • Check out the Local Library-Most libraries have family-friendly events and activities happening every weekend, and sometimes even daily during spring break and summer vacations.  Check your local library website for details.
  • Major or Minor League Sporting Event-While major league events are a lot of fun, they can get pricey quickly, especially for a family.  Luckily almost every city has a minor league team these days, which can give you (almost) the same experience for a fraction of the price!  Be sure to check out which days include special events, such as free caps or fireworks for added fun!
  • Go Bowling-If your kids are small, try bumper bowling; for older kids go at night during “glow bowling” times!  Many bowling alleys around the country even participate in a free bowling program that allows kids to bowl free and parents to join them for just a few dollars more.
Sometimes every family needs to pitch a tent and kick back together, cooling your bare feet in the breeze!
  • Camp in Your Own Backyard-Why not enjoy the great outdoors in your own backyard?  Set up a tent and sleeping bags, build a fire (or use the grill) to cook s’mores, and take turns telling ghost stories.  Then download the Night Sky app (make sure your device is GPS-enabled first!) to identify stars, planets, and even satellites in the sky.
  • Tour a Local Factory or Brewery-Is there a large manufacturing facility near your town or city?  Most offer tours and even samples of their goods.  Check the company website for details!
  • Visit a Nearby Tourist Spot-Is there an area nearby that always draws the crowds? Even if you normally avoid the tourist traps, every once in a while it is fun to become a tourist in your own town.  Make all the cheesy stops and take pictures along the way!
  • Theme Restaurant or Dinner Theater-Make dining an event!  Depending on where you live there may be theme restaurants, dinner theater, or even a murder-mystery dinner train or cruise
  • Go Paddleboarding or Canoeing-If there is a river, lake, or ocean nearby, chances are pretty good there is also a paddleboard or canoe rental facility nearby as well.   Both are a fun way to enjoy the water and test your skills!
  • Create Your Own Art-Spend an afternoon getting creative at a nearby paint-your-own pottery facility.  Not only is it fun, you’ll have your own gorgeous dishes to take home when you’re done.
  • Get Wet-Spend the day at a local pool or waterpark, or just head to the beach!  If that sounds like too much effort, simply set up a slip & slide in the backyard and have a family water day at home.
  • Tackle a family project-Have the kids been begging for a tree house or wanting to redecorate their rooms?  Consider spending your week together working on something to improve your home.  You’ll not only bond while painting and building together, but at the end of the week have something concrete to show for your time!
  • Host Your Own Film Festival-Pick a theme, allow each family member to pick a movie, then get comfortable for a day of movies.  Be sure to provide plenty of snacks, and take breaks to discuss and rate each film.
  • Give Yourselves a Makeover-Do hair and makeup at home, or take a day to go to the local spa or beauty parlor.  Complete the new look with a new outfit!
  • Find a Local Festival-Check your local newspaper or chamber of commerce website to find out what is happening in your town or towns nearby the week of your Staycation.  Depending where you live there are often events happening almost every weekend!
  • Go Golfing-If dad is into real golf, consider spending an afternoon doing a family golf lesson; otherwise, stick to mini golf at a local novelty course!
  • Play Outside-Go fly a kite, take a walk, go for a bike ride, or take a hike–most state and national parks have at least a few walking, hiking, or biking trails to choose from.  Do a little research to find one that fits your family’s athletic ability, then head out to enjoy the great outdoors.  Don’t forget to pack snacks and water for your trek!

RELAX AND ENJOY!

For most people—and moms especially—the hardest part of trying to “relax” at home is letting go of the all the everyday obligations and distractions that bombard us in our own homes.  But the key to having the best Staycation ever ultimately has nothing to do with the activities you choose, but with your own attitude and commitment to making your week a time of fun and relaxation.   Let the chores be for a week and instead give yourself permission to kick back and enjoy the moment.  Laugh and talk with your kids and spouse and create memories that you will cherish for a lifetime.  This is your time…..make the most of it!

Source: livingwellspendingless.com ~ Image: Pixabay