If you’re going to be selling your home this spring, your agent will likely suggest holding an open house when your home hits the market. Why is an open house a good idea? Think of an open house as your home’s debut to a new group of people who may fall in love with it, given the chance. Prospective buyers will want to visit the homes they are considering in person. They want to see if they feel at home in your house. If they can picture themselves living there.

When your residential real estate agent sets up an open house for your home on the market, they’ll likely take several steps to make sure it’s successful.

  1. They have you remove personal items, photos, valuables, and clutter to present the home as a neutral place where prospective buyers can picture themselves
  2. They may stage your home with different furniture to make it feel updated
  3. They may ask you to repaint colorful walls to a neutral color
  4. They’ll ask you to have a place to take kids and pets during the open house

Open houses are a great way to increase foot traffic to your home, and improve your chances of selling quicker for a better price. You are attracting interested parties, and by showing off your home in its best light, you’ll be turning interested parties into activated buyers.

If you’re starting the home buying process, you’ve heard the term “escrow”. What is that exactly, and how does it apply to buying a home? Escrow refers to an account where money is held by a third party until a certain condition of a situation has been met, then the funds are released to the appropriate party. There are two types of escrow situations you may run into when you are buying a home.

Earnest Money

When you’ve found the home you wish to purchase, the buyer’s agreement typically includes a good faith deposit called “Earnest Money” which is put in an escrow account until the buying process reaches a conclusion. You pay this deposit to show that you are serious about buying the home. If the home purchase continues and is successful, the escrow account holding the earnest money will apply it to your down payment.

Taxes and Insurance

When you purchase a home, your mortgage lender will create an escrow account that is designed to pay the taxes and insurance for your home. A portion of your total mortgage payment every month goes into this account, all year long. It collects there in escrow waiting to pay your taxes and your insurance. When tax time comes at the end of the year the escrow account pays your home’s property taxes. Same goes for your home’s insurance policy. When that comes due, the escrow account pays that bill.

You’ve got a home now, and it’s a big investment. So of course you are protecting your investment with home insurance. But is your home totally protected? Maybe not. You might consider adding a home warranty. Think of a home warranty as a partner to home insurance. Home insurance protects you against damage to your property and your home’s structure, in a case like fire or theft. But what about when your air conditioner stops working in the middle of July? Or when your dishwasher floods the kitchen? That’s where a home warranty can come in handy.

Home warranties are a type of service contract that offers access and preferred pricing to many different types of approved service companies, for a monthly or yearly fee. On top of the yearly warranty contract fee, you’ll pay a fixed price for any service call — whether its your water heater or your electricity. These service fee, and coverage limits on specific systems and appliances will vary depending on which warranty company you choose.

Many times, when you purchase an older home, the seller buys a home warranty for you for the first year. New homeowners, who don’t know how to fix things, can find this a very helpful plan to have. Home warranties are not mandatory to have, but homeowners can find some peace of mind with a home warranty if their home has older HVAC, plumbing and appliances. 

Part of the home buying process involves getting a home appraisal. An appraisal sets a fair market value for a home or property so that a bank can lend the proper amount for the mortgage loan. An appraisal is carried out by a qualified appraiser that takes into consideration a home’s age and condition and it’s unique features, and then compares it to the value of local homes that are similar. 

The home appraisal process can last a few hours. During this time, the appraiser will examine and measure the home’s dimensions, evaluating the condition of the home inside and out. They are looking for the home to be well maintained, and will write down anything that appears to be neglected or broken. They will most likely take pictures and notes as a part of the process. Remember that the yard, and the curb appeal can affect the appraisal of a home as well.

Much of a home’s appraisal value is derived from the value of similar properties in the area that have sold recently. Other features that are heavily considered in an appraisal are number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the home’s floorplan functionality, amenities and square footage. An appraisal will also be interested to know about any improvements that have been made recently to the home that would help determine value, so documenting those as they are made can be helpful in the future.

Living in cramped quarters? There are little-used spaces in your house that you can turn into storage for a cleaner, more clutter free home this year. Get creative and see where you can add storage! 

  1. Under Seating: You’ve heard of under-the-bed flat storage containers. You can use this same idea under your sofa, living room chairs, and dressers. Choose a flat-style box or basket that fits neatly under a specific piece of furniture, and you’ll have an instant place to hideaway items that you need but use infrequently in that room. 
  2. Behind Closed Doors: Every door in your house is an opportunity for storage. Whether that’s a hanging shoe rack on your bedroom door, a canned-goods dispenser on your kitchen door, or linen storage on your bathroom door, don’t overlook this unused space.
  3. Secret Bookshelf Storage: Have empty bookcase shelves, but not a lot of books? Cover the front of a box with book spines and use it as a secret storage box right on your bookshelf. It’ll fit in and you’ll be able to store non-book items with easy access.
  4. Staircase Storage: Retrofit your staircase with pull-out storage compartments! Store your winter clothing, extra blankets, whatever you need in a previously unused spot.
  5. Above the Door: Every doorway in your home is about one to two feet of used space. Hang a shelf above each door to give yourself a bit more storage in every room.

With this new home buyer tip list in your hand, you can make buying your first home easier! It’s a seemingly never-ending process with multiple steps, but once you know what those steps are and what comes next, it won’t seem so daunting.

  1. Before your start looking, assess your personal finances. Know what you can and cannot afford in a new home. Your expected housing expense monthly should be close to 30% of your income, so be realistic.
  2. Go to your mortgage lender, and get preapproved for your loan. This will save you time and heartache because you’ll know what size of house to look for, in what price range. 
  3. Save diligently for your down payment. Your mortgage lender will be checking your bank account to make sure you have adequate savings for the down payment, closing costs and mortgage.
  4. Check with your lender to find out if you qualify for any of the government programs for first time home buyer assistance.
  5. Gather all of your financial documents together (as if you are doing your taxes) because you’ll need these to secure your loan.
  6. Be patient! Pinpoint your search to neighborhood that match your lifestyle needs. Lean on your real estate agent for help.

Reduce your stress by doing as much research as you can into buying a home ahead of time, and following all the advice of your agent. 

Saving for a down payment can feel overwhelming when you start. But it does not have to be! Break the saving process down into smaller steps, and with time you’ll see progress. Your first step is to determine much you need to save. This can be anywhere from 5% to 20% of the purchase price of the home you want to buy, depending on the type of mortgage you’re getting and your credit worthiness. Remember, the bigger the down payment, the smaller your monthly payments will be!

Here are some tips to save and start growing your down payment now. Start by creating a separate “Down Payment” savings account to put money into. This way, you’ll see it grow, and will be less inclined to use that money for something other than your down payment.

Kitchens are often called the heart of a home. Why? Whatever the gathering, people seem to gravitate to this particular space. Maybe it’s the warmth, or maybe it’s the food. Whatever the reason, you can cultivate more of that energy and make sure your kitchen is truly the heart of your home with some simple additions. 

Overall, by thinking carefully about your kitchen and how it is used, you can make it easier for people to gather together and enjoy the space. And they’ll always feel comfortable and loved in the heart of your home.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner! This year, you can include your whole family in the celebration of love with these family-friendly Valentine’s Day celebration ideas.

  1. Hold a “Secret Cupid” exchange: Draw each other’s names ahead of time, and get a small gift, or make a beautiful cad for your secret cupid recipient. Help children with supplies to make their card or shopping for their gift.
  2. Red & Pink Dinner: See if you can create a whole dinner using only red and pink foods! Think ham, apples, red cabbage, beets, cranberry sauce, pink vodka sauce on tomato-basil pasta, strawberries and raspberries. Tint the mashed potatoes pink! Use your imagination to the delight of your whole family.
  3. Chocolate Creation: Create a special chocolate dessert together like a chocolate cake, cupcakes, homemade ice cream, chocolate pie, brownies, or even a fancy chocolate fondue!
  4. Decorate Valentine’s Day cookies for others: Turn Valentine’s Day into a family volunteer project and make cookies for grandparents, neighbors or teachers.
  5. Make a love list: Ask each family member to list 5 things they love about each of the other people in your family. At dinner time, ask each person to read their list out loud, so everyone can hear their best qualities!

Children love doing nice things for others, and Valentine’s Day can be the day to reinforce that habit and show kids tangible ways that.

When a home is being bought or sold, there is most often a home inspection involved as a part of the sale process. A home inspection is usually a short-term examination of the condition of the home and its systems, conducted by a qualified home inspector. Typically, a home inspector is looking for five very important parts of the home to be in working order, and will report if they are not up to par.

Your real estate agent can assist you in a home inspection by interpreting for you each of the inspector’s recommendations. The top five things that home inspectors are looking at during a home inspection are the foundation, the roof, the plumbing, the electrical system and the HVAC system. The inspector’s report on the condition of these items can be a potential deal-breaker in some situations.

Inspections cost several hundred dollars, but are well worth it to acquire an overview of a potential home. Inspections can reassure you that the house is sound. They can alert you to small issues that are easily fixed. And they can warn you of bigger issues that may cause you to walk away from a home because a problem would have cost too much to resolve. 

Inspectors can only inspect what is easily accessible, so make sure that access to basements and attics is available on the day of inspection. Once you’ve received your inspection report you can go over it with your realtor to decide if the house is still a viable option.

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