5 Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Buying a home can be nervewracking, especially if you’re a first-time home buyer. Not only is it probably the biggest purchase of your life, but the process is complicated and fraught with the unfamiliar lingo and surprise expenses.

To make the first-time home buying journey a little less stressful, NerdWallet has compiled these 5 tips to help you navigate the process more smoothly and save money. We’ve divided our list into three sections.

1. Pick the right neighborhood

Finding the right neighborhood is just as important as locating the right house. Research the schools, even if you don’t have kids, since that affects a home’s value. Look at local safety and crime statistics. How close are the nearest hospital, pharmacy, grocery store and other amenities you’ll use? Also, drive through the neighborhood on various days and at different times to check out traffic, noise and activity levels.


2. Make the most of an open house

Use this as another opportunity to scope out the neighborhood and your potential neighbors. During the open house, pay close attention to the home’s overall condition and look for any smells, stains or items in disrepair. Ask a lot of questions about the home, such as when it was built, when items were last replaced and how old key systems like the air conditioning and the heating are. If several other potential buyers are viewing the home at the same time as you, don’t hesitate to schedule a second or third visit to get a closer look and ask more questions.


3. Buy a home for tomorrow

It’s easy to look at properties that meet your current needs. But if you plan to start or expand your family, it may be preferable to buy a larger home you can grow into. Consider your future needs and wants and whether this home will suit them.


4. Let little things go

When you’re looking at a home, it’s easy to get caught up on superficial details like paint color, fixtures, and carpets. These features are easy to change once the home is yours, so don’t let those little details get in the way.


5. Check your credit

When you’re taking out a mortgage loan, your credit will be one of the key factors in whether you’re approved, and it will help determine your interest rate and possibly the loan terms.

So check your credit before you begin the home buying process. Dispute any errors that could be dragging down your credit score and look for opportunities to improve your credit, such as making a dent in any outstanding debts.


 

This article originally appeared on NerdWallet

The 5 Golden Rules for Home Staging on a Budget

Staging your home will get it sold faster, but sometimes we don’t always have the budget to stage a whole home. While if you can afford a stager, we suggest you do, but if not, this is how you can stage your home yourself and on a budget.

De-personalize

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Kiki interiors

Put family photos and decor away, buyers want to be able to picture themselves in your home. This includes photos and kids’ drawings or awards on the fridge. Also, don’t forget to clear out closets of unnecessary clutter. You can also get matching hangers to make a more visually appealing closet space.

 

 

 

Maximize

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RUE Magazine

Stuffed and overflowing closets are unattractive and shrink storage size, visually. Choosing gender neutral
colors for bedrooms also helps create more appeal to more people. A cohesive color scheme with a headboard and few decorative items can really improve the look of a bedroom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sanitize

bathtub-2485957_960_720The first thing you should do before anyone views your home is to clean it and give it a deep clean. There is no bigger turnoff than dusty shelves, hanging cobwebs, or strange odors. Whites in the bath give it a clean, simple, and sterile look. 

Modernize

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Hooked on Houses

A dated-looking home will receive lower offers. While renovating your home may not be the best solution in this situation, there are ways to modernize it. Start with the dining room, create a statement visual point of interest by adding fresh flowers. Add lighting or emphasize natural lighting with mirrors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These few simple tweaks can increase your home’s selling price by hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.

3 Crucial Reasons You Should Buy a Home Before 2017 Ends

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Buying a house in 2017 will feel kind of like you’ve jumped onto the subway just as the doors were closing. Your heart’s pounding and you’re winded from the race, but you made it—just in time.

OK, so maybe that’s a little exaggerated. But here’s the thing: Interest rates have begun to rise and will likely climb higher. Inventory is low and could shrink more. And home prices? Well, home prices are increasing—and they’re not predicted to fall anytime soon.

It’s tough to buy a home today in most places in the country because there are so few homes for sale,” says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for realtor.com®. “But if you wait to buy, then you’re gambling that the market will be better for you to purchase in the future.”

And that’s not a smart gamble, our real estate experts say. If you’ve been toying with the idea of buying, or you anticipate a life change that might force you to move—such as a new baby or a job transfer—you should be “buying as urgently and as soon as possible,” Smoke says.

So finish reading this, then start looking for a house. Here’s why.

1. Rates are rising

In 1981, when mortgage rates hit 18% and seemed to rise every day, single-digit rates seemed like an impossible dream.

Last August, however, rates on 30-year mortgages bottomed out at 3.55%. Now that the Federal Reserve finally decided to raise its key interest rate, mortgage rates have been climbing slowly. Today, the average rate is just above 4%; by 2019 or 2020, rates could easily climb to 6%.

“All signs point to this trend continuing,” says Richard DeNapoli, managing director for Coral Gables Trust and a former Florida real estate commissioner.

2. Inventory is shrinking

In November 2016, there were only 1.85 million homes for sale. That’s a nearly 10% drop from the year before. And it continues a trend of steady decline since just before the housing crash, when inventory peaked.

Real estate experts predict that inventory will continue to shrink, at least for the foreseeable future. That means that in most areas of the country, buyers have more homes to choose from today than they will next year.

Or even next month. If you get moving now (during the winter, which is largely considered to be real estate’s off-season), you’ll have less competition for those homes than you will in the peak spring and summer months.

Bottom line: Every day you wait to start looking for a new home, you face stiffer competition for fewer homes.

“If you think it’s bad right now, wait until April to August,” Smoke says.

3. Home prices are still rising

The bad news for buyers is that home prices now stand higher than before the 2007 crash, increasing 5% from 2015 to 2016. And housing experts expect an additional 2% to 3% jump in 2017, DeNapoli says.

“Prices continue to go up; we have yet to see that ceiling,” says Trevor Levin, a real estate agent with Nourmand & Associates in Los Angeles. “I think they have room to grow.”

How high prices will rise and how long they’ll remain high is anyone’s guess. Rising mortgage rates and the new Trump administration have introduced “uncertainty” into the real estate market, Levin says.

“And uncertainty is never ideal,” he says.

The good news? If you jump into the market pronto, you just might make it before those doors close.

 

This article originally appeared on Realtor.com

Spring Has Sprung in the Nation’s Housing Markets

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Gallila

Much of the country is looking at one more very big bite of winter before spring officially begins, but for the residential real estate market, spring is already underway—and new home buyers are sprouting everywhere.

Job creation so far this year is 30% stronger than in the same period last year. Unemployment is close to a low of more than nine years. Wages and income are also starting to pick up to growth levels we haven’t seen since 2009.

 And with more money in their bank accounts, consumers are feeling a boost in confidence that leads to big purchases … like homes! This year’s economic growth gives them another reason to buy sooner rather than later,  because stronger economic growth also means higher interest rates.

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New Bixby Knolls shopping center made from shipping containers opening

SteelCraft, a new food-focused shopping center in Bixby Knolls where repurposed shipping containers take the place of buildings, continues a commercial revival of the area long in the making.

Although a grand opening is set for the first weekend of February, the uncommon development has already started to shape up as a place of business. Steelhead Coffee began serving coffee from its container last week, and Smog City Brewery has opened its taps.

Other businesses will follow quickly this month. DeSano Pizza Bakery, from Santa Monica, is set to open Friday. In mid-January there will be openings of Waffle Love, from Utah, specializing in Belgian waffles; Tajima Ramen House from San Diego; and Fresh Shave, serving Hawaiian shave ice. The end of the month should see the openings of Lovesome Chocolate and a gourmet hamburger restaurant still to be named.

The official grand opening of SteelCraft will be on Super Bowl weekend, Feb. 3-5.

 

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Why housing numbers are not as horrible as they look

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September housing starts came in 9 percent below August and 12 percent below September 2015, according to the U.S. Census, but those big drops belie a huge improvement for the market, at least in this monthly read.

Those numbers are totals, based on both single-family homes, which are desperately needed, and multifamily apartments, which have seen a construction boom over the last three years.

The drop in housing starts was driven entirely by a big swing lower in multifamily construction. That may be a one-month phenomenon, because numbers on multifamily can be swayed dramatically by just a few large-scale apartment developments.

“Bottom line, the bizarre plunge in multifamily starts is inexplicable but the rise in permits says it was an outlier,” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst with the Lindsey Group.

Whatever the case, the apartment market is starting to cool slightly, as thousands of brand new, albeit mostly luxury, units come on line and occupancies start to level off from their climb to historic highs. Construction reached a cyclical high last year and is only moderating slightly this year.

Single-family home construction, which is what the housing market desperately needs, rose 8 percent for the month and 5 percent from a year ago. That is a positive for a sector that has been wildly conservative following the worst crash in history.

5 Top Home-Staging Mistakes

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Few home renovation reality show hosts are as enjoyable to watch as Chip and Joanna Gaines from HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” And for good reason: One, let’s face it, they’re a cute couple. Two, as the show’s before-and-after pics make clear, Chip (a contractor) and Jo (a designer) are a potent combo when it comes to transforming humble hovels into gorgeous homes.

And now fans craving more about this pair can get their fill with their first book, “The Magnolia Story,” out Oct. 18. This biography reveals how they first met (at an auto repair shop), the highs and lows of raising their “babies” (four kids and their home remodeling business, Magnolia Homes in Waco, TX), and plenty of lessons learned along the way about renovations, real estate, and relationships.

One of the keys to a successful home sale, says Jo, is home staging, where you arrange your furniture and décor (or some rented stuff) in a way that entices buyers to make an offer. Yet home staging is a highly misunderstood practice, one where home sellers can easily make missteps that can undermine these efforts.

Here, Jo reveals the top five home-staging mistakes she’s seen, so you’ll know to avoid them when selling your home.

Mistake No. 1: Purging all your family photos

“You’ll hear staging experts say to take down your family photos, kids’ artwork, and anything personal, so that a potential buyer can picture their family in your home, rather than seeing yours everywhere,” says Jo. “Personally, I love knowing that a house is well-loved, and seeing those personal touches displayed reminds me that my family would be happy there, too.”

Mistake No. 2: Including too much furniture

“Trying to put too much furniture in one space makes it look smaller than it really is,” Jo explains. “Try to stick with three large pieces at most per room to keep the house feeling big and open.”

Mistake No. 3: Not cleaning up

“It’s true that leaving your house a mess can keep a potential buyer from seeing how beautiful your space really is, so a quick cleaning blitz before a showing can do a lot of good,” says Jo. “When the house is clean, buyers can see you love your house—and know they will, too.”

Mistake No. 4: Stuffing clutter into closets

On the other hand, “if you’re scrambling to clean up when a real estate agent schedules a last-minute showing, don’t stuff your closets full of laundry, toys, odds, and ends,” says Jo. “Potential buyers will definitely want to know how much storage space your home has, so no closet will be safe for concealing messes. If you’re in a pinch, a last-ditch effort to hide a mess is under a bed.”

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Saving for a House in Los Angeles Costs $68 Per Day

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Saving for a home is tough, especially in a competitive (and expensive) market like Los Angeles. Putting away enough money to make a hefty downpayment requires discipline and firmly established goals. That’s why Realtor.com has released a handy new guide to saving in the nation’s 15 largest cities.

The site has calculated exactly how much aspiring homeowners should be squirreling away each day to save for a downpayment in their respective towns. The calculations are based on median home prices and the average percentage buyers put down in those areas. The real estate website also figured out how many Caramel Macchiatos you’d need to skip each day to reach that saving goal.

So, how much do LA homebuyers need to avoid Starbucks? Quite a bit. Realtor.com found that an average downpayment in the city is 18.3 percent of the sale price. With median home prices hovering around $678,000, that’s a savings goal of $124,074. Over five years, that’s $67.95 per day. Over 10 years, it’s $33.97 each and every day.

So, if you happen to consume eight Macchiatos a day, you’re in luck; all you’ll need to do to afford a downpayment is cut that expense out of your budget for the next decade. Everyone else, get more creative.

Author and TV host Michael Corbett tells Realtor.com prospective homeowners should consider putting tax refunds and annual bonuses toward a future down payment. Of course, given that saving goals in LA amount to nearly $25,000 annually for five years, buyers will probably have to look for plenty of other income sources as well.

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Mortgage rates remain stuck at a low level, spurring refinances

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Mortgage rates remained at their near-standstill this week after a so-so employment report.

It’s good news for homebuyers because interest rates on home loans continue to hover just above the modern-day record low. The lower the rate, the more homebuyers can afford to borrow.

It’s also good for the shrinking number of homeowners who would save by refinancing their mortgages but haven’t done so yet. Last week, 64% of mortgage applications were from homeowners who wanted to refinance, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

“However it would take another significant move down in mortgage rates to see a large increase in refinance activity,” Bill McBride wrote in his economics blog, Calculated Risk.

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6 trends moving California’s housing market this summer

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No. 1: Prices are still rising

The median selling price of a California home hit a nine-year high at $441,250, up 6.3 percent in a year, according to PropertyRadar. Gains are fairly widespread with prices in 18 of California’s 26 largest counties reaching similar heights. And for those who like pricey: San Mateo County hit $1.27 million, the highest median of any county in PropertyRadar records that date to 2001.

No. 2: Many buyers are still paying up

In June, 35 percent of sales sold at prices above the sellers’ asking price, says the California Association of Realtors. Those premium payments are down from May’s record 38 percent but above 33 percent in June 2015. That’s probably because 72 percent of the homes sold in June drew multiple offers in June vs. 65 percent a year earlier.

No. 3: Sales were down

Prices too high? The 41,291 California single-family homes and condominiums sold in June were down 4.5 percent in a year, PropertyRadar says. Year-to-date, sales are off 2.8 percent. Is it a shortage of shopper choices or are house hunters antsy about the economy?

No. 4: Even cash buyers are slowing down

PropertyRadar reports no-mortgage purchases were 19.7 percent of all June sales, but these all-cash deals were down 7.8 percent from June 2015. Purchases by shell companies, often investors using cash to buy, were down 2 percent from a year ago.

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