How to hunt for the right real estate agent before hunting for a home
Michele Lerner | Washington Post | link
The first steps in your house-hunting journey are finding a lender, getting prequalified for a loan and determining your budget. If you’ve done that and know how much you can spend, you’re ready to begin your search for a real estate agent who will represent your interests and help you become a homeowner. Some buyers choose an agent before finding a lender — either way, it’s important to line up a team of professionals as soon as you’re ready to buy a home.
“A good Realtor can help guide you through the financing part of buying a home by recommending a good lender,” says Karen Brown, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate in Reston. “In fact, a prequalification from a lender that your Realtor can vouch for can be an asset during the buying process, especially if you’re competing with other buyers for a home. I work with a lender who I know will answer calls on the weekends and evenings and make sure the transaction gets to closing, so that’s something I can share with the listing agent to make my buyers’ offer stronger.”Brown recommends lining up a lender and an agent at least six months before you buy a home. She sometimes works with buyers for as long as a year .
Why you need an agent
“Some people think they can buy a home without a Realtor, but this is a challenging market with lots of moving parts,” says Suzanne Des Marais, an associate broker with the 10 Square Team at Keller Williams Capital Properties in Washington. “You need a Realtor to help you manage it. You need someone who’s invested in educating you about how to buy a home and can help you interpret the local market while giving you some nitty-gritty advice like making sure you have some liquid cash available before you start looking at homes so you don’t have to wait to make an offer.”
Des Marais says that buying a home is a three-part process, including looking for property and arranging financing, negotiating a contract and then getting to settlement. She says an agent can provide advice and insight during each of those phases.
Single Design Moves That Make All the Difference
One good turn deserves a whole ideabook — check out these exceptional lone moves that make the room
Becky Dietrich | Houzz.com | link
Like you, I really enjoy browsing the homes featured on Houzz. There’s always a fresh idea, an important old idea restated or a spectacular new design to revel in. But one of my favorite things to do while I browse is to note the rooms where one thing —one imaginative stroke — makes all the difference. It might be an accessory, a paint color or a piece of furniture. But if it were not in that room, the look would be substantially diminished.
Let’s take a glimpse at some of these, with the hope that you’ll gain new vision for how to greatly enhance a space with simply one addition.
Think about this room without the bold wall color. Wow. Can you picture it being blander and more conventional?
Paint is one thing that can make or break a room. I seriously love paint! It is relatively inexpensive, the color options are almost infinite, and it is not overwhelming to change if you tire of it or it doesn’t work.
The one addition that makes a room special does not have to be a permanent fixture. It can change with your whim or with the season. Imagine this office without that green foliage on the desk. The combination of the lime-green color and the feathery texture adds an element that would be sorely missed.
VA Loans Have Record-Setting 2013
Chris Birk | Zillow Blog | January 23, 2014 | link
The Department of Veterans Affairs backed 630,000 mortgages in fiscal year 2013, an all-time high for the benefit program. That record volume punctuates an incredible recent run for VA loans, which have experienced tremendous growth in the wake of the financial collapse.
VA loan volume has soared 372 percent since fiscal year 2007, driven in large part by historically low interest rates and a more restrictive lending environment that made conventional and even FHA financing tough to secure.
In addition to the record volume, the VA made history in 2013 by guaranteeing its 20 millionth mortgage, which went to the surviving spouse of an Iraq War veteran.
VA lending boom
Here’s a snapshot of national VA loan volume over the past seven years:
Fiscal year 2013: 629,312 Fiscal year 2012: 539,884 Fiscal year 2011: 357,592 Fiscal year 2010: 314,011 Fiscal year 2009: 325,690 Fiscal year 2008: 179,670 Fiscal year 2007: 133,313
The need for higher credit scores and bigger down payments has reinvigorated this home loan program. VA loans have no required down payment and feature more flexible and forgiving requirements.
Despite that flexibility, they’ve had the lowest foreclosure rate of any mortgage on the market for nearly all of the past five years, according to statistics from the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Most VA lenders are looking for a credit score of at least 620. Even that can be a difficult benchmark for some veterans, but it’s considerably lower than typical requirements for both FHA and conventional financing. In November 2013, the average credit score on a successful conventional loan was 756, according to Ellie Mae; for FHA loans, it was 690.
Conventional and FHA loans also require a minimum down payment, typically 5 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively. About 9 in 10 VA borrowers purchase a home without putting down a single dollar.
Is Your Home a Ticking Time Bomb?
Christopher Solomon | Bobvila.com | February 17, 2014 | link
There are some maintenance and repair issues that homeowners just hate to deal with — either because they take time, cost money or just don’t seem, well, urgent. But, some of these problems can become ticking time bombs, poised to explode if they’re not defused early, when they are more like firecrackers than bombs.
Here are some of the top structural and mechanical time bombs in your home that experts say have the potential to blow up and are worth squelching now — before the big boom.
Why it’s explosive: Houses settle. But not all settling is the same. “A lot of times people will ignore the cracks in the brick veneer on the outside of the house, even when they get to be a half-inch or more,” says Bill Loden, incoming president of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Even though that brick is often just the “skin” of the house, a crack that large can signal much deeper problems with a moving foundation, Loden says. Caught early, a repair might cost a few thousand dollars. Caught too late, the tab could run $20,000 to $50,000.
Snuff the fuse: Some cracks in your house are essentially cosmetic — the result of natural settling. When is a crack something more? “If you see a crack big enough to put a No. 2 pencil in, you’re looking at a problem,” says Loden, who also owns Huntsville, AL-based Insight Building Inspection. Other signs of trouble: a tilting chimney or windows and doors that stick or jam, which can be caused by a moving foundation that is twisting their frames. If you suspect foundation issues, hire a structural engineer to evaluate your house, he says.
Why it’s explosive: ”Most people don’t pay any attention to their roof until they see water coming through the ceiling!” says Bill Jacques, outgoing president of ASHI and owner of American Inspection Service in Charleston, SC. But if you see drips in your living room, the problem is already far gone. A new roof could cost you “probably $8,000 to $10,000,” according to Jacques.
Snuff the fuse: “Some people say, ‘I’ve got a 20-year shingle. It’s gonna last 20 years.’ Well, no it’s not,” he says. “I would just recommend that about every five years they have the roof inspected.” One of the telltale signs of a wearing roof is coarse sand pooling at the base of gutter downspouts; the sand is most likely caused from granules of the shingles washing off. If you see a lot of it, then it’s a good idea to have someone climb higher. If you can safely get on the roof (be careful!) and the surface feels slippery, that’s another sign that the shingle material is coming off, Jacques says.
You can find evidence of additional problems under the roof. Water will usually enter the attic first. Hire an inspector, or look for stains around the chimney and the stack vents, or around other venting pipes that exit the house. Those are places where the metal flashing can fail, says Jacques. Also, look around the attic for wet and/or damaged insulation. Discovering issues early could mean the difference between repair and replacement — or a few hundred dollars rather than thousands.