Questions to Ask Before Buying a House

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What to Know When Buying a Home For The First Time

Buying a home for the first time can be daunting. Before you put down your hard-earned deposit and sign away the next 15-20 years of your lives, there are a few points to clarify, and this is the time to ask the questions.

When you are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, there are no questions that are too trivial. If you have a real estate agent, make sure you lean on them for advice. If they are worth their salt, they will be someone to lean on for all the things you’re unsure of.

Having a first-time home buying guide is always useful. You can also seek assistance from family and friends that have already been through the process.

Consider a few of the following points as a first time home buyer. These are great questions to ask yourself as you journey towards owning your first house.

  • How far will you be from work, and how good is the public transport?
  • How long does the commute take?
  • Do you want to live near shops, schools, hospitals, cafes, and parks?
  • Will you be near enough to Mom and Dad so you can drop in for dinner?
  • If you are pregnant, how near is your hospital?
  • Can the kids walk to school? Homes in sought after school districts always sell really well! So even if you are not having children consider this fact from a resale perspective.
  • You want a neighborhood with a good community appeal, where you have a large enough population to support cafes and diverse restaurants, and possibly a good pizza/sub shop.
  • Do you have a dog? You will want an off-leash dog park, to take Fido for a run, and a local vet.
  • You are busy, so look for a home requiring minimal renovation. Major renovations are not affordable when you are in your first home. It would help if you got a bit more equity first. Having said that, even minor renovations require a handy hardware store nearby.
  • Try not to exceed your budget. The lender will look for some leeway in the budget, so when you choose a home, make sure, based on your combined salaries, that you can afford it. You want to keep your housing costs, including insurances, between 25% and 28% of your monthly take-home pay. This is a bit easier for a couple than for a single buyer.
  • Are you eligible for any first home buyer grants or incentives? The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also provides grants to first home buyers. If you apply early in the new financial year, you may be eligible to receive one, important to apply early as the program has limited funds, is soon exhausted, and is not refunded until the following fiscal year. You just may qualify!

Questions to Ask When Buying a Home

Questions to Ask and Things to Do Before Buying a Home

Get a Mortgage Preapproval

Once you have everything in place, try to get your mortgage preapproval in writing from a well-known lender. It is always a good idea to comparison shop a few lenders as well before settling on one.

Be prepared to have your financial information (proof of employment and income) verified for written preapprovals.

These last for about three months and you are then ‘buyer ready.’

Make Sure You Have a Professional Home Inspection.

Have a look to be sure that the roof, foundation, HVAC systems, flooring, and walls are all in good order. Make sure you have a house inspection before closure done by a well respected local professional.

You really want to know before you put the escrow deposit down if there is anything to be done. Home inspections are also a great learning exercise about the property you are purchasing.

The home inspector will go over all the systems, especially the furnace, air-conditioning, and electrical. They will check the basement for dampness and mold. A good inspector will also have a keen eye for evidence of termites, other insects, and rodents.

Getting a home inspection done is especially important when you are purchasing a fixer-upper home.

Is The Home Low Lying?

Is the house near a river or a low lying flood plain. You don’t want to be paying for flood insurance as it is costly. If the area is a flood zone, it might be why the home is cheaper. Once a house is flooded, it is never the same again. So, avoid any possible flood area.

Is The House on a Busy or Noisy Road?

Houses on major roads are usually less expensive. If you decide to purchase on a major road, make sure that the house has insulation, as a major road can be very noisy and polluting. Avoid big thoroughfares if you can, because it won’t have a good resale value.

Think About Using a Buyer’s Agent?

If you are having difficulty sifting through the choices available, you may decide to hire a buyer’s agent. It likely won’t cost you anything as real estate commissions are typically paid by sellers.

A great buyer’s agent will be in your corner working hard to find you the right home. The best agents will not offer any pressure for you to purchase. If you are a busy professional, having someone scouring the multiple listing service for you every day can be a godsend.

Make an Offer Stick

Start attending open houses to get a feel for the market. Are real estate values rising, falling, or stable. If home prices are falling, that will be good news for you. It might be possible to find a house you previously thought to be unaffordable.

When you find the home that makes you happy, you’ll want to pounce on it, especially if it is an excellent deal. Get together with your real estate agent and write the offer. Be prepared to have some give and take, which is often the case. Negotiating is something buyers, and sellers do. Try to make it a win-win if you can.

If the seller has already bought elsewhere, you will probably be in the driver’s seat as there will be some urgency to get a deal done.

On the other hand, if you are in a hot seller’s market, be prepared to move quickly. There could be multiple offers and bidding wars. Unfortunately, there will be less flexibility. To get the house you really want, you’re probably going to need to step up to the plate and give the seller their desired terms.

It is vital to be proactive at this stage, as you want to get into a house before your preapprovals expire. The financial markets are very mercurial, and especially in a rising market, conditions change very quickly.

Prepare For Moving

One of the most arduous tasks when buying or selling a home is moving. The move can not only be physically stressful but mentally as well. There are so many things to get done. Did you change your address with the post office? How about getting one of the best moving companies in the area?

Maybe you have found that hiring professional movers will be too expensive and rent a moving truck instead? Lots of folks choose to rent a moving truck from U-Haul because of the convenience and lower cost.

These are all things that should be thought about well in advance. Proper planning goes a long way when buying your first house.

Final Thoughts on Buying a First House

Once you have the finance approved for your new house, it is important to be ready to recognize and grab a good deal when it comes along. Buying a home for the first time can be a full time and stressful job. You will have a limited amount of time to perform what seems like an endless list of tasks. The good news is, it will soon be over, and you will be in your own home.

Hopefully, you have found some of these first-time homebuyer tips to be useful.

10 Things to Look for in a New Neighborhood

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From floor plans to square footage, home buyers spend a lot of time trying to find the perfect house. However, it’s also important to know what you’re looking for in a neighborhood.

The community you choose will have an impact on everything from your daily activities to your property taxes.

There’s a lot to consider as you start your search, which is why it’s helpful to have a checklist before you start looking on one of the popular home search websites.

Here are 10 things to look for in a new neighborhood. 

Picking a Neighborhood

Good Schools

Regardless of whether you have kids, your local school district is incredibly important because it can have a big impact on your home’s value, so it’s important to do a little research. Most school districts are assigned a letter grade indicating their performance level. 

If you do have children, you should also take time to ask people in the community how they feel about the specific schools your kids would attend. You may also want to consider the availability of bus routes and walkability to those schools if that’s important to your family.

Demographic Details

People buy homes at different stages of life. Perhaps you’re expecting your first child and want to live in a tight-knit neighborhood with plenty of young families. On the other hand, if you’re a new retiree, you probably prefer a quieter neighborhood with more opportunities for recreation and social gatherings. 

Whatever phase of life you’re in, consider a neighborhood that fits your demographic desires. Your Realtor can provide this type of data to help you find an area that fits your lifestyle. 

Safety 

It’s essential to feel safe in your own home. Research crime rates in a potential neighborhood before you submit an offer on a house. 

If it appears there may be problems, talk with local police about the area in question. You may find that the ZIP code has a few streets prone to crime, but the neighborhood is safe overall. 

A little research will go a long way when it comes to determining the safety of a neighborhood.

Walkability

It’s easy to overlook, but walkability says a lot about a community. You’ll likely want sidewalks that facilitate easy walking, running, and biking. The last thing you want to worry about is a car zooming by.

Some people even prefer to have a high walkability score to local amenities, such as coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores. 

Low Noise

Visit a potential neighborhood on different days at various times to scope out the noise situation. Are trees lining the backyard hiding a major road with traffic noises that would keep you up all night? Are flights from the city airport right overhead? 

These noises won’t go away. Even if you’re willing to live with them, a future buyer may not feel the same way. If you’re trying to sell your house fast, this could deter interested buyers. Plus, it could have an effect on resale value.

Nearby Amenities

Think about the amenities you access on a regular basis. Whether it’s a daily latte, the grocery store, or even the dry cleaner, make sure you have what you need nearby.

For those who now work from home, it may be important to find a nearby coworking space to escape to when your to-do list is long.

Families with kids may also want to find a neighborhood with parks and community pools.

If you have frequent medical needs, a hospital and other health care facilities would also be an important aspect to consider. It’s important to think about these amenities and their proximity to a new home. 

Manicured Homes

You may feel proud to have the nicest house on the block, but you don’t want to be the shining star among a string of dilapidated homes.

Your home’s value is affected by the surrounding neighborhood, which is why it should look clean and well-kept.

Communities with a homeowners association usually have specific rules for ensuring that every house has curb appeal. That said, living in a community run by an HOA means you’ll have monthly fees. Look closely at the dues you’ll owe and any noteworthy restrictions. 

Those who plan on downsizing often do so into a more manageable neighborhood with a homeowners association.

An Easy Commute

Adding time to your commute is as bad as a pay cut when it comes to job satisfaction, according to researchers. 

If you intend to stay at your current job after you move, it’s important to calculate your round-trip commute. In fact, you should test out the drive at the same time you’d be on the road getting to and from work. 

This will help you assess the traffic, brainstorm alternative routes, and make a final decision before you decide on a neighborhood. 

Public Transportation

If you depend on it, public transportation is important to research before you choose a neighborhood. Whether you’re traveling by bus or train, make sure you have the stops you need close to the house. People who travel for work on a routine basis should also consider the distance to the nearest airport. 

As the use of rideshare services continues to rise, there are more options, but wait times can be extended in some neighborhoods. If you frequently use Uber, Lyft, or other services, open the app when you’re in the neighborhood and check wait times and prices for rides to your usual spots.

Affordable Property Taxes

It’s easy to fixate on the price of a house, but don’t neglect research on local property taxes. This is easily overlooked, especially when they’re rolled into closing costs

The county where you buy a home will impact how much you pay every year. If the value of homes in your neighborhood are expected to rise, your property taxes will likely be higher each year. Are you able to make the necessary payments in the event of an increase?

Taxes are one of those hidden costs in home buying that can really make a difference.

Although your property taxes can be much different than your neighbor’s, you will likely see certain trends. Find a local real estate agent who can help you estimate the costs before making a decision. If you’re concerned about saving money during your transaction, consider lowering commission costs by choosing a discount Realtor.

Tips for Choosing The Right Mortgage Lender

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For many people buying a first home is a milestone event involving no small amount of planning, patience, and careful decision-making.

Between choosing the right realtor, deciding when and where to buy, and finding the perfect home, you’ll make hundreds of decisions throughout the process — not the least of which involves choosing a mortgage lender.


Knowing the basics of mortgage lending and how mortgages differ from one another will help you find the lender with the best offer for your needs.

How to Choose a Lender

Where can you get a mortgage?

There are many avenues available to securing a mortgage loan, including a conventional bank where you may already hold a savings account, an online lender, or using a mortgage broker who works with many lenders to help you find the right mortgage.

Conventional Banks

Banks typically offer mortgage loans as part of their portfolio of services that may also include savings and checking accounts, investment services, and other types of loans.

As a first-time home buyer, you might be privy to benefits like better interest rates or reduced closing costs by shopping for a mortgage where you do the rest of your banking.

Credit Unions

Credit unions, like banks, offer a range of services like checking and savings accounts as well as mortgage loans. However, you must be a member of the credit union to gain access. Some people prefer credit unions for their personalized service and “members only” benefits.

Nonbank Lenders

Nonbank lenders include companies that operate entirely online and often specialize in offering mortgage loans exclusively.

Some advantages to using an online lender include quick turnaround time for pre-approval, the ability to securely upload required documents (reducing the chances of missed paperwork deadlines), and the simplicity of completing the application — including digital signatures — online.

Mortgage Brokers

A mortgage broker works with a network of lenders, will search and review a number of offers, and advise on which mortgage offer may be the best for you.

A mortgage broker may have access to a wider array of options and better rates and can streamline the mortgage process. There will be many mortgage programs to choose from.

On the other hand, mortgage brokers typically charge a fee that, while paid by the lender, is often passed on to the buyer through the terms of the mortgage. Another disadvantage is that some lenders don’t work with mortgage brokers.

How to prepare for applying for a mortgage

Before you start shopping and comparing in preparation for pre-approval, make sure your finances are in good shape to ensure you’re eligible for the best rates.

  • Check your credit score:  You’re entitled to a yearly free credit report from each of the three big credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). Give yourself several months in advance to check your credit score. Report and correct any mistakes or misinformation. Strengthen your score if necessary by paying off credit card balances, and making sure payments are on time. Don’t open up any new lines of credit or take out other large loans (like a car loan).
  • Decide on your budget: A big part of finding the right mortgage is determining how much house you can afford. Lenders will approve a loan based on your gross income, and outstanding debt, among other things. Based on those criteria alone, buyers sometimes find themselves approved for a larger loan than they anticipated. However, this doesn’t mean you should max out your mortgage loan and buy a home at the top of your budget.

Don’t forget that lenders are not factoring in other home-buying expenses like real estate commissions, inspection fees, and moving costs.

Your real estate agent can advise you on how to budget for the entire home buying process, including calculating commissions, closing costs, and other fees.  Consider the total of your other monthly expenses as well when determining how much house you care to afford.

  • Get pre-approved: Different lenders may have different documentation requirements but in general start gathering documents you’ll need for pre-approval including:
    • Driver’s license or ID with photo
    • Social Security numbers
    • Last three pay stubs, or from the last 60 days
    • Social security or pension income statements if applicable
    • List of all financial accounts including savings, checking, brokerage or other investment accounts, 401K, IRA, or other retirement accounts
    • Two years of Federal tax returns
    • Print out of all bank statements from the last 60 days
    • List of all outstanding debt including auto, student, or other homeowners loans, credit card statements, alimony, or child support
    • Down payment information including the amount and source(s) of funds

Questions to ask a mortgage lender

You may choose to apply for a mortgage with more than one lender, and shopping around may result in more favorable rates. Be sure to ask the following of any lender you’re considering: 

  1. What type of loans do you offer? 
  2. Which type of mortgage do you feel is best for me and why? 
  3. What will my interest and annual percentage rate be? 
  4. Who is my main contact after the loan goes into underwriting? 
  5. Will my interest rate be locked, and for how long? 
  6. How long does the process take? 
  7. What do I need to bring to closing?
  8. Will you sell my loan? 

Comparing your mortgage loan offers

Before making a final decision, it’s a good idea to compare at least three offers to ensure you’re getting the best terms and rates for your situation. Mortgage costs can vary greatly.

Interest rates are one variable to compare between offers, but not the only one. Interest rates change frequently, so be sure you’re comfortable with the rest of the loan terms before you lock in a rate.

Points are fees paid to the lender that allow a homeowner to pay a lower interest rate. If you plan to be in the home for 10-15 years, purchasing mortgage points may be worth it.

There are a large number of fees and third-party costs that are included with closing such as lender’s title insurance and title search fee, appraisal, recording fee, transfer fee, underwriting costs, and application fees.

Ask a lot of questions about anything you don’t understand and remember that many of the closing costs originating from the lender are negotiable, although they have no control over third-party costs.

Set yourself up for success by doing your homework on the mortgage basics before shopping for a lender — you’ll have a better understanding of which type of mortgage is right for you and your situation.

How to Know When It’s Time to Downsize Your Home

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The decision to downsize your home is a personal one that depends on many different factors. Although it may be an easy way to lower your bills, it can often be difficult to leave a house that holds treasured family memories. This is especially true for those who have been in the same place for many years, perhaps even decades.

The good news is, there are a lot of benefits to downsizing. The vast majority of people do it to save money, but there are plenty of other reasons why it may be an attractive option.

If you’re debating whether to sell your home and find something smaller, here are five signs it’s time to downsize. There are many considerations for downsizing.

  1. Maintenance is overwhelming or costly

Signs it is Time to Downsize

Taking care of a house can often feel like a full-time job. From routine cleaning to repairs and improvements, all of this maintenance takes time and money. If you have a large yard, you also have to worry about landscaping or perhaps even pool cleaning. 

Experts recommend putting away $1 per square foot for annual maintenance. When you take a look at your monthly spending, is this viable for your budget? If you are being forced to dip into your savings account to make repairs, this may be an indication that it’s time to downsize. 

When upkeep becomes too daunting, a smaller house is appealing, especially if you need to pay someone to accomplish cleaning and maintenance tasks.

  1. You have a lot of unused space

If your kids have all grown up and moved out, you’re probably living with a lot of unused space. Chances are, you don’t need two or three spare bedrooms, whether you use them for guests or your hobbies. Plus, once you hand over your kids’ belongings, there’s less to hold onto, making it possible to downsize more easily. 

Remember, even if you’ve paid off your mortgage, you’re still spending money on utilities for all of this unused space.

From water to electricity and gas, the extra square footage adds up. Likewise, property taxes and homeowner’s insurance premiums are also higher for a larger house. 

Ask yourself whether you’re really using the entirety of your space.

  1. Retirement is on the horizon

Retirement is an exciting phase of life that offers so much to look forward to. You’ll have time to enjoy the activities you love, spend time with friends or family, and travel.

For some people, this is a perfect opportunity to embrace the life of “snow birds” and purchase two small homes in different places. Going back and forth is a great way to escape extreme weather, such as desert summers or East Coast winters. 

Although retirement is something to look forward to, it does require a savvy financial plan to ensure you can live comfortably without the income of a full-time job. Selling your home is often a great way to cushion your bank account and ensure you have enough money to live the life you want for years to come. 

It’s also important to consider the fact that housing price increases have outpaced inflation by 150% over the past 50 years. This is good news for retirees holding onto homes they simply don’t need anymore. Your house is an important investment and retirement is often the best time to cash out. 

  1. Your lifestyle needs have changed

If you purchased your home 10, 20, or even 30 years ago, your life likely looks very different than it did back then. 

You’re probably less concerned with the schools in your neighborhood and more worried about aging in place. Even those in perfect health may have changing needs.

For example, it may be difficult to get around as easily as you once did, especially when it comes to stairs. This makes downsizing to a single-story home ideal.

What’s more, many people want to be closer to family members as they age. This makes it more convenient to get assistance with everyday tasks from grocery shopping to changing a light bulb. Plus, one of the big benefits is easier access to those you love and want to spend more time with, such as grand kids. 

  1. There are significant financial benefits

If you’ve already been thinking about downsizing, timing is everything. Are homes in your neighborhood flying off the market with high price tags? It may be a good time to consider this option.

Although the housing market can always change, there’s no denying we’re in a seller’s market and have been for quite some time! Low inventory is leading to higher home prices that make selling very attractive.

Further, it’s good to follow the 30% rule. If your housing expenses (mortgage, utilities, maintenance, property taxes, and insurance) are more than 30% of your monthly budget, it’s time to free up some cash. This is especially true if you’re finding it difficult to save or spend money on hobbies and fun activities. 

Downsizing can help ease the mental burden of feeling like there isn’t enough money to go around every month.

Explore your options

Making the decision to downsize isn’t easy, but there are many ways to explore your options.  

First, consider meeting with a real estate agent to talk about the housing market in your area. Find an experienced realtor who is interested in getting to know more about your wants, needs, and any concerns you have.

A real estate agent will help you navigate whether it’s the right time for you to sell by determining a realistic price estimate for your home. 

Prefer to sell to a cash buyer? While it’s better to work with a real estate agent, this can be a good option if you’re facing extreme financial trouble or have a very tight timeline.

There are many companies that buy houses for cash, as well as iBuyers. The iBuyers use technology to make an initial offer that can close in as little as two weeks.

You will just need to avoid some of the common house flipping mistakes.

In most cases, they pay closer to market value than the companies that buy houses for cash.