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Improve Your Credit Score Before You Start House Hunting

If you want to buy a house and you’ll need to take out a mortgage, getting your credit score as high as possible should be a top priority before you begin searching for a home. Your credit score will be used to set your interest rate, so be sure to stay on top of it.

Check Your Credit Reports for Errors
Start by requesting copies of your credit reports from the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Check them for inaccurate information and dispute any errors. It’s important to check all three credit reports since the bureaus may have different information.

Pay Down Debt
Your credit utilization ratio is calculated by dividing the sum of your credit card balances by the sum of your credit limits to arrive at a percentage. A lower utilization ratio will translate into a higher credit score. 

If you’re using a lot of your available credit, work on paying down your debt. You can do that by cutting expenses, looking for a second job or side gig, applying gifts or income tax refunds to your credit card bills, selling some of your belongings or consolidating high-interest credit card balances into one loan with a lower interest rate.

Pay Bills on Time
Your payment history is another important piece of your credit score. Late payments, accounts in collection, bankruptcies and other derogatory marks can stay on your credit report and affect your score for different periods of time. Pay your bills on time each month. If you have any past-due bills, pay them off or contact the companies and work out repayment plans. 

Keep Old Accounts Open
Credit bureaus consider the length of your credit history when calculating your score. If you have old credit cards that you don’t use often, don’t close the accounts. That would shorten the length of your credit history and would also reduce your available credit and increase your credit utilization ratio. Keep old accounts in good standing by making occasional purchases.

Be Careful With New Credit
Applying for a new credit card could be helpful, especially if it would allow you to transfer high-interest balances to take advantage of a lower rate. Just don’t apply for too many new accounts in a short period of time. That could hurt your credit score since lenders might think you were struggling financially or couldn’t handle credit responsibly.

Give Yourself Time to Work on Your Credit
The length of time it will take to raise your credit score and how much you will be able to increase it will depend on your current score, your payment history, your debt level, your income and how much you can afford to apply toward existing debts each month. Think of boosting your credit score as a medium- to long-term endeavor. Create a plan to address any problems so you can achieve your goal of owning a home.

Home Maintenance 101

Your home is likely your largest (and most important) investment. Not only is a home purchase a huge financial undertaking, but your house keeps you safe from the elements and welcomes you home after a long day. To keep your home as comfortable as possible (and to protect your largest asset’s value) it is crucial that you understand the basics of home maintenance.



Here is your crash course on home maintenance 101.

Monthly to Seasonal Maintenance Items:

  • Change HVAC filters (frequency need depends on pets and dust in your home)
  • Test smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers
  • Each season’s respective outdoor maintenance (including lawn and garden care)
  • Vacuum lint from dryer vent
  • Clean gutters

Each season will come with its own list of to-dos, and while it may be easy to push them aside until later, a small time investment now will mitigate the need for costly and time-consuming repairs in the future. With each season, be sure that you know the extra tasks you need to complete in addition to the ones listed above (such as covering spigots and wrapping pipes in winter).

Annual Maintenance Items:

  • Roof Inspection
  • HVAC Inspection
  • Flush Water heater (You may need to do this as often as monthly depending on the mineral content of your water)

As you can see, annual maintenance involves a good deal of inspections to the more expensive components of your home. While you can go the DIY route, experts recommend that you hire a professional to check for any issues that a novice may have difficulty spotting. Issues like loose tiles on a roof can cause extensive home damage under the right circumstances; it can be well worth the investment to hire a professional.

Fall 2020: Hang On to Your Hats!

“Come hell or high water” there will be a 2020 fall selling season, and once again, real estate professionals will wear many hats as negotiators, marketers, sales experts, counselors, mentors and community leaders. Thank goodness, however, they will not have to “hang their hats” as interpreters for news media, doctors, scientists, law enforcement officials, lawmakers or politicians. 

As the saying goes, “We are all in the same storm. But we are not all in the same boat.”
Rest assured, we cannot control the path of this once-in-a-lifetime worldwide pandemic, but this fall, it is critical for real estate professionals to lead their customers through the “infodemic” fog that prevails 24/7 in everyone’s life.

Now is the time to intensify the focus on your craft, to educate yourself, to network and to communicate with your customers about what is taking shape in the real estate space both locally and nationally in these unprecedented times.

The playing field is becoming clearer for the fall. Between demographics and interest rates the housing market is not only showing signs of stability and strength this fall, it has the potential to boom in 2021.

Home at the Center: Homes have evolved into the epicenter of our daily workplaces, classrooms and safe havens.

Housing Industry Standing Strong: Despite tight inventory, the massive $33 trillion-plus real estate industry once again stands as one of the strongest pillars of the U.S. economy.
 
Interest Rates Making History:
Mortgage interest rates have entered unimaginable territory—the cheapest on record.

Moving is Top of Mind: Movement is afoot as Americans are rethinking where they will plant their future roots.

Keep Millennials in the Cross Hairs: The millennial market will still be a force.

The bottom line is that U.S. real estate has held up relatively well despite a worldwide health threat and relentless economic roller coaster ride. The real estate and settlement services industry is weathering the storm. Look for technological adoption, automation and strategic alliances to transition from “fast track” to “hyper-speed” in the fourth quarter and into 2021.

Neither your local community, state or the entire country is out of the woods yet, but just like the spring and summer of 2020, the fall real estate season will surely be one for the history books.

As we enter this new season, let us stay the course and never forget that the most rewarding aspect of being a real estate professional—the fruits of our labor, even this year—will be making nearly 5 million houses a home for families in which to proudly “hang their hats.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.

7 Ideas to Improve Curb Appeal

Whether you’re hoping to sell in the near future or simply looking to touch up outdated areas, there’s one aspect of home maintenance most homeowners agree is important: curb appeal. It’s a broad term that may reference any number of visible features, meaning there are plenty of ways to enhance the appearance of your house.

 

Consider these ideas – some big, some small – for bringing new life to your home’s look from the experts at the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Swap Out Your Front Door. As one of the first things a guest, passerby or potential homebuyer may notice, the front door is the gateway to your home and a likely opening impression. Upgrading to a heavier, bolder door or simply repainting the existing threshold can capture positive attention. Alternately, swapping out hardware for a more eye-catching look is an easy way to achieve a fresh facelift.

Create Seating Areas. A welcoming home is typically an attractive one, and there are few better ways to create a cozy vibe than a seating or gathering area on the porch. Whether it’s the classic porch swing or chairs and a coffee table suitable for the outdoors, a small zone ideal for conversation and camaraderie can help create an at-home appearance.

Plant Shrubbery. Billowing trees and blooming flowers are certainly eye-catching accessories outside a home, but many varieties require intense care to grow the way you envision and may adhere to seasonal weather patterns for optimal appearance. For a quicker result, shop around for fully mature shrubs and plants that can withstand elements throughout the year. 

Rethink the Mailbox. It may not be as exciting of a project to undertake, however, giving your mailbox a fresh look helps it stand out and – especially if it’s directly in front of your home – may turn an ordinary object into a worthy attractant. Your work may be as simple as updating to a newer model or as thought-out as constructing a small rock wall around the base.

Add Stonework. For a project that can give your house a new look altogether, consider incorporating stonework or a stone veneer for a natural appearance. If changing your facade isn’t in the plans, less complicated ideas like pavers, brick sidewalks and landscape rings are ways to introduce a classic touch.

Paint (or Repaint) the Exterior. Changing the exterior paint color of a home is one of the most popular renovation projects, and one of the first that comes to mind for many homeowners. Simply altering the colors of trim, gutters and other accent pieces may be enough for some homes, and repainting the exterior doesn’t have to mean a new color altogether – consider a brighter shade or simply a fresh coat to help your home pop.

Update Lighting. Light fixtures come in all shapes and sizes, and many times the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While updated porch illumination may not drive home a potential sale, it’s a subtle touch right as guests arrive. Adding smaller lights in previously unlit areas like around landscaping (consider solar-powered for easier maintenance) can help your hard work shine.

 Source: National Association of the Remodeling Industry

Published with permission from RISMedia.

4 Tips for Welcoming a New Dog into Your Home

As people continue to navigate the world of social distancing, animal shelters across the country have seen an increase in pet adoptions. People are craving connection and companionship, and few things compare to the loyalty of dogs – from their affectionate snuggles on the couch to their wagging tails when you walk through the door.

In fact, in a survey from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute and Mars Petcare, 80% of pet owners said their pet makes them feel less lonely, which is especially relevant in today’s world. To help encourage more adoptions and celebrate the unconditional love of dogs, the PEDIGREE® brand introduced the One True Loyalty Program, which will cover the adoption fees for new pet parents who adopt a dog and purchase two bags of PEDIGREE dog food (15 pounds or more), through Oct. 31.

“Throughout this pandemic, the silver lining has been the increase in dogs finding their forever homes, which is our mission in everything we do,” said Deb Fair, executive director of PEDIGREE Foundation. “So many loyalty programs take ages to earn a reward, but now, people can get the most valued and truest kind of loyalty instantly – the unconditional love of a dog.”

With so many people adding furry friends to their families, consider these tips from the PEDIGREE brand to successfully welcome a new dog into your home. If you’re considering adopting a dog, visit PEDIGREELoyalty.com to learn more about the One True Loyalty Program and how to get your adoption fees covered. 

  1. Create a Safe Space – Giving a dog a forever family can be a wonderful thing, but the transition from a shelter to a home can be a lot for a pooch to take in. Give your dog a spot to call his own where he can feel safe and secure. Get a crate that’s just big enough for him to stand up and turn around in, but not too big where he has extra room to do his business. Drape a blanket or towel over the sides to make it cozy and put one or two of his favorite toys inside.
  2. Establish a Routine – To ease the transition into a new home, it’s helpful to get your dog used to a routine. When he can anticipate his meals, potty breaks, naps and playtimes, he’ll likely be less anxious throughout the day, allowing him to focus more on being your most loyal friend.
  3. Take Frequent Potty Breaks – Training a dog to do his business outside takes time and patience. Do your best to stay ahead of any accidents by taking your pup outside frequently – after naps, meals and play sessions and especially if he starts sniffing around in circles. Praise him with love and his favorite treats when he’s successful outside, and soon enough, he’ll get the hang of it. 
  4. Return the Loyalty – The unconditional love and loyalty of dogs is unmatched, and they deserve all of it in return. Shower your dog with love, snuggles, treats and plenty of playtime, and you’ll soon form an unbreakable bond with your new best friend. 

Source: Pedigree

8 Tips for Buying a Home for Retirement

There usually comes a time in a person’s life when the hustle and bustle becomes less appealing, and one looks for a peaceful setting to live out their later years. When that time comes, a retirement home may feel like the ultimate blessing.


 People living out their golden years deserve a forever home where they can spend their time the way they want. Plus, having a retirement home for oneself means you’re the boss of everything. That degree of control over one’s own decisions in life is important for many of us. Here are some tips for purchasing a retirement property:
 
1. A Location That Sustains Your Needs
As with all real estate purchases, location plays a critical role in deciding to buy a property for retirement. There are factors to consider like the climate/weather, availability of utilities and conveniences such as healthcare, shopping and entertainment venues.
 
2. Go for a Single-Story
If you need anything in your house, you don’t need to climb any stairs to get to it. Avoiding the stairs and staying away from activities that ask you to shift up and down can prove to be quite beneficial in the long run. A 2018 NAHB survey revealed that 80 percent of baby boomers prefer one-story homes.
 
3. Showers vs. Bathtubs
You should consider a walk-in shower or a familiar type of bath style rather than traditional bathtubs or Jacuzzis. Having a bathtub/shower combo is much more preferable, as they allow an easy point of entry. Bathtubs can prove to be difficult to get in and out of as one gets older.
 
4. Bigger Hallways and Entryways
Tight hallways have never done anyone any favors. Look for a space that provides you with hallways and entryways that you can spread your arms in without butting into things or knocking items over unintentionally. According to Houzz.com, a generous measurement for hallways should have a height of more than 9 feet and width of 54 – 72 inches.
 
5. Space for Your Partner
Room for a significant other is what can make your house complete and transform it into a home. Regardless of age, people always seek out companionship. Space for a significant other in your retirement home should not be overlooked. Make sure there’s room for two so that you and your other half can stay close to each other.
 
6. Remember Your Pets
Pets are the emotional sustenance we all need in our lives. Many simply cannot survive without their pets; such is the bond between them. Even with their non-spoken relationship, there is so much more they add to our existence.
 
A retirement home without your pet would surely feel empty. Plus, who in this world would even wish to part with a dear friend just because their new home wasn’t big enough to let them stay.
 
7. Take Mobility Into Consideration
Retirement doesn’t mean isolation from society. There are still going to be a lot of dinner parties and other events that you’ll likely want to attend. Theater, music, fine art and a range of activities await you, which is why many look into retirement homes that offer an easy commute to the city you intend to visit. Whether it’s private or public transport, mobility should always be considered.
 
8. Home Security
Even if theft isn’t a concern, home security is also used to safeguard you against mishaps. There are services available that can send help within a couple of minutes by simply pressing a button.
 
There are many things to consider when buying a retirement home. Take your time and discuss it at length with your partner, because only you two should decide where and when to buy a retirement home.
 
John William currently works as an interior designer at Crowd Writer as well as a trainer at Student Essay, where scholars can acquire a professional research proposal writing service from experts. In his free time, he likes to spend quality time with his family, friends and loved ones.
 
This article first appeared on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall.

Creative Ways to Use That Spare Bedroom

If you’re lucky enough to have a spare bedroom, you may want to think of it less as a rarely used landing spot for guests or a place to store extra ‘stuff,’ and more as a blank canvas – a pleasant spot you can use for rest, relaxation, hobbies or exercise, or even as a money-making option.

 

Consider these inspiring ideas from room designers and creative thinkers:

  • Get crafty – Do you sew occasionally? Like to draw or paint? Love to do amazing gift-wraps? Fill the room with smart choices of furnishings, storage, tables and accessories to make your hobby more fun than ever.
  • Make it personal – Turn the room into a ma’am- or man-cave, with comfy furnishings, a TV and sound system and anything else you need to make it a cozy, personal retreat.
  • Make it a study – Create a cheerful home office space where you or your kids can pay bills, read online or study without interruption. Install a work counter/desk across one wall, add enough chairs and supply drawers, plus computers and printers as needed. 
  • Build your own library – Book lovers can line the walls with shelving, collect books to their heart’s content, install a chair or two and some great reading light, and revel in a private library. 
  • Make music – For parents and/or kids with a passion for making music, lay down thick carpeting to soak up sound, add a few comfy floor cushions for musically inclined visitors and make room to jam with friends or solo with as many instruments as you wish. 
  • Start a garden – Wish you had a greenhouse? You can cultivate seedlings in that spare room from the waning days of winter through early spring. Buy ready-made shelving and add light fixtures and supplies appropriate for nurturing baby plants.
  • Sweat it out – Whether you practice yoga, run or do strength training, you’ll be more motivated, better disciplined and more excited about your workouts in a dedicated exercise space. Drag that treadmill out of the basement, add all the exercise equipment you want and go!
  • Airbnb it – Make a few extra bucks by renting out your guest room through Airbnb. Outfit the space with attractive towels, linens and toiletries, and make sure your home’s Wi-Fi password is prominently displayed.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Buyers: How to Get Noticed Among the Competition

As potential home sellers put their plans on hold due to the widespread impact of the coronavirus, available inventory of for-sale homes shrunk, making the landscape a little more challenging for buyers. If you’re currently in the market for a home, you can expect more competition, but there are strategies you can implement to help make your offer stand out among the rest. Consider these suggestions from Homes.com National Speaker and real estate professional Rebecca Donatelli:



Get in touch with the listing agent. Talk to your agent about how they’ll communicate with the agent representing the home seller. Have them ask questions about the home’s availability and if there are other offers on the table…and what they may be like. The listing agent may be unable to share this information based on the seller’s request, but it’s worth trying. Donatelli also recommends finding out about the seller’s preferences in terms of timeline and title company so that you can be as accommodating a buyer as possible.

Make a straightforward offer. The fewer contingencies associated with the offer you make on a home, the better. In these trying times, sellers will gravitate to a deal with simple terms. Also keep in mind that it’s not always about price—the best offer will be the sum of the terms that work best for the seller, says Donatelli.

Be quick. In a seller’s market, you need to be ready to move fast, otherwise, you’ll be overlooked for another offer. Talk to your agent about their availability for showing homes, and how much they’ll be able to do virtually…which can save you both time. 
 
Help expedite the review process. Once you make an offer, there can be a lag as the seller and their agent start the review process—especially when multiple offers are present. Donatelli suggests working with your agent to create a one-page outline that highlights the terms and contingencies to add to the front of your offer package. This will allow the seller and the listing agent to get a quick view of your offer in order to move things along.

All-cash offers are extremely attractive in a seller’s market, so if that’s an option you can provide without overextending yourself financially, it may be worth considering.

4 Signs That Pests Are Damaging Your Home

If you’ve noticed unusual signs of damage around your property, pests may be to blame. Rodents, insects and other types of pests can wreak havoc on properties and cause unforeseen damage that ends up resulting in costly repairs.



Here are four signs to look for to determine whether pests are damaging your home:

Unstable Floors
The sudden feeling that the floors in your home are unstable could be a sign of a pest problem. This may be especially true if you have hardwood floors that are damaged because of termites. You might notice the boards curling on your floor as damage persists. Flaking and crumbling may also become noticeable as your floors continue to deteriorate from the damage. Crushed-looking wood at structurally significant points can be another obvious sign of a pest problem.

Tap Test Failure
Damage that’s impossible to see can sometimes be detected by performing a tap test on wood surfaces around your home. Wood that’s solid all the way through should produce a thudding sound when tapped, and any hollow sounds could mean that termites or other pests are wearing away at the wood. Hollow sounds also mean that significant portions of your wood have already been lost. Calling a termite treatment specialist and contractor to repair the damage can resolve the problem.

Electrical Problems
If lights, appliances or other equipment around your home that’s powered by electricity start to fail, you might have a pest problem on your hands. Lights that dim or completely go out, as well as appliances that don’t have as much power or fail to turn on when plugged in, could mean that pests are damaging the wires. Rodents are known to chew through wires, which can also create a fire hazard in your home.

Mud Tunnels
Tubes that appear to be made of mud may be visible in your yard and even on the side of your home. These tunnels are often constructed by organ pipe mud dauber wasps to store their larvae. Termites are also known to build tunnels that look like mud but are made from a combination of soil and wood along with a substance consisting of their saliva and feces. You might find these lining walls and floors, acting as a sure sign of infestation if you find them in your home.

Learning about the signs of pest damage will make it easier for you to act quickly to resolve the problem. Pest damage isn’t always obvious, and taking the time to perform a thorough inspection will allow you to stay on top of any situation that may arise.

Source: Meghan Belnap/RISMedia’s Housecall

4 Things Homebuyers Should Know About New Construction Homes

Being the first person to own a newly built home can be a source of immense pride and enjoyment. Having the chance to build a house to your exact specifications gives you a great opportunity to move into a home that you can enjoy for many years.



As a potential buyer of a new home, there are some important things to keep in mind throughout the research and building process that will help make the process simpler. To help ensure you’re fully prepared, here are four things homebuyers should know about new construction homes:

There Are Lots of Options
It’s easy to miss when you walk through a completed home, but the number of options available when you’re constructing a new home is staggering. If you’re buying a home in a new development, you can simplify this decision-making process by choosing from certain pre-selected packages. Of course, you can choose each option individually, keeping in mind that this will take quite a bit of time and could result in an unexpected finished product if you don’t have a decent handle on interior design.

There’s Time Involved
New construction homes don’t just pop up overnight. Most new homes take a few months to build, meaning you need to have a plan for where you’ll live in the meantime. To be sure, the end result is more than worth the wait. It’s important, though, to keep in mind that the waiting period will likely be longer than if you buy a pre-existing home. To help maintain your excitement, you can drop by the building site on occasion to check out the construction progress.
 
Home Warranties Are Encouraged

There’s no doubt that home builders work hard to produce the best homes they can. However, that doesn’t mean that a home warranty is not a smart idea, even when the home you’re protecting is brand new. If one of your appliances should turn out to be a lemon, for example, you don’t want to have to pay to replace it when you’re already working hard to pay down your mortgage. Before you move into your new home, it’s important to understand the warranties that are available to you so that you can take advantage of the options that are best for your situation.

It’s Good to Have a REALTOR®
Even when buying a new construction home straight from the developer, it’s a good idea to have a REALTOR® to represent you. A real estate professional can help make the paperwork process much easier and ensure that you’ve completed all the small details to make your transition into your new home far smoother. Plus, a REALTOR® will ensure that you’re getting a fair price and you didn’t miss any details that could turn out to be problems later on.

It’s Totally Worth
Even when the completion of your home seems a long way off, the reality is that moving into a new construction home is usually worth all the effort involved. Knowing that you’re the first family to make memories in a home serves as a daily reminder of the hard work that has gotten you to this point. Plus, with the right planning in place, buying a new home can be as simple as buying any other home!
 

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2020. All rights reserved.

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