A home warranty plan, also known as a home protection plan, is a service contract that offers homeowners a way to safeguard themselves against possible breakage or a malfunction within the home.  It’s impossible to predict the future, which is why so many buyers look for that little extra peace of mind to comfort them when life unexpectedly throws them an unforeseen problem.

Who Needs A Home Warranty Plan

Basically, anyone who purchases a home and is concerned with the cost of repairs should consider a home warranty plan.  This is especially true of first-time home buyers who may not be familiar with home maintenance.

Factoring In The Cost

When factoring in the potential cost of repairing a major appliance or other home component, a home warranty plan may not be a bad investment.  The actual cost of warranty coverage will depend on the plan chosen and the items protected.  As is the case with everything in life, it’s best to shop around and compare prices.

Who Pays For A Home Warranty Plan

As a buyer, you can order a home warranty plan in conjunction with the purchase of your home.  However, some sellers or builders may include this type of offering as an incentive to attract potential buyers.  In this case, the plan is yours at no additional cost.  Some REALTORS® may also offer a home warranty plan as a gift to customers who buy a home through their agency.

What’s Covered & What’s Not

Just like a car warranty, no two policies are the same.  Coverage varies by location and issuer, and your REALTOR® can help you to choose a warranty plan that best suits your needs.  Most basic plans cover a home’s heating and cooling system, electrical system, plumbing, water heater and major appliances, including a dishwasher, range/oven/cooktop, garbage disposal, etc.  Coverage does not apply to items that are misused or damaged, either intentionally or through negligence.  Instead, most home warranty plans are designed to protect the homeowner from defects that result during the course of normal wear and tear.

When considering the purchase of a home warranty plan, review the complete contract and familiarize yourself with exactly what’s covered under your policy.  If you want an upgraded policy, don’t hesitate to ask your REALTOR® if one is available.  Most companies do not require a home inspection and will notify homeowners when their coverage is about to expire.  The good news is that most policies are renewable.

What To Do If A Problem Arises

If you are unable to satisfactorily resolve an issue with your home warranty plan, either due to denial of a claim or undesirable service, talk to the REALTOR® who sold you the home.  If he/she refers a lot of business to this particular company, it may be possible for him/her to speak with them about reaching an amicable resolution.

The purchase of a home is a big step and it’s likely to be the largest purchase you will ever make, so be sure to consider all of the options available to help protect yourself from costly repairs.  Ask your REALTOR® for more information relating to available home warranty plans.

Looking to buy your first home, but having trouble coming up with the down payment?  Typically you need to have between 5-50% of the purchase price of your home, so here are a few tips to help you save your down payment faster!

Save Your Tax Refund—Doing this alone for a few years may add up to a considerable amount to contribute to a down payment, especially if both you and your spouse commit to contributing the full amount.

Set Up A Savings Plan—This is a great way to make a regular contribution to your down payment fund, and with accounts that allow you to round up all your purchases and automatically deposit them into your savings account, this can be an easy way to save money quickly.

Sell Unwanted Items—This can add a considerable sum to your down payment fund, and is also a great way to get rid of unwanted items before your move.

Check Out Government Programs—There are a number of government programs available, depending on your area, that can assist you in saving for a home, especially if you are a first time buyer.

Dip Into Your Retirement Fund—Be sure that you consult a financial advisor before choosing this option. Some government programs offer this option with no penalty, and it is certainly worth looking into.

If you have children, or even if you don’t yet but plan to in the future, schools are something you will need to take into consideration when you search for a new home.  In most areas, certain boundaries define which schools your children will go to, and switching to a different school can be complicated and expensive in many cases.

Fortunately, finding a great neighborhood with good quality schools is not difficult, thanks to the internet.  Online ratings and reviews of schools can help you to make the right call when it comes to finding a home that will offer your children a quality education.

Start With The District

The first thing you should look into is which school district you are considering moving into.  Find out if the schools in that district tend to be highly rated, and what kind of test scores are generally seen among students in the district schools.  All of this information is readily available online.

The school district Web site will be able to tell you which school your children would go to if you were to buy a particular house.  There is usually a boundary map you can check, or you can enter your address and search to find out which school is the right one.

Check The Reviews

The internet allows people to review everything from appliances to doctors—and schools are no exception.  Search for your school of choice online and you will find plenty of reviews from parents whose children have attended the school.  Getting an unbiased opinion of the school will help you to get an idea of what you can expect.

When You Love The Neighborhood, But Not The School

If you really want a particular house in a particular neighborhood, but aren’t too happy with the schools, you can look into your other options.  Most school districts have a system by which you can choose to send your child to a different school.  This usually involves either particular needs that can’t be met by the in-area school, or a fee or lottery system to allow your child to attend the school of your choice.  Find out what the rules are in your school district.

Your other option is to look into private schools.  This is, of course, the more expensive choice, but should you select a private school you will have the freedom to live wherever you like, without worrying about what school your child will be slotted to attend.

Congratulations!  Now that you have found the perfect home, all that’s left is getting the perfect mortgage.  In order to do that, you will have to know what your lender needs from you in order to get your loan application approved.

Property Description

When applying for a home loan, you will need to provide the lender with detailed information regarding the property that you intend to purchase, including a physical address, what type of loan you are requesting and how you obtained the funds to be used as a down payment.

Borrower & Co-Borrower Information

All persons named on a home loan must be able to provide their name, date of birth, current address, former address (if within the last two years), marital status, current and former employment information, telephone number and social security number.

Most lenders require tax returns for the two years preceding the loan application, along with current paystubs or, if self-employed, a year-to-date profit/loss statement.

Current Mortgage Expenses

An important part of every home loan is affordability, which is why your lender will need to know how much of your income is available to pay for a new home.  If you have a current mortgage, be ready to provide a detailed list of expenses that you pay each month in relation to the property.  This includes a mortgage payment, real estate taxes, mortgage insurance, homeowner’s association dues, utilities, etc.  If you plan to sell the home, let your lender know so that they will understand you are simply replacing one debt with another.

Yes Or No

Almost every loan application asks both the borrower and co-borrower (if applicable) to answer a few simple yes and no questions on the application.  Questions pertaining to outstanding judgments, bankruptcy filings, foreclosures, lawsuits, alimony, child support and citizenship status are standard and should be expected when applying for a home loan.

Statement Of Assets & Liabilities

When applying for a home loan, both the borrower and co-borrower will be required to disclose all of their current assets and liabilities.  An asset is property, either real or personal, that is owned and is of value.  A liability, on the other hand, is a financial obligation for which one is liable.

A loan application will request information relating to assets and their current market value, including automobiles, real estate, stocks, bonds, life insurance (cash value), business net worth, personal property, etc.  If any amount of money is owed on these properties, the lender will request information relating to the unpaid balance in order to determine the actual equity that the borrower has in any given property.

As you look at potential neighborhoods for your new home, you may come across the term “revitalization.”  This usually refers to a neighborhood that was once in decline but is on the upswing again due to buyers renovating homes and increasing the property values.  This type of neighborhood offers both risks and benefits to buyers.  Take a look at both sides of the story before you decide to buy.

Potential For Profit

Neighborhoods that are undergoing revitalization offer a great deal of potential for a profit.  Because home values are generally still low in the area, buyers can get into a home at a good price.  As the property values in the area rise, those who bought early in the process will find their home worth a lot more than the purchase price, often within a few years.

The profit can sometimes be a bit slower in coming, however, since it takes time for the reputation of a neighborhood to change, and renovations that increase value take time as well.  Still, as long as the upswing continues, these homes can really mean good equity in the future.

Hard Work Is Needed

Many of the homes in these types of areas are in need of some work.  That’s why the prices are so low.  People who are willing to do the renovations and help to improve the neighborhood as a whole can definitely make a nice profit on the home if they later decide to sell.

Especially in areas where the homes are quite old, this can really mean a lot of work.  It may not be the best choice for those who don’t have the time or the inclination to do a lot of renovating.

Not All Revitalizations Stick

It’s important to realize that the attempt to make a neighborhood fresh again doesn’t always work out.  An area may appear to be on the upswing, but the economy or other factors can change that.  Buying in such an area does come with the risk that the neighborhood might not reach the level residents are hoping for.

You may also find that a lot of the renovations are being done by people looking to “flip” houses.  They fix them up and then sell them at a profit.  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it means that for a time your neighbors might be investors and not families looking to make a home.

A neighborhood being revitalized can be a great opportunity to get into a home at a low price and see its value rise.  Just be sure you are ready for the potential risks when you buy such a home.

Given the recent state of the economy and the rising rate of mortgage foreclosures, the number of properties available at rock bottom prices is at an all time high.  While purchasing one of these homes may seem like a sound investment and a great way to get more house for your dollar, there are some issues to consider before purchasing a foreclosed property.  Depending on your financial situation, your experience as a homeowner, and your access to information about the foreclosure market in your area, there are some risks involved.

Finances Of Foreclosure

The financial considerations of purchasing a foreclosed home can sometimes be overlooked.  Often foreclosed homes can be in need of considerable maintenance and repair to make them habitable.  You need to know this cost when making the purchase, or you may end up with a considerable amount of debt in bringing your home back to its original shape.  Also, even though the price of the property is right, there are other financial considerations you may not have considered.  The cost of maintaining a home, property taxes, and utilities are all expenses that may be greater than your budget will allow, especially if you are purchasing a home that is much larger than your existing home or if you are unfamiliar with the costs associated with home ownership.  There is also the consideration of your ability to pay for the purchase.  Often foreclosed properties must be paid for in cash, so be sure you have the available credit.

Knowing The Facts

The process of purchasing a foreclosed home can be much more time consuming and complicated than a normal real estate transaction.  If the sale is occurring because an eviction notice has been served or if you are purchasing the property at auction, you may not be able to inspect the house before purchasing it or you may have to deal with some issues to get the current homeowners out.  There is also the issue of not knowing the condition in which they have left the home.  You will want to be sure you get the advice of both a real estate agent and a banker to ensure that your purchase is both a good investment and will increase in value over time.

Overall, purchasing a foreclosed home can be a great way to enter the income property market or find yourself a great investment opportunity, but being sure you have all the facts can prevent you from making a poor investment decision.

Always dreamed of renovating a home exactly to your specifications, or have you found an older house that is structurally sound but needs a lot of work inside?  Perhaps the price is right and you can’t resist all that house you can get for your money.  Whatever the reason, buying a fixer-upper can be both an exciting and rewarding purchase or a financial and time consuming disaster, depending on whether you are prepared for what you have gotten yourself into.  So what should you know before buying a home that requires a little or a lot of tender loving care?

The Benefits

The benefits of purchasing a fixer-upper are obvious.  The price is usually right, and if the seller wants a quick sale because of decreased interest in the home, you may be able to negotiate a really great price.  Also, if you intend to flip the home after the renovations, the profit for the money and time you have invested can be quite considerable.  The trick to getting these benefits, however, is knowing what type of property to look for, as well as having an accurate idea of the associated costs, and realistic expectations of the time and labor it will take.

What Makes A Great Fixer-Upper?

There are several features that may make for a great fixer-upper.

Location—Buying a home in a desirable neighborhood is always a smart idea, particularly with homes that require a lot of work. Purchasing a house in a sought after area can mean a greater profit margin for resale value.

Layout And Configuration—This is especially important if you plan to sell the home after the renovations are finished.  Selecting a home that will appeal to the greatest number of buyers will get you the best price.  Also, choosing a home with a layout that flows may save you a considerable amount on the actual renovation costs because you are less likely to need custom installations and work.

Condition—Ultimately the most important consideration is the actual condition of the home. Choosing a fixer-upper with only cosmetic problems such as damaged flooring or old fixtures and appliances, and in need of only a new paint job, can often have the greatest profit margin and require much less money and time.

Overall, when purchasing a home that needs work, getting a qualified home inspector’s advice and getting estimates of the cost of work to be done before making your offer can make all the difference.

Whatever time of year you find yourself shopping for a new home, it’s important to give some thought to what that home will be like throughout the rest of the year.  Be on the lookout for things that could affect the access and comfort of your home through all the months of the year.

Winter Considerations

If you live in an area with heavy snow, it’s important to give serious thought to how accessible your home will be in those months.  Homes on hills might find the roads impassable due to ice, while homes with long driveways will require a lot of snow clearing to get out.

If you are expecting cold winters, the function of your furnace is a vital piece of the puzzle, so be sure the home has a heating system that works well.  You might also look for alternate heating in your home, such as a wood stove or fireplace insert.

Things To Think About In Spring

Spring can often mean a lot of water, whether from those April showers or melting snow.  The drainage on the property is important to making certain that water doesn’t cause problems such as earth shifting or flooding.  Look for things like retaining walls and a slope to the property that allows it to drain.

Spring can also come with a lot of yard work.  Remember that a big yard looks like a lot of fun—and it is—but it also means a lot of work.  A spring cleanup is a must in many areas as it won’t just be the pretty flowers growing in the spring, but those pesky weeds, too.

Summer Thoughts

Summer is the time when most people want to spend time outside, enjoying the sunshine.  It’s also the time when most areas are driest, meaning a lot of watering to keep the plants and grass green.  If you are considering a larger lot, think about the cost of watering it.  You might also want to look for a built-in sprinkler system so you won’t forget to water.

The direction in which the house faces will determine how much sun you get both in the home and in the backyard.  If the yard will get a lot of sun, you might want to look for a home with a covered patio or awning.

Facing Fall

Those big beautiful trees around a property make it look lovely and offer shade.  Come fall they also mean a lot of leaves all over the ground and a lot of work picking them up.

Every season has things that homeowners will have to deal with; before you buy, make sure you’ve given a lot of thought to how that home will take you through each season so you can be prepared.

Now that you’ve made the decision to purchase your first home, a hearty congratulations is in order!  Becoming a homeowner, especially for the first time, can stir up some feelings of anxiety and excitement.  With the knowledge that you gain through individual research and the help of your REALTOR®, you will soon begin to feel like a seasoned house hunter.

Tip #1: Do Your Homework

Did you know that there are a number of incentives available to first-time home buyers?  Everything from a 3-5 percent down payment and interest rates as low as 5.75 percent are just a few of the ways that lenders help to make the dream of home ownership into a reality for many.  An FHA loan, for instance, is especially appealing to first-time home buyers.  The best way to find out what’s available, in terms of down payment requirements and interest rates, is to do your homework by comparing offerings from various lenders.

Tip #2: Save Money

Although many loans are geared toward offering lower down payments to first-time home buyers, it’s important to save as much money as possible so that you will have enough to provide an earnest money deposit (if applicable), pay for closing costs and still have the funds to furnish and decorate your new home.

Tip #3: Get Your Credit Profile In Order

When you apply for a loan, the lender will access a copy of your credit report and will use the information to determine your creditworthiness and/or interest rate.  This means that you will want to make sure that the information contained in your credit report is accurate and up-to-date.  You can do this by requesting a copy of your file from each of the three major credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

In addition to past credit history, lenders will also look at your current debt ratio in order to determine whether or not you can afford the home.  This means that you may want to consider paying down some of your existing credit card debt and avoid taking on any new debt before applying for a mortgage.

Tip #4: Start Your Search

With the World Wide Web being what it is today, it’s no surprise that many potential home buyers start their search online.  A Realtor’s Web site is designed to not only list real estate, but also to educate a buyer as they move through the process of searching for a new home.  In addition, the internet offers a way for consumers to browse through color photos and virtual tours, both interior and exterior, along with information pertaining to the homes themselves.  The convenience of being able to find a home that you like without having to wait is just one of the many benefits to shopping for a house online.  When you are finally ready to meet with a REALTOR®, you will already have one or more prospects in mind.

Tip #5: Have Patience

Perhaps you will find the perfect house this week, or maybe it will take a little longer.  Some buyers find exactly what they are looking for right away, while others have to do a little more searching to find their dream home.  As a first-time home buyer, it’s a good idea to begin the process with an understanding that good things really do come to those who wait.  You may see a number of homes, take numerous photos and may even make an offer or two, but patience may very well be the key to finding your new home.

Tip #6: Take Notes

If you see a lot of homes, it will be impossible to remember the features of each.  For this reason, you should consider taking a notebook and writing down each unique or defining aspect that you like or dislike about a particular house.  This information, along with any photos that you take, will help you greatly when it’s time to make a choice.

Tip #7: Don’t Settle

A home is a big investment and it could, quite possibly, be the largest you will ever make.  For this reason, along with the fact that you will be living in the home every day, make sure that you get what you want.  There could be an instance where you need to make some type of compromise, but you may want to avoid choosing something just because it’s within your price range or you feel as though it’s your only option.  New houses are placed on the market every day and, as a buyer, the next one listed may just be your dream home.

Finding the perfect home is a task, but shopping for the best home loan can be even more tedious.  With so many lenders promising low rates, closing costs and little or no down payment requirements, it’s often difficult to know which way to turn.  Luckily, there are several steps that you can take to find the right lender for your individual needs.

Assess Your Situation

Do you know what your credit score is?  If not, you should.  Most lenders rely on this triple digit number to determine both your creditworthiness and interest rates.  If you have excellent credit, you can probably work with almost any lender.  If you have severe blemishes in your financial past, however, finding the right lender may require a little more footwork.

How much money do you have for a down payment?  If you are on a budget, you will need to choose a lender that can help to get you into a home with a minimal down payment.  Knowing where you stand will give you a good idea as to which lender you need to work with.

Compare Rates

As is the case with anything in life, it pays to shop wisely.  Because a home is the largest investment that most people will ever make, it stands to reason that comparison shopping is a must.  As you speak with various lenders, ask about their rates, loan terms, qualification process and down payment requirements.

Interest rates change often, which means locking in your rates when they are low can save you a bundle of money.  Because there are so many lenders competing for your business, you will be greeted with plenty of appealing offers, including low rates, closing costs and down payment requirements.

Demand The Best

You are the one buying the home, so you should be the one to choose the length of your loan term.  With the exception of a situation where payments are simply unaffordable, it’s up to you to decide how long you want to pay for a house.  Many homebuyers prefer a longer loan term to keep the payments low, while others want to get the home paid for as quickly as possible with a shorter term.  It’s important to keep in mind that the longer you pay for a home, the more money you will end up spending in interest.

It’s a good idea to talk to your lender about their willingness to accommodate your needs.  If you’re in doubt about which lender to choose or are new to the area and need a little guidance, ask your us for a referral.  He/she knows the business and will be more than happy to assist you in making your dream of home ownership become a reality.