Real Talk with Real Moms: Screen Time & Play

I’ve got exciting news for you today. After a bit of a hiatus in 2018, I’m thrilled to announce our Real Talk with Real Moms series is back! While I don’t talk about my tiny human around here that much – I find we can always talk about parenthood! And as I focus more and more on taking a very intentional approach to life, I feel like there’s no better time to trade as many tips and ideas as we can.

So over the course of 2019 I, along with a bevy of other powerhouse blogger mamas, will be diving back into topics that we suspect plague all you parents out there. Today we’re talking the ever-controversial screen time, but also play ideas.

Real Talk with Real Moms: Screen Time & Play on apartment 34

We actually tackled the technology topic about a year and a half ago. As we approach my kiddo’s fourth birthday (how is that possible???), I’m pleased to report we remain a screen-free household. Call me crazy, but I remain firmly against screen time for young kids. That means we still do zero TV,  no iPad games, no time playing with a phone. And I swear, it’s really not that hard.

Well ok, it’s a little hard. Plane flights aren’t my favorite. We don’t brave extended road trips. I have to do some major parental backflips to keep a pre-schooler engaged while trying to get dinner on the table. Yes, it is a bit harder on me. But I still firmly believe it is so much better for him.

Real Talk with Real Moms: Screen Time & Play on apartment 34

I talked about this previously, but in case you missed it, you should know that studies have proven that technology screws with our brains – but particularly the brains of children. There is article after article after terrifying article about tech’s detrimental effects. I’m sure you’ve read many of them. If not, click on one like this. Even tech executives are severely limiting or straight up eliminating their kids’ screen time.

Of course as my son has aged I’ve allowed the occasional exception to our zero-screen-time rule. A quick animal YouTube video here. Katelyn Ohashi’s perfect 10 floor routine there. Yes, we FaceTime with the grandparents. I’m not a barbarian. And don’t get me wrong. Of course I’m excited for him to experience Mr. Rogers. I can’t wait to have Friday family movie nights. But in due time.

The unintended consequence of limiting my son’s screen time has been the dramatic decrease in my own. Where TV used to be a big part of my world, I now only turn it on to binge the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I recognize my own phone addiction and am doing more to mitigate it (do you check your usage stats?? They can be scary).

Real Talk with Real Moms: Screen Time & Play on apartment 34

Now onto play ideas. I wish I could say I have some magic tricks in my bag, but I’m not the Martha Stewart of playtime. A lot of construction gets played. Lots of trains. Lots of art time. We just started board games. We turn a lot of home maintenance into “projects” and give him the opportunity to use a drill, a hammer or a KitchenAide mixer. We go outside. A lot.

One thing I’ve found that really helps keep things fresh is cycling toys. Put things away for a while. A month at least and then suddenly bring those toys back out and it’s like a whole new thing again.

Never underestimate how much fun you can have with a ball.

And then there’s “What’s on My Butt.” I can’t take credit for this. I heard about it from the podcast The Longest Shortest Time. This for the end of the day, I’ve got 30 minutes left before bedtime and I’m running on fumes time. You literally lay on your stomach, have your kid grab a household item and place it on your butt and you have to guess what it is. Just make sure they have to put it back! Bonus points if you can play with glass of wine in hand.

If you have any favorite activities for the 3-4 year old set, I’d love love love to hear your favorite ideas. For the rest of the mamas’ takes, click the links below!

The Effortless Chic || Studio DIY || Natalie Borton || The Life Styled || A Daily Something

For the entire Real Talk, Real Moms archive, CLICK HERE. I hope you’re excited as we are it’s back.

images via anna truelsen, maison pomme frite and anna landstedt

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Source: apartment34.com

5 Signs You’re Better Off Renting

We all know the benefits of buying a house to live in. Not only you can live in it, but also you can rent your house to produce monthly passive income.

Owning a house also has significant tax benefits as well as equity from appreciation. In brief, buying a home can be very rewarding.

However, homeownership isn’t for everyone. You might not be financially ready to own a home. You might not live in the house for too long.

As you’re making the rent vs buy decision, here are some signs you’re better off renting rather than buying a home.

If you are interested in comparing the best mortgage rates through LendingTree click here. It’s completely free.

Check out: 5 Signs You’re Not Ready to Buy a House

1. You don’t have sufficient time and money for home maintenance.

The home buying process itself and being a home owner is time consuming.

You’ll have to do a lot of research, which can take up a lot of your time. Hiring a real estate agent to look for properties can also take up your time.

Investigating which neighborhoods to live in, as does speaking with different mortgage lenders can soak up plenty of hours.

However, some service, like LendingTree, allows you to compare several mortgages at one time without wasting your time speaking with individuals lenders.

As far as being a homeowner, you can hire professionals to deal with home repair issues, but doing so costs money and still requires some of your time.

So, if you don’t have time and has no extra money to hire people, renting might make the most sense.

Related Resources

  • Get Pre-qualified for a Mortgage Online Now
  • Compare Mortgage Rates All in One Place
  • Check Your Credit Score For Free

2. You can’t deal with the problems associated with owning a home.

When you’re a tenant, you don’t fix anything in your building, except a few minor things in your apartment such as changing the light bulbs.

Even then, you can still call your landlord to fix the light bulbs. I have done it!

But when you’re a homeowner, you are responsible to fix any issues with the home such as a burst pipe, a leaky roof, etc…And like it or not, these problems do occur.

So if you don’t have the money to pay repairs, or if replacing a heating system or a roof causes you distress, renting might be the better option for you.

If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to buy a house, read the following article for more insights:

5 Signs You’re Not Ready To Buy A House


Feeling Overwhelmed With Your Finances?, You have options and there are steps you can take yourself. But if you feel you need a bit more guidance, simply speak with a financial advisor. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with fiduciary advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you are ready to meet your goals, get started with Smart Asset today.


3. You don’t have money for a down payment and closing costs.

Buying a house requires a lot of upfront costs. First, mortgage lenders require a down payment somewhere between 3 percent and 20 percent of the property’s purchase price.

On top of that, you will need anywhere between 2 percent and 4 percent of the home’s purchase price for closing costs.

You’ll also need money for inspections, title insurance, broker’s fees, etc.

Whereas, with renting , the upfront costs might include a rental application fee, which can range from $50 to $150 depending on your state.

A security deposit (let’s say $1400) and a first month rent (let’s say $1400). Any rent vs buy calculator you may use will tell you what makes more sense.

So if you cannot afford a down payment and related costs, such as closing, inspections, and other fees, it may make better financial sense to rent.

Click here to find out how much house you can afford.

4. You don’t have a stable job or a reliable income.

A job can be considered stable if you have held it for at least 2 years. If you have seasonal jobs lasting 3 to 6 months, or you have just started a new job, but not so sure how long you’re going to keep it, you may not want to consider buying a house.

Unless you’re buying a house with cold cash, you’ll need a mortgage loan for which you’ll make monthly mortgage payments.

If you don’t have a stable job with regular paychecks, you might not be able to keep up with your monthly mortgage payments.

On top of that, you’ll also need extra money to pay for utilities, maintenance, repairs, property tax, homeowner insurance.

5. You might move out of state.

Do you intend to live in your home for at least 5 years? If the answer is no, then you’re better off renting.

If you’re not sure how long you’re going to be in a particular area (city or state), because of work or family, etc, renting might the best option for you.

Selling a house is much harder than getting out of a lease. If you’re getting out of lease, the worst thing that can happen is that you pay a few thousands bucks.

But with a home, not only does it takes a long time to sell it, but also you’re likely to lose money when you do sell it.

The reason behind it this: the longer you stay in your house the more time you have to offset all of these closing costs and fees.

If you sell within a few years, your home might not have appreciated enough to offset these fees.

Click here to compare mortgage rates through LendingTree. It’s completely FREE.

Bottom line…

Of course, there are several benefits of owning your own home. Your home may build equity. There are good tax benefits, etc. However owning a home isn’t for everyone.

You might need to move to another state. You may not have a reliable income.

So before you’re thinking of buying a house weigh the rent vs. buy options to determine which is right for you.

More article on buying a house:

10 First Time Homebuyer Mistakes You Must Avoid

What Is A Typical Down Payment On A House

Shop For A House: Steps To Buying A House

Working With The Right Financial Advisor

You can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc). Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.

Related Resources

Source: growthrapidly.com

Want To Build Your Own House? The Pros, Cons, and Costs

Building a brand-new home may sound like a dream come true. You get to choose the ideal layout for your family’s needs, and have a say in each and every design element. However, the process may also be daunting if you’ve never done it before.

To help you through it, we’ve created this Guide To Building Your Own Home. It will provide all the detailed information you need at each stage of the home-building process so that everything goes as smoothly as possible.

In this first article, we’ll offer a glimpse into the pros and cons of building a house, including how much it costs, how long it takes, how it’s financed, and much more that will help you decide if this option is right for you.

Pro: You can get exactly what you want

Building a home is a popular option these days. Construction on single-family homes was up 10% in November 2020 compared with the previous year, according to the National Association of Home Builders. And, it makes sense: When you build your own home, you get exactly what you want: an in-law suite for when the grandparents visit, a decked-out office for working from home, midcentury modern style, and more. Anything is possible.

“You get a blank slate,” says Marc Rousso, CEO of JayMarc Homes in Seattle. “The fun part about building a custom home is that it can be whatever you want.”

That might sound overwhelming, so Rousso suggests starting with a vision board. Check out websites like Houzz or Pinterest, and drive around snapping photos of homes you like. Then think through how big you want the home to be, how many bedrooms and bathrooms you need, and the bonus spaces you want to live as comfortably as possible.

The best way to make sure you get what you want (and that it fits within your budget): Hire a great builder from the start. This crucial step sets the best possible foundation (in every sense of the word) for your new home. Builders help you select others on your team (such as an architect, interior designer, and landscaper) and serve as your point person throughout the process.

Not sure how find a homebuilder? NAHB offers an online directory, and its members are committed to ongoing education and ethical standards. Hiring builders who have been in business for several years is also a plus, as they’ve proven they can weather both the highs and lows of economic cycles.

Pro: You can build just about anywhere you want

Have you always dreamed of living by the water or having a mountain view? Or maybe you want no neighbors in sight? Building a home lets you set up your residence just about anywhere you want.

Talk to your builder before making a land purchase, though, Rousso urges. The builder will need to do a feasibility study on the land to make sure it’s a suitable place for the home you want to build.

“We’ve talked more people out of buying land than into buying land, because there are so many pitfalls,” he explains.

Builders help make sure the land is zoned for residential development and identify any issues with building on the site, such as connecting to utilities or developing the land before building can start.

Another thing to note: Land development can be costly. HomeAdvisor estimates it to be $1.30 to $2 per square foot of land, including surveying, drainage plans, utility and septic mapping, permits, soil testing, land clearing, excavation, and demolishing any existing structures.

Pro: New homes typically come with less maintenance

An obvious advantage of building a home is that everything is brand-new. That means maintenance and repairs will be minimal or even nonexistent for a while, saving you plenty of headaches and thousands of dollars a year. According to HomeAdvisor, in 2020, homeowners spent an average of about $3,200 on home maintenance.

Nonetheless, a new house isn’t entirely maintenance-free. You’ll probably still need to do yardwork to keep up your newly installed landscaping. And you may want to pay for some preventive upkeep, such as a maintenance contract on your HVAC system, costing $150 to $500 a year. But that could save you money in the long run.

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Watch: How Much a Home Inspection Costs—and Why You Need One

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Con: Building usually costs more than buying an existing home

Building a house is an expensive enterprise, and typically costs more than buying a preexisting home. As such, you’ll need to have some in-depth discussions with your builder on what you want, and whether it’s affordable for you.

“A builder can help guide the design process starting with schematic design to give the prospective client an idea of the budget,” says Tim Benkowski, senior project manager at Balsitis Contracting in Lake Geneva, WI. “That way, design revisions can be made early without the owner falling in love with a home design only to find out they need to cut out their favorite parts or reduce the project scope.”

Several factors determine how much your newly constructed home will cost: location, size, complexity, and design elements.

The NAHB estimates that the median price of constructing a single-family home is $289,415, or $103 per square foot. Labor typically constitutes about 40% of the cost, followed by permits, design fees, and materials. Here’s more on how much it costs to build a house.

Con: Getting a construction loan can be complicated

To finance building a home, you’ll need a construction loan, which is a little more involved than getting a traditional mortgage to buy a preexisting house, says Steve Kaminski, head of residential lending at TD Bank.

For starters, you’ll likely need a 20% down payment since construction loans are considered higher-risk. Along with the usual financial documents needed for your loan application, you need to provide project plans, costs, and land value. You also need a signed contract or purchase contract with the project’s plans, specs, and budget details, and a timeline for the construction.

“The lender is not only evaluating the borrower, but also the project plans and oftentimes the builder to ensure they will be financially solvent throughout construction,” Kaminski explains.

Construction loans are usually shorter-term, covering just the duration of the build, and may have higher interest rates, usually about 1% higher than conventional mortgages, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Once the home is completed, you can pay off the balance or convert the loan to a conventional mortgage. The interest rate and the type and terms of the mortgage will depend on your credit history and lender.

When shopping around for a mortgage for a new home build, Kaminski urges borrowers to go with a lender experienced in working with construction loans.

Con: Building a home takes a while

Generally, it takes a bare minimum of three months to build a simple house, and it can take much longer. But it’s a “sliding scale,” says Benkowski. “A 2,500-square-foot and under [home] can typically be completed in seven to nine months with proper planning. A 7,500-square-foot home and up would likely take 12 to 30 months.”

Planning as much as you can will keep the project on track. Still, delays do happen. Weather is the biggest one, with temperature shifts and rain or snow postponing work. Your own choices could also be to blame. If you’re taking too long to choose your favorite flooring or windows, it could make it all take a little longer.

Here’s more on how long it takes to build a house.

In the next installments, we’ll cover how to buy land, design tips, the ins and outs of mortgages for home construction, and lots more.

Source: realtor.com

Am I Ready to Buy a House? 8 Questions to Help You Decide – Redfin

So lately you’ve found yourself asking, “am I ready to buy a house?” Homeownership is a major milestone that many people dream of reaching one day. However, there are a variety of factors to consider when making one of the biggest financial decisions of your life. 

So, if you’ve been thinking about becoming a homeowner, but aren’t sure if you’re prepared, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve laid out 8 questions to help you decide if you’re finally ready to buy a house. See how many you can answer yes to and if now is the right time for you to begin your homebuying journey.

am I ready to buy a house

am I ready to buy a house

1. Do you have money for a down payment?

Although the common perception is that first-time homebuyers need to have a 20% down payment to purchase a home, that’s simply not the case. Typically you’ll need a minimum down payment of 3.5% to 10% for an FHA home loan, and a minimum of 3% to 5% for a conventional loan. 

For example, let’s assume you’d like to purchase a home that costs $300,000. Your lender will require a downpayment of at least 3% of the sale price of the home, depending on the type of loan you choose and qualify for. In this example, 3% of $300,000 equals a $9,000 down payment.

It’s important to remember that the larger your down payment, however, the lower your monthly payments will be and the less interest you will pay during the life of your loan. Another drawback to a low down payment is that you’ll have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects your lender in case you can’t pay your mortgage. If you put down less than 20%, you’ll probably have to pay for PMI, which is added to your monthly mortgage payment.

2. Do you have a solid savings and emergency fund?

While you may have saved enough for your down payment, don’t forget to account for closing costs which include legal fees, lender fees, taxes, etc., and usually total 2% to 5% of the home’s purchase price. Also, during the home inspection, you may find a few home maintenance items that you’ll want to take care of sooner rather than later, such as a leaking septic tank or cracks in the walls or ceilings. This is when additional savings will come in handy.

You should also make sure you have some emergency funds set aside. When you’re renting, you have the wonderful luxury of calling up a landlord whenever there are issues with the property. So when the heater stops working in the middle of winter, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to fix it. Or, when your washing machine breaks during a cycle, you won’t be responsible for calling a repairman to take a look. But once you become a homeowner, all of that responsibility falls on you. So, if you’re going to burn through your savings on a down payment, hold off on buying a house until you have a larger safety net. 

3. Is your credit score in pretty good shape?

Many potential homebuyers worry that they won’t be able to buy because of a low credit score. However, you actually don’t need perfect credit to buy a home and there are many loans and first-time homebuyer programs available for buyers without perfect credit. That being said, a higher score will help you qualify for a lower mortgage rate, saving you money in the long run.

One of the most common questions first-time buyers ask is, “what credit score is needed to buy a house?” While there’s no hard-and-fast rule for this, you’ll likely need a minimum credit score of 600 for approval. To qualify for the most favorable rate, however, work on improving your credit score and wait until you have a score of 700 or higher.

4. Do you have a handle on your debt?

Don’t panic – you don’t have to be completely debt-free to buy a home. Between student loans, car payments, and other bills, most mortgage companies know that it is unrealistic to expect borrowers to be totally debt-free these days. They primarily want to know that you’ll be able to afford your mortgage payment based on how much money you have coming in versus what you need to pay out to other debts. 

To figure this out, lenders will look at your debt-to-income ratio, which is an estimation of how much of your monthly income goes towards debt payments. To find your current ratio, you can use a debt-to-income ratio calculator. So long as your debt ratio is at least 43% you can still qualify for a mortgage.

facts about va loans

5. Have you crunched the numbers to make sure you can afford the monthly expenses?

To figure out if you can afford the monthly expenses, you’ll first need to calculate your mortgage payment. An online mortgage calculator can estimate this for you, however, affording a home is so much more than just the mortgage payment. Other financial aspects of homeownership may include:

  • Property taxes and insurance
  • Home Owner Association (HOA) fees, if applicable
  • Home expenses (sewage, garbage, internet, etc)
  • Utilities (water, electricity, etc.)

Before you decide to make the transition from renting to buying a house, make sure you’ve done the math and can afford all of the monthly expenses that come with being a homeowner.

6. Do you have a steady job?

Stable employment and income show lenders how much house you can afford and are important indicators for qualifying for any mortgage. But even if you can demonstrate financial stability on paper, you should only buy a house if you think your income will remain steady for the foreseeable future. 

A nightmare scenario for most homebuyers is losing their job just after they close or move into a new home. So if there’s any uncertainty about your income or employment, wait until things settle down before buying a house.

7. Do you need more space?

While money is obviously an important consideration, there are many other factors to think about when asking, “am I ready to buy a house?” One of which is the thing we all seem to need more of currently – space. 

With so many of us spending most of our time at home, maybe you desperately need a designated home office or an extra room for a home gym? You may want a larger backyard or an area for a garden. Do you have kids or are you expecting a baby soon and you need more room? If this sounds like you, then now may be the time to consider buying a home.

8. Are you planning on staying put for a while?

There’s no rule barring you from moving shortly after buying a home. But as a homeowner, you’ll have a chance to build equity. The longer you own your home, the more equity you build, and the more money you’re likely to make when you sell it. Ideally, you should live in a house long enough to make a profit. So, if you can’t commit to an area, continue renting until you’re ready to put down roots.

Figuring out if you are ready to buy a house is a personal decision and one that means taking a hard look at different aspects of your life: finances, lifestyle, job situation, and long-term goals. But if you’ve answered yes to all of the above, you might just have an answer to the big question, “am I ready to buy a house?”  If you’re still unsure or you have specific questions relating to your situation, reach out to a mortgage lender or real estate agent who can give you professional advice. 

Source: redfin.com

Am I Ready to Buy a House? 8 Questions to Help You Decide

So lately you’ve found yourself asking, “am I ready to buy a house?” Homeownership is a major milestone that many people dream of reaching one day. However, there are a variety of factors to consider when making one of the biggest financial decisions of your life. 

So, if you’ve been thinking about becoming a homeowner, but aren’t sure if you’re prepared, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve laid out 8 questions to help you decide if you’re finally ready to buy a house. See how many you can answer yes to and if now is the right time for you to begin your homebuying journey.

am I ready to buy a house

am I ready to buy a house

1. Do you have money for a down payment?

Although the common perception is that first-time homebuyers need to have a 20% down payment to purchase a home, that’s simply not the case. Typically you’ll need a minimum down payment of 3.5% to 10% for an FHA home loan, and a minimum of 3% to 5% for a conventional loan. 

For example, let’s assume you’d like to purchase a home that costs $300,000. Your lender will require a downpayment of at least 3% of the sale price of the home, depending on the type of loan you choose and qualify for. In this example, 3% of $300,000 equals a $9,000 down payment.

It’s important to remember that the larger your down payment, however, the lower your monthly payments will be and the less interest you will pay during the life of your loan. Another drawback to a low down payment is that you’ll have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects your lender in case you can’t pay your mortgage. If you put down less than 20%, you’ll probably have to pay for PMI, which is added to your monthly mortgage payment.

2. Do you have a solid savings and emergency fund?

While you may have saved enough for your down payment, don’t forget to account for closing costs which include legal fees, lender fees, taxes, etc., and usually total 2% to 5% of the home’s purchase price. Also, during the home inspection, you may find a few home maintenance items that you’ll want to take care of sooner rather than later, such as a leaking septic tank or cracks in the walls or ceilings. This is when additional savings will come in handy.

You should also make sure you have some emergency funds set aside. When you’re renting, you have the wonderful luxury of calling up a landlord whenever there are issues with the property. So when the heater stops working in the middle of winter, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to fix it. Or, when your washing machine breaks during a cycle, you won’t be responsible for calling a repairman to take a look. But once you become a homeowner, all of that responsibility falls on you. So, if you’re going to burn through your savings on a down payment, hold off on buying a house until you have a larger safety net. 

3. Is your credit score in pretty good shape?

Many potential homebuyers worry that they won’t be able to buy because of a low credit score. However, you actually don’t need perfect credit to buy a home and there are many loans and first-time homebuyer programs available for buyers without perfect credit. That being said, a higher score will help you qualify for a lower mortgage rate, saving you money in the long run.

One of the most common questions first-time buyers ask is, “what credit score is needed to buy a house?” While there’s no hard-and-fast rule for this, you’ll likely need a minimum credit score of 600 for approval. To qualify for the most favorable rate, however, work on improving your credit score and wait until you have a score of 700 or higher.

4. Do you have a handle on your debt?

Don’t panic – you don’t have to be completely debt-free to buy a home. Between student loans, car payments, and other bills, most mortgage companies know that it is unrealistic to expect borrowers to be totally debt-free these days. They primarily want to know that you’ll be able to afford your mortgage payment based on how much money you have coming in versus what you need to pay out to other debts. 

To figure this out, lenders will look at your debt-to-income ratio, which is an estimation of how much of your monthly income goes towards debt payments. To find your current ratio, you can use a debt-to-income ratio calculator. So long as your debt ratio is at least 43% you can still qualify for a mortgage.

facts about va loans

5. Have you crunched the numbers to make sure you can afford the monthly expenses?

To figure out if you can afford the monthly expenses, you’ll first need to calculate your mortgage payment. An online mortgage calculator can estimate this for you, however, affording a home is so much more than just the mortgage payment. Other financial aspects of homeownership may include:

  • Property taxes and insurance
  • Home Owner Association (HOA) fees, if applicable
  • Home expenses (sewage, garbage, internet, etc)
  • Utilities (water, electricity, etc.)

Before you decide to make the transition from renting to buying a house, make sure you’ve done the math and can afford all of the monthly expenses that come with being a homeowner.

6. Do you have a steady job?

Stable employment and income show lenders how much house you can afford and are important indicators for qualifying for any mortgage. But even if you can demonstrate financial stability on paper, you should only buy a house if you think your income will remain steady for the foreseeable future. 

A nightmare scenario for most homebuyers is losing their job just after they close or move into a new home. So if there’s any uncertainty about your income or employment, wait until things settle down before buying a house.

7. Do you need more space?

While money is obviously an important consideration, there are many other factors to think about when asking, “am I ready to buy a house?” One of which is the thing we all seem to need more of currently – space. 

With so many of us spending most of our time at home, maybe you desperately need a designated home office or an extra room for a home gym? You may want a larger backyard or an area for a garden. Do you have kids or are you expecting a baby soon and you need more room? If this sounds like you, then now may be the time to consider buying a home.

8. Are you planning on staying put for a while?

There’s no rule barring you from moving shortly after buying a home. But as a homeowner, you’ll have a chance to build equity. The longer you own your home, the more equity you build, and the more money you’re likely to make when you sell it. Ideally, you should live in a house long enough to make a profit. So, if you can’t commit to an area, continue renting until you’re ready to put down roots.

Figuring out if you are ready to buy a house is a personal decision and one that means taking a hard look at different aspects of your life: finances, lifestyle, job situation, and long-term goals. But if you’ve answered yes to all of the above, you might just have an answer to the big question, “am I ready to buy a house?”  If you’re still unsure or you have specific questions relating to your situation, reach out to a mortgage lender or real estate agent who can give you professional advice. 

Source: redfin.com

True Cost of Home Ownership – Total Expenses, Hidden Fees & Taxes

The decision to rent or buy a home doesn’t just come down to comparing a neighborhood’s market rent to the principal and interest payment that a mortgage would cost. Neither, for that matter, does it come down to being able to pick your own paint colors or knock down walls.

Owning a home costs far more money than the average first-time homebuyer realizes. Beyond dollars and cents, it also comes with less tangible risks and downsides.

Before you write a check for $300,000 to buy a home, keep the following costs and risks in mind.

Financial Costs of Home Ownership

Some of the financial costs to own a home are obvious. Others, not so much.

As you create a monthly budget and plan out how much home you can afford, make sure you include all costs in your calculations.

Maintenance, Repairs, and Capital Improvements

New homeowners almost never fail to underestimate the cost of maintenance, repairs, and capital improvements.

Every single item in a house comes with an expiration date. From the hot water heater to the furnace, the pipes to the ductwork, the wiring, the framing, the joists, the flooring, the roof, the drywall, even the paint on the walls — it all deteriorates over time.

I hear homeowners say things like “Well, this year my budget got thrown off because I had to replace the furnace, but next year I’ll get back on track with my retirement savings.” Except they won’t, because next year it will be the roof. The year after that it will be the hot water heater. Then replacing the carpets, and so on, ad infinitum.

You still need to include irregular expenses in your monthly budget, even though they don’t hit you every month. As a landlord, I budget 10% to 15% of the rent each month for repairs and maintenance. It goes into a separate account that I tap when I get hit with a big repair bill.

The exact amount you should budget each month for your home’s inevitable maintenance and repair bills depends on the age, size, value, and overall condition of your house. For all their charm, older homes do require more maintenance. And pricier homes require more upscale finishes and materials.

Consider setting aside 15% of your monthly mortgage payment in a separate high-yield savings account at CIT Bank. You can leave it untouched until a home maintenance bill hits you.

Lawn Care and Landscaping

Aside from condos, most homes come with surrounding grounds, which require maintenance of their own.

At a minimum, that typically means spending an hour or so each weekend mowing the lawn, at least during the warmer months. Or paying someone to do the work for you. But it could also mean caring for bushes, shrubs, gardens, trees, and other vegetation on your property.

For that matter, you might also need to rake leaves, remove weeds, clean gutters, shovel snow, salt ice, and otherwise keep the outdoor areas orderly. As an apartment dweller who rents my home despite owning other rental properties, I don’t have to worry about these headaches and costs.

Condo or HOA Fees

Of course, you could buy your own apartment, better known as a condominium. But you’d still end up responsible for maintaining the grounds and common areas.

In this case, that responsibility comes in the form of monthly condo fees. These usually cost hundreds of dollars each month, taking a real bite out of your monthly budget.

Even many single-family homes incur similar fees, as owners pay into a homeowners association (HOA) each month. Although usually less than condo fees, you still have to do all the lawncare and maintenance on your home, plus pay monthly fees. And then you get the privilege of being told what you can and can’t do around your home, like adding a shed or fencing in your yard, if your HOA has such restrictions.

As a final word of warning, remember that these fees can change. You might buy a home with a $100 monthly fee, only to have it double the following year. Or you might get hit with a special assessment: a one-time fee to pay for some large community expense, which you may or may not want anything to do with but must pay for nonetheless.

Property Taxes

Among the more obvious homeownership expenses, every homeowner in every state must pay property taxes. They vary wildly, from a median of $658 per year in Alabama up to an astounding $7,800 median tax bill in New Jersey, per the National Association of Home Builders.

Bear in mind that the existing property tax bill when you buy a property doesn’t necessarily represent the bill you’ll pay as a homeowner. Local governments look for any excuse to assess property values higher — the better to raise taxes on you, my dear. And the easiest excuse in the book is your purchase transaction.

Expect your local municipality to raise your tax assessment to the purchase price you paid. That means you have to calculate the future property tax bill based on the local tax rate and your purchase price. Then forecast a 2% rise in property taxes each year thereafter.

Welcome to homeownership!

Homeowners Insurance

You may have skated by without renters insurance as a tenant, but you can’t skip homeowners insurance as a property owner.

To begin with, your mortgage lender requires evidence of coverage every year, no exceptions. Fail to provide it to them, and they’ll go out and buy coverage for you — usually at exorbitant rates — then bill you for it.

But even if you bought a home in cash, you still need homeowners insurance. Otherwise, you’d find yourself living on the street the next time a pipe bursts, or a fire breaks out, or any other all-too-common disaster strikes. PolicyGenius allows you to compare multiple insurers in minutes. You’ll find the coverage you’ll need at a price you can afford.

Mortgage Insurance

If you make a down payment under 20%, your lender requires you to pay for mortgage insurance. Every single month.

Among conforming loans such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loan programs, lenders call this private mortgage insurance (PMI). Among FHA loans, it’s called mortgage insurance premium (MIP). But the difference doesn’t end at nomenclature — borrowers can apply to remove PMI from their monthly payment when their balance dips below 80% of the property value. Borrowers with FHA loans must now pay MIP for the entire life of their loan, regardless of how far they pay down their balance.

When shopping around for mortgages, make sure you get estimates for mortgage insurance costs if you plan to put down less than 20%.

Utilities

Of all the expenses above, you’re probably most familiar with utilities. Many renters pay these already and know the drill.

Or think they do. But as someone who’s lived in everything from a small apartment with modern energy efficiency to a 150-year-old historic house, I can assure you that utility bills run the gamut from “mild inconvenience” to “there’s no way this can be accurate — wow, I’m screwed.”

Get the best sense you possibly can for the typical utility bills before you buy a home. That includes not just last month’s bill, but normal bills for each season. Energy bills can triple between gentle October weather and the blizzards of January.

Oh, and size matters. The larger the home you need to heat, cool, and power, the higher your energy bills will be.


Risks and Less Tangible Costs

The downsides of homeownership don’t end with the dollars and cents. Make sure you fully understand the following risks before signing on the dotted line.

Loss of Mobility and Flexibility

Renters can up and move to a new home when they get a job offer in another city, or get pregnant, or need to move in with their aging parents. Homeowners can’t, at least not without incurring enormous costs and headaches.

When you buy a home, you take an initial loss due to closing costs. Over time, you gradually recover that loss as you build equity, both from paying down your mortgage balance and — hopefully — from appreciation of your property’s value. Then, when you go to sell, you pay tens of thousands dollars in additional closing costs, this time on the seller’s side of the transaction.

In other words, it takes time for homeowners to build enough equity to cover both rounds of closing costs — time during which you’re effectively locked into owning the home if you don’t want to take a loss.

The Risk (and Stress) of Depreciation

Ask anyone who lived through the housing bubble and the Great Recession, and they’ll tell you as many horror stories as you can stomach about what happens when home values drop.

It happens. Home prices aren’t an elevator that only go up. And I can tell you firsthand, it’s not fun when $50,000 of home value evaporates seemingly overnight.

At best, it makes you feel poorer and limits your options for moving. At worst, it can trap you in a home you no longer want to live in, potentially with a partner you no longer wish to share a life with.

Uninsured Risks to the Property

Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover every conceivable source of damage to your property.

It doesn’t cover external flooding, for example. That requires separate flood insurance, which can get expensive if your property sits in a flood plain or frequent hurricane paths.

Mold isn’t necessarily covered by your homeowners insurance either. Insurers typically only cover mold remediation — which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — if the mold was caused by a “covered peril.”

Likewise, homeowners insurance doesn’t normally cover termite damage. Or terrorist attacks. Or acts of war, or acts by the government.

Speaking of which, insurance certainly doesn’t cover changes in housing regulation. The rules today about lead paint, asbestos, and radon are far different than they were 50 years ago, leading to many homeowners getting stuck with the bill to bring their homes up to new regulations.

More Discipline and Budgeting Required

As a renter, I don’t have to budget for home repairs each month. When I was a homeowner, I did.

I paid thousands of dollars toward home updates each and every year I lived in my own home. It took me longer than I care to admit before I set up a separate emergency fund for home maintenance and repairs.

Contrary to popular messaging, not everyone should own their own home. Not everyone has the means or financial discipline that it takes to set aside extra money each month for irregular expenses, or the responsibility to constantly care for such an expensive asset. Know thyself: if you struggle with maintaining a monthly budget and an emergency fund with at least one or two months’ expenses, then work on paying off unsecured debts and improving your financial literacy before buying real estate.

False Sense of Wealth

Too many homeowners feel a false sense of wealth when they discover they have equity in their home. “I have $100,000 in equity in my home? That’s great! How do I tap into it?”

They often proceed to do just that, pulling out equity by taking on debt. These new debts cost them money in interest, and send their net worth tumbling in the wrong direction.

Home equity might make you feel rich, but unlike money in true investments, home equity doesn’t “work for you” by compounding. And the only productive way to realize that money is by selling your home.


Final Word

Buying a home is one of the largest financial commitments you ever make in your life. Don’t enter it lightly, and certainly don’t justify your decision with tortuous logic like “but it’s an investment” or “but I’ll get great tax breaks.” Your home is not a true investment unless you house hack or otherwise generate income from it, and 90% of Americans take the standard deduction per the Tax Policy Center, nullifying any homeowner tax deductions.

Homeownership helps many Americans grow their net worth and brings the joy of fuller control over your home. Yet it also comes with enormous responsibilities, costs, and risks that too many homebuyers gloss over in their excitement to buy their dream home.

As a general rule of thumb, don’t buy a home if you aren’t reasonably certain you’ll live there for at least three years, and preferably five years. Never feel shame for renting, which comes with perks such as flexibility, minimal maintenance and repair responsibilities, lower financial risks, and easier budgeting.

Buy a home if the time is right, but don’t force it, and include all costs and risks in your decision.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Small Kitchen? Try These 9 Tips for Making the Most of Your Limited Space

Transform your standard-issue rental kitchen with these tips.

Is there some kind of law that requires rental apartments to supply no more than a single square of kitchen counter space to each unit?

Between the white walls, scarce and often outdated cabinets, and a lack of amenities, it’s rare to find a solid kitchen in the world of yearlong leases.

But no good makeover starts with a beautiful subject, right?

All you need to transform that bleak little kitchen into a well-designed, functional space is a bit of imagination, some basic home maintenance skills, and a few solid pieces.

Here’s where to begin.

Donate first

Before moving into your new space, make sure to get rid of all those things you don’t need anymore.

Have you actually used that discounted bundt pan in the past year or two? If not, donate to your favorite local charity shop. Someone else might get use out of it, and you’ll be saving yourself from more clutter in your new home.

Think vertically

Vertical storage is a tried-and-true method of using space, and the kitchen holds some unique opportunities for making the most of it.

Hanging pot racks, magnetic knife strips, mounted dish-drying racks installed above the sink, and rods with hooks for towels, aprons, small tools and oven mitts are all excellent ways to keep clutter in its place — and keep the surfaces and lower area of the room free.

Find beautiful cleaning tools

The ugly truth is that a lot of everyday items just make sense to keep out — but that doesn’t mean they have to be such an eyesore.

Skip the plastic and get yourself a classic wooden broom, natural fiber dish brush and a glass soap dispenser. These items don’t cost much, but they add a softer look while also getting the job done.

Tap into change

Just because your place didn’t come equipped with a dishwasher doesn’t mean you have to suffer. Installing a quality faucet with a pull-down sprayer can make your chores less of a chore (and, as long as you swap it back before you move out, it shouldn’t violate your rental agreement).

Have space and the budget for something more? Portable dishwashers are a massive timesaver. From small countertop models to wheeled butcher-block-top options, there are sizes that fit into almost any space and require nothing more than your standard sink to function.

Live the island life

A kitchen island is a versatile tool for almost any space — even the tiniest micro apartments!

Whether you choose a larger center-of-the-room-style piece or a small butcher-block number, these additions create more counter space and storage, all in one piece.

Bonus: If your island has wheels, it can serve as a portable bar for your next party. (Hey, if we can call bingeing our favorite shows with a few of our closest friends a “party,” so can you.)

Light it up

Another timeless tip: Good lighting is everything.

If your kitchen is dedicated to getting things done and starting your day, invest in cool lighting — the kind that washes everything in a bright, sunlit glow. A refreshing, cooler light wakes us up and creates an invigorating feeling.

If you’re more of a romantic and enjoy taking your time in the kitchen, keep relaxing, warm lighting around so that you can let the day melt away as you sip your merlot.

For those who prefer a bit of both, app-enabled bulbs can customize the mood for any occasion, and some even use every color of the rainbow.

Think (temporarily) BIG

If there’s one common complaint about renting, it’s the stark white walls. Removable wallpaper adds a touch of personalization and won’t break the bank — or at least, it doesn’t have to.

To keep costs low, stick to one accent wall. Finding a large-scale print will make the space feel larger, and layering a sizable mirror on top will maximize the look and any light.

Curate unique displays

One of the best ways to keep an assortment of oddly shaped kitchen items is to dedicate either one section of the room (think: the top 12 inches of the walls) or one wall to showing them off.

Whether it’s your grandmother’s antique creamer collection or the jumble of cookie cutters that won’t fit into your drawers, making them into a vignette adds a layer of personalization to your space while also providing covert storage in plain sight. Easy-to-install hooks or some simple shelves are great ways to achieve this solution.

Keep it alive

Every room deserves a plant. Not only do they look good, but they also improve the quality of the air around them. If you don’t have the floor or counter space to spare, a hanging plant will do the trick.

No natural light in your kitchen? Or perhaps you’re better at killing plants than keeping them green? No matter — there are plenty of realistic artificial plants these days, which means everyone can benefit from the organic shapes of ferns, succulents and the ever-popular fiddle-leaf figs.

Have pets? Make sure to check the toxicity of your plants before choosing their placement.

No matter how uniquely challenging your space might be, there are solutions waiting for you to find them.

Related:

Source: zillow.com

8 Red Flags Home Buyers Will Undoubtedly Notice—and How To Address Them Correctly

When my husband and I were house hunting, properties that had plastic taped over the windows or draft catchers below the exterior doors gave us pause: Did that mean the house wasn’t energy-efficient or warm enough in colder months? Newly retouched areas on the ceiling made us wonder if the sellers were covering up water damage from a leaky roof that had been patched but not replaced.

We weren’t wrong to be spooked.

“When buyers walk into a home, they want to know it’s been well-maintained,” says Lynn Pineda, a Realtor® with eXp Realty in Southeast Florida. “Corroded air-conditioning vents, loose hinges on cabinets, and leaky faucets lead buyers to think, ‘If the seller can’t keep these things up, what big things are lurking behind the walls that haven’t been taken care of?’”

As a seller, you should already know that legally, you can’t hide any major problems with the house. So if your home needs some attention, don’t slap on a quick fix—you’re not fooling anybody, and you may just send potential buyers straight back out the door, says Chicago-based Frank Lesh, ambassador for the American Society of Home Inspectors.

“Sellers have to be careful not to put lipstick on a pig,” he cautions. “Just do the right thing, fix the problem, and make the deal go through a lot smoother for everybody.”

Here’s how to tackle eight common repairs properly to swing the odds in your favor.

1. A fresh coat of paint on one room’s ceiling

The issue: A stained ceiling, possibly from a leak

“When we inspectors see cans of new stain-killing primers in the garage, we know that something happened,” says Lesh.

Do this instead: If you paint over a stain without making sure you don’t have an active leak, that stain can reappear in a month, adds Lesh, so bring in a professional who can rule out a leaky roof or some other problem.

2. Bathroom water is shut off

The issue: Your toilet runs constantly

Do this instead: “The most common failure is the flapper in the toilet tank. There may be debris caught under it, preventing it from closing, and flappers wear out and need to be replaced from time to time,” says Lesh. “This is an inexpensive repair that any handy person can do.”

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Watch: These Little Flaws in Your Home Are a Big Deal to Buyers

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3. Newly painted trim

The issue: Wooden window frames past their prime

“A lot of times people paint over rotten wood, and think nobody’s going to see that, but we can tell that it’s rotting. We just put our fingernail on the trim to see if it goes through the wood,” says Lesh.

Do this instead: Pull out the rotten trim and replace it.

4. Lights are off in just one room

Issue: Flickering lights in that room

Do this instead: “Electrical issues can be dangerous, so if you’ve tried the lightbulb in another fixture and it works, then there may not be power going to the light,” says Lesh.

Pick up an inexpensive voltage tester, which lights up when electricity is present at the switch and fixture, he suggests. A handy homeowner may be able to trace the problem, but to be safe, call an electrician to make sure the wiring is correct.

“Old wiring can be a concern to some buyers, so sellers are better off just fixing it ahead of time,” adds Pineda.

5. Small space heaters or air conditioners set up

Issue: Some rooms are too cold or too warm

“If a home has central air conditioning, but in one room you see an additional AC unit sitting there, buyers are going to wonder why it’s not working,” says Pineda.

Do this instead: If you have a forced-air furnace, check to make sure the furnace filter, blower fan, ductwork, and grills are clean, advises Lesh.

“Sometimes debris clogs the system, and the further the cold room is away from the furnace, the harder it is to get heat,” he explains. “If you have radiators or baseboard units, make sure they’re clean and not obstructed.

“If the colder rooms are over an unconditioned space like a garage, then there may be poor insulation in that room, which will make the room harder to heat and cool,” Lesh adds. “A home inspector who uses an infrared camera should be able to find the problem.”

6. Dehumidifier and air freshener in place

Issue: A bad smell in a damp room

“It raises my radar when I see or smell that,” says Lesh. “That’s a real tipoff, because either there’s mold or mildew, or something else.”

Do this instead: “There’s typically a root cause for a room being damp, so you want to correct the cause, not put a Band-Aid on it,” Lesh says. “If there’s moisture getting in the house, that moisture is generally coming from outside. Figure out how to prevent water from getting in, not how to handle it after it gets in.”

7. Plastic wrap taped across every window

Issue: Old, drafty windows

Do this instead: “Sealing the areas around the windows would be a good alternative to plastic wrap,” says Lesh, who suggests buying caulk in rope form, which can be molded to fit around large openings and cracks. “That’ll form an airtight seal, which will help keep drafts out.”

8. Strategically placed planters or shrubs

Issue: Puddles of water near your foundation

Do this instead: Water should always drain away from your foundation, notes Lesh, so if it’s collecting against your house, this needs to be corrected.

“Ask a professional why this is happening,” suggests Lesh. “Ask: Is the land sloping toward the house, which means water might eventually run into the lower level? Are the gutters clogged so water is pouring over the top and landing alongside the foundation?”

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Taking the time now to fix things properly instead of rushing through a shoddy half-repair will pay off in the long run, advises Pineda.

“When you’re selling a home, everything has to look pristine if you want to interest buyers and get the most money for your home,” she says. “Get it in tiptop shape. If don’t you want to do all the repairs and the cleaning, then hire someone to come in and take care of it for you.”

Source: realtor.com