Understanding Fee Simple vs Leasehold Ownership

Leasehold ownership only applies in a few states, but if you’re buying property in one of them, you’ll want to read this.

Most people only know of one type of real estate ownership: fee simple, also known as freehold. But a handful of states have another form of ownership, known as leasehold.
The difference in these two types of land tenure is very different and affects the value of the real estate.  It is important to know the difference, especially if you’re buying real estate in a leasehold state (i.e., Hawaii, New York, Florida).

What is the difference between leasehold and fee simple?

  • Fee simple ownership. Fee simple ownership is probably the form of ownership most residential real estate buyers are familiar with. Depending on where you are from, you may not know of any other way to own real estate. Fee simple is sometimes called fee simple absolute because it is the most complete form of ownership.  A fee simple buyer is given title (ownership) of the property, which includes the land and any improvements to the land in perpetuity. Aside from a few exceptions, no one can legally take that real estate from an owner with fee simple title. The fee simple owner has the right to possess, use the land and dispose of the land as he wishes — sell it, give it away, trade it for other things, lease it to others, or pass it to others upon death.
  • Leasehold ownership. A leasehold interest is created when a fee simple land-owner (Lessor) enters into an agreement or contract called a ground lease with a person or entity (Lessee). A Lessee gives compensation to the Lessor for the rights of use and enjoyment of the land much as one buys fee simple rights; however, the leasehold interest differs from the fee simple interest in several important respects. First, the buyer of leasehold real estate does not own the land; they only have a right to use the land for a pre-determined amount of time. Second, if leasehold real estate is transferred to a new owner, use of the land is limited to the remaining years covered by the original lease. At the end of the pre-determined period, the land reverts back to the Lessor, and is called reversion. Depending on the provisions of any surrender clause in the lease, the buildings and other improvements on the land may also revert to the lessor. Finally, the use, maintenance, and alteration of the leased premises are subject to any restrictions contained in the lease.

Important leasehold terms to know:

  • Lease Term – The length of the lease period (usually 55 years or more)
  • Lease Rent – The amount of rent paid to the Lessor for use of the land
  • Fixed Period – The period in which the lease rent amount is fixed
  • Renegotiation Date – Date after the fixed period that the lease rent is renegotiated
  • Expiration Date – The date that the lease ends
  • Reversion – The act of giving back the property to the Lessor
  • Surrender – Terms of the reversion
  • Leased Fee Interest – An amount a Lessor will accept to convey fee simple ownership

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Source: zillow.com

Keeping Pets Safe Around Plants

Many plants represent a threat to Fido and Fluffy. Protect them with these tips from our gardening expert.

Gardens are wonderful places for pets. They provide entertainment, room to exercise and cool shade in the afternoon. However, many of the most common and seemingly innocuous garden plants are also poisonous to your furry friends.

The apples and oranges we humans enjoy, almost all flowering bulbs and some of the most popular houseplants all share one thing in common: They are dangerously toxic to cats and dogs.

toxic combo
Irises, bottlebrush and daylilies all pose a threat to pets.

Plants ranked ninth on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA’s) list of top pet toxins in 2017. Roughly 5 percent of calls made to the organization’s Animal Poison Control Center involved landscaping plants, houseplants and bouquets.

Before we even cover the poisonous plants, let’s focus on the biggest dangers. Insecticides ranked seventh on the ASPCA list, and lawn and garden products came in 10th. Keep all chemicals out of reach, and if you’re getting your lawn sprayed, allow at least a day before letting your pet on the grass.

Problem plants for pets

Many plants are poisonous or otherwise dangerous to pets, but luckily there are many more that are completely safe. Here are some toxic plants to avoid, followed by safe alternatives. This list is just an introduction and is by no means exhaustive, so refer to the ASPCA website to search for the plant in question.

Plant type Toxic Nontoxic
Bulbs Caladium, calla lily, tulip, daffodil, iris, narcissus, crinum, amaryllis,  dahlia, lily of  the valley, crocus Canna, muscari, Scarborough lily, ginger
 Annuals and
perennials
Arum, elephant ear, begonia, sweet pea, coleus, bird of paradise, cyclamen,  hellebore, hosta, lantana, chrysanthemum, morning glory, asparagus fern, geranium. Lilies and daylilies are toxic to cats but nontoxic to dogs. Aster, fern, marigold, gerber daisy, snapdragon, hollyhock, ornamental grasses, nasturtium, nerve plant, petunia, sunflower
 Trees
and shrubs
Holly, rhododendron, azalea, oleander, sago palm, citrus (lemons, oranges, etc.), apple, apricot, peach, cherry, yucca, black walnut, yew, gardenia, nandina, wisteria Crepe myrtle, bottlebrush, aralia, hawthorn, pittosporum, mulberry, magnolia, mahonia, rose, hickory, bamboo, banana
 Vegetables Tomato, garlic, leek, onion, shallot, grape Cucumber, squash, melon, okra, zucchini
 Houseplants Dieffenbachia, Swiss cheese plant, Chinese evergreen, dracaena, pothos, ficus, anthurium, aloe, desert rose, kalanchoe, snake plant, euphorbia, asparagus fern, schefflera Calathea, areca palm, cast iron plant, Christmas cactus, spider plant, episcia, false aralia, orchid, bromeliad, peperomia, echeveria, haworthia, sempervivum, gynura, plectranthus

If you’re unsure of the toxicity of a certain plant in your garden, refer to the ASPCA website to find out.

Bromeliads and echeveria are safe plants to have around your four-legged friends.
Bromeliads and echeveria are safe plants to have around your four-legged friends.

Safety steps

While you needn’t tear apart your garden to keep poisonous plants off your dog’s menu, you should definitely educate yourself so you can make your own informed decisions.

Remove risky plants, transplant them to pet-free areas of the garden or, if the plant is too big (or special) to easily remove, make it inaccessible to your pet with fencing.

Just remember that even fallen leaves or seedpods are also often poisonous, so acquaint yourself with the symptoms your pet might experience following ingestion so you know what to tell the vet.

You might not need to go out and remove a foundation planting of azaleas tomorrow, but it isn’t that big of a deal to replace your toxic aloe plant with a nontoxic (and more attractive) haworthia.

If your pet shows any worrying symptoms, don’t waste time looking at lists like these. Call your vet or visit the ASPCA poison control hotline website immediately.

Top photo from Offset.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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Originally published June 25, 2015.

Source: zillow.com

When Will the Next Housing Market Crash Take Place?

I’ve noticed a trend lately. Everyone’s a real estate expert.

It seems the most recent crisis and recovery has turned just about every single person into a guru on all things to do with home buying and selling.

I suppose part of it has to do with the fact that the massive housing bubble that formed a decade ago swept the nation and was front page news.

It also directly affected millions of Americans, many who serially refinanced their mortgages, then found themselves underwater, then eventually short sold, were foreclosed upon, or held on for the ride back up to new heights.

It’s a common conversation piece these days to talk about your local housing market.

Thanks to greater access to information, folks are scouring Redfin and Zillow and coming up with theories about what that home should sell for, or what they should have listed it for.

Neighbors are getting upset when nearby listings are not to their liking for one reason or another. What were they thinking?!

A New Housing Bubble Mentality

  • Real estate is red-hot again thanks to limited supply and intense demand
  • It can feel like an ominous sign that we’re headed down a dark road again
  • But that alone isn’t reason enough for the housing market to crash again
  • There have to be clear catalysts and financial stress for another major downturn

All of this chatter portends some kind of new bubble mentality in my mind, though it seems everyone is just basing their hypotheses on the most recent housing bust, instead of perhaps considering a longer timeline.

One could look at the recent run-up in home prices as yet another bubble, less than a decade since home prices bottomed around 2012.

After all, many housing markets have now surged well beyond their previous lofty levels seen about 15 years ago when home prices peaked.

For example, Denver area home prices are about 86% higher than they were in 2006. And back then, everyone felt home prices were completely out of control.

In other words, home prices were haywire, and are now nearly double that.

Meanwhile, the typical U.S. home is currently valued around $273,000, per Zillow, which is about 27% higher than the peak of $215,000 seen in early 2007.

It’s also nearly 70% higher than the typical home price of $162,000 back in early 2012, when home prices more or less bottomed.

So if want to look at home prices alone, you could start to worry (though you also have to factor in inflation which will naturally raise prices over time).

But they say bubbles are financially driven, and we’ve yet to see a return to shoddy underwriting.

I will say that there’s been a recent return of near-zero down financing, with many lenders taking Fannie and Freddie’s 97% LTV program a step further by throwing a grant on top of it.

This means borrowers can buy homes today with just 1% down payment, and even that tiny contribution can be gifted from someone else.

So things might be getting a little murky, especially if you consider the increase in prices over the past four or five years.

One could also argue that affordability is being supported by artificially low mortgage rates, which history tells us won’t be around forever.

There’s also a general sense of greed in the air, along with a feeling amongst homeowners that they’re getting richer and richer by the day.

That type of attitude sometimes breeds complacency and unnecessary risk-taking.

But When Will Home Prices Crash Again?!

real estate cycle

  • If you believe in cycles, which seem to be pretty evident in real estate and elsewhere
  • We will see another housing crash at some point relatively soon
  • There appears to be an 18-year cycle that has been observed for the past 200 years
  • This means the next home price peak (and then bust) might begin in 2024

All of those recent home price gains might make one wonder when the next housing market crash will take place.

After all, home prices can only go up for so long before they drop again, right?

Well, the answer to that age-old question might not be as elusive as you think.

The real estate market apparently moves in cycles that some economists think can be predicted to a relatively high degree.

While not a perfect science, there seems to be “a steady 18-year rhythm” that has been observed since around the year 1800.

Yes, for over 200 years we’ve seen the real estate market follow a familiar boom and bust path, and there’s really no reason to think that will stop now.

It puts the next home price peak around the year 2024, followed by perhaps a recession in 2026 and a march down from there.

How much home prices will fall is an entirely different question, but given how much they’ve risen (and can rise still), it could be a long, long way down.

And we might not have super low mortgage rates at our disposal to save us this time, which is a scary thought.

You’ll Never Get Back Into the Housing Market…

  • There are four main phases in a real estate cycle
  • A recovery period and an expansion period
  • Followed by hypersupply and an eventual downturn
  • Don’t believe the hype that if you don’t buy today, you’ll never get the chance!

Another housing bust in inevitable, despite folks telling us we’ll never get back in again if we sell our home today, or don’t buy one tomorrow.

There are four phases to this predictable cycle, including a recovery phase, which we’ve clearly experienced, followed by an expansion phase, where new inventory is created to satisfy demand. This is happening now.

At the moment, home builders are ratcheting up supply to meet the intense demand in the market, with some 45 million expected to hit the average first-time home buyer age this decade.

The problem is like anything else in life, when demand is hot, producers have a tendency to overdo it, creating more supply than is necessary.

That brings us to the next phase, a hypersupply period where builders overshoot the mark and wind up with too much new construction, at which point prices plummet and a recession sets in.

The good news (for existing homeowners) is that according to this theory, we won’t see another home price peak until around 2024.

That means another three years of appreciation, give or take, or at least no major losses for the real estate market as a whole.

So even if you purchased a home recently and spent more than you would have liked, it could very well look cheap relative to prices a few years down the line.

The bad news is that the real estate market is destined to stall again in just three short years, meaning the upside is going to diminish quite a bit over the next few years.

This might be especially true in some markets that are already priced a little bit ahead of themselves, which may be running out of room to go much higher.

But perhaps more important is the fact that home prices tend to move higher and higher over time, even if they do experience temporary booms and busts.

So if you don’t attempt to time the market you can profit handsomely over the long term, assuming you can afford the underlying mortgage.

And remember, there’s more to homeownership than just the investment.

Source: thetruthaboutmortgage.com

What is Tax Assessed Value, Tax Appraised Value, and Market Assessed Value?

What is the value of your home? It depends on what you mean by “value.”

Tax assessed value

This figure varies throughout the U.S. since it is determined by the taxing authority of the city, county, or state where you live. Sometimes it is the same as the market assessed value and other times counties will multiply the market value by an assessment ratio to get the tax assessed value, which is often lower than the market assessed value.

For example, suppose where you live, homes are assessed at 100 percent of market value. If you have a home that has a market value of $150,000, your home will be assessed at $150,000. However, if your taxing authority assesses homes at 70 percent of value, your $150,000 market value home will have a tax assessed value of $105,000.

Tax appraised value

This is the value of real or personal property based on the valuation established by a government tax assessor.

Market assessed value

This is the price the government tax assessor estimates the property would sell for on the open market as of the effective date for the assessed value for the year in question. The assessor’s market assessed value is based on actual historical sales of similar properties for a specified study period.
For example, a market assessed value with an effective date of January 1 may have been determined considering comparable sales during the previous 12 months ending September 30 of the previous year. Sales study periods vary by assessment jurisdiction. Because historical sales are used, assessed values are typically less than current market values.

Related:

Source: zillow.com

The Hidden Costs of Moving: 11 Extra Fees to Watch For

While some extra services are optional, other charges are out of your control. Know what to expect when you get the final bill.

Besides shipping your household items, most moving companies offer additional services for an extra charge. But it’s not always a matter of choice. Often, the circumstances of your move will necessitate a specific service, such as carrying your belongings upstairs if you move to a building without an elevator.

Each moving company specifies the extra services it offers and sets the rates. While shopping around for movers, see which companies offer additional services that meet your needs and budget. When you receive a moving estimate, make sure it includes all the requested services, and double-check the conditions and charges before making any decisions.

Packing and unpacking

Packing is not only the most time-consuming task in the relocation process but also one of the most crucial aspects of the moving preparations. If you don’t wrap and pack your cherished possessions properly, you risk damaging them during transit.

If you can’t dedicate enough time, or if you just don’t have proper packing and padding materials, find a moving company that will pack for you. The movers will complete the task quickly and efficiently, and they’ll be liable for any damage.

For delicate pieces of art or other valuable and oddly shaped possessions, consider investing in crating — a packing service that places your items in custom-built wooden crates or cardboard boxes cut apart and form-fitted around each piece for better protection.

Unpacking services are available upon request at an additional fee, usually calculated on an hourly basis. If you want the moving company to collect the packing materials and dispose of them, you will pay a disposal fee as well.

Furniture disassembly and reassembly

Your movers can dismantle your larger furniture, but you’ll have to pay for the service. However, if you aren’t sure how to properly disassemble a valuable piece, don’t risk ruining it while trying to separate the detachable parts. Your movers will have the required equipment and knowledge to do it without damaging anything.

Once you reach your final destination, the movers can reassemble the furniture. You’ll have to pay for the service, of course, but it will allow you to jump in and start unpacking.

Handling special items

Movers are not responsible for disconnecting or connecting electrical appliances. If you want them to take your devices to their rightful places and set them up, you’ll have to pay an extra appliance servicing fee.

And many movers charge an extra fee if they need to handle extremely heavy and bulky items that require special packing and treatment, such as pianos, hot tubs, safes and pool tables.

Long carry

If the movers must park more than 50 to 75 feet from your new home’s entrance, the movers are not required to take the shipment inside unless you pay an extra fee. They will just unload the truck and leave, and you’ll have to find a way to move it all inside.

If you want the moving crew to perform this service for you, you’ll have to pay an additional long-carry fee, which is based on the distance the movers need to carry your shipment from the moving truck to the residence.

To avoid this extra fee, reserve a parking space directly in front of your new property for the delivery’s duration.

Climbing stairs

Many movers assess an additional flight charge for taking your household items up the stairs. The cost is calculated either per step or per flight of stairs.

An elevator will partially solve the problem, but movers usually charge an extra fee if they have to wait for it. So, if possible, reserve an elevator in the building for the time when your belongings will be unloaded from the truck and moved to your new place.

Lowering or hoisting (rigging)

If your furniture doesn’t fit through the doors or along narrow staircases and hallways, your movers may set up a rope-and-pulley system to take it through a window. This service comes at an additional price, and it’s only offered if the moving company has the specific equipment and skills required to perform it safely.

Exclusive use of the moving vehicle

Your household items may be loaded on the same truck with a couple of other shipments transported along the same route — especially when you’re moving across the country. Consolidating shipments helps moving companies deliver goods more efficiently and keep your final moving costs down.

However, you may have to wait longer to receive your items, and there will be no guaranteed delivery day. If you don’t want your household goods to be consolidated with other shipments, you may need to pay for the exclusive use of the moving truck.

Shuttle services

If a larger moving truck cannot access your property due to its size, the movers may use smaller vehicles to transport your items — but you’ll be charged extra for the service.

Split pickup and delivery

If your items must be picked up from several different locations, or if you need some of your belongings delivered at your final destination and others someplace else (such as a storage unit or temporary housing), you’ll have to pay an additional fee for split pickup or delivery services.

Waiting time and re-delivery

If you can’t meet the moving truck at your new property on the agreed date, the movers may charge a fee for waiting, or they may store your belongings at your expense.

Storage and warehouse handling

Storage-in-transit may be required if unexpected problems arise. The moving company will charge an extra fee, and the longer your belongings stay in storage, the more you will have to pay.

Remember that any specialty services provided by third-party companies are not included in the standard relocation services, so they’ll incur additional charges.

Additional services and their rates vary from one company to the next. Research all your options carefully, and make sure all the services you request and the charges your movers require are explicitly set in the mover’s paperwork.

All photos from Offset.

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Originally published June 12, 2015.

Source: zillow.com

Understanding the Role of the Real Estate Agent

Not sure you need an agent to help with your real estate transaction? Here are seven ways they bring value you might be missing out on.

The road to homeownership can be bumpy, and it’s often filled with unexpected turns and detours. That’s why it makes sense to have a real estate pro help guide the way.

While real estate websites and mobile apps can help you identify houses you may be interested in, an experienced agent does much more, including:

1. Guide. Before you tour your first home, your agent will take time to learn more about your wants, needs, preferences, budget and motivation. A good real estate agent will help you narrow your search and identify your priorities.

2. Educate. You should expect your agent to provide data on the local home market and comparable sales. The home-buying process can be complicated. A good agent will explain the steps involved – in a manner that makes them understandable – and provide counsel along the way.

3. Network. An agent who is familiar with your target neighborhoods will often know about homes that are for sale – even before they’re officially listed. Experienced agents tend to know other agents in the area and have good working relationships with them; this can lead to smooth transactions. Your agent may also be able to refer you to trusted professionals including lenders, home inspectors and contractors.

4. Advocate. When you work with a buyer’s agent, their fiduciary responsibility is to you. That means you have an expert who is looking out for your best financial interests, an expert who’s contractually bound to do everything in their power to protect you. If you find yourself in a situation where the same agent represents both the buyer and seller, things can get trickier, advises Scottsdale, Arizona-based real estate agent Dru Bloomfield.

“A lot of people think they’ll get a lower price by going straight to the listing agent, but that’s always not true,” she says. “If I was representing both the buyer and seller, I’d be hard-pressed to take a low-ball offer to the seller. But, as a buyer’s agent I’d do it, because I have no emotional ties or fiduciary responsibility to the seller. Buyers should work with an agent who can fully represent them.”

5. Negotiate. Your agent will handle the details of the negotiation process, including the preparation of all necessary offer and counteroffer forms. Once your inspection is done, the agent can also help you negotiate for repairs. Even the most reasonable consumers can become distraught when battling over repair requests; an agent can do “the ask” without becoming overly emotional.

6. Manage minutia. The paperwork that goes along with a real estate transaction can be exhaustive. If you forget to initial a clause or check a box, all those documents will need to be resubmitted. A good real estate agent understands the associated deadlines and details and can help you navigate these complex documents.

7. Look out. Any number of pitfalls can kill a deal as it inches toward closing; perhaps the title of the house isn’t clear, the lender hasn’t met the financing deadline or the seller has failed to disclose a plumbing problem. An experienced real estate agent knows to watch for trouble before it’s too late, and can skillfully deal with challenges as they arise.

Professional real estate agents do so much more than drive clients around to look at homes. Find an agent you trust and with whom you feel comfortable working; you’re sure to benefit from their experience, knowledge of the local market and negotiation skills.

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Originally published July 21, 2014.

Source: zillow.com

6 Home-Shopping Red Flags Even an Inspector Could Miss

The home inspection should catch any deal breakers, right? Not so fast.

Bill Loden, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), has been inspecting homes for the past 20 years. But he says some home headaches simply don’t reveal themselves during a standard inspection — and some are outside an inspector’s scope.

“There are things homeowners think we can do, but we can’t,” he explained. “And honestly, most people don’t want to pay for [a specialist].”

To get the most value from your home inspection, it’s important to know a few things even professionals might miss.

1. Partially blocked or damaged sewer lines

Some house problems don’t show up overnight, and a partially blocked or damaged sewer line often falls in this camp.

“We’ll run water through the fixtures, but we’re there for a limited time,” Loden explained. “Two to four hours might not be long enough for the problem to reveal itself.”

Inspectors will likely determine the type of drain pipe used and estimate its age. They may also look for trees or stumps near the sewer pipe that could cause damage. However, sewer-pipe scoping (sending a camera down the line) isn’t typically included in a standard inspection.

2. Failing HVAC equipment

Similar to damaged sewer lines, HVAC equipment can be fine one day and stop working the next.

“If I check an air conditioner when temperatures are moderate, it can seem fine,” Loden explained. “But under stress, when temperatures shoot up, it can fail.”

Loden says inspectors can bring an HVAC contractor with them for the inspection, but typically it’s not worth the investment when you compare the cost of buying a new unit.

“It will cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 [to hire a contractor] and could take two to three days to complete,” he said.

3. Cracked heat exchanger

An area where you may want to pay for an HVAC contractor: an old furnace.

“In my area in Alabama, we have a lot of package units [furnace/air conditioner combined] that sit outside. It’s not part of the standard inspection to examine the heat exchanger, but a lot of them develop cracks that can allow the indoor air to mix with combustion air that has carbon monoxide,” he explained. “You don’t want that in the house.”

Loden recommends having an HVAC contractor examine the heat exchanger if a furnace is more than 10 years old.

“If the HVAC contractor does find such a crack, by law they have to replace it before the furnace can be used again,” he said.

4. Electrical problems

Loden says the best way to think about a standard home inspection is a “visual inspection,” because when it comes to electrical issues, inspectors can’t always determine the problem’s source.

“If I find a receptacle that doesn’t have ground, I know it’s disconnected somewhere, but I don’t know where,” he said. “You’re going to have to have an electrician find the disconnect in the system.”

5. Structural issues

Is the roof sagging, or is it part of your new home’s architectural style? Luckily, a home inspector should be able to tell.

“All roofs — at least wood roofs — have some inconsistencies. A home inspector knows what’s normal and what’s not,” Loden said.

However, when it comes to identifying how bad a problem is or how much it’s going to cost to repair, an inspector isn’t the right person to ask.

“Because we’re not licensed structural engineers, we’ll refer homeowners to one,” Loden said.

6. Leaks

Leaks may not be there one day and show up the next. For this reason, inspectors might not initially detect them.

“A lot of times we go into vacated homes,” Loden explained. “With the plumbing system not being used on a daily basis, any leaks may have dried up. And it may take a couple days after the water is turned on for the leaks to make themselves visible.”

Loden recalls his own home inspection when it was pouring rain. “The roof was not leaking when I moved in, but six weeks later it was,” he said. “A home inspection is not a guarantee that the house won’t have problems in the future.”

He says that the best thing you can do is carefully check the drains in cabinets before and during your move.

“A lot of times homeowners place belongings under there. Sometimes they’ll pack them up after the inspection and bump the drain traps, causing them to start leaking. The same thing can happen when you move in.”

At the end of the day, the key is to take precautions and make sure you find a certified inspector who has been inspecting in your area for a long time.

“They learn where failures are likely to occur,” Loden said.

Top featured image from Shutterstock.

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Originally published September 5, 2014.

Source: zillow.com

What Every Homeowner Needs to Know About Contractors

When you’re building or renovating a home, having the right team on your side makes all the difference.

Building or renovating a home is a complex project with plenty of moving parts. Even if you’re planning to take a DIY approach, it’s likely you’ll need some help from contractors along the way. Here’s a guide to the types of contractors you might enlist to help you complete your dream home.

General contractors

If you think of a general contractor like a general in the military, you have the basic idea of what a general contractor does. Like a general leading a military campaign, a general contractor organizes the strategy of a building or remodeling project. The general contractor decides when to bring in the plumbers, electricians, and roofers; makes sure they do their jobs correctly; and checks details, like ensuring that the carpenters install the porch handrails according to code.

Especially if there is no architect involved, the general contractor ensures that the building permits are in order and that the project is legal — meaning that it is being done to city or country building codes. (If it isn’t, your city’s building inspectors will make you redo it. Ouch!) Like a military general who is ultimately responsible for the success of a campaign, the general contractor is responsible for the outcome of remodeling project.

Subcontractors

Subcontractors are specialists who work under the direction of the general contractor. Subcontractors include plumbers, electricians, tile setters, carpenters, framers, roofers, painters and cabinetmakers, among others.

Ideally, they show up at your construction or remodeling project when they are needed. If the subcontractors are reliable and efficient, the pace of your project continues to move steadily along, and it is finished when it is supposed to be. If all that happens, it is usually because a good general contractor has been overseeing their work.

Owner as general contractor

Homeowners who are skilled at organizing multimillion-dollar sales campaigns at their office or at running three local volunteer organizations in their spare time sometimes like to act as their own general contractors. There is no law that says you can’t. As a rule of thumb, general contractors charge about 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of the job, so acting as your own general contractor can save money.

But before you leap into the general contractor role, consider whether you really have the time, expertise, and patience to run a remodeling project, especially a complicated one. How much time can you spend on site? Can you take phone calls at unexpected times of the day?

The one thing you can count on with any remodel is that something will go wrong at some point. It may not be a big deal, but it will mean making new arrangements, often on short notice, and rearranging schedules for subcontractors and suppliers.

This could mean dozens of phone calls in a single afternoon. It could mean running around hunting down some piece of hardware or building material that is needed on site right now. If this sounds like fun, you may have what it takes to act as your own general contractor.

Design/build firms

An alternative to hiring a general contractor or acting as your own is to hire a design/build firm. Design/build firms are companies that offer start-to-finish building and remodeling services. They employ architects or designers as well as the skilled builders.

A design/build firm essentially offers the services of architect, general contractor, and subcontractors. The obvious advantage to using these firms is that the entire project should be a fairly smooth operation, since the firm takes responsibility for everything.

While general contractors, subs, and independent architects can, in the worst scenarios, blame each other for mishaps and toss the responsibility for correcting the mishaps back and forth, design/build firms know the buck stops with them. They have to make it right.

Carpenters

If your home improvement project really is as straightforward as installing a wall of built-in bookshelves in your living room, your best bet is probably to find a good carpenter or cabinetmaker.

People who bill themselves as handymen may be fine at installing new light switches or doing minor carpentry, but, as always, ask to see some of their work. If you want your new bookshelves to look like elegant additions to your living room, find an expert in cabinetry.

Related:

Source: zillow.com

5 Mortgage Misconceptions Set Straight

Looking for a home loan? Get your facts straight so you can proceed with confidence.

Getting a mortgage can be a breeze or a slog, depending on what you know about the process. To get organized and set your expectations properly, let’s debunk some common mortgage myths.

1. Lenders use your best credit scores

If you’re applying for a mortgage jointly with a co-borrower, logic suggests that your lender would use the highest credit score between both of you.

However, lenders take the middle of three credit scores (from Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) for each borrower, and then use the lowest score between both borrowers’ “middle scores.”

So, if you had a middle score of 780, and your co-borrower had a middle score of 660, most lenders would qualify and approve you using the 660 credit score.

Rates are tied to credit scores, so in this example, your rate would be based on the 660 credit score, which would push your rate up significantly — or potentially even make you ineligible for the loan.

There are exceptions to this lowest-case-credit-score rule. Most notably, if you have the higher credit score and are also the higher earner, some lenders will allow your higher credit score on the file — but this is mostly for jumbo loans above $417,000.

Ask your lender about exceptions if you have credit score disparity between co-borrowers, but know that these exceptions are rare.

2. The rate you’re quoted is the rate you’ll get

Unless you’re locking in a rate at the moment it’s quoted, that rate quote can change. Rates are tied to daily trading of mortgage bonds, so most lenders’ rates change throughout each day.

Refinancers can often lock a rate when it’s quoted — as long as you’ve given your lender enough information and documentation to determine if you qualify for the quoted rate.

You typically receive a quote when you’re beginning your pre-approval process, but a rate lock runs with a borrower and a property. So until you’ve found a home to buy, you can’t lock your rate. And while you’re home shopping, rates will be changing daily, so you’ll need updated quotes from your lender throughout your home shopping process.

Rate quotes also come with an annual percentage rate (APR), which is a federally required disclosure that shows what your rate would be if all loan fees are incorporated into the rate.

This can make you think that APR is the rate you’ll get, but your loan payment will always be based on your locked rate, and the APR is just a disclosure to help you understand fees.

3. Fixed-rate mortgages are always better than adjustable-rate mortgages

After the 2008 financial crisis, many borrowers started preferring 30-year fixed loans. For good reason too: The rate and payment on a 30-year fixed loan can never change. But the longer the rate is fixed for, the higher the rate.

So before settling on a 30-year fixed, ask yourself this question: How long am I going to own this home (or keep the loan) for?

Suppose the answer is five years. If you got a five-year adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) instead of a 30-year fixed, your rate would be about .875 percent lower. On a $200,000 loan, you’d save $146 per month in interest by taking the five-year ARM. On a $600,000 loan, the monthly interest cost savings is $438.

To optimize your home financing, peg the loan term as closely as you can to your expected time horizon in the home.

4. Real estate agents don’t care which lender you use

A federal law enacted in 1974 called the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) prohibits lenders and real estate agents from paying each other fees to refer customers to each other. So as a mortgage shopper, you’re always free to use any lender you choose.

But real estate agents who would represent you as a buyer do care which lender you use. They’ll often suggest that you use a local lender who’s experienced with your area’s nuances, such as local taxation rules, settlement procedures and appraisal methodologies.

These areas are all part of the loan process and can delay or kill deals if a nonlocal lender isn’t experienced enough to handle them.

Likewise, real estate agents representing sellers on homes you’re interested in will often prioritize purchase offers based on the quality of loan approvals. Local lenders who are known and respected by listing agents give your purchase offers more credibility.

5. Mortgage insurance is always required if you put less than 20 percent down

Mortgage insurance is a lender-risk premium placed on many home loans when you’re putting less than 20 percent down. In short, it means your total monthly housing cost is higher. But you can buy a home with less than 20 percent down and avoid mortgage insurance.

The most common way to do this is with a combination first and second mortgage — often called a piggyback — where the first mortgage is capped at 80 percent of the home’s value, and the second mortgage is for the balance of what you want to finance.

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Originally published January 12, 2016.

Source: zillow.com