The Best Cities for Artists in America

No starving artists here: These cities are the best places for artists to live well and practice their craft.

Having access to art and culture is one of the best parts of living in a city. While it’s true that art is found and created anywhere — in cities, there are some definite benefits. Cities act as cultural hubs that draw both new and existing artistic talent. There is a feedback loop of inspiration that cities foster.

With people from many different cultures, backgrounds and walks of life living in close quarters, there is vibrant multiculturalism. Urban density makes it easy to try and experience many different things from theater to food. Artists feed off that creative energy. And when you also live surrounded by other creative individuals, you are constantly being inspired to create new work

But it takes more than that to make a city a great place for artists. It’s widely known that both historically and in modern times, artists are often underpaid for their work. That “starving artist” trope didn’t come from nowhere — artists still need to pay for things like rent and food. They still need to make a living in this world the same as everyone else.

That’s why, on top of a thriving cultural scene, artists need to live in a place that supports their passion and livelihood. That ranges from affordable housing for work and creation, walkability to get around to gigs and much more.

So if you’re an artist with a dream, these are the best cities for artists to create and live.

Finding the best cities for artists

Art is for everyone because there are so many different ways to create. You have visual mediums like painting, drawing or photography. There are performance arts like dancing or theater. And there are musicians across an incredible breadth of genres and instructions, from voice to electronic DJ.

Having a thriving artistic community makes a city a better place to live. There are shows and performances to go to, which improves the quality of life for residents and encourages tourism. But to have such a community, artists need to make a viable living in that city. Quality of life and cost of living for essentials like food and housing, plus affordable rent remain important for those looking to dive into their artist endeavors.

To determine the best cities for artists, we looked for cities with a good walk score and t the average price for studio apartments. Many artists need or want separate spaces to create and work in, same as with offices for other industries, so having affordable studios for rent is key.

We also looked for how many museums there are per density and how many artistic organizations were in the city by density. That included theaters, artistic collectives, performing arts centers and more. All cities also had a population of over 50,000.

The following 10 places emerged as the best cities for artists to live and work in.

10. Baltimore, MD

baltimore md

In recent years, Baltimore has risen the charts as one of the best cities for creatives. This is especially true for the visual arts.

There are more than 60 diverse museums within the area, and it’s the home of renowned museums like the Baltimore Art Museum and the Walters Art Museum. Their substantial collections feature historic art from around the world, as well as exciting contemporary work. The city also supports modern, experimental art in outdoor public spaces like the Glenstone museum and sculpture garden and Downtown Frederick Public Art Trail, making art accessible to all.

There are also ample opportunities in the performing arts. The city is home to seven different performing arts companies and numerous dance and music groups.

Living here, artists can enjoy an abundance of creative outlets and good, affordable quality of life. With an average city median income of $51,000, the average cost for a studio apartment is $1,346. This was down 8.3 percent from last year. That gives artists lots of choices for space, as well as affordable rates.

Baltimore also has good public transportation, and a high Walk Score of 72.

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9. St. Louis, MO

st louis mo

This city that was once the gateway to the West is now a gateway for artists to comfortably live and create in an up-and-coming art city. While it is not the most walkable city, there are many other benefits. The average rent for a studio apartment is $1,328 — with plenty of availability.

St. Louis has an especially good reputation for performing arts, with 14 performing art companies and ten dance companies. Performance venues like The Fabulous Fox, housed in a grand old movie theater, and the Center of Creative Arts give the community hubs to experience art. And the contemporary visual arts scene is also on the rise.

The public can appreciate art in outdoor spaces like Citygarden, and museums like the Grand Center and the St. Louis Art Museum boasts exceptional modern art collections. So there are plenty of places for artists to congregate and work together.

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8. Chicago, IL

chicago il

Chicago has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the United States’ best cities for art, alongside staples like Los Angeles and New York City. But of those two, Chicago is the only one to make it into the top 10 best cities for artists. This means it’s much more affordable than the other two, but still gives artists the creative stimulation they crave. It’s also the place where many greats get their start.

Chicago has many benefits — the downtown area is a dense urban grid, with a very high WalkScore of 84. For outlying areas, there’s excellent public transit. However, most art and culture institutions are downtown — from theaters to museums — so it’s a very centralized area. There are outdoor spaces like Millennium Park for fresh air, access to nature and art installations (hello, The Bean). Museums like the Art Institute of Chicago enjoy tremendous renown for their collections.

Plus, there are top-ranked performing arts opportunities, from theater to music to improv at Second City, one of the nation’s best comedy and improv schools. While average studio rent is $1,784, making it the second most expensive city for studios in the top 10, you’ll have access to world-renowned art institutions for learning and displaying your art.

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7. Berkeley, CA

berkeley ca

Although Berkeley is largely known as a center for engineering, science and tech due to UC Berkeley, art and culture are equally strong here. This city of over 121,000 has an incredibly diverse population. And the presence of the university invites fresh, young minds from around the world, feeding innovation and creativity.

Berkeley also feeds off of the cultural thrum of the surrounding Bay Area and nearby San Francisco.

But being in the tech-heavy Bay Area, life is expensive. A Berkeley studio costs an average of $2,250. This makes it the most expensive of the top ten cities. But on the upside, Berkeley is extremely walkable, making it easy to get to the many artistic opportunities that exist. Berkeley is especially known for its performing arts. It’s home to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, a Tony-winning regional playhouse and other top theater and performance companies.

For visual artists, collectives like the ACCI Gallery and museums like Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive exist. West Berkeley and the North Shattuck areas are especially popular artist neighborhoods.

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6. Philadelphia, PA

philadelphia pa

Aspiring and working artists priced out of New York have been turning to Philadelphia. This has made it one of the most exciting artistic hubs on the East Coast. Steeped in history, the city also buzzes with vibrant young minds and modern energy.

Rent and cost of living are significantly lower than in NYC. A studio costs, on average, $1,745. Two top art schools call Philly home: the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.

And there is art everywhere, from museums to public spaces. The Philadelphia Art Museum is the third-largest in the U.S., and the Rodin Museum has one of the largest collections of his work outside Paris. Performing arts-wise, there is a great live music scene, especially for classical music thanks to the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The Avenue of the Arts acts as a hub, with performance spaces for everything from dance to experimental work. Dancers will also find a welcoming community here, as there are multiple esteemed dance companies.

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5. Seattle, WA

seattle wa

Seattle’s reputation for incredible live music needs no introduction. Grunge originated here, thanks to influential bands like Nirvana. And music and performance are still part of the lifeblood of the city. But there’s more to Seattle’s art scene than that.

There are over 80 theater companies and great dance companies like the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Galleries and small venues provide space for experimental, undercover art movements. But “mainstream” art also has a place here at museums and places like the Seattle Art Museum, Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Olympic Sculpture Park.

In Seattle, studio apartments run an average of $1,481. And this is down almost 14.2 percent from last year, so there is plenty of space available and demand.

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4. Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C.

The U.S. capital is a hotbed for history and art, which go hand in hand here. There are abundant museums and inspiring architecture everywhere you turn. But it’s not just about the past. There is also a thriving contemporary art community.

Check out spots like the Culture House DC, a 19th-century church painted in bold colors and now houses an artist collective. And there are frequent art festivals and performances of music, dance and theater.

If you’re an artist looking for a city with a lot of options for studios, D.C. is the place for you. The average rent is $1,686, plus it’s also a very pedestrian-friendly city that’s easy to navigate on foot.

All in all, D.C. offers a great emerging art scene in a city that’s affordable and safe, with plenty of history to inspire you.

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3. Pittsburgh, PA

pittsburgh

In 2018, Pittsburgh ranked as one of the top cities in America for artistic vibrancy. It’s no small wonder. Similar to Philadelphia, artists love the affordable cost of living — $1,194 for a studio.

In Pittsburgh, they’re finding world-class museums, outdoor festivals, creative collectives and performing arts companies that are pushing boundaries and generating buzz. Some must-visit spots include the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol Museum and The Mattress Factory.

Outside of town, you’ll also find Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater.

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2. Minneapolis, MN

minneapolis mn

Coming in at No. 2 in the top 10 best cities for artists is one half of the Twin Cities itself: Minneapolis. Of course, this Midwest hub is well-known for its friendly residents, parks, lakes and outdoor access. But it also has fantastic opportunities for art.

Minneapolis has 55 different museums to visit, among them the eye-catching Weisman Art Museum. As a city that loves nature, lots of art is outdoors and open for everyone. Minneapolis is especially well-known for its vibrant murals, easily found all over the city. Oh, and of course, there’s a great music scene. What else would you expect from the home of Prince?

Add in low rent on studios, $1,236 on average, and you’ll discover why it’s no wonder so many artists find inspiration here.

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hartford ct

Topping the list of the best cities for artists is the Connecticut capital of Hartford. This scenic city celebrates both contemporary and historic art through its many institutions, from museums to collectives.

World-class touring performances come through at venues like the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. And local companies like TheaterWorks showcase contemporary work. The city is also committed to promoting diverse artists and voices. For example, the unique Artists Collective highlights the work of the African Diaspora. And the Real Art Ways organization supports experimental and new work in a variety of mediums.

Beyond the artistic community, Hartford is also very affordable for working artists. It boasts the cheapest prices for studio apartments — the average being $1,121.

Good quality and cost of living go a long way toward supporting an artist’s lifestyle. And if the urban scene isn’t sufficiently inspiring, Connecticut’s natural beauty is also sure to spark the imagination.

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The 50 best cities for artists

Now that you’ve seen the top 10, let’s branch out to discover even more cities that have created an atmosphere where artists can thrive and create. Please note, our methodology allows for ties.

Methodology

To find the best cities for artists, we used the following data points:

  • Performing arts businesses and establishments per density
  • Museums per density
  • Walk score
  • Average rent of a studio apartment

We looked at cities with at least 50,000 people according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 population estimates and ranked each city in each of these four categories. Then, we added up the rankings for each of the four categories to determine a final score for each city. Ties were allowed in our rankings. The cities with the lowest overall score were determined to be the best cities for artists.

We excluded cities from this study that had insufficient rental inventory or other data.

Business and establishment data comes from commercially sourced business listings. This may not account for recent business openings or closures.

Rent prices are based on a one-year rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory as of April 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.

The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.

Source: rent.com

10 Cities Near Philadelphia To Live in 2021

The brilliant city of Philadelphia is a wonderful place to work and play. But city living isn’t the life for everyone.

Fortunately, the region – known as the Delaware Valley — has a slew of options for incredible boroughs, towns and cities near Philadelphia in which to live. These spots offer a wide range of entertainment, dining, nightlife, recreation and comfortable apartments.

Of all the incredible places to live within easy commuting distance of Philadelphia, it’s hard to narrow down to a top 10. But we are sure you’ll find these 10 cities near Philadelphia — all within five to 25 miles of Center City and listed by distance from the city — perfect places to call home.

  • Haddon Township, NJ
  • Ardmore, PA
  • Conshohocken, PA
  • Hatboro, PA
  • King of Prussia, PA
  • Langhorne, PA
  • Phoenixville, PA
  • West Chester, PA
  • Wilmington, DE
  • Doylestown, PA

Haddon Township, NJ facing the City Center in Philadelphia.Haddon Township, NJ facing the City Center in Philadelphia.

  • Distance from downtown: 7.0 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,530 (down 3.38 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,713 (down 13.88 percent since last year)

In New Jersey, townships are full-fledged municipalities, and Haddon Township is one of the region’s best cities near Philadelphia. Just 10 or so minutes from the Ben Franklin Bridge to Center City Philadelphia, the township offers both the quiet of a suburb and a main street that rivals any in the state for drinking and dining options.

Bustling Haddon Avenue in the downtown Westmont section is a mile-long stretch featuring some bakeries, cheesesteak joints, pasta shops, pizza places, taquerias, bars and taverns. Farther out, chain dining and big box stores line White and Black Horse pikes.

Haddon also offers plenty of green space, from Cooper River Park in the north along the lake to Newton Lake Park and Saddler’s Woods on the south.

Public transportation into Philly is a snap with Westmont Station a direct link via PATCO with park-and-ride facilities.

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Ardmore, PA. Ardmore, PA.

Photo source: Apartment Guide / One Ardmore Place
  • Distance from downtown: 7.7 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,357 (down 61.90 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $2,552 (down 35.50 percent since last year)

Among swanky locales like Bryn Mawr, Villanova and Gladwyne, Ardmore is the iconic Philadelphia Main Line’s most accessible city to everyday folk.

Ardmore’s median income comes in at a tenth that of some of the region’s richest communities and is a much cheaper home value. But Ardmore is also less insular. The city is a destination for visitors and day-trippers from across the Delaware Valley.

Ardmore splits down the middle between Montgomery and Delaware Counties and Haverford and Lower Merion Townships. Its backbone is busy Lancaster Avenue that offers retail shopping, trendy restaurants and the 500-capacity Ardmore Music Hall, one of the area’s top concert clubs.

While other Main Line towns shun outsiders, the hum of Lancaster Avenue feels welcoming to all.

And on the north end of town is one of the region’s best spots for retail therapy or even just window shopping. Suburban Square is a six-square-block upscale outdoor shopping plaza. Dating back to the 1920s, the square is one of the nation’s oldest planned shopping centers.

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Conshockocken, PA, one of the cities near philadelphiaConshockocken, PA, one of the cities near philadelphia

Photo source: Conshohocken Borough / Facebook
  • Distance from downtown: 12.6 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,705 (down 7.82 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $2,265 (up 7.69 percent since last year)

Throughout its history, Conshohocken has always held an important geographic location. Sitting at one of the largest bends of the Schuylkill River, the land was originally a large milling region along rail and shipping lines.

As interstates went up, the region morphed into a factory industrial center. As manufacturing declined, it was those same highways that turned “Conshy” into one of the most desirable suburban-chic and cosmopolitan residential commuter communities in the city.

Conshohocken lies between the I-476 Blue Route and I-76 Schuylkill Expressway at the “Conshohocken Curve.” As industry left, easy access to the region’s two major highways transformed it into a hub for upper-middle-class commuters into the city, especially as apartment complexes and mid-priced high-rise rental towers rose.

And as the population increased, so did the enclave which features shopping and dining spots and many glittering hotels.

The shoreline also features a section of the running and biking Schuylkill River Trail path.

Nearby, Conshohocken’s Fayette Street main street is popular among its young professional population, with a median age of 32 with 63 percent single. The downtown strip offers a selection of quaint boutiques, eateries and cafes, as well as a variety of notable bars.

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Hatboro, PA.Hatboro, PA.

Photo source: Apartment Guide / Livingstone Apartments
  • Distance from downtown: 15.9 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: N/A
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,695 (up 9.18 percent since last year)

Eastern Montgomery County has just a few towns with true main streets, but one of the best of the bunch is Hatboro. The borough sits along the Bucks County border, a suburban town settled among some residential communities.

Hatboro is known for its plethora of parks and green spaces, including the popular Hatboro Memorial Park and Memorial Pool. But its growing notoriety as a suburban craft beer lovers’ destination is what’s gaining prominence.

In the heart of the Craft Beer Trail of Greater Philadelphia, Hatboro offers Crooked Eye Brewery and Artifact Brewing, both opened within the last several years.

The breweries sit along York Road, Hatboro’s main street. The corridor also offers many bars and gastropubs, vintage clothing stores, hoagie shops and produce grocers, cafés and popular bakeries and Daddypops diner, a favorite of Food Network’s Guy Fieri.

The borough is also convenient for commuters, with Hatboro station along the Warminster Line to Center City just off York Road.

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King of Prussia, PA, one of the cities near philadelphiaKing of Prussia, PA, one of the cities near philadelphia

  • Distance from downtown: 16.9 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $2,204 (up 5.44 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $2,544 (up 0.81 percent since last year)

To speak like a true Philadelphian, pronounce the name of the city of King of Prussia the proper way, “Kingaprusha.”

If you’re familiar with the western Montgomery County city, it’s most likely for one thing: its megamall. The King of Prussia mall is massive, at 2.8 million square feet and 450 stores. It’s the third-largest mall in the nation behind only the Mall of America and the new American Dream in New Jersey.

This central town nestles right along the Schuylkill River — between four major thoroughfares: the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I-76 Schuylkill Expressway, and U.S. Routes 202 and 422. Sitting between renowned Valley Forge Historical Park and county seat Norristown, King of Prussia is both a popular commuter city and an important edge city in its own right.

One key location in KOP is the King of Prussia Town Center. Opened in 2016, the large planned lifestyle development has become a hub of residential activity in town. Acting as the city’s downtown, Town Center offers a bevy of apartments and townhouses at Village at Valley Forge with mixed-use and office space, upscale department stores and a Wegman’s grocery, retail shops and several new restaurants and bars.

Nearby are several office parks, Upper Merion High School and the Valley Forge Casino Resort.

The area is growing so quickly, local transportation authority SEPTA is developing a $2 billion regional rail line to directly connect King of Prussia with University City and Center City Philly.

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Langhorne, PA.Langhorne, PA.

  • Distance from downtown: 22.0 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,413 (down 1.55 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,691 (up 6.72 percent since last year)

One thing you can have living in the suburbs that you usually don’t in the middle of a city is an amusement park down the street. That’s one of the features of living in the borough of Langhorne and adjoining Middletown Township. Here you’ll find Sesame Place, the Sea World-owned young children’s Sesame Street theme park.

Langhorne borough proper and surrounding Middletown Township are collectively referred to as Langhorne.

The area is an important business and shopping center along Neshaminy Creek in charming Bucks County. Along with numerous national chains and big box stores, a myriad of service centers, retail shops and old-school restaurants line Pine Street and Maple Avenue.

In addition, the borough features a quaint historic district dating back to the 19th century. Sitting just off the I-295 beltway, Langhorne is a popular bedroom community for commuters to Trenton as well as Philadelphia.

The expansive Middletown Country Club splits the borough, with the multistory Oxford Valley Mall out in the Township. And surrounding Lake Luxembourg is the expansive 1,200-acre Core Creek Park. The region offers a variety of housing options, from affordable apartments to large suburban mansions.

Several locations still offer 1950s style tract housing leftover from the expansion of the nearby Levittown planned community.

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Phoenixville, PA, one of the cities near philadelphiaPhoenixville, PA, one of the cities near philadelphia

Photo source: Borough of Phoenixville / Facebook
  • Distance from downtown: 23.9 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,229 (down 14.82 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,426 (down 12.71 percent since last year)

In 1958, a large gelatinous alien creature was let loose and devoured dozens of residents of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. That of course only happened on screen, in the Steve McQueen horror classic “The Blob,” which filmed and took place in the Chester County suburb.

The movie features a famous scene where terrified residents flee the alien out the Colonial Theater’s doors. That real-life theater is the centerpiece of Phoenixville’s Bridge Street main street as well as the annual Blobfest which celebrates the landmark film.

But as important as the film is, younger residents will tell you it’s the craft beer scene that makes Phoenixville special. After languishing for years as a rundown mill town, a revitalization plan included a call for brewers to set up shop. Today the city of just 17,000 offers 10 craft breweries.

On Bridge Street alone are four breweries, along with a tap house, a distillery and three winery tasting rooms. That collection gives downtown Phoenixville the distinction of having the most breweries per square foot of any place in the nation.

For residents, Phoenixville is more than just beer and blobs. Its absolutely teeming downtown along Bridge Street has boomed with pizzerias and bistros, coffee and smoke shops and boutiques and galleries.

Phoenixville Area High School offers a high ranking and a 15:1 student-teacher ratio. And many parks and green spaces dot the region, including the large Black Rock Sanctuary wildlife refuge along the Schuylkill River bend that also features Basin Trail for hiking and biking. The Schuylkill River Trail also crosses the borough, along French Creek.

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West Chester, PA. West Chester, PA.

  • Distance from downtown: 25.0 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,631 (down 1.23 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $2,095 (up 7.54 percent since last year)

A little under 25 miles from Center City, West Chester is a more affordable alternative to the nearby Main Line. The seat of Chester County offers a selection of bars, restaurants and shops in its surprising downtown along Gay and Market streets.

Local businesses are accessible, catering to the borough’s young, affluent residents as well as budget-conscious clientele. Need proof? West Chester’s downtown sits on the top-three list of “Great American Main Streets.”

West Chester is a more affordable, younger enclave surrounded by old-money communities like Malvern, Kennett Square and Chadds Ford, with swaths of an urban-rural buffer.

The borough offers high-ranked schools and an average age of just 24.9 years old. A vibrant part of that young community is West Chester University, ranked a Top 10 Public Regional University by U.S. News.

Why is West Chester attractive to young professionals? Perhaps it’s the borough’s title as “Most Exciting Place” in all of eastern Pennsylvania. It’s a locale to meet new people, as the state’s second-most densely populated city, fifth-best for nightlife and fifth-best spot to lead an active lifestyle.

Or maybe it’s because it’s the world headquarters of the QVC shopping network.

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Wilmington, DE. Wilmington, DE.

  • Distance from downtown: 26.2 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,186 (down 14.08 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,477 (up 1.09 percent since last year)

Look behind Pennsylvania and New Jersey to find the best cities near Philadelphia — don’t forget about Delaware!

Wilmington is certainly having a moment. While the previous president spent his weekends at swanky Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster golf club, the current chief executive has been taking his off weekends back in his home state of Delaware. President Biden famously grew up in and around Wilmington and is known to have commuted back to his residence weekly dating back to his earliest days as the Diamond State’s senator.

Wilmington, despite being the largest city in a completely different state, is just a half-hour drive from Center City Philly. But it’s the finance industry that fuels the economy of the Corporate City.

The 1980s Financial Center Development Act liberalized financial regulations in Delaware, removing usury laws and interest rate caps. This caused financial and insurance corporations from around the world to set up shops in Wilmington.

An attractive city to big money employers is an attractive city to its white-collar workers. And one of the favorite locals is the Christina River waterfront. Popular waterfront spots include the Blue Rocks’ Frawley Stadium, the Delaware Children’s Museum, a convention center, a movie theater, parks, trails, hotels and a slew of cafes, restaurants and bars.

And for those concerned about Wilmington’s less-than-stellar crime safety record, there is good news. The city reports being “safer now than it’s ever been.” The city is noting its lowest crime rate in recent history.

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dolyestown, PA, one of the cities near philadelphiadolyestown, PA, one of the cities near philadelphia

Photo source: Doylestown Township / Facebook
  • Distance from downtown: 27.2 miles
  • One-bedroom average rent: $1,408 (up 25.06 percent since last year)
  • Two-bedroom average rent: $1,999 (up 9.93 percent since last year)

Gateway to the colonial-estate-and-covered-bridge tourism lands of Upper Bucks, Doylestown is the charming exurban seat of Bucks County.

The borough offers a slew of cultural and entertainment options not usually found in a town of under 9,000, about an hour commute from Center City by either train or car.

Doylestown has one of the densest gatherings of museums out of all of the cities near Philadelphia. James Michener Art Museum (named for the native son author), the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, the Mercer Museum and Oscar Hammerstein II Farm (the final residence of its namesake) can all be found here.

Just off the center of town is the historic art deco movie house County Theater which shows blockbusters and arthouse films alike.

Elsewhere in Doylestown’s downtown along State and Main streets are quaint thrift shops, big city-worthy restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops and brewpubs.

For those seeking a more natural setting, just as appealing is the natural beauty of rural Bucks County just outside of town, packed with hiking trails, bike paths, water recreation and nature watching. Favorite spots include urban 108-acre Central Park and wooded 1,500-acre Peace Valley Park.

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Make one of these cities near Philadelphia your next home

No matter where you decide to call home, you can’t go wrong with any of the amazing cities near Philadelphia you might choose.

Whether in Bucks, Montgomery, Chester or Delaware Counties, across the river in South Jersey or down I-95 in Delaware, you’ll have tons to do all within a short commute into the city.

Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments in April 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.

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Source: apartmentguide.com

What to Know about FHA 203K loans

Buying a fixer-upper is sometimes romanticized by pop culture. While it’s fun to dream, the reality of home renovation is that it can be laborious and draining, especially if the home needs serious help.

Repair work requires energy and resources, and it can be difficult to secure a loan to cover both the value of the home and the cost of repairs—especially if the home is currently uninhabitable. Most lenders won’t take that sort of chance.

But if you have your heart set on buying a fixer upper, an FHA 203(k) loan can help.

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), insures loans for the purchase and substantial rehab of homes. It is also possible to take out an FHA 203(k) loan for home repairs only, though it might not be your best option if that’s all you need.

If you have the vision to revive a dreary house, here’s info about FHA 203(k) loans and other home improvement loan options.

What Is an FHA 203(k) home loan?

Section 203(k) insurance lets buyers finance both the purchase of a house and its rehabilitation costs through a single long-term, fixed- or adjustable-rate loan.

Before the availability of FHA 203(k) loans, borrowers often had to secure multiple loans to obtain a mortgage and a home improvement loan.

The loans are provided through HUD-approved mortgage lenders and insured by the FHA. The government is interested in rejuvenating neighborhoods and expanding homeownership opportunities.

Because the loans are backed by the federal government, you may be able to secure one even if you don’t have stellar credit. Rates are generally competitive but may not be the best, because a home with major flaws is a risk to the lender.

The FHA 203(k) process also requires more coordination, paperwork, and work on behalf of the lender, which can drive the interest rate up slightly. Lenders also may charge a supplemental origination fee, fees to cover review of the rehabilitation plan, and a higher appraisal fee.

The loan will require an upfront mortgage insurance payment of 1.75% of the total loan amount (it can be wrapped into the financing) and then a monthly mortgage insurance premium.

Applications must be submitted through an approved lender .

What Can FHA 203(k) Loans Be Used For?

Purchase and Repairs

Other than the cost of acquiring a property, rehabilitation may range from minor repairs (though exceeding $5,000 worth) to virtual reconstruction.

If a home needs a new bathroom or new siding, for example, the loan will include the projected cost of those renovations in addition to the value of the existing home. An FHA 203(k) loan, however, will not cover “luxury” upgrades like a pool, tennis court, or gazebo (so close!).

If you’re buying a condo, 203(k) loans are generally only issued for interior improvements. However, you can use a 203(k) loan to convert a property into a two- to four-unit dwelling.

Your loan amount is determined by project estimates done by the lender or the FHA. The loan process is paperwork-heavy. Working with contractors who are familiar with the way the program works and will not underbid will be important.

Contractors will also need to be efficient: The work must begin within 30 days of closing and be finished within six months.

Mortgage LoanMortgage Loan

Temporary Housing

If the home is indeed unlivable, the 203(k) loan can include a provision to provide you with up to six months of temporary housing costs or existing mortgage payments.

Who Is Eligible for an FHA 203(k) Loan?

Individuals and nonprofit organizations can use an FHA 203(k) loan, but investors cannot.

Most of the eligibility guidelines for regular FHA loans apply to 203(k) loans. They include a minimum credit score of 580 and at least a 3.5% down payment.

Applicants with a score as low as 500 will typically need to put 10% down.

Your debt-to-income ratio typically can’t exceed 43%. And you must be able to qualify for the costs of the renovations and the purchase price.

Again, to apply for any FHA loan, you have to use an approved lender. (It’s a good idea to get multiple quotes.)

Home Improvement Loan Options

The FHA 203(k) provides the most comprehensive solution for buyers who need a loan for both a home and substantial repairs. However, if you need a loan only for home improvements, there are other options to consider.

Depending on the improvements you have planned, your timeline, and your personal financial situation, one of the following could be a better fit.

Other Government-Backed Loans

In addition to the standard FHA 203(k) program, there is a limited FHA 203(k) loan of up to $35,000. Homebuyers and homeowners can use the funding to repair or upgrade a home.

Then there are FHA Title 1 loans for improvements that “substantially protect or improve the basic livability or utility of the property.” The fixed-rate loans may be used in tandem with a 203(k) rehabilitation mortgage.

The owner of a single-family home can apply to borrow up to $25,000 with a secured Title 1 loan.

With Fannie Mae’s HomeStyle® Renovation Mortgage, homebuyers and homeowners can combine their home purchase or refinance with renovation funding in a single mortgage. There’s also a Freddie Mac renovation mortgage, but standard credit score guidelines apply.

Cash-Out Refinance

If you have an existing mortgage and equity in the home, and want to take out a loan for home improvements, a cash-out refinance from a private lender may be worth looking into.

You usually must have at least 20% equity in your home to be eligible, meaning a maximum 80% loan-to-value (LTV) ratio of the home’s current value. (To calculate LTV, divide your mortgage balance by the home’s appraised value. Let’s say your mortgage balance is $225,000 and the home’s appraised value is $350,000. Your LTV is 64%, which indicates 36% equity in the home.)

A cash-out refi could also be an opportunity to improve your mortgage interest rate and change the length of the loan.

PACE Loan

For green improvements to your home, such as solar panels or an energy-efficient heating system, you might be eligible for a PACE loan .

The nonprofit organization PACENation promotes property-assessed clean energy (or PACE) financing for homeowners and commercial property owners, to be repaid over a period of up to 30 years.

Home Improvement Loan

A home improvement loan is an unsecured personal loan—meaning the house isn’t used as collateral to secure the loan. Approval is based on personal financial factors that will vary from lender to lender.

Lenders offer a wide range of loan sizes, so you can invest in minor updates to major renovations.

Home Equity Line of Credit

If you need a loan only for repairs but don’t have great credit, a HELOC may provide a lower rate. Be aware that if you can’t make payments on the borrowed funding, which is secured by your home, the lender can seize your home.

The Takeaway

If you have your eye on a fixer-upper that you just know can be polished into a jewel, an FHA 203(k) loan could be the ticket, but options may make more sense to other homebuyers and homeowners.

SoFi offers cash-out refinancing, turning your home equity into renovation money.

Or maybe a home improvement loan of $5,000 to $100,000 seems like a better way to turn your home into a haven.

Check your rate today.



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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

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Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. SoFi Home Loans are not available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.

Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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Source: sofi.com

5 Tips for Approaching the Open House

In this article:

For decades, sellers and their agents have been using open houses to help generate interest in their listings. Open houses give the general public the chance to view a home without scheduling a private showing. While open houses do get a lot of curious neighbors and casual browsers, they can be a good opportunity for serious buyers to decide if a home is worth pursuing further, or a way to get a better grasp on neighborhood home values. 

In fact, 59% of home buyers attended an open house during their shopping process last year and 43% of buyers said attending the open house was very or extremely important to determining if the home was right for them.* On average, home buyers attended 2.6 open houses before buying.

Whether you’re a sincere buyer or simply curious about the inside of a home, you should know how open houses work and understand how you can be a good open house attendee. 

Note: If open houses are restricted or unavailable due to public health concerns, work with your agent to arrange a private tour or video tour. All Zillow-owned homes include a self-tour option — just use our app to unlock the door and tour at your convenience.

What is an open house?

An open house is an event during which potential buyers can tour a home that’s on the market. It’s usually hosted by the seller’s listing agent, or by the seller themselves, in case of a for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) listing. Open houses usually take place on weekends, during a set range of hours typically midday.

Open house benefits for buyers

No scheduling required: Unlike a private showing, you don’t need to set up a specific appointment to see a home. Simply show up during the open house hours and view the home at your own pace. 

Scope out the competition: If you’re interested in a home, attending the open house can help you gauge interest from other buyers. This can be helpful when determining how quickly you need to submit an offer and how much you should offer. 

Understand current home values: Seeing what homes are selling for in your area and what you can buy at a particular price point can be helpful if you’re just starting your search. 

Redefine your nonnegotiable home features: Checking out homes in person can help you redefine your list of must-haves: Do you really need that extra bedroom? What does a backyard of this size really look like?

How do open houses work?

Not every seller or listing agent will hold one, but here’s the typical process for sellers setting up an open house:

  1. The seller and their agent determine a day and time for the open house.
  2. The agent lists the open house on the local MLS.
  3. The agent advertises the open house on social media, online and with print ads or flyers. 
  4. The agent prepares for the open house — purchasing refreshments, printing flyers, setting up signs and adding little touches to make the home feel welcoming to buyers. (Yes, as a shopper, you can eat the cookies.)
  5. The agent hosts the event, greeting buyers and answering questions about the property and community.
  6. Buyers remove their shoes, tour the home, take pictures and video (if allowed) and jot down important notes. 
  7. Any buyer who liked the house will contact their own agent. They’ll then set up a private showing to see the home again or they’ll submit an offer right away — the latter is common in fast-moving real estate markets.

Who hosts an open house?

The person hosting an open house could be any one of the following: 

  • Listing agent: As the person hired to sell the home, the listing agent should be an expert on the property. 
  • Listing agent’s team member or associate: A busy listing agent may also send another agent in their place — either someone on their team or another agent in their office. They should be experts in the local market, but may not be as familiar with the individual home. 
  • Homeowner: If a home is for sale by owner (FSBO), the homeowner will be hosting their own open house. They’re undoubtedly the expert on the home, but their local market expertise may be limited. 

How to prepare for an open house

There are times when you might just stumble upon an open house while you’re on a walk or running errands. But if you’re intentionally looking for open houses as part of your home-buying strategy, try these tips.

Seek out relevant open houses

If you plan to visit multiple open houses in one day, make sure you’re focusing on listings that fit your criteria for budget and location. It’s not worth wasting time looking at homes outside your budget or those that are too far from your work or school. 

Tip: With Zillow’s home search tool, buyers can filter by homes with upcoming open houses (this filter can be applied in addition to other search filters like price, bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage and location). When you use the open houses filter in conjunction with filters for your other criteria, you can easily find the right open houses for your search.

A map of home listings on Zillow.

You can also tour most Zillow-owned homes any time between 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., any day of the week — just select the tour option on the listing. Although the listing agent will not be present, you can avoid a busy open house and rest assured the property is in move-in ready condition.

Do research on the market beforehand

With help from your agent or on your own, find out how each home you’re planning to visit stacks up against others nearby. Is the price in line with similar listings in the area? Are there any defects? Has it gone under contract recently and then returned to the market? Are there a lot of other interested buyers? Has it been sitting on the market for a long time? (“Days on market” is an indicator of a stale listing, but the standard number of days on market can vary based on where you live.)

Stay open-minded

If you’re searching on a tight budget in a hot neighborhood, there’s a good chance that the home that fits the bill will need some TLC. Fortunately, attending an open house can give you a better idea of the home’s condition and potential, while also giving you the opportunity to ask renovation-related questions — e.g., the location of load bearing walls and the details of local regulations. 

How to attend an open house

Now that you’ve done your research and are prepared to add some open houses to your home search, here’s what you should do once the day arrives. 

Ask questions

An open house is your best opportunity to ask the listing agent (or their associate) your questions — don’t be shy. Ask questions that you wouldn’t be able to answer just by reading a home’s listing description, such as:

  • What are the HOA restrictions?
  • Has the seller done a property tax appeal?
  • Have there been any recent renovations or repairs?

Tip: If you’re not currently working with an agent and you ultimately decide you aren’t interested in a particular home you tour, the open house could help you see if the listing agent might be the right person to represent you — many agents represent both buyers and sellers. 

Be honest

If anyone other than the listing agent or the homeowner is hosting the open house, they’re likely an agent hoping to find potential buyer clients. If you’re already working with an agent (or if you have no real interest in buying), be honest.

Check for damage and disrepair

Professional or edited photos can make a home look a lot better online than it is in person. At an open house, take the opportunity to closely evaluate a home’s condition and take note of any potential defects that would factor into your offer price. 

Assess the windows: Look for flaking paint, misaligned sashes and condensation due to air leaks. These could be signs of windows that need replacement. 

Check for water damage: Look for warped baseboards, ceiling stains and musty smells. 

Make note of cracks: Noticeable cracks in the ceiling or drywall could indicate foundation issues. 

Test functions: Open cabinets, doors and drawers. Run the faucets. Check the water pressure. An open house is a good opportunity to make sure every part of the home is in good working order. 

Gauge potential renovation needs: Home improvements can really add up. As you walk through a home, keep an eye out for urgent renovation needs like floors, fixtures or large repainting projects.

Open house tips for buyers

Whenever you attend an open house, put yourself in the seller’s shoes — you’re letting a bunch of strangers walk through your home while you’re not there. While every seller wants their open house to net a buyer, they also want to keep their home safe and their furnishings free of damage.

Do

  • Take off your shoes or wear booties if requested.
  • Greet the host and provide your name.
  • Sign in if necessary or requested (this is a safety issue for the seller and their agent).
  • Take notes on your phone about your likes, dislikes and follow-up questions.
  • Ask if you can capture a video (if the listing doesn’t already include a video).
  • Respect other buyers and guests. 
  • Wait for others to exit a room before you enter.
  • Provide feedback if requested.
  • Thank the person hosting the event.

Don’t

  • Refuse to comply with an agent or homeowner’s house rules.
  • Criticize the home or the owner’s style.
  • Listen in on other visitors’ conversations.
  • Touch the owner’s belongings.
  • Let kids run around without supervision.
  • Bring food or beverages in (except water).
  • Reveal information that would compromise your negotiating power, like your budget or level of interest in the home.
  • Bring pets.

*Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2019 survey data

Source: zillow.com

5 Tips for Finding a Rental With a Large Dog

It’s not uncommon for pet-friendly apartment communities to have weight and breed restrictions. What should the owner of a large dog do?

Finding an affordable and comfortable apartment can be an incredibly time-consuming process. Add a large dog to the mix, and it’s next to impossible.

That’s what Jan Even, owner of a 90-pound Rottweiler mix, experienced during her Bay Area apartment search. She was planning to rent in San Francisco or the East Bay and began her search by looking at pet-friendly apartments.

“I couldn’t find a single place that would accept my dog. She’s perfectly well-behaved, but a lot of the places that bill themselves as pet-friendly have restrictions about types of dogs they will accept,” she said. “Eventually we concluded we weren’t going to be able to find a rental because of our dog. Now we’re looking at real estate to buy.”

It’s not uncommon for apartment communities — even those that are dog-friendly — to have weight and breed restrictions. So, what’s the owner of a large dog to do?

Look into single-family rentals

Large apartment complexes are mostly likely to have size and breed restrictions in their pet policies. Landlords of individually-owned properties are more likely to be flexible and accept large dog breeds on a case-by-case basis. Use keywords like “pet friendly” or “dog friendly” in your search filter to narrow down rental listings.

Use advocacy groups as a resource

There are plenty of other dog owners who have been in your shoes. The Humane Society of the United States has a list of tips for finding rental housing with pets. Your local animal shelter, breed rescue or advocacy group likely has a list of apartment communities that will accept your specific breed. For example, the website My Pit Bull is Family has a list of pit bull-friendly rental housing providers in each state.

Have all your documents prepared

In addition to preparing documents like obedience training and vaccination records, ask your landlord or veterinarian to write a reference for your pet, vouching for your dog’s behavior.

“A reference from a previous landlord can be huge in changing the mind of the landlord,” said KC Theisen, director of pet care issues at the Humane Society of the United States. “One other thing I recommend, in addition to pet resumes and references is a pet interview. If your dog is a great dog, offer to bring them by the rental office for a meet and greet. It’s very hard for a landlord to look at a sweet, well-mannered dog in the eye and say no.”

Plan extra time for the search

Understand that finding a rental with a large dog may not be easy. Allot additional time to find the right home for you and your dog. If you’d normally give yourself one month to find an apartment, double that to two since a good majority of rentals won’t be pet-friendly. If you really need extra time, consider getting a short-term rental and boarding your dog while you continue your search.

Be flexible

Finding a rental with a large dog may require flexibility on your end. Understand that you may be required to pay an additional pet deposit, pay extra for insurance that covers your dog’s breed or even rent on a month-to-month basis until your pooch earns the landlord’s approval. Follow the pet guidelines to show that you and your dog are model tenants and willing to work with the landlord.

As you look for a place to rent, above all, sell yourself as a responsible pet owner. “The thing about big dogs is that they’re not that different from a small dog in terms of the amount of space they need or damage they’re going to do,” explained Theisen. “Each dog is an individual.”

Do you have any tips for finding a rental with your large dog? Share your experience with us in the comments below.

Related:

Source: zillow.com

How to Refinance Your Home Mortgage – Step-by-Step Guide

Deciding to refinance your mortgage is only the beginning of the process. You’re far more likely to accomplish what you set out to achieve with your refinance — and to get a good deal in the meantime — when you understand what a mortgage refinance entails.

From decision to closing, mortgage refinancing applicants pass through four key stages on their journey to a new mortgage loan.

How to Refinance a Mortgage on Your Home

Getting a home loan of any kind is a highly involved and consequential process.

On the front end, it requires careful consideration on your part. In this case, that means weighing the pros and cons of refinancing in general and the purpose of your loan in particular.

For example, are you refinancing to get a lower rate loan (reducing borrowing costs relative to your current loan) or do you need a cash-out refinance to finance a home improvement project, which could actually entail a higher rate?

Next, you’ll need to gather all the documents and details you’ll need to apply for your loan, evaluate your loan options and calculate what your new home mortgage will cost, and then begin the process of actually shopping for and applying for your new loan — the longest step in the process.

Expect the whole endeavor to take several weeks.

1. Determining Your Loan’s Purpose & Objectives

The decision to refinance a mortgage is not one to make lightly. If you’ve decided to go through with it, you probably have a goal in mind already.

Still, before getting any deeper into the process, it’s worth reviewing your longer-term objectives and determining what you hope to get out of your refinance. You might uncover a secondary or tertiary goal or benefit that alters your approach to the process before it’s too late to change course.

Refinancing advances a whole host of goals, some of which are complementary. For example:

  • Accelerating Payoff. A shorter loan term means fewer monthly payments and quicker payoff. It also means lower borrowing costs over the life of the loan. The principal downside: Shortening a loan’s remaining term from, say, 25 years to 15 years is likely to raise the monthly payment, even as it cuts down total interest charges.
  • Lowering the Monthly Payment. A lower monthly payment means a more affordable loan from month to month — a key benefit for borrowers struggling to live within their means. If you plan to stay in your home for at least three to five years, accepting a prepayment penalty (which is usually a bad idea) can further reduce your interest rate and your monthly payment along with it. The most significant downsides here are the possibility of higher overall borrowing costs and taking longer to pay it off if, as is often the case, you reduce your monthly payment by lengthening your loan term.
  • Lowering the Interest Rate. Even with an identical term, a lower interest rate reduces total borrowing costs and lowers the monthly payment. That’s why refinancing activity spikes when interest rates are low. Choose a shorter term and you’ll see a more drastic reduction.
  • Avoiding the Downsides of Adjustable Rates. Life is good for borrowers during the first five to seven years of the typical adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) term when the 30-year loan rate is likely to be lower than prevailing rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. The bill comes due, literally, when the time comes for the rate to adjust. If rates have risen since the loan’s origination, which is common, the monthly payment spikes. Borrowers can avoid this unwelcome development by refinancing to a fixed-rate mortgage ahead of the jump.
  • Getting Rid of FHA Mortgage Insurance. With relaxed approval standards and low down payment requirements, Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage loans help lower-income, lower-asset first-time buyers afford starter homes. But they have some significant drawbacks, including pricey mortgage insurance that lasts for the life of the loan. Borrowers with sufficient equity (typically 20% or more) can put that behind them, reduce their monthly payment in the process by refinancing to a conventional mortgage, and avoid less expensive but still unwelcome private mortgage insurance (PMI).
  • Tapping Home Equity. Use a cash-out refinance loan to extract equity from your home. This type of loan allows you to borrow cash against the value of your home to fund things like home improvement projects or debt consolidation. Depending on the lender and jurisdiction, you can borrow up to 85% of your home equity (between rolled-over principal and cash proceeds) with this type of loan. But mind your other equity-tapping options: a home equity loan or home equity line of credit.

Confirming what you hope to get out of your refinance is an essential prerequisite to calculating its likely cost and choosing the optimal offer.


2. Confirm the Timing & Gather Everything You Need

With your loan’s purpose and your long-term financial objectives set, it’s time to confirm you’re ready to refinance. If yes, you must gather everything you need to apply, or at least begin thinking about how to do that.

Assessing Your Timing & Determining Whether to Wait

The purpose of your loan plays a substantial role in dictating the timing of your refinance.

For example, if your primary goal is to tap the equity in your home to finance a major home improvement project, such as a kitchen remodel or basement finish, wait until your loan-to-value ratio is low enough to produce the requisite windfall. That time might not arrive until you’ve been in your home for a decade or longer, depending on the property’s value (and change in value over time).

As a simplified example, if you accumulate an average of $5,000 in equity per year during your first decade of homeownership by making regular payments on your mortgage, you must pay your 30-year mortgage on time for 10 consecutive years to build the $50,000 needed for a major kitchen remodel (without accounting for a potential increase in equity due to a rise in market value).

By contrast, if your primary goal is to avoid a spike in your ARM payment, it’s in your interest to refinance before that happens — most often five or seven years into your original mortgage term.

But other factors can also influence the timing of your refinance or give you second thoughts about going through with it at all:

  • Your Credit Score. Because mortgage refinance loans are secured by the value of the properties they cover, their interest rates tend to be lower than riskier forms of unsecured debt, such as personal loans and credit cards. But borrower credit still plays a vital role in setting their rates. Borrowers with credit scores above 760 get the best rates, and borrowers with scores much below 680 can expect significantly higher rates. That’s not to say refinancing never makes sense for someone whose FICO score is in the mid-600s or below, only that those with the luxury to wait out the credit rebuilding or credit improvement process might want to consider it. If you’re unsure of your credit score, you can check it for free through Credit Karma.
  • Debt-to-Income Ratio. Mortgage lenders prefer borrowers with low debt-to-income ratios. Under 36% is ideal, and over 43% is likely a deal breaker for most lenders. If your debt-to-income ratio is uncomfortably high, consider putting off your refinance for six months to a year and using the time to pay down debt.
  • Work History. Fairly or not, lenders tend to be leery of borrowers who’ve recently changed jobs. If you’ve been with your current employer for two years or less, you must demonstrate that your income has been steady for longer and still might fail to qualify for the rate you expected. However, if you expect interest rates to rise in the near term, waiting out your new job could cancel out any benefits due to the higher future prevailing rates.
  • Prevailing Interest Rates. Given the considerable sums of money involved, even an incremental change to your refinance loan’s interest rate could translate to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars saved over the life of the loan. If you expect interest rates to fall in the near term, put off your refinance application. Conversely, if you believe rates will rise, don’t delay. And if the difference between your original mortgage rate and the rate you expect to receive on your refinance loan isn’t at least 1.5 percentage points, think twice about going ahead with the refinance at all. Under those circumstances, it takes longer to recoup your refinance loan’s closing costs.
  • Anticipated Time in the Home. It rarely makes sense to refinance your original mortgage if you plan to sell the home or pay off the mortgage within two years. Depending on your expected interest savings on the refinance, it can take much longer than that (upward of five years) to break even. Think carefully about how much effort you want to devote to refinancing a loan you’re going to pay off in a few years anyway.

Pro tip: If you need to give your credit score a bump, sign up for Experian Boost. It’s free and it’ll help you instantly increase your credit score.

Gathering Information & Application Materials

If and when you’re ready to go through with your refinance, you need a great deal of information and documentation before and during the application and closing processes, including:

  • Proof of Income. Depending on your employment status and sources of income, the lender will ask you to supply recent pay stubs, tax returns, or bank statements.
  • A Recent Home Appraisal. Your refinance lender will order a home appraisal before closing, so you don’t need to arrange one on your own. However, to avoid surprises, you can use open-source comparable local sales data to get an idea of your home’s likely market value.
  • Property Insurance Information. Your lender (and later, mortgage servicer) needs your homeowners insurance information to bundle your escrow payment. If it has been more than a year since you reviewed your property insurance policy, now’s the time to shop around for a better deal.

Be prepared to provide additional documentation if requested by your lender before closing. Any missing information or delays in producing documents can jeopardize the close.

Home Appraisal Blackboard Chalk Hand


3. Calculate Your Approximate Refinancing Costs

Next, use a free mortgage refinance calculator like Bank of America’s to calculate your approximate refinancing costs.

Above all else, this calculation must confirm you can afford the monthly mortgage payment on your refinance loan. If one of your aims in refinancing is to reduce the amount of interest paid over the life of your loan, this calculation can also confirm your chosen loan term and structure will achieve that.

For it to be worth it, you must at least break even on the loan after accounting for closing costs.

Calculating Your Breakeven Cost

Breakeven is a simple concept. When the total amount of interest you must pay over the life of your refinance loan matches the loan’s closing costs, you break even on the loan.

The point in time at which you reach parity is the breakeven point. Any interest saved after the breakeven point is effectively a bonus — money you would have forfeited had you chosen not to refinance.

Two factors determine if and when the breakeven point arrives. First, a longer loan term increases the likelihood you’ll break even at some point. More important still is the magnitude of change in your loan’s interest rate. The further your refinance rate falls from your original loan’s rate, the more you save each month and the faster you can recoup your closing costs.

A good mortgage refinance calculator should automatically calculate your breakeven point. Otherwise, calculate your breakeven point by dividing your refinance loan’s closing costs by the monthly savings relative to the original loan and round the result up to the next whole number.

Because you won’t have exact figures for your loan’s closing costs or monthly savings until you’ve applied and received loan disclosures, you’re calculating an estimated breakeven range at this point.

Refinance loan closing costs typically range from 2% to 6% of the refinanced loan’s principal, depending on the origination fee and other big-ticket expenses, so run one optimistic scenario (closing costs at 2% and a short time to breakeven) and one pessimistic scenario (closing costs at 6% and a long time to breakeven). The actual outcome will likely fall somewhere in the middle.

Note that the breakeven point is why it rarely makes sense to bother refinancing if you plan to sell or pay off the loan within two years or can’t reduce your interest rate by more than 1.5 to 2 percentage points.


4. Shop, Apply, & Close

You’re now in the home stretch — ready to shop, apply, and close the deal on your refinance loan.

Follow each of these steps in order, beginning with a multipronged effort to source accurate refinance quotes, continuing through an application and evaluation marathon, and finishing up with a closing that should seem breezier than your first.

Use a Quote Finder (Online Broker) to Get Multiple Quotes Quickly

Start by using an online broker like Credible* to source multiple refinance quotes from banks and mortgage lenders without contacting each party directly. Be prepared to provide basic information about your property and objectives, such as:

  • Property type, such as single-family home or townhouse
  • Property purpose, such as primary home or vacation home
  • Loan purpose, such as lowering the monthly payment
  • Property zip code
  • Estimated property value and remaining first mortgage loan balance
  • Cash-out needs, if any
  • Basic personal information, such as estimated credit score and date of birth

If your credit is decent or better, expect to receive multiple conditional refinance offers — with some coming immediately and others trickling in by email or phone in the subsequent hours and days. You’re under no obligation to act on any, sales pressure notwithstanding, but do make note of the most appealing.

Approach Banks & Lenders You’ve Worked With Before

Next, investigate whether any financial institutions with which you have a preexisting relationship offer refinance loans, including your current mortgage lender.

Most banks and credit unions do offer refinance loans. Though their rates tend to be less competitive at a baseline than direct lenders without expensive branch offices, many offer special pricing for longtime or high-asset customers. It’s certainly worth taking the time to make a few calls or website visits.

Apply for Multiple Loans Within 14 Days

You won’t know the exact cost of any refinance offer until you officially apply and receive the formal loan disclosure all lenders must provide to every prospective borrower.

But you can’t formally apply for a refinance loan without consenting to a hard credit pull, which can temporarily depress your credit score. And you definitely shouldn’t go through with your refinance until you’ve entertained multiple offers to ensure you’re getting the best deal.

Fortunately, the major consumer credit-reporting bureaus count all applications for a specific loan type (such as mortgage refinance loans) made within a two-week period as a single application, regardless of the final application count.

In other words, get in all the refinance applications you plan to make within two weeks, and your credit report will show just a single inquiry.

Evaluate Each Offer

Evaluate the loan disclosure for each accepted application with your objectives and general financial goals in mind. If your primary goal is reducing your monthly payment, look for the loan with the lowest monthly cost.

If your primary goal is reducing your lifetime homeownership costs, look for the loan offering the most substantial interest savings (the lowest mortgage interest rate).

Regardless of your loan’s purpose, make sure you understand what (if anything) you’re obligated to pay out of pocket for your loan. Many refinance loans simply roll closing costs into the principal, raising the monthly payment and increasing lifetime interest costs.

If your goal is to get the lowest possible monthly payment and you can afford to, try paying the closing costs out of pocket.

Choose an Offer & Consider Locking Your Rate

Choose the best offer from the pack — the one that best suits your objectives. If you expect rates to move up before closing, consider the lender’s offer (if extended) to lock your rate for a predetermined period, usually 45 to 90 days.

There’s likely a fee associated with this option, but the amount saved by even marginally reducing your final interest rate will probably offset it. Assuming everything goes smoothly during closing, you shouldn’t need more than 45 days — and certainly not more than 90 days — to finish the deal.

Proceed to Closing

Once you’ve closed on the loan, that’s it — you’ve refinanced your mortgage. Your refinance lender pays off your first mortgage and originates your new loan.

Moving forward, you send payments to your refinance lender, their servicer, or another company that purchases the loan.


Final Word

If you own a home, refinancing your mortgage loan is likely the easiest route to capitalize on low interest rates. It’s probably the most profitable too.

But low prevailing interest rates aren’t the only reason to refinance your mortgage loan. Other common refinancing goals include avoiding the first upward adjustment on an ARM, reducing the monthly payment to a level that doesn’t strain your growing family’s budget, tapping the equity you’ve built in your home, and banishing FHA mortgage insurance.

And a refinance loan doesn’t need to achieve only one goal. Some of these objectives are complementary, such as reducing your monthly payment while lowering your interest rate (and lifetime borrowing costs).

Provided you make out on the deal, whether by reducing your total homeownership costs or taking your monthly payment down a peg, it’s likely worth the effort.

*Advertisement from Credible Operations, Inc. NMLS 1681276.Address: 320 Blackwell St. Ste 200, Durham, NC, 27701

Source: moneycrashers.com

How to Find Your Dream Home

Ready to start searching listings and hitting open houses? Save yourself some time by first identifying exactly what you need and want in a home.

You’ve been pre-approved and know what you can afford, so it’s time to start home shopping. But the hunt for your dream home will stall rapidly if you don’t know what that “dream” looks like.

It’s easy to talk in generalities about wanting a “big” house or an “older” home. But in order to better target your real estate search, you must think specifically about your dream dwelling. Will your “big” house be 2,400 square feet or 5,000? When you say “older” home, do you mean one built pre-1900, or pre-1980?

Before you visit another open house, sit down and make a list of your needs and wants — and yes, those are two different things. You may want a pool, but you probably could live without it. (Plus, it’s worth considering that having a pool could raise your home insurance costs.)

Understand that your requirements list will likely change as you learn more about your housing options. Proximity to the beach may start as a priority, for example, but once you see the size of ocean-front homes you can get in your price range, you may decide a short drive to the water is quite bearable. Unless you have an unlimited budget, it’s likely you’ll need to make compromises along the way.

Use these questions to help make your very own list of housing requirements.

Find-Your-Dream-Home-Blog-r2

You should also take time to rank specific home features as “Must Have,” “Like to Have” or “Don’t Care” using this printable checklist. Identifying your priorities will help you find the perfect property.

Once you know what you’re looking for in a home, you’ll be ready to find the right agent to partner with for your search.

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Source: zillow.com

Getting a second chance with credit repair – Lexington Law

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Credit can be difficult – it’s easy to make mistakes. You apply for credit card after credit card and get approved for every single one of them. You feel like a VIP. Your buying potential seems unlimited, and the temptation to spend is strong. Then, like Brittany, you begin to rationalize your spending. “It’s only a little credit here and only a little credit there,” you think.

Sooner or later, your cards are maxed out, and you’re barely able to keep up with the minimum payments each month. You’re no longer a VIP, but a someone who is a financial risk in the eyes of creditors. You might find yourself in a situation where you may have a financial emergency that you can’t cover. Like Brittany, you may be denied for a necessary loan. Instead of being approved for credit like you were before, you face denial after denial, which can be humiliating. But when you’re faced with this situation, what can you do? Who do you turn to? It may feel like there’s no way of getting what you need, because credit impacts so many aspects of our lives – from being able to get a credit card to buying a home, to how high insurance premiums are going to be or even if you get hired for a job.

Impact of Bad Credit

Bad credit can have serious consequences and in Brittany’s case it influenced her becoming homeless and hopeless. Her credit created challenges as she struggled to find housing to rent or to own. Credit can make or break you. It can be the difference between paying or saving thousands of dollars in interest, between homelessness and having a roof over your head. Credit impacts your lifestyle and having good credit can help you have the type of lifestyle you deserve.

Going from bad to good credit may feel hopeless, and fixing it can seem impossible. Luckily, the right inspiration can lead to starting the credit repair journey. This can be daunting, but Brittany found the inspiration to start hers. It was her family. She wanted to give her child a better life. Good credit can lead to a more stable, secure future – and that’s something a lot of us want to give our children. But it can be easy to lose hope if you’re drowning in debt, or if you don’t have the credit score needed to qualify for a home.

Credit Repair

Enter Lexington Law Firm. We will challenge negative accounts on your behalf that are unfair and inaccurate. In 2017, we saw 10 million removals from our client’s credit reports. We have over a decade of experience working with hundreds of thousands of clients on working to improve their credit, making us the trusted leaders in credit repair.

We will personalize your case to your unique credit circumstances – ranging from medical bills to divorce to help you with errors on your credit reports. With extensive knowledge of consumers rights and laws related to credit reporting, and a team of paralegals and attorneys fighting on your behalf for your right to a fair and accurate credit report, there is hope. There is a second chance. We offer credit repair, credit monitoring, and identity theft protection services to help you stay on track. Lexington Law Firm wants to help you reach your goals, like Brittany did, so that you can have the second chance you deserve that can help lead you to a better future. Call today for your free credit consultation.

rebuilding credit

Disclosure: Similar results should not be expected and are not guaranteed. Your results will vary.

You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

Understanding Single-Family Home HOAs

Before you buy a home in an HOA-governed community, make sure you review the rules thoroughly.

What does HOA mean?

HOA means homeowners association. It can also be referred to as HOD or Home Owners Dues. HOAs can exist in planned housing developments, town homes, and condos. It is generally billed on a monthly basis.

Most people think of homeowners associations (HOAs), legally known as Common Interest Developments, as related to attached housing structures like condominiums or town homes. But this is not always the case.

Around the 1980s, developers started building communities of single-family homes that were actually Common Interest Developments. These communities came with their own sets of rules, regulations and HOA fees.

The reason builders starting developing communities in the HOAs structure was to maintain order and the aesthetics of a community. Their rules keep home paint colors and front yards in harmony, restrict building additions that don’t fit into the neighborhood, and stop owners from parking broken-down vehicles in their driveways or front yards. Such regulations assure new and existing owners that a neighbor’s behavior and choices will not diminish property values.

But they also mean that you must follow the rules yourself, and typically contribute monthly fees to manage and run the HOA for the benefit of all owners. When residents violate these rules — which can cause stress for other owners and hurt property values– the HOA will typically step in and enforce them with violation notices, fines and possibly litigation, if the issue gets that far.

The root of the issue

Often, the problem is not the rules, it’s that people don’t read the rules and regulations before they buy into a community, and then they violate the rules. But ignorance is no excuse — those rules are recorded on the property title, and likely given to every buyer to review before they purchase a home in a standard transaction. Owners are still bound by those rules whether they received and read them or not.

If you are buying into an HOA-governed community, be sure to read the rules and regulations before you buy. Once you’ve read them, if you don’t like them, then you should avoid buying a property in that community.

What if you already own in an HOA, and don’t like the rules or how the elected HOA board of directors interprets and enforces them? Luckily, an HOA is a democracy and the owners can vote out the board of directors and change the rules!

Any member-owner can try to get elected to the board and change the regulations. They just have to get enough other community members to support their opinion and vision for the community.

Unfortunately, most community members never go to a board meeting and never get involved. They just complain about the board — who are all volunteers, by the way — and complain about HOA fees, rules, and special assessments, etc.

If you are one of those owners who doesn’t like the rules, then get involved and take the time to campaign in your community, get on the board, and change the regulations.

Do Renters Pay HOA Dues?

“The landlord cannot force you to pay the HOA unless that is what is required in the lease. If it is part of the lease, then you have to pay. If not, you don’t, but the owner may decide to find another tenant when the lease is up.

If the HOA is not doing their job in clearing snow, I would write them a letter and send copy to the landlord. You are not the owner so they may not listen, but it gives you proof of the issue and may prompt the owner to act.”

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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.

Source: zillow.com