A huge aspect of purchasing a home is finding the right mortgage loan for you. There are several different types of mortgages that each have their own advantages and disadvantages. You should always speak with a mortgage lender to review what your best options would be. Below is a brief outline of some of the most common loans you may want to consider. While reviewing mortgage loans might not seem exciting on the surface, just keep in mind that the right mortgage loan can help save you money and planning how to spend that extra money is definitely exciting.
These loans are most often conforming, meaning they stay within the federal limits set by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae (government owned mortgage purchasers). In the Shenandoah Valley the cap is $510,400. With these loans, if you put down less than 20% of the purchase price for the home, you will pay a Private Mortgage Insurance premium each month until you reach 20% equity in your home.
Fixed Rate Loans
This is the most common mortgage loan, making up 75% of all home loans. These loans come in 15, 20 and 30 year terms. While the 30 year term is the most popular, the 15 year term will build equity faster, in part due to a lower interest rate. The interest rate stays fixed so the monthly payments remain the same for the duration of the loan; this is great for budgeting and there are no surprises down the road if you plan to stay in your house for several years. The down-side is that you could end up paying more in interest than you would with a different kind of loan.
Adjustable Rate Mortgage Loans
With ARM loans, there is an introductory period when the interest rate is fixed (one month to 10 years) after which the loan interest rate can fluctuate according to the index they are tied to. ARM loans can be attractive to buyers who don’t plan to stay in their house long-term because their initial rates are typically lower than the fixed rate loans but they come with the risk of a much higher interest rate after the fixed period.
Government Agency Backed Loans
Unlike conventional loans, these loans have more restrictions; investment properties and second homes are typically not eligible. However, these loans offer a much lower down payment and typically lower interest rates.
Virginia Housing Development Authority offers a variety of loans designed to meet the needs of Virginia's homebuyers, including Conventional 30 Year Fixed (Fannie Mae No MI, Fannie Mae Reduced MI), plus FHA, VA (Veterans Affairs), and RHS (Rural Housing Services) loans which are listed below. VHDA also offers a down payment assistance grant, closing cost assistance, and mortgage credit certificates. Something to keep in mind is that most VHDA loans are only for first time homebuyers and there is a maximum income and loan limit by region.
Federal Housing Administration Loans come in 15 or 30 year fixed rates and offer a low down payment requirement (can be as low as 3.5%), plus the ability to use a financial gift or inheritance for the down payment. Lower credit score and debt-to-ratio requirements are also advantages to FHA loans, particularly for first time homebuyers. The biggest drawback is that FHA borrowers must pay an upfront mortgage insurance fee of 1.75% of the total loan amount, as well as a monthly premium regardless of down payment size.
USDA/ RHS Loans
United States Department of Agriculture offers Rural Housing Service Loans. They can be a good option if you wish to purchase a single family home that is located in an eligible, rural area. This loan offers a no down payment option and tends to have lower interest rates than a conventional mortgage. The disadvantages to USDA loans are that you will have to pay mortgage insurance premiums and there is an income limit (for Harrisonburg Metro area- not the city itself, which is not eligible- this is $86,850 for a 4 person or less household) as well as a loan limit ($265,400 for Rockingham County).
If you've served in the United States military, you may qualify for a Veterans Affairs loan. A VA loan doesn’t require a down payment and there are no mortgage insurance requirements. There is also no minimum credit score requirement and interest rates tend to be lower. Because these loans come with so many benefits, there are a few restrictions; the property in question must be your primary residence, and it must meet “minimum property requirements" (not a fixer upper) which can prolong the appraisal process. There is also a funding fee associated with the loan.
There are several other, lesser-known mortgage loans (such as Balloon, Bridge, Jumbo, Interest-Only, Rental Property, etc) that may warrant some additional research as you determine the best loan for your situation. While one mortgage type may work for your friend or relative, it may not be the best fit for you which is why you should work with your lender and review the terms of any loan carefully.
1. Maintain the Right Humidity Level
It’s important to maintain optimum humidity levels in your home. If the humidity is too low it results in static electricity. This is a problem because static electricity attracts dust and makes it hard to remove. If the humidity is too high, it creates the perfect environment for dust mites. Dust mites are an allergen and they promote dust production in the home. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, there are up to 19,000 dust mites in a half teaspoon of dust. To prevent static and keep dust mites to a minimum, keep the humidity in your home between 40% and 50%.
2. Protect Your Furniture and Carpets
To keep furniture and carpets clean, use protective furniture sprays and carpet sealants. Scotchgard and Ultra-Guard are two examples of effective brands. These products protect against liquid spills. When a liquid hits a protected surface, it beads up instead of absorbing into the fabric. These products can be multi-purpose, protecting against mold, mildew and bacteria as well. A good practice is to get a deep upholstery and carpet cleaning once a year, and then use a sealing product.
3. Use a Car Product to Prevent Soap Scum Buildup
A great way to prevent soap scum from building up on glass shower doors is to use a product made to protect car windshields. These rain-repellent products can be coated on glass shower doors. They form a barrier that makes water, oils, and soap suds bead up and roll away. You can find them at any store that sells auto supplies. When you notice that water is no longer beading on the shower door, it’s time to reapply the product. These products were made for glass, so they should not be used on plastic.
4. Use a Pumice Stone on Your Oven
Oven cleaners can be toxic and messy to use. Most oven cleaners contain lye, which is a dangerous substance that can burn your eyes and skin. The old fashioned approach to cleaning ovens is still your best bet. A wet pumice stone can be used to scrape your oven free of dirt and grease. Another trick for cleaning ovens is to put a clean, damp cloth or sponge in the microwave for 30 seconds. Then use it to wipe down your oven with or without cleaning products. It’s a good idea to use rubber gloves to do this.
5. Seal Your Stone Countertops
Granite, marble, and other stone countertops are porous, so colored liquids can be absorbed, causing stains. Use a sealer on your countertop that prevents stains by making the liquid bead up on the surface. Even though these countertops are usually sealed when they’re installed, the sealant can wear down and needs to be replaced. Twice a year, reseal your countertops. You can test them to see if they need new sealant by dropping a small amount of water on the countertop. If the water doesn’t bead and stay beaded for a few minutes, then it needs to be resealed.
6. Clean Your Toilet with Coca-Cola
Traditional toilet cleaners can contain lots of harsh chemicals. Avoid toxic fumes by using Coca-Cola to clean your toilet instead. Simply pour the beverage into your toilet and let it soak, then scrub with your toilet brush. After you flush, the Coca-Cola should leave your toilet sparkling clean.
7. Use Grapefruit and Salt on Your Bathtub
Similar to toilet cleaners, bathtub cleaners can contain harsh chemicals and scrubbing the bathtub tends to be an arduous task. Cleaning your tub can be less toxic and more pleasant with salt and a grapefruit. First, sprinkle coarse salt all over the bathtub. Then use a grapefruit that’s been cut in half to rub in and wipe up the salt. Finally, simply rinse the tub with water.
8. Use Coffee Filters to Clean Electronics
There’s no need to buy special cleaning cloths to clean your delicate computer screens and other electronic devices. A simple coffee filter is effective to clean dust and fingerprints off of these devices. Use it to clean screens on your TV, tablet, computer and phone without leaving a trace of fibers behind.
9. Use “Daylight”Light Bulbs
While it’s not exactly cleaning, making sure you have bright light bulbs will make your home look nicer and enable you to spot stains and other messes more quickly. “Daylight” bulbs are full-spectrum light bulbs designed to look like natural light. They actually positively affect your mood, just like sunlight does. These bulbs are usually labeled “daylight” and range between 5,000 to 6,5000 kelvins.
10. Spot Clean Everyday
Perhaps the best way to address deep cleaning is to spot clean on a daily basis to prevent dirt from building up and stains from forming. Cleaning regularly will also keep allergens at a minimum. Putting together a handy kit for spot cleaning makes it fast and easy to do.
Here are some essential items:
1. Hire a Professional
While it’s great to be handy around the house, it’s important to assess the potential risks of taking on a project before you take the DIY approach. When in doubt, hire a professional. Two situations where this is particularly true are plumbing issues and tree removal. In both cases, the potential damage to your property is just not worth the risk.
2. Research and Get Multiple Bids
In the event that you decide to hire a professional for a project or repair, make sure to get multiple bids before you decide which service to go with. Prices can vary a lot, but remember that the lowest price is not necessarily the best option. Try to get recommendations from friends or check a service like Angie’s List.
3. Don’t Drill Random Holes
Artwork, shelves, and other items hung on the walls are part of what makes a home your own. But be cautious about where you drill holes. The walls of your home contain wires and cables as well as plumbing pipes and ductwork. A stud sensor can locate cables, studs, and ducts. It’s a battery-operated tool that costs about $25, making it a worthwhile investment for any homeowner. Some additional rules of thumb for drilling holes- avoid drilling holes that are deeper than 1 ¼ inches and avoid areas that are 8 inches to 2 feet from the floor, as they are full of wires. Also avoid the spaces that are directly above or below wall switches.
4. Find the Main Water Shutoff Valve
A burst or broken plumbing pipe can be a major disaster for your home. In the event of such an emergency, you will need to act quickly to prevent extensive water damage to your home. Water damage is a very common problem for homeowners, so every homeowner should know the location of the main water shutoff valve. It can be found where a water main comes into your home. It’s worthwhile to make sure everyone in your home knows where to find it and how to turn it off. If the valve is difficult to operate, use some penetrating oil on it to make it work more smoothly.
5. Call 811 Before Digging a Hole
When warm weather hits, resist the urge to start digging up your new yard to plant flowers. Before you dig any holes in your yard, be sure to call 811, the national dig-safely hotline. The hotline is a free service that will get in touch with all your utility providers, who will come to inspect your yard and locate underground pipes, wires, and cables. Once these items are safely identified and marked, you can be sure that you won’t cause any problems with your gardening ambitions. In some states, it’s the law that you must call 811 before digging on your property, so it’s definitely the best way to go.
6. Check the Slope of Your Foundation Soil
Water from rain and melting snow can saturate the soil surrounding your foundation. As the pressure builds up over time, it can cause leaks and even crack your foundation, which results in the need for extensive repairs. You can prevent this from happening by making sure that the ground around your foundation slopes downward from your home about 6 inches over 10 feet of ground. Another way to avoid damage to the foundation is to ensure that your downspouts take water about 5 feet away from your home.
7. Know Your Attic
First, make sure you know the location of your attic. Most attics are accessed by a ceiling hatch, which is usually a square or rectangle area with molding around it, located in the ceiling of a hallway or closet. The hatch can be pushed straight up, and you can access the attic with a ladder. Second, you’ll want to make sure your attic has adequate insulation. Measure your insulation to make sure it’s deep enough. Typically, the recommended insulation is R-38, or about 10 to 14 inches deep. You’ll want your hatch to be insulated as well. If it isn’t already, you can use a 4-inch-thick foam board glued onto it.
8. Replace Your Filters
Filters in your AC and furnace need to be replaced on a regular basis. It’s best to check what the manufacturer recommends to know how often they need to be replaced. Also be sure that you use the right size filter when you buy replacements.
9. Check Smoke Detectors
Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly to make sure that they work properly. These detectors can actually save your life, so it’s of utmost importance for homeowners to check them regularly. Even though some models will sound an alarm when the battery is low, it’s best to make a habit of testing them yourself on a regular basis.
10. Get an Annual HVAC Inspection
Be sure to have an air conditioning maintenance appointment once a year. This way you will be able to make sure that your cooling and heating systems are functioning well and at ultimate efficiency, which will save you money on heating and cooling in the long run.
Avoid Changing your Financial Profile
If you have your house under contract, this probably means that you have gotten a pre-approval/qualification letter. Your lender will now make a formal loan application. This application is based on your finances at that point. It is vital that you don't make significant changes to you finances until after you close. Problems can occur if you buy a car, open new lines of credit, change jobs, acquire other significant debt, etc. It is a good idea to talk to your lender before making significant purchases that would out you into debt. You also don't want to spend your down payment/ closing costs.
From there, you will have a number of items to complete before closing.
Contract to Closing Check List
When going over the contract, my clients often get overwhelmed. There are a lot of deadlines in the contract that can have serious consequences if missed. I always assure my clients that they don't need to remember all the dates. My goal is to make sure you are informed and on top of everything from contract to closing.
To achieve this, I take all the critical dates and things you should be aware of and put them on a checklist. I then send you regular updates on what the next action items are. This way, if you want to get ahead of the game, you have access to all the steps but if you find all the steps overwhelming, I will break them down and give them to you as needed.
Buying a house is one of the biggest financial decisions the average person makes. I am here to make that process as smooth and as painless as possible.
In our last post we discussed how to figure out how much home you can afford. The next question to answer is, what will your money buy you? That all depends on the market that you’re in. The same amount of money may buy you a mansion in a rural area and a small apartment in an urban center.
Buyer’s Market vs. Seller’s Market
In addition to the location you’re looking in, the state of the market at the time you’re buying will also help to determine how far your money will go. Whether you’re in a buyer’s market, a seller’s market, or a neutral market will affect how far each dollar stretches. In a buyer’s market, there’s more inventory on the market than there are people looking to buy homes, pushing prices down. Your money will go further and you’ll have more options to choose from. In a seller’s market, there’s less inventory on the market than there are people who want to buy homes and the homes on the market can demand a higher price, squeezing your budget. In a seller’s market you may have to make a few different offers on homes before you can find the right fit. A buyer’s market is an easier deal.
The Local Harrisonburg and Rockingham Market
Take a look here to find detailed analysis of the local market, and enter your email below to subscribe to monthly market reports.
No matter the market conditions, there are always opportunities. Sometimes opportunities require the house to be renovated. There are loans to help with those costs. This can require a significant down payment but not always.
There are also areas where your dollar can stretch a little further. It just depends on what you are looking for. Some of these areas include Broadway/Timberville, Grottoes, Weyers Cave (Augusta), Massanutten, and Elkton.
A home is, for most of us, the biggest expenditure we will ever make. How do you figure out how much home you can afford?
New websites for homebuyers make it easy to make these calculations, once you know the key numbers to plug in. The biggest number is your gross annual income. Once you have that figured out, you will need to figure your monthly debt. Be sure to include all forms of debt like credit cards, car payments, school loans, etc. The third number you will need is the amount you can make on a down payment. If you have these three numbers, you can just plug them into a calculator, like this one from Zillow. There are quite a few such calculators available on the web. For a slightly more complex formula that includes your credit score and the zip code you’re interested in, go to Nerd Wallet.
Debt To Income Ratio
The main thing that you want to find out from these calculators is your DTI, or debt to income ratio. If you used Zillow’s calculator to figure out how much you can afford to spend on a home, you can then go to their DTI calculator and figure your overall debt to income ratio. A good DTI is considered to be 36% or lower. According to the 36% Rule, you should never let your DTI exceed 36%. In order to be considered for a Qualified Mortgage, 43% is the highest DTI that you can have. It’s important to have a Qualified Mortgage because they have better protections for borrowers, such as a limit on fees.
Another nifty tool you can play with on the Zillow site, Nerd Wallet, or other sites is a mortgage calculator. This tool can show you different interest rates for different time periods, like a 15 year mortgage versus a 30 year mortgage. Playing around with different numbers will give you a sense of how you would need to budget and what the overall cost would be for different mortgages.
Once you have a sense of how much you can spend on a home, then you will need to consider what the housing market is like in the area you want to buy. More on that to come . . .
Sources: https://www.zillow.com/home-buying-guide/can-i-afford-a-house/, https://smartasset.com/credit-cards/what-is-a-good-debt-to-income-ratio
In our last post we explored some of the pros of buying new construction. In this post we’ll look at the downside of buying new construction, and the pros of buying existing construction.
Buying new construction usually limits you in terms of location. New construction typically takes the form of sprawling suburban neighborhoods or urban high-rises. Suburban neighborhoods may be spacious, but they’re also typically farther from a town center, adding to a daily commute. High-rises are in the middle of the action, but offer little outdoor space.
Existing construction often has better landscaping surrounding the home, including large trees that provide shade in the summer, block the winter wind, and also muffle the sounds of traffic. It’s possible to transplant trees onto a new lot, but it takes years for the landscaping to mature.
New constructions often have cookie-cutter exteriors in order to appeal to the largest number of people possible. Expect to pay extra to customize a new construction to stand out on the block.
This isn’t an issue if you are purchasing a pre-existing new construction, but if you’re building a new home, the wait time is significant. On average, building a new home takes five or six months.
One of the decisions you will need to make in choosing a new home is whether you want to look at pre-owned homes or new construction, either custom-built or pre-existing new construction.
It’s a matter of personal taste. Some people prefer a shiny new home that hasn’t been lived in before, while others prefer a home touched by the patina of time. There are pros and cons to purchasing a newly constructed home. Let’s explore some of the pros. For a list of the con's click here.
Modern Floor Plan
If you opt for custom construction, you can build your dream home with the floor plan tailored to your wants and needs. Even if you buy a pre-made new construction, you will benefit from a modern floor plan. Most new constructions feature kitchens that open up to a living room so you can cook and still be part of the action happening elsewhere in the house. In addition, new constructions typically have larger rooms and more sunlight than older houses.
Even if the house isn’t custom built, there can still be an opportunity to add custom finishes. You will just need to be in communication with the builder prior to the completion of the house. This will add on to the cost of the house, but can also be a good compromise between the expense of a custom built home and the cookie cutter quality of a non-custom build.
Newer homes feature appliances, insulation, and windows that are more energy efficient. Lower heating and cooling expenses mean a lower utility bill for owners.
New homes include “smart” technology that can allow you to automate different systems and features of the home, including alarm systems, speakers, cable, and internet.
Healthier Indoor Air
New constructions are typically made from materials that are low or zero VOC (volatile organic compound), meaning they output fewer toxic chemicals into the air.
A new home costs less to maintain, and makes monthly payments more predictable because repairs will likely be unnecessary. Warranties can provide protection for your new home for years, eliminating any up front repair costs.
Whether a new construction is an urban condo or a sprawling suburban mansion, many new constructions come with attractive amenities. Urban amenities can include parking, a pool, and security staff, while suburban locations may come with parks, pools, and other community spaces.
Buying new construction can give you more time to work on the move. For a single family home, new construction typically takes about 5 months, while condos take about 6 months. This means you don’t have to rush into buying your new home.
Reach out to me if you would like examples of new construction communities in the area, building lots, and/or builders I recommend.
When it comes to choosing a new home, it’s important to define your must-haves. These are items on your wishlist that are non-negotiable. It’s important to separate your list of must-haves from the things that you want, but which may be negotiable. There are a number of different aspects of a home to consider when coming up with your list of must-haves. Here are the most important.
First you need to determine what price range you can afford. Then you will be able to be realistic when looking at potential homes. The size of your down payment, your monthly payment, and your annual income will all affect how affordable your mortgage is.
Type of Homes
Homes come in a variety of types and it’s important to consider what type is right for you. Detached, single-family homes generally offer the most privacy and freedom. However, you will be solely responsible for all repairs and up-keep. Townhomes, and condominiums are other options in housing. They offer less privacy but can be more affordable. In a townhome, you will be sharing walls with other people. In the case of a condominium, you will own the unit you live in and have a stake in the whole building as well. There are pros and cons with each option.
Sometimes, your first house is a great stepping stone to build equity or to build your investment portfolio. If you have questions about what type of home you can afford in today's market, contact me here.
The neighborhood that surrounds your home is just as important as the home itself. It will become your community. Getting to know the neighborhood that a potential home is located in is an important step. The state of the neighborhood and how it may change in the future will affect the future value of your home. Spend some time hanging out in the neighborhood and consider how important the following aspects of a neighborhood are:
For those who have or are planning to have children, the local schools are an important part of the equation. Even if you do not have or plan to have children, good schools can be a sign of a thriving neighborhood and can make it easier to sell your house in the future.
Some aspects of a school to research and consider are:
Other aspects of the home
Some other aspects of a home to consider in determining what you really want are:
Determining your must-haves for a home in the following areas will help you narrow down your search and ensure that your dream home is also a practical home that meets your needs.
If you are looking for a new home, there are many real estate professionals out there who will want to work with you. How do you select the right real estate agent to be on your team?
Real Estate Agent, Realtor, or Broker?
First, let’s clarify some of the terminology around real estate professionals, which can be confusing. A real estate agent is someone who acts as a guide or counselor in the process of buying or selling property. Real estate agents are required to have a license in the U.S. and are trained to handle the legal aspect of buying and selling property, including homes. Some agents specialize in either buying or selling, while other agents assist with both transactions.
A broker is also licensed and must have been a real estate agent prior to becoming a broker.
Legally, a real estate agent must be managed by a broker, who takes legal responsibility for the agent’s actions. A broker may manage a firm of real estate agents, work as a sole proprietor, or work under another broker.
A Realtor is a real estate agent or broker who is part of the National Association of Realtors, or NAR. NAR members pay dues and are held to a certain standard of ethics.
Although all real estate agents must be licensed to ensure a certain level of expertise, that doesn’t mean all agents are right for you. It’s important to find an agent who is the right fit for your situation.
A real estate agent will be guiding you through what may be the most significant financial transaction of your life. Some important qualities to look for in an agent are responsiveness,
knowledge of the local area and market, expertise and negotiation skills.
Referrals are a good source of information on whether a potential real estate agent has these qualities. It’s a good idea to ask people you know about real estate agents they’ve worked with in the past. Another resource is the Better Business Bureau ratings.
Looking at a potential agent’s listings is also a valuable way to see if they are a good fit for you. If most of their listings are different in location or type from what you are looking for, the chances are they aren’t the right agent for you.
Questions to Ask
It’s very important to meet an agent in person before you decide on whether you want to work with them. You can get a better sense of your compatibility with an agent in person.
The National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents has compiled a list of questions to ask a potential real estate agent.
I'm happy to answer these questions or any others you may have. Let's grab coffee or meet up at my office. Feel free to email me here or call or text me at 540 246-9067.