U.S. Real Estate News

Real Estate News

Updated: Monday, September 21, 2020

Must-Know Real Estate Photography Tips

When youre trying to sell a home, whether youre an owner, or youre a Realtor, the imagery you convey is one of the most important aspects of marketing. People are inherently visual, and if your photos online arent high-quality and visually appealing, youre not likely to garner interest in your property.

Even if youre a photographer who wants to branch into real estate photos, there can be a learning curve, and its different from some other genres.

The following are specific, must-known photography tips to get beautiful pictures of a home.

Use a Wide-Angle Lens

Choose a high-quality and versatile wide-angle lens for real estate photography. It will provide you with focus and sharpness.

A wide-angle lens is meant to take pictures of large areas or objects, so when you use one in real estate photography, it helps you get the entire structure in your shot.

It can also help make a space look larger or even more luxurious.

You can use a wide-angle lens for both interior and exterior real estate photography.

A wide-angle lens can also help you best capture tighter spaces.

Take Pictures with a Tripod

You can buy an inexpensive tripod, and it can make a world of difference in the quality of your real estate photos.

A tripod helps with shooting long exposures because it provides stability and reduces any blurriness.

Tripods are also good for perspective so you can set it at the same height throughout a home, then youll have images that are the same height. Consistency is important in real estate photography.

Know the Pivotal Shots

Of course, every real estate photo shoot is going to be unique, but there are some standard shots you should plan on taking.

You should have two wide-angle shots of each bedroom, the living room, and the kitchen.

Make sure you have at least one photo of the bathroom, and anywhere from one to three photos of the backyard at a minimum.

Youll need one or two front-of-the-home shots, and one shot of all the other features like the pantry and the closets, if theyre compelling and organized.

If youre a real estate agent doing your own photography, youre likely going to have a better idea of whats most important and what to prioritize in your photos.


Before taking a real estate photo, decluttering is important. Small pieces of clutter that you might not even otherwise notice are going to appear prominent in photos.

All surfaces need to be clean, and if there are any decorative accessories, keep them to a minimum.

Aside from generally clearing clutter from a shot, remember to wipe off the counters, so they look polished, and add something like a bowl of fruit on your kitchen counter.

In bathrooms, put the seats down and clear off surfaces.

Consider the Weather

For real estate photos, natural light is a must-have, especially when youre shooting the homes exterior.

Aim for a clear, sunny day or a partly cloudy day.

When you take photos against daytime light, your colors are going to be bright and saturated.

If the weather is too cloudy, its best to reschedule and take your photos at a different time.

You also want the sun to be behind the house.

Since natural light is so important for real estate photography, the blinds and curtains should be open.

Consider Lightroom Presets

Finally, if youre new to real estate photography, or even if youre not, you can save yourself a lot of time in editing with Lightroom presets.

With Lightroom presets, youre using editing presets. You use Adobe Lightroom while editing your photos and then you use controls which are called sliders to change certain settings such as brightness and contrast.

Once you get a combination you like, you can save it, and that then becomes your preset.

You can apply that preset to all of your photos, and then all of your settings are automatically adjusted.

Along with making your own presets, you can also purchase them. When you purchase them, it gives your photos a certain look and sense of consistency.

Having Lightroom presets will speed-up your editing overall, and give you a more polished final product. Buying presets is especially useful if you dont have a lot of photography experience because they can help you with the editing learning curve.

Finally, if you have a large property or a particularly beautiful yard youre working with, think about using drone technology to add something unique to the listing photos.

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HOA Project Roll-Out

Winter is the time of year that a homeowner association board should be soliciting and reviewing proposals for fair weather renovation projects like painting, fencing, pool replastering, asphalt sealing and roofing. There are several practical reasons for starting the process early:

Contractors are more available. Winter is a slow time for many contractors. This means they have the time to thoughtfully consider your work and produce a good proposal.

Better pricing. Sometimes the work you want done can be performed during the winter months, even certain kinds of roofing. If you agree to start the project now, you just may save a significant amount of money. When work is slow, many contractors are willing to offer better pricing to "seal the deal."

Scheduling preference. If you accept a contractors proposal now, you can generally dictate the scheduling. Set the date now. If you wait you may not make the schedule at all.

Arranging for money. If you havent accumulated enough reserve funds, you will need several months to discuss, approve and collect a special assessment.

Coordination with residents. If the project is extensive and disruptive, you will want to warn residents well in advance. This will give them the opportunity to work around or even plan vacations strategically.

Always get references and check them out. It is important to use only contractors that have a good track record. Make sure the references are for work that is comparable in size and complexity to yours. It is not uncommon for small contractors to get in over their head when trying to nail down work. Feel comfortable that they can deliver what they promise.

Always, always, always use contractors that are properly licensed, bonded and insured to do the work they are contracting to perform. If you have any question about requirements, contact the state licensing board. Use it.

Get named on their insurance. Insist on getting a current copy of the contractors liability insurance coverage directly from his insurance agent. If you accept the proposal, require that the HOA be included on this insurance as an "additional insured" and get an appropriate and current insurance certificate from the contractors insurance agent to prove it.

Make progress payments. Do not make advance payments on the project work. This is often the sign of a contractor on a "shoe string" that may be using your money to pay other jobs labor or supply bills. You could be left high and dry with uncompleted work. Instead, use progress payments that pay for work actually completed. Usually, make no more than one per month and be sure to inspect the work to verify completion.

Consider paying for a Performance Bond. For large and expensive projects, requiring a Performance Bond provides assurance that the contractor will perform, or, another contractor can be hired to finish the job. It costs extra but is often worth it.

Get Lien Waivers. When making payments, have the contractor sign a Lien Waiver for the amount tendered. Your attorney can provide the appropriate form or ask the state contractors board for a sample. A Lien Waiver is the contractors promise that he has paid or will pay all labor, material and supply bills >

Its also appropriate to have all materials delivered directly to the job site and to pay for materials directly. You will need someone in charge of ordering the material and making sure its delivered and secured.

For any substantial construction, it is very important to involve an attorney who can draft or review the contract. Dont bypass this important step. Theres a lot riding on what the Board is obligating the HOA to.

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Move Over She-Shed, Make Room for the Backyard Office

March ushered in a new way of life for many people due to the coronavirus pandemic. One of the first things that happened in many states was workers were asked to telecommute from home whenever possible.

Now, even though shutdowns are technically over in many places, it seems to be a trend thats sticking around.

A lot of companies arent calling employees back to the office anytime soon.

Working from home has had big implications for real estate. For example, after spending an increasing amount of time at home, many people are opting to move from cities and into the suburbs where they can have outdoor space and square footage.

Theres also a demand for home offices, but if you dont have space for one, you can get creative.

One option is the backyard office.

Benefits of a Backyard Office

A backyard office can be a shed that you transform into a workspace. The benefits include privacy as well as natural light. You might even have a bit of a view from your outdoor office.

For a lot of people, theyve found working from home leads to no work-life balance, but having a dedicated space separate from their living areas can help with the distinction. Its easier to not only separate work and home life with a differentiated space, but you may find it helps you focus when youre working.

Do You Need a Building Permit?

If youre thinking about an office-shed, one of the first things youll have to determine is whether or not youll need a permit.

Where you live and the size of the structure you plan on building or putting on your property are the main determinants of whether or not youll need a permit.

If applicable, you may also need to check with your Homeowners Association and get their approval.

If you go the prefabricated route, meaning you buy a shed or shed kit from a company, some are marketed as being small enough that youre unlikely to need a permit.


When you scope out your backyard for a location for your office shed, look for somewhere flat with good drainage.

If you arent sure or your backyard needs clearing or cleaning up before you can place your shed, you might want to work with a landscaper who can help you with planning.

Prefab or Custom-Build?

Many companies are now offering prefabricated office sheds. You can find them as kits, meaning all the pieces come to your home and youre responsible for putting them together. You might also find an office shed thats already built and arrives at your home almost ready to go.

When you choose a prefab shed, it may be more expensive than building your own, but also more convenient.

Theyre available in different >

Some kits include doors, windows, insulation and flooring, and others dont, so read the fine print.

Building Your Own Office Shed

There are other options that may be less expensive than a prefeb shed.

One is converting an existing shed into an office. In that case, your focus might be primarily on making an old shed into a comfortable, stylish place to work and perhaps adding power.

You can also find plans online and build your own shed.

Design Tips

Regardless of the route you go, you want your outdoor office to be someplace you feel comfortable and content.

Try to create an office with plenty of natural light.

Add comfortable furnishings, and surround yourself with things you find visually appealing. Add a rug to warm the space up.

Consider whether or not youll have meetings in your office, and if so, how you can have a space where guests feel comfortable.

Youll need to ensure you have electricity in your office, and also Wi-Fi.

Finally, create a landscaped path leading from your home to your office.

A shed-office is one of the biggest trends when it comes to working-from-home design. It can give you a space thats separate from your home and family so you can remain productive and focused, and also maintain a work-life balance.

Creating a separate area thats detached from your home doesnt just work as an office. Its also something homeowners are looking to so they can have a home gym, a guest room, or even a learning area for their kids.

Its one more representation of the move toward spending more time at home thats impacting all of us.

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Less Stress – Managing Your Cash Flow As A Real Estate Agent

2020 hasnt been the best year for property sales. The market has experienced its biggest decline in almost a decade, slashing agents earnings dramatically. For many, this has led to cash flow issues as income has dropped or dried up altogether.nbsp;

The role that commission plays in the real estate industry means that you need to prepare for unexpected dips. The best way to do this is to take a proactive stance on money matters so that future downturns dont dent your pocket.nbsp;

Draw Up A Plan and Budget

A cash flow plan and a budget are two essential tools for managing income and expenses. Your plan and budget must cover 12 months, and rather than making it a once-off exercise, revisit those documents regularly, adjusting them as required.

When drawing up your budget, include cash contingency plans that offer some >

Be Realistic

Income, expenditure, and cash flow forecasts are not an exact science, but that doesnt mean you should give in to fantasy. You may be tempted to predict property sales will increase by 70 during the year. Even though this may be possible in theory, its highly unlikely.

Its important to be as realistic as possible about yourself and your real estate agencys current and future positions. The best approach is to be conservative in your predictions and projections. If you find yourself with surplus funds, you can use them for extras that are surplus-dependent or put it toward cash contingency plans.

Keep Track Of Income and Expenses

As a real estate agent, good financial management requires that you keep track of income and expenditure meticulously. Take note of everything, no matter how small or trivial some expenses may seem.

You need to stick to your budget if you want to realize your cash flow plan. If you dont keep an accurate record of how much money comes in and goes out, budgeting correctly will be impossible.

Review your budget monthly, and when doing so, pay close attention to fixed costs and overheads. You may be able to find ways to save money on at least some of them.

Plan For The Best - and The Worst

When forecasting and planning, put the extra time and effort into drawing up plans for best- and worst-case scenarios. This way, you can try to cover all your bases.

Create your best-case and worst-case plans when you have completed your cash flow plan. Using the plan as a guide, take the best case to be approximately 25 higher than the most likely scenario. Calculate the worst case at 25 lower than the main plan.

Stay On Top Of Taxes

Remember to include taxes in your financial plans. This will help you manage your money and ensure you never fall foul of the IRS or incur penalties.nbsp;

A smart business strategy to apply here is to pay tax every three months rather than once a year. Theres less paperwork to deal with, and the tax amounts should be manageable. Another way is to put a percentage of your commission into an account thats dedicated to taxes. Alternatively, you can combine these approaches.

Prepare For Cycles

Like many industries, real estate works in cycles. There are times when the property market is hot, and when its not. While these trends arent always predictable, estate agents need to develop the habit of being ready for them at any time.nbsp;

One way to prepare for a downswing is to purchase a few short-term certificates of deposit. You cannot touch the money you invest until those CDs mature. When theyre ready, youll get more out than would be possible with a regular savings account.nbsp;

Another option would be to set up a savings account that you can access at any time, but you add to monthly. If your commission for a month is higher than usual, you can save a larger amount. This way, youll have extra capital for the leaner times, and your cash flow wont be stunted.nbsp;

As you can see, managing your finances as a real estate agent requires foresight and dedication. By applying those qualities to the tips above, you can put yourself on the path to good cash flow management.

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Disaster Preparation To Keep You Safe In a Catastrophic Storm

A natural disaster can happen anywhere, at any time. Whether you live in earthquake country, tornado alley, or in a hurricane zone, there are important steps you can take.

Get an inspection

Its a given when buying a house, but you can schedule one in your current home, too. An inspection can turn up items that need fixing or replacing, which can save you money and also eliminate dangers from your home that could prove dangerous in a powerful storm.

Hire an engineer

A Texas-based engineer touring tornado damage found "examples of horrific construction in tornado wreckage," said the Dallas Morning News. Timothy Marshall, "a forensic engineer and meteorologist who volunteered as part of a damage survey team created by the Fort Worth office of the National Weather Service" following deadly Texas tornados, "says he saw rampant irresponsibleness in the way many homes and buildings were constructed."

That included "improper attachment of the walls to the foundations, which just made walls fall either in or out," in numerous structures, including Donald T. Shields Elementary in Glenn Heights, shown below. An engineer can help identify structural issues that could affect your home in a powerful storm.

Get prepared

The Texas tornadoes hit in the middle of the night, when vision was compromised. Earthquakes hit with no warning, whatsoever. No matter what type of storm is likely to hit your area, proper preparation is key.

Develop an emergency plan for your family

Bob Vilas tips for creating an emergency plan at home include:

Have an escape plan - "Decide on reunion spots via foot or car, depending on the type of disaster. If it is an emergency isolated to your house or block, choose a nearby rallying point that will allow a headcount. If the emergency involves a larger area, decide on a destination further away - perhaps a > Learn evacuation routes - Doing a few "practice drills" will get the family familiar with exit routes, when needed.
Establish an emergency place to stay with friends or family - And learn the locations and rules of local public emergency shelters.
Make a plan with neighbors - "If a flood occurs or a tornado hits when you are not at home, have a plan with neighbors, sitters, or > Bone up on first aid skills - Its a good time to take a CPR >

Know your disaster

Its not always easy to predict what kind of storm may hit your area - flooding can happen almost anywhere. But knowing the basics of storms that are common to your city and recommendations for what to do in an emergency can help keep you safe.

In an earthquake:

According to Earthquake Country, "In MOST situations, you will reduce your chance of injury if you:

DROP down onto your hands and knees before the earthquakes knocks you down. This position protects you from falling but allows you to still move if necessary.
COVER your head and neck with both arms, clasping your neck with your hands. If a study desk or table is nearby, crawl beneath it while keeping one arm over your head. If there is no shelter nearby, only then should you get down near an interior wall or next to low-lying furniture that wont fall on you, and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.
HOLD ON to your shelter or to your head and neck until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around."

Experts warn that the most substantial danger to people in an earthquake is from falling objects. This is a great time to secure bookcases or any other items that could fall or be catapulted off of a wall or shelf. "Secure top heavy furniture to walls with flexible straps. Use earthquake putty or Velcro fasteners for objects on tables, shelves, or other furniture," they said. "Install safety latches on cabinets to keep them closed." Get more info here.

In a tornado:

"The best shelter from a tornado is a basement or storm cellar. If neither one is available, go to an inside room without windows on the lowest level of the building," said News 9. "Cover yourself with something, such as pillows, a mattress or blankets. Place as many walls between you and the outside as possible."

Other tips include:

Avoiding structures like mobile homes if at all possible
Staying away from windows
If a tornado is approaching while youre in a car, "get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. If there is not a building nearby, lie flat in a ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands... and do not get under an overpass or bridge" they said.
Use a weather radio or local news station app to keep track of the storm and warnings in your area.

You can get information on safe rooms on the FEMA website and learn about storm shelters in your area on the National Storm Shelter Associations site.

In a hurricane:

In addition to checking your insurance coverage, said MNN, youll want to "protect your property by installing the following items in your home:

Hurricane shutters or keep inch outdoor plywood boards for each window. If using boards, be sure to install anchors and pre-drill holes so you can put them up quickly.
Head and foot bolts on doors for extra protection.
Hurricane straps or clips to help hold the roof to the walls of your home.
A safe room that can withstand high winds and flying debris.
Also, be sure to keep up with your landscaping; diseased and damaged tree limbs can become serious hazards in high-speed storm winds.

An evacuation plan is also key, as is an emergency supply kit with food; water; medications; pet supplies; items like toilet paper, soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste; a basic first-aid kit; flashlights with extra batteries; and blankets and pillows.

In a flood:

Flood waters can rise quickly. According to FloodSmart.gov, you can stay safe during a flood by:

Getting to higher ground and "avoid areas subject to flooding."
Staying away from flowing streams and flooded roadways.
Escaping rising water in your home by gong to the top floor, attic, or roof.
Listening to a battery-operated radio for the latest storm information.
Turning off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve if advised to do so.
If youve come in contact with floodwaters, washing your hands with soap and disinfected water."

If youre suffered a flood, learn the steps to take toward recovery here.

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Real Estate Attorneys: A Benefit in Home Purchases

The costs associated with buying or selling a home can add up quickly. Many buyers and sellers opt not to retain an attorney to save the several hundred dollars it costs to have one review the contract, deed and title, respond to inspection issues, and make sure the contract is performed according to its terms.

But the cost of an attorney is one that should not be eliminated in an effort to save money, in the end the lack of legal representation in the sale or purchase of a home could cost you much more than the money you saved.

It is common in some areas not to have an attorney involved in a real estate transaction, but consider the legal education or experience the closing or title agent, real estate agent or brokerage has >


Retain an attorney who specializes in residential real estate.

You might know an attorney who is a friend or >


Acquire a blank copy of the local real estate contract and review before you sign one.

Most local real estate boards have a form contract that has blanks for contract price, terms and conditions. You will feel more confident if you review a real estate contract long before you are asked to sign one. Ask your real estate agent for a blank contract after your first meeting. If you have questions about the contract ask your attorney to review it with you.


Have your attorney review all real estate contracts that you sign.

After both parties have executed a real estate contract, deliver a legible copy to your attorney promptly. Most contracts allow for a attorney review period of at least five business days. During this time your attorney can review and request certain changes to the contract or if need be void the contract.


Request a title insurance policy.

Your attorney will request a title insurance policy from the property seller. This policy insures you against any prior clouds on the title. The chain or history of title will be provided and will be reviewed by both sides attorneys to look for any possible irregularities before the title insurance is delivered. The buyers attorney can request that questionable items be removed or insured over by the title insurance provider.


Confirm and update legal descriptions on your property.

This is one of the most important reasons to retain an attorney. Legal descriptions that are recorded in title and deed government records should accurately state the current and updated legal description of your property. These descriptions are difficult for lay people to read and take an experienced legal eye to catch mistakes which could impact the property your buying or selling.


Review property survey.

Your attorney should receive and review the property survey before closing or escrow to check for encroachments when an adjoining property intrudes on yours, easements the limited right of another to use your property and verify parcel or lot dimensions.


Require your attorney to attend closing or escrow. From contract to closing is a marathon and the closing is the finish line. Your attorney should attend the closing or escrow to verify the smooth transfer of your property. Last minute glitches with possession, final throughs and mortgages need the finesse of an experienced real estate attorney.


Review post-closing documents.

Most attorneys want to review all recorded documents >


Administrate and evaluate problems in contract to closing period.

The time between contract and closing can include some problems that only an experienced real estate attorney can respond to adequately. Unreasonable requests after a property inspection, weak mortgage ability of the buyer, missed earnest money payments and quite a few additional issues can bog down a contract after acceptance. An attorney that has handled and most likely seen it all in real estate contracts, is your best asset when a contract get bogged down.


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How Lenders View Installment vs Revolving Debt

One of the more important functions a mortgage lender performs is determining affordability. Primarily, this is accomplished by comparing monthly credit obligations with gross monthly income. Dividing debt by income results in a percentage, or a ratio. Debt ratios fall into two basic categories, a housing ratio and a total debt ratio. The housing ratio is the total monthly mortgage payment which includes the principal and interest payment and a monthly allotment for property taxes and insurance. Mortgage insurance is also figured into this number when needed.

Debt ratios are typically not hard and fast rules, although some loan programs do prescribe a maximum debt ratio in order to qualify for the loan program. If for example the recommended housing ratio is 33, then a house payment or 3,300 would be 33 of a gross monthly income of 10,000. If a total debt ratio is 43, then the housing payment of 3,300 plus other obligations are included to arrive at that number.nbsp;

What types of debt are included in the total debt ratio? Pretty much anything that appears on a credit report, for starters. These other obligations include credit cards, student loans and auto loans. However, when these debts are paid off to a zero balance, mortgage lenders treat such a move differently depending upon the type of debt.

Most debts fall into either an installment or revolving category. With an installment loan, the monthly payments are set each month and do not change throughout the life of the loan. When the loan is paid off, the monthly amounts are no longer considered in the debt ratio calculation. Further, if there are less than 10 months remaining on an installment account, lenders can ignore the amount when calculating debt ratios knowing the monthly payments will soon vanish. When a car loan is paid off there are no monthly payments and the owner keeps the car.

Revolving debt on the other hand is treated differently. Revolving debt is where the balance can rise and fall when credit is used and when payments are made. Your credit card is a >

Consumers can pay down monthly debt in order to help qualify for most loan programs. However, when the balance is paid down, it might take up to 30 days for the new balance to be reported to the credit agencies. The consumer would have to keep a paper trail of the payments and new balance and work with the lender or credit agency directly to update the report with the new information.nbsp;

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Should You Go Solar at Home?

Installing roof solar panels has become an increasingly popular option among homeowners in the United States. Solar panels will convert sunlight into energy, and then you can use that energy to power your home.

While the cost of solar panels has gone down over the years, and increasingly people are installing them, its still a significant investment. Theres a lot to consider and both pros and cons to weigh.

Is Your Home a Good Fit for Solar Panels?

Solar panels can work in any climate, but your roof may not be suitable for installation. Tree coverage or age could be two factors making your roof unsuitable.

For example, if trees shade your roof too much, rooftop panels may not be optimal.

In most cases, solar panels work best on south-facing roofs, with a slope up to 40 degrees.

If your roof is old and nearing the time for replacement, this may also make your home unsuitable for solar.

There are alternatives if your roof doesnt make you a viable candidate for solar panels, including ground-mounted panels or a community solar garden.

When Do You Plan to Move?

If you plan to move in the near-term, solar panels are probably not a good investment.

First, since they are an investment, it can take time to see a return. It usually takes around seven to eight years to pay off the cost of solar panels. If youre going to move any time soon, not only will this investment not yet have paid itself off, but you may limit your pool of interested buyers when you hit the market.

When your solar system is installed, it is almost impossible to move it to a new location.

How Much Do You Pay for Electricity?

If you dont pay a lot for electricity each month, then youre not going to save much with solar panels.

Residents of some states pay more than others for electricity and therefore may find solar panels have more financial benefits for them.

Whats the Weather Like Where You Live?

Weather and, in particular, the sun are the most important things with solar panels. If you live somewhere theres a lot of cloudy weather or rain, youre not going to get as many benefits from going solar. If you have long or harsh winters, your solar system is also going to be less productive.

Will You Qualify For Financing?

There are flexible options to help consumers afford the initial, upfront costs of solar panels.

There are financing options, and there are also state and federal tax credits and incentives available.

You should explore what you qualify for. Otherwise, youre going to pay a lot out-of-pocket upfront and you may not have the cash sitting aside to do that.

Many of the solar financing programs are state-based loans. There are also power purchase agreements and leases available.

Are There Quality Installers Where You Live?

If you live in a bigger city or near a metro, finding solar panel installation professionals may not be a challenge.

However, finding a reputable company can be more challenging in certain parts of the country.

Youll have to do the research and find a company with a strong background, and also one thats not going to try pushy sales tactics to lock you into a long-term contract that you might not want.

The Benefits of Solar Panels

While the above are questions to ask yourself, there are benefits of solar panels including:

Reduced electric bills are one of the biggest reasons homeowners opt to install solar panels. Over 20 years, you could save anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000, depending on where you live and the size of your home.
Solar panels allow you to be energy independent.
You can reduce your carbon footprint when you go solar.
Solar panels are almost enti>

Solar panels certainly have pros and cons. While they dont work for every family or home, they can have big advantages in some cases, making them a worthwhile consideration.

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Building a Backyard Hockey Rink

Homeowners are looking for ways to keep fit and keep their kids busy this winter, so its not surprising that thoughts are already turning to the backyard hockey rink.

The nice thing is that there are options regardless of budget, from the handyman lumber frame rink, to easy-to-assemble kits, to full-blown NHL-size rinks and synthetic ice rinks.

Twelve years ago, two dads were talking about backyard rinks, and before long they decided to manufacture a product that would make building a rink easy. They were pleasantly surprised when hundreds of people bought their rink kit.

Business has grown significantly since. But this year, Guelph, Ont.-based RinkMaster www.RinkMaster.com is busier than ever, earlier in the year than ever before, says president Chas Birkett. He says he expects sales to double compared to last year. People are focussing on their backyards for recreation with COVID issues, including limited minor hockey this year.

Ice time is limited and hockey parents want to ensure their kids keep skating despite COVID. Other parents just want to keep their kids busy this winter.

RinkMasters kit is an easy way to do that. It includes everything you need. A 15x26-foot kit can be assembled in 30 minutes by an adult and child, Birkett says.

We advise people to set up the rink and fill it with water only when they see a cold spell of at least a few days, with nighttime temperatures well below -5 C and daytime highs at freezing or below, he says.

The bulk of RinkMasters business is liners regardless of the type of rink, you need a new liner every year. They sell thousands each year. The liners, which are six mil thick durable yet not too heavy for shipping come in 100 sizes.

Other products include a 12-inch-high pond hockey net made of one piece of welded steel. Its a beautiful thing, Birkett says, because they encourage players not to shoot pucks high.

To create a smooth ice surface, the company developed FloodMaster, an aluminium tool with a cloth spreader.

Kits are available in 17 sizes, starting at 250. RinkMaster, which sells across Canada and the U.S., can usually ship in a day or two, he says.

Those with bigger budgets may want to extend the skating season by purchasing a rink with a refrigeration unit.

Custom Ice www.customicerinks.com in Burlington, Ont. offers a 24x50-foot portable DIY rink that comes with a refrigeration unit, a wood frame, a liner and cooler pipe for about 30,000 says Glenn Winder, vice president, sales and marketing.

The company manufactures portable and permanent concrete rinks.

An NHL-size concrete rink will set you back about 1 million. Custom Ice also has combination tennis court/rinks, as well as full sports courts that offer a variety of action-packed uses year-round.

The newest product is a combination ice rink/splash pad with a computer-controlled spray jet. Its popular with people who want a water feature but not a pool, Winder says.

For those with backyard space issues, a flat level structure can be built on top of an inground pool, and a portable rink placed on top.

But if you have a permanent spot, 350,000 will buy you a concrete package with a 50x120-foot rink with refrigeration pipes embedded in concrete. In summer, a sports floor can be added on top.

Concrete rinks require site preparation. Keep in mind that concrete work stops with the first frost, so for this year, youre looking at planning/design now and work to begin in spring.

Winder says its important to make sure you have enough power to run a chiller in the backyard. The system is hard-wired and requires 100 amps.

The cost to operate a 24x50-foot rink is about 35 to 55 cents per square foot per month. Rinks are thermostat controlled, so when the weather is cold, the system doesnt run and theres no cost.

When he arrives at a home, Winder says dads are usually on board and excited about a backyard rink. Usually, moms not so much. Winder tells them, In the spring youll thank me. The kids will have been outside, active, off the computer and healthier for it.

In spring, he says moms call and tell him, Youre right. Its the best thing.

Another option is a synthetic ice rink, which can be used inside and out.nbsp;

Many people use the surface in their basements in winter then move it to the deck in summer so kids can get some fresh air. Others set them up permanently in an extra garage bay, says Synthetic Ice Solutions of Canada www.syntheticicesolutions.com owner Wayman Harten.

The Brampton, Ont. company recently shipped one of the largest residential synthetic ice rinks 55.5 by 111 feet to be installed on top of a tennis court in Nashville, Tenn.

After erecting arena panels around the inside perimeter of the tennis court, the owner and friends installed the click-in-place surface in five days. For more typical residential basement projects, the polyethylene arena panels are mounted over drywall, then the half-inch-thick synthetic surface is clicked into place on the floor. The nice thing is that Harten designed his product so that its easy to add to. You can increase the rinks size as children grow.

Harten has been in the plastics industry for 35 years and developed his own brand of synthetic ice, which is not available anywhere else. The half-inch-thick sheets weigh about 75 to 80 pounds and are double-sided. They last between 10 to 15 years per side.

Maintenance includes damp mopping and sweeping.

The systems are not designed to be placed on soft surfaces such as lawns, but are ideal for regular deck systems, patios or a bed of pea gravel thats level and doesnt allow water to pool on top or underneath.

A 12x16 rink costs 1,900 plus HST. It takes four to five business days to create the surface and rinks are shipped worldwide.

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What’s an AKA Letter?

An AKA, or Also Known As letter is one where the individual confirms a name variation has been used in the past. Lenders need to know exactly who theyre providing a loan for and during the course of receiving a loan application and reviewing a credit report, there can be more than one name listed on the report. How is that so? Its really very simple. Over the years, someone who has applied for credit somewhere signs the application. An authorization form is also signed which gives the lender permission to do some research about the background of the applicant.

A credit reports contains a surprising amount of information collected over the years. Besides the payment history, balances and a list of accounts, there is more information. Where the person has lived will be included in the report. This can mean a first apartment rental. Later, a first house. Still later, another home. Each time the individual applies for credit, the address at the time of application is included in the credit file.

Heres how it works. Robert Smith filled out a lease application while in school. Upon delivering the application, the landlord pulls a credit report using the name Robert Smith. That would be the first name entry in the credit report. Later, when Robert graduated, he applied for a new car loan when he got his first job. His application read Bob Smith, because thats the name he goes by. Robert is too formal, he thinks. At this stage, the report has two names listed, Robert Smith and Bob Smith. After a few months, he applies for his first credit card and when doing so he lists his full name, Robert James Smith. Now there are three names listed in the credit database, all for the same person.

Women who marry and take on their husbands name can also have more than one name listed in a credit report. Jane Smith marries John Doe and takes on the husbands last name. She now goes by Jane Doe. This is a little different than Bob Smiths situation. Bob keeps the same last name and is consistent throughout. Jane however, takes Doe for her last name and now her credit report shows Jane Smith and Jane Doe. Sometimes she applies for a credit account and uses her full name before and after marriage. You can already tell it can be a bit confusing making sure the applicant listed on the loan application is the real one.nbsp;

When there is more than one name variant on a credit report, the mortgage lender will ask for an AKA letter. The letter is fairly straightforward. Bob will state that he has gone by other names in the past, those that are listed on the credit report. Jane will fill out a similar letter. This is nothing more than validating the identity of the applicant.

Finally, there can also be names on the report that do not belong to the applicant. This happens more often with more common names, such as Robert and Jane. Perhaps the name Bob Jones appears on Bob Smiths report. If thats not our Bob, the letter will state that he has no idea who Bob Jones is and thats not him. The letter will identify the right Bob. An AKA letter is nothing more than the lender making sure the thousands of dollars about to be wired to fund the mortgage is going to the right person.

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10 Things That Will Absolutely Kill Your Home Sale

When youre selling your home, you need every advantage you can get. And there are few homes that are magically market ready without a little help. If your home needs a touch more than a little help, its time to get focused. After all, listing your home when its not in the right condition to sell will probably only end in frustration. And, in this case, frustration means: your home sitting on the market for months with no offers or the errant, offensive, lowball.

If you want to make sure you get home sold quickly and for the right price, youll want to avoid listing it with the following:

1. Excessive damage

Maybe the home youre selling was used as a rental and trashed by frat boy tenants, or maybe you just havent kept it up as you should. Either way, those holes in the wall that look like the living room was used as a boxing gym, the scratched-up wood floors on which dinosaurs have clearly been racing, and the yard thats barren except for those two-foot-tall patches of weeds are not what buyers are looking for. Unless youre planning to offer your house for a price that will make buyers emphasize the good and ignore the bad and the ugly, its going to need some attention.

2. Carpet in the bathroom

Its just gross. And everyone who walks into that bathroom is thinking one of two things: 1 Theres gotta be mold under there; 2 Theres gotta be pee on the floor around that toilet. This is one update youll want to do before you list. Or, if youre already listed and your homes not selling.

3. Big, nasty stains

A buyer shouldnt know where your dog likes to mark or where your kids spilled the entire bowl of holiday punch. If the stains on your carpet are that bad, potential buyers will stroll in and run right back out. No one wants to buy a pigsty. Invest a few bucks in new carpet. Youll make the money back since you wont have to drop your sales price.

4. Pet smells

Speaking of petsthey smell. You probably dont notice since you live with them everyday, but buyers will, and it might be enough to turn them off. Deep clean the carpets and the upholstery, invest in some air fresheners, and remove cat boxes from the house for showings. The last thing you want is a potential buyer referring to your house as "the stinky one."

5. Loud dogs who bark every time someone approaches the home

One last word on pets. Barking happens, whether its your dog or one that belongs to a neighbor. But you dont need that on the day of your open house. Offering to pay for doggie day care for a neighbors pooch can eliminate the issue and help create the serene setting buyers want.

6. Your dead lawn

Lack of curb appeal wont necessarily kill a deal. In many cases, you wont even get potential buyers to get out of the car. If the front yard is a mess, buyers will naturally think the mess continues inside.

7. A bad agent

Face it. Not all of them are winners. If your agent is: rude, uninformed, lazy, uncommunicative, belligerent, or unwilling to take your opinions into consideration, get a new one. An agent who isnt giving their client the right type of attention probably isnt going to get the job done.

8. Your sloppiness

Those drawers and cabinets you shoved everything into when you cleaned off your kitchen and bathroom cabinets could be a deal breaker for picky buyers. We all know buyers open stuff. They look in drawers, they open cabinets, they examine closets. If these spaces are messy and overstuffed, they may assume theres not enough storage space.

9. Unreasonable sellers

Big problems in your house can be deal killers, but they can also be deal sealers, if you are reasonable. If your inspection uncovers plumbing, electrical, or roofing problems or all three and youre unwilling to negotiate, you can kiss that sale goodbye.

10. Bad Taste

Your poor decorating choices and failure to keep up with trends from this yearor centurymay haunt you when its time to sell. If its true that many buyers have no visionand all you have to do is watch House Hunters and observe a buyer getting hung up on a paint color to know thats truethen you are really in for it with your crowded house full of ugly, outdated crap. A few simple updates can help it to look fresh and give buyers something to fall in love with.nbsp;

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Smart Home Improvement Tips To Save You Time, Money, And Aggravation

Fixing up your house can bring great joy, and also personal satisfaction when you pitch in and DIY some of the tasks. But proper preparation is key to getting things done right. Take a short cut and youll likely end up with a project that that takes longer, costs more, looks like it was DIYd and hurts more than your bank balance along the way.

Measure thrice, cut once

Its the oldest tip in the book when it comes to renovation and its every bit as important as you think it is to make sure you have the right measurements before you start up that power saw. In fairness, the rule is typically, "Measure twice." But lets face it: Some of us need a little more assurance. If youre not super skilled at using power tools, if you have tricky cuts to make, or if youre doing anything with mitered corners or involving angles, do yourself a favor and take one more look before you slice away.

Buy more materials than you actually need

It can be incredibly tempting to buy only what you think you need when it comes to flooring materials, backsplash tile, or wall coverings, in an effort to save money. But problems can arise for a variety of reasons - some of the tiles are cracked, you cut some of the wallpaper incorrectly, some of the wood for the floors is warped, you didnt account for all the cuts you have to make when measuring the space - and soon you dont have enough materials to finish the job.

You can always order more, but now youre behind schedule. And, you may run into additional problems with your flooring if the new pieces dont precisely match the existing ones because theyre not from the same batch. Thats why experts recommend that when you purchase your materials, you add 20 to the actual measurements. It may add a few bucks to your bottom line, but it will save your butt in the long run.

Invest in some quality tools

Youre an adult now. You can have a real hammer and a drill and a pair of needle nose pliers. If youre just setting out on your own or its time to do a little tool upgrade, This Old House has some good tips for what tools to buy.

Try it before you install it

The well-meaning contractor who installed this faucet forgot about one thing: The space needed to actually wash your hands. Installing the faucet too close to the sink left insufficient space, so hand-washing is reduced to an awkward placement and cupping/pouring exercise. Before you drill those holes, give it a test run

Buy the right ladder, and use it properly

According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors InterNACHI, there are "more than 164,000 emergency room-treated injuries and 300 deaths in the U.S. that are caused by falls from ladders." In addition, "Falls from laddersnbsp;are the leading cause of deaths on construction sites, and, "The number of people who have died from fallsnbsp;from ladders has tripled" over the last decade.

If youre thinking those falls must have been from a roof or tall commercial building site, heres more sobering news: "Most ladder deaths are from falls of 10 feet or less."

You can check the InterNACHI site for basic ladder safety tips, but the most important thing to remember is this: Use your common sense. Use the ladder properly, dont balance on the paint tray, dont overextend the weight limit, make sure its in proper working order - you know, the basics.

Glove up, glasses on

While were talking safety, there are other measures youll want to take to protect yourself. The last thing you need is a nail through your hand or your eye or anywhere else, for that matter. Gloves and goggles are basic go-tos. And if youre doing your floors, think like a soccer player and get out those knee pads.

Hanging art

Between picture hangers and specialty nails and screws and laser levels, there are so many tools available to help you hang art that we should all have it nailed pun intended, right? Yet picture hanging remains one of the most frustrating tasks.

There are numerous tricks and tips that aim to help, but these are a few of our faves:

"Use a little bit of toothpaste yes, toothpaste," said Quick and Dirty Tips. "Place a dab of toothpaste on the back of the frame on the hook or string whatever will touch the nail. Then hold the frame up to the wall, position it carefully, and press it against the wall. The toothpaste will leave a mark that you can hammer a nail through, then wipe away."
"Instead of moving the photos up and down, place the photos on the floor and line up some tape from hanging point to hanging point," said Diply.com. "Then mark each point with a dot. Next, put the tape on the wall and use a level to make sure its straight. Then use those dots to put in your screws, and hang"nbsp;

Keep the mess away

We love this easy tip for keeping the site clean when hanging photos or drilling/hammering into walls for any other reason. If you hate having to clean up afterwardsdont. A sticky note is all you need.

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All About Lender Fees

During a phone conversation with a mortgage loan officer for the first time, invariably the question of fees comes up. Yes, rates are at the top of the curious list but so too are lender fees. In addition to the interest rate, lenders can charge loan fees to help offset the cost of origination, processing and other items. But lets take a closer look at these fees, what they are and what you can do to help minimize or otherwise offset lender fees altogether.

First, not all lenders charge the same set of fees. There are no guidelines that lenders must follow with regard to the type of fee charged. Lenders come up with their own. Yet there are some common ones that lenders do charge on each and every mortgage loan. Further, lenders arent allowed to charge one borrower one type of fee and not charge it to another. That is in the same set of circumstances. Doing so could be considered discrimination by giving one client a break and not the other, or all for that matter.

One of the more common fees is called the Processing Fee. This fee is collected to pay for the overhead generated when processing the mortgage application. From the initial submission to ordering closing papers, all loans go through a process which can include several steps. Processing is performed by the Loan Processor within the mortgage company. Mortgage brokers also have loan processors and they too can charge fees. As long as the fees are universal and not selective. Once youve submitted your application, its the loan processor who youll interact with the most.

Origination fee is also a common one. An origination fee is listed as a percentage of the loan amount. If the loan amount is 200,000 and the origination fee is 1, that works out to 2,000. Origination fees are also charged to offset the costs of originating, or finding and bringing the loan in-house, the application.nbsp;

Another nearly universal charge is a Document Preparation fee. As the name implies, the amount is used to offset the personnel cost of preparing and delivering your closing papers to the settlement agent. Documents are drawn after the loan has been completely approved by the lenders underwriter.

An appraisal fee is typically collected upfront when the loan application is first submitted. This fee is collected by the lender but is not paid to the lender. Instead, the lender uses this amount to order the property appraisal from an Appraisal Management Company, or AMC. Appraisal charges can vary based upon different factors but primarily due to the property type, proximity and sales price.

The underwriter is the individual within the mortgage company that makes sure the documented loan file meets the guidelines for the selected loan program. An underwriting fee is often charged to pay for the lenders underwriter. Loan documents cannot be ordered without them being completely approved by the underwriter.

A Funding Fee is a fee reserved for VA loans. A funding fee is also expressed as a percentage of the loan amount and is used to finance the VAs loan guarantee. With a VA loan, should the loan ever go into default, the lender is compensated for the loss. This compensation is financed with the funding fee.

With a purchase transaction, these fees must be paid for at settlement and out of pocket with the exception of the funding fee. When refinancing, these same fees can be present but given sufficient equity they can be rolled into the loan amount instead of paying at the settlement table.

Finally, one quick note about how to offset some of these fees. A no closing cost loan doesnt literally mean there are no loan costs, but the lender adjusts the interest rate upward and provides a lender credit at your closing.nbsp;

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The Real Estate Market: Not “It” But “Them”

The real estate market is not an it but a them.

Nation-wide or state-wide reports and forecasts along with pundit projections about the real estate market make this it sound homogeneous and large-scale. In reality, the wide-horizon perspective does not tell you exactly what is happening and will happen in your neighborhood or to your real estate.

To begin with, each real estate property is unique.

What happens locally around and to each property uniquely defines its market value as well as the buying and selling trends > Each property has its own market just as each neighborhood has.
This means the real estate market is a mosaic of individual property-value projections overlaid with neighborhood markets and countless layers that reflect each state and the country. Thats the them finesse of the real estate market.

Where do you and your real estate dreams fit in?

Sweeping national financial and social events like the Covid-19 Pandemic can have widespread influence on real estate across the country. How each property is affected may be dramatically different.

For instance, the working-from-home pandemic trend applies to some properties as if they were designed for the stay home life>

Covid infection varies greatly across each state and over time. During outbreaks, real estate activity may temporarily slow or effectively stop to respect isolation and social distancing requirements. This pattern may not always be predictable.

Buyers and sellers make good decisions regarding their present and future real estate plans when they are aware of what is happening and could happen in their preferred neighborhoods.

The professionals, services, and organizations involved in real estate are also unique in their own right:

Each real estate agent in the United States is licensed to help buyers and sellers purchase, sell, or lease commercial or residential real estate. Each state sets requirements, including education standards, for becoming a licensed real estate salesperson in that state and for maintaining this privilege.

The designation Realtor is a registered trademark referring to a professional who is an active member of the National Association of Realtors NAR, Americas largest trade association, representing 1.4 million members. Not all Realtors are real estate agents. Home appraisers, property managers, real estate counselors, and real estate brokers are also NAR members entitled to work as Realtors.

Each of the about 600 Multiple Listing Services MLS is unique and intensely local. A MLS is a database of real estate listings and the software real estate professionals and brokerages use to access it. MLS are organizations offering professional services, which >

Invest time and effort to locate the local, experienced real estate professional who will be the best match for your real estate project.

All this uniqueness adds up to a lot of transactions every month and each year. As of August 27:

nbsp;Pending home sales in July 2020 achieved another month of positive contract activity, marking three consecutive months of growth, according to the National Association of Realtors.

nbsp;Each of the four major regions reported gains in both month-over-month and year-over-year pending home sales transactions.

Where do you fit in?

Conversations with real estate professionals will enlighten you as to how the Pandemic is influencing real estate values and transactions locally. Real estate professionals monitor local Public Health requirements and Pandemic patterns to ensure safe delivery of their services and minimize disruption of real estate transactions. These discussions should center on what is >

What real estate and other professionals observe can provide valuable insight if their observations are >

Interest rates are not absolute.

The borrowing power of buyers is reflected in the interest rates they qualify for. This in turn is a reflection of their income, debt management, employment history, and the appraised value of their unique real estate. Real estate professionals are expert at matching buyers and their real estate purchase with the most receptive local lenders.

The actions and inaction of other buyers and sellers influence your real estate choices.

For instance, NARs chief economist Lawrence Yun recently said, Anecdotally, Realtors are telling me there is no shortage of clients or home seekers, but that scarce inventory remains a problem. If 20 more homes were on the market, we would have 20 more sales, because demand is that high.

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Ask the HOA Expert: Conservative Board, Emailing Board Members, Past Due Protocol

Question: Our Board is considering hiring a resident member to be a resident manager. The candidate is retired and needs extra income. Is this a good idea?

Answer: It is generally a very bad idea to hire a member to act as manager. It has been tried many times and I have never seen it work well. There are a number of reasons:


  • They ra>nbsp;

  • The board may be doing this to avoid paying taxes and other required withholding. This exposes all members to significant penalties from state and federal authorities.


  • If the member does not pay taxes as required, again, the members have personal exposure.


  • There is an undeniable conflict of interest. How can a member/employee be impartial when getting maintenance work done?


  • A resident manager is basically on call 24/7 and compensation ra>nbsp;

  • Hiring someone because "he needs the money" should never drive a boards decision; getting quality work at a reasonable price should be the goal.


  • If things dont work out often the case, the board will have to fire a neighbor who will likely be resentful and antagonistic.


To avoid obvious pitfalls, the board should look outside the community for a professional that carries the proper credentials.

Question: Our board is conservative and slow to change. One area where this is particularly true is with architectural and design requests. The committee the board appointed denies many applications simply because they dont conform to color, roof and siding standards that have been in place for over twenty years. There is nothing particularly outrageous about the requests, they just reflect modern standards. Opinion?

Answer: While maintaining standards is important, over time those standards should consider new, improved or contemporary materials, designs and colors. To stay stuck in the past causes home values to fall. The committee is not appointed to block change, but to guide the process to a reasonable outcome. The board should appoint committee members with a balanced views. Committee decisions should always allow for appeal to the board who also should represent a balanced view.

Question: We have always had the management company count the votes for the election of officers. To prevent any hint of conflict of interest, we are having the count audited by our accountant. How do other HOAs do it?

Answer: Have several HOA members that are not running for office do the vote count. Retain the proxies, ballots and tally sheet until the next election. The accountant is overkill.

Question: I serve on the board and have been informed we should not communicate with each other directly via e-mail because it potentially constitutes a board meeting. Is this true?

Answer: The issue of the board using email generally involves how it is being used. Communicating by email on routine HOA business and settled policy is not prohibited any more than picking up the phone or exchanging information in the parking lot. The board needs to communicate to direct normal business.

Such communications, however, may sometimes wander into topics that should be discussed in open meetings. The board needs to be aware when that line has been crossed. This is particularly true of controversial issues like spending significant money outside the approved operating budget or reserve study. The members have the right to audit such discussions and it simply isnt possible outside a physical meeting. That said, email is a terrific way to communicate meeting minutes, newsletters and other information to the members. It speeds up communications, their frequency and reduces costs. Win-win-win.

Question: At the last board meeting, some members requested the names of people who have not yet paid their HOA fees. The board announced the names of past due accounts. Is this correct protocol?

Answer: No. Besides the humiliation and libel aspect, there may be extenuating circumstances like a death, disability or unemployment. Not all delinquencies are created equal. At the end of the day, HOAs are made up of neighbors and the board should be sensitive and careful whose names it smears. To be safe, discuss amounts owing, but not the names of those that owe them.

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How Can You Get a Mortgage If You’re a Freelancer?

Being a freelancer, contract worker, gig worker, or anyone self-employed is more common and popular than ever right now. There are downsides, such as the lack of benefits like health insurance. At the same time, there are more upsides for many professionals who choose to work this way.

Upsides include freedom and flexibility to make your own schedule, unlimited earning potential, and the ability to have the work-life balance that allows you to create your own life>

There is an issue that can arise if youre a freelancer or contractor, though.

How do you get a mortgage?

When you apply for a mortgage as a traditional employee, youll probably show your proof of income through your job, but it can be a bit trickier if you dont have a traditional employer. Youre also going to face more scrutiny from lenders.

Keep Up with >

Over the years, its easy to be disorganized as far as how you keep up with your earnings and expenditures, but come time to apply for a mortgage that can be problematic.

As a freelancer or anyone whos self-employed, its normal that your income is going to fluctuate, and youll have up and down periods.

What you want to be able to show a lender is your long-term earning average.

You should be able to calm the fears of your lender by showing them at least several years worth of documents highlighting your earnings.

You need to be able to demonstrate a pattern of earning. If you arent able to do that just yet, you might have to hold off on buying a home.

Even better than showing steady earnings is being able to show upward trends.

Another noteif youre self-employed, you likely try to write off as many of your business expenses as you can at tax time. This is understandable, but you also want to show as high an income as possible, so if youre thinking about buying a home anytime in the future, keep that in mind with your deductions.

Be prepared to show at least two years of tax returns, which will likely be your 1099s instead of your W2s.

Beyond your tax returns, you may want to be able to show your bank statements, and any profit and loss statements. You can also provide letters from clients showing that you have a stable >

Income Calculation

Your income is calculated differently if youre a freelancer. Your lender will calculate an average monthly income by dividing the past two years of your adjusted gross income by 24.

Save As Much As You Can

You should aim to save at least 20 of the purchase price of a home because this will let you avoid paying for private mortgage insurance. You also want to be able to show your >

Clean Up Your Finances

You can face more headwinds if youre trying to buy a home and youre self-employed in any capacity. You are inevitably going to be held to a higher financial standard, so prepare yourself for that.

You should aim to get your credit score up to at least 740, and the higher, the better.

Start working toward paying off debt, including your credit cards. Credit utilization is a big component of your score and also the willingness of a lender to offer you a mortgage. Try to have the amount of credit youre using below 30.

Before you ever start trying to apply for a home loan, look at your credit report.

This will allow you to see where you need to make improvements, and also spot any potential errors. There are errors on credit reports more often than we think.

Dont open any new accounts or lines of credit before youre going to start applying for home loans, because thats going to impact your credit score negatively.

Finally, before you start the mortgage application process, separate your business and personal bank accounts. You shouldnt use a personal bank account for anything >

As a freelancer, getting a mortgage is certainly possible but also more challenging. The more you can prepare yourself for that, the better off youre likely to be in the process.

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How Much House Can You Reasonably Afford?

Theres a term called house poor, and its something you absolutely want to avoid.

When you hear someone saying theyre house poor, it means theyre spending a significant portion of their income on all-things >

Being smart when you buy a home and knowing what you can realistically afford can help you avoid being house poor.

There are a few mistakes people commonly make in their home search that increases the likelihood they may feel house poor. One is simply being overly ambitious during the homebuying process and taking on a loan thats too big. Another big mistake is thinking only about mortgage payments and not anticipating the other expenses that go into homeownership.

The following are ways to get a home you can reasonably afford and lower your risk of being house poor.

Crunch the Numbers

Before you ever start the actual process of shopping for homes, look at the numbers.

Youll need to take into account how much you earn every month, and also at your partners earnings if applicable.

Then, outline all of the housing costs, which include:

The down payment
Property taxes
Homeowners insurance
Utilities and maintenance

Tally up all of the expenses that you currently have and have to pay out each month. Then, look at your discretionary spending and include that as well. Including that discretionary spending is important and sometimes overlooked. Its those extras that you want to be able to continue to pay for, even when you buy a home.

Follow the 28/36 Rule

Many financial professionals advise that you spend no more than 28 of your gross monthly income on your housing expenses. You should also plan to spend no more than 36 on your total debt, including not just your home loan but your credit cards, car loan, and student loans.

Affordability Considerations

Some of the things that you should think about beyond your income and expenses include:

How much savings do you have set aside? You want to have a reserve of cash in case something happens, and if your down payment or mortgage costs are going to dip into your savings, its problematic. Your mortgage may also affect how much you can set aside in savings or retirement, so this is something to think about.
How much of a down payment can you afford? The traditional wisdom is that you put 20 down, but there are loans with options to put as little as 3 down. Thats going to raise your payment, however.
Is there a different type of mortgage outside of a traditional bank loan that you might qualify for? For example, FHA loans are backed by the Federal Housing Administration and you may qualify with a lower credit score and down payment compared to a traditional loan.

Take Steps to Get a Competitive Interest Rates

Interest rates are historically low right now, which is likely why the real estate market has been strong despite the economic fallout of the coronavirus. Even with rates low, you should take the time to put yourself in a position to get the most competitive possible rate.

Your credit score is going to either help you or hurt you as far as getting a low interest rate.

Before you buy a home, look at your credit report, and clean it up if necessary.

Try to minimize how much debt you have compared to your income. You want to get the ratio of credit utilized to credit available low too. nbsp;

Err on the Side of Caution

When you start looking at homes, you should always err on the side of caution. Keep your house hunt focused on the lower end of what you can technically afford.

If youre a first-time buyer, it can be tempting to want to go all-in with the belief that youre buying your forever home. Your life can change over the years, and your first home is probably not your forever home.

Focus on a starter home that works for your current needs to protect yourself from being house poor.

You cant just think about your current income either. Think about what might happen if you lost your job or your partner lost their income. How would that change the equation?

Finally, one option that can help you better stay within your budget is buying a fixer-upper. You can find a great deal, and then you have the option to gradually create the home of your dreams as your budget allows, rather than having to go all-in right away.

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Improving Home Appeal: Herb Gardens

Having an herb garden can help demonstrate to potential buyers that your home is one in which to put down "roots." Though an herb garden may be a >

When beginning the planning of your herb garden it is important to consider two things:


What are your needs when it comes to cooking, displaying, and your general usage of herbs?


What is the condition of your soil sandy, clay, dry, shady, sunny?


Choosing your herbs

So consider for a moment what you use and would use herbs for. If you mostly use herbs for cooking, consider planting rosemary for use in chicken dishes, dill for use in seafood dishes, parsley for garnishing, and mint for use in iced teas.

If you are interested in using herbs for home remedies you may consider planting:


Clary sage salvia sclarea -- can be dried and used in teas for aiding in >


nbsp; Comfrey symphytum officinale -- effective for use on animals. May help in arthritis and rheumatism in dogs. Also good as a salve on bruises.


Oreganonbsp;origanum vulgare -- can be used to ease respiratory issues.


Chamomile matricaria chamomilla -- another great herb to dry and use in teas. You can also used the dried white flowers in a bath to calm irritated skin.


Dont limit yourself when it comes to using the herbs you grow in your garden. They may be used fresh to flavor foods and garnish dishes. You can dry them to use as seasonings year round. Many herbs can be made into salves or all natural medicinal treatments.

Soil Condition

There are several factors to consider when analyzing your soil. The most important of these is drainage. You do not want water to stand, or pool, around your plants. This can cause mold to begin growing on your plants or may even kill them.

Another important factor is the amount of sunlight your herbs will receive. Most herbs enjoy full sunlight, though they will require regular watering if they are in direct sun for the entire day.

If you think that even after preparing the soil for planting that it still wont be sufficient for growing your herbs, then I recommend buying some good potting soil and planting your herbs in 12" or 18" pots. This would also be ideal for individuals who live in condos or residences where digging in the yard is not an option. By having your herbs in pots, you will be able to have them inside during winter months. Herbs all year round

You should find that cultivating an herb garden is >

There are simple ways that you can increase the appeal of your home, whether you are planning to sell or planning to stay for years to come. By including an herb garden in the plans for your backyard landscaping you can ensure that certain touches of "home" will go further than just the dinner plate.

Full Story >

Copyright©2020 Realty Times®.All Rights Reserved

Updated: Monday, September 21, 2020

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