How to Say Goodbye to Renting and Hello to Home Ownership

 

Becoming a first-time homeowner takes a lot more than a desire to buy a house. It takes a lot of effort on your part to save up a down payment — which is usually a pretty good sized chunk of change — research neighborhoods, get pre-approved for a loan and other steps. Fortunately, it is quite possible to say goodbye to renting and hello to homeownership, especially when homeowners-to-be consider the following tips:

Focus on the Down Payment

In order to leave the land of rent, you are going to need a down payment — plain and simple. While it is common to put down 20 percent, some lenders now allow a much smaller amount, and first-time home buyer programs may go as low as 3 percent. While a smaller down payment may sound enticing, a 5 percent down payment on a $200K home is still $10,000 — not exactly a small sum. If saving money does not come naturally for you, don’t worry. With some relatively minor lifestyle changes you can speed up the down payment savings process. Come up with a savings plan to determine how much you need to set aside every week or month and then find ways to “find” that money in your budget. Using the $10,000 example from before, if you are determined to buy a home in two years, you’ll have to come up with about $415 a month to stash into your down payment account. Take a close look at your monthly bills and determine what you can pare down or eliminate — maybe you are paying $75 a month for a gym membership you rarely use, or you pay $40 extra for premium satellite channels that no one watches. These services can be cancelled and the money can go directly into your savings account. Eat out less, have Starbucks twice a week instead of every day and if you need to, consider a side hustle on the weekends to reach this magical monthly amount of $415.

Avoid Identity Theft

Unfortunately, the chances of becoming a victim of identity theft increase when you are buying and moving into a new home. The stacks of documents that are part of buying a home and that are filled with your personal information may accidentally fall into the wrong hands, and once you move, mail may not be routed correctly and thieves may steal your mail and your identity from your old mailbox. Prevent this situation from happening by purchasing an identity theft protection program; find a trusted companythat will help safeguard your personal data. In addition to letting you know when a bank pulls your credit report and asking if you have authorized this inquiry, certain services will monitor your financial activity and alert you if anything is amiss.

Check Your Credit Report

When you start the pre-approval process for a loan and then move on to the Big Kahuna of applying for an actual mortgage, your credit report will be pulled numerous times. Your credit score will then be used to determine if you are approved for a loan, and what type of interest rate you will get. Please do not wait until you have the down payment saved and you are champing at the bit to go look at houses to check your FICO score — check your credit as early in the process as you can. If you have a credit card that has been issued through your bank, give them a call and see if they can run your report for you for free; in the cases of some credit cards, they also offer a free monthly FICO score check. Read through the report and check for any errors; this includes credit lines you never opened and delinquent payments that you know were made on time. Dispute any mistakes that you find and look for ways to boost your credit score, like paying down credit card bills and setting up automatic bill pay so you are never late with your payments.

 

 

Slaying That Credit Score – New Tips For A New Year

Getting ready to buy a house or just thinking about it? Where to buy, what to buy, and how you’ll afford it are probably top of mind. But if you’re not also concentrating on your credit score – and by concentrating on, we mean actively trying to raise your scores as much as possible – you’re not looking at the whole homebuying picture.

Not only can does your credit score factor greatly into what you’ll pay for your house, it can keep you from being able to buy one, period. “Your credit history determines what loans you will qualify for and the interest rate you will pay,” said eloan. “A credit score provides an easy way for lenders to numerically judge your credit at a point in time. It gauges how likely you are to repay your loan in a timely manner. The better your history appears, the more attractive you become as a loan customer.”

Thankfully, your credit score is not static; it can (and does) change all the time, and there are all kinds of ways to improve it, some better than others. We’re running down the smartest options to boost your score in the new year.

Shoot for perfection

850 is the best score you can possibly get, and, while it may seem completely out of reach, there are people who actually crest that credit mountain and reach the top. “It’s the Holy Grail of all credit scores: 850. On the widely used FICO credit score scale, approximately one in every 200 people achieves perfection, at least as of a 2010 estimate by the Fair Isaac Corporation,” said The Motley Fool. Careful budgeting and detailed attention to every aspect of their financial picture are the umbrella tactics they use to get and maintain that score – and they’re ones you should be using, too.

Or, shoot for 750

If 850 is out of reach within a reasonable timeframe (reasonable being the maximum amount of time you want to wait before buying a home), try for 750. This is the magic number for many lenders and creditors. “It puts the ball completely in the corner of the consumer rather than the lender, said The Motley Fool. “You’ll often have lenders fighting for your business, and in nearly all instances, you’ll be offered the best interest rate by lenders, meaning you’ll have the lowest possible long-term mortgage and loan costs of any consumer.”

Talking to your lender about the items on your credit report that have the best chance of raising your score is key. You may think that paying off that old unpaid account from six years ago is an easy way to get a score bump, but is it about to fall off of your report on its own?

Set up automatic payments

According to CreditCards.com, a good 35 percent of your credit score is taken from your payment history. You may have missed payments in the past that you need to deal with now, but you certainly don’t want to make another mistake while you’re trying to get homebuyer-ready. Almost every creditor, from your utilities to your car payment to any outstanding student loans you may have, offers the option of automatic payments. This is the easiest way to ensure you never miss a payment because you got busy or spaced on the due date.

But, just remember to make sure there is enough cash in your account to cover the payments on the day the money will be coming out. If you have been busy moving funds into savings for your down payment, you’ll want to set a reminder to put money back into whatever account your auto payments are attached to.

Ask before you shut down credit cards

The amount of credit you have is a factor in qualifying – or not – for a mortgage. Too much debt is a bad thing. But, long-term credit use that has been managed properly can be helpful to your score. If your lender does recommend getting rid of some of your available credit, it likely won’t be older cards. “Length of credit history is considered when determining your score – so the longer you’ve had a credit card, the better,” said CNN Money.

Also beware that closing any card triggers a change in your “utilization,” and that might not be a positive. Be sure to consult with your lender first.

Watch your credit limits

Banks don’t look kindly on those who have used all of their available credit because it gives the appearance that you’re not living within your means. “The amount of available credit you use is the second most important factor in your score,” said NerdWallet. “Experts recommend you keep your balance on each card below 30% of your limit — if your limit is $5,000, your balance should be under $1,500.”

Of course, even lower is better. Get to 20% or even 10%, and you’ll be in great shape. But don’t go below that. While it may seem like a zero balance would indicate that you are financially savvy, banks like to see responsible credit management. That means using your cards and paying down the balance to a reasonable level every month.

Pay down your debt…but check with your lender first

If you’re trying to weigh the best tactics for improving your credit and you don’t have the funds to take care of every outstanding wrinkle on your credit report and pay down your existing debt at the same time, you definitely want to check with your lender before you make any move. Every dollar is important, and while NerdWallet notes that your credit score will “soar” as you “pay off your debt as aggressively as possible without acquiring more,” it could be that your lender has a strategy that places more importance on other credit issues in your report, or has structured your credit repair according to a different timeline.

This underscores the importance of working with a lender who is skilled and experienced in credit repair. Using the tools our lender gave us, we were able to improve our score by almost 100 points in four months, allowing us to qualify for the home we wanted and get a great interest rate.

Don’t be afraid to refinance

You may end up buying a home before you get your credit score exactly where you want it to be. If you’re in an appreciating market, which much of the country is, and your score continues to rise after you close escrow, you might be in a position to refinance sooner than you think. Especially if you buy your home with an FHA loan, their streamline refinance program can potentially lower your rate without an appraisal, a credit check, or job/income verification.

 

 

 

 

 

Tips For Getting Your Home Sold In The Winter

Tips For Getting Your Home Sold In The Winter

So you’ve decided to list your home this winter. Perhaps you’ve had a job change, need to relocate out of the area, or have financial or family reasons for moving. No matter what is driving the move, you may be concerned about selling at this time of year. But just because you missed the boat on the spring selling season doesn’t mean you can’t get your home sold quickly, and for a profit. A few tips can help get it moving.

Take photos early… or late

If you can take photos before the trees become barren and the grass goes dormant, do so! The last thing you want is for your home to look blah and depressing in photos. If you can capture a snowy day (with perfectly scraped walkways, of course), that works, too. It never hurts to have your home looking like a winter wonderland.

Go easy on the holiday décor

“Deck the halls, but don’t go overboard,” said HGTV. “Homes often look their best during the holidays, but sellers should be careful not to overdo it on the decor. Adornments that are too large or too many can crowd your home and distract buyers. Also, avoid offending buyers by opting for general fall and winter decorations rather than items with religious themes.”

Always mind your curb appeal

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can let things slide out front. Potential buyers won’t give you a pass on chipping paint, a fence that needs repair, or a front door that’s seen better days just because it’s frigid outside.

Safety matters

Shoveling the walk from the street to your home is necessary to make it reachable, make it inviting, and also make it safe. The last thing you want is a slip and fall that could result in an injury, and a lawsuit. “Continually shovel a path through the snow, especially if snowflakes are still falling, Footprints on freshly fallen snow will turn to ice if the temperature is low enough, so scrape the walk. Sprinkle a layer of sand over the sidewalk and steps to ensure your buyers’ stable footing. Remember to open a path from the street to the sidewalk so visitors aren’t forced to crawl over snowdrifts.”

Get a good indoor mat

Perhaps you never use a mat for indoors or yours is grubby or tattered from 10 straight years of winter wear. This one super easy move may not be noticed by visitors – but it sure will if it’s missing or not in good shape. Little things like a $10 mat can give buyers the impression that your whole house is well cared for, or just the opposite.

Clear the front door clutter

If you live in a climate where there is likely to be snow or rain, there are a few more steps you’ll probably have to take in order to keep your house looking great inside. How does your coat closet look? If it’s stuffed with jackets, scarves, boots, and gloves, relocating some to make room for potential buyers to put their stuff away while touring your home is a good idea – plus, a tidy coat closet gives the impression that there is plenty of storage space in the home. It goes without saying that winter wear and shoes that tend to stack up in the entry should be banished while your house is on the market.

Make sure everything is functional

Imagine you live in a climate that stays relatively temperate year-round, and then you have a cold spell. You turn on the heater for the first time the night before your first showing, and…nothing. Same for the fireplace in the living room. Your freezing cold house is probably not going to make a great impression on buyers. As soon as you decide you’re going to sell your home, go through it room by room, checking all major appliances and home functions and looking for little things that may escape notice on an everyday basis – cracked light switches, chipped baseboards, light bulbs that need to be replaced – so your home is perfect for showings.

Light it up

Shorter days with earlier sunsets limit the amount of natural light in your home. Turning on all the lights before showings is more important than ever. Think about the exterior when it comes to lights, too. If you only have a porch light, you might want to consider adding some landscaping lighting, which will help accentuate your outdoor space.

Listen to your REALTOR® when it comes to price

Will you be able to command top dollar for your home and get the same price you would have had you listed in spring or summer? That depends on so many things, including your neighborhood, the available inventory, the condition of the home, and, of course, your listing price. A trusted real estate agent will take all mitigating factors into consideration and use comparables in your area to develop a pricing strategy.

When it comes to offers, remember this tidbit from Realtor.com: “Just because your home’s on the market during the slow, chilly months doesn’t mean you have to accept a lowball offer. If you make your home attractive in all the right ways, qualified buyers will come.”

3 TIPS FOR FIRST TIME HOME BUYERS

3 Tips for Aspiring First-Time Homebuyers

After years of renting, you are more than ready to take the plunge into home ownership. You dream of having a cozy casa to call your own, and you cannot wait to start the house hunting process.

While looking for your first home is exciting, it can also be stressful as unexpected bumps in the road tend to pop up. To avoid as many negative curveballs as you can, keep the following cautionary tips in mind:

Get your finances in order

Many Realtors will not work with home buyers until they have been pre-approved for a loan. In order to be sure that you qualify for a decent amount, spend some time getting your financial house in order. As Bank Rate notes, start by checking your credit score and report, since it will be a key factor in how much you will qualify for, as well as determining your interest rate. You can use a free credit score checking service like CreditKarma, or if you have a credit card like Discover, you should be able to check your FICO score there as well.

In addition, get copies of the actual reports from these companies that show all of your lines of credit as well as the reasons for your score, and go over everything with a fine-toothed comb. Look for mistakes, unpaid accounts and any collections, and if there are any issues, start the repair process at least six months before buying a home. Having a high debt to income ratio may also negatively impact your FICO score; if this is true for you, do all you can to pay down your credit card bills and other debts before shopping for a home.

Choose your neighborhood carefully

Some first-time home buyers are so focused on getting a certain style of house, they may overlook the quality of the entire neighborhood. The surrounding area deserves as much consideration as the house. Research the local school system, even if you don’t have kiddos yet, because it can impact home values.

Check to see how close needed amenities are, like grocery stores, gas stations, coffee shops and hospitals, and do a practice commute to see how long it takes you to get to work. You can also check the local crime stats, and if you drive through it at different times of the day, you can check for unexpected noises and activity levels; like a busy fire station nearby or a sports field where high school bands go to practice.

Make sure technology is working

Once you start the actual home search, you may be pleased to see that some of the homes come with innovative features like a home security camera system, thermostats and other cool forms of technology. Rather than assuming that everything works, either check these gadgets yourself to be sure they are functioning properly, or if you have made an offer on the home, ask your home inspector to determine that the tech is in good working order.

If you find that the security system and other tech is broken or woefully outdated, you can either ask the sellers to change it out to a newer system, or you can ask for a credit so you can purchase a new home security camera system or other tech when you move in. If you go with the latter option, you might want to check out HD security cameras and other home security systems from Lorex Technology; the company offers DIY high definition surveillance systems that are affordable, easy to install and do not require you to sign a contract.

By doing your financial and neighborhood homework and remembering to never assume that anything in a potential home is working properly, your house hunting experience is sure to be more fun and fruitful than stressful and overwhelming.

How To Simplify Your Next Move

When you’re selling your home, getting your belongings organized can seem like a low priority. You’re dealing with finding the right real estate agent, the best time to list your home on the market, and maybe even house-hunting for a new place to live.

All of that can keep you quite busy considering many of us have to do those things while we work a full-time job. Organizing your home so that you can simplify your move just doesn’t seem practical.

However, there is one main reason why getting organized can not only simplify your next move but also help improve your chances of selling your home faster and for more money.

When you go through the process of getting organized, you should be eliminating items from your home which helps to clear clutter. Clearing clutter is one of the first things agents and experts who stage homes for sale will tell you to do.

When the clutter is gone, the home can be shown much easier. Potential buyers can see what makes your house so special and different from others in the neighborhood.

If you’re putting off the process of getting organized because you think you should wait until you accept an offer, let me encourage you to get motivated to do it sooner. I’ve seen it happen many times. The homeowner thinks there’s plenty of time and then when an offer is accepted they’re thrust into high gear because the buyer wants to close escrow fast.

Of course, your agent can negotiate the closing date but sometimes a faster closing is a must. Yes, you may be able to rent back from the new owners to give you more time to prepare to move but you can’t avoid the fact that you’ll need to move at some point.

Here are five tips that can help you jump start your organizing and simplify your next move. You will be glad you start before you get an offer to purchase your home.

1. Sort piles of belongings into groups: keep, giveaway, maybe, and trash. The “maybe” pile you box up and seal for six to 12 months. If you don’t have a use for your items in the “maybe” box during the year then perhaps you can donate it.

2. Give yourself plenty of time. Be patient. This process of getting organized takes time. Know that when it comes to sorting through personal papers and memorabilia it will take you much longer than reviewing other items. Leave some extra time for the expected reminiscing that will occur.

3. Store your items in clear plastic bins. Using clear boxes helps to let you have a quick view of what’s inside. If you used cardboard boxes or colored bins, then use a pen to clearly label what’s inside and which room it will go in at your new home. You might want to use a large piece of paper to write the label on so that you can reuse the bin again later for another purpose.

4. Get rid of the paper. A big problem in many homes is the paper trail they have from room to room. It could be magazines, newspapers, documents, advertisements, receipts, you name it. Most homeowners keep a lot of paper which creates a lot of clutter. Go through your files and reduce the paper by shredding or recycling documents you don’t need. You’ll find that a lot of what you’re hanging on to, you just don’t need.

5. Do it now! This is the most valuable tip. As soon as you finish reading this, go put a time on your calendar when you will begin to get organized. Placing it on your calendar should help you block off time to get started and prevent procrastination. If you take care of things right away, you’ll find that life gets simpler. The same goes for your move. So, get organized and simplify your next move!

Relaxing Designs For Your Lakefront Backyard

According to Wallace J. Nichols, in his book “Blue Mind,” our brains are hardwired to react positively to water. Our predisposition to embrace water might be the reason being near it can actually calm us.

But water lovers probably don’t need to be told how relaxing their lakefront backyard is, or how much they enjoy unwinding alongside the water. To spend even more time in the great outdoors on your lakefront property, design your own oasis with relaxation in mind. Here are five ways to get started.

Create a Waterside Sitting Area

To maximize your time outdoors, create a waterside sitting area to relax with guests or just by yourself with a glass of wine. Sloping lakefront properties might benefit from a staircase down to their dock or shoreline. Place a few colorful lounge chairs and small weather-resistant tables to entertain while sitting lakeside. During the day, it transforms into a prime spot to watch friends and kids playing in the water. A wine tote or basket with all the ingredients to make fresh cocktails makes the perfect complement to waterside seating.

Add an Oversized Hammock

No lakefront property is complete without an oversized hammock. You might even get inspired by the trends in cities like Minneapolis where locals are setting up hammocks in public parks and campuses for a short rest and relaxation.

Install a grand trunk double travel hammock for outdoor roughing it and camping right in your own backyard alongside the lake. A Folding Camp Hammock is also a great choice for something more temporary that you can take up and down and move around your yard as needed. Or curl up with your loved ones in a two-person DuraCord Cameo Rope Hammock for a more traditional look.

Include a Cozy Fire Pit

Embrace the evening moonlight and light up a fire pit with friends and family to roast marshmallows. It’s also the perfect spot to warm up after a day of canoeing or waterskiing. Look for all shapes and sizes from small, round portable pits to grand monoliths that anchor your overall design. Keep in mind the fire pit you choose may require placing it on flat stone to prevent embers from getting out of control. In addition, disclosing a fire pit may be a requirement for your homeowners insurance policy or could be against your lakefront neighborhood rules.

Create an Outdoor Entertaining Space

If your lakefront backyard is large enough for a deck or large patio, considering turning it into an entertaining space. Set up a Tiki bar and outdoor furniture resembling a living room set to bring the comforts of home outside. An outdoor kitchen is perfect for lakefront cooking and dining with countertop space, grill and kitchen sink along with a wine fridge to serve guests. To give your outdoor space even more dimension, create fences and garden walls for extra privacy. A pergola with a string of lights intertwined overhead turns your lakefront backyard into a festive evening.

Indulge in a Vanishing Edge Pool

There may be nothing more indulgent than a swimming pool overlooking your lake property. Choose a vanishing edge pool that makes it look as if your pool drops right into the lake. Place it on a hill to overlook your lakefront backyard or add to a patio area for a heated dip on a cool night. Add floating candles and outdoor speakers for a relaxing evening at home.

 

THE MOVING-DAY SURVIVAL KIT LIFESAVING ITEMS AND NICETIES

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Gather these must-haves in advance for a smooth move and more comfortable first days in your new home!

What to Put in Your Moving-Day Kit:

At least a few rolls of toilet paper. This is the number-one most important thing to include, and you will never convince me otherwise.

Aspirin and all of your medications. This is the second-most important thing to include. I’ve never been so happy to see a little packet of aspirin as I was when I unearthed it at the bottom of my move-in bucket. It was a lifesaver. If you have antianxiety medication, moving day is a really good day to take some.

Of course, you will want all of your medications, important documents, laptop, jewelry and anything else that’s very important or of great value somewhere that you’re keeping track of and not with the movers.

OK, you’ve taken care of t.p. and your aches and pains; how important the rest of these items are is more subjective. I’d love to know what you think is the number-one thing, so be sure to voice your opinion in the Comments section later.

Toilet plunger. If you have only one bathroom, this is very important. The more bathrooms you have, the less crucial a plunger is for move-in day.

Cash. You should tip your movers, unless they call you “baby girl” or “princess” throughout the entire move, and talk on the phone in the cab of the loudly running semi truck all day while charging by the hour. Actually, I think I wound up tipping that guy too, because he knew where I lived.

Leatherman knife. While having the whole toolbox handy would be great, there are only so many things you can fit into the move-in-day survival kit, and a Leatherman or Swiss Army knife will fit in a pocket.

It’s great for opening boxes, putting little pieces of furniture together and, most important, opening that bottle of wine you’re saving for when the movers leave. If you don’t think you’ll be organized enough to have a Leatherman handy, make sure you have a box cutter and a box of wine.

Trash bags. You’re going to want the big, sturdy yard trash bags as well as the clear recycling bags.

For those of you who still manage to be on the ball during moving chaos, look up what is recyclable locally before your trip so you can be sure to recycle all of your packing materials, or coordinate with someone else who is about to move to come pick up your boxes, Bubble Wrap and tissue paper when you’re done.

Power strip and mobile phone charger. The power strip will come in handy because you’ll probably clear one little area to keep chaos at bay and wind up plugging in a lot of various things, like lamps, a laptop, your iPod dock and more.

Toothpaste and a toothbrush. Actually, expand this. You should pack a weekend overnight bag and Dopp kit for yourself, including soap, shampoo, deodorant, a razor and anything else you’d need for two to three days away.

All-purpose cleaner, Clorox wipes and a roll of paper towels. Hopefully, move-in day will not be a big cleaning day. Good sellers will have your home thoroughly scoured for you before then, but you’ll want to be prepared if they are bad sellers. (Don’t let it come to this, though; if you’re moving from out of town, have your Realtor scope it out and help you find some cleaning help before the moving truck ever pulls up.)

No matter what, you’ll want to give the toilet a cleaning, and some of your furniture may be dusty and have a cobweb or two as it comes off the truck. An all-purpose cleaner and paper towels should be enough to tide you over.

Bottled water and granola bars. You’re not going to remember to eat until you are very hungry. Have some immediate snacks around for sustenance until you can get a meal together, and by “together,” I mean “delivered.”

Ideally you would have paper plates and plastic utensils at the ready, but you can make do with what comes with the food, your Leatherman knife and that roll of paper towels I already told you to bring.

Local restaurant menus and phone numbers. Do some Yelping around and figure out what restaurants deliver or find a good local delivery service, because you are going to feel filthy and exhausted by the time you get around to foraging for food.

Bandages. While a complete first aid kit is great for overachievers, soap, water, paper towels and a box of bandages should take care of any move-in mishaps. If not, you should probably head to Urgent Care anyway. Also remember that a handful of cars come with first aid kits weirdly hidden in the backseat armrest. I just remembered for the first time in eight years that mine has one.

Notepad and pen. Moving day is a time when many to-do lists are made, new numbers are learned and names of neighbors who have stopped by and introduced themselves are furiously scribbled down before they fly out of your head. I realize that many tech-savvy folks and young whippersnappers do all of this on their phones, but I believe in the usefulness of pen and paper.

Something to freshen the air. Whether you prefer a Glade plug-in, a bottle of Febreze or a fancy candle, even the cleanest house in the world will smell a little musty when it’s been closed up for awhile. Get your own favorite scent wafting through the air.

Flashlight. This will come in handy at night as well as for checking out your new crawl space or any other dark corners. Speaking of light, be sure to pack a few extra batteries, a few lightbulbs and a nightlight that will help guide you to the bathroom in this foreign place.

Unpack certain boxes first. Hopefully, you’ve labeled everything well and the movers are putting the appropriate boxes in the appropriate rooms. While they are, watch like a hawk for linens and bathroom stuff. As soon as a bed is assembled and you’ve found the sheets, make up a bed. By the time you get to fall into it, you’ll be way too tired to put the sheets on.

Also, unpacking the kitchen is a huge accomplishment that will make life from here seem much more normal. As soon as you have your own toaster oven, coffeemaker, blender and other appliances ready, you’ll feel like you can do your first big grocery shop and start preparing meals that don’t arrive in Styrofoam containers.

Be nice to your own buyers. Conversely, if you are moving out of a place, try to make the moving process pleasant for the new owners, unless they were jerks at the closing — well, even then, take the high road. Make the place spotless, leave a welcome note, organize instruction manuals for any appliances they are inheriting from you, leave the names of service providers you recommend and the numbers of a few good food delivery spots (or if they were jerks at the closing, just leave them the number of the so-so spots). These moves will keep your moving karma clean so that all will go well on your end.

DON’T BE NAUGHTY: IMPORTANT ETIQUETTE TIPS WHEN VISITING OPEN HOUSES

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Looking for a home can be a tedious process, and if you’ve been to multiple showings and in and out of open houses – and, especially, if you’ve been outbid on one or more homes you were counting on – you might be starting to lose your cool.

On the flip side, if you’ve ever sold a home, you’re probably well aware of the grueling process of cleaning up after folks who’ve been stomping through your home, leaving their mess and their footprints and their bad manners behind. So, don’t be like them. Check your muddy shoes at the door, but bring your etiquette inside. Need more details about the do’s and don’ts of touring homes? Read on.

Wipe your feet

Or, better yet, remove your shoes. Remember that the sellers have presumably gone to great links to clean and stage their home, which probably means freshly shampooed carpets. Your muddy footprints will not be received well.

Don’t leave a present behind

If you must use the restroom while touring homes for sale, make sure you do a few things first:

In case you’re wondering, yes, it’s OK to use the bathroom if you absolutely can’t wait, but asking the host first can avoid embarrassment.

Check that the plumbing is working – If it’s a vacant or brand-new house, that might not be the case.

Look for toilet paper – You don’t want to be left in a drip-dry situation.

Flush! – Sounds like a given, but you’d be surprised.

Clean up after yourself – Just because you don’t lift the seat at home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t here. And if you just can’t bring yourself to do it, wipe up the seat when you’re done. Come on. You know this.

No stealing!

Yeah, it happens. More than you might think. If your moral compass isn’t enough to keep you from getting sticky fingers in an open house, consider this: More and more houses now have security cameras that will undoubtedly catch you in the act.

Keep your hands off the meds

Yes, this would seem to be a given as well. But prescription medication is a temptation for some visitors. In some cases, “fake buyers” tour homes for sale with the express purpose of stealing. In fact, the most commonly stolen item is prescription medicine, followed closely by jewelry and small electronics during home showings.

Home sellers who don’t secure valuables and medications are “just asking for it,” according to some housing experts. But that doesn’t mean you have to answer. That goes for medications you may consider harmless, like Tylenol or Tums, too. Sellers probably can’t keep people from looking in their medicine cabinet, because: storage. But touching their stuff is another story. When all else fails, remember the Golden Rule, and do unto others.

Don’t rifle through the homeowners’ things

Speaking of opening medicine cabinets…Is it acceptable to open and look inside closets and kitchen and bathroom cabinets and drawers? Absolutely. But going through dresser drawers, nightstands, and other private spaces that have zero relevance when it comes to purchasing the home – not so much. Remember, you’re looking at the storage space, not casing the place. You can be curious all day. But acting on that curiosity is uncool.

Be careful where you sit

Avoid sitting on the furniture. It might not be real.  Growing numbers of Realtors are using cardboard or inflatable furniture to decorate empty rooms.  Messing up a newly made bed or smooshing perfectly placed pillows takes away from the staging, so, if you do have a seat on the furniture, it’s good form to fluff it up again before you leave.

Don’t disregard special requests

Is it frustrating that you can’t get into the third bedroom because the seller’s kitty is locked up in there during the showing? Sure. Do you want to be responsible for the cat escaping and getting hit by a car because you ignored the note that says, “Cat in here, please don’t enter?” Nope. If you’re really interested in the home and not seeing that room is a deal breaker, you can always set up a second visit.

Keep an eye your kids

You may be tempted to let them run off and see their potential bedrooms, but if they’re out of eyesight and earshot, they could potentially be doing damage to the house, or getting injured. You don’t want to create a situation where there’s liability involved…especially when you’re trying to buy a house! Realtor.com recommends letting the listing agent know if you plan to bring your kids so they can help you navigate any potential hazards.

9 TIPS FOR SELLING YOUR HOUSE IN WINTER

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With people away on trips and cold weather making house hunting less appealing, winter can be a challenging time to sell your home. On the other hand, fewer homes on the market means yours will get more attention from buyers. By upping the cozy factor, making the most of winter assets and paying attention to details, you can make your house really stand out.

Here are nine ways to prepare and stage your home for success, and create a warm and welcoming vision for buyers, even when the weather outside is frightful.

  1. Have a cozy, crackling fire (or not).

If you have a gas fireplace or new clean-burning woodstove, go ahead and light a fire to welcome visitors. But if your home’s wood-burning fireplace is older and leaves a smoky smell in the room, hold off. Those with allergies or smoke sensitivities can be turned off — or literally turned away when they have to go outside. No fire? Consider offering warm apple cider instead.

  1. Keep entryways scrupulously clean.

As with any time of year, a clean and clutter-free house will sell more easily (and maybe at a higher price) than one with more visible clutter. During winter it is especially important to remove mucky boots outside and keep family gear hidden in a closet or trunk, where potential buyers won’t trip over them. A Swiffer-style mop kept in the coat closet can be used to quickly freshen entry floors before each showing.

  1. Give each room a warm touch.

A folded throw draped over the back of an armchair, a plump quilt at the foot of the bed or an area rug in warm hues are a few small additions that will make a big difference in the way a room feels to prospective buyers. Also, be sure that every light is on — even for daytime showings. Winter days can be quite dim, and your house will look its best when it’s as warmly lit as possible.

  1. Show how outdoor rooms can be used even in the coldest months.

If you have a covered porch or outdoor fireplace, be sure to keep the area fully furnished. Turn on outdoor lights, build a fire in the fireplace and drape a few thick throws over your outdoor furniture.

  1. Emphasize spaces that will appeal in winter.

Basement playrooms, indoor exercise areas, heated tool sheds and the like will be especially welcome in a place with a cold winter. Remove all unrelated stuff to make the purpose of the room clear, and be sure to have your Realtor bring it up when showing the house to potential buyers.

  1. Showcase the entertaining possibilities of your home.

Winter is prime time for festive parties and holiday open houses, so whet prospective buyers’ appetites with an enticing display. Set out stacks of plates and fresh flowers on a dining room buffet or display holiday cookies on cake stands in the kitchen.

  1. Use structural elements in the garden for winter interest.

In the middle of winter, it can be hard to visualize a blooming garden. Large urns and planters, benches, rock walls and other garden structures will help buyers see the potential even in the snow.

  1. Clear all exterior pathways of snow and ice.

Nothing will turn away potential buyers faster than a treacherously icy path. Open-house guests should be able to easily walk all the way around the house and access outbuildings. Provide as much off-street (snow-cleared) parking as you can to make things easy for visitors.

  1. Do decorate for the holidays.

Buyers want to be able to envision living in your home, so it pays to make that vision as inviting as possible. Festive twinkling lights, green wreaths or topiary, and a decorated tree near Christmas will strike the right note. That doesn’t mean you have to go overboard — in fact, a house overly cluttered with holiday decor can be a real turnoff.

7 IMPORTANT STEPS TO HELP YOU BUY YOUR FIRST HOME IN 2017

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Thinking about buying your first home? What an exciting time this is bound to be. And, also, what a (potentially) overwhelming, confusing, and stress-filled time. It can easily veer into scary territory if you’re not prepared and not surrounding yourself with professionals who can help guide you in the right direction.

These seven tips can help you make that dream of home ownership come true in 2017.

  1. Work with the right real estate agent

The guy next door or your brother’s girlfriend’s cousin who just got his real estate license may be hungry to get your business, but that doesn’t mean he’s your best bet. An experienced agent quite simply knows things that someone who is brand new probably doesn’t. An experienced agent will also have important relationships in place that may be able to help buyers in every facet of the home purchase, including:

Finding houses that aren’t even listed yet
Finding homes that may be slightly outside of a buyer’s criteria but that are worthy of consideration
Leveraging industry relationships to get you great deals or better terms
Managing appraisals and inspections
Working through every step of the purchase process and handling any issues that pop up along the way
Negotiating a deal that works for both sides

  1. Don’t be afraid to talk to multiple lenders

Your Realtor will most likely have several lenders they have worked with and can refer you to. You may also want to speak to loved ones and get a referral or two from someone they’ve worked with successfully. Each lender may have a different recommendation and/or knowledge of a special loan that works for you, so it makes sense to look at a few different options.

  1. Mind your credit

Many people have no idea what their credit score is, but if you’re thinking about buying a home, knowledge is power. Different loans have different minimum credit score requirements, and it could be that your score doesn’t measure up for the best loan rates, or maybe you need to do some work to qualify for even the most lenient loan.

A good mortgage lender can advise you on your best options to raise your score, from removing any errors on your credit report, to paying any delinquent accounts, to exploring credit repair options. The earlier you learn your score and delve into the details with a qualified lender, the more time you have to address any issues you find.

  1. Save, save, save

For many people, getting the down payment together is the hardest part of buying a home. And the closing costs can be an unwelcome surprise for those who weren’t expecting to have to come up with even more cash. When you first set out to buy a home, make sure you know how much you have to save. Your lender should be able to give you a pretty good ballpark based on a certain home price. Housing experts recommend adding 5% to that number just to be safe.

Even if you’ve never been a great saver in the past, there are strategies you can use that will help you build the nest egg you need for your down payment and closing costs, including these tips from nerdwallet:

Automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings can help to make the process mandatory – and maybe a little less painful.
Save raises and bonuses rather than spending them.
Set aside tax refunds.
Keep the change. At least a couple of banks have variations on this theme. For example, Bank of America allows debit card users to sign up for a service that rounds up purchases to the nearest dollar and puts the change into a linked savings account.
Visualize your goal. Slap big, beautiful photos of your dream house on the refrigerator, near your office workspace – and wrap a small one around the primary credit card in your wallet. You might charge less and save more.”

As for where to put that money while you watch it grow, experts recommend that “If the plan is to become a homeowner in the next 12 months, the money should be kept completely liquid. That means you can easily access it at any time,” said CNN Money. “The best way to do that is in a good old-fashioned savings account, Schulte said. Look for one with a higher yield. In today’s low rate environment, that probably means an online-only account like Ally or Synchrony Bank, which currently pay around 1% annually.”

  1. Lock in your rate

Rates can be unpredictable. Locking in a rate when you get close to buying, which your lender will undoubtedly recommend, can protect you if rates rise. Many lenders also offer a one-time adjustment in case rates go down.

  1. Stay at your job

Not happy at work and thinking about making a change? If you’re looking to buy a home, you may have to delay that plan. Part of your qualification for a mortgage will be based on your job history. Making a big change just before you buy or during the escrow process will be problematic. Lenders advise buyers to stay the course until after the home closes escrow.

  1. Don’t open new credit cards or buy a new car

Your lender will spell out the do’s and don’ts of how to protect your credit when trying to buy a house, but if you haven’t yet talked to anyone and you think you’re getting close to be purchase-ready, that Kohl’s card you take out to save 20% on your $100 bill could cost you. Before you take out any new debt, check with a lender.

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