October 2014

Can People Still Buy a Home with No Money Down?

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Although it’s highly unlikely, yes – it is still possible to get a home without a down payment.  Prior to the mortgage crisis and recession, many lenders offered mortgages without any down payment. Some lenders even allowed consumers to borrow up to 105 percent of the home’s purchase price so they could finance their closing costs.  While we all know that mortgage requirements are much stricter, there are still loan options that can make homeownership a reality.

Today, a handful of government sponsored programs allow consumers with good credit and a steady income to buy a home. Here’s the low-down on loans with low/no down payment requirements.

VA Loans

These loans are only available to veterans, current members of the military and their spouses. While these loans don’t require a down payment or mortgage insurance, there is a funding fee that can be wrapped into the loan.

USDA Rural Development Loans

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers loans to those with qualifying credit scores and income levels. Candidates for these loans must be able to afford payments but have a low or moderate income. Additionally, you must purchase a property in a designated area. These loans are primarily designed to help low-income families in rural areas purchase homes.

FHA Loans

Insured by the Federal Housing Authority, FHA loans come with a minimum down payment of 3.5 percent. FHA charges an upfront premium and additional premiums each month. The standards are usually pretty lenient but a series of guidelines are published and will give you exact eligibility requirements.

If you are interested in getting approved for a loan or learning about types of loans available,
contact our preferred mortgage partner – Supreme Lending. Their team is passionate about helping consumers make homeownership a reality.

Fortify as You Beautify with Safety-Oriented Landscaping

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When it comes to home landscaping design, beautification is only the beginning. Judicious use of landscaping can also make your home a safer and more secure environment. Sound landscaping techniques can reduce your risk for a variety of safety and seasonal hazards. A well-maintained lawn also sends a message to criminals – specifically, that the owner is attentive to everything that goes on around the property and won’t present an easy target. It’s common sense that also has the backing of scientific research.

If you’re a safety-conscious homeowner who’s also into landscaping, here’s a list of topics for you to consider:

Lighting
Any security-oriented landscape design should make lighting a critical part of the plan. Well-lighted pathways will particularly benefit homeowners who enjoy entertaining at night, and their guests will certainly appreciate the consideration. For areas with little foot traffic, consider installing motion-activated lights as a deterrent to burglars and trespassers.

Surfaces
Paved walkways should be built with textured materials to reduce the risk of slipping. Avoid materials that are prone to crack, such as concrete, since the resulting uneven surfaces can cause a tripping hazard. As attractive as it is, leave ceramic tile for indoor use. Sturdier materials like stone, pavers or decking are better suited for outdoor structures.

Plant life
As any knowledgeable landscape designer can tell you, some forms of plant life are pretty to look at but ugly on the inside. The list of toxic or poisonous plants includes many garden staples such as oleander, rhododendron, and azalea. Homeowners with toddlers and pets who could ingest one of these plants should proceed with caution. Also be mindful of plants with thorns or spines, since they have the potential to cause injury.

Water
Although water features often bring a sense of beauty and tranquility to your landscaping design, they also come with a few safety-related downsides. Disease-carrying mosquitoes can breed in pools of standing water. (A timer-operated pump set to run at least once a day offers some protection against the insect problem.) You should also be mindful of the fact that ponds create a potential drowning hazard for small children. If you’re set on including a water feature in your landscape, consider something that’s kid-safe, like a pondless waterfall.

Fire safety
If you live in a region prone to drought or seasonal wildfires, your landscaping design should definitely take these factors into account. Start by choosing hardwood trees and fire-resistant shrubs – examples include trees such as maple, cherry and oak and shrubs such as California lilac and lemonade berry. You’ll need to trim branches regularly, especially on trees standing close to your home, garage and other structures. To prevent ground fires from climbing upward, avoid putting smaller plants underneath larger ones. Strategically positioned stone walls and brick pavers can create unobtrusive fire barriers.

Security Cameras

Many homeowners rely on security cameras to help eliminate blind spots around their property. If you go with a camera from a professional alarm monitoring company, you can also enjoy added protection against burglary, carbon monoxide leaks, fire, and other threats. Be sure to do your research to make sure you’re choosing the right kind of camera for your needs, though, as there are Wi-Fi enabled, motion-activated and CCTV cameras for home security. And if you’re worried about aesthetics, bear in mind that most of today’s cameras are compact, sleekly designed devices that have substituted wireless signals for the unsightly clutter of thick cables.

This post is brought to you by Michelle Smith, a real estate guru and freelance writer. She enjoys writing about anything and everything related to real estate and home remodeling. Michelle encourages your feedback via email.

Seven Easy Ways to Prepare for an Open House

  • Is your home ready to sell?

    Is your home ready to sell?

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As the busy selling season winds down, it’s important that real estate agents and home sellers are taking advantage of every opportunity to sell properties before winter – including open houses. More than cookies and cleaning – there are several things you can do to ensure that your house presents at its best.

Organize Everything – Storage space is a vital selling point for any property. Cluttered closets and cabinets make it appear that the home doesn’t have enough storage – even if there is ample. Combat this misconception by making sure everything is well organized. You’re guaranteed that the buyer is going to be inspecting every nook and cranny.

Make Small Repairs – Potential buyers won’t overlook anything, from scuffed paint to leaky faucets you’ll want to make sure everything is in tip-top shape before holding an open house. Ideally, you would start this process one month out and have an agent guide you in the most important changes.

Update Your Interior – When you home is staged with nice décor and you’ve made simple updates, buyers will more easily be able to visualize themselves in your home. It’s often inexpensive to give your home a more modern look.  If you are in the process of moving out, a few strategically placed pieces of furniture can do wonders.

Door Hangers – Old school door hangers tend to work. Neighbors are likely interested in the listing – so let them know about it. Instead of lamenting on the fact that the only traffic is ‘nosy neighbors’ embrace the fact that neighbors can help sell a home. Share the home with adjoining neighborhoods as well. Lots of people want their friends and family to live nearby.

Declutter – Experts recommend eliminating up to half of your home’s clutter, either by renting a storage unit or a portable pod. You might even have a friend or family member who would help out with storing items. Keep aesthetics minimal and see what you can do to depersonalize the house. Buyers want to see themselves living there – not you.

Be Invisible – If possible, try to avoid being around the house. If the owner is absent, buyers will feel more comfortable asking questions to the realtor and discussing the benefits and drawbacks of the home.

Collect Contact Information – Make it easy for visitors to sign into the open house. This is a helpful safety measure and it also allows you to grow your database of interested buyers. Registrations can be done simply with a piece of paper and a clipboard or an iPad.

This just skims the top of the list of things to do before an open house. If you are looking to sell your house and need expert advice, contact us. We’re happy to help.

Pre-Qualified vs. Pre-Approved: What’s Really the Difference?

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As a first time homebuyer, getting a mortgage might seem a bit daunting. As you navigate the approval process, don’t be confused, a pre-approval is much different than being pre-qualified.

Here’s the skinny:

Pre-Qualified

This term refers to a general review of your finances and a recommendation of what you can afford. In a conversation with a banker, you would review your income, debts, desires etc. and s/he would be able to identify an approximate mortgage amount. Pre-qualification can be done quickly over the phone or internet and does NOT include a review of your credit report. Just because you are pre-qualified for a mortgage does not mean you’ll actually be granted a mortgage.

Pre-Approved

Getting pre-approved is a more in-depth process, requiring a review of your credit history and a verification of your income and debts. After reviewing you finances your loan would be submitted to underwriting – and ultimately you’d be provided with a pre-approval letter that you can use when making an offer on a home. Pre-approvals are normally good for 120 days so it is important to make sure you have this documentation when presenting offers to home sellers.

Ultimately, there is no harm in getting pre-qualified but to have a good chance at getting a home and a mortgage, you need to be pre-approved.

Interested in more in-depth information about getting approved for a mortgage? Contact our lending partner, Supreme at (877) 316-0296 or visit www.UnitedHomeMortgages.com.

Radon: Do you Really Need to Test for It?

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In a word, yes. Testing for radon is critical to the home buying and selling process.

According to the EPA, testing for radon is non-negotiable, estimated at causing about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year. The tests are simple and inexpensive and as a homebuyer, it will give you an irreplaceable peace of mind.

Quick Overview

Radon is a gas that can’t be seen, smelled or tasted – but its’ estimated to cause thousands of deaths per year. Breathing air with randon can cause lung cancer and the Surgeon General estimates that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., with smoking causing the most cases.

Radon comes from the natural (radioactive) breakdown of uranium in soil rock and water and permeates the air you breathe. The gas gets into your home through cracks in solid floors, construction joints, cracks in walls, gaps in suspended floors, gaps around service pipes, cavities inside walls and through the water supply. It can be found in all types of buildings but homes are the most worrisome, as you spend the most time there.

Ultimately, home repairs will need to be made if your radon level is 4 picocuries per liter or pCi/L or higher.  Radon levels less than 4 pCi/L still pose a risk, and in many cases may be more easily reduced.

Testing

You can test your home through a ‘DIY’ kit but if you are selling your home, you’ll likely want a qualified tester to do the testing and provide recommendations for you. A list of qualified testers is available by contacting your state radon office.

As a home seller, there are many ways to mitigate radon that has already managed its’ way into your house. Sometimes solutions are as simple as adding a vent fan or better sealing of foundation cracks. Newer homes are often built with radon resisting features.  A full list of solutions are available from the EPA here.

The home buying and selling process is full of nuances, to get assistance with the process or advice on your situation, contact us. We’re happy to help.

5 Easy Steps to a DIY Home Energy Audit

  • Making sure your home is well insulated can make your home more efficient - and decrease your energy costs.

    Making sure your home is well insulated can make your home more efficient - and decrease your energy costs.

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Making energy-efficient upgrades to your home is a great way to add value, but you should figure out what changes are actually necessary before you make any significant improvements. A home energy audit can give you an idea of what improvements can give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Follow these steps to conduct your own energy audit:

  1. Check for air leaks. Inspect your home for air leaks, which can waste up to 10 percent of your home’s energy. Seal any obvious leaks, such as those around windows or baseboards, with caulk or weather stripping to ensure your hot and cold air isn’t just blowing outside.
  2. Perform a pressurization test. Not every leak will be easy to find. For the smaller energy-wasters you’ll need to conduct a pressurization test.
  3. Examine your insulation. Since heating and cooling your home represents more than half of your energy expenses, adding insulation can provide a nice return on investment. Check to see whether you have adequate insulation by using a thermographic leak detector. The detector uses colors to show hot or cold spots in your home. Any irregularities could mean there’s not enough insulation.
  4. Inspect your ductwork. Make sure your heating and cooling is moving through your system as efficiently as possible. Inspect your ductwork for dirt streaks, which can be a sign of air leaks. Seal obvious problem areas with duct mastic or invest in a professional to examine the ducts more thoroughly.
  5.  Think about replacing your appliances. Calculate the energy consumption of your appliances and compare them with newer models. You may be able to save on energy costs by upgrading.

A Quick Peek – Q3 Marketing Report

The marketing team at United Real Estate has been hard at work for all of our stakeholders. From home buyers and sellers to franchise owners and agents – we’re here from you. From the new UnitedRealEstate.com down to agent postcards, we’re bringing you the tools you need to make home buying and selling easier. Take a look at what we’ve been up to these last couple months and stay tuned for what new tools we’ll be bringing you in the future.

2014 Q3

Interested in learning more about United Real Estate or joining or ever-expanding team? Contact us, we’d love to talk to you.

United Real Estate Unveils a New Website

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The team at United Real Estate is proud to announce the launch of our new website.  After many meetings, lots of review and even more strategizing, we’ve launched a site to make home buying and selling even easier for you. The real estate industry has changed tremendously over the past few years, as technology has empowered people with a plethora of new tools and access to information at all hours of the day. These changes have redefined what it means to have a positive real estate transaction – and we’re here to tell you that we’re on a mission to provide you with the best experience we can.

With the launch of our new website and blog, we’re hoping we can make the home buying and selling process a little easier for you. As our company continues to evolve and our agent base continues to grow, we spend each day trying to accomplish the following goals for our clients:

• Earning a high level of trust with every interaction

• Promising to be responsive to client needs

• Delivering differentiated real estate experiences not available through other companies

We’re on a mission to make the home buying and selling process simple. And we do so by being the most responsive real estate company in the world – both online and offline. United’s buyer- and seller-centric technology, paired with the most trustworthy and accessible real estate professionals in the business, allow us to serve our clients better than the competition.

Have questions about what we’re doing or suggestions about how we can do it better?  Let us know. We’re here for you.