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Blog Archive for October, 2015

How to Select Your Mortgage Lender

Categories: Blog | Posted: October 29, 2015

Real estate investment

Before you start searching for your new home, make sure you know how much you are qualified to borrow. Not only will this knowledge help you focus your house hunting on the right properties, but pre-qualifying gives you more leverage when a seller knows you can get the mortgage to buy their home.

The first step is to select the right institution. Here are some tips on how to select your mortgage lender. You might be tempted by the lure of low interest rates and no closing costs, but protect yourself by ensuring you work with a reputable, responsive, and experienced lender.

  1. Ask for referrals. Your Realtor can offer suggestions for mortgage lenders that meet your particular criteria (e.g., first-time homebuyer, FHA or VA loan). Talk to family members, friends, and co-workers who have recently purchased a new home about their experience with mortgage companies.
  2. Check references. Look at online reviews to see what others are saying about the mortgage lenders. Check the Better Business Bureau’s ratings, which include any complaints lodged against the company. Be sure that the lenders you’re considering have the necessary licensing.
  3. Interview the lender. If you apply online, you will be instantly deluged with phone calls. When you speak with the representatives, ask about the various loan products they offer, and the pros and cons of each. Discuss the approval and closing process, so you understand the information and timing that will be required. Ask for a written list of the costs and fees associated with the mortgage, like points, legal fees, title insurance, and closing costs. Explain your situation and ask for a recommendation about the right mortgage.

Here are 25 questions that Zillow suggests you should ask your mortgage lender.

Once your questions have been answered, ask yourself a few questions. Did the lender seem knowledgeable? Did they listen to your concerns and address them clearly? Did you feel like you were getting a cookie-cutter response or truly personal attention? Did the lender seem to push you towards borrowing more than you feel comfortable with? This is a major financial commitment, so you need to work with a professional who takes the time to understand and respect your needs and concerns.

4, Compare rates, fees, and products. Once you have gathered the information, look at what each mortgage lender has to offer. Your choice should reflect your needs. If you don’t have a stellar credit rating or a sufficient down payment, consider a lender who understands your situation and can offer guidance to qualifying for the best option possible. Maybe you’re looking for a VA loan. You should find a lender who has experience navigating this process.

Before you pre-qualify for your new home mortgage, pre-qualify the lender!

New Home or Resale? It’s What You Can’t See That Matters.

Categories: Blog | Posted: October 19, 2015

Contractor using a clipboard to figure our repiar cost for hail damaged roof.

Thrifting has become a popular trend. People are looking for used items that still have value. Some will re-purpose them, others will do a makeover, and some will use as is.

When it comes to homebuying, does this approach deliver the same value? You’re making a huge investment—probably the biggest financial one of your life. What do you expect in return?

A resale or older home is often perceived as a better deal, because you can buy more house for less money—or so it seems. Whether you’re looking a buying a new home or a resale, it’s what you can’t see that matters.

Here are a few things for comparison when you’re looking at purchasing a home.

  • What will need replacing soon? In a new home, you can be confident that you won’t have to spend money on a new roof, HVAC, appliances, windows, plumbing, or other features that have a lifespan. Calculate any replacement estimates into your purchase price.
  • Is it “green”? From drafty windows and doors and insulation to energy-guzzling appliances, how energy-efficient is the home you’re considering? What’s the air quality? Appliances and plumbing (e.g. toilets, faucets, showers) have become much more energy-efficient over the past few years, and the newest ones can save hundreds on your annual utility bills.
  • How much do you need to invest on cosmetic improvements? This is where many homeowners underestimate the cost of their “dream home”. It’s never “just a few coats of paint”. You’ll probably change light fixtures, wall coverings, and flooring, to say the least. You might want to knock down a wall to open up the floor plan, or replace the kitchen cabinetry. Maybe you need to rewire in order to accommodate today’s electronics. In addition to the cost of any remodeling, there’s the time involved. Do you have the patience to see it through?
  • What’s the resale value? Never buy a home without considering the resale value. Situations change. No matter how certain you are when you sign the mortgage papers, there’s always the chance that you will move again. Be clear about what you can expect to regain from this investment.
  • Are there any purchasing incentives? Interest rates are still incredibly low, although they will continue to creep upward. Homebuilders frequently offer incentives, like no closing costs.

Both new homes and resales have their unique appeal to homebuyers. Regardless, don’t fall in love with what you see. Think about the other factors that contribute to the actual cost of buying your new home.

Gas Fireplaces: Cozy, Warm, and Energy-Efficient

Categories: Blog | Posted: October 10, 2015

Cozy gas fireplace

Nothing warms up a room like a crackling fire in the fireplace—both in heat and ambiance, Gas has replaced the wood-burning fireplace mode in new homes, and for good reason. A gas fireplace is easy to maintain. You turn the fire off and on with a switch, instead of messing with kindling and babysitting the flames. Plus, you have no wood to buy and stack. With gas, you also avoid messy ashes to clean up, glowing embers to worry about when you leave, and the cost of a chimney sweep.

In addition to the convenience, a gas fireplace is more energy-efficient than the wood-burning alternative. Only 15% of wood’s energy is converted into useful heat when logs burn in a fireplace; the rest goes up the chimney. Compare that figure to today’s gas fireplaces, which generate up to 85% heating efficiency. One gas fireplace can efficiently and effectively heat up to 1,000 square feet of space.

When shopping for a gas fireplace, consider the efficiency rating. A 70 rating means that 70 percent of the gas consumed is converted into heat and the remaining 30 percent is used for combustion and ventilation. The higher the rating, the better the heating efficiency.

What are your options for harnessing the value and comfort of a gas fireplace in your home?

If you already have a fireplace, consider a gas fireplace insert. The insert fits into your existing firebox. It can be connected to your home’s gas lines or, if you don’t currently use propane, to a propane tank located outside.

Gas log sets are also placed inside an existing fireplace. These ceramic logs are available in vented and unvented. The vented log set ventilates through the chimney, but doesn’t produce significant heat. The unvented gas log set provides more efficiency but poses a risk of combustion leftovers (water vapor, particulates, carbon monoxide) when run for a long period of time. Gas log sets are more for appearance than warmth.

A built-in gas fireplace is ideal when you’re building a new home. Installation is easily handled during construction, allowing you to create the hearth style you prefer—from traditional stone to sleeker contemporary design. A ventless fireplace doesn’t need a chimney, making it an easier installation. The system uses sensors to monitor the oxygen levels in your home. A direct-vented unit uses a chimney or a venting pipe that goes through your home’s roof. This roof-venting option allows you to install a gas fireplace in any room. The most efficient of the gas fireplaces, the direct-vented unit offers up to an 85% efficiency rating!

With any type of gas fireplace unit, you have the option of choosing from a variety of styles and options, like a circulation fan to distribute the heat better. A remote control is a convenient option for controlling the fireplace operation. Plan now to cozy up to the fire this winter, and start shopping for the gas fireplace that fits your home and your lifestyle.

Smart Thermostats – Boost Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

Categories: Blog | Posted: October 2, 2015

NestThermostat

With the winter chill just around the corner, it’s time to get your home heating system in order. A great way to start is to install a smart thermostat. Boost your home’s energy IQ with a digital thermostat that can be pre-programmed to control the times your heat is turned up and down. A smart thermostat can store six or more daily settings, automatically adjusting the thermostat without you being there to monitor it.

By reducing the temperature on your thermostat by 10° to 15° for 8 hours a day (like overnight or when you’re at work), you can save 5% to 15% per year on your energy bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Here’s what you need to look for when shopping for a programmable thermostat:

  • Temperature control. Choose a unit that includes control of programmable fans, like the air conditioner’s fan, so that it can better manage the temperature.
  • Keypad lock. Protect your settings so that unauthorized people in your home (kids, in-laws) can’t mess with your energy controls.
  • Wi-Fi enabled. The software that drives the smart thermostat should allow you to program it from your smartphone or tablet. Make sure the mobile app is supported by your technology.
  • 7-day scheduling and away controls. A smart thermostat should include programming for at least seven days, as well as the ability to pre-program the temperature control when you’re away from home for days at a time.
  • User-friendliness. Simplicity is the key to effectiveness. If your thermostat is too hard to program, you’ll probably lose energy savings.
  • Some smart thermostats will let you know when you have an equipment malfunction or just need routine maintenance.
  • Before you buy, be sure the unit will work with your HVAC system.
  • Easy installation. Installation shouldn’t require a Ph.D. in rocket science. A good programmable thermostat can be set up without a pro, using online tutorials. Of course, hiring an installer is always an option!

Here are three models that fit this criteria:

The Nest Learning Thermostat is one of the most popular smart thermostats. Now available in version 3.0, the Nest’s intelligent programming learns your habits, and the “Heads Up” feature lets you track your furnace’s automatic shutoffs. You can also check your home’s energy usage via your smartphone.

The ecobee3 Wi-Fi Thermostat is consistently rated with The Nest. The ecobee3 measures temperature and room occupancy, adjusting the heat where it’s needed. You can add more remote sensors to cover a larger home.

The Homewerks Radio Thermostat CT-80 can set seven different temperature points during one day, features a large display, works with most HVAC systems, includes a built-in battery backup, and monitors both your humidity and temperature. Admittedly, the Homewerks model doesn’t have the sleekness of the Nest or ecobee3.

Depending on the model you choose and your current energy bill, the cost of the smart thermostat might deliver return on your investment in one year or less.

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