HOUSE CARE CALENDAR: A Seasonal Guide to Maintaining Your Home

April 2018 - Digital Marketing Campaign - Social Media Image

From summer vacations to winter holidays, it seems each season offers the perfect excuse to put off our to-do list. But be careful, homeowners: neglecting your home’s maintenance could put your personal safety—and one of your largest financial investments—at serious risk.

In no time at all, small problems can lead to extensive and expensive repairs. And even if you avoid a catastrophe, those minor issues can still have a big impact. Properties that are not well maintained can lose 10 percent (or more) of their appraised value.1
The good news is, by dedicating a few hours each season to properly maintaining your home, you can ensure a safe living environment for you and your family … and actually increase the value of your home by one percent annually!1 You just need to know where and how to spend your time.

Use the following checklist as a guide to maintaining your home and lawn throughout the year. It’s applicable for all climates, so please share it with friends and family members who you think could benefit, no matter where their home is located.

Spring

After a long, cold winter, many of us look forward to a fresh start in the spring. Wash away the winter grime, open the windows, and prepare your home for warmer weather and backyard barbecues.

Inside

  • Conduct Annual Spring Cleaning
    Be sure to tackle those areas that may have gone neglected—such as your blinds, baseboards and fan blades—as well as appliances, including your refrigerator, dishwasher, oven and range hood. Clear out clutter and clothes you no longer wear, and toss old and expired food and medications.
  • Shut Down Heating System
    Depending on the type of heating system you have, you may need to shut your system down when not in use. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for proper procedures.
  • Tune Up A/C
    If your home has central air conditioning, schedule an annual tune-up with your HVAC technician. If you have a portable or window unit, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper maintenance.2
  • Check Plumbing
    It’s a good idea to periodically check your plumbing to spot any leaks or maintenance issues. Look for evidence of leaks—such as water stains on the ceiling—and check for dripping faucets or running toilets that need to be addressed. Inspect your hot water heater for sediment build up. Check your sump pump (if you have one) to ensure it’s working properly.3
  • Inspect Smoke Alarm and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
    Check that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are functioning properly. Batteries should be replaced every six months, so change them now and again in the fall. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to test your individual devices. And even properly functioning devices should be replaced at least every 10 years, or per the manufacturer’s recommendation.4

Outside

  • Inspect Perimeter of Home
    Walk around your house and look for any signs of damage or wear and tear that should be addressed. Are there cracks in the foundation? Peeling paint? Loose or missing roof shingles? Make a plan to make needed repairs yourself or hire a contractor.
  • Clean Home’s Exterior
    Wash windows and clean and replace screens if they were removed during the winter months. For the home’s facade, it’s generally advisable to use the gentlest method that is effective. A simple garden hose will work in most cases.5
  • Clean Gutters and Downspouts
    Gutters and downspouts should be cleaned at least twice a year. Neglected gutters can cause water damage to a home, so make sure yours are clean and free of debris. If your gutters have screens, you may be able to decrease the frequency of cleanings, but they should still be checked periodically.6
  • Rake Leaves
    Gently rake your lawn to remove leaves and debris. Too many leaves can cause an excessive layer of thatch, which can damage the roots of your lawn. They can also harbor disease-causing organisms and insects.7 However, take care because overly vigorous raking can damage new grass shoots.
  • Seed or Sod Lawn
    If you have bare spots, spring is a good time to seed or lay new sod so you can enjoy a beautiful lawn throughout the remainder of the year. The peak summer heat can be too harsh for a new lawn. If you miss this window, early fall is another good time to plant.8
  • Apply a Pre-Emergent Herbicide
    While a healthy lawn is the best deterrent for weeds, some homeowners choose to use a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring to minimize weeds. When applied at the right time, it can be effective in preventing weeds from germinating. However, a pre-emergent herbicide will also prevent grass seeds from germinating, so only use it if you don’t plan to seed or sod in the spring.
  • Plant Flowers
    After a long winter, planting annuals and spring perennials is a great way to brighten up your garden. It’s also a good time to prune existing flowers and shrubs and remove and compost any dead plants.
  • Mulch Beds
    A layer of fresh mulch helps to suppress weeds, retain moisture and moderate soil temperature. However, be sure to strip away old mulch at least every three years to prevent excessive buildup.9
  • Fertilize Lawn
    Depending on your grass type, an application of fertilizer in the spring may help promote new leaf and root growth, keep your lawn healthy, and reduce weeds.10
  • Tune Up Lawn Mower
    Send your lawn mower out for a professional tune-up and to have the blades sharpened before the mowing season starts.11
  • Inspect Sprinkler System
    If you have a sprinkler system, check that it’s working properly and make repairs as needed.
  • Check the Deck
    If you have a deck or patio, inspect it for signs of damage or deterioration that may have occurred over the winter. Then clean it thoroughly and apply a fresh coat of stain if needed.
  • Prepare Pool
    If you own a pool, warmer weather signals the start of pool season. Be sure to follow best practices for your particular pool to ensure proper maintenance and safety.

Summer

Summer is generally the time to relax and enjoy your home, but a little time devoted to maintenance will help ensure it looks great and runs efficiently throughout the season.

Inside

  • Adjust Ceiling Fans
    Make sure they are set to run counter-clockwise in the summer to push air down and create a cooling breeze. Utilizing fans instead of your air conditioner, when possible, will help minimize your utility bills.
  • Clean A/C Filters
    Be sure to clean or replace your filters monthly, particularly if you’re running your air conditioner often.
  • Clear Dryer Vent
    Help cut down on summer utility bills by cleaning your laundry dryer vent at least once a year. Not only will it help cut down on drying times, a neglected dryer poses a serious fire hazard.
  • Check Weather Stripping
    If you’re running your air conditioner in the summer, you’ll want to keep the cold air inside and hot air outside. Check weather stripping around doors and windows to ensure a good seal.

Outside

  • Mow Lawn Regularly
    Your lawn will probably need regular mowing in the summer. Adjust your mower height to the highest setting, as taller grass helps shade the soil to prevent drought and weeds.
  • Water Early in the Morning
    Ensure your lawn and garden get plenty of water during the hot summer months. Experts generally recommend watering in the early morning to minimize evaporation, but be mindful of any watering restrictions in your area, which may limit the time and/or days you are allowed to water.
  • Weed Weekly
    To prevent weeds from taking over your garden and ruining your home’s valuable curb appeal, make a habit of pulling weeds at least once per week.
  • Exterminate Pests
    Remove any standing water and piles of leaves and debris. Inspect your lawn and perimeter of your home for signs of an invasion. If necessary, call a professional exterminator for assistance.

Fall

Fall ushers in another busy season of home maintenance as you prepare your home for the winter weather ahead.

Inside

  • Have Heater Serviced
    To ensure safety and efficiency, it’s a good idea to have your heating system serviced and inspected before you run it for the first time.
  • Shut Down A/C for the Winter
    If you have central air conditioning, you can have it serviced at the same time as your furnace. If you have a portable or window unit, ensure it’s properly sealed or remove it and store it for the winter.
  • Inspect Chimney
    Fire safety experts recommend that you have your chimney inspected annually and cleaned periodically. Complete this task before you start using your fireplace or furnace.
  • Seal Windows and Doors
    Check windows and doors for drafts and caulk or add weatherstripping where necessary.
  • Check Smoke Alarm and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
    If you checked your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the spring, they are due for another inspection. Batteries should be replaced every six months, so it’s time to replace them again. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to test your individual devices. And even properly functioning devices should be replaced at least every 10 years, or per the manufacturer’s recommendation.3

Outside

  • Plant Fall Flowers, Grass and Shrubs
    Fall is a great time to plant perennials, trees, shrubs, cool-season vegetables and bulbs that will bloom in the spring.12 It’s also a good time to reseed or sod your lawn.
  • Rake or Mow Leaves
    Once the leaves start falling, it’s time to pull out your rake. A thick layer of leaves left on your grass can lead to an unhealthy lawn. Or, rather than raking, use a mulching mower to create a natural fertilizer for your lawn.
  • Apply Fall Fertilizer
    If you choose not to use a mulching mower, a fall fertilizer is usually recommended. For best results, aerate your lawn before applying the fertilizer.13
  • Inspect Gutters and Roof
    Inspect your gutters and downspouts and make needed repairs. Check the roof for any broken or loose tiles. Remove fallen leaves and debris.
  • Shut Down Sprinkler System
    If you have a sprinkler system, drain any remaining water and shut it down to prevent damage from freezing temperatures over the winter.
  • Close Pool
    If you have a pool, it’s time to clean and close it up before the winter.

Winter

While it can be tempting to ignore home maintenance issues in the winter, snow and freezing temperatures can do major damage if left untreated. Follow these steps to ensure your house survives the winter months.

Inside

  • Maintain Heating System
    Check and change filters on your heating system, per the manufacturer’s instructions. If you have a boiler, monitor the water level.
  • Tune Up Generator
    If you own a portable generator, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper maintenance. Make sure it’s working before you need it, and stock up on supplies like fuel, oil and filters.
  • Prevent Frozen Pipes
    Make sure pipes are well insulated, and keep your heat set to a minimum of 55 degrees when you’re away. If pipes are prone to freezing, leave faucets dripping slightly overnight or when away from home. You may also want to open cabinet doors beneath sinks to let in heat.

Outside

  • Drain and Shut Off Outdoor Faucets
    Before the first freeze, drain and shut off outdoor faucets. Place an insulated cover over exposed faucets, and store hoses for the winter.
  • Remove Window Screens
    Removing screens from your windows allows more light in to brighten and warm your home during the dark, cold winter months. Snow can also get trapped between screens and windows, causing damage to window frames and sills.
  • Service Snowblower
    Don’t wait until the first snowstorm of the season to make sure your snowblower is in good working order. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for maintenance or have it serviced by a professional.
  • Stock Up on Ice Melt
    Keep plenty of ice melt, or rock salt, on hand in preparation for winter weather. Look for brands that will keep kids and pets safe without doing damage to your walkway or yard.
  • Watch Out for Ice Dams
    Ice dams are thick ridges of solid ice that can build up along the eaves of your house. They can do major damage to gutters, shingles and siding. Heated cables installed prior to the first winter storm can help.14
  • Check for Snow Buildup on Trees
    Snow can cause tree limbs to break, which can be especially dangerous if they are near your home. Use a broom to periodically remove excess snow.15

While this checklist should not be considered a complete list of your home’s maintenance needs, it can serve as a general seasonal guide. Systems, structures and fixtures will need to be repaired and replaced from time-to-time, as well. The good news is, the investment you make in maintaining your home now will pay off dividends over time.

Keep a record of all your maintenance, repairs and upgrades for future reference, along with receipts. Not only will it help jog your memory, it can make a big impact on buyers when it comes time to sell your home … and potentially result in a higher selling price.

Are you looking for help with home maintenance or repairs? We have an extensive network of trusted contractors and service providers and are happy to provide referrals! Call or email us, and we can connect you with one of our preferred vendors.

Sources:

  1. HouseLogic.com –
    https://www.houselogic.com/organize-maintain/home-maintenance-tips/value-home-maintenance/
  2. Home Advisor –
    https://www.homeadvisor.com/r/servicing-your-air-conditioner/
  3. Keyes & Sons Plumbing and Heating –
    http://keyes-plumbing.com/things-to-check-in-spring/
  4. Allstate Insurance Blog –
    https://blog.allstate.com/test-smoke-detectors/
  5. Houzz –
    https://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/17268616/list/how-to-wash-your-house
  6. Angie’s List –
    https://www.angieslist.com/articles/why-gutter-cleaning-so-important.htm
  7. Angie’s List –
    https://www.angieslist.com/articles/what-thatch-and-how-does-it-impact-my-lawn.htm
  8. HGTV –
    http://www.hgtv.com/design/outdoor-design/landscaping-and-hardscaping/lawns/top-spring-lawn-care-tips-pictures
  9. This Old House –
    https://www.thisoldhouse.com/more/may-mulching
  10. Lowes –
    https://www.lowes.com/projects/lawn-and-garden/fertilize-your-lawn/project
  11. The New York Times –
    https://www.nytimes.com/guides/realestate/home-maintenance-checklist
  12. Better Homes and Gardens Magazine –
    https://www.bhg.com/gardening/yard/garden-care/what-to-plant-in-the-fall/
  13. The Spruce –
    https://www.thespruce.com/late-fall-fertilizing-2152976
  14. This Old House –
    https://www.thisoldhouse.com/how-to/how-to-get-rid-ice-dams
  15. Houzz –
    https://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/55572864/list/your-winter-home-maintenance-checklist
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The Home Buyer’s Guide to Getting Mortgage Ready

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Don’t wait until you’re ready to move to start preparing financially to buy a home.

If you’re like the vast majority of home buyers, you will choose to finance your purchase with a mortgage loan. By preparing in advance, you can avoid the common delays and roadblocks many buyers face when applying for a mortgage.

The requirements to secure a mortgage may seem overwhelming, especially if you’re a first-time buyer. But we’ve outlined three simple steps to get you started on your path to homeownership.

Even if you’re a current homeowner, it’s a good idea to prepare in advance so you don’t encounter any surprises along the way. Lending requirements have become more rigorous in recent years, and changes to your credit history, debt levels, job type and other factors could impact your chances of approval.

It’s never too early to start preparing to buy a home. Follow these three steps to begin laying the foundation for your future home purchase today!

STEP 1: CHECK YOUR CREDIT SCORE

Your credit score is one of the first things a lender will check to see if you qualify for a loan. It’s a good idea to review your credit report and score yourself before you’re ready to apply for a mortgage. If you have a low score, you will need time to raise it. And sometimes fraudulent activity or erroneous information will appear on your report, which can take months to correct.

The credit score most lenders use is your FICO score, a weighted score developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation that takes into account your payment history (35%), amounts owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), new credit (10%), and credit mix (10%).1

Fico Score

Source: myFico.com

Base FICO scores range from 300 to 850. A higher FICO score will help you qualify for a lower mortgage interest rate, which will save you money.2

By federal law, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Transunion). Request your free credit report at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.

Minimum Score Requirements

To qualify for the lowest interest rates available, you will usually need a FICO score of 760 or higher. Most lenders require a score of at least 620 to qualify for a conventional mortgage.3

If your FICO score is less than 620, you may be able to qualify for a non-conventional mortgage. However, you should expect to pay higher interest rates and fees. For example, you may be able to secure an FHA loan (one issued by a private lender but insured by the Federal Housing Administration) with a credit score as low as 580 if you can make a 3.5 percent down payment. And FHA loans are available to applicants with credit scores as low as 500 with a 10 percent down payment.4

Increase Your Credit Score

There’s no quick fix for a low credit score, but the following steps will help you increase it over time.5

  1. Make Payments on Time

At 35 percent, your payment history accounts for the largest portion of your credit score. Therefore, it’s crucial to get caught up on any late payments and make all of your future payments on time.

If you have trouble remembering to pay your bills on time, set up payment reminders through your online banking platform, a free money management tool like Mint, or an app like BillMinder.

  1. Avoid Applying for New Credit You Don’t Need

New accounts will lower your average account age, which could negatively impact your length of credit history. Also, each time you apply for credit, it can result in a small decrease in your credit score.

The exception to this rule? If you don’t have any credit cards—or any credit accounts at all—you should open an account to establish a credit history. Just be sure to use it responsibly and pay it off in full each month.

If you need to shop for a new credit account, for example, a car loan, be sure to complete your loan applications within a short period of time. FICO attempts to distinguish between a search for a single loan and applications to open several new lines of credit by the window of time during which inquiries occur.

  1. Pay Down Credit Cards

When you pay off your credit cards and other revolving credit, you lower your amounts owed, or credit utilization ratio (ratio of account balances to credit limits). Some experts recommend starting with your highest-interest debt and paying it off first. Others suggest paying off your lowest balance first and then rolling that payment into your next-lowest balance to create momentum.

Whichever method you choose, the first step is to make a list of all of your credit card balances and then start tackling them one by one. Make the minimum payments on all of your cards except one. Pay as much as possible on that card until it’s paid in full, then cross it off your list and move on to the next card.

Debt Interest Rate Total Payoff Minimum Payment
Credit Card 1 12.5% $460 $18.40
Credit Card 2 18.9% $1,012 $40.48
Credit Card 3 3.11% $6,300 $252

 

  1. Avoid Closing Old Accounts

Closing an old account will not remove it from your credit report. In fact, it can hurt your score, as it can raise your credit utilization ratio—since you’ll have less available credit—and decrease your average length of credit history.

Similarly, paying off a collection account will not remove it from your report. It remains on your credit report for seven years, however, the negative impact on your score will decrease over time.

  1. Correct Errors on Your Report

Mistakes or fraudulent activity can negatively impact your credit score. That’s why it’s a good idea to check your credit report at least once per year. The Federal Trade Commission has instructions on their website for disputing errors on your report.

While it may seem like a lot of effort to raise your credit score, your hard work will pay off in the long run. Not only will it help you qualify for a mortgage, a high credit score can help you secure a lower interest rate on car loans and credit cards, as well. You may even qualify for lower rates on insurance premiums.6

STEP 2: SAVE UP FOR A DOWN PAYMENT AND CLOSING COSTS

The next step in preparing for your home purchase is to save up for a down payment and closing costs.

Down Payment

When you purchase a home, you typically pay for a portion of it in cash (down payment) and take out a loan to cover the remaining balance (mortgage).

Many first-time buyers wonder: How much do I need to save for a down payment? The answer is … it depends.

Generally speaking, the higher your down payment, the more money you will save on interest and fees. For example, you will qualify for a lower interest rate and avoid paying for mortgage insurance if your down payment is at least 20 percent of the property’s purchase price. But what if you can’t afford to put down 20 percent?

On a conventional loan, you will be required to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI) if your down payment is less than 20 percent. PMI is insurance that compensates your lender if you default on your loan.7

PMI will cost you between 0.3 to 1.5 percent of the overall mortgage amount each year.8 So, on a $100,000 loan, you can expect to pay between $300 and $1500 per year for PMI until your mortgage balance falls below 80 percent of the appraised value.9 For a conventional mortgage with PMI, most lenders will accept a minimum down payment of five percent of the purchase price.7

If a five-percent down payment is still too high, an FHA-insured loan may be an option for you. Because they are guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration, FHA loans only require a 3.5 percent down payment if your credit score is 580 or higher.7

The downside of getting an FHA loan? You’ll be required to pay an upfront mortgage insurance premium (MIP) of 1.75 percent of the total loan amount, as well as an annual MIP of between 0.80 and 1.05 percent of your loan balance on a 30-year note. There are also certain limitations on the types of loans and properties that qualify.10

There are a variety of other government-sponsored programs created to assist home buyers, as well. For example, veterans and current members of the Armed Forces may qualify for a VA-backed loan requiring a $0 down payment.7 Consult a mortgage lender about what options are available to you.

TYPE MINIMUM DOWN ADDITIONAL FEES
Conventional Loan 20% Qualify for the best rates and no mortgage insurance required
Conventional Loan 5% Must purchase private mortgage insurance costing 0.3 – 1.5% of mortgage annually
FHA Loan 3.5% Upfront mortgage insurance premium of 1.75% of loan amount and annual fee of 0.8 – 1.05%

Current Homeowners

If you’re a current homeowner, you may have equity in your home that you can use toward your down payment on a new home. We can help you estimate your expected return after you sell your current home and pay back your existing mortgage. Contact us for a free evaluation!

Closing Costs

Closing costs should also be factored into your savings plan. These may include loan origination fees, discount points, appraisal fees, title searches, title insurance, surveys and other fees associated with the purchase of your home. Closing costs vary but typically range between two to five percent of the purchase price.11

If you don’t have the funds to pay these outright at closing, you can often add them to your mortgage balance and pay them over time. However, this means you’ll have a higher monthly payment and pay more over the long term because you’ll pay interest on the fees.

STEP 3: ESTIMATE YOUR HOME PURCHASING POWER

Once you have the required credit score, savings for a down payment and a list of all your outstanding debt obligations via your credit report, you can assess whether you are ready and able to purchase a home.

It’s important to have a sense of how much you can reasonably afford—and how much you’ll be able to borrow—to see if homeownership is within reach.

Your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is one of the main factors mortgage companies use to determine how much they are willing to lend you, and it can help you gauge whether or not your home purchasing goals are realistic given your current financial situation.

Your DTI ratio is essentially a comparison of your housing expenses and other debt versus your income. There are two different DTI ratios that lenders consider:

Front-End Ratio

Also called the housing ratio, this is the percentage of your income that would go toward housing expenses each month, including your mortgage payment, private mortgage insurance, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and association dues.12

To calculate your front-end DTI ratio, a lender will add up your expected housing expenses and divide it by your gross monthly income (income before taxes). The maximum front-end DTI ratio for most mortgages is 28 percent. For an FHA-backed loan, this ratio must not exceed 31 percent.13

Back-End Ratio

The back-end ratio takes into account all of your monthly debt obligations: your expected housing expenses PLUS credit card bills, car payments, child support or alimony, student loans and any other debt that shows up on your credit report.12

To calculate your back-end ratio, a lender will tabulate your expected housing expenses and other monthly debt payments and divide it by your gross monthly income (income before taxes). The maximum back-end DTI ratio for most mortgages is 36 percent. For an FHA-backed loan, this ratio must not exceed 41 percent.13

Home Affordability Calculator

To get a sense of how much home you can afford, visit the National Association of Realtors’ free Home Affordability Calculator at https://www.realtor.com/mortgage/tools/affordability-calculator.

This handy tool will help you determine your home purchasing power depending on your location, annual income, monthly debt and down payment. It also offers a monthly mortgage breakdown that projects what you would pay each month in principal and interest, property taxes, and home insurance.

The Home Affordability Calculator defaults to a back-end DTI ratio of 36 percent. If the monthly cost estimate at that ratio is significantly higher than what you’re currently paying for housing, you need to consider whether or not you can make up the difference each month in your budget.

If not, you may want to lower your target purchase price to a more conservative DTI ratio. The tool enables you to scroll through higher and lower price points to see the impact on your monthly payments so you can identify your ideal price point.

(Note: This tool only provides an estimate of your purchasing power. You will need to secure pre-approval from a mortgage lender to know your true mortgage approval amount and monthly payment projections.)

Can I Afford to Buy My Dream Home?

Once you have a sense of your purchasing power, it’s time to find out which neighborhoods and types of homes you can afford. The best way to determine this is to contact a licensed real estate agent. We help homeowners like you every day and can send you a comprehensive list of homes within your budget that meet your specific needs.

If there are homes within your price range and target neighborhoods that meet your criteria—congratulations! It’s time to begin your home search.

If not, you may need to continue saving up for a larger down payment … or adjust your search parameters to find homes that do fit within your budget. We can help you determine the right course for you.

START LAYING YOUR FOUNDATION TODAY

It’s never too early to start preparing financially for a home purchase. These three steps will set you on the path toward homeownership … and a secure financial future!

And if you are ready to buy now but don’t have a perfect credit score or a big down payment, don’t get discouraged. There are resources and options available that might make it possible for you to buy a home sooner than you think. We can help.

Want to find out if you’re ready to buy a house? Give us a call! We’ll help you review your options, connect you with one of our trusted mortgage lenders, and help you determine the ideal time to begin your new home search.

The above references an opinion and is for informational purposes only.  It is not intended to be financial advice. Consult a financial professional for advice regarding your individual needs.

Sources:

  1. Quicken Loans Blog –
    https://www.quickenloans.com/blog/how-does-your-credit-score-affect-your-mortgage-eligibility
  2. myFICO –
    https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/credit-report-credit-score-articles/
  3. Bankrate –
    https://www.bankrate.com/mortgages/what-is-a-good-credit-score-to-buy-a-house/
  4. Bankrate –
    https://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/7-crucial-facts-about-fha-loans-1.aspx
  5. myFICO –
    https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/improve-your-credit-score/
  6. The Balance –
    https://www.thebalance.com/having-good-credit-score-960528
  7. Bankrate –
    https://www.bankrate.com/mortgages/how-much-is-a-down-payment-on-a-house/
  8. Bankrate –
    https://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/the-basics-of-private-mortgage-insurance-pmi.aspx
  9. Bankrate –
    https://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/removing-private-mortgage-insurance.aspx
  10. The Balance –
    https://www.thebalance.com/fha-home-loan-pitfalls-315673
  11. Investopedia –
    https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/closingcosts.asp
  12. Bankrate –
    https://www.bankrate.com/finance/mortgages/why-debt-to-income-matters-in-mortgages-1.aspx

The Lenders Network –
https://thelendersnetwork.com/fha-debt-to-income-ratio/

Home Design Trends to Watch in 2018

February 2018 - Digital Marketing Campaign - Social Media Image

We frequently get questions from clients who are taking on decorating and remodeling projects and want to ensure their dollars are invested wisely.

Which looks will last for years to come, and which ones will feel dated quickly? What colors and styles are most popular among buyers in our area? How can I add the most value to my home?

So we’ve rounded up some of the hottest trends in home design to help guide you through the process. Whether you’ve planned a simple refresh or a full-scale renovation, making smart and informed design choices will help you maximize your return on investment … and minimize the chance of “remodeler’s remorse” down the road.

WHAT’S HOT NOW

While 2017 was all about millennial pink, brass fixtures and bright white kitchens, this year we expect to see a move toward warmer, cozier elements throughout the home.

  1. Warm Colors

A cool color scheme has dominated home design in recent years, but this year warm neutrals like brown and tan are back, along with rich jewel tones. While the pastel craze of last year is still hanging on, expect to see alternative color palettes featuring deep, saturated shades of red, yellow, green and navy. Grey will remain popular, but in warmer tones, often referred to as “greige.”

Warm Colors

  1. Cozy Elements

Along with warmer colors, we can expect to see a shift from stark, modern design to cozier looks. Velvet upholstery, woven textures and natural elements, like wood and stone, will heat things up this year.

  1. Mixed Metals

It used to be considered gauche to mix finishes, however the look of mixed metals will be very big in 2018. Brass will continue to trend, along with matte black and classics like polished chrome and brushed nickel.

Mixed Metals

  1. Bold Patterns

Expect to see a lot of bright, bold patterns in the form of geometric shapes and graphic floral prints. These will be featured on everything from furniture to throw pillows to tile. 

  1. Natural Elements

Look for the use of natural elements throughout the home, including wood, stone, plants, flowers and grass. Botanical patterns will also be seen in prints, wallpaper and upholstery. Concrete accents will complement these additions in an effort to bring the essence of the outdoors inside the home.

Natural Elements

  1. Feature Walls

Also called an accent wall, a feature wall is one that exhibits a different color or design than the other walls in the room. Expect to see an increased use of feature walls showcasing rich paint colors, bold patterned wallpaper, and textures brought in through millwork and shiplap.

  1. Statement Lighting

Lighting will take center stage with distinctive fixtures, including local artisan and vintage pendants and chandeliers. And smart lighting technology will enable homeowners to customize their lighting experience based on time of day, activity and mood.

Statement Lighting

  1. Hardwood Floors

Hardwood floors will continue to dominate the market. The trend is toward either very dark stains paired with light-colored walls or light stains with darker walls. Greyish tones will remain popular, as will matte finishes, which are easier to maintain than high gloss. Expect to see frequent use of wider and longer wood planks, as well as distressed and wire-brushed finishes, which add texture and dimension.

  1. Smart Homes

Everything is getting “smarter” in homes, from locks and lights to thermostats and appliances. And with devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, you can control many of these with voice activation from a central hub. We will see continued integration of and advancements in smart-home technology in 2018.

KITCHEN TRENDS

While white kitchens will remain popular in 2018, expect to see more color this year in everything from cabinets to tile to appliances.

  1. Two-toned Cabinets

Two-toned cabinets are quickly overtaking the white-on-white look that has dominated kitchen design for the past few years. While white remains a classic, grey and bleached-wood cabinet variations are surging in popularity, along with darker neutrals like navy and green.

Two Tone Cabnet

  1. Quartz Countertops

Granite reigned as the top countertop choice for many years, but quartz is now king. It’s highly durable, low-maintenance and comes in a wide variety of styles and colors. It’s also heat resistant, scratch resistant and non-porous (unlike granite and marble) so it doesn’t need to be sealed.

  1. Bold Backsplashes

After years of dominating backsplash design, the white subway tile is officially on its way out. Expect to see it replaced with more elaborate shapes, patterns, colors and textures. Tile that mimics the appearance of wood, concrete and wallpaper is also gaining in popularity.

Bold Backsplash

  1. Statement Sinks

While stainless steel and white porcelain are always safe bets, the trend is moving toward sinks that make more of a statement. Look for unexpected pops of color and materials like natural stone and copper. Touch-free faucets are expected to gain favor with homeowners this year, too.

  1. Brass is (Still) Back

Brass fixtures came back in a big way over the past couple of years and will continue to be a popular choice in 2018 along with matte black, black nickel, polished chrome and brushed nickel. Missing from the list? Rose gold, which is decidedly “out” this year.

Brass is Back

  1. Multi-purpose Islands

Kitchen islands have evolved from simple prep-stations into the “workhorse” of the kitchen. Many feature sinks, built-in appliances and under-counter storage while also serving as a casual dining area. They have become the focal point of the kitchen, and we expect to see more of them in 2018 and beyond. 

  1. Black Stainless Steel

Black stainless steel is the hot new finish option for appliances, and it’s hitting the market in a big way. It offers a cutting-edge look and is easier to keep clean than traditional stainless steel. However, it’s harder to match finishes amongst different brands, so it’s probably only feasible as part of a complete appliance package.

  1. Appliance Garages

Appliance garages are counter-level compartments designed to house small appliances like blenders, toasters and stand mixers. They make it convenient to have these items readily accessible, without the look of a cluttered counter.

Appliance Garage.png

BATH TRENDS

Expect to see many of the same kitchen design preferences carry over into bathrooms this year, including two-tone cabinets, quartz countertops and brass fixtures.

  1. Neutral Tones

Neutral shades will continue to dominate in the master bathroom as homeowners seek a soothing and relaxing retreat atmosphere. But expect to see more options than just white. Shades of brown, grey, blue, green and tan will help to warm things up.

Neutral Tones

  1. Natural Elements

Natural materials are particularly hot right now in bathroom design. This includes the use of wood and stone on walls, cabinets, counters and backsplashes, as well as the incorporation of botanical design elements.

  1. Large Tiles

We expect to see a lot more large and slab-sized tiles in bathrooms, which have less grout so they are easier to clean and maintain. Wood-look porcelain tiles are also a favorite in wet areas, as they offer the warmth and rustic appeal of wood with the durability of tile.

Large Tiles

  1. Stone Sinks

Sinks will continue to be an area where homeowners like to exhibit creativity, and hand-carved stone sinks are especially fashionable right now. These may be more suited to powder rooms, where functionality isn’t as crucial.

  1. Freestanding Tubs

There’s been a tub resurgence in bathroom design after years of preference for stand-alone showers. Modern tastes are gravitating toward freestanding tubs that serve as a showpiece for the bathroom.

Free Standing Tub

  1. Smart Features

Smart technology has entered the bathroom with the addition of features like wireless shower speakers and high-tech toilets, as well as digital shower controls that automatically adjust to your preferences in temperature and spray intensity.

OUR ADVICE

Style trends come and go, so don’t invest in the latest look unless you love it. That said, highly-personalized or outdated style choices can limit the appeal of your property for resale.

For major renovation projects, it’s always a good idea to stick to neutral colors and classic styles. It will give your remodel longevity and appeal to the greatest number of buyers when it comes time to sell. It will also give you flexibility to update your look in a few years without a total overhaul. Use non-permanent fixtures – like paint, furniture and accent pieces – to personalize the space and incorporate trendier choices.

If you’d like advice on a specific remodelling or design project, give us a call! We’re happy to offer our insights and suggestions on how to maximize your return on investment and recommend local shops and service providers who may be able to assist you.

Sources:

  1. Country Living – http://www.countryliving.com/home-design/decorating-ideas/g3988/kitchen-trends
  2. Elle Decor – http://www.elledecor.com/design-decorate/trends/g14486069/kitchen-trends-2018/
  3. Gates Interior Design – https://gatesinteriordesign.com/hottest-interior-design-trends-for-2018/
    https://gatesinteriordesign.com/biggest-kitchen-bath-trends-for-2018/
  4. HGTV.com – http://www.hgtv.com/design/rooms/kitchens/17-top-kitchen-design-trends-pictures
  5. House Beautiful – http://www.housebeautiful.com/room-decorating/kitchens/g2664/kitchen-trends/
    http://www.housebeautiful.com/design-inspiration/g13938283/2018-decor-trends/
    http://www.housebeautiful.com/design-inspiration/g13820501/best-and-worst-decor-trends-from-2017/
  6. Houzz – https://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/93399913/list/interior-design-trends-expected-to-take-hold-in-2018
  7. Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/09/25/the-kitchen-and-dining-trends-to-look-out-for-in-2018_a_23222693/
  8. Kitchen and Bath Design News – http://www.kitchenbathdesign.com/123995/year-end-look-and-new-trends-for-2018/
  9. MSN.com – https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/home-and-garden/12-flooring-trends-for-2018/ss-AAtp7QA
  10. Realto.com – https://www.realtor.com/advice/home-improvement/interior-design-trends-to-ditch-2018/
    https://www.realtor.com/advice/home-improvement/hottest-interior-design-decor-trends-2018/?is_wp_site=1
  11. Realty Times – http://realtytimes.com/advicefromagents/item/1007993-kitchen-design-trends-in-2018?rtmpage=MattLawler
  12. Sebring Design Build – https://sebringdesignbuild.com/top-trends-in-bathroom-design/
  13. The Flooring Girl – http://theflooringgirl.com/hardwood-flooring/hardwood-flooring-trends-2018/
  14. Vogue – https://www.vogue.com/article/interior-design-trends-according-to-expert-designers-decorators

Real Estate 2018: What to Expect

PA - January 2018 - Digital Marketing Campaign - Social Media Image

As we head into a new year, the most common question we receive is, “What’s the outlook for real estate in 2018?”

It’s not just potential buyers and sellers who are curious; homeowners also want reassurance their home’s value is going up. The good news is that a strong U.S. economy, coupled with low unemployment rates, is expected to drive continued real estate growth in 2018. However, changes on the horizon could significantly impact you if you plan to buy, sell or refinance this year.

HOME VALUES WILL CONTINUE TO RISE

Get ready for another strong year! U.S. home values and sales volume will continue to rise in 2018.

Experts agree that home prices will increase in 2018, but predict a slower rate of appreciation than 2017, which clocked in at nearly 7 percent nationwide. National Association of Realtors (NAR) Chief Economist Lawrence Yun predicts a growth rate this year of 5.5 percent,1 while Freddie Mac’s September Outlook Report forecasts a rate of 4.9 percent. Either way, all indicators point towards continued growth in 2018.2

What does it mean for you? If you’re a current homeowner, congratulations! Real estate proves once again to be a solid investment over the long term. And if you’re considering selling this year, there’s never been a better time. Contact us to request a free Comparative Market Analysis to find out how much you can expect your home to sell for under current market conditions.

If you’re in the market to buy this year, there’s good news for you, too. Although prices continue to rise, the rate of appreciation has slowed. Still, don’t wait any longer. Prices will continue to go up, so you’ll pay more six months from now than you would today. Call us to setup a free, no-obligation property search and get notified about listings that meet your criteria as soon as (or before) they hit the market.

NEW CONSTRUCTION WILL MAKE REAL ESTATE MORE ACCESSIBLE

Lack of inventory in the housing market has been a primary impediment to homeownership for many Americans. “Ten years ago, the problem in the housing market was lack of buyers,” says Yun. “Today, the problem is lack of sellers. Inventory levels are near historic lows.”3

Yun also notes, “The lack of inventory has pushed up home prices by 48 percent from the low point in 2011, while wage growth over the same period has been only 15 percent. Despite improving confidence [in 2017] from renters that now is a good time to buy a home, the inability for them to do so is causing them to miss out on the significant wealth gains that homeowners have benefitted from through rising home values.”1

The good news? Yun expects a 9.4 percentage point increase in single-family new home construction starts.4

Economists at Freddie Mac make a similar prediction. “Existing home sales are unlikely to increase much going forward. Limited inventory will remain a consistent problem … Growth in home sales will be primarily driven by new home sales, which should continue to grind higher with single-family construction.”2

Robert Dietz, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders, agrees. “The markets that are going to grow are ones where builders can add that entry level product.”5

What does it mean for you? If you’ve been frustrated by lack of inventory in the past, 2018 may bring new opportunities for you to find a budget-friendly home that suits your needs. Give us a call to discuss options for new construction in our area.

MILLENNIALS WILL MOVE TO THE SUBURBS

The new entry-level construction will come with a catch though … it will be located in the suburbs, where the availability of land and fewer zoning requirements make it more cost-effective to build. Economists predict that’s where millennials and first-time buyers will flock for the greater variety of homes at affordable prices.6

Rising home prices, a sluggish job market, and an increase in student loan debt made homeownership largely unattainable for many millennials in past years. However, there’s significant evidence that this trend is turning around. For the fourth year a row, the National Association of Realtors’ 2017 Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends survey found that millennials were the largest group of homebuyers.7

As millennials age, they are settling down and having families, which has prompted an increasing demand for larger but affordable homes. Thus, many are flocking to the suburbs, with 57 percent of millennial buyers opting for a suburban location.

What does it mean for you? If you’re a millennial who has been priced out of urban living, or is looking for more space for your growing family, a number of suburbs in our area have a lot to offer. We can point you towards the communities that will best meet your needs.

And if you’re a suburban homeowner with plans to sell, give us a call. We know how to market your home to millennials … and can help you sell quickly for top dollar by appealing to this growing market segment!

BOOMERANG BUYERS WILL RETURN TO THE MARKET

“Boomerang buyers” comprise the nearly 10 million Americans who lost their homes to foreclosure or short sales during the housing recession of 2006 to 2014.

According to MyFico.com, a foreclosure remains on a credit report for seven years. It takes many boomerang buyers at least that long to raise their credit score and save up enough cash to qualify for a new mortgage.8

With this “seven-year window” in mind, RealtyTrac predicts that the largest wave of boomerang buyers – more than 1.3 million – will be eligible to re-enter the housing market in 2018.9

Markets likely to see the highest influx of boomerang buyers are those that had a high percentage of foreclosures AND have remained affordable. The majority of boomerang buyers are middle-class Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. Expect to see even more competition for entry-level homes in those markets.

What does it mean for you? If you’re a boomerang buyer, we understand your unique circumstances. We can help you navigate the real estate process and write competitive offers that will play to your strengths. Contact us to discuss your options.

NEW TAX LEGISLATION WILL IMPACT HOMEOWNER DEDUCTIONS

The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” passed at the end of 2017 nearly doubles the standard deduction, so far fewer Americans are expected to itemize this year. For those who do, however, it could mean less homeowner deductions are available than in the past.

Previously, homeowners could deduct interest paid on the first $1 million of mortgage debt, but that threshold has been lowered to $750,000 for new mortgages. (Existing mortgages will not be impacted.)

Additionally, taxpayers will no longer be able to fully deduct state and local property taxes plus income or sales taxes. The new legislation restricts this deduction to $10,000. It also eliminates the deduction for moving expenses (except for members of the Armed Forces) and interest on home equity loans unless the proceeds are used to substantially improve the residence.10

It’s yet to be seen how the tax bill will impact the real estate market overall. While some economists predict a price reduction in certain markets, Republican lawmakers project the bill will increase take-home pay and stimulate the economy overall. According to Realtor.com Senior Economist Joseph Kirchner, “Some house hunters—particularly wealthy buyers—will see an increase in after-tax income, making an already tough housing market even more competitive. This increased demand could drive prices up even higher than they are already.”11

What does it mean for you? If you’re an existing homeowner, be sure to consult a tax professional if you’re concerned about the impact the new tax bill could have on you.

And if you’re planning to buy or sell this year, we can help you determine how the tax bill could affect demand in your current or target neighborhood and price range.

INTEREST RATES WILL RISE

No one knows exactly what will happen with mortgage rates this year, but the Mortgage Bankers Association anticipates the Federal Reserve will raise rates three times in 2018, with Freddie Mac’s 30-year fixed rate mortgage reaching 4.8 percent by the end of Q4, up from around 4 percent at the end of 2017.12

Kiplinger.com Economist David Payne also predicts interests rates will rise this year, with short-term rates outpacing long-term rates as the Fed aims to curb inflation in a tightening job market. He predicts the bank prime rate that home equity loans are based on will increase from 4.25 percent to 5 percent by the end of 2018. 13

What does it mean for you? If you’re in the market to buy, act now. Rising interest rates will decrease your purchasing power, so act quickly before interest rates go up. Give us a call today to get your home search started.

And if you’re a current homeowner who is considering refinancing or a home equity loan, don’t wait. We can help you estimate your property’s fair market value so you’ll be prepared before contacting a lender.

2018 ACTION PLAN

If you plan to BUY this year:

  1. Get pre-approved for a mortgage. If you plan to finance part of your home purchase, getting pre-approved for a mortgage will give you a jump-start on the paperwork and provide an advantage over other buyers in a competitive market. The added bonus: you will find out how much you can afford to borrow and budget accordingly.
  2. Create your wish list. How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? How far are you willing to commute to work? What’s most important to you in a home? We can set up a customized search that meets your criteria to help you find the perfect home for you.
  3. Come to our office. The buying process can be tricky. We’d love to guide you through it. We can help you find a home that fits your needs and budget, all at no cost to you. Give us a call to schedule an appointment today!

If you plan to SELL this year:

  1. Call us for a FREE Comparative Market Analysis. A CMA not only gives you the current market value of your home, it’ll also show how your home compares to others in the area. This will help us determine which repairs and upgrades may be required to get top dollar for your property … and it will help us price your home correctly once you’re ready to list.
  2. Prep your home for the market. Most buyers want a home they can move into right away, without having to make extensive repairs and upgrades. We can help you determine which ones are worth the time and expense to deliver maximum results.
  3. Start decluttering. Help your buyers see themselves in your home by packing up personal items and things you don’t use regularly and storing them in an attic or storage locker. This will make your home appear larger, make it easier to stage … and get you one step closer to moving when the time comes!

WE’RE HERE TO HELP

While national real estate numbers and predictions can provide a “big-picture” outlook for the year, real estate is local. And as local market experts, we can guide you through the ins and outs of our market, and the local issues that are likely to drive home values in your particular neighborhood. If you have specific questions, or would like more information about where we see real estate headed in our area, please give us a call! We’d love to discuss how issues here at home are likely to impact your desire to buy or a sell a home this year.

Sources:

  1. Inman News –
    https://www.inman.com/2017/11/03/what-to-expect-from-the-2018-housing-market/
  2. Freddie Mac September Outlook Report –
    http://www.freddiemac.com/research/outlook/20170921_looking_ahead_to_2018.html
  3. Marketplace.org –
    https://www.marketplace.org/2017/07/05/economy/tight-inventory-slows-housing-market-down-0
  4. National Association of Realtors Press Release –
    https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/existing-home-sales-to-grow-37-percent-in-2018-but-inventory-shortages-and-tax-reform-effects-loom-300549447.html
  5. Fox Business News –
    http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2017/11/27/entry-level-buyers-drive-solid-new-home-sales.html
  6. Zillow Research –
    https://www.zillow.com/research/2018-predictions-17217/
  7. National Association of Realtors’ Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report –
    https://www.nar.realtor/research-and-statistics/research-reports/home-buyer-and-seller-generational-trends
  8. MyFico.com –
    https://www.myfico.com/crediteducation/questions/foreclosure-fico-score-affect.aspx
  9. RealtyTrac –
    http://www.realtytrac.com/news/foreclosure-trends/boomerang-buyers/
  10. National Association of Realtors –
    https://www.nar.realtor/taxes/tax-reform/the-tax-cuts-and-jobs-act-what-it-means-for-homeowners-and-real-estate-professionals
  11. Realtor.com –
    https://www.realtor.com/news/real-estate-news/tax-cuts-survey/
  12. Mortgage Bankers Association Economic-
    https://www.mba.org/news-research-and-resources/research-and-economics/forecasts-and-commentary
    Kiplinger Economic Forecast  –

https://www.kiplinger.com/article/business/T019-C000-S010-interest-rate-forecast.html#iOf4mkSFvvTmi2wr.99

20 Home Gadget Gift Ideas to Fit Any Budget

PA - December 2017 - Digital Marketing Campaign - Social Media Image

Looking for the perfect present for a loved one this holiday season? We’ve rounded up 20 of our favorite gift ideas. And since we work in real estate, we focused on items that add enjoyment, comfort and, in some cases, major value to your home.

From music lovers to home chefs, we’ve got something for everyone. And we’ve included a range of price points to suit any budget, from under $50 to major splurge … in case you’re feeling extra generous this year. We hope you find this list useful in identifying gifts your friends and family will love. And maybe some of these items will make your wish list this year, too!

Approximate Price Ranges
$ – under $50
$$ – $51 to $200
$$$ – $201 to $500
$$$$ – Splurge

LET IT SNOW

Heat things up this holiday season! Keep your loved ones cozy all winter with these gifts that add warmth and a touch of luxury.

Tabletop Fireplace – $
On cold nights, nothing beats the comfort and glow of a fire. Whether you’re looking to cozy up on the couch with a good book, or enjoy a relaxing night in the backyard with family and friends, a tabletop fireplace is an easy way to light up your evening. The Regal Flame Black Utopia Tabletop Fireplace can be used indoors or outdoors, no vent required. It runs on ethanol, which can be mixed with citronella to double as a mosquito repellent for outdoor use.

Towel Warmer – $$
Who wouldn’t love to wrap themselves in a warm towel when they step out of the shower on a cold morning? While heated towel racks are available in a variety of styles and price points, the Anzzi Glow 4-Bar Electric Towel Warmer in Polished Chrome is an entry level version that gets good reviews. Modern and elegant, this model plugs into a nearby outlet for easy installation and is made of rust-resistant stainless steel. Turn your daily shower into a spa-like experience!

Smart Thermostat – $$$
Now you can wake up to a warm house, even if you like it cool while you sleep. After using the Nest Learning Thermostat for a week, it will start to recognize your patterns and adjust the temperature automatically to your preferences. In its third-generation, Nest claims to pay for itself over time in energy savings. It uses sensors and your phone’s location to check if you’ve left the house, then sets itself to an Eco Temperature. And this smart-thermostat knows when you typically get home from work and can heat things up before you return. If your schedule changes, you can even adjust the temperature remotely from your smartphone.

Radiant Floor Heating – $$$$
Radiant heating has been a popular alternative in new construction to traditional forced-air heating systems. And new technology has made it easier and less expensive to retrofit existing homes with radiant heating. According to BobVila.com, “radiant floors are heated either with electric resistance cables or hot water flowing inside tubing” beneath the floor. It’s energy-efficient, effective, and doesn’t blow dust and allergens around the way forced-air systems do. Not only will you love stepping onto a heated floor on a cool morning, you’ll be adding value to your home, as this is an appealing upgrade to buyers when it comes time to sell.

ROCK AROUND THE TREE

It’s holiday music time! Music lovers are sure to appreciate these gifts guaranteed to enhance their listening experience throughout the home.

Showerhead Speaker – $
Whether you enjoy singing in the shower, or listening to your favorite podcast, the H2oVibe Rain Showerhead Jet with Wireless Bluetooth Speaker syncs with any bluetooth-enabled device so you can stream your favorite music or other audio directly into the shower. The waterproof speaker easily detaches from the showerhead so you can bring it with you from room to room while you get dressed. And the showerhead itself features jets with three times more spray power than the average showerhead, creating a spa-like experience.

Voice Controlled Smart Speaker – $$
Smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home not only stream music on demand via voice control, they can also serve as a central hub for numerous other smart-home devices. Now you can change the channel on your TV, make a phone call, turn on your lights, set your thermostat and lock your front door, all without lifting a finger.

High-End Wireless Speaker – $$$
If you prefer a premium speaker, the Sonos Play:3 is the mid-range option in the brand’s line of wireless speakers. It delivers rich and robust sound with a sleek design that can placed horizontally or vertically to fit almost any space. Sonos speakers sync with Amazon Echo and Alexa, which enable you to control the speaker with voice commands. And you can easily add additional speakers from the Sonos line for an enhanced, surround-sound experience.

Whole Home Audio System – $$$$
The sky’s the limit when it comes to whole-home audio systems, and for a premium sound system you can expect to make a significant investment. Companies like Yamaha offer a wide variety of components, all designed to work in conjunction to give you a customized whole-home audio and home theater system to suit your needs.

ADD SOME SIZZLE TO THE SEASON

Home chefs will love these gifts, perfect for holiday entertaining and home cooking all year long. Not only will they bring excitement to the recipient, everyone in the family will benefit from the delicious dishes these gifts are sure to inspire!

Bread Maker – $
Warm, fresh bread can make any meal feel special. With a bread machine like this one from Hamilton Beach, you can enjoy fresh rolls, pizza dough, cakes, jams, flatbreads and croissants with minimal effort. Plus, there’s a gluten-free setting, which makes this a perfect gift for anyone avoiding gluten in their diet.

Electric Smoker – $$
If you love to barbecue, the Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker gives you the tenderness and flavor of smoking meat, without the hassle. The integrated meat probe alerts you when the meat reaches a predetermined internal temperature, and when it’s done cooking the “warming” feature keeps your food hot until it’s ready to be served.

Smart Sous-Vide Machine – $$$
Sous vide is a method of cooking in which food is vacuum-sealed in a plastic pouch and then placed in a water bath to cook at a precise temperature. The new Mellow Smart Sous Vide Appliance hits the market this holiday season and promises to make sous vide as easy and foolproof as a slow cooker. Its built-in cooling system keeps your food cold until it’s ready to be cooked … so you can stick a piece of salmon in before you leave for work, choose the time you want it to be ready, and dinner will be done when you get home.

High-End Oven Range – $$$$
To really heat things up in the kitchen, any home chef would love a new high-end range, like this 36” Dual Fuel Range with Six Burners from Sub-Zero Wolf. With ten custom cooking modes—including one for proofing dough and one for dehydrating—and a temperature probe alert, this oven makes cooking almost foolproof. And the timeless stainless steel design will enhance the beauty of any kitchen. Investing in a high-end range not only adds enjoyment to meal preparation, it’s highly-desired by home buyers … something to consider if you plan to list your home within the next few years.

SPARKLE AND SHINE

Holiday lights aren’t the only way to make a home sparkle. These cleaning gadgets and appliances will keep your home clean and shiny all year long … and hopefully bring some joy to the cleaning process!

Portable Deep Carpet Cleaner – $
Anyone who has pets or young children will love the convenience of a cordless and portable spot cleaner like the BISSELL SpotLifter 2X Portable Deep Carpet Cleaner. Its cleaning brush agitates soiled spots while simultaneously sucking up debris. Use it to remove small spills and stains from carpet, furniture, rugs, drapes, car seats, and other upholstered items.

Robotic Vacuum Cleaner – $$
Robotic vacuum cleaners have been around for years, but new technology has made them more effective and lowered the cost significantly. The ECOVACS DEEBOT N79 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner provides a good mix of features and value. It offers several cleaning modes and moves easily from rugs to tile to carpet. You can also control it with your smartphone using the ECOVACS App.

Dishwasher – $$$
While a high-end dishwasher with all the bells and whistles can certainly be a good investment, there are some great values on the market for those with a more modest budget. For example, the Maytag Front Control Dishwasher gets consistently great reviews for its powerful motor that disintegrates bits of food to deliver sparkling clean dishes, even without rinsing. And its elegant exterior will upgrade the look of your kitchen … all without breaking the bank.

New Washer/Dryer – $$$$
If anything can make laundry exciting, it’s a new washer and dryer with smart-technology like the Kenmore Elite Smart Washer and Dryer. Now you can start a load of laundry remotely from your smartphone to time it with your arrival home. You can also customize washer and dryer cycles and receive an alert when a cycle is complete. And with the Express cycle, you can wash and dry a small load in 45 minutes, saving you time and energy.

KEEP THE GRINCH AWAY

Nothing is more important than the safety of you and your family. Protect your loved ones—and deter intruders—with gifts that keep you and your home safe and secure.

Smart Light Bulbs – $
The Philips Hue White Smart Bulb Starter Kit is a good entry-level investment in smart lighting technology. Now you can automate your lighting and control your lights from your smartphone using the Philips Hue App. Deter burglars by making it look like someone’s home when you turn your lights on remotely. And stay safer by never entering a dark house again. Plus, it has several options to enhance the look and ambiance of your home lighting.

Video Doorbell – $$
Watch over your home and greet visitors from your computer or smartphone with a video-enabled doorbell, like the Ring Video Doorbell 2.  Adjustable motion sensors alert you when someone is approaching your door, and live video and audio allow you to see and talk to visitors without opening the door, even if you’re away from home. The best part is, they’ll never know you’re not home if you don’t tell them.

Smart Lock – $$$
Control and monitor your locks from anywhere with a smart lock like the August Smart Lock Pro + Connect. Now there’s no need to leave a key under the doormat or give a copy to the housekeeper. You can activate keyless access remotely, and even lock up when they leave, all from your computer or smartphone. And no more fumbling around for your keys in the dark. Similar to keyless entry for your car, Smart Lock Pro automatically unlocks your door when you approach.

Security System – $$$$
An in-home security system is still one of the best ways to protect your home and family from intruders and alert you to the presence of smoke or carbon monoxide. Some companies, like Vivint, can integrate your security system with video monitoring, a doorbell camera, smart locks, garage doors and even your thermostat. Prices vary depending on the options you select, and a monthly monitoring service is required, but a home security system can bring peace of mind knowing your family and home are protected.

WE’RE HERE TO HELP

As real estate professionals, we get to visit people’s homes every day and talk to buyers and sellers about their favorite features. So we have a unique insight into the elements that truly make a house special, bring joy to homeowners and add value to a home.  Did we miss your favorite home-related gift? If so, we’d love to hear about it. Please share in the comments below!

If you do decide to “splurge” on a home upgrade, contact us for recommendations on the best options for your particular home. Buyer expectations and preferences vary depending on price point, style of home and neighborhood. We can run a comparative market analysis to find out how the upgrade you’re considering will impact the value of your home, before you make the investment.

Welcome Home: 10 Tips to Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Hometown Haven

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“Communities work better (students perform better, crime rates are lower, kids are safer, people live longer) when neighbors know one another better. Knowing your neighbor on a first-name basis…is a surprisingly effective first step.” 
Robert Putnam, Harvard Public Policy Professor and author of Bowling Alone

While advancements in technology have made it possible for us to connect with people from around the world, numerous studies show that it has led to a decline in face-to-face interactions.1

Places where we used to strike up casual conversations—such as a doctor’s office waiting room, bus stop or grocery line—are now filled with people looking at their smart phones, barely acknowledging those around them.

Even many families dining together or relaxing in the evenings can be caught spending more time focused on screens than each other. Is it any surprise that we’ve experienced a steady decline in community involvement?

In his book Bowling Alone, Harvard Public Policy Professor Robert Putnam “draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often.”2

How is this shift impacting our overall well being? A study by Oregon Health & Science University researchers found that having limited face-to-face social contact nearly doubles an individual’s risk of depression.3

CONNECTING WITH YOUR COMMUNITY

If you’re considering a move to a new city or neighborhood, you may be worried about replacing the comfort and support of family and friends you’ll leave behind. Or perhaps you have completed a move but would like to meet more people, build friendships and strengthen your support system.

In this blog post, we’ll explore 10 ways you can utilize technology to foster in-person connections with your neighbors, make friends and get engaged in your local community.

  1. JOIN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD’S SOCIAL NETWORK

A growing number of neighborhoods are utilizing private social networks like U.S.-based Nextdoor and Canadian-based GoNeighbour. These platforms are designed specifically to connect neighbors and include an address verification process.

Residents post about a variety of topics, including neighborhood news, recommendations for local businesses, lost pets, etc. These platforms are a great way to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in your neighborhood, but don’t just use them to connect virtually. Extend an invitation to your neighbors to attend an in-person event, such as a park playdate for families, an informal soccer game or a potluck block party.

  1. ATTEND A PLACE OF WORSHIP

If you have a religious affiliation, joining a local place of worship is great way to meet people and get involved in your community. Aside from attending services, most religious institutions also host extracurricular activities to foster fellowship amongst the congregation.

Whether you are looking to join a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, there are a variety of online resources available to help you find a match in your area, including:

To make the most of your affiliation, look for opportunities to meet in smaller group settings. It’s a great way to form interpersonal relationships with people who share your beliefs and values.

  1. FIND AN INTEREST GROUP

Whatever your favorite hobby or pastime, you’re guaranteed to meet people who share your interests when you join an interest group!

The website Meetup.com has over 32 million members in 288,000 groups in 182 countries. You can search for a group in your area that appeals to you … from book clubs to running groups to professional networking, they have it all.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for, you can start your own group for a monthly fee. The site makes it easy to ask (or require) members to pitch in to cover the cost. It also enables you to promote a corporate sponsor on your page, so you may be able to find a local business to cover the cost.

Most people who join Meetup are there for the same reason you are … to meet people who share their interests. So it’s a great place to make like-minded friends in your community.

  1. LEND A HAND

Volunteering your time and talents is another good way to get engaged in your community and meet those who share a similar mission.

Most nonprofit organizations rely heavily on volunteers. Find one with a cause you’re passionate about by visiting VolunteerMatch.

You can search by cause, location and keywords, and filter your results to include opportunities that are suitable for kids, seniors or groups. Another option is to search for volunteer positions that require specialized skills. Perhaps you’re musical or maybe you’re good with computers. There could be an organization in your area that needs your talents or skills.

Lotsa Helping Hands is another site focused on connecting volunteers with those in need. Members can request help or search for opportunities to assist others in their area. Most of the volunteer opportunities involve aiding neighbors who are ill or elderly by delivering meals, offering rides to appointments or just stopping by for a visit. This can be a great way to make a direct impact on your neighbors who need a helping hand!

  1. TAKE A CLASS

Taking a class is a wonderful way to develop a skill while meeting people who share your interests and passion for learning.

Whether you want to brush up on your Spanish, finish your novel, or learn how to tango, most community colleges offer inexpensive, non-credit classes on a variety of topics.

And if you are pursuing a degree, forego taking your courses online. Opt for the traditional route instead. There’s no substitute for being part of a live community of your peers.

To search for a community college in your area, visit the American Association of Community Colleges.

  1. ATTEND AN EVENT

Attending a live event is another way to engage with members of your community. From festivals to fundraisers to retreats, Eventbrite is a great place to search for events in your area. You can filter your search by category, event type, date and price to find something that fits your interests, schedule and budget.

Be strategic about the type of event you choose. For example, while attending a large festival might be a fun way to feel engaged with your community, it might also be harder to meet people. A retreat or a networking event may offer more opportunities for one-on-one interaction.

  1. SHARE YOUR STUFF

Everyone’s talking about the rise of the “sharing economy” with the popularity of Uber and Airbnb. But there’s also been a rise in “sharing communities,” which facilitate the free exchange of goods among neighbors to reduce consumption and keep usable items out of landfills.

Nonprofit groups like The Freecycle Network are made up of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and neighborhoods. Members can post “offers” of free items or “wanted” items they need.

The company Peerby has a similar goal of reducing consumption by encouraging neighbors to lend and borrow items they don’t often use. For example, you can offer to share your blender, rake or ladder. Maybe you need to borrow a drill, cake pan or moving trolley. Peerby enables you to request items to borrow from your neighbors and encourages you to register items you are willing to lend.

The Little Free Library is another innovative way neighbors are participating in a sharing community. Stewards build or purchase a box to house the library and fill it with books they are willing to give away. The library is usually placed in their front yard or in a public outdoor space. Visitors are encouraged to take a book they’d like to read, and in exchange leave a book for someone else to enjoy. With over 60,000 libraries in 80 countries, the organization estimates millions of books are exchanged annually among neighbors.

  1. SUPPORT A COMMUNITY GARDEN

Community gardens have become increasingly popular in both urban and rural areas across North America. Not only do they beautify a neighborhood, they also foster community, encourage self-reliance, reduce family food budgets, conserve resources, and provide opportunities for recreation and exercise.

The mission of the American Community Gardening Association is to build community by increasing and enhancing community gardening and greening across the United States and Canada. The organization’s website enables you to search for existing community gardens in your area. If there isn’t one nearby, you might considering starting one. The site provides helpful tips and resources for organizing a garden in your neighborhood.

  1. CARPOOL WITH A COWORKER

In the spirit of joining a “sharing community,” carpooling offers many similar benefits. It presents an opportunity to form a bond with coworkers and/or neighbors during your daily commute. Additionally, you can save money on gas, reduce wear-and-tear on your vehicle, lower carbon emissions, and in many cities reduce your commute time by taking advantage of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) travel lanes.

The success of ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft has spurred a new wave of carpooling websites and apps that aim to revolutionize the way we commute by making it easier and more convenient to carpool. While many of these are still in their infancy stages, they are expanding into new markets and improving functionality at a rapid pace.

Kangaride Local, Scoop and Waze Carpool are just a few examples, and more are popping up every day. They are currently available in limited markets throughout the United States and Canada, but are becoming prevalent in more cities as residents opt-in. Check to see if any of these are available in your local area.

Alternatively, you can try posting on your neighborhood’s social network to see if one or more of your neighbors are commuting to a nearby location. Take turns driving and start benefiting from all that carpooling has to offer!

  1. PARTICIPATE IN WORLD NEIGHBORS DAY

The organizers behind World Neighbors Day promote it as “an invitation to share a moment with your neighbors, to get to know each other better and develop a real sense of community.”

In Canada it’s held on the second Saturday in June, and in the United States it’s held on the third Sunday in September. Participants are encouraged to organize gatherings with their neighbors to build relationships that “form the fabric of our communities.”

You can participate by attending or organizing a gathering in your neighborhood. Examples include: a block party, outdoor movie screening, book exchange, charity bake sale, volleyball game, etc. Anything that brings neighbors together in a fun and relaxed setting is a good choice!

Gatherings can be promoted through your neighborhood’s social media network, blog or listserv, or you can go the old-fashioned route and hand out flyers door-to-door. Whatever you do, be sure to make your gathering inclusive and welcoming to all.

BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR

As with anything in life, you will get out what you put in. It can take time to build lasting and meaningful friendships with your neighbors, but the effort you make is likely to pay off tenfold.

The tried-and-true way to make friends, expand your circle, grow your support system and get engaged in your community? Be a good neighbor yourself.

What are the best ways you’ve found to meet and engage with your neighbors? Share your success stories or challenges in the comments below!

Sources:

  1. Lengacher, L. (2015) Mobile Technology: Its Effect on Face-to-Face Communication and Interpersonal Interaction. Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences –
    http://www.kon.org/urc/v14/lengacher.html
  2. Putnam, R. (2000) Bowling Alone. New York: Simon & Schuster –
    http://bowlingalone.com/
  3. Bergland, C. (2015 October 5) Face-to-Face Social Contact Reduces Risk of Depression. Psychology Today
    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201510/face-face-social-contact-reduces-risk-depression

Why Real Estate Investing Makes (Dollars and) Sense

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INTRODUCTION

Turn on the television or scroll through Facebook, and chances are you’ll see at least one advertisement for a group or “guru” who promises to teach you how to “get rich quick” through real estate investing. The truth is, much of what they’re selling are high-risk tactics that aren’t a good fit for the average investor. However, there is a way to make steady, predictable, low-risk income through real estate investing. In this blog post, we’ll examine the tried-and-true tactics that can be used to increase your income, pay off debt … even fund your retirement!

WHY INVEST IN REAL ESTATE?

One of the basic principles of real estate investment lies in this fact: everyone needs a place to live. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent Consumer Expenditures Survey, housing is typically an American’s largest expense.1

But there are other reasons why real estate is a great investment choice, and we’ve outlined the top five below:

  1. Appreciation

Appreciation is the increase in your property’s value over time. History has proven that over an extended period of time, the value of real estate continues to rise. That doesn’t mean recessions won’t occur. The real estate market is cyclical, and market ups and downs are natural. In fact, the U.S. housing market took a sharp downturn in 2008, and many properties took several years to recover their value. However, in the vast majority of markets, the value of real estate does grow over the long term.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, which tracks U.S. residential real estate prices, released its latest results on August 29 with the headline “National Home Price Index Rises Again to All Time High.”2

Case-Shiller Chart
While no investment is without risk, real estate has proven again and again to be a solid choice to invest your money over the long term.

  1. Hedge Against Inflation

Inflation is the rate at which the general cost of goods and services rises. As inflation rises, prices go up. This means the money you have in your bank account is essentially worth less because your purchasing power has decreased.

Luckily, real estate prices also rise when inflation increases. That means any money you have invested in real estate will rise with (or often exceed) the rate of inflation. Therefore, real estate is a smart place to put your money to guard against inflation.

  1. Cash Flow

One of the big benefits of investing in real estate over the stock market is its ability to provide a fairly steady and predictable monthly cash flow. That is, if you choose to rent out your investment property to a tenant, you can expect to receive a rent payment each month.

If you’ve invested wisely, the rent payment should cover the debt obligation you may have on the property (i.e. mortgage), as well as any repairs and maintenance that are needed. Ideally, the monthly rental income would be great enough to leave you a little extra cash each month, as well. You could use that extra money to pay off the mortgage faster, cover your own household expenses, or save for another investment property.

Even if you only take in enough rent to cover your expenses, a rental property purchase will pay for itself over time. As you pay down the mortgage every month with your rental income, your equity will continue to increase, until you own the property free and clear … leaving you with residual cash flow for years to come.

As the owner, you will also benefit from the property’s appreciation when it comes time to sell. This can be a great way to save for retirement or even fund a child’s college education. Purchase a property when the child is young, and with a little discipline, it can be paid off by the time they are ready to go to college. You can sell it for a lump sum, or use the monthly income to pay their tuition and expenses.

  1. Leverage

One of the unique features that sets real estate apart from other asset classes is the ability to leverage your investment. Leverage is the use of borrowed capital to increase the potential return of an investment.

For example, if you purchase an investment property for $100,000, you might put 10% down ($10,000) and borrow the remaining $90,000 in the form of a mortgage.

Even though you’ve only invested $10,000 at this point, you have the ability to earn a profit on the entire $100,000 investment. So, if the property appreciates to $120,000 – a 20% increase over the purchase price – you still only have to pay the bank back the original $90,000 (plus interest) … and you get to keep the $20,000 profit.

That means you made $20,000 off of a $10,000 investment, essentially doubling your money, even though the market only went up by 20%! That’s the power of leverage.

  1. Tax Advantages

One of the top reasons to invest in real estate is the tax benefit. There are numerous ways a real estate investment can save you money each year on taxes:

Depreciation

When you record your income from a rental property on your annual tax return, you get to deduct any expenses associated with the investment. This includes interest paid on the mortgage, maintenance, repairs and improvements, but it also includes something called depreciation.

Depreciation is the theoretical loss your property suffers each year due to aging. While it’s true that as a home ages it will structurally need repairs and systems will eventually need to be replaced, we’ve also learned in this post that the value of real estate appreciates over time. So getting to claim a “loss” on your investment that is actually gaining in value makes real estate an appealing investment choice.

Serial Home Selling

Even if you’re not interested in owning a rental property, other types of real estate investments offer tax advantages, as well. Generally, when you own an investment property you pay a capital gains tax on any profits you make when you sell the property.

However, when you sell your principal residence, you are exempt from paying taxes on capital gains (up to $250,000 for singles and $500,000 for couples). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) only requires that you live in the house for two of the previous five years. That means you can purchase an investment property, live in it while you remodel it, and then sell it for a tax-free profit two years later. This can be a great way to get started in real estate investing.

Section 1031 Exchanges

In addition to profiting off of your personal residence tax free, it is possible to sell an investment property tax free if you do it through a 1031 Exchange. If structured properly, the IRS Tax Code enables an investor to sell a property and reinvest the proceeds in a new property while deferring all capital gains taxes.

Tax-Deferred Retirement Account

It’s a common misconception that you can only purchase financial instruments (i.e. stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.) through an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or 401(k). In actuality, the IRS allows individuals to invest retirement funds in real estate and other alternative types of investments, as well. By purchasing your investment property through an IRA, you can take advantage of all of the tax savings these accounts offer.

Be sure to consult a tax professional regarding all tax matters related to your real estate investments. If structured correctly, the profits you earn on your real estate investments can be largely shielded from tax liability. Just another reason to choose real estate as your preferred investment vehicle.

TYPES OF REAL ESTATE INVESTMENTS

While there are numerous ways to invest in real estate, we’re going to focus on three primary ways average investors earn money through real estate. We touched on several of these already in the previous section.

  1. Remodel and Resell

HGTV has countless “reality” shows featuring property flippers who make this investment strategy look easy. Commonly referred to as a “Fix and Flip,” investors purchase a property with the intention of remodeling it in a short period of time, with the hope of selling it quickly for a profit.

This is a higher-risk tactic, and one for which many of the real estate “gurus” we talked about earlier claim to have the magic formula. They promise huge profits in a short amount of time. But investors need to understand the risks involved, and be prepared financially to cover additional expenses that may arise.

Luckily, an experienced real estate agent can help you identify properties that may be good candidates for this type of investment strategy… and help you avoid some of the pitfalls that could derail your plans.

  1. Traditional Rental

One of the more conservative choices for investing in real estate is to purchase a rental property. The appeal of a rental property is that you can generate cash flow to cover the expenses, while taking advantage of the property’s long-term appreciation in value, and the tax benefits of investing in real estate. It’s a win-win, and a great way for first-time investors to get started.

And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, rents for primary residences have increased 21.9 percent between 2007 and 2015 as demand for rental units continues to grow.1

  1. Short-term Rental

With the huge movement toward a “sharing economy,” platforms that facilitate short-term rentals, like Airbnb and HomeAway, are booming. Their popularity has spurred a growing trend toward dual-purpose vacation homes, which owners use themselves part of the year, and rent out the remainder of the time. There are also a growing number of investors purchasing single-family homes for the sole purpose of leasing them on these sites.

Short-term rentals offer several benefits over traditional rentals, which many investors find attractive, including flexibility and higher profit margins. However, the most profitable properties are strategically located near popular tourist destinations. You’ll need an experienced real estate professional to help you identify the right property if you want to be successful in this highly-competitive market.

DOES REAL ESTATE INVESTING SOUND TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE?

We’ve all heard stories, or maybe even know someone, who struck it rich with a well-timed real estate purchase. However, just like any investment strategy, a high potential for earnings often goes hand-in-hand with an increase in risk. Still, there’s substantial evidence that a well-executed real estate investment can be one of the best choices for your money.

Purchasing a home to remodel and resell can be highly profitable, as long as you have a trusted team in place to complete the remodel quickly and within budget … and the financial means to carry the property for a few extra months if delays occur.

Or, if you buy a house for appreciation and cash flow, you can ride through the market ups and downs without stress because you know your property value is bound to increase over time, and your expenses are covered by your rental income.

In either scenario, make sure you’re working with a real estate agent who has knowledge of the investment market and can guide you through the process. While no investment is without risk, a conservative and well-planned investment in real estate can supplement your income and set you up for future financial security.

If you are considering an investment in real estate, please contact us to set up a free consultation. We have experience working with all types of investors and can help you determine the best strategy to meet your investment goals.

Sources:

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey Annual Report – https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/consumer-expenditures/2015/home.htm
  2. S&P Dow Jones Indices Press Release –
    https://www.spice-indices.com/idpfiles/spice-assets/resources/public/documents/574349_cshomeprice-release-0829.pdf?force_download=true
  3. Durden, T. (2016 November 29). US Home Prices Rise Above July 2006 Levels, Hit New Record High [blog post] ZeroHedge –
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-11-29/us-home-prices-rise-above-july-2006-levels-hit-new-record-hig
    h