20 Home Gadget Gift Ideas to Fit Any Budget

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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.

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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

The Consumer’s Guide to Hiring an Amazing Real Estate Agent

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

When you’re buying or selling a home, it’s crucial to work with a qualified real estate agent. Not just a professional, but an amazing agent and a market expert. So how do you ensure you’re hiring an amazing real estate agent?

There are currently more than two million real estate professionals in North America.1,2 With so many options to choose from, how does a prospective home buyer or seller choose the right agent or broker? According to the National Association of Realtors®, trust and reputation are the top deciding factors consumers use when hiring an agent.3

But how do you measure trust and reputation … and what criteria can be used to help you make your decision?

In this guide, we’ve outlined the top attributes that amazing agents possess, as well as the questions you can ask to make sure you’re working with the right market expert to achieve your real estate goals.

5 ATTRIBUTES OF AN AMAZING AGENT

As we mentioned above, not all real estate professionals are the same. And it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the options and information about working with real estate professionals to buy or sell your home. In fact, many real estate markets are oversaturated with agents.

To help you understand what makes top agents and market experts stand apart from the competition, following are five key attributes of an amazing agent:

  1. A Pricing Specialist

If an agent has their real estate license, they know the basics of the transaction process. They know what goes into buying and selling a home. However, there’s a difference between knowing the process and navigating it for an ideal result. This ideal result often means buying or selling a home for the best price.

For buyers, amazing agents have a strong understanding of market trends, competition, and how to make your offer attractive to sellers. They can help you identify and secure a deal to ensure you get the home you want, within your desired budget.

If you’re selling a home, market experts have experience pricing homes optimally for the market, and creating pricing plans to minimize the time spent selling the home. This will help you sell for your desired price, and avoid costs like additional mortgage and utility payments.

Takeaway: Whether buying or selling a home, pricing can be tricky. Market experts can help navigate best-possible pricing strategies, and also secure the home you want within your budget.

 

  1. An Effective Time Manager

It’s common to underestimate the amount of time it takes to buy or sell your home. The average real estate agent may not be utilizing the latest tools and technology to make the transaction easier and more cost effective for their clients. Market experts have tools and strategies at their disposal to minimize the amount of time you spend on the process.

For sellers, market experts can make sure you only deal with qualified buyers, not the “window shoppers” who can waste your time. We also utilize the latest marketing practices to advertise and price your home effectively, ensuring it gets sold quickly.

When looking to buy a home, inexperienced agents may waste your time by showing you homes that are not a good fit for you. A market expert knows how to prioritize your needs and wants to find you the ideal home within your budget. They also know how to spot “red flags” and can steer you away from homes that are likely to turn up major issues in a real estate inspection, saving you time and money.

In addition, well-networked Realtors can gain access to the hottest listings before many websites do. Their extensive professional networks can help identify “pre-list” homes before they’re officially on the market. This can be invaluable in a highly-competitive real estate market.

Takeaway: Even a well-intentioned agent may not have the skills, tools or technology to make the experience easy for you. There are lots of hidden activities that may take up unexpected time, and a market expert will save you time and energy.

 

  1. A Market Insider

While most agents can pull market stats about a neighborhood, community or city, they may not understand important trends or developments that would affect your transaction. These can include the state of the school district, issues with a homeowner association, new businesses in the area, zoning rules or trends in home prices.

Market experts live and breathe local real estate and know the trigger points or buying and selling in this market. We also stay current on effective marketing and negotiation practices, resulting in our track record of success.

For sellers, we understand what features of your home and neighborhood are assets in the selling process. And for buyers, we share a deep understanding of market factors, including school and neighborhood quality, crime statistics, speed of sales and more.

Takeaway: Getting relevant and specific market knowledge can be difficult and time consuming, which is why many real estate agents don’t have it. Whether you’re buying or selling a home, an experienced real estate agent is often the best source of information about a city, neighborhood, or even street … we’re literally conducting market research every day.

 

  1. A Strong Negotiator

Amazing agents truly set themselves apart in their ability to negotiate. Unfortunately, a large portion of agents don’t commit their full time to increasing this key skill.

Real estate negotiations can be challenging, even for seasoned professionals. It takes skill, experience and a knowledge of how to fight for your client’s best interests. While any agent can enter negotiations to buy or sell a home, they may not know the effective strategies to exit those negotiations with the result you want.

Experienced Realtors focus on negotiation as a key skill. We understand what to do before entering negotiations (establishing the upper hand to set up the best outcome), as well as during the process (when to offer or accept concessions).

Takeaway: Many agents can feel the stress of the negotiation process, and may agree to terms of the buyer/seller. Working with a market expert will help ensure you get the best deal, not just the fastest deal.

 

  1. An Effective Closer

Closing a deal fast is often a good thing. For buyers, it means you found the home you wanted quickly. For sellers, it often means you can avoid the added expenses of mortgage and utility payments, and maximize the value of your home sale.

However, an agent solely focused on speed can make decisions that aren’t in your best interests. Top real estate professionals know how to not only achieve your real estate goals quickly, but in the right way to avoid potential pitfalls.

Just like negotiations, the paperwork and process of closing a real estate transaction are complicated. And they can be overwhelming for the average agent who hasn’t handled a lot of transactions. Sales contracts, property disclosures, occupancy agreements and even lead paint records need to be executed with precision. Your agent not only needs to be familiar with these, but also stay current on any changes in requirements or regulations.

Market experts have a strong understanding of real estate contracts, timelines, clauses and contingencies within the closing process. In fact, avoiding pitfalls during the closing process is where many sellers find an experienced Realtor is a huge asset.

Takeaway: Many agents don’t have a firm understanding of contracts. Because a real estate transaction often involves a significant investment, even a small mistake can mean serious trouble. With that in mind, it’s often best, and most responsible, to work with a true market expert.

 

5 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR REAL ESTATE AGENT

So how do you know if you’re working with an amazing agent?

The first step would be to “shop around.” Many people work with the first agent they come across without a firm understanding of their level of experience. It’s always a good idea to interview a number of agents before selecting one. If you’ve gotten referrals from people you trust, then you may only need to interview 2-3 agents.

However, it can be tough to know what to ask in the interview process. Here are some questions that can help you qualify the best agent to help you achieve your real estate goals:

  1. Can you send me some information about yourself?

Look for professionalism and consistency. What are their professional accomplishments? Also, try to identify how they approach their work. Look for a business person who has a strategy and solid support system. If they’re a newer agent, ask about their team’s dynamic and accomplishments.

  1. How long have you been in real estate?

The average Realtor has 10 years of experience4. But while longevity is important, even more telling are the number of transactions they have closed or been involved in. So feel free to also ask: “How many homes have you sold in this area?”

  1. What will you do to keep me informed?

Do you want daily or weekly reports from your agent? Will the agent be able to meet these expectations? Determine how much communication you want, and then find an agent who will give you the attention and time you want and deserve.

  1. Can you provide me with further resources I may need?

From market reports and pricing trends to school performance and crime statistics, top agents have resources at their disposal. In addition, market experts have built strong relationships with their extended team of professionals, and can often get expedient service or be able to “cash in a favor” for you should a need arise.

  1. Seller only: Can you share with me your plan to market my property? Many agents will simply put your home in the MLS and wait for it to sell. An amazing agent should have a detailed plan of how to get your home exposure on social media, to their local networks, and more.

GET STARTED

Now that you’re armed with the 5 Attributes of Amazing Agents and the Top Questions to ensure you work with the best possible real estate agent, you’re ready to start interviewing agents.

We’d love an opportunity to win your business. Schedule a free consultation with us to find out how true market experts can help you achieve your real estate goals!

Sources:

  1. National Association of REALTORS – https://www.nar.realtor/field-guides/field-guide-to-quick-real-estate-statistics
  2. Financial Post – http://business.financialpost.com/personal-finance/mortgages-real-estate/canada-housing-bubble-agents/wcm/b49d4e3a-bd8d-4d1c-9566-bd3d80c8e23a
  3. National Association of REALTORS –

https://www.nar.realtor/reports/highlights-from-the-profile-of-home-buyers-and-sellers

  1. National Association of REALTORS – https://www.nar.realtor/field-guides/field-guide-to-quick-real-estate-statistics

Top 12 Apps for Homeowners and Renters

More than 77 percent of people own a smartphone.1 The average person checks their smartphone 46 times a day, with people under the age of 24 checking it an average of 74 times a day.1 We check it while we’re waiting in line and during our leisure time, whether we’re scrolling through social media, reading emails or getting up-to-date on the latest news.

Smartphones are not only a useful tool for communication. With the following apps, you can get organized (whether you plan to buy or sell), save money, learn about the homes in your neighborhood and get inspired for your next renovation project. If you’re like 81 percent of people, you have your smartphone with you during most of your waking hours; let it help you stay organized and make your life easier.3

Apps For Homeowners: Get Renovation Inspiration

These apps not only offer ideas for your next remodel or home décor project, some of them even give you a preview of what your home may look like once it’s finished.

1.) Houzz (Free)

The Houzz app is the number one app for home design and it’s no wonder; the app gives you access to all the inspiration, blogs and design ideas from the Houzz site on your phone or tablet. The app features View in My Room 3D, which allows you to view products in your home before you buy. Just take a photo of the space and a 3D version of the product will appear. Browse products, save photos of designs you’d like to view later and connect with local professionals in your area. Whether you’re gathering ideas for your next renovation and décor project or you’re just browsing, the Houzz app will satisfy all your design needs. (Android, iOS)

2.) iHandy Carpenter ($1.99)

Make sure the photos, shelves, mirrors and other artwork you hang are even and aligned with this helpful app. It’s an all-in-one tool kit that features a plumb bob, surface level, bubble level bar, ruler and protractor. No need to purchase these tools separately; just hold your smartphone up to the wall and the app will take care of the rest.  (iOS, Android)

3.) Color911 ($3.99)

If you’re thinking of changing the color scheme of your home or want to find the right shades for lamp shades, rugs or throw pillows to match your vintage sofa, the Color911 app provides pre-selected color palettes to match any color scheme. Take a photo of the room or the furniture and the app will create a custom palette full of complementary colors. Write notes about your palette and organize it all into folders to share with family, friends or your design professional.  (iOS)

Bonus Apps for Homeowners:

AroundMe (Free)

Hungry and looking for a local hotspot? Meeting friends at a coffee shop nearby? Or just need to find the closest ATM? AroundMe allows you to search for the nearest restaurants, banks, gas stations, book a hotel or find a movie schedule close to where you live. Open the app and start learning more about your neighborhood. (iOS, Android, Windows)

BrightNest (Free)

From keeping things clean to making them colorful, Brightnest, developed by Angie’s List, is loaded with suggestions on how to make your home a better place to live. With categories of customized tips (money-saving, cleaning, eco-friendly, healthy, cooking, and creative) there are plenty of great ways to pull inspiration from the app. BrightNest will help you tackle important home tasks with easy-to-follow instructions, a personal schedule and helpful reminders. (iOS, Android, Web)

Apps For Sellers: List & Sell Your Home Quickly

Are you a homeowner who is thinking of selling? If you’re preparing to sell, you know there are a lot of tasks to complete before putting your home on the market. These apps help you manage your to-dos so you can list and sell your home more efficiently with fewer distractions.

4.) Homesnap (Free)

Using the Homesnap app, you can snap a photo of any home, nationwide, to learn more about it. When you’re ready to sell, snap a few of the homes in your neighborhood to find out their valuation. This app isn’t perfect, which is why you should always consult with a local real estate agent. However, it can give you a general idea of the value of your home compared to others in the neighborhood. (iOS and Android devices)

5.) Docusign (Free)

Use the DocuSign app to complete approvals and agreements in hours—not days—from anywhere and on any device. Quickly and securely access and sign any documents. The benefit to using the app (over your desktop computer) is you will receive push notifications when a document is waiting for your signature and you can view and organize all your docs on-the-go. Using the easily downloadable app, receive and sign documents for free. You can receive and sign documents for free, but will need a paid account to send documents; pricing starts at $10 a month. (iOS, Android, Windows, Web).

6.) Wunderlist (Free)

Designed for use on the Web and mobile devices, Wunderlist is a well-designed to-do list and task management program that makes it easy to create a list and add tasks, due dates and reminders. Organize your ideas or focus into separate lists or create tasks within one list. You can also email them with whomever you collaborate, such as a spouse or your real estate agent. (Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Web)

Bonus App for Sellers:

Real Estate Dictionary (Free)

Not sure what all those industry specific terms mean? Search thousands of words and phrases from real estate, mortgage, and financial dictionaries for clear, in-depth definitions. This is a handy app for anyone who’s buying or selling and wants to learn more about the process. (iOS, Android)

Apps For Renters: Get Ready to Buy

Not ready to buy a home just yet? These apps will help you get into the perfect rental while you save money, build a budget and get on track for homeownership.

7.) Mint (Free)

Do you know where your money goes each month? Manage your bills, budget and credit score all in one place. Mint is a free app that helps you view your complete financial picture and track your spending. We recommend this app to anyone, but it’s especially useful for renters who need to crack down on their spending in order to save for a down payment. Use Mint to look for areas you can cut spending in order to save a little extra each month. (iOS, Android)

8.) Acorns ($1 a month to start)

Acorns is modernizing the practice of saving loose change with their automated savings tool. The app rounds up your purchases on linked credit or debit cards, then sweeps the change into a computer-managed investment portfolio. Acorns is free for four years for college students and everyone else pays $1 a month until their account balance hits $5,000, then 0.25% of their account balance per year. This is a useful tool for those who have a hard time saving. (iOS, Android)

9.) Neighborhoods & Apartments

Built for the on-the-go apartment hunter, this app from Walk Score takes the hassle out of finding your next home or apartment and helps you live near the people and places you love. They collect listings from top rental listing sites and we like them because they share how walkable each address is, determined by access to public transit, things to do, bike trails, shorter commutes, etc. (iOS, Android)

Bonus Apps for Renters:

Wally (Free)

Wally is a personal finance app that helps you compare your income to expenses, so you can understand where your money goes each month, and set and achieve goals. Wally lets you keep track of the details as you spend money: where, when, what, why, & how much. We love how simple it is to set a personalized savings target and scan receipts. (iOS, Android)

Credit Karma (Free)
If you’re preparing to buy, boosting your credit score is likely a goal you’ve set. Credit Karma is a free app that allows you to safely monitor your score and receive updates on ways you can improve it over time. They provide financial calculators and educational articles to help you better understand what credit is all about. Check as often as you want, and it doesn’t hurt your score.  (iOS, Android, Web)

Apps for Buyers: Find the Perfect Home

When you’re ready to buy, there are several apps that can help you stay on top of the process. Whether you’re browsing online at different neighborhoods and homes and can’t seem to remember where all your saved data and information went or you want to save an important task or a neighborhood or listing clipped from the Web, these apps help you keep it all straight.

10.) Dwellr (Free)

Dwellr is run by the U.S Census Bureau and provides demographic information about the neighborhoods you are considering moving to. You get a variety of education/school, real estate, transportation, and population statistics to give you an idea of what it would be like living there. If you want to get the feel of a potential neighborhood, then Dwellr may just be the app to help you find the best home.  (iOS, Android)

11.) Evernote (Free for the Basic version, $34.99 per year for Plus and $69.99 per year for Premium)

Collect ideas, notes and images in one place to access later on your computer, tablet or smartphone. Categorize your notes so you can find them quickly and easily and share them with others in a group notebook. Add the Web Clipper feature to your browser and clip and save articles, blogs and images from the Web. Whether you’re collecting research on a business idea or you’re looking for inspiration for a home renovation, Evernote can help you keep it all together. (Web, iOS, Android)

12.) Mortgage Calculator (Free)

There are a lot of free mortgage calculators available for download that will help you quickly determine what your monthly payment will be while you’re house hunting. We recommend picking your favorite and using it to help you shop in your price range. These numbers should be used as a guide, work with your agent and mortgage professional to learn exactly what type of loan you’ll qualify for. (Web, iOS, Android)

Bonus App for Buyers:

Google Maps (Free)

Google Maps is a must-have for anyone who’s house hunting. When you’re ready to visit a property or check out a neighborhood, you can use Google Maps to give you turn by turn directions to the house. You can use their satellite view to get a good idea how far important things like schools, parks, shopping, bus stops, and restaurants are to a home you are interested in and check out the other houses on the street. (Web, Android, iOS,)

Ready to move beyond the app?

If you’re thinking of buying or selling your home, or know someone who is, keep us in mind because we’re happy to help!

Source: 1. Pew Research Center, January 12, 2017 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/12/evolution-of-technology/

2.Deloitte, 2016 global mobile consumer survey: US edition https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/global-mobile-consumer-survey-us-edition.html

3. Gallup, July 9, 2015 http://www.gallup.com/poll/184046/smartphone-owners-check-phone-least-hourly.aspx

What’s Your Home Buying Power?

concrete house, night scene

If you’re in the market for a new home or investment property, one of the first questions you’ll probably ask is, “What can we afford?” Many buyers become so caught up in how much they can afford that they don’t realize their total buying power—that is, the total amount of purchasing potential they actually have.

Buying Power Defined

Your buying power is comprised of the total amount of money you have available each month for a mortgage payment. This means the money you have each month after fixed bills and expenses. Any money you’ve saved for a down payment, the proceeds from the sale of your current home, if applicable, and the amount of money you’re qualified to borrow all impact your buying power as well. When you take all of this into account, you may find you are able to purchase a larger home or a home in a more desirable neighborhood, or you might realize you should be looking for homes in a lower price range.

What About Housing Affordability?

Housing affordability is a metric used by real estate experts to assess whether or not the average family earning an average wage could qualify for a mortgage on the average home.1 Although this figure is essential to creating a comprehensive overview of the real estate market, it’s not a factor you should consider in your home search. What may be considered affordable to you based on your income and other factors may be different than what’s affordable to the average buyer.

Why Buying Power Matters

A common misunderstanding is that a home’s list price determines whether or not you can purchase it. Although it’s important to look at the price tag, it’s essential to consider what your monthly payment will be if you own the home. After all, the purchase price doesn’t include the housing-related expenses, such as annual property taxes, homeowner insurance, associated monthly fees and any maintenance or repairs. Figuring out the payment will prevent you from overestimating or underestimating your buying power. After all, you’ll live with your monthly payment, not the sales price.

Once you have clarity on your buying power, you’ll be able to buy the home you want, instead of settling for a home because you feel it’s the only one you can afford. It will also prevent you from becoming “house poor,” a common term for someone who’s put all their money toward the down payment, leaving them nothing left over for fees outside of their monthly house payment. Both scenarios can negatively impact the lifestyle you want to live. Understanding your buying power can help you get the home you want without sacrificing the lifestyle you desire.

If you haven’t sold your current home yet, a Comparative Market Assessment (CMA) will give you a general idea of how much you may get for your home based on what other homes have sold for in your area. Contact our team for a FREE CMA!

Calculating Your Buying Power

You might be wondering, “How do I know what my buying power is?” Buying power is calculated by adding the money you’ve saved for a down payment and/or the money you made from selling your home (minus fees and mortgage payoff) to all of your sources of income and investments that could be used to make your monthly payment. Make sure to include your monthly pay, commissions or tips, dividends from investments, payments from rental properties or other monthly income you receive as well as the loan amount you’re willing to finance and qualify for.

Most lenders advised buyers to spend no more than 35 to 45 percent of their pretax income on housing, meaning all your income and sources of revenue prior to paying taxes. Make sure you factor in not only your mortgage payment, but also property tax and home insurance to the cost of housing.2 However, other financial experts advise spending no more than a very conservative 25 percent of your after-tax income on your housing expenses.2  Whether you plan to spend the average, play it conservative or split the difference is up to you.

Traditionally, mortgage lenders have targeted the ideal housing expense amount to be a ratio of 28 percent or less.3

However, these figures bring up an important point: you don’t have to spend all of your savings and available monthly income on a mortgage payment. It’s important to set money aside for regular home maintenance, unexpected repairs and monthly fees, such as a condominium or homeowners association fee. While the above ratios are commonly accepted, a lender will look at your total financial picture when they decide how much they’re willing to lend. It may be tempting to take out a large loan in order to purchase the home of your dreams, but keep in mind the less money you have to borrow, the stronger your buying power may be.

4 Things That Impact Buying Power

  1. Credit score. A great score can help you lock into a lower interest rate.
  2. Debt-to-income ratio. The lower the ratio, the better risk you may be to lenders as long as you have an established credit history.
  3. Assets, including the documentation of where the money for the purchase is coming from and the mix of your investments.
  4. Down payment. The more you’re able to put down, the less you will have to borrow. With a down payment of 20 percent or more, you won’t have to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI) and you may also be able to negotiate a lower interest rate.

How to Save for a Down Payment

If you’re thinking of buying a home one day, one of the first steps to take is to start saving for a down payment. Here are some tips to make saving easier.

First-time buyers:

  1. Set a savings goal. One way to figure out how much to save is to use the average sales price for homes that are similar to what you want and figure out your target down payment percentage. For example, if homes are selling for $200,000 in your area and you want to put 20 percent down, you’ll have to save $40,000. Set a goal to save that amount within a specific time frame; just keep in mind the longer you save, the more the average selling price will change. Although the majority of buyers saved for six months or less, 29 percent of all buyers (and 31 percent of first-time buyers) saved for more than two years for a down payment.4
  2. Cut back on expenses. Review your monthly expenses and look for ways to save. Twenty-nine percent of buyers cut spending on non-essentials items and 22 percent cut spending on entertainment while they were saving for a home.4 Think about items you can live without or cut back on temporarily while you’re saving.
  3. Look for ways to boost your income. Get a side job or sell items online or at a garage sale to increase your income in a short amount of time. Be sure to save any windfalls you get, including your annual income tax refund or work bonuses.
  4. Check out home-buying programs. Your state, county or local government may offer special programs, such as grants, for first-time buyers to use.
  5. Ask your family. Thirteen percent of all buyers, and 24 percent of first-time buyers, were given money from family or friends to use toward the down payment of their home.4

Repeat buyers:

More than 52 percent of repeat buyers used the proceeds from the sale of their primary residence toward the down payment on their next home.4 Similarly, 76 percent tapped into their savings accounts.4 If you’re thinking of buying another home, here are more ways to save more money, in addition to the tips listed above:

  1. Rent a room. If you have an income flat (or mother-in-law unit) attached to your home, rent it out and channel the income into a high-interest savings account.
  2. Make your money work for you. If you don’t plan to buy for at least five years, invest it and let the compound interest work for you. Discuss this option with your financial planner or broker to see if this is ideal for you and your goals.
  3. Tap into your 401(k). If you have a 401(k) plan, you may be allowed to borrow a portion of it, the lessor of up to $50,000 or half of its value, for your down payment. Remember, it’s a loan so you’ll have to pay it back. If you leave or lose your job before you’ve repaid the loan, you’ll have between 60 to 90 days to repay the balance or face stiff taxes and penalties.

If you want to buy an investment property

Whether you’re buying a second home or a rental property, here are a couple tips to save for a down payment.

  1. Tap into your equity. If you’ve paid off or paid down your mortgage on your primary home, you may be able to tap into your equity to purchase another property. Contact your lender to learn more about a HELOC or home equity loan.
  2. Get a partner. Find a friend or relative who’s willing to purchase property with you. Typically, you’ll split the costs and profits equally. Just make sure to work with an attorney to create a partnership agreement to fit your situation.

Work Out Your Buying Potential

What’s your buying potential? Fill out this worksheet to get an estimate.

Housing Expense Ratio:
1. Monthly income before taxes $
2. Multiply line 1 by 0.28 X 0.28
3. Monthly mortgage payment (PITI) should not exceed this amount = $
4. Monthly income before taxes $
5. Multiply line 4 by 0.36 X 0.36
6. Total monthly payments on all debts (including mortgage) should not exceed this amount = $
7.  Subtract the total monthly payments on all outstanding debts (e.g., car loans, credit cards, student loans, etc.) – $
8. The monthly mortgage payment should not exceed this amount $
9. Look at line 3 and line 8. The lower figure is an estimate of the maximum mortgage payment in consideration of your income and debts. $
10. Multiply line 9 by 0.80 X 0.80
11. This equals portion of your mortgage payment that is the principal and interest only $
12. Use the table below to see the size of the loan you may be able to obtain with this monthly mortgage payment.  

Source: Iowa State University Extension, What is your house-buying power?

Monthly Payment on 30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage

Loan amount 3% 3.5% 4% 4.5% 5% 5.5% 6%
$50,000 211 225 239 253 268 284 300
$75,000 316 337 358 380 402 426 450
$100,000 421 449 477 506 536 568 600
$150,000 632 674 716 759 804 852 900
$200,000 842 898 954 1012 1072 1136 1200
$250,000 1052 1123 1193 1265 1340 1420 1500
$300,000 1263 1347 1431 1518 1608 1704 1800

Didn’t see your desired loan amount? Use the table below to estimate your monthly payment (principal and interest) per $1,000 of your loan. To figure out an estimated loan payment, multiply the factor by the number of thousands in the amount of your mortgage.

For example, if you intend to borrow $400,000, with a loan term of 30 years at 4% interest, multiply 4.77x 400 = $1908 per month.

Interest Rate 15-Year Term 30-Year Term
  Monthly Payment Monthly Payment
3% 6.90 4.21
3.5% 7.14 4.49
4% 7.39 4.77
4.5% 7.64 5.06
5% 7.90 5.36
5.5% 8.18 5.68
6% 8.44 6.00

Source: HSH.com http://www.hsh.com/mopaytable-print.html)

Don’t forget to factor in property taxes and insurance. These are often added to your principal and interest of your mortgage payment—the money used to pay down the balance of your loan and the charge for borrowing the money. Since these numbers vary, contact your county assessor’s office for the current property tax rate and your insurer for a home insurance quote. Once you have these figures, divide each by 12 to estimate how much they’ll add to the above payment amounts.

Do you want a clearer picture of your buying power? Would you like to see what kind of homes you can get with your buying power? Give us a call!

Sources: 1. National Association of REALTORS https://www.nar.realtor/topics/housing-affordability-index/methodology

  1. Moneyunder30.com https://www.moneyunder30.com/percentage-income-mortgage-payments
  2. Credit.com https://www.credit.com/loans/mortgage-questions/how-to-determine-your-monthly-housing-budget/
  3. National Association of REALTORS, 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers
  4. Iowa State University Extension, What is your house-buying power? https://store.extension.iastate.edu/product/pm1460-pdf
  5. HSH.com http://www.hsh.com/mopaytable-print.html

Top 5 Home Design Trends of 2017

concrete house, night sceneThe current trends are all about utilizing rich color, maximizing texture and creating comfortable interiors you can’t wait to relax in. Use these trends to get inspired to makeover your home’s interiors and create spaces you love that also appeal to your personal style. Remember, if you plan to sell in the next few years, you may want to avoid doing anything dramatic and instead incorporate small changes that would appeal to buyers.

Why are these trends gaining popularity?

The underlying theme of these trends is creating a home environment you love; one that appeals to your emotions and feels like a retreat from the stresses of the world. Although the home is a place where you can relax and spend time with loved ones, work expectations are beginning to blur the line between work and home. Even if people don’t work from home specifically, many are stretching their work hours into their evenings and weekends to complete work projects.

It’s no wonder the Nordic concept of hygge (most often pronounced “hoo-gah”) has become a hot trend. A centuries-old concept, incorporating hygge in the home means creating simple and comfortable spaces that make you feel cozy and safe and appeal to your senses.1 The emphasis is on simplicity and fostering positive experiences, whether you’re spending time with family, reading a good book or catching up on work emails.

WARM AND RICH COLORS.

Whether you want to play with a bold color or stick with neutrals, one thing is clear—paint is the foundation of a great design. Painting your interiors has a return on investment of about 75 percent and is a relatively inexpensive project to complete, costing between $25 to $100 for paint alone.2 If you’re thinking of refreshing your home’s interiors with a coat of paint, popular colors include warm taupe, fresh green and dark tones. These colors are popular choices because they evoke feeling of warmth and coziness when you walk into a room.

Wondering how to pair these colors? Taupe is the perfect alternative to traditional neutrals, such as gray and white, and goes well with cool blues, earthy greens and deep shades of wine.  Green goes well with other earthy shades, such as copper and moss, as well as deep plum and bright pink. If you’re hesitant to paint your walls green, incorporate it into your home by way of accent pillows, rugs, lamps, vases and other accessories or add a few house plants.  

If you’re interested in adding more drama to a room, include bold, dark colors.  Dark shades add color and sophistication to any space. Plum and dark gray pair well with pale blues, warm whites and light gray.

Try one of these Colors of the Year:

Poised Taupe – Sherwin Williams

Greenery – Pantone

Shadow – Benjamin Moore

RICH MATERIALS.

Lux materials create a space in which you can’t wait to kick off your shoes and relax at the end of the day. The Danes use a mixture of materials and pattern as a way of adding character and interest; however the overall look still needs to adhere to a color palette to prevent it from looking distracting.

Natural materials and textures allow you to maximize the comfort of the bedroom, living room or family room. Wood accents give rooms an earthy feel. Incorporate rustic wood sculptures, trays and furniture into your space. Choose furniture made with sustainably harvested wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or use reclaimed wood for an environmentally friendly alternative.

If natural elements aren’t your style, but you want to add more visual interest to your room, try mixing patterns. Although it may have been avoided in the past, mixing stripes, florals and geometric prints actually help ground a space as long as the patterns feature complimentary colors or different shades of one color. If you’re worried about going overboard and making your room look “busy,” focus your mix in one area of the room. For example, add throw pillows in a variety of patterns to your sofa.

GOING GREEN.

According to a recent study from the American Psychological Association, people are more stressed than ever, with 24 percent of adults reporting they’re experiencing “extreme stress.”3

Top sources of stress include work and money. By incorporating small changes, like making your house more energy efficient, you can start to lower your bills and get back to relaxing and enjoying life like the Danish do (who consistently top the polls as the happiest people).

Save money on your energy bills by sealing the “envelope” of your home, which includes the windows and doors, walls, floor and roof. The better insulated your home is, the less heat will escape and the lower your energy bill (and stress level) will be.

The most heat loss occurs through the walls of the home: up to 35 percent of heat loss, to be exact.4 Ceramic insulating paint is a space-inspired coating of paint mixed with ceramic compounds and applied to interior or exterior surfaces. It seals your walls and prevents heat from escaping, which means reduced energy bills all year long.

THE FUNCTIONAL HOME OFFICE.

Twenty-four percent of employed people do some or all of their work at home.5 Since more people are working remotely than ever, home offices are becoming more popular. Even if you don’t plan on working from home, a home office gives you a place to pay bills, work on personal projects, plan your family’s schedule and more. Home offices tend to be multifunctional, serving as a guest room when family and friends visit, and have the potential to meet other needs that arise.

The key idea behind hygge is to enjoy the environment around you and for each room to be a sanctuary to sink into at any given moment. Your home office is no exception! Maximize your productivity, efficiency and focus by painting the walls shades of green or blue.6 If space is an issue, create a nook by installing docking and tech cabinets that are big enough to store a printer and other small office equipment and files without taking over the room.

If you don’t have room in your home for an office, look no further than your backyard. Shedquarters, small structures or sheds built in the backyard for use as an office or home-based business, are an attractive option for homeowners who don’t have a room to dedicate to an office and don’t wish to add on their homes. while the jury is out on how much value these structure add to a home, they can convert easily into a storage shed if you plan to sell in the future.

SPLURGING ON KITCHEN RENOVATIONS.

The kitchen is often the busiest, most hectic room in the house and one of the top renovation projects with a high return on investment.7 We do more than cook meals there; it’s where homework is done, bills are paid, weeks are planned and more.

Kitchen remodels consistently show a respectable return on investment. According to the 2017 Cost vs Value Report from Remodeling magazine, a minor kitchen remodel touts an 80.2 percent return on investment.8 You don’t need to overhaul your entire kitchen to make it more hygge. Smaller additions can transform it into a relaxing and functional space you enjoy spending time with friends and family in.

What does a “minor kitchen renovation” entail? In addition to replacing the fronts of your cabinets and drawers, it also includes replacing out-of-date appliances and fixtures. You may also consider replacing countertops. Quartz and quartzite are becoming more common as are other green laminate options, including ones that mimic stone, wood and concrete. Laminates install in less time, often over the existing countertop, make it an ideal choice for busy homeowners as well. Other hot kitchen trends include incorporating sustainable materials like bamboo into your countertops and floors and water filtration systems.

Want to improve the look and feel of your home’s interior? Are you thinking of upgrading to a home that better fits your changing needs? Call us—we’d love to help you achieve all of your home-related dreams.

Sources:  1. Time, Hygge, the Nordic Trend That Could Help You Survive 2016

  1. Quality Smith
  2. American Psychological Association, 2015 Stress in America
  3. Department of Energy
  4. Department of Labor
  5. Entrepreneur, How the Color of Your Office Impacts Productivity
  6. Realtor.com
  7. Remodeling Magazine, 2017