How a Coat of Paint Can Determine Your Home’s Sale Price

An inexpensive can of paint holds a lot more power than you think.

From the time of year to the neighborhood, a lot of factors come into play when you’re selling a home. But here’s one variable you might not have considered — color.

During open houses and online searches, the colors of your home are constantly working for or against you. That’s according to Zillow, a real estate and rental marketplace, which examined over 32,000 photos from sold homes around the country to see how certain paint colors impacted their average sale price compared to homes of similar value with white walls. Here’s what they found.

A Change of Trends

The colors that added value to your home just a year ago can now be hurting its sale price. In 2016, painting your kitchen a shade of yellow could help your home sell for $1,100 to $1,300 more. However, this year, a yellow kitchen could lower your home’s value by an estimated $820, according to Zillow.

Some color preferences remained consistent, with terracotta walls still devaluing a home. Just last year, homes with terracotta walls sold for $793 less than Zillow’s predicted selling price. This year, that number more than doubled, with homes with terracotta walls selling for $2,031 less.

The takeaway: If you’re looking to sell your home, you may want to avoid a terracotta shade. Also be cautious in general when choosing dark and bold colors.

Keep it Light

“Painting walls in fresh, natural-looking colors, particularly in shades of blue and pale gray, not only make a home feel larger but also are neutral enough to help future buyers envision themselves living in the space,” said Svenja Gudell, Zillow’s chief economist, in a statement.

In fact, homes with blue bathrooms, including lighter shades of blue or periwinkle, sold for $5,440 more than expected, Zillow found. Kitchens with light blue-gray walls sold for $1,809 more than expected, and walls with cool, natural tones like soft oatmeal and pale gray also had top-performing listings.

Light, simple walls performed best among sellers, however, walls with no color had the most negative impact on sales price. Homes with white bathrooms or no paint color, for instance, sold for an average of $4,035 less than similar homes, Zillow noted.

Head Outside

As if it isn’t stressful enough worrying about your rooms’ colors, your home’s exterior color can also impact its sale price.

To that end, buyers typically enjoyed a pop of color, with homes featuring dark navy blue or slate gray front doors selling for $1,514 more. Buyers also responded positively to trendy mixes of light gray and beige, or “greige,” exteriors versus basic tan stucco and medium-brown shades.

If you’re trying to sell your home, a can of paint can be a wise investment — so long as you choose the right color. Keep these findings in mind before you head to the paint store. Likewise, just as color impacts sale price, know that selling your home can impact your credit. Don’t forget to check your credit report card before you start picking out paint chips.

Image: andresr

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2 Times an Adjustable-Rate Mortgage Makes Perfect Sense

The interest rate on your loans determines how expensive it is to borrow money. The higher the interest rate, the more expensive the loan.

With a conventional, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, borrowers with the best credit can expect to receive a 4.23% interest rate on that loan. The average homebuyer borrows about $222,000 when they take out a mortgage, which means paying a staggering $168,690 in interest over the term of the loan.

When you need to repay balances in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, even half a point of interest can make a huge difference in how expensive your mortgage is. If you borrowed the same amount but had a rate of 4.73% rate, you’d pay $192,190 in interest — or almost $24,000 more for the same loan.

Given that interest rates make such a big impact on how much your mortgage costs, it makes sense to do what you can to get the lowest rate possible. And this is where adjustable-rate mortgages can start to look appealing. In two cases especially, it makes perfect sense to go with an ARM: when you plan to pay off your mortgage quickly, or you plan to move out of the home within a few years.

Adjustable-Rate Mortgages Can Allow You to Borrow at Lower Rates

An adjustable-rate mortgage, also known as an ARM, is a home loan with a variable interest rate. That means the rate will change over the life of the loan.

ARMs are usually set up as 3/1, 5/1, 7/1, or 10/1. The first number indicates the length of the fixed rate period. If you look at a 3/1 ARM, the initial fixed rate period lasts 3 years. The second shows how often the interest rate will adjust after the initial period.

Some ARMs come with interest rate caps, meaning there’s a limit to how high the rate can adjust. And their initial rate is often much lower than traditional fixed-rate loans.

This can help you buy a home and start paying your mortgage at a lower monthly cost than you could manage with a fixed-rate mortgage. Borrowers with the best credit scores can access a 5/1 ARM with an interest rate of 3.24% right now.

The Risks ARMs Pose to Average Homebuyers

“The main advantage of an ARM is the low, initial interest rate,” explains Meg Bartelt, CFP, MSFP, and founder of Flow Financial Planning. “But the primary risk is that the interest rate can rise to an unknown amount after the initial, fixed period of just a few years expires.”

Homebuyers can enjoy extremely low interest rates for a month, a quarter, or 1, 5, 7, or 10 years, depending on the term of their adjustable-rate mortgage. But borrowers have no control over the interest rate after that.

The rate can rise to levels that make your mortgage unaffordable. Remember our earlier example, where just half a point of interest could mean making the entire mortgage $24,000 more expensive?

ARMs adjust their rates periodically, and the new rate is partly determined by a broad measure of interest rates known as an index. When the index rises, so does your own interest rate — and your monthly mortgage payment goes up with it.

The variable nature of the interest rate makes it difficult to plan ahead as your mortgage payment won’t be static or stable.

“Imagine at the end of year 5, rates start going up and your mortgage payment is suddenly much higher than it used to be,” says Mark Struthers, a CFA and CFP who runs Sona Financial. “What if your partner loses their job and you need both incomes to pay the mortgage?” he asks. In this situation, you could be stuck if you don’t have the credit score to refinance and get away from the higher rate, or the cash flow to handle the extra cost.

“Once you get in this spiral, it is tough to get out,” says Struthers. “The spiral just gets tighter.”

And yes, adjustable-rate mortgages can go down. While that’s possible, it’s more likely that the rate will rise. And some ARMs will limit how high and how low your rate can go.

Struthers puts it plainly: “ARMs are higher-risk loans. If you can handle the risk, you can benefit. If you can’t, it can crush you. Most people do not put themselves in a position to handle the risk.”

Who Can Make an ARM Work in Their Favor?

That doesn’t mean no one can benefit from adjustable-rate mortgages. They do come with the benefit of the lower initial interest rate. “If you plan to pay off the mortgage during that initial fixed period, you eliminate the risk [of getting stuck with a rising interest rate],” says Bartelt.

That’s exactly what she and her husband did when they bought their own home.

“In my situation, we had enough savings to buy our house with cash. But the cash was largely in investments, and selling all the investments would push our income into significantly higher tax brackets due to the gains, with all the cascading unpleasant tax effects,” Bartelt explains.

“By taking an ARM, we can spread the sale of those investments out over 5 years, minimizing the income increase in each year. That keeps our tax bracket lower,” she says. “We avoided increasing our marginal tax rate by double digits in the year of the purchase of our home.”

She notes that another benefit of taking the ARM in her situation was the fact that she and her husband could continue to pay the mortgage past that initial 5 years if they chose to do so. “The interest rate won’t be as favorable as if we’d initially locked in a fixed rate,” she admits. “But that option still exists, and having options is power.”

Planning for a Quick Sale? An ARM Might Work for You

Another way ARMs can provide benefits to homeowners? If you won’t live in the home for long. Buying the home and also selling it before the initial rate period expires could provide you with a way to access the lowest possible rate without having to deal with the eventual rise in mortgage payment when the rate increases.

“ARMs are typically best for those who are fairly certain they won’t be in the house for a long period of time,” says Cary Cates, CFP and founder of Cates Tax Advisory. “An example would be a person who has to move every two to four years for their job.”

He says you could view taking out an ARM as a way to pay “tax-deductible rent” if you already know you don’t want to stay in the house for more than a few years. “This is an aggressive strategy,” he explains, “but as long as the house appreciates enough in value to cover the initial costs of buying, then you could walk away only paying tax-deductible interest, which I am comparing to rent in this situation.”

Cates says you’re obviously not actually paying rent, but you can mentally frame your mortgage payment that way. But you need to know the risk is owing on your mortgage if you go to sell and the home hasn’t realized enough appreciation to cover what you spent to buy.
He also reminds potential homebuyers that you take on the risk of staying in the home longer than you expected to. You could end up dealing with the rising interest rate if you can’t sell or refinance.

What You Need to Know Before Taking an ARM

Before applying for an adjustable-rate mortgage, make sure you ask questions like:

  • What is the initial fixed-interest rate? How does that compare to another mortgage option, and is it worth taking on a riskier mortgage to get the initial fixed rate?
  • How long is the initial fixed rate period?
  • How often will the ARM adjust after the initial rate period?
  • Are there limits to how much your ARM’s rate can drop?
  • How high can the ARM’s rate go? How high can your monthly mortgage payment go?
  • If the mortgage’s interest hit the maximum rate, could you afford the monthly payment?
  • Do you have a plan for selling the home within the initial rate period if you want to sell before paying the adjusted rate?
  • Could you pay off the mortgage without selling if you did not want to pay the adjusted rate?

Do your due diligence and understand the risks and potential pitfalls before making a final decision. But depending on your specific situation, your finances, and your plans for the next 5 years, you could make an ARM work for you.

The post 2 Times an Adjustable-Rate Mortgage Makes Perfect Sense appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

How to Find a Starter Home in a Hot Housing Market

Here are five tips from experts on how best to snag a starter home right now.

An overheated real estate market is never good news for buyers in search of a budget-friendly starter home.

But thanks to increased confidence in the economy, leading more people to make large purchases like new homes, that’s exactly the type of real estate market 2017 is ushering in.

According to a recent report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the share of households that believe the economy is improving soared to 72% in the first quarter of 2017. “Forty-seven percent believe that strongly, up from 45% in Q4 2016 and 44% one year ago in Q1 2016,” NAR said.

When there’s increased competition for homes, prices generally go up. (Go here to see how much house you can afford.)

A new report from Redfin bears this out, revealing home prices in February increased 7.2% from a year earlier. What’s more, homes priced for less than $240,000 witnessed the highest appreciation — skyrocketing 8.4% year over year in February and 100% since the market lagged in 2012.

Combined with a lack of housing stock — Redfin reports a 6.4% decline in new listings in February — and you have what might be a daunting buying experience for newcomers.

With that in mind, here are five tips from experts on how best to snag a starter home right now.

1. Work With a Professional

This may seem like less-than-helpful advice, but it’s the first suggestion most experts offer when discussing the predicament faced by first-time home buyers.

“You want someone who knows the neighborhood,” said Jessica Lautz, managing director of survey research and communications for NAR. “It could be difficult if you go it alone.”

Seek out an agent who is knowledgeable about the areas in which you’d like to search so you can help avoid these first-time homebuyer mistakes.

2. Get Pre-Approved Before Starting a Search

Before discussing the pre-approval issue, it’s important to sort out your finances and to do it before embarking upon a search.

This effort should include reviewing your credit score. If it’s less-than-stellar, you can reach out to lenders for tips regarding how best to improve it, said Boston-based Redfin real estate agent James Gulden. You can view two of your credit scores for free, with helpful updates every two weeks, on Credit.com.

“Sometimes people see their credit score and don’t know where to go from there,” said Gulden. “All lenders have different thresholds for what they’re willing to take on in terms of a buyer’s credit score. And they will also look at your employment profile.”

When you’re ready, it’s wise to obtain pre-approval for a mortgage before wading into the market. Not only will it ensure you lose no time when you’re ready to make an offer, it will help clarify what you can realistically afford.

3. Be Prepared to Make Compromises 

Even seasoned, older buyers make compromises. Whether it’s the price, condition or amenities, compromising is part of the process.

“It’s more common for millennials to make compromises on first homes, but all buyers really do compromise on something,” said Lautz.

Translation: Figure out what you are willing to let go of or do without.

4. Be Patient

Buying a home is a process, no matter how much money you have. So mentally prepare yourself for the process, including the ups and the downs. Preparing for the downs includes not getting too attached to any one house.

“It’s easy to lose a couple and say, ‘Forget this, we’ll keep renting,'” said Gulden. “A lot of people are losing out on the first five or six homes they submit an offer on before being successful. From a mental standpoint, it’s very easy to get connected to a place, and when you don’t win a place, it can be upsetting. But in this market, it’s important to be able to brush it off and realize there are other places that will be coming onto the market.”

5. Write a Personal Letter 

Gulden admitted this tip is not exactly novel, but it can give you an edge in a particularly competitive market.

Writing a personal letter to the seller, enclosed with your offer, can help set you apart when there are 10, 15 or even 20 more offers. And those numbers are no exaggeration, said Gulden, who recently helped clients submit an offer for a Cambridge property with 24 bids.

“If you don’t include a letter or something to differentiate yourself from others, then it’s all just numbers and dates on paper for the seller,” said Gulden. “Introducing yourself and telling the buyer who you are, why you like the property makes a big difference.”

Image: Tempura

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Freelancers: Here’s What You Need to Know About Getting a Mortgage

When it comes to mortgage loans, there’s a special exception for freelancers, business owners, and even Realtors.

When my husband (then fiancé) and I began preparing to purchase our first home, I was a burden.

I know what you’re thinking — my writing career as a freelancer simply must not have been generating enough money to allow me to contribute, and I needed to ride on the coattails of my fiancé’s full-time job and steady paycheck to get the home of my dreams.

Given the reputation of a freelancer’s income, I don’t blame you. And having started on this new career just months before house hunting, I actually was a little strapped for cash.

However, it wasn’t my uncertain income that excluded me from the mortgage-qualifying round. Despite my limited pennies, I was more than willing to be an equal partner in the house-buying process.

The bank? They had different ideas — ideas I didn’t even know existed until I was in the thick of it all. They told me my income would not be considered when pre-approving us for a mortgage loan amount. Instead, the loan would be based on my fiancé’s income alone.

This came as a surprise, to say the least. So I’ve made it my mission to spread the word to others who might find themselves in the same boat. Let’s break this down, shall we?

What Freelancers Need to Know

When it comes to mortgage loans, there’s a special exception for freelancers, business owners and even real estate agents — basically, it’s a rule for people who are self-employed with a sporadic income.

So, what exactly is this rule? Well, the bank told me I needed two full years of freelancing income history for them to consider for our loan amount. (Shopping for home loans? Be sure to check your credit first. You can view two of your free credit scores, with updates every two weeks, on Credit.com.)

Be warned: These specific restrictions might vary from bank to bank, so you’ll want to talk to your own lender to determine what you need.

The general rule is that you’ll need to share 24 months’ worth of income history in the form of your personal and business tax returns. They average those two years to get a general idea of how much you make during a typical year, which they can then use to determine what size loan you could realistically handle. (You can see how much house you can afford here.)

Since I had only been freelancing for a handful of months, I had next-to-no information to share with them. My business was just getting off the ground — I barely had two months of income to report, let alone two full years.

So we were left with a choice: Either we could wait for two years until I had built up a solid enough income history as a freelancer for them to consider, or we could qualify for a loan using just my husband’s income.

The latter option was a little demoralizing. I was making money, so why couldn’t I be an active part of the purchasing process? Why was I being punished by having to take a backseat and watch my fiancé sign his name on that pile of paperwork? Starting my own business as a freelancer was a scary enough leap without being made to feel like a lesser half of our partnership.

However, it didn’t take me long to begin to understand where the bank was coming from. It’s a risk to lend money to a freelancer — someone who might make $7,000 one month and $700 the next. But just because I could understand it, didn’t mean I liked it.

So my fiancé and I worked out an arrangement so I could still feel like I was involved in our home purchase. I wrote him a check to contribute to our down payment, and we continued to shuffle money around between the two of us to cover the mortgage and other living expenses until we were married and shared joint accounts.

It was a bit of a roundabout way to involve me in the process, and it still had its frustrating moments.

As a freelancer, I still work full time — just not in the way a bank can calculate. But in the end, it was actually a good thing. The fact that we received our loan amount after reporting only my husband’s income means we took on a loan and bought a house priced well within our budget.

While the process was far from painless, knowing we’ll never be house poor? Well, that’s priceless.

Image: Peopleimages

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This Common Mistake Can Kill Your Mortgage

If you're thinking about buying a home, you'll want to avoid this common mortgage mistake.

In order to qualify for a mortgage, you need to show your lender that you have a down payment and access to funds for closing. This money needs to come from documentable sources prior to moving it from your bank account to your escrow account. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t do this, which can end up creating unnecessary challenges during the underwriting process.

Lenders are going to require at least 60 days of asset documentation from each source that your money comes from. This is required because your mortgage lender will need to verify that the money promised does exist and is eligible for use.

Let’s say you’ve put your money into escrow and, as requested, are doing your best to document the movement of money from the account going to escrow. This entails providing a bank statement specifically showing the money leaving your account and the money being accepted by escrow through an EMD (earnest money deposit).

If you can’t get a bank statement, though — say it’s the middle of the month and new statements are not out yet — the next best thing is to get a bank printout confirming the transaction and confirming the amount of money remaining in the account. (There are literally dozens of other things you also should be thinking about during the home buying process. Here are 50 ways you can get ready for buying your home.)

How a Bank Printout Can Help You Close

The bank printout must show the date of the transaction and the current timestamp of the printout, confirming that the money has been moved prior to the printout date. If the bank printout does not have this information, it will automatically halt the closing process of your loan and delay your loan contingency removal or extend your close of escrow date.

This method can be used for both your down payment and funds for cash to close. This is to provide authenticity for your account and to show clearly on paper that the account is yours and the money is yours to use. Banks and lenders require this information to be clear cut and “in your face.” Never assume that “common sense” will be enough.

Documents & Other Items You’ll Want to Avoid

Providing any of the following items in lieu of the bank printout will not work:

  • A bank statement with someone else’s name on it
  • Bank statement in trust
  • Pictures of bank statements taken from a smartphone or snapshot application
  • Bank printout with no timestamp and date

In addition, the bank printout and timestamp must show the remaining balance that is left in your account. For example, if you had $130,000 in assets and your down payment from this account was $50,000, your account statement should now show $80,000 remaining.

If you are looking to purchase a home, talk to a seasoned loan professional who can walk you through properly documenting the money required to buy your home. Also, take a few minutes to check your credit scores so you’ll know going in what kinds of terms you’re eligible for. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, at Credit.com.

Image: GlobalStock

 

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Buying a House? You May Want to Avoid the 30% Rule

The 30% rule is a good place to start, but it’s not always the best gauge of how much should you spend on housing.

Ask someone the question, “How much should I spend on a house?” and there’s a good chance that they will respond with the 30% rule.

The 30% rule, which says not to spend more than 30% of your income on housing, is a good place to start, but it’s not always the best gauge of how much should you spend on housing. You don’t want to base your entire financial situation on it — especially since it’s not exactly clear what that 30% includes.

What Is the 30% Rule?

The 30% rule has been around since the 1930s, according to the Census Bureau. Back then, policymakers were trying to make housing affordable. They came up with the idea that you could spend about 30% of your income on housing and still have enough left for other expenses.

Over time, those numbers started to get used in home loans as well. A rough sketch of what you could afford, in terms of monthly payment, could be obtained by estimating 30% of your income.

Is the 30% Rule Right for You?

When deciding on your own 30% rule, it’s probably a good idea to base it on your take-home pay, rather than your gross income. Let’s say you bring home $3,500 a month. According to the 30% rule, that means you shouldn’t spend more than $1,050 on your housing payment.

Some folks like to use their gross income for this calculation, but that can get you into trouble in the long run. If you base what you spend on housing on an amount that you might not be bringing home, that can stress your budget.

Think about it: If your pre-tax pay is $3,800 a month, that lifts your max housing payment to $1,140. That’s $90 more per month. But the reality is that you are bringing home $300 less than your gross income. Trying to come up with another $90 a month could put a strain on your budget.

Don’t Forget About Extra Costs

You can use a mortgage calculator to figure out how much you should spend on housing. However, such calculators typically just include principal and interest. This doesn’t take into account other monthly homeownership costs.

If you’re thinking of buying an expensive house, don’t forget about other costs like insurance and taxes.

Experts suggest that you base your 30% figure on all your monthly payment costs, not just the principal and interest.

What Percentage of Income Should Be Spent on Housing?

But it goes beyond that for some homebuyers. When looking into buying a home or an affordable place to rent, don’t just base your estimates on your monthly payment. You should also include estimated utility costs and an estimate for maintenance and repairs.

HouseLogic suggests you budget between 1% and 3% of your home’s purchase price annually for repairs and maintenance. I like the idea of budgeting 2%. So, on a $200,000 home, that means you can expect to pay $4,000 for repairs and maintenance — about $333.33 per month.

Once you start adding in all the other aspects of homeownership, suddenly that 30% rule is less cut-and-dry. If you’re more conservative, adding up all the monthly costs of homeownership and keeping it all under 30% makes sense.

You’re less likely to overspend that way. But it might mean a smaller, less expensive home.

Consider the 28/36 Qualifying Ratio

Instead of relying on the 30% rule to answer the question, “How much should I spend on a house?”, consider using the 28/36 qualifying ratio.

According to Re/Max, many lenders use the 28/36 rule to figure out whether your finances can handle your home purchase. The 28 refers to the percentage of your gross monthly income that should be spent on your monthly housing cost. The 36 refers to the percentage of income that goes toward all your debt payments, including your mortgage.

So, if you make $3,800 in take-home pay, your monthly payment should be no more than $1,064. But, things get stickier when you calculate the 36% part of the ratio. Your total debt payments shouldn’t exceed $1,368. That leaves you about $304 for payments of other debts.

Let’s say your credit card and auto loan payments total $500. That means you’re going to have to adjust your expectations for what you can expect to pay for a mortgage. In fact, if your lender insists on the 36 part of the ratio, you have $196 less you can spend on your mortgage payment. And that might mean a less expensive house.

When figuring out what percentage of income you should spend on housing, base the calculations on your take-home pay. Even though Re/Max says many lenders use your gross pay for the 28/36 qualifying ratio, this way you’ll play it safe.

How Much Should I Spend on a House?

Everyone has to answer the “How much should I spend on a house?” question for themselves. However, the biggest reason to ditch the 30% rule is that you might not be comfortable with it.

Are you really comfortable spending 30% of your income each month on your housing? When you consider your other payment obligations, does it makes sense for you to spend so much on housing?

If you aren’t sure about the 30% rule, use your own rule. You might be more comfortable with 25% on all of your housing costs. Or perhaps you modify the rule. Maybe you spend 20% on mortgage and interest and keep your total housing costs to 25% or 28%.

No matter what you decide, the important thing is to be responsible with your finances. Only spend what you feel comfortable with on housing or rent.

Image: Portra

The post Buying a House? You May Want to Avoid the 30% Rule appeared first on Credit.com.

Top 25 Cities for the Millennial Homebuyer

Borrowers under age 35 are starting to buy homes again. Here are the top 25 cities where they're doing it.

Image: monkeybusinessimages

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How to Prepare Your Budget for Buying Your First Home

You're going to need more than just a down payment.

With the beginning of spring and more interest-rate hikes coming up, a lot of people are wondering if it’s time to make the jump from renter to homeowner. Of course, making such a move involves much more than browsing real estate listings and cobbling together enough for a down payment.

One of the most important things a first-time homebuyer can do is prepare their budget for this big financial event. We asked our partners and money-savers extraordinaire at Clark.com to share some of their best budgeting tips for people looking to buy a home this year. Here are Clark.com Managing Editor Alex Sadler’s responses, edited for length.

What Tweaks Should People Make to Their Budgets in Preparation for Buying a Home?

First of all, there’s a whole lot more that goes into buying a home than many people realize. I’m actually going through the process right now, and believe me, it ain’t like walking into a leasing office and signing up for an apartment.

When you’re preparing your finances for buying a house, here are a few steps you need to take first.

  • Get your credit in shape: The higher your credit score, the better deal you’ll get on a mortgage. The goal is to get approved for the lowest interest rate possible, so before you apply, make sure your credit is in good shape. [Editor’s note: If you’re not sure where your credit stands, we’ve got you covered. You can get your free credit report snapshot on Credit.com, and it’s updated every 14 days.]
  • Have enough saved for a down payment – and then some: A good amount to shoot for is 20% of the purchase price. If you put down less money, you still may be able to get a loan, but it’ll come with higher monthly payments. Plus, typically when you put down any less than 20%, you’ll need to have private mortgage insurance, which is another monthly bill to prepare for.
  • Prepare for other upfront costs: Home inspection (a few hundred dollars), closing costs (estimate between 2% to 5% of purchase price) and extra cash. Some lenders may require you to have some cash in the bank after the purchase is complete, maybe two to six months’ worth of mortgage payments.

In terms of your monthly budget once you’re in the house, a good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 25% of your income on housing – including mortgage payments, private mortgage insurance (PMI, if you need it), property taxes, homeowners insurance — all the monthly bills specifically tied to the house.

What Are Things Renters Don’t Have to Budget for but Homeowners Do?

Buying a house is exciting, but you need to go ahead and prepare yourself for unexpected expenses — that’s just the reality of owning a home. No more calling the landlord or leasing office to come fix something. Whether it’s a broken light bulb or a busted HVAC, the cost of that repair is coming out your pocket. Basically, you should overestimate how much money you’ll need to cover all of your expenses each month.

Give yourself a cushion to fall back on — cash savings you can dip into to pay for an unexpected repair or to cover your bills in case you lose your job or can’t work for a period of time for whatever reason.

A few other costs that come with owning a home: property taxes, homeowners insurance, disaster insurance required for homes in certain areas, higher bills (utilities, heating, air conditioning), maintenance — any and everything is your responsibility.

The bigger the house, the more expensive every single bill will be. Keeping up with regular maintenance is crucial in order to avoid bigger, more expensive repairs down the road

What Are Tips for Transitioning Your Budget From That of a Renter’s to a Homeowner’s?

Come up with a monthly budget to cover all of your expenses as a homeowner, and start living on that amount now. It will force you to save the money that you won’t have the luxury of spending once you own that house. Send it directly into savings so you don’t give yourself a chance to spend it.

How Can Homebuyers Make Sure They’re Not Biting Off More Than They Can Chew?

Just because you can qualify for a bigger house doesn’t mean you should buy one. The financial risks are extremely serious.

No one plans for unexpected setbacks like job loss, emergencies, medical issues — and if you aren’t prepared financially, one big unexpected event can be devastating not only to your short-term financial health but also your long-term finances. If you can’t pay the mortgage payments, the lender is coming after your house. If you have nothing to save each month, you’re giving up retirement savings and everything else that comes with being financially independent.

Bottom line: Buy less house than you can afford. And even on a less serious scale, you don’t want to live in a house that you can’t afford to furnish, or you can’t afford to take vacations because you have nothing left to spend or save each month.

Image: Geber86

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These 9 Tax Breaks Can Help Make Homeownership More Affordable

Dreaming of owning a home? Here are the nine most common tax breaks for homeowners.

Ben Franklin said, “nothing is certain except for death and taxes.” And every year around this time we’re reminded of the unfortunate truth of his words. But let’s look at things positively: If taxes are inevitable, so are tax breaks.

Pluses and minuses of taxes can be compared to home ownership — the joys ebb and flow. On one hand, it feels great to be one rung higher on the American Dream ladder. But the increased responsibility and costly home repairs can be a mood killer. Sure, it’s a blast hosting a dinner party or building a dynamite basement bar for football games. But the monthly mortgage fees and property taxes add up quickly.

Luckily, there’s a silver lining that appears every February. The IRS gives us a list of individual tax breaks that make owning a home more affordable. The fine print on deductions can get pretty lengthy, so we’ve filtered out the jargon and summarized the most common tax breaks for homeowners.

9. Mortgage Interest

Mortgage interest is anything you pay on a loan for your home. If you own a home (or second home), you can usually deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage. Examples of these loans could be:

  • A mortgage to buy your home
  • A second mortgage
  • A line of credit
  • A home equity loan

Mortgage loan deductions are not applicable for any third, fourth or any home beyond your second. Also, there are limits to these deductions — $1 million to be exact — or $500,000 if married but filing separately.

8. Property Taxes

Property tax, or real estate tax, is one of the most common and straightforward tax breaks for homeowners. Whether you live in Hawaii with a real estate tax rate of .27% or New Jersey with an astronomically high rate of 2.35%, you can deduct the property taxes you paid for the year. Simply include this on IRS Form 1040. Bear in mind this applies solely to properties for personal use, not rental or business properties.

Want to know whether it’s worth it to claim this deduction every year? One personal finance site calculated that on a $179,000 home (the average price of a home in 2015) you could pay as little as $487 in annual taxes in Hawaii or $4,189 in New Jersey. That’s a good chunk of change for a deduction.

7. First-Time Homebuyers

Uncle Sam allows first-time homebuyers to bend the IRA rules to help you fulfill your home-owning dreams. In fact, you can withdraw up to $10,000 from your traditional or Roth IRA without penalty to help with the purchase of your new home. The only stipulation is the money withdrawn must be used toward buying, building or rebuilding the home, or for settlement costs within 120 days.

Even better, the IRS’ definition of “first-time homebuyer” is more broad than you might think. You qualify if you or your spouse did not own a home at any time during the past two years.

6. Selling Your Home

If you’ve sold a home and moved to another location, you qualify for several new deductions. Taxpayers can keep up to $250,000 ($500,000 if married but filing separately) in capital gains, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

To deduct moving expenses relating to your sale, you must meet three criteria:

  • You moved at least 50 miles from your old home or job location.
  • The move date must relate closely to the start of your new position.
  • You meet certain time test requirements in the new position.
  • Time tests vary for those who are self-employed, but the minimum time worked must be at least 39 weeks during the first 12 months. Expenses, such as lodging, transportation and storage are all tax deductible if you meet these qualifications.

It’s also worth noting that members of the armed forces are not subject to these time parameters if your move relates to a military order.

5. Owning a Second Property

Thinking about purchasing a vacation home or income property? If you use your second home for personal use, deductions, such as mortgage interest, property taxes and home office are still applicable.

If the second property generates rental income, the rules are a bit different depending on how often you use it as the homeowner. You can deduct rental expenses, such as insurance premiums and fees paid to property managers, only if your personal use was more than 14 days or 10% of the total days rented.

4. Home Improvement Updates

Did you remodel the kitchen or install a new HVAC system this year? Keep track of capital improvements, or improvements that increase your home’s value, as they come in handy when you sell the home. If your home sells for more than you paid for it, that extra money can be considered taxable income at capital gains rates (note the $250,000 or $500,000 exclusion).

But before you go all Bob the Builder on your home, know that general home repairs are those deemed necessary for your home to stay in good condition. So no, you can’t deduct the cost of fixing a leak or patching a roof.

3. Energy Credits

Speaking of updates, the government also likes to reward taxpayers who make energy-efficient improvements to their homes. In fact, the IRS offers a credit of 30% for taxpayer expenditures that include solar hot-water heaters, wind energy and geothermal heat pumps. Think of it as saving the planet and padding your wallet at the same time.

2. A Home Office

These days, freelancing and working remotely are more than just a pipe dream for some Americans. Luckily, the IRS lets you deduct certain expenses related to your in-home business, including rent, utilities and repairs.

Not every home office is eligible, though. Your home office must be your primary workspace, and the spot must not serve dual a purpose in your home; it can’t also be a guest room.

After deciding on eligibility, choose either the simplified or regular method to determine your deductions. Rather than painstakingly recording and calculating your expenditures, try simplifying things by using a standard deduction of $5 per square foot of home used for business (with a maximum of 300 square feet).

1. Home Equity Loans

Similar to the mortgage interest breaks discussed earlier, homeowners can also receive a tax break on home equity loan interest. Did you take out a loan to consolidate debt, make home repairs or buy a car? Maybe you needed a better solution to pay your college tuition. As long as that debt, the car or your schooling is less than $100,000, you’re good to go. Note that this deduction only applies to first and second homes.

The waters can get murky when diving into the nitty-gritty of homeowner tax deductions. If you find yourself lost in the sea of IRS stipulations, consider contacting a tax professional who will ensure accurate filing and the biggest return. Whether you file on your own or hire a pro, make sure it gets done correctly. Appreciating a big tax return feels a whole lot sweeter when sitting on the back porch of your own home rather than in the audit hot seat.

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.

Image: xavierarnau

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The One Thing Everyone Should Do (But No One Does) Before Buying a House

If you’re thinking about buying a home or making a similar large purchase, consider playing house first.

Sometime in my mid-twenties, I decided I wanted to stay in the Maryland area and buy a home.

I could afford a mortgage around $1,500 per month based on my expenses—mostly student loan payments—and salary. If I found the perfect home, I could stretch to afford around $1,750 per month.

As I searched for my future home, I played a financial game with myself. I’d soon be saddled with a $1,500 mortgage, so why not spend like I had one already? Why not pay a “pretend mortgage” before my real one so I had a better idea of what it would feel like?

When I was looking for a home, I was sharing a two-bedroom apartment with a friend and paying $600 a month, plus utilities. It was a steep jump to go from $600 to $1,500 a month, so playing this game was important.

At the time, I was budgeting using an app, so I knew I could handle the increase.

I could maintain one of my key money ratios, paying less than 30% of my salary to housing. But I still needed to know how it felt. It’s one thing to see it in an app and another to feel it.

How ‘Playing House’ Worked for Me

Every month, I paid my $600 for rent and set aside $900 in savings. As you’d expect, I didn’t just transfer money from one account to the other, because who has $900 sitting around? If I did, I wouldn’t need to play house!

I had to make adjustments. I contacted my human resources representative to reduce my 401K contributions so I’d have more in my paycheck. I had to adjust my other savings goals as well because I wouldn’t be saving as aggressively.

I also started going out to dinner and bars less often. Instead of going out for drinks a few times a week, I limited myself to two nights, on the weekends.

Making those trade-offs became easier — and easier to explain to friends without having to deal with grumbling, because I was making a clear choice. I was cutting some social time because I wanted to buy a house. I wasn’t saving money for the sake of it. I had a very good reason: to buy a house.

The housing search took about 18 months and I played house for only 12 of them, so I had an extra $10,000 or so saved up in my mortgage account. I took that money and put it toward the down payment.

The house ended up having a mortgage that was a little less than $1,500, and after living with the mortgage payment for a year and a half, I had no trouble adjusting to it.

If you’re thinking about buying a home or making a similar large purchase, consider playing house first.

Image: Geber86

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