Archive November 2018

WHILE YOU’RE AWAY…

The holidays are an exciting time, especially if you plan on traveling. Whether you’re visiting family or going somewhere warm for the winter, it’s important to take security precautions when leaving your home unattended. The following are steps you can take to deter potential burglars from making your home a target this season:

Consider an upgrade. Locking your doors and windows is a good start, but if you don’t yet have a home security system, consider getting one. There are a variety of smart options out there now, from comprehensive systems to individual features, such as the Ring Video Doorbell, which detects motion and provides a view of your front door on your smartphone.

Put lights on a timer. A house that is constantly dark is a good sign to burglars that no one is home. Set indoor and patio lights on automatic timers. There are timers and smart light bulbs you can control via your smartphone, like the Philips Hue.

Combat the elements. If you live in an area where it snows during the winter months, hire someone to shovel and clear the sidewalks while you’re gone. This will keep snow from piling up if any falls while you’re away, which can fool potential thieves and make shoveling a less daunting task when you return.

Hold your mail. Another obvious sign that no one is home is when newspapers, packages and other mail pile up in your mailbox or at the front door. Put a hold on your mail or ask a neighbor to pick it up and keep it until you return from vacation. If you expect large packages to be delivered while you’re gone, consider having them sent to the store or an Amazon Locker.

Put social media on pause. You may want to post about your vacation plans or photos on social media, but wait until you’re back home. Letting everyone know before or during your travels is also letting them know that your house is empty.

How To Prepare to Finance a Home

Things to help you get ready to finance a home

Develop a budget: Instead of telling yourself what you’d like to spend, use receipts to create a budget that reflects your actual habits over the last several months. This approach will better factor in unexpected expenses alongside more predictable costs such as utility bills and groceries. You’ll probably spot some ways to save, whether it’s cutting out that morning trip to Starbucks or eating dinner at home more often.

Reduce debt: Lenders generally look for a debt load of no more than 36 percent of income. This figure includes your mortgage, which typically ranges between 25 and 28 percent of your net household income. So you need to get monthly payments on the rest of your installment debt—car loans, student loans, and revolving balances on credit cards — down to between 8 and 10 percent of your net monthly income.

Increase your income: Now’s the time to ask for a raise! If that’s not an option, you may want to consider taking on a second job to get your income at a level high enough to qualify for the home you want.

Save for a down payment: Designate a certain amount of money each month to put away in your savings account. Although it’s possible to get a mortgage with 5 percent down or less, you can usually get a better rate if you put down a larger percentage of the total purchase. Aim for a 20 percent down payment.

Keep your job: While you don’t need to be in the same job forever to qualify for a home loan, having a job for less than two years may mean you have to pay a higher interest rate.

Establish a good credit history: Get a credit card and make payments by the due date. Do the same for all your other bills, too. Pay off entire balances as promptly as possible.

Start saving: Do you have enough money saved to qualify for a mortgage and cover your down payment? Ideally, you should have 20 percent of the purchase price saved as a down payment. Also, don’t forget to factor in closing costs, which can average between 2 and 7 percent of the home price.

Obtain a copy of your credit report: Make sure it is accurate and correct any errors immediately. A credit report provides a history of your credit, bad debts, and any late payments.

Decide what kind of mortgage you can afford: Generally, you want to look for homes valued between two and three times your gross income, but a financing professional can help determine the size of loan for which you’ll qualify. Find out what kind of mortgage (30-year or 15-year? Fixed or adjustable rate?) is best for you. Also, gather the documentation a lender will need to preapprove you for a loan, such as W-2s, pay stub copies, account numbers, and copies of two to four months of bank or credit union statements. Don’t forget property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and association fees, if applicable.

Seek down payment help: Check with your state and local government to find out whether you qualify for special mortgage or down payment assistance programs. If you have an IRA account, you can use the money you’ve saved to buy your first home without paying a penalty for early withdrawal.

Special! Winter Preparation….Stay Safe and Warm

 As winter is fast approaching, the following tips can help homeowners ensure their homes are well prepared and more energy-efficient throughout the coming months.

  • Inspect around windows and doors for cracks and seal any openings with caulk or weather stripping to prevent air and water from getting into your home.
  • Have a professional evaluate the amount of insulation in your home to ensure it is properly insulated and will keep your energy costs down.
  • Replace batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they’re working properly.
  • Visibly check the fireplace opening for loose or missing bricks and have screens in place to protect against any embers that may escape.
  • Look for raised, loose or missing roof shingles and replace them, if needed, to prevent water from getting in and creating leaks.
  • Remove hoses from outside spigots and store them during the winter months.
  • Clean debris from gutters to prevent water from collecting and freezing.
  • Make sure all downspouts are pointed away from the foundation.
  • Have the HVAC units inspected and change furnace filters monthly for cleaner indoor air and maximum energy efficiency.
  • Program thermostats to lower temperatures while at work or sleeping.

These simple steps can help homeowners maintain the overall health and safety of their home during the winter season.

Turn It Down

If there’s one thing you can count on when you own a home, it’s the arrival of the energy bill each month. One homeowner’s energy costs will be higher or lower than the next, but there are easy ways to save a little money each month.

Use the dishwasher. Dishwashers, especially Energy Star appliances, are more efficient than washing dishes by hand. It’s also important to load your dishwasher as effectively as possible, so check your manual for the best way. If you don’t own a dishwasher, save water by turning the tap on only when you need to rinse.

Unplug idle electronics. Electronics and appliances still use standby energy even when not in use. Since unplugging every cord in your home is not feasible, consider using power strips with multiple plugs that you can turn off and on with the flip of a switch.

Circulate air with fans. Even with central air conditioning, it can be tricky to keep every room at a steady temperature on hot days. Position standing fans to circulate air throughout your home, rather than lowering the AC thermostat temperature. If you have ceiling fans, make sure they’re circulating in the correct direction: counter-clockwise during the summer—so air is being pushed down—and clockwise in the winter.

Measure laundry loads. Washing clothes in cold water instead of warm saves energy. And make sure there’s enough space inside the dryer for hot air to circulate, or you could end up running two cycles.