Monthly Archives: December 2013

Hiring a Home Inspector – Don’t Settle for a Checklist!

Your dream home might have a yard that is big enough for your dog, a LGBT-friendly neighborhood full of gourmet coffee houses and antique shops or be within steps of where you work. However, before you sign on the dotted line it is important to determine whether or not the home literally has a good enough foundation to support your lifestyle by hiring a home inspector who can provide you with a detailed narrative report about the property’s physical condition of the building.

Is The Home a Bargain for A Reason?

Pictured: severe termite damage.  Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

Pictured: severe termite damage.
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

A home inspector can also provide you with answers as to why a home-for-sale might be offered at what appears to be a much lower bargain asking price than other homes in the area. For instance, the house could have a failing foundation, asbestos in the walls or termites. You may be buying a house in the summer, not realizing that your heating bills are going to cost you almost as much as your mortgage in the winter. A home inspector can help you determine whether or not purchasing that “fixer-upper” is going to be worth its ROI (Return on Investment).

This is especially a “must-do” if the house is older, or an architectural gem because those are the home at most risk of having a leaky roof or quirky heating system that could become an inconvenience or expensive problem.

Hiring A Qualified Home Inspector

Certification and licensing qualifications for home inspectors vary from state to state so it is a very good idea to be quite sure that you are hiring a legitimate inspector by checking with a banking expert or on your state’s website. Often your real estate agent can recommend one but it is best for you to find one on your own. Look for a certified professional that has a degree in architecture or engineering as well as home inspection certification. You can find out quite a bit of information about home inspectors in general on the National Association of Home Inspectors website at http://www.nahi.org/.

Avoid Settling for the Checklist

Keep in mind that when you sign a contract with an inspector that they are designed to limit any liability that they might have should a problem that was missed be discovered after the inspection of the dwelling. Be sure to read the fine print so that you know exactly what will be inspected and how the features of the home will be “graded” by the inspector. Find out the exact definitions of words such as “serviceable” or “satisfactory” and find out if either implies damage or dysfunction. In short, make sure that the inspection report that you are provided with is written in a way that you can understand.

It is also best to hire an inspector who is willing to write you a report that is in written narrative form. Avoid inspectors that simply provide you with a checklist and nothing else, as these types of assessments usually do not have enough detail to support any arguments about the integrity of a property.

It is also a very good idea to talk to your real estate agent and make sure that a home inspection is a condition of the sale. Do not buy a home that does not pass an inspection unless the problem is able to be redeemed by a lower sale and is an affordable repair. In fact, asking the seller to fix the problem found by the inspector can be a condition that must be fulfilled before the deal is closed. If at all possible it is important to have the seller or a representative of the vendor present during the inspection so that questions about the condition of the building can be answered immediately.

Posted on December 27, 2013 in Buying a Home, Homeowners, Real Estate, Uncategorized

CNN Money Top 5 Best Places to Live 2013 – LGBT Friendly?

This year, as happens at the end of every year, CNN Money Magazine put out its annual list of the Best Places to Live in the United States.  Although these cities may have a great deal of green space, strong community associations and affordable lifestyle, are any of these smaller towns that LGBT-friendly?

Pictured - Cobb's Tavern: A structure in Sharon MA originally built in the 1940s that has been converted into a private residence. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Pictured – Cobb’s Tavern: A structure in Sharon MA originally built in the 1940s that has been converted into a private residence. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Number 1 on the Best Places to Live list this year is Sharon, Massachusetts. This small town of 17,946 is a former resort

town turned bedroom community just a half an hour north from Boston. It is naturally beautiful and also prides itself on a diversity that is evidenced by a churches devoted to nine difference faiths and a population of people from all races. The residents are well-educated, wealthy and progressive in attitude but if you want to visit a gay bar you will need to drive or take the train to nearby Boston.

Number 2 on the list is Louisville, Colorado that is a sophisticated small town of 18,376 with 26 city parks, 26 miles of hiking trails, a renovated historic downtown and housing prices that are 40% cheaper than the rest of the country. There are no gay bars here however it is only six miles east

of Boulder and twenty five miles northeast of Denver, which are towns that do have many LGBT hangouts and organizations.

Number 3 on the CNN list is Vienna, Virginia. This is a commuter community of 16,825 that is home to the School of Rock and the Wolf Trap Park for the Performing Arts. It is famous for its cherry trees, energy saving initiatives and monster homes built in retro Craftsman and Victorian styles. There is no gayborhood or LGBT community here, but the bars and lifestyle support system is about a half-an-hour away in Washington D.C..

Number 4 on the list is Chanhassen, Minnesota. This is a very accepting community for gays and the LGBT positive cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis are half an hour away. The perks of living here include affordable home prices, 34 parks, 90 miles of trails and many cultural and winter festivals.

Number 5 on the list is Sherwood, Oregon, which is a quaint small town just outside of LGBT-friendly Portland with affordable home prices and lots of surrounding majestic forest and park land. Vineries also surround this historic place and it is only a two-hour drive to the coast or east to Mount Hood to enjoy skiing.

As is true of most of the best places to live on this list, the communities are too small to really support a large “gayborhood” or LGBT support network but all of them are close enough to the big city downtowns and “gayborhoods” that do have this support. If you would like to look at the CNN Top 100 Best Places To Live in the United States go to http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/best-places/.

 

Home Purchase Mortgage Terms Explained

Buying a home can be a stressful, confusing process ~ knowledge is power, and when it comes time to start interviewing mortgage lenders it will help to have the basics of the “business terminology” under your belt!

Mortgage  InterestHere’s a few terms that you should be familiar with;

 

APR

APR means annual percentage rate. Each time a mortgage lender quotes a mortgage rate, the loan’s APR has to be disclosed as well. The stated rate is used for monthly payment calculations; however it doesn’t prove anything concerning the cost of financing. APR will assist a lot in comparing the mortgages that have different rates and costs.

LTV

LTV stands for loan-to-value, which is a percentage of the homes selling price or appraised value (whichever is lower) that’s being financed. Loans that have a lower LTV are safer for lenders and they normally come with reduced mortgage rates.

ARM

This is the short form for adjustable rate mortgage. Unlike FRMs (Fixed-rate mortgages), ARMs have varying interest rates over time. ARM loans have rates that vary with economic conditions… most home buyers feel more secure with a fixed rate mortgage.

TIL

TTL stands for truth-in-lending. TIL will disclose your APR, which shows the cost of your mortgage in terms of investment rates and this allows easier comparison amongst other programs with varying rates and fees. The other thing is that it can give you the credit cost of the loan over the loan period and it can tell you when your payments are due and the amount to pay.

GFE

GFE stands for your good faith estimate. It shows the costs of your mortgage. Each time you apply for a home loan, the lenders need to provide a GFE for you within three business days. According to law, the real cost upon the closure of your home loan must be equivalent to what was disclosed within specific margins. Some of the information that the GFE has include;

  • Summary of your settlement charges
  • Adjusted origination charges
  • Escrow account information
  • Total estimated settlement charges.
  • Charges for All Other Settlement Services.

DTI

This stands for debt-to-income ratio. A DTI is calculated in two forms if your mortgage underwrites the evaluation of your application. The first form is known as your front-end or top-end ratio, and this represents your housing expenses divided by gross income (before taxation). The other form is called the back-end or bottom end ration. This is considered as the most important number; it would mean dividing monthly obligations (for example, car payment, credit cards, housing expenses and student loan payment) by your gross income.

If you are able to internalize the terms used before searching for a home loan, you will be more comfortable when talking to home lenders.

Posted on December 12, 2013 in Home Buying, Loans, Mortgages, Refinancing

Remodeling? Review & apply this list to avoid a potential nightmare.

Remember the old saying that ‘Behind every dark cloud lies a silver lining?’ Well you can also say the opposite may be true. Despite the fact that you can find many honest remodeling contractors to work with, there are some who will give you a bundle of nightmares! It’s crazy if you were to listen to some of the things contractors tell their clients. So to help you out, below is a checklist to give you a smart start to your remodeling:

Avoid low bids: People will do anything to have you hire them so you have to be cautious when taking this step. You might find a low bidding contractor that only ends up ruining your expectations. Try to obtain at least 3 different bids from different contractors before making up your mind on whom to choose. Remember, when the deal is too good… think twice.

Go through the references: Checking the past work records for each company (Better Business Bureau / Yelp.com, etc.) and ask past customers who have used the services of a specific contractor/company. Another good place to search for complaints for different contractors would be the state’s attorney general’s office.

Acquire a written contract: The benefit of a written contact is its clear specification of the details of what the remodeling process will entail. This is from the charges that will be incurred to the terms and conditions applied to payment. Never sign any contracts that have unclear amounts for materials and products. Once the project starts rolling, you will be following the terms alone.

Go through the paperwork: It is important to review the paper work which includes up-to-date insurance, license and workers compensation guidelines. A good place to get information on licensing requirements specific to your state is the Contractor’s License Reference Site. You are not the one who is responsible for the acquisition of permits…, it’s the contractors’ job and he/she should issue you a lien waiver once the remodeling job is complete to avoid issues with suppliers and sub contractors complaining of unsettled bills.

Never pay with cash: Don’t pay individuals / sub-contractors directly, instead issue a check to the contracting company. Paying through a credit card is an even more secure means. A good down payment would be something around 30% of the whole project cost, to purchase materials. Only make the final payment when the job is fully done and you are 100% satisfied and all permits are closed.

Posted on December 11, 2013 in Home Remodelling, Homebuilders, Renovation