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Tamara Fisher

One of the most common questions we hear from our listing clients is whether or not they should renovate or remodel their homes prior to putting them on the market.

Whether your goal is to make more money off the sale of the home or to help it to sell faster, part of our services to our clients is to help you figure out where to focus your time, energy and money.

Make repairs first

Concentrate first on making needed repairs. The buyer will most likely ask for these fixes, especially if they are for problems that show up on the home inspection report, so making them before listing the home helps avoid delays during the transaction.

Being proactive is always a smart move in real estate

Some of these tasks include fixing peeling paint, broken windows, torn screens, dripping faucets and loose or missing handrails.

Any problems that affect health and safety should be addressed first. Then, use what’s left of your budget to make the cosmetic fixes that are attractive to homebuyers in your home’s price range.

 Consider minor upgrades

“Don’t spend money that won’t yield a return on the investment. The best expenditures for most markets are paint, carpet, light and plumbing fixtures,” Matthew George, the chief appraiser of Eagle Appraisals Inc. in Denver, Colo. tells The Wall Street Journal.

Decide which room or rooms require the most updating and start with those. Minor upgrades, such as new appliances or kitchen and bathroom countertops will do more to change your sales price compared to redoing the kitchen or bathroom entirely.

In fact, a major kitchen or bathroom remodel is a money pit, according to Remodeling Magazine. The magazine’s 2019 Cost vs. Value Report warns that you’ll spend $ 66,196 on a kitchen remodel, on average, yet you’ll only recoup 62.1 percent of that when you sell the home.

You’ll do better on a minor kitchen remodel, spending $22,507 and realize an 80.5 percent return.

There is simply no way you will make back what you spend when it comes to remodeling or room additions.

In fact, the repair or renovation task that returns the most is a new garage door (97.5 percent). To get the details about the study, visit remodeling.hw.net.

Save money or time?

In a real estate transaction, time is most definitely money. The longer a home sits on the market, the better the chances that the homeowner will end up taking less than planned to get it sold.

The most common reason a home doesn’t sell is that it’s overpriced. Second to that, however, are homes that aren’t in decent condition.

Keep in mind that the first week that the house is on the market is known in the industry as “the honeymoon period.” This is when new listings receive the most attention and the more people that view the home, the quicker it will sell.

A recent study from a large real estate analytics firm finds that homes get four times as many visitors in the first week they’re on the market than they do one month after listing.

With repairs and cosmetic fixes out of the way, your home may be the belle of the real estate market during that first week.

We’re happy to meet with you and offer suggestions on which repairs to make first and on which tasks to focus on after that.

Please visit my website at http://www.tamarafisher.com

Tamara Fisher

The one thing we think most of us look forward to after a day out in the winter elements is a long, steamy-hot shower or luxurious soak in the tub.

Busy lives, however, put the thorough cleaning of tubs and showers on the back burner, making spending time in them less-than appealing.

We’ve rounded up 4 brilliant hacks to keep your tub and/or shower looking pristine and oh-so-beckoning.

1. Get rid of the grime on the shower floor

When you take a shower, the hot water and soap do a great job of removing oils and perspiration from your skin.

When you step out, feeling clean and refreshed, that soap you used is back in the shower, mixing with the oils from your body to create a mess on the shower floor.

Over time, especially in fiberglass showers, the soap scum/body oils build up, layer upon layer, until the grime is caked on.

Every professional house cleaner has his or her own special recipe to remove this black, greasy grime off the shower floor.

Some of these recipes work well, others not at all. Here is a surefire method to get off even the most caked on gunk.

  • Tide laundry detergent, original powdered formula
  • Sponge or rag
  • Water

Dampen your sponge using water from the sink. Wring it out very well so that it doesn’t drip water.

Pour a handful of Tide detergent onto the shower floor, in the corner. For some reason, Tide is the only detergent we’ve tried that works.

Scrub the pile of detergent in a circular motion. It will spread out as you scrub, so keep moving to a new area.

Add more detergent as you scrub your way around the bottom of the shower. Try not to add too much water as it will interfere with the mild abrasive action of the detergent.

When all of the grime has been removed, rinse the shower stall well.

Warning: It’s critical that you rinse the shower floor extremely well, as the detergent makes the shower floor slippery.

2. How to clean a cultured marble tub

Cultured marble is the result of mixing ground up marble dust with liquid polyester resin. This is then molded into various household surfaces including sinks, countertops and shower surrounds.

Unlike natural marble, which is porous, cultured marble resists stains, making it ideal for use in wet environments, such as the bathroom.

To avoid the build-up of mineral deposits on cultured marble, use a squeegee or soft towel to dry it after each shower.

After thoroughly drying it, spray the cultured marble surfaces with white vinegar. Allow the vinegar to remain on the surfaces for 45 minutes.

Wipe the vinegar from the cultured marble shower stall with a clean sponge dipped in clear water. If spots remain, repeat the procedure.

Never use abrasive products, such as cleanser, or abrasive scrubbing materials on cultured marble.

To restore the shine to cultured marble, the pros at centralmarbleproducts.com suggest using a product such as Gel-gloss, or wax. Follow the instructions on the package and repeat once a year.

3. Clean that grungy ceramic tile

Ceramic tile showers are lovely when they are gleaming clean. To get them that way takes diligence and a good deal of elbow grease, in some cases.

It takes time to train yourself and family members to perform the routine maintenance necessary. Once this becomes a habit, you will avoid having to do a major cleaning or renovation job on your tile shower.

Here’s what you’ll need to get that ceramic tile looking new again:

  • Towels
  • Commercial bathroom cleaner
  • Alkaline-based tile and grout cleaner
  • Ceramic tile and grout sealer

Wipe the ceramic tile dry after every shower. This helps avoid fungus build-up on the grout and mineral deposits on the tile.

Spray a commercial bathroom cleaner, labeled for use on ceramic tile (Bona and Black Diamond Stoneworks are good for ceramic tile), on the shower walls and floors if they have soap scum or body oil built up.

Allow the product to remain for 5 minutes and then wipe away with a sponge. Rinse the ceramic tiles with clear water until there is no trace of the cleaner and then use a soft cloth to dry them thoroughly.

Use an alkaline based tile and grout cleaner to remove mold or mildew from the ceramic tiles in the shower.

Follow the label instructions and apply it at the rate and in the manner suggested. Do not use vinegar as it can dissolve some ceramic tile finishes, according to Mark Donovan, CEO of Home Addition Plus.

Apply a ceramic tile and grout sealer at least every two years.

4. Acrylic tub woes?

Acrylic tubs are common household features with or without whirlpool attachments.

An acrylic finish is glossy and stain-resistant but it isn’t as tough as porcelain, so it requires frequent cleaning and extra care when doing so, to avoid the buildup of soap scum and body oils.

Wipe down the tub after each use with a soft, dry cloth. You can also use a squeegee.

Use non-aerosol cleaners to remove built-up grime. Kohler recommends Lysol Bathroom Cleaner or Tilex Bathroom Cleaner. Do not use an abrasive scrubber on the acrylic tub.

A rag or sponge is ideal. Use the products according to the label instructions, rinse and wipe dry after cleaning.

Maintain the acrylic finish by applying paste wax to the sides. Do not wax the floor of the tub.

Apply the wax as you would if you were waxing a car, in a circular motion. Wipe off the wax after the recommended amount of time and then buff with a soft cloth.

Happy showering!

Please visit my website at http://www.tamarafisher.com

Tamara Fisher

We recently received an email from a former client. He’s considering selling his home and, like many home sellers do, he went online to see if he could figure out how much the home is worth.

“Zillow
values my home at $325,000,” he writes. “Yet, one of my neighbors recently sold
his home, which is almost identical to mine, for $365,000.”

He went on to say that he is quite confused about the home-pricing process and wondered if we could help him out.

First, the
online real estate portals offer only “estimates” of a home’s value. They have
never seen your home or any other home for which they determine an estimate, so
they are rarely correct.

It’s all about market value

One thing Mark got right is that he
understands that the price he sets for the home should reflect its current
market value.

The only way to know what that is – what a willing buyer will pay to a willing seller for a home like his – is by figuring out what they’ve paid for similar homes in the recent past.

This means we need to look at sales
prices of similar homes. And, there’s more that goes into determining if a home
is comparable to yours than meets the eye. We look at the same criteria that
professional appraisers do.

  • The age of the home:
    Sold homes that are within three years (either side) of the age of your home.
  • The size of the home:
    Yes, we look at the sold homes’ square footage, but the number of bedrooms and
    bathrooms also plays a role in determining market value.
  • The home’s location:
    We try to find sold homes in close proximity to the subject property, but will
    consider a wider range, if necessary. The location within your particular neighborhood
    may also impact its market value.
  • Upgrades, amenities and condition: We’ll compare your home to the sold homes with an eye
    toward any upgrades performed, whether similar amenities are offered and, most
    important, how the condition of the homes compare.

Next, we’ll do the number crunching
to determine if your home is worth more or less than the sold homes.

WWTAS?

What will the appraiser
say? He or she, after all, has the final say in how much your home is worth in
today’s market. No lender is going to approve a loan for more than a property
is worth.

This is why we are so
thorough in our determination of the appropriate price for your home. An inaccurate
evaluation on your agent’s part can lead to a failed real estate transaction,
just when you thought it was a done deal.

The appraiser will visit
your home to perform an inspection. He or she may or may not take photos while
in the home. The appraiser will certainly consider the home’s landscaping, “location,
structure and even appliances,” according to the pros at LexurAppraisal.com.

The inspection
process can take “anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours depending on the size and
details of the property,” according to Rachel Guthrie at GoHomeside.com.

If
you hire an experienced listing agent, the suggested list price should match or
come very close to the appraised value of the home. This is why it is so
important to interview more than one agent for the job of selling your home.

Please visit my website at http://www.tamarafisher.com

Tamara Fisher

After a few tries at indoor gardening, many people give up, assuming the thumb just isn’t green enough.

The problem usually boils down to having chosen a high-maintenance plant and giving it low-maintenance care.

We agree that having a plant in the house shouldn’t be like having another child around that you have to fuss over and take care of. Thankfully, there are many carefree, easy to grow indoor plants.

If you have children and pets in the home, ensure that whichever plants you choose are safe. You’ll find pet-safe houseplants listed at Gardenologist.org and those safe for children at Parents.com.

Heart-leaf Philodendron

The heart-leaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum) is a hardy, tropical vine that loves to climb the walls. You can put it in the sun or in the shade and it won’t matter, it will still thrive. However, it prefers a light area, out of full sun.

When you find the ideal location in the home, the plant will pay you back with deep green, heart-shaped foliage.

Moist soil is the only demand from this plant and, even with that, it can be quite forgiving. Some growers swear that theirs grow better when they allow the soil to dry to about halfway down the pot.

While it’s actively growing, fertilize the heart-leaf philodendron once a month with a houseplant fertilizer, but dilute the fertilizer to half the recommended strength.

When winter rolls around, cut back on watering (allow the soil to dry out more than you do in spring and summer) and stop fertilizing until spring. Then, when you notice new growth, resume fertilizing.

Peace lily

The peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii ‘Clevelandii’) is a very pretty plant that prefers a bit of light, but it’s one of the most popular houseplants for its ability to thrive in the darkest corners of the home.

Allow the soil to dry out before watering, make sure the room temperature doesn’t drop below 55 degrees and your peace lily will be healthy. The peace lily rarely requires fertilizer.

As an added bonus, the peace lily helps to clean the air of potentially harmful gases, according to NASA.

There is one major downside to growing the peace lily indoors: it is toxic if ingested. If you have children or pets that like to munch on houseplants, this isn’t the one for you unless you can keep it out of their reach.

Jade

Jade (Crassula ovata) is one of the most popular succulents grown indoors, most likely because it’s so very easy to grow.

It does like light, but it doesn’t have to be direct sunlight. Any somewhat- sunny window is fine.

If you plant the jade in the appropriate medium (commercial cactus mix is ideal), this is one of those plants you can put on the counter in the kitchen or bathroom and forget about it.

It needs good drainage, so if you don’t use commercial cactus mix, plant it in a mixture of  sand and peat moss. Take care not to overwater the plant. Watch the leaves and if they start to shrivel, it’s time to water again.

Palm trees

Yes, there are palms that are not only easy to care for, but do well indoors. The kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) likes direct light but will tolerate lower light.

This is a palm that doesn’t need too much moisture either, just water when the top inch or two of soil is dry. You will want to fertilize the kentia in spring and again in summer. Use a fertilizer labeled for palms, with an 8-2-12 analysis.

Ensure the fertilizer also contains minor nutrients such as magnesium, sulfur and iron. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer label and always apply fertilizer to moist soil.

As a rule of thumb, apply fertilizer granules at a rate of 1 tablespoon for a 6-inch pot, 3 tablespoons for a 10-inch pot and ½ cup for kentia in a 14-inch pot.

If you are looking for a palm tree that will thrive in a little less light than the kentia, the lady palm (Rhapis excelsa) might be worth considering. It has similar watering needs and does better without fertilizer, so it’s truly a low-maintenance plant.

Please visit my website at http://www.tamarafisher.com

Tamara Fisher

Unless you’re Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, your home purchase may be the biggest financial investment you make during your lifetime.

Scary thought, isn’t it? Not if you
approach this investment as the three wealthiest Americans would.

Buying a home is a business transaction
and, to avoid costly mistakes, it needs to be addressed as one. This means performing
careful research, absorbing knowledge and keeping your emotions at bay.

Let’s take a look at the five most common
mistakes that homebuyers tend to make.

Buyer Trap #1- Not Getting your Financing
in Order

Obtaining loan pre-approval is the most
important step to take during the home purchase process. It should be the first
step you take as well, and for several reasons.

First, the mortgage pre-approval process
lets you know how much you can realistically and comfortably pay for a home.

Just as you wouldn’t go car shopping
without a clue as to how much you can spend, don’t look at one house until you
know your limit.

Additionally, in a fast-moving seller’s market, most homeowners don’t even want a non-pre-approved homebuyer to look at their homes.

It’s not a stretch, then, to understand that they most likely won’t entertain an offer from one.

Without that preapproval letter, you may
just lose the home of your dreams to another, pre-approved buyer.

The process is relatively painless and not
overly involved. It’s free, too, so there is no reason not to make your first
home buying step one that leads you over the doorstep of a mortgage broker or
bank.

Buyer Trap #2- Not Understanding the Loan
Process

Ask the lender about any charges and fees
that you don’t understand. This way, there will be no surprises at the closing
table. If a fee or charge sneaks into the closing documents you’ll notice it
and can take action.

Standard fees include document preparation
fees, underwriting fees, loan disbursement charges and others.

By law, the lender is required to provide you with a form called the “Loan Estimate” that includes a listing of all fees in advance of closing.

Never hesitate to ask if you don’t understand
anything on this form and don’t assume that there won’t be additional fees at
closing.

Then, at closing, you’ll receive the “Closing Disclosure” form that you can use to compare to the Loan Estimate.

Buyer Trap #3 – Not Performing Due
Diligence

While the seller
has a duty to you to answer any questions you have about the home honestly, you
have a duty to protect yourself by performing various inspections before you
fully commit to purchase the home.

Hire a
professional home inspector to go over the home’s major systems. While these
inspections are visual (nope, the inspectors don’t open walls), a capable and
experienced inspector may notice problems that the untrained eye won’t.

Even if you
decide that you want to purchase the house no matter what, it’s much better to
know about these problems up front so that we can negotiate a lower price or
cash back at closing for repairs.

Buyer Trap #4- Judging the Book by its
Cover

It’s easy to fall in love with décor. This
is why new home developments feature model homes. These homes are carefully
staged to appeal to the consumer’s emotions.

By the same token, it’s easy to dislike a
house because it’s messy, dirty or has dated furnishings and features.

It’s so important to remove your pre-conceived
notions of what the perfect house will look like. Only then can you truly see a
home for what it offers – both the good and the bad.

Don’t allow the dazzling décor to make you
forget what it is you want in a home. Don’t let the mess cloud your vision of a
home’s possibilities. Carpet can be replaced, walls can be painted.

Focus on the layout of the house, and not
the cosmetics.

Buyer Trap #5- Not Considering Additional
Expenses

When you’re pre-approved for a home it’s
tempting to buy at the top of your limit. Don’t give in to the temptation.

When you purchase a home, you take on
expenses you didn’t have when you rented a home.

If the house is in a managed community you
will likely have monthly home owner’s association dues. If the home has a pool
you will pay for maintaining it.

Many renters don’t pay for water but
homeowners typically do. The ongoing maintenance of the home falls on your
shoulders, so it’s important to leave enough room in your housing budget to
take care of them.

I always counsel my clients to ask the
seller for copies of utility bills for the past year to get an idea of how much
they can expect to pay if they purchase the home.

While these are the most common mistakes
homebuyers make they are in no way indicative of all of them. I’d like to help
you develop a home purchase strategy that will avoid all of these mistakes and
more.

Call me for a free home buying
consultation and I’ll show you:

– How to get pre-approved for a mortgage

– How to buy the right home for your needs

– What to put on your wish list

– The entire home buying process, from
start to finish, in plain English.

Please visit my website at http://www.tamarafisher.com

Tamara Fisher

Home improvement projects can not only be fun, but they add value to your home as well. Whether you’ve decided to add improvements to your home before it goes on the market or are planning improvements to your new home, here are some creative ways to add sparkle.

1. Window Treatments

Because windows are such a focal point, it pays to decorate them. It’s amazing what a simple curtain or valance can do to change the atmosphere of a room.

Your bedroom can be transformed
with sumptuous drapery fabrics.  A
kitchen can become a country charmer or sleek and modern with the addition of
the appropriate window treatments.

Walk through your local fabric store to find fabrics that suit your decorating taste.  If you’re handy with a sewing machine, all the better.  Simple curtains and drapes are easy to make (check out this YouTube video walk-through) and will save you a lot of money.

2. Paint and Wallpaper

Painting a room not only adds an air of freshness but can serve as a backdrop for your decorating ideas. If your home is on the market, your color choices are limited as its best to stick to neutral colors.

If the home is one in which you
plan to stay for some time, don’t be afraid to experiment with your favorite
colors.

TIP:  If you are decorating your home because
you’ll be selling it, stay away from wallpaper. Patterns are a matter of
personal taste. If you currently have wallpaper in the home it will need to be
stripped and the walls painted.

3. Area Rugs

Area rugs are so versatile. Use them to accent a seating area or to add color, texture and a hint of personality to a room. Area rugs can also be used to delineate “zones” within a room.

There are “rules” about the size and placement of area rugs to get the most impact. LampsPlus offers a tutorial at YouTube and find additional tips at PotteryBarn.com and HGTV.com.

4. Furniture

New furniture, such as a sofa or other seating, can dramatically change the look of your living room. If there’s no room in the budget for new furniture, gently used items are widely available both online and at consignment stores.

If you’re budget is really squeezed visit a thrift store, such as Salvation Army. Sometimes you can find pieces that can be slip-covered.

5. Rearrange Existing Furniture

Find the focal point of your room, usually an interesting architectural element, a fireplace or a view from the window. No, the television is not a focal point. Then, rearrange your furniture to take advantage of the focal point.   

Learn more about decorating around a room’s focal point at RedHouseStaging.com, FreshHome.com and TheCasaCollective.com.

6. Fun with room functions

It isn’t written in stone that a bedroom has to be a bedroom. If you don’t need a guest room or already have one, why not transform a bedroom that isn’t being used into an office, a gym, a library or even a theater room?

A formal dining room that never gets used can easily become a family room.

7. Bedroom Linens

Bedrooms can be so much more than repositories for a weary body after a hard day’s work. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to come home to an oasis in the middle of a hectic world? 

Bedroom linens are the first step in creating this relaxing atmosphere. From comforters and duvet covers with matching bolsters and pillows to bedspreads with dust ruffles, your bedroom can easily be transformed into your refuge.

8. Lighting

Lighting is one of the decorating items most overlooked by many homeowners. Reading lamps, floor lamps and under-cabinet mounted strip lighting can all add beauty and function to your home.

Large or unusual lighting can
also become a room’s focal point.

TIP: If you’re redecorating to sell the home, add more lighting. You can never have too much when a home is on the market.

9. Artwork

If a piece of art speaks to you,
if you enjoy looking at it, then buy it. It doesn’t matter if it’s an
inexpensive reproduction or an expensive original, art is a personal
preference.

Art is fun, too.  Groupings of small photos or paintings can
enliven any wall. Large pieces over a sofa can enhance the atmosphere in your
living room.

The trick to hanging art work,
even groupings, is to place it so that the center of the piece is at eye level.

And, don’t limit yourself to using only photos and paintings on the walls.  Artwork can be anything from antique plates to your grandmother’s handmade quilt. Mirrors, in groupings or one dramatic piece can make a room appear larger.

10.  A touch of the outdoors

Houseplants add color, texture and charm to a home’s interior. Some even help keep the air clean, according to NASA.

You’ll find houseplants that thrive
on neglect and some that will bloom even in dark, shady corners. Yes, there are
the divas of the plant world – those that require exacting care but will pay
you back with amazing beauty.

MiracleGro.com and BHG.com offer tips on how to choose the right plant for your home and Gardenologist.org offers a brilliant list of “80 Pet-Safe Houseplants.”

Please visit my website at http://www.tamarafisher.com

Tamara Fisher

That letter from the bank: You know the one — it says you’re approved to buy a home for a certain amount of money. It’s burning a hole in your pocket.

Now it comes down to deciding what type of home to buy, within your budget. Condo or townhome? Existing home or a newly constructed house?

The latter is a question we hear frequently from our clients. Let’s take a look at the differences between buying a new home and an existing home.

The Basics

A brand-new house gives you a blank canvas on which to create your dream home. And, while an older home can be remodeled to suit your lifestyle and tastes, it requires time and lots of money.

If you like the idea of being part of the numerous decisions that go into building a home from the ground up, new construction may be right up your alley.

Keep in mind, however, that there are typically delays, so if you’re easily frustrated, consider an existing home.

Cost

When you buy a new home, you’ll pay more for it compared to similar existing homes. This is known as the “new home premium” or “new construction premium.”

While there is no set amount, last summer, new homes sold for 28 percent more (nationwide average) than existing homes, according to Prashant Gopal at Bloomberg.com.

In a 2018 National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) poll, 31 percent of the homebuyers surveyed said they prefer new homes, while 46 percent said they prefer existing homes.

Yet, when a Harris poll asked those who prefer new homes if they were willing to pay a new construction premium most respondents said they were not.

You’ll need to decide if the new home premium is in your budget and you’re willing to pay it.

Ongoing costs of home ownership, however, are typically lower in a new home, at least for the first four years, according to the American Housing Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.

For instance, the owner of a newly-constructed home most likely won’t be faced with unexpected repairs and, at least for the first few years, maintenance costs will be negligible.

“In fact, 73 percent of new homeowners spent less than $25 a month on routine maintenance costs,” suggests Peter Bennett at MyBankTracker.com.

New construction homes may have energy efficient features — another money-saving aspect of choosing new over old. Monthly savings on utility bills further decrease the new home premium.

Finally, many new home developers offer incentives when the buyer agrees to use the in-house lender. Incentives may include a significant closing cost credit or points paid on the loan, further bringing down the new home premium.

There is one significant financial drawback: new construction homeowners usually pay higher property taxes. Because new home communities are usually built in less-developed areas, property taxes subsidize development of the area’s infrastructure.

Taxes will be part of your monthly mortgage payment, so pay close attention to this detail when making your decision.

When weighing the pros and cons of buying new construction, crunch all the numbers before making your choice.

Location, Location, Location

Sure, it’s a well-worn mantra, but location usually is the most important consideration when shopping for a home.

The reality is that location determines whether a home will hold its value and appreciate over time. Homes in some school districts, for instance, hold their value better than those located in others.

With existing structures, what you see is what you get when it comes to the neighborhood. You can tour the area and get a feel for the type of neighbors you’ll have if you choose to purchase there, how well they maintain their homes, helping or hindering the area’s home values.

If you have children, you have no way of knowing if other families will be drawn to the community, providing playmates for your kids.

In new home subdivisions, especially in brand new ones where sales are few, the neighborhood is a wildcard. Only when all the homes are sold will you know what type of neighborhood you have on your hands.

In many cases, but not all, new neighborhoods are located on the outskirts, while established ones frequently are located nearer to town.

Choosing between these two locations is a lifestyle decision that requires factoring in your daily commute and determining how important proximity to town is to you.

It’s a matter of taste

If you need a home with lots of space for storage, hobbies or a home office, a customized, new construction home may be the ticket.

If your wish list includes a home with mature landscaping in an established neighborhood, older homes may work better.

The decision between old and new may just come down to whether your lifestyle includes walking to the movies and to dinner at your favorite downtown restaurant or having an extensive hiking trail right outside your door.

Should you decide to go the new construction route in your home purchase, go into the process with representation. Make no mistake – the builder’s real estate agent represents the builder’s best interests.

Although it may seem easier to use the same agent, it isn’t wise. Feel free to reach out – we’re always available to answer questions.

Please visit my website at http://www.tamarafisher.com

Tamara Fisher

Three digits. They may be all that is standing between you and your own home or continuing to rent. Known as your “credit score,” those digits reflect how risky it will be to lend you money. The score may also impact other aspects of the homebuying process as well.

 How your credit score is calculated

The road to your credit score, also known as a FICO® Score, begins with the credit reporting agencies. Known as “the big three,” they include Equifax, TransUnion® and Experian®.

The information the agencies collect ends up in the hands of the Fair Isaac Corporation (or, the aforementioned FICO®, for short), one of the nation’s top two credit scoring companies.

Ninety percent of what FICO calls “top lenders” rely on your FICO score to determine your credit risk and how much they will charge you for the money you borrow.

FICO’s score calculation is complicated and secret. What they end up producing, however, is a three-digit score from each of the reporting agencies.

“Mortgage lenders usually take the middle score” from this subset, according to Craig Anthony at investopedia.com.

“For example,” he continues, “if your credit scores from the above agencies are 710, 690 and 610, the lender typically makes its decision based on the 690 score.”

Learn more about how FICO determines your score at myfico.com.

What is considered “good” credit for a mortgage?

FICO Scores can range from a low of 300 to a high of 850. According to FICO, about 1.4 percent of Americans with credit scores have a perfect 850.

Last summer, however, the company announced that the average score in the United States reached an all-time high of 704, up four points from 2017’s average.

So, what’s the magic number you’ll need to buy a house?

It depends on the type of loan you’ll be pursuing.

  • FHA – 580 and above to qualify for the 3.5 percent down payment and 500 and above with a 10 percent down payment.
  • Veterans Administration (VA) – The VA doesn’t loan money so it doesn’t mandate a minimum credit score. Most VA lenders want to see at least a 620 score, although some lenders may approve a borrower with a 580 score.
  • Rural Development (USDA) – 640 and above.
  • Conventional loans – 620 and above

Since requirements change occasionally, use the above minimum scores as a general guideline and consult with a lender for current requirements.

How does a low score impact the homebuying process?

If you find your credit score on the borderline, just barely acceptable to a lender, you may run into the following problems along the road to homeownership.

You’ll pay more for your house payment every month

First, your credit score will determine the interest rate on your loan.

Use  FICO’s Loan Savings Calculator to determine how much money you can save by raising your credit score before applying for a loan.

Home insurance rates are higher for those with poor credit

If you won’t be paying cash for the home, the lender will demand that the home be insured. And, if you’re credit is poor, you’ll pay more than homeowners with good credit pay.

“People with poor credit pay at least twice as much as people with excellent credit in 37 states and Washington, D.C.,” according to Laura Adams, InsuranceQuotes’ senior analyst.

Live in West Virginia? A poor credit score may doom you to paying more than twice the rate (208 percent).

And, since insurance is one of the four components of your mortgage payment (principal, interest, taxes and insurance), a higher premium will impact how much you pay for the home each month.

How quickly can I raise my credit score?

The first step to take when trying to raise your credit score quickly is to look for errors in your credit reports. You are entitled to a free copy of your reports every 12 months, from all three credit reporting bureaus.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you order these reports from annualcreditreport.com, the only agency authorized by the U.S. government.

Items to look for in your credit report include:

  • Personal information – Ensure that your name, address and Social Security number are accurate.
  • Check all listed account numbers for accuracy.
  • Check that there are no accounts listed as closed which are actually open.
  • Look for accounts that are incorrectly listed as delinquent.

You will find more tips on what to look for in your credit report online, at consumerfinance.gov. If you find errors, dispute them according to the bureau’s instructions. These are listed on each credit report.

In the meantime, don’t open any new credit accounts. Since the credit bureaus don’t know how you’ll use this credit, they consider you a higher credit risk with new credit and it may result in as much as a 10-point reduction in your score.

Don’t close any credit card accounts, either. The lack of installment credit makes you appear riskier.

Pay your bills on time

Since your payment history accounts for 35 percent of your credit score, late payments are brutal on your credit score. Start meeting those payment deadlines.

Consider putting the accounts that you typically pay late on an automatic payment schedule with your bank.

Don’t be shy about obtaining financial counselling. You’ll find a list of approved credit counseling agencies on the Department of Justice website.

Or, consider meeting with a non-profit housing counselor in your area. You’ll find a list of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-approved counselors online at consumerfinance.gov.

Please visit my website at http://www.tamarafisher.com

Tamara Fisher

Wisteria blooms elegantly along the back fence, temperatures are gradually nudging their way up, grilling season is oh, so close and you’re ready to give your patio or balcony a shot of pre-summer sprucing.

Few things in a busy life feel more luxurious than breakfast on the patio, deck or balcony on a gorgeous spring or summer day, so it’s worth the investment in time, a bit of money and elbow grease to create the patio of your dreams.

This week we offer up 5 steps to get your patio ready for the outdoor-living season.

1. Restore or replace?

If your patio furniture isn’t too terribly shabby, consider restoring it to its former splendor. It’s an easy and inexpensive DIY project, especially if the pieces are made of wood. Wicker or metal furniture are good candidates for restoration as well, but they’ll take a few extra steps.

Use a wire brush or sandpaper to rid metal furniture of built-up grime and rust, thoroughly clean wicker furniture and allow to dry. Then, slap on some gorgeous paint.

The Wicker Woman walks you through the process of painting wicker furniture here. Restoring wood furniture is a snap and you can learn how at Today’s Homeowner.

Need to buy new patio furniture? You can find it at bargain prices at Craigslist.org.

2. Cushions?

It does you no good to refurbish the furniture if you plan on topping it with worn, ratty cushions. New cushions or pillows will add a pop of color and texture. They don’t have to be a budget buster either. Ikea and Walmart carry reasonably-priced cushions.

Prefer to shop online? Check Lowes.com, Amazon.com or Overstock.com.

3. Provide some shade

Your patio will need a shady spot in which to escape the summer sun and there are several brilliant ways to provide it.

If you have money to burn, check out retractable awnings that will cover your patio.  Home Depot and Costco offer them. Read up on the pros and cons of retractable awnings at AngiesList.com.

If you’re on a budget, consider shade sails, which you can purchase at the major home improvement stores or online at retailers such as Coolaroo. Even an inexpensive umbrella can provide shade for people and/or plants.

Need some inspiration? Check out these cool ideas on Pinterest.

4. Water and summer – the perfect pairing

Every patio oasis needs some sort of water feature. Waterfalls and fountains are the most popular and you don’t need an elaborate electrical and irrigation system to build one.

Many of today’s fountains are solar-powered, so you won’t need to perform a major electrical system hack to accommodate them either.

Check out the selection at wayfair.com.

Need inspiration? Find it on Pinterest.

5. Light it up

Is there anything better than al fresco dining? And, no, you don’t need to visit our high-end eateries to experience it.

Once your patio is whipped into shape, all you need to do is add lighting to provide the perfect ambiance.

Get ideas on pinterest.com, hgtv.com and yardenvy.com.

If you live in a condo, the board may have restrictions on what you can do with your balcony or patio, so check with them before spending any money.

Please visit my website at http://www.tamarafisher.com

Tamara Fisher

Buying a home isn’t as easy as walking up to a lender and requesting a mortgage. You’ll need cash for a down payment and the loan’s closing costs, unless you’re applying for a VA or USDA loan.

If you’ll be going after a conventional loan, you’ll typically (but not always) need 20 percent of the loan amount as the down payment.

Right now, the median sales price of a home in the U.S. is $240,000. Based on that price, you’ll need to come up with between $8,400 and $48,000 (depending on the loan program) just for the down payment.

Then, there are closing costs to consider. These vary, but they are typically between 2 and 5 percent of the loan amount.

Unless you have a stack of cash sitting around, you’ll need to start saving, and that takes careful planning. A well-though out budget is your road map.

The Budget

It’s important to get your budget in writing, whether that means using a spreadsheet, paper and pencil or personal finance software. Financial guru Dave Ramsey recommends the free budgeting software at everydollar.com or try Microsoft Money Plus Sunset Deluxe

The most basic of budgets includes your income and your outgo. Income should include all money from all sources.

Outgo includes not only your fixed expenses, such as rent or mortgage payments and installment loan payments, but variable expenses (utilities, telephone, etc.) and every single penny you spend on a daily basis.

Some spending that is frequently overlooked by budgeters includes:

  • Money given to charity
  • Dining out (yes, even that bagel and coffee you stop for each morning)
  • Transportation expenses (fuel, insurance, tolls and parking)
  • Auto maintenance
  • Pets (food, accessories, vet visits)

Keep a small notebook on you while you’re away from home so that you can quickly jot down the small purchases we all make every day. These may include items such as coffee and bus fare.

Give it a Trial Run

Take the new budget for a spin for a month or two and see how it fits and adjust where necessary.

Your budget will show you where you spend your money every week. More important, it will show you areas you can cut ? unnecessary spending that you can add to your house fund instead.

By the way, open an online savings account in which to stash your house fund and forego the debit card. Without a debit card, these accounts are a bit harder to access than a brick and mortar bank so you’ll be less tempted to raid the account.

Choose a fee-free account such as those offered by:

Today’s homebuyer has options when it comes to buying a home for the least amount of cash out-of-pocket. Go for one of the low-down payment programs and ensure your real estate agent requests that the seller pay a closing cost credit.

These two items alone will slash your cash out-lay tremendously and you’ll be in your new home sooner, rather than later.

Please visit my website at http://www.tamarafisher.com