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Tamara Fisher

Property Tax

I don’t know about you, but my brain shuts down when the word “tax” is mentioned. I think many of us would rather have a root canal than talk taxes. So, let’s try to keep this light-hearted and hit just the basics.

Property taxes vary by the local government that imposes them and are based on the assessed value of your property.

According to WalletHub.com’s John S. Kiernan, folks in New Jersey pay the highest property taxes – 2.44 percent, while Hawaii’s homeowners pay the least, at 0.27 percent of assessed value.

Your property taxes, along with those of your neighbors, are used to fund schools, libraries, and other county and city services.

How Is Property Tax Determined?

Property taxes are usually, but not always, based on two factors:

  • The value of the land you own.
  • The value of any structures that sit on the land (often referred to as “improvements” to the land).

These two values are then fed into a pre-determined formula and out pops your property tax bill. Most municipalities reassess a property’s value every few years, some do it annually. This means that the amount of property tax you owe may change over time.

In some regions, property taxes are based on the market value of the land plus the replacement cost of the home, less “statutory depreciation.”

And many municipalities offer a tax exemption for all or part of the property taxes for certain groups of people, such as older homeowners or disabled veterans.

Deducting Property Taxes on your Tax Return

Tax laws change more often than the politicians who push for them, so it’s best to speak with your tax professional about where the deduction of your property taxes falls within the current tax code.

As of 2019, tax filers can deduct up to $10,000, or $5,000 if they’re married but filing separately.

This total is the maximum amount allowed for a combination of “your total state and local taxes, including taxes (or general sales taxes, if elected instead of income taxes), real estate taxes, and personal property taxes,” according to IRS Publication 530.

Again, speak with your tax specialist for the details.

How to Appeal your Property Tax Assessment

The housing market is a bit like a roller coaster, changing frequently, going up and down.

Therefore, it’s quite possible that your assessment is based on a market value that’s no longer valid.

If home values are rising quickly, such as they did over the past few years, you’ll want to keep quiet. Although your home’s market value is higher, your taxes may be based on a lower value, keeping them low.

When values are falling, however, you’ll want to ensure that your taxes are as well.

While the statistics vary according to region, an estimated 30 to 60 percent of homeowners in this country are over-taxed, according to the National Taxpayer’s Union.

Furthermore, homeowners who disagree with the assessor’s valuation of the house have a right to appeal a property tax assessment. Despite this, fewer than 5 percent actually appeal, even though most of those who do so eventually win.

The National Taxpayer’s Union offers a handy Homeowner’s Checklist, outlining the steps to take when filing a property tax assessment appeal.

Be aware that you are still required to pay the taxes when due, despite an open appeal. Penalties for nonpayment may include penalty and interest charges on the unpaid balance.

The assessor may also place a lien against the property and typically has the ability to seize and sell the property for unpaid taxes.

Always consult with your accountant or tax specialist if you have any questions about your property taxes.

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

Tamara Fisher

Home buying negotiation

Naturally, the price of a home is top-of-mind when we talk about negotiating in a real estate deal. And, for some homebuyers, these negotiations are critical.

But, did you know that there are other ways to bargain with a home seller other than on price? The purchase agreement is full of haggling opportunities. Let’s take a look at five of them we deal with most often.

1. Repairs

Negotiating home repairs is something we are quite familiar with. After the home inspection, when the homebuyer receives the inspector’s report, negotiations often begin anew.

Understand, however, that no home is perfect; even newly-constructed homes can have problems. Don’t sweat the small stuff – save the negotiations for anything major that needs repair or replacement.

This is especially true if the problems are in one or more of the home’s major systems, such as HVAC, electrical, plumbing or with the roof or foundation.

We can negotiate for a price reduction, closing costs credit or for the repair work to be performed by the seller before closing. The first two options (price reduction or credit towards closing costs) are preferable, as they won’t typically delay the closing.

Plus, there is no way to guarantee the repair work, if performed by the seller’s contractor, will meet your standards.

2. Closing costs

With a mortgage comes a requirement to pay a down payment and closing costs. The latter includes all the costs of obtaining the loan, such as lender fees, notary fees and more.

While sellers are under no obligation to do so, many buyers negotiate with the seller to pay all or part of their closing costs.

It’s an easier pill for the seller to swallow if:

  • Your offer for the home is at full asking price
  • You intend to keep your request for repairs to a minimum. If the seller has to pay for a laundry list of requested repairs, he or she may not be amenable (or have the funds) to assist with your closing costs.
  • You put some skin in the game as well, by paying for a portion of your closing costs

3. Personal property

Anything that isn’t permanently affixed to the home or land (real property) is considered the personal property of the homeowner. Personal property that we commonly negotiate over for our homebuying clients include:

  • Appliances, such as refrigerator, washer, dryer
  • Window coverings
  • Chandeliers
  • Portable out-buildings

Buyers, however, have negotiated for furniture, pool tables, artwork and even the family pet.

4. Closing date

The closing date – the day on which the home becomes yours – is negotiable. This is important to know for several reasons:

  • If you are trying to time the closing of your current home to be simultaneous with the new home’s closing.
  • You need more time to find another home
  • You are relocating and need to be in your new city by a certain date

If your schedule doesn’t conflict with the seller’s this is often a successful negotiation.

5. Home warranty

Real estate agents have a love-hate relationship with home warranties. Some consider them useless while others love them for the peace-of-mind they offer homebuyers.

If a home warranty is something that you desire, it’s possible to ask the seller to provide you with one – at least for the first year of home ownership.

Basic coverage varies by region and company, but commonly includes coverage for:

  • HVAC systems
  • Kitchen appliances
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • Roof leaks

While the above is only a partial list of commonly negotiated items in a home purchase, it outlines the ones we see most often.

Feel free to reach out to us if you have questions on this or any aspect of the home purchase process.

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

Tamara Fisher

Whether you’re shopping for a home or already own one, knowing the current age of the appliances is important. Like us, they have an average life span. Unlike us, they can be replaced. But it’s pricey to do so.

The experts at Consumer Reports recommend that you replace appliances if the cost to repair them is more than half the price of a new one. While that’s a good rule of thumb, it’s something you can put off with care and proper maintenance of your home’s appliances.

As a bonus, your appliances won’t become energy hogs.

 

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

Tamara Fisher

USDA Loans

Keeping your nose to the grindstone, using credit wisely and responsibly and paying your bills on time every month have their rewards, no matter how much or how little money you make.

One reward is how much easier it is to realize your piece of the American Dream – the opportunity to purchase your own home. A bonus for the low-income earner is a government-backed loan with no down payment.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Single Family Housing programs may just be the best option for low-income folks with good credit and a steady job to buy a house.

Two types of loans for homebuyers

The two most popular USDA home loan programs are the Homeownership Direct Loan Program and the Guaranteed Loan.

Both of these programs aim to help low-to-moderate-income people purchase homes in rural areas. Both have no down payment requirement.

The key differences between the direct loan and the guaranteed loan are as follows:

  • Direct loans are intended for low and very-low income purchasers that have been unable to obtain a conventional or FHA loan. Guaranteed loans are intended for those with moderate incomes.
  • Income levels for guaranteed loan borrowers are capped at 115 percent of the area’s median income, while those for direct loan borrowers are capped at 80 percent.
  • The guaranteed loan is made by a conventional lender but guaranteed by the government. The U.S. government acts as the lender for the direct loan
  • Direct loan applicants with inadequate incomes may use a co-signer. This is not possible with the guaranteed loan.

Guaranteed Loan Benefits

Remember, the guaranteed loan is for the moderate-income borrower. It is much like the FHA loan in that the government gives the lender a guarantee of repayment in the event the borrower defaults on the loan.

The biggest difference between the USDA loans and FHA is that USDA requires no down payment. Here are some basic benefits of the guaranteed loan:

  • No down payment required and 100 percent financing available.
  • Certain repairs and closing costs may be rolled into the loan up to the appraised value of the home.
  • The upfront guarantee fee may be rolled into the loan amount above the appraised value.
  • The loan can be used to purchase existing or newly constructed homes and planned unit developments. Some condos are eligible.
  • Interest rates are fixed and the loan has no prepayment penalties.
  • Non-traditional credit histories may be considered.
  • Down payment assistance programs, seller concessions, gifts and grants from city and county housing development programs may be considered.

Direct Loan Benefits

This is the loan for you if you are low income but have decent credit and a steady job. You will borrow for the home directly from the U.S. government. Here are just a handful of the benefits of the USDA Direct Loan program:

  • No down payment required.
  • Payment assistance is available that may reduce the monthly payment.
  • Some closing costs may be included in the loan.
  • No private mortgage insurance required.

Eligibility

To use either loan, the borrower must be purchasing a home in a rural area. The USDA defines “rural” as any town with a population of “25,000 or less that is not adjacent to a large city or that is not part of a continuous urban area.”

The home must be “modest” in size. The average USDA home is 1,200 square feet. Homes with swimming pools are ineligible. The loan cannot be used to purchase income producing property, furniture or other personal property, an existing manufactured home or for a home with non-essential buildings and land.

To determine if a particular property is eligible, visit the USDA Rural Development Property Eligibility website.

For a borrower to be eligible for the USDA Guaranteed or Direct Loan program you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or be admitted as a permanent resident.
  • Be unable to secure a comparable loan without a government guarantee.      
  • Not currently own a home within commute distance of the home you are buying.
  • Have a dependable income.
  • Have a credit history that proves you meet your financial obligations on time.
  • Occupy the home as your primary residence.
  • Direct loan applicants must prove that they do not currently own safe and sanitary housing.  
  • Direct loan applicants must be very low income (income that is between 50 and 80 percent of the area’s AMI). Guaranteed loan applicants must be moderate income, making 80 to 115 percent of AMI.               

An easy way to determine your income eligibility is by visiting the USDA Single Family Housing Income Eligibility website.

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

Tamara Fisher

Stink Bug

If you haven’t met your fair share of stink bugs this year, brace yourself. Although stink bug season is officially from March through September, the cooler it gets outdoors, the bigger the problem.

Brown marmorated stink bugs infest both the interior of homes and the garden. In the garden, they feed on fruit and vegetable crops, causing spots and decay.

They prefer to overwinter indoors, in homes. While they aren’t considered harmful to humans or to the home, they create lots of noise and, if bothered, quite a stink.

Once inside the home, they are a challenge to control.

Death by drowning

The least smelly way of ridding the home of stink bugs is also the most labor intensive. But, because stink bugs can’t swim, it’s an effective way of killing them.

Fill a bucket three-fourths of the way with water. Some homeowners add three to four drops of liquid dishwashing soap to the water, although it isn’t necessary.

Use a broom or other item with a long handle to knock the stink bugs off the wall and into the bucket. Those on the floor may be quickly scooped up with a small dustpan, a spatula or other tool and dropped into the water.

Use your vacuum

Entomologists at Virginia Tech suggest using your vacuum to suck the bugs off the walls, floors, drapes and furniture. The problem with this method is that the stink bugs release their scent, smelling up the vacuum and the home.

The scientists suggest replacing the vacuum bag after each use. Once the new bag is in place, sprinkle some perfumed talc, such as room or pet deodorizer onto the floor and vacuum it up to rid the machine of stink bug odor.

If you are the victim of repeated sting bug invasions, invest in an inexpensive shop vac and reserve its use exclusive to stink bug removal.

Insecticidal soap to protect houseplants

While stink bugs don’t hurt people and are considered non-destructive in the home, they may go after your houseplants. Insecticidal soap spray will help discourage stink bugs from feeding on them.

These organic insecticides are available at nurseries and gardening centers or you can make your own.

Combine 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil, 2 teaspoons of liquid soap (not dishwashing liquid) and 2 cups of water. Pour the solution into a spray bottle and spray the plants with it. The oil has a tendency to separate, so shake the bottle periodically as you spray.

Dishwashing liquid is detergent and may harm your plants. Look for a liquid soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap.

Preventing an infestation

Stick the end of a screwdriver into the opening between the bottom of  your door and the floor. If it fits easily, so will a stink bug.

Like many pests, stink bugs have the ability to squish their bodies down to fit into tight spaces. To prevent their entry into the home, seal all openings to the outdoors.

Virginia Tech entomologists suggest caulking cracks, around doors and windows, baseboards and any other area where the bugs may gain entry.

Cover roof vents with window screening. Replace screens that have holes and seal openings around ceiling fixtures and exhaust fans.

 

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

Tamara Fisher

Home construction

Will this be the year you buy a brand-new home? Don’t be discouraged by news reports claiming that “U.S. home building fell,” or “housing starts dropped.”

The scary-sounding numbers are due to a drop in multi-family home building, not single-family.

In fact, the single-family home construction market across the country is set to be just fine, with a surge in new building permits late this summer.

Moving into a newly-built home is a lot like the first time you sit behind the wheel of a new car, but on steroids. No stinky smells from whatever it was the previous occupant was cooking, no greasy range hood and walls, no dinged-up baseboards – everything is new and pristine.

While these aspects may make you starry-eyed, there’s reality to contend with as well. Today we share with you some things to watch for when taking on the purchase of a brand-new home.

The builder’s real estate agent

When you drive up to the new home community you’ll notice quickly how you’re directed first to the builder’s office before you get to the model homes. That guy or gal sitting in the office isn’t a receptionist, but the builder’s real estate agent.

She or he will show you a map of the buildable lots available, talk to you about the community’s amenities and, naturally, the homes, before sending you on your way to view the models.

If you fall in love with one, which is every builder’s goal, you’ll want to get the purchase process underway quickly.

Hey, I don’t blame you, this is exciting stuff! And, what better and easier way to do it than to allow the builder’s agent to get the ball rolling?

Ok, that’s the third time I’ve said it: “the builder’s real estate agent.” Sure, legally this agent can represent both you and the builder, but is it a wise move?

Think about this: if it were legal, would you use your about-to-be former spouse’s attorney in your divorce proceedings? Why do you suppose that isn’t common practice?

Here’s why: it is almost impossible for the builder’s agent to protect both the builder’s interests and yours in the same transaction.

Since the seller pays for the buyers’ real estate agent at closing, it only makes sense that you have your own agent who will look out for nobody else but you.

Avoid this problem by letting the builder’s agent know, upfront, that you have an agent.

The builder’s lender

Hey, this is a one-stop shop, right? Of course!

Home builders understand that they need to hook the buyer when he or she is most excited so they offer all the services one might need to get the process started. This includes an “in-house” or “preferred” lender.

Now, unlike using the builder’s agent, there’s nothing wrong with using his or her lender, as long as you’ve shopped around and know that you’re getting a good deal.

Never feel that you have to use this lender, however, because you don’t.

The builder

Check out the builder’s reputation if you aren’t familiar with him or her. Start with the Better Business Bureau and then scour the city’s public records for lawsuits against the builder.

Buying a newly constructed home in Billings is a lot more involved than buying an existing home, but the end result is well-worth the steps it takes to get there.

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

Tamara Fisher

Stinky house remedies

Inured.

That’s just a fancy way of explaining how we humans can, over time, become accustomed to something unpleasant.

If you’ve ever lived near railroad tracks or under the flight path of a local airport you know what we’re talking about. At first, the noise was torture. After time, however, you may have barely noticed it.

It’s the same with smells. We become accustomed to the odors in our home and it’s not until either someone very honest comes to visit or we return home after some time away that we realize just how stinky the home is.

While pets and smokers are obvious causes of home odors, other sources are a bit harder to track down. Let’s take a look at some of the first places to check if you have stinky house.

That “smell” coming from the kitchen drain

If you’ve ever been hit in the face with a sewer-like odor coming from the kitchen sink’s drain, getting rid of it almost becomes your life’s mission.

Plumbers recommend that you start with the simple causes during the process of elimination. In this case, start with the garbage disposal.

After time, food particles can become stuck on the blades. As they build up, and decay, they’ll become smelly.

Empty a tray of ice cubes down the drain and let the disposal run until they’re ground up. Then, run cold water through the drain for about 30 seconds.

This is the fun part: pour ½ cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by a cup of vinegar (white or apple cider – it doesn’t matter).

Like a child’s science project, the drain will begin to foam and fizz and pop. Allow the self-made volcano to erupt to its fullest and when it’s finished, run hot water down the drain.

If the stench remains, and it resembles the smell of rotten eggs, you may have a larger problem.

It could be hydrogen sulfide gas, also known as “sewer gas,” coming from the main sewer line. “Sewer drains that have dry traps can allow hydrogen sulfide gas to enter the home,” according to experts at the Illinois Department of Health.

While breathing low levels of sewer gas won’t typically cause health problems, at high levels, “hydrogen sulfide gas can make you sick and could be fatal,” according to the health department.

While we can’t vouch for this detection method (published at WomansDay.com), it may be worth a try. Pour one teaspoon of peppermint oil down the kitchen drain, followed by hot water.

Walk around the home, especially to rooms with sinks (bathroom, laundry room). If you can smell the peppermint, call a plumber. The trap may be dry or even cracked.

Wait – while you’re in the laundry room

Laundry rooms centrally located within the home are often an overlooked cause of household odors.

Naturally you’ll want to be more mindful if you are one of us who allows the wet load to sit too long. After a load is finished, and you’ve removed the items from the washer, allow the washer door to remain open so that the moisture dries.

If your washer has a rubber seal around the door, clean it periodically with a solution of equal parts of white vinegar and warm water.

Newer washers have self-cleaning cycles that should be set in motion once a month. If your front-loading washer lacks this feature, run an empty load of hot water to which you’ve added 2 cups of white vinegar to the detergent dispenser.

Allow the cycle to complete and then run another, long, hot cycle with 1 cup of baking soda added to the drum.

Top loaders get a bit of a twist on the procedure, according to the experts interviewed by Today.com.

Again, set the washer to the hottest setting, at the highest water level. Place four cups of white vinegar in the detergent dispenser (or in the drum if your washer lacks a dispenser). When the machine fills and begins agitating, set it to pause and wait one hour before allowing the cycle to continue.

Run a second cycle with 1 cup of baking soda added to the hot water.

Are you really going to eat off those dishes?

Our dishwasher is the workhorse of the kitchen. Experts say it should be cleaned once a month and it’s an easy process. Run a load, without dishes, but with 1 cup of vinegar added.

You may also want to do a deep cleaning to get rid of the food debris that can cause quite the stench. This process is a bit more complicated, but worth it if it gets rid of odors.

Your owner’s manual may have deep-clean instructions. If not, the following procedure should help.

  • Remove the bottom rack from the empty dishwasher.
  • Inspect the drain and remove any debris.
  • Wipe up food scraps and other nasties from the bottom of the dishwasher.
  • Locate the dishwasher’s filter (if it has one) and remove it. Open it and clean out debris trapped inside. Rinse it well in hot water before replacing it.
  • Use a damp rag to which you’ve added a few drops of liquid dish detergent or vinegar to wipe down the dishwasher door along with its seals and the dishwasher’s racks and spray arm.
  • Use a toothpick to pick out any debris in the holes in the spray arm.
  • Check for other areas where food debris or a buildup of soap may be causing odors (for instance, around the soap dispenser and the inside of the door).
  • Run an empty load to which you’ve added dishwasher cleaner or 2 cups of vinegar.

Appliance owners’ manuals contain a wealth of valuable maintenance and cleaning information.

If you’ve lost yours you may find one online. Go to your favorite search engine and enter the name of the manufacturer and your appliance’s model number.

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

Tamara Fisher

Golf Course

There was a time when real estate agents could confidently tell their clients that one of the biggest advantages of owning a home on a golf course is that the verdant view would be permanent.

Today, many owners face a view of brown, dead fairways, vandalized buildings and uncertainty about what may pop up when the land is sold.

Chalk it up to the busyness of Americans. The lengthy game of golf has declined in popularity, leaving course owners to deal with the consequences.

Or, blame the oversupply of golf courses and the waning of Tiger-mania (among other reasons), as  John Eidukot at GolfOperatorMagazine.com does.

Whatever the reasons, “More than 200 courses closed in 2017, while about 15 opened,” according to Newser.com editors, quoting National Golf Foundation figures.

We are frequently asked if golf course homes are worth more than those not similarly located, if golf course homes are a good investment and about the pros and cons of golf course living.

Here’s what we know, the good and the bad.

The future of golf

It’s not all doom and gloom for the $84 billion-dollar golf industry. Nearly 40 percent of Americans (107 million, to be more precise) either played read about or watched golf in 2018, according to the National Golf Foundation’s 2019 Golf Industry Report.

The report also found that participation has stabilized. Gone are the crazy statistics of drop-out golfers. In fact, last year, participation rates climbed. The report credits this growth, in part, to “popular off-course forms of the game such as Topgolf, Drive Shack and indoor simulators.”

Since our children are our future, there is encouraging news in the number of young golfers taking up the sport.

“There were 2.5 million junior golfers last year [2018]” the report claims and “an estimated 2.6 million beginners (those who played on a golf course for the first time) in 2018, which is near record levels and marks the fifth straight year with over 2 million newcomers.”

It appears that it’s far too soon to call time-of-death for the game of golf and, by extension, the American golf course.

5 tips to consider if you’ve been thinking about buying a home in a golf course community

  1. While living across the street from the fairways offers a homeowner additional privacy (no neighbor in front), it also provides a bird’s-eye-view to golfers – especially those wandering through your yard to retrieve balls.

Choose your location within the golf community carefully. Homes along the right side, nearest to the tee box, are statistically at higher risk for wandering golfers searching for errant balls and the damage those balls can cause.

One golfer/golf course homeowner we spoke with suggested playing the course to help you determine if the home you have your eye on is ideally located.

  1. While we stress the importance to all homebuyers interested in purchasing a home in a managed community to read the HOA documents thoroughly, it’s even more critical when considering a home on a golf course.

Is netting prohibited? Are there rules against entering the course from your property?

  1. While golf participation is stabilizing, and fewer courses are closing, keep in mind that it’s still a buyers’ market in this real estate niche. You are in the drivers’ seat, by and large, in negotiations.

4. No, you don’t need to be a golfer to enjoy golf course living. In fact, it’s estimated that only about a quarter of residents who live on or near courses play the game. They purchased the home to enjoy the scenic view, the enjoyment of not having a neighbor’s home facing theirs and the peaceful evenings.

5. Even if you do play, you may want to restrict your search for a golf course home for sale to communities that offer other amenities as well, such as walking paths or a swimming pool.

Thinking of selling your golf course home?

Realtor.com analyzed listings of homes for sale in 273 U.S. counties. They found that those listings that included the word “golf” took, on average, 75 days to sell.

These homes eventually sold for 14 percent more than the median sale price for the area and nearly 30 percent more than the nationwide median home price.

Of course, all real estate is local and markets change so the “mileage” here in our area may vary. Feel free to reach out to us for a complimentary, no-obligation determination of your home’s likely market value.

 

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

Tamara Fisher

Downpayment concept

Sometimes (not often enough, in our opinion) money falls into our laps. Tax returns, bonus checks, gifts and an inheritance are just a few ways that we can come into a chunk of money suddenly.

If you’ve been saving for a down payment on a home, the windfall will go a long way toward getting you closer to home ownership. But, “sudden” money comes with a catch.

Lenders like things seasoned

Lenders become skeptical when money suddenly appears, seemingly out of nowhere. Your lender will want a paper trail of every last cent you have and expect to have in the near future.

And, the lender will ask about your down payment funds – how much you have and where it’s being kept.

They are especially wary of borrowers who have taken out another loan to get those funds. It makes the borrower more of a risk and it may also put the other lender in first place should you default on your mortgage.

Even if your down payment windfall came from a legitimate source (a big bonus at work, a tax refund, etc.) the lender will most likely ask for “seasoned” funds instead.

What are seasoned funds?

Funds are considered “seasoned” if they have been in your account for a specified amount of time. Many lenders insist on a 60-day seasoning period, some want to see that money in an account for 90 or more days. Then, there are some who require only a 30-day period.

Find out from your lender how seasoned your funds must be and don’t start the loan process until that amount of time has elapsed.

You’ll need to “source” that money as well

Where did you get the money? Be prepared to not only answer the question, but prove the source of the funds as well.

Again, lenders want to ensure that you aren’t using a short-term loan or some other source that may put the loan at risk.

If the money wasn’t saved from your income (which is easy to prove), you’ll need to offer proof that, yes, Aunt Martha died and you inherited her savings.

Taking money from an investment account to use for your down payment or closing costs?

“If you withdraw cash from an investment or retirement account (like a 401k or an IRA) that has certain restrictions on withdrawals, the underwriter will likely ask to see the terms of the withdrawal in writing,” according to Brandon Cornett at QualifiedMortgage.org.

Gift funds get extra scrutiny

For money to be considered a gift, the giver must have no expectation of being repaid.

The lender will source the gift, determining who gave it to you. Most lenders require that all gift funds must come from family members.

Gift funds get a bit trickier if you’ll be using an FHA-backed loan. Borrowers with low credit scores (typically between 580 and 619) will need to ensure that at least 3.5 percent of the down payment is their own money – it can’t come in the form of a gift.

If you will be putting down 20 percent as a down payment, regardless of your score, often the entire down payment can be sourced from a gift (ask your lender about its policies).

You’ll need a letter from the person gifting you the money, addressed to the lender. It should include the giver’s name, address and phone number, their relationship to you, the amount of the gift and the date on which it was given.

The letter should clearly state that the money was given as a gift and there is no expectation of repayment.

You’ll be asked for documentation from the lender for almost every aspect of your financial life, including a certain number of bank statements. TIP: Include ALL pages of your statements, including those that are blank.

We aren’t accountants or mortgage brokers, so we urge you to consult with a professional should you have any questions about obtaining a mortgage.

 

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

Tamara Fisher

Mudroom

Folks who live in areas of the country with wild winter weather use a vocabulary that sounds like a foreign language to those who live in more mild climes.

One of the words not in the Hawaiian’s or Floridian’s vocabulary is “mudroom.”

But, whether it’s an entryway retrofitted in the winter to hold wet, muddy shoes or an entire room devoted to winter over-clothes, boots and recreational equipment, a mudroom is something many Americans can’t fathom living without.

After all, it helps keep the rest of the home clean.

That’s the beauty of the mudroom. Located at a home’s entry point, it’s a corral for grimy gear.

Whether you need to create a mudroom or want to deck out the one you already have, we’ve rounded up some brilliant tips for its floors and walls.

The best location for a mudroom

If you’re starting from scratch (creating a new mudroom), the first thing to know is that it needs to be a room off of an exterior door.

Depending on how much space you have, you’ll ideally want it out-of-sight from the rest of the house. Sure, that’s not always possible, but it’s the ideal.

After that, the sky is the limit.

Here are some tips to consider if you’ll be creating a mudroom:

If the design and décor will be more utilitarian than decorative, site the mudroom near a side or rear entryway.

If you lack space inside the home, consider turning a corner of the garage or carport into a mudroom. One of the trends in new-home construction is to combine the mudroom and the utility room.

This way, soiled clothing goes right into the washer instead of being piled in a basket (or on the floor) awaiting a trip to the laundry room.

The designers at HGTV claim that the best location for a mudroom is the room accessed first by the door to the home that you use most.

Durability is key in choosing mudroom flooring

Everything in a mudroom should be durable and efficient to use. Start with durability and you’ll thank yourself later.

Skip carpeting and opt for a flooring product that is easy to clean yet still slip-resistant. This means no tile (unless it’s labeled as slip-resistant).

Good options include:

  • Vinyl – There are some gorgeous luxury plank vinyl flooring options available today (see examples here). Some look and feel like wood and many are waterproof.

 

  • Natural stone – Yes, some types of natural stone can be quite slippery when wet. According to a study published in the Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering, it’s the composition of the stone product and not the rough finish that determines how slick it will be.

Products with more quartz, such as mica schist, are less slippery, but granite, with a high quartz content, is quite “slippery in wet conditions” because of other minerals included in the rock wear down easily. Shop carefully if you’re considering natural stone floors for your mudroom.

 

  • Concrete – Wait, don’t turn your nose up at the thought of a concrete floor. Installers are doing wonders with finishes nowadays. Take a look at examples of “Why Concrete Floors Rock” at HGTV.com.

Buy a bunch of throw rugs and some boot scrubbers and your floors will be a snap to clean.

Move on to the walls

Paint or wallpaper? Again, you’ll want to keep the focus on durability when considering how to cover the mudroom walls.

Either one, if chosen wisely, will stand up to the gunk that gets flung around a mudroom.

Semi-gloss painted walls are the easiest to clean, but choose a color that won’t show the grime (forego white).

The folks at HGTV recommend, aside from paint, wainscoting and beadboard.

When you’re considering wallpaper, look to the vinyl selections first. They clean up easily and hide a lot of “sins.” Take a look at how some homeowners have used wallpaper in their mudrooms at Houzz.com.

Find additional mudroom makeover ideas at ElleDecor.com and Pinterest.com.

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