Real Estate Affordability November 27, 2021

Build A Home with Little to No Money Down

Buying a home can be nerve-racking, especially when you consider the costs at the beginning of the process, with most home loans requiring a down payment of between 10-30%. Not to mention the various fees that come with it. For many buyers, this may feel like homeownership is out of reach.

Thankfully, using government loans administered by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the US Departments of Agriculture (USDA), and the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offer money-saving alternatives. All three loans facilitate homeownership with little to no money down. For some buyers, it allows them to build a home for less than the cost to buy an existing one.

Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Loans

Government loans administered by the FHA are perfect for first-time homebuyers. This is because they have some of the most lenient eligibility requirements out of any home loan available, and great benefits as well. These benefits include:

  • Low down payment of 3.5%.
  • Lower monthly mortgage costs.
  • Low closing costs.
  • A credit score of 580 and lower (depending on the lender) is still eligible.

These home loans also allow applicants who have gone through financial difficulties in the past to be eligible. Applicants who have gone through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy will qualify for FHA home loans. Their only requirement is that the loan application is made two years from their bankruptcy discharge date. Chapter 13 bankruptcy recipients can also be eligible for the loan. They only need to have one year of making bankruptcy payments and rent on time and court approval.

These loans are for the purchase of single-family homes and multi-family homes of up to four units, as long as the applicant plans to occupy all or part of it primarily. Also, these loans can finance the purchase of FHA-approved condos, townhomes, manufactured homes, and mobile homes as long as they meet the requirements dictated by the FHA.

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Loans

Created for lower-income families who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to purchase a home, USDA loans are meant exclusively for rural communities. Eligibility for these home loans requires that the applicant make an income at or below the county’s low-income limit.

These loans also require that the property applied for is a modest single-family home with no extra amenities like an in-ground pool. Properties can’t be for any business purpose whatsoever. On average, USDA loan limits vary depending on the count, population and it’s cost of living.

Once eligibility is confirmed, the applicant will be able to enjoy USDA loan benefits. Including a no down payment requirement, competitive interest rates, flexible credit score requirements, and low mortgage insurance payments.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Home Loan

Government loans by the VA are some of the best home loans available. However, they are exclusive to Veterans, Active Duty Service Members, and eligible military spouses. The applicant must also meet all other VA eligibility requirements, which include military service, property, income, and credit score requirements.

Once an applicant qualifies, they will enjoy some of the best benefits out of any home loan available. These include:

  • $0 down payment requirement
  • Low monthly mortgage payments
  • Low monthly interest rates

These home loans are for single-family homes, multi-family dwellings of up to four units, townhomes, manufactured and double-wide mobile homes on a permanent foundation, and VA-approved condos.

Moreover, since January 1st, 2020, VA home loan recipients are no longer subject to loan limits on their first VA home loan. The only limitation for applicants is how much they can afford and the lender limit. Some lenders are offering $0 down for up to $5 million dollars. However, for applicants with more than one active home loan, the loan limits vary depending on the county where the property is located.

What’s Holding You Back?

Building an affordable custom home is entirely possible with the use of government-guaranteed home loans.

To start the process, you will need a loan approval, vacant land to purchase and an approved builder. Generally, the process van be completed in less than 5 months.

Their most significant incentives being their lower eligibility requirements and their great benefits. Lenders are also willing to be more lenient on their eligibility requirements because they get protection from the government against financial loss.

Phil Georgiades is the CLS for, an affordable home ownership advocate since 2012.  For more information or to apply for a home loan, call us at (877) 432-5626.   For additional real estate inform action call Paul Burrowes at 831-295-5130.


Home Improvement November 16, 2021

The Best Poker Tables for Home Use

When you set about upgrading your home, it’s often easiest to focus on larger projects. You might devote special attention to transforming your kitchen, however, or decorating the garden in a new fashion. These are bold and lasting changes that can alter the look, feel, and even value of your home for the better. In some cases though, a simple change like adding the right piece of furniture can make a significant difference as well.

Granted, this kind of change, won’t typically boost the home’s underlying value. But if you want the home to “pop” for a showing, or you simply want to enjoy the space more for yourself, the right piece for the right room can be completely effective. In this piece, we want to explore this idea with regard to poker tables –– niche furnishings, perhaps, but ones with the power to transform entire rooms into fun and functional places.

The game of poker has evolved over the course of centuries. It was once a gambling activity common on frontiers and in ports; it eventually became a foundation and a constant for organized casinos; and in time it more or less became a professional sport, as well as a game millions upon millions of amateurs play through various means.

The constant in all of this is that the popularity of poker has never truly waned. Today, much of that popularity revolves around mobile apps and online games. However, there are still plenty of people who enjoy playing games at home with friends or family. And to do that — or at least to do it right — people need good surfaces to play on. The following are some of the best options if you want to set up such a surface in your home.

Trademark Poker Deluxe Solid Wood

The Deluxe Solid Wood table from Trademark Poker is actually a fold-up table topper — which makes it about as convenient as a real poker table will get. It’s easily folded away for storage, yet can be brought out when needed and placed over a dining room table, a coffee table, or even an office desk. On top of the convenience, there’s also something of a classic look to this topper. The surface is green felt, which is standard for poker tables; there are painted areas for cards; and there are places for up to eight players, marked by plastic drink holders and chip wells. All in all it’s just a very functional table.

Livebest 48’’ Octagon Folding Card Game Poker Table

This option is very much like the Trademark Poker one, save for the fact that it’s a complete table. The surface resembles the Trademark Poker option closely, but in this case the top is built onto what would otherwise be a standard (if octagonal) folding table. Metallic legs unfold easily to create a standalone table for eight, complete with drink holders, a green felt surface, and places for player cards.

AVAWING Folding Texas Hold’em Poker Table

The AVAWING Folding Texas Hold’em Poker Table is similar structurally to the Livebest, but for the fact that it folds out into an elongated oval shape, with eight spots for players and an opening for a dealer (complete with a well that can hold a full chip set). This table lacks some of the painted-on markings other tables have, but to some players who embrace variety this might actually be a good thing. Markings are typically made with Texas Hold’em in mind, given that this is the most popular variety of poker and has been for some time. What this means essentially is that there are painted spots for each player’s personal cards (two each), as well as designated places for the community cards (five over the course of a hand). Of course it’s easy enough to ignore this design should you wish to play a different type of poker, but it is a particularly good table for Hold’em.

Barrington Charleston Poker Table

Barrington’s Charleston Poker Table is yet another fold-up option, and essentially an alternative to the AVAWING. This table looks a little bit different, with a black top and clearly denoted spots for communal cards in Texas Hold’em. But if anything it has a slightly classier, more permanent look than most of its competition. The rim of the table is padded in a brown, faux leather with drink holders spaced out for 10 players. Its sturdiness and general appearance make it look more like a fixture in someone’s den or game room, even if it can still be folded up for compact storage.

Hillsdale Furniture Palm Springs Game Table

This last selection is a real wooden table and a permanent piece rather than a fold-up. It’s made with a brown cherry finish, arched legs, and a round top, with chip wells and drink holders for six players around the edge — as well as a faux leather center for easy card and chip handling. It’s an attractive, high-end table ideal for more serious players. But it’s the versatility of it that really stands out. The top of the table is reversible, such that when it’s not needed or poker it can be turned into an ordinary surface fit for a home office, a study, or even for other kinds of games.

These tables cover a range of styles, prices, and preferences. Altogether they represent some of the best options out there for people playing poker in the home, as well as excellent ways to transform a spare room into something more.

Waterfront Property November 8, 2021

Waterfront property tips for first-time buyers


Purchasing a waterfront property differs significantly from buying a home on a regular neighborhood street. Buying a waterfront house entails not just paying for a piece of real estate but also “buying” into a specific way of life. If you’re considering purchasing a property near a body of water, first and foremost, congrats, as many people will never have the option or chance to do so. Let’s get on with the waterfront property tips for first-time buyers!

Plan the financing as soon as possible

Whether a buyer is acquiring their first house, their fifth home, a vacation property, or a waterfront home, one of the most crucial suggestions is to figure out the financing as soon as possible. Before looking for waterfront property, prospective buyers should grasp the necessity of securing finances.

Some waterfront house buyers will choose to pay cash for their homes, making obtaining finances much easier. Many others will need to acquire a mortgage to fund their waterfront home purchase.

Caption: One of the first waterfront property tips for first-time buyers is sorting out the financials as soon as possible because it speeds up the whole process!

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is essential when purchasing a waterfront property. Many sellers may be instructed by their realtors to only accept bids from pre-approved purchasers.

Another significant reason to plan your budget and secure your financing on time is that the number of waterfront properties for sale is typically lower than that of non-waterfront homes, resulting in fierce competition. Because buying a waterfront house may be competitive, not having your finances in place is a sure way to miss out on a home in a multiple offer situation.

Hire a reputable real estate agent

Hiring an experienced real estate agent is critical when buying a property in general, much like sorting out the finances early on. Another key piece of advice for purchasing a waterfront property is to work with a seasoned real estate agent. Interviewing potential real estate agents is a fantastic method to determine whether or not they will be a good fit for you.

Why are you buying a waterfront property?

Ask yourself why you’re considering buying a waterfront property in the first place. There are various reasons why people choose to do this, so it’s vital to consider if it’s a good investment. Before investing, you should research the best waterfront communities and look at other houses in the neighborhood.

When considering the purchase of waterfront property, one of the first things you should ask yourself is whether or not you would use the water. If you don’t see the benefit in having a property with a private beach, for instance, paying the higher price for an oceanfront home is a waste of money.

Another essential thing to consider before purchasing a waterfront home is if you genuinely want to live on the water. Do you see bringing friends and family over to appreciate your home’s breathtaking views and have fun in the sun? If you answered no, paying a premium for a waterfront property might not be the best investment.

Caption: If you get a waterfront property, you should probably get a boat!

After buying the property, you will have to move into the new house. For that, you should hire a moving company to help you settle in with no trouble. By hiring movers, you will reduce the stress that comes with relocation and even save money that you could use to furnish and decorate your new oasis.

You will be buying more than just a house

Keep in mind that you’ll be purchasing more than just the house. You are also paying for amazing views, ease of access to the water, the amount of frontage along the water, seclusion, and many other factors. And you will have to maintain the waterfront property, get used to the climate and the lifestyle.

It’s impossible to put a price on a magnificent ocean view or easy access to the water. But bear in mind that you’re paying for these extras when purchasing a waterfront house.

Get to know the body of water

When buying a waterfront house, it’s a good idea to do some preliminary research on the body of water. There are a few things you should know about it.

It’s critical to learn about the water depths before purchasing a riverfront property, especially if you have a goal of owning a boat. Depending on the type of boat, the required depths of water will vary. The needed depth for a sailboat, for example, differs from the required depth for a pontoon boat.

Caption: When you buy a waterfront property, you also buy into that lifestyle.

Learn about flood insurance

Depending on the location of the house and the type of financing used, a buyer may have to get flood insurance for their home. When purchasing a waterfront property, you must be aware of the common problems and the need for flood insurance.

Flood insurance pays for the cost of repairing damage caused by floods. It’s vital to understand that certain waterfront properties are more vulnerable to flooding than others. A flood insurance policy for a property with a high risk of flooding will be far more expensive than one for a property with reduced risk.

As a result, flood insurance may be pretty expensive in some cases, so it’s crucial to understand it and the expenses associated with it before buying a waterfront house. There are numerous tools accessible online to assist in calculating the cost of flood insurance on a home.

In conclusion

By following these waterfront property tips for first-time buyers, you will have a significant advantage over others. As will all real estate transactions, the best course of action is to get in touch with a reputable local agent. They can guide you through the entire process and answer all of your questions. Good luck with your house hunting venture!

Real Estate Upsizing July 21, 2021

7 Signs It’s Time to Upsize Your Home

Even though you may enjoy your current home and all of the memories it holds, there may come a moment when you simply must relocate. Recognizing when your beloved small home no longer meets your needs is an important element of being a homeowner. When that time arrives, consider embracing the prospect of ‘upsizing’ to a new home that better meets your and your family’s needs. Let’s take a look at some clear signs that it’s time to upsize your home.

1. You cannot escape the clutter

Although your humble abode has done a fantastic job at being sufficient for you and anyone else you’re sharing your home with, some clear signs tell you it’s time to leave. One of these is undoubtedly a cluttered space. If you cannot maintain the cleanliness of your home and aren’t able to find room for everything you need, chances are you’ve outgrown it. Feeling cramped is no way to live. You’ll just have more and more items for which you’re unable to find space. Especially if you’re planning on expanding your family, you need to come up with a solution. The simplest and most logical answer to this problem is upsizing your home. By doing so, you’ll be able to finally furnish your home the way you’ve wanted to. This means no more tiny pieces of furniture and tricks to help your house seem bigger. It’ll actually be bigger.

2. Your home is becoming too small for your family

If you seem to be waiting for the bathroom or toilet all of the time, your kids are sharing bedrooms, and visitors have nowhere to stay, you should upsize your home. A smaller residence can rapidly become crowded and chaotic for expanding families. It’s possible that you’ve outgrown the space, and everyone feels like they’re living on top of one other if your family is constantly squabbling. If that’s the case, upsizing your home isn’t just a possibility, it’s a necessity. Getaway spaces, such as nice-sized bedrooms, a study or multipurpose room, and an outside area with plenty of natural light are essential for everyone’s sanity. This way, the kids can have their own rooms, and if you have any visitors, they can reside in the guest rooms rather than on the couch.

3. Upsize your home because you can afford it

Of course, deciding to upsize your home is a significant investment. Make sure to look at what you can afford. Once you’ve thought about this step long and hard, only then proceed with it. Additionally, before you start the process of upsizing and moving, make sure you can afford not only the capacity to move up but also the ability to keep your current lifestyle intact. It’s also necessary to keep an eye on the present market. If it appears that now is a good time to buy, interest rates are low, and your finances are in good shape, it may be a good time to relocate.

4. Your home needs endless repairs

Even though it’s natural for a home to wear and tear over time, you need to set boundaries. As your home ages, you’ll need to put more and more money into it to maintain it. Keeping an older home going can be worth it for some people. However, if you’re tired of being stuck in a loop of constant repairs, it’s time for a change. It’ll actually probably pay off in the long run since these fixes can add up. A new home will mean no more repairs of noisy old bathrooms and kitchens where everything needs replacing. Your floors won’t look worn out, the gutters won’t need to be replaced every time it rains, and you’ll no longer have poor energy efficiency.

5. You’re no longer happy with your surroundings

Since you initially bought your home, your situation and what you thought was an ideal location may have completely altered. Moving jobs, for example, may now need a long commute. To choose the best location and give your family what it needs, think about relocating and upsizing your house. Make a list of all the features you require in a location and begin your search!

Relocate to another neighborhood easily

If you decide to relocate to another neighborhood, know that upsizing your home isn’t the only obligation you’ll have.Residential moves are a lot of work. However, with a bit of help from reliable and trustworthy professionals, you’ll get the simplest possible relocation without a lot of fuss. So, make your life easier, and don’t attempt any DIY moves. Hire a moving company, instead.

6. Make room for a furry friend

Bringing a pet into the family may be a thrilling experience. They’re beneficial for our physical and emotional health, and they’re the best of friends, but not every home is pet-friendly. It could be time to start looking for a new home if your existing one isn’t suited for that much-desired puppy or kitten. Buying a larger property will probably also come with a larger yard, which will be really convenient for the well-being of your pets.

7. You want to entertain larger parties

First homes are sometimes just big enough for your lifestyle, with little room for entertaining. So, if you’ve started to need a place that you’d be proud to show off to friends, it could be time to upsize your home. Larger homes will offer more space for entertaining, as well as possibly a second bedroom where guests or family members can stay. You’ll also have extra room to host children’s birthday parties or arrange playdates. A larger home surely allows you to express your outgoing side.


Home Improvement July 21, 2021

How to Know When Your Home Improvement Project Calls for a Professional

Being a homeowner is a major responsibility. It’s up to you to keep your home in good shape through regular maintenance, dealing with problems, and even taking on major renovations at times. With all of this on your shoulders, it’s tempting to go the DIY route whenever you can.

The trouble comes when homeowners try to tackle projects they don’t have the skills or the right tools for. If you aren’t sure if you should DIY a project, take a tip from Money Crashers and ask yourself these three questions: Is it unsafe? Could it destroy your house? And does it require a permit? If the answer is yes to any, that’s a sure sign you need a professional.

Along with those guidelines, realtor Paul Burrowes suggests hiring a pro for these common projects.

HVAC Installation

Anytime you notice a problem with your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, it’s likely to be one that leaves your family feeling uncomfortable. When your furnace stops heating your home, you may be able to diagnose a simple problem, but it’s important to know when you need a professional’s help or possibly a replacement.

If you end up needing a furnace replacement, you can expect to spend anywhere from $1,795 to $6,290 for a new one. Make sure to consider the different options, along with labor, because this will determine how much the project actually costs.

Electrical Issues

Dealing with electrical problems is perhaps where you want to exercise the most caution since these projects have the greatest risk of serious injury. Even small electrical projects, like installing a light fixture, are considered advanced for someone who isn’t an electrician. One thing a homeowner can do is stay aware of potential electrical problems. For example, Family Handyman points out signs that you have an electrical problem that needs attention, such as outlets that are hot to the touch or lights that flicker.

The amount you’ll spend to hire an electrician can be as low as a few hundred dollars for simple repairs or installation projects, or several thousand dollars if you’re rewiring a house. The thing to keep in mind is that an electrician’s cost is determined by several factors, including the labor and materials required and the condition wiring is in currently. Of course, the cost is only one factor to consider anytime you hire a pro. You also want to find an electrician who specializes in the type of work you need to be done and who can deliver quality.

Major Plumbing Problems

Much like electrical work, a major plumbing problem is something you don’t want to mess around with. According to Bob Vila, there are some plumbing problems that homeowners can prevent. You may also want to try your hand at minor issues with plumbing that tend to happen frequently, such as fixing a leaky faucet or a running toilet. What you don’t want to do is find out too late that you’ve gotten in over your head with a plumbing DIY project because you run the risk of making the situation worse.

Outside the House

Not all major maintenance and repairs exist inside the house. Consider the exterior areas, including structural issues like driveways and walls that are cracked or eroding. Trees that are either ready to fall due to damage from a storm or are rotting pose a particularly immediate danger, especially if they are near the house, which should prompt calling in tree removal professionals to either cut the jeopardized trees down or remove debris.

Locating local tree specialists in your area is as simple as searching online service providers like Angi, which also provide ratings and customer reviews to help narrow the field. Many of these companies also offer stump grinding, pruning, and tree healthcare to address pest infestation and diseases.

Any homeowner should learn some basic carpentry and plumbing skills, and doing small projects yourself is a great way to stay on top of things while saving money. However, it’s just as important to know when to call a pro. Trust us — you’re better off making sure it’s done right!

Paul Burrowes brings 15 years of experience in real estate, excellent customer service and a commitment to work hard, listen and follow through. If you’re in the market to buy or sell in the Scott’s Valley area, reach out today! (831) 295-5130


First Time Home Buyer June 1, 2021

How Can a Real Estate Agent Help You Save Money

A tiny model of a house, some change, and a clock

When buying or selling property, many people wonder whether hiring an agent is necessary. Their logic is: why should I pay for something I can do myself? The agent’s commission is what they want to avoid. However, they fail to recognize the copious benefits an experienced agent brings to the table. And once they do, they usually realize they can’t do this on their own. Not well, at least. What is more, with some helpful advice, a good real estate agent can help you save money even. So, if you are wondering whether you should hire an agent or not, here is what you should know that will tip the scales towards YES.

An experienced agent knows all the right people

As you have already realized, whatever you need to do in this life, it takes a village if you plan to do it well. So, if you want to sell your home, it can become messy, long, and expensive without the right people on your side.

You will need an inspector, someone to help you stage your home, perhaps a contractor if there is a project to be done, reliable movers to get you out of the house and into the new one, and maybe more. Now try to imagine what it would look like and how it would feel if you had to locate all these people on your own. The endless reviews to read, people to interview, and you can never be too sure you have made the right choice.

But, with a good agent in your corner, you get access to their contacts. They will recommend the right people at the right price. It will be a massive weight off your shoulders.

A good real estate agent knows the market and the right prices

One of the greatest benefits of hiring a real estate agent is that they know the market and know what the homes in a particular location should go for. Thus, a knowledgeable agent will be of tremendous help in your search if you are looking for a home. Alternatively, if you are selling, they will know how to accurately price your home and, consequently, sell it faster. They have an insight into what specific types and styles go for, what features are trendy, and more.

An agent and a client holding a model of a house

A good real estate agent knows the market and what homes in a particular area go for.

Furthermore, they can provide comparative analysis, which will show them what comparable homes in the same neighborhood have sold for recently. It helps them set a fair price for your home if you are a seller and is a powerful negotiating tool if you are a buyer. Without such information and their help, you may overpay or undersell your home. Therefore, this is the most direct way a real estate agent can help you save money.

A real estate agent helps you save time

An agent saves you time, and time is money. Don’t be fooled into thinking that selling or buying property will demand a minimal time investment on your behalf. Contrary to what you may think, selling a house is more than posting ads on a few listing sites, taking some pictures, hosting an open house, and dealing with paperwork. If you are buying, they will find listings for you based on your budget and preferences. They will tour possible options for you and help you determine whether a particular home is worth your attention or not.

Selling and buying a home is a full-time job. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be an entire industry dealing with real estate. Also, if you decide to go for and FSBO (For Sale by Owner) option, you will quickly realize that this endeavor is taking up your whole life. And if it is pulling you away from your work, family, and hobbies, is it really worth saving on an agent’s commission?

An agent can find fantastic deals

Real estate agents are excellent at finding fantastic deals. Perhaps they have their own listing that suits your budget and needs perfectly. Also, they may have a colleague with a home that would be just right for you. Finally, if anyone could possibly know about a property yet-to-be-listed that you may like and get to before anyone else has a chance, it’s an agent. They also have access to MLS (multiple listing service) and can help you look at properties that have been on the market for a while. Typically, sellers who have had trouble selling their properties become increasingly incentivized to lower the price with time.

Once an agent helps you find the best home for you at the right price, they will help you hire reliable movers too.

Whatever it is, they have the tools to get you a deal you would be unlikely to get on your own. And they can do so much faster. Then, all you will have to do is ask your agent to recommend a moving company to handle the transfer of bulky pieces. If you have developed a trusting relationship with your agent, you won’t have to worry about the movers’ reliability. Also, you won’t need to wonder if you are overpaying for their services.

A real estate agent can help you save money by using the home inspection to your advantage

Whether you are buying or selling, it’s always advisable to perform a home inspection. If you are selling, a home inspection will reveal issues that that will need your attention. However, it is usually not necessary to fix every single point in the report. An agent will help you determine which repairs will be beneficial and help you increase your home value. On your own, you may waste money on projects that would ultimately make little to no difference.

A real estate agent can help you save money by preventing any mistakes and negotiating the best price.

Alt: A person signing a contract and a house keychain, representing how a real estate agent can help you save money

If you are purchasing a home, you must know that even a brand-new home can hide some underlying problems, and a home inspection will put some light on them. It could be anything from minor, aesthetic issues to serious safety hazards that need repairs. An experienced agent will know how to use the findings in the report to your advantage. As we already know, agents are excellent negotiators. So, they can lower the price depending on the necessary repairs. Alternatively, they can arrange for the repairs to be dealt with before the purchase is finalized. Either way, your agent will end up saving you quite a bit of money.

Final words

In theory, saving on an agent’s commission might make sense. However, in reality, things are not that simple, and working with a real estate agent can help you save money. Therefore, call an agent you can trust if you want to ensure that you get the best deal possible, don’t waste any money along the way, save time, and most importantly, don’t regret anything a few months later when you are fixing the damaged roof or another major issue.

VA Home Buyers June 1, 2021

Top VA Loan Tips for Homebuyers in 2021

VA Loan Tips

Serving in the armed forces is one of the most honorable experiences many men and women can have. Being in the military comes with a lot of perks and benefits. One of the most overlooked benefits by both Veterans and service members buying a home through a VA loan.

A VA loan is a mortgage guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued by private lenders and available only to veterans, active-duty service members and their eligible spouses.

Some of the advantages of buying a house through a VA loan are: low interest rates and closing costs, $0 down payment, and the option to forgo private mortgage insurance (pmi).

Additionally, the VA did not set a minimum credit score. However, having stellar credit can help to attain rock bottom variable or fixed rates. For peace of mind, be sure to get a free copy of your credit report and check for errors before applying. If you notice anything suspicious in your report, you can hire a credit repair company to help or you can remove the inaccurate items yourself.

Even though VA loans are more popular now than before, it is still different than a traditional loan.

Here are 7 VA loan tips that you need to consider if you’re thinking of buying a home through a VA loan.

1.    Your credit score still matters, but it’s not everything

    • Lenders tend to be more flexible with VA loans

2.    You can get started without the Certificate of Eligibility (COE)

    • A COE is issued by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and is proof that you are eligible for the VA home loan benefit

3.    Make sure you have enough saved

    • You are still responsible for certain closing costs (i.e. application fees, insurance, inspection fees, real estate taxes, and more)

4.    Shop for a VA lender and get pre-approved

    • Look for reputable lenders that exclusively cater to military members, veterans, military spouses, and their families – compare all offers

5.    Find a real estate agent that’s VA-savvy

    • Contact your VA regional loan center and ask if they can recommend a VA-savvy agent in your area.

6.    Choose a property that’s VA-approved

    • Properties purchased through a VA loan can’t be used as vacation homes or investment properties; condos must meet certain requirements

7.    Close the deal only when you’re ready to move in

    • Interested homebuyers must complete the VA’s minimum occupancy requirement
Home Garden May 7, 2021

How to Decorate Your Garden: A Guide

Decorating your garden, however big or small, is a fun and worthwhile task. Of course, it often involves some hard, physical work, and it can be very time-consuming. For this reason, it’s good to have a plan of attack for your garden! By this, we mean that you should plan in detail what you want to do before you move forward and begin. Having a vision in mind is very important.

Gardening, and the mere act of sitting in a garden, can have a wonderful benefit on your mental and physical wellbeing. For example, just working in your garden can contribute to your daily exercise, and being outside in the sun will boost your energy levels as well as provide you with an extra dose of Vitamin D, not to mention the benefit from all the extra oxygen coming off the plants and trees.

In this article we’ll show you how to go about planning your garden. We’ll cover what you need to know about the flowers and plants, and explain how to do the landscaping, decorate patios, as well as other types of paths. We’ll even explore growing vegetables. In short, we’ll show you how to make the most of your garden.

Plan Your Decor

The first step to building the garden of your dreams is planning. Having a well thought out plan will help you develop all the things that are important to you within your garden. It’ll also allow you to develop a physical layout that you can use as a guide.

Think of it as a map.

In fact, we recommend drawing a map, as well as putting together budgeting and timelines. Putting together a solid plan will allow you to address the things you have control over and the things you don’t. It’ll help you build a vision of your desired outcome, before diving into the heavy work.

Hand and Pencil

Make a Map

First things first. Let’s assess what you already have. Grab a pencil and paper. It doesn’t need to be fancy. After doing a first draft on your own, you may decide to hire a professional cartographer who specializes in gardens and small-scale maps. They’ll be able to draw it out to scale in a detailed manner.

But even if you decide to go this route, we recommend doing a sketch or two on your own. It’ll help you get an idea of what you have and dream about what you want.

Whether you do it yourself or hire someone, the goal is to detail the slopes, stairs, existing paths, and sheltered areas. Consider things such as:

  • Are there parts that don’t get sunlight?
  • Are there areas that are exposed to more wind?

The more detail you include, the better.

The drawings themselves don’t need to be detailed and specific, but it is important to highlight all the details which could affect the design of your garden.

Many people enjoy using software such as CAD (Computer-Aided Design). CAD software can help you create precise drawings and plans. The maps drawn using CAD software are more architecturally precise. Especially if you choose a software program that’s designed specifically for garden planning.

Some software programs allow you to add templates for garden plants, trees, structures, and even furniture.

But keep in mind, that your first basic garden map is intended to take a close look at what you already have . . . we’ll start planning for your dream garden later.

Mapping your garden

Draw Your Plan and Your Dream Vision

With your current garden map in hand, you can begin thinking about building your dream garden.

Be sure to make a copy or two of your current garden map so you can experiment with different ideas without needing to start from scratch.

Looking at what you already have in your garden, you’ll be able to easily see where you can plant a bush, a tree, or add a bench. You may even identify areas where you’ll want to do a complete remodel!

Finding Inspiration

Let’s face it, some people can look at something and “see” the finished product. They instinctively know what will look good and how they want it laid out.

But if you’re like the rest of us mere mortals, then you probably need a little inspiration.

Gardening magazines are an excellent resource. They’re often full of beautiful gardens and plant ideas, and you can also find advertisements for garden furniture and decor.

Websites is another great place to look for ideas. There are plenty of sites featuring professional gardeners and amateurs. You’ll have a chance to get some great ideas, read helpful tips, and maybe even join an email list that will keep you updated with the latest news and ideas.

One of the more popular gardening websites in the world is the Royal Horticultural Society. This British-based website has plenty of gorgeous garden inspiration and information about plants.

And, of course there’s social media. Social media platforms, such as Instagram and Pinterest are chock-full of amazing garden ideas and inspiration. Simply search using the hashtags:

  • #gardeninspot
  • #gardening

You’ll get hundreds, if not thousands of hits and can easily spend the rest of the afternoon coming up with ideas.

Available Space

Once you’ve decided what you want  in your garden, it’s time to work out whereit should be in your garden. And fitting things in isn’t always easy. All gardens are limited in size by the boundaries of the space. You’ll need to be realistic about what you can and can not do.

If you have sheds or other structures, you may want to remove (or move them) to free up space. But unless you can purchase additional land around your property, you won’t be able to extend beyond your property line.

Plan Your Paths

A good starting point is to plan where you want your paths. Mark out water sources, such as sprinkler systems and ponds, and don’t forget to consider drainage. You’ll want to make sure that the water drains away from your house, rather than towards it where it could cause problems.

Rain gardens are another good thing to consider implementing if you have enough space and adequate drainage. These are flower patches that soak up the rain that drips from the roofs of buildings and other structures.

The video below covers different types of paths and should be able to give you some ideas of what might work well in your garden.

Watch the Video

Plan Your Garden

At this point it’s time to start planning where you want to grow plants in your garden. Mark out where you want to place shrubbery and foliage, then designate areas for flowers.

Do you want a vegetable patch? A greenhouse? If so, find a spot on your map, and always prioritize what’s most important to you since you may need to make compromises.

How will you use your garden?

  • Will you host outside dinner parties for friends?
  • Will you host BBQs?
  • Would a patio make things more comfortable?
  • Do you have children or grandchildren who would like to play in your garden? If so, you may want to include a flat lawn space.
  • What about a pond? Do you want fish?

Some of your planning will be dependent on the geographical area of where you live. For example, if you want to plant ferns and other soft foliage, it’s not really practical in a dry state such as Arizona or Nevada.

Talk to other local gardeners, or seek advice from your garden store on what plants, vegetables, and foliage is best suited for your area. Always be practical and realistic when choosing plants for your dream garden.

Consider the upkeep and the level of care required. If you’re not able to dedicate the time to pruning, then purchasing prized rose bushes probably isn’t a good idea. In this example, lower maintenance plants and/or shrubs would most likely be a better match for you and your garden.

Man with pencil using a calculator

Determine a Budget

Once you have a rough idea of what you want in your garden, it’s time to decide how much you’re willing to spend to make it happen.

The best way to do this is to get some quotes, but you can also work out a rough estimate yourself if you plan to do all the work. Find a number that’s doable for you and build-in a little extra for the unexpected.

You may be pleasantly surprised that its less expensive than you originally thought, or you may begin to think “what the heck, I need to reign in my spending“.

The good new is, at this stage, you shouldn’t have spent anything since you’re still in the planning stage. This gives you time compromise and look for lower cost alternatives.

Many homeowners skip this step since they think they don’t need a budget. But failing to plan your spending can be a dangerous choice. Your garden may end up costing more than you would have ever paid.

Invest in the features that are most important to you, and fill the rest in with more budget-friendly choices. You can always upgrade down the road.

Once you’ve decided on the ideal budget, be sure that it’s realistic and that you have some built-in wiggle room, you may also want to set a red line maximum budget that you will never cross.

A few of the common costs associated with decorating a garden are:

  • Cost of materials for patios, pathways, and decks (includes things such as cement, slabs, wood, gravel, etc.)
  • CAD software, if you choose to use your computer to design a map of the garden. And/or the cost of hiring someone to make the map for you.
  • The cost of hiring or buying any power tools you may need.
  • The cost of buying seeds, stats, and saplings for your plants and vegetables.
  • Soil and fertilizer costs.
  • The cost of a water system, such as sprinklers.
  • Any water features such as ponds or fountains you may want to add.
  • Furniture for your garden or patio.
  • A BBQ or grill.
  • The cost of fencing and walls.
  • Professionals you may need to consult during the process.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but it does give you an idea of things you should work into your budget.

Spiral Clock

Time Investment

You’ve probably already figured out that you’re going to need to consider investing some time into this project. In fact, it’s going to take a considerable amount of time, especially if you plan to do all the work yourself.

It’ll take time and dedication to get it right. You may want to consider setting aside a good chunk of your time each week to work on your new garden, whether that’s doing physical work, shopping or planning.

You should also consider when the best time is to do the work. Some projects, such as digging and planting are better suited when the ground is soft, other tasks such as building structures are best done in dry weather.

Booking Time Off

Depending upon the scope of your project, you may even want to take some time off from your job or use vacation time. When you can dedicate uninterrupted time to projects like this they’ll move along much faster.

You may not be able to get the vegetables or flowers growing during dedicated work spurts, but you should be able to reach the planting phase.

Whatever you decide to do, building a garden of your dreams should be a fun experience, one you can look back on with pride once you’ve finished.

Garden plants on a white background

Choosing the Right Plants for Your Garden

When you’re choosing the plants for your garden, there are a number of different things you should consider. We’ve already discussed the importance of selecting plants that make sense for the area in which you live, but there are a few other factors you need to take into consideration:

  • Are the plants high-maintenance and require a lot of care?
  • Are the plants compatible with the other plants you’ll be planting?
  • Are they aesthetically pleasing?
  • Will they physically fit in with the rest of your garden? Too big? Too small?
  • How fast will they grow when they reach full maturity? They may work great for a few years, but what about later? Young shrubs, plants, and trees take up considerably less space than mature shrubs, plants, and trees.

Consider Trees

As you can see there’s a lot to consider, and each decision can impact another. For example, planting small trees that’ll mature into large trees could damage patios, sidewalks and even your home itself as the roots begin to spread and grow.

If you don’t have a lot of space, you may want to consider planting some smaller flowering trees that won’t grow as large. There are also dwarf trees that remain smaller which you can add: Apple, cherry, pear, and other fruit trees are available in these smaller sizes.

You may want to consider adding a cherry tree, magnolia tree, or a lilac tree if you want to add accents to your garden. These trees also are known to attract bees, so you can do your part in keeping our dwindling bee population thriving.

Watch the Video

Consider the Sunlight

While you’re still in the planning phase, pay special attention to how the sunlight covers your garden area. It’s easy to plant a large shrub or tree that’ll block out the sunlight which the other plants need to survive.

Adding a little shade to your garden is nice, but you do need to be careful or you might block the sunlight that you’re planning to enjoy on your patio!

Garden growing carrots and onions

Selecting the Vegetables for Your Garden

Many homeowners have the ultimate goal of having a garden that produces delicious vegetables year around. After all, there’s nothing quite like homegrown vegetables, they not only have more flavor than store-bought veggies, but you also can control the amount of chemicals used.

However, if this is your first vegetable garden, you should know that some vegetables are easier to handle than others. If you’re a beginning gardener, these vegetables are a good starting place:

  • Green beans
  • Summer squash
  • Tomatoes (especially cherry tomatoes)
  • Cucumber
  • Lettuce
  • Spring onions
  • Garlic
  • Hot peppers

And, you might be surprised to know that herbs are extremely easy to grow. In fact, you don’t even need a garden! You can plant them in pots and keep them near your kitchen so they are easy to grab whenever you want to add one to your dinner.

If you’re goal is to be a four-season gardener, the above list covers all the seasons, so you can look forward to fresh homegrown produce throughout the year!

Vegetables are not only delicious, but they also add wonderful health benefitsfrom both eating and growing. Spending time outdoors does wonders for mental and physical health, and planting vegetables is no exception.

Hey, you can even count it as your daily exercise!

Planting a vegetable garden

Consider This Before Planting Vegetables

If you’ve ever planted a vegetable garden before, you’ll likely know that the actual act of planting is pretty straightforward, but there are other factors which can be a little trickier.

The first thing you need to decide is if you’re willing to invest the time and effort into producing a vegetable garden. Vegetable gardens aren’t low maintenance and you’ll need to give it attention from beginning to end. Some homeowners, find that it really isn’t worth the effort and choose to buy their veggies at their local farm store.

But if you’re up for the challenge, a vegetable garden can be a very rewarding experience.

You’ll need to make sure the soil and ground is suitable for the particular vegetables you want to grow. You may need to bring in soil and fertilizer. You’ll also need to keep your garden weed-free, and prune, water and feed the vegetables.

Then there’s harvesting. There’s times your kitchen may be overflowing with more veggies than you can possibly handle, but neighbors, friends and family are almost always willing to help take some off your hands.

All of these things take time. For the green-fingered gardeners, this may be their idea of heaven, but if you don’t enjoy getting your hands dirty, then this may not be the best option for you.


Not all soil is the same, and some is better suited for growing food produce than others. In order for your vegetables to survive, let alone thrive, you’ll need to ensure that your soil is packed full of organic matter. To do this you’ll need composted manure which can be added in the Spring and Fall months.

It’s also a good idea to test the pH level of your soil before you even start to plan what vegetables you want to grow. Knowing the soil pH will help determine what veggies are best suited to your garden.

Watch the Video

Sunlight and Shade

Consider the amount of sunlight and shade the vegetables you’re planning on growing may need, compared to how much of each your garden actually gets. This will have a huge impact on how well your veggies grow and it can make or break your experience.

In addition, the climate in which you live is also something to consider. Some veggies (as with any plants) prefer certain climates and environments. You may not be able to replicate this in your garden unless you use a greenhouse or something similar.

Colorful Flowers and Trees

Choosing the Right Flowers for Your Garden

Having a garden full of beautiful flowers is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s a feast for the eyes and the ultimate goal of every garden enthusiast.

Of course, you don’t need flowers in your garden, they’re not essential.

However, incorporating flowers into your garden, even if it’s just a relatively small patch or border, not only adds color, but can really add to the awe affect.

Flowers and plants

Choose Your Style

One of the most enjoyable parts of creating a flower garden is deciding what colors and styles to choose. Perhaps you want a flowering cacti with very bright, exotic flowers to emphasis the modern look of your home.

Or, if you live in an older house, you may want to go for a more quant look. Adding pretty and dainty flowers, especially those that trail around your windows and doors will give your home and garden a whimsical feeling.

Evergreens are a great choice for all gardens.

Regardless of the time of year, they’ll add a bright green color on even the most dismal Winter’s day when all of the other plants are dormant. We highly recommend incorporating evergreens into your garden.

Some of our favorite evergreen shrubs and bushes that suit all gardens include:

  • Boxwood
  • Cherry laurel
  • Mugo pine (great for Zen-style gardens)
  • Azalea (they flower when in season, but remain green all year long)
  • Yucca
  • Bearberry
  • Mountain laurel
  • . . . and so many more!

When choosing your garden flowers and shrubs it’s important to keep in mind how much time you’ll be able to invest (or want to spend) in caring for your garden. The video below gives some helpful advise in selecting the right plants for your individual needs.

Watch the Video

Keep in mind that evergreen shrubs, trees, and bushes need to be selected for your climate and environment.

Research the best evergreens for your garden and reach out to a local garden store who has knowledge of the soil in your area for more detailed advice.

Planting flowers

Color Your Garden

Color is also an extremely important factor when you’re considering what flowers to plant in your garden. You’ll want flowers that work well together in terms of color if you want to keep the garden looking uniform, or you could experiment and choose lots of different colors for your flower patch to make it eye-catching and vibrant.

Try pairing yellows and purples, or going for oranges and pinks. Colors that you may not think  work, often look beautiful when placed together.

Don’t forget to consider sizes and textures.

For borders, it’s likely that you’ll want more dainty flowers that stay low and grow near the ground. For example these are all excellent choices:

  • Pansies
  • Violets
  • Verbena
  • Sweet Alyssum
  • Lavender

If you’re looking for a little height, you may want to plant:

  • Sunflowers
  • Delphinium
  • Gladioli
  • Chimney Bellflower

All of these are vibrant and eye-catching, and would be a good match for any flower patch that you’re trying to add a bit of height variance into.

Attracting Butterflies and Bees

You may want to attract wildlife to your flower garden such as butterflies and bees.

Bees love anything from wildflowers to border flowers, and even some of the flowering trees we’ve already discussed. This video will show you how to attract pollinating insects into your garden.

Watch the Video

Selecting flowers for the fragrance can also make your gardening time very enjoyable. Some of our favorites include: Lavender (all varieties look and smell beautiful), honeysuckle, all varieties of rose, freesia, gardenia, heliotrope, and even dainty tuberose.

All of these will give your garden the sweetest scent imaginable and it’ll be a struggle to get you and your family out of the garden and into the house!

Close up of flowers

Where to Plant Your Flowers

Where you plant your flowers is really a personal decision. You should consider where you’ll be spending the most time and/or where you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the beauty. Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • Do you enjoy seeing flowers from your kitchen window as you cook and do chores?
  • Do you enjoy seeing your house framed in gorgeous colors?
  • Do you like seeing flowers in a fenced-off area within your garden?
  • Or near a bench where you can sit with a cup of coffee in the morning sun?

Start with as much open space as possible when you begin planting your flower bed. Flowers tend to grow and fill-in quickly.

Chances are, it won’t take long before you’re looking for more space!

We recommend allowing at least 5-feet for an impressive flower patch. Particularly if you want a flower island in your garden. A patch of this size will allow ample room for around three layers of plants.

Bear in mind, when you make long flowerbeds, you’ll also need to add more width. This video will show you how to build a flowerbed in limited space.

Watch the Video

Smaller gardens may not be able to dedicate the same amount of space as larger gardens, but they can still grow beautiful patches of color.

But just because a garden is small doesn’t mean you can forget about the border!

Patio in your garden

Hard Landscape Features

Once all the greenery is in place for your garden, it’s time to consider some hard landscape features. These include things like patios, pathing, and decks. Depending on how much space you have available and your ultimate goal, you may decide you want to add multiple hard landscape features.

Maybe you want a path that weaves peacefully through your garden to a secluded patio or bench.

One of the benefits of including patios, decks, and pathways in your garden is that they have a definite purpose. As an example, paths are used to walk on as you move around your garden. They’ll prevent your flowers from getting trampled, and will also help keep your feet dry on damp days.

Patios and Decks

Patios and decks can be easily utilized for all sorts of activities such as dining al fresco, grilling and BBQing. Or simply relaxing with a magazine, or even kicking a soccer ball around with your family.

Adding patio and decking can be done by yourself if you enjoy DIY projects, or you can hire someone to do it for you. Keep in mind, that it’s a pretty big job and it’s important to get it right.

Hiring a professional is often the better choice.


Pathways are almost always an essential component to a garden. They’re also not as complicated as patios and decks, so you can most likely tackle them yourself.

Some pathways use gravel and concrete squares, others have gentle moss growing among flat rocks. Some are even put together with planks. Whatever type of pathway you choose you’ll want to make sure it functions well and does the intended job.

Pathway through a garden

Placing Paths Correctly

One of the most important decisions in your garden is where you’ll place your paths. You want the paths to be in areas that make the most sense.

They should be in places where there’s plenty of room to walk and you’ll not be hindered by flowerbeds, trees, shrubs, or vegetable patches.

Ideally, you want your paths to have a direct route to the destination, not twisting and turning around your garden. But with that said, sometimes it’s nice to put in an “off the beaten road” path that allows you to take a scenic route and enjoy the view.

But keep in mind, that having your paths follow a more or less straight line will mean it’ll be easier to line them with your flower bed borders or short fences if you choose.

Path Size

In terms of size, pathways should be around 3-feet wide. If you think you may need wider paths, then you should make this adjustment during the planning stages of your garden design.

However, if you don’t have the room to allow 3-feet for your pathways, then you can make them a little smaller, but be aware that paths that are too narrow can often be difficult to use, especially if you want to include flowers as a border. This is because the overgrowth of the flowers could make your path even more narrow.

Path Material

Pathways can be made from a variety of different materials. If you’re handy with laying stone and brick, then you might choose to go this route. A less expensive option would be to use wood chips or gravel.

Depending on the aesthetic you want to achieve, you could use a mixture of different paths. Sand and gravel together work well for a zen-style garden, you can even add strategically placed flat stones as stepping stones.

Although, if you’re looking for the English countryside feel, then you may want to consider dark stone paths.

Whatever path style you choose, don’t lose sight of the style of your garden, and your budget.

Patio surrounded by a garden

Porch and Patio Decorating

Once you’ve decided on the landscape of your garden and the hard landscaping elements, it’s time to start thinking about the furniture you want to use.

Unfortunately, unlike inside furniture, there aren’t as many choices to choose between when it comes to garden furniture. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have choices . . . and some good ones at that!

Maybe you want a bench in your garden, or on your patio.

Maybe wicker chairs with cushions. Or maybe wooden chairs

Whatever you choose, keep the theme and aesthetic of your garden in mind. A zen-style garden would be better suited to zen-style furniture.

Sometimes mixing and matching works well, and other times you want everything to look neat and tidy. Deciding whether you want to keep a solid, uniformed theme throughout, or a fusion of rustic porch vibes with an English countryside-themed garden feel is something that’s best thought through before you start spending money.

Bottom line, the most important thing is that you’re happy, and that your garden is a place where you want to spend time. Your furniture will play a big part in that role, so be sure that whatever you choose, that it brings you joy!

Two chairs on a patio

Garden Furniture

After determining the style of furniture you want, you need to decide how it’ll be used. If you plan on having a lot of family and friend BBQ get-togethers, then having plenty of tables and chairs will be necessary.

If you only anticipate entertaining your immediate family in your new garden, then you may only need enough chairs to match the number of family members. Although, you may want to add in a bench or two in case you have a few extra people.

Are you the kind of person that likes to change things up every year or two? If so, you may want to purchase new garden furniture every couple of years. In this case, how the furniture wears isn’t too critical.

However, if you want to invest in sturdy furniture that’ll last for years, then choose furniture that’s resistant to water, pollution, and rust.

Wooden furniture is a great choice for whatever climate you live in since you won’t need to worry about bringing it inside if it begins to rain. Another popular option is iron garden furniture. It can give your garden a regal look and feel, and it matches well with English countryside and Victorian garden designs.

Wheel barrow, pitch fork, and watering can


As you can see, decorating your garden requires careful planning. But it also yields results that will most definitely improve your mental and physical well being.

There’s just something special about having a relaxing garden to sit in after a long, hard day at work. It’s a wonderful way to unwind and leave the stress behind. Not to mention puttering around on a Sunday afternoon while tending to your vegetables and flowers.

The garden you build will evolve through the years, and how you envision it today will develop into something far better than you could have ever dreamed.

First Time Home Buyer February 2, 2021

10 first-time homebuyer loans and programs


There are many first-time homebuyer programs and grants available to help you afford your first real estate purchase, generally assisting with the down payment and closing costs. We’ve rounded up some of the best national grants, programs and loans for first-time homebuyers that can help get you into your first home without needing to make a 20 percent down payment.

10 first-time homebuyer programs in 2021

1. FHA loan

  • A loan insured by the Federal Housing Administration
  • Best for: Buyers with low credit and smaller down payments

Insured by the Federal Housing Administration, FHA loans typically come with smaller down payment and lower credit score requirements than most conventional loans. First-time homebuyers can buy a home with a minimum credit score of 580 and as little as 3.5 percent down or a credit score of 500 to 579 with at least 10 percent down.

Unfortunately, you’ll need to pay mortgage insurance with FHA loans if you put down less than 20 percent. Your overall borrowing costs can be higher since you’re paying an upfront premium and annual premiums. Unlike homeowners insurance, this coverage doesn’t protect you. Instead, it protects the lender in case you default on the loan.

Learn more about finding the best FHA lender for you.

2. USDA loan

  • A loan program 100 percent guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Best for: Borrowers with lower or moderate incomes purchasing a home in a USDA-eligible rural area

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, guarantees loans for some rural homes, and borrowers can get up to 100-percent financing. This doesn’t mean you have to buy a farm or shack up with livestock, but you do have to buy a home in a USDA-eligible area.

USDA loans have income limits based on where you live and are geared toward folks who earn low or moderate incomes. You typically need a credit score of 640 or higher to qualify for a streamlined USDA loan. Otherwise, you’ll have to provide extra documentation on your payment history to get a stamp of approval.

3. VA loan

  • A loan backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that allows no down payment for military personnel, veterans and their families
  • Best for: Active-duty military members, veterans and their spouses

Qualified U.S. military members (active duty, veterans and eligible family members) can apply for loans backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA.

VA loans are a great deal because they come with lower interest rates compared to most other loan types and don’t require a down payment. Borrowers, however, will need to pay a funding fee that is required on VA loans, but it can be rolled into your monthly loan costs. Some servicemembers may be exempt from paying the fee.

Other VA loan perks include no minimum credit score or mortgage insurance requirements. The VA can negotiate with the lender on your behalf if you find yourself struggling to keep up with mortgage payments.

4. Good Neighbor Next Door

  • A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program that provides housing aid for law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and teachers
  • Best for: People employed in one of the qualifying professions

The Good Neighbor Next Door program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides housing aid for law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers.

Qualified participants can receive a discount of 50 percent on a home’s listed price in “revitalization areas.” You can search for properties available in your state using the program’s website. You must commit to living in the home for at least 36 months.

5. Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac

  • Conventional loans backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, which require only 3 percent down
  • Best for: Borrowers with strong credit but a minimal down payment

The government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac set borrowing guidelines for loans they’re willing to buy from conventional lenders on the secondary mortgage market.

Both programs require a minimum 3 percent down payment. To qualify, homebuyers will need a minimum credit score of 620 (though some lenders have different thresholds) and a relatively unblemished financial and credit history. Fannie Mae accepts a debt-to-income ratio as high as 50 percent in some cases.

You’ll need to pay for private mortgage insurance, or PMI, if you’re putting less than 20 percent down, but you can get it cancelled once your loan-to-value ratio drops below 80 percent.

6. Fannie Mae’s HomePath Ready Buyer Program

  • A program that provides 3 percent in closing cost assistance to first-time buyers; must complete an educational course and buy a foreclosed Fannie Mae property
  • Best for: First-time homebuyers who need help for closing costs and are willing to buy a foreclosed home

Fannie Mae’s HomePath ReadyBuyer program is geared toward first-time buyers interested in foreclosed homes that are owned by Fannie Mae. After taking a required online homebuying education course, eligible borrowers can receive up to 3 percent in closing cost assistance toward the purchase of a HomePath property.

The trick is finding a HomePath property in your market, which might be a challenge since foreclosures typically account for only a small chunk of listings.

7. Energy-efficient mortgage (EEM)

  • Backed by FHA or VA loan programs and allows borrowers to combine the cost of energy-efficient upgrades into a primary loan upfront
  • Best for: Homebuyers who want to make their home more energy-efficient but lack upfront cash for upgrades

Making “green” upgrades can be costly, but you can get an energy-efficient mortgage (EEM) loanthat’s insured through the FHA or VA programs.

An EEM loan lets you tack the cost of energy-efficient upgrades (think new insulation, a more efficient HVAC system or double-pane windows) onto your primary loan, without requiring a larger down payment.

8. FHA Section 203(k)

  • Borrow the funds needed to pay for home improvement projects and roll the costs into one FHA loan with your primary mortgage
  • Best for: Homebuyers interested in purchasing a fixer-upper who don’t have a lot of cash to make major home improvements

If you’re brave enough to take on a fixer-upper but don’t have the extra money to pay for renovations, an FHA Section 203(k) loan is worth a look.

Backed by the FHA, the loan calculates the home’s value after improvements have been made. You can then borrow funds needed to pay for home improvement projects and roll the costs into one loan. Improvements must cost more than $5,000 and you’ll need to make a minimum 3.5 percent down payment. You’ll also want to make sure you’re working with a contractor who is familiar with 203(k) loans and their timeline.

9. State and local first-time homebuyer programs and grants

  • First-time buyer programs and grants, available through states or cities, for down payment or closing cost assistance
  • Best for: First-time homebuyers who need closing cost or down payment assistance

Many municipalities offer first-time homebuyer grants and programs in an effort to attract new residents. The aid comes in the form of grants that don’t have to be repaid or low-interest loans with deferred repayment. Some programs may have income limits.

Before buying a home, check your state’s housing authority website for more information, or contact a real estate agent or local HUD-approved housing counseling agency to learn more about first-time homebuyer loans in your area.

First-time homebuyer programs by state:

10. Native American Direct Loan

  • VA-backed program providing direct home loans to eligible Native American veterans to buy, renovate or build homes on federal trust land
  • Best for: Eligible Native American veterans

The Native American Direct Loan (NADL) provides financing to eligible Native American veterans and their spouses to buy, improve or build a home on federal trust land. This loan differs from traditional VA loans in that the VA is the mortgage lender.

The NADL has no down payment or mortgage insurance requirements, and closing costs are low. You’re not limited to only one property — you can get more than one NADL. However, eligible properties are only located in certain states, so you’ll need to make sure the homes you’re looking at meet the requirements.

What are the benefits of first-time homebuyer programs?

First-time homebuyer programs, grants and loans are available to help people become homeowners. These programs are a form of financial assistance extended to qualified buyers, usually those who meet certain income restrictions and have strong credit scores.

Diego Corzo, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty, says that first-time homebuyer programs can create a win-win situation for both the homeowner and the local government, since it can help stimulate the economy in the area.

“Some cities or counties already allotted the funds to these programs and want to use them up,” Corzo says. “These programs are designed to help provide some stability for the community, and (local governments) might lose funding if it doesn’t get used up.”

Here are a few different ways you could benefit from these programs:

  • Grants: Some areas offer cash to put towards home-related costs such as your down payment or closing costs.
  • Assistance with closing fees: Some loans place a cap on how much is charged for closing costs.
  • Deferred payments: Some loans won’t charge interest and won’t need to be repaid until the homeowner sells the home or pays off the mortgage.
  • Savings on interest: Some organizations offer to pay for or subsidize interest, or help borrowers qualify for loans with lower interest rates.
  • Loan forgiveness: Homeowners who stay in the home for a certain period of time will have a portion of their debt cancelled.
  • Down payment assistance: Some programs allow homebuyers to put down a small down payment, or none at all.

Not all of these types of assistance will be available in your area or for your situation. There are also certain restrictions, such as financial need, so do some research or speak with a mortgage professional to see if you qualify.

What to consider with first-time homebuyer programs

Before seeking out first-time homebuyer programs, it’s crucial that you first make sure you meet the definition of a first-time homebuyer. Many nonprofit and government programs consider you a first-time home buyer if you haven’t owned a home within the last three years. This includes investors who own rental or investment properties, whether or not it’s considered your primary residence.

Some government-backed programs, such as an FHA or USDA loan, require that the property meets certain standards before qualifying. There could be income restrictions for local and state programs, as well.

Regardless of what programs you may qualify for, purchasing a home is a major financial decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly. That means look at what you can afford, which includes factoring in maintenance costs.

Once you figure out a realistic budget, speak to a reputable lender that is knowledgeable about first-time homebuyer programs.

“Lenders who have ample knowledge about first-time homebuyer programs in your area and knowing what you might qualify for can save you thousands of dollars in the long run,” Corzo says.

Best mortgage lenders for first-time homebuyers

There are loads of mortgage lenders out there, so for many first-time homebuyers, it may be a good idea to work with a broker who can help you navigate your options. If you’re set on choosing a lender on your own, though, here are a few of the best ones to consider:

1. Better Mortgage

Better Mortgage, also known as, is a completely digital lender, available in 43 states and Washington, D.C. Better had some of the lowest advertised rates of all lenders in 2020, and offered additional benefits like no fees, fast closing times, an all-digital process and a rate-match guarantee if borrowers found a lower rate somewhere else. Better does not offer VA or USDA loans, or some other second mortgage products, however, so it won’t be the right fit for every borrower.

2., also known as LowRates, is a brick-and-mortar and digital mortgage lender operated by Sun West Mortgage Company, available to borrowers in 48 states and Puerto Rico. Offering fast closing times and a variety of loans including VA and USDA options, LowRates can be a great option for many new buyers.

3. Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal Credit Union is a great option for servicemembers, who can access conventional and VA loans through the credit union. It has limited offerings for other kinds of loan products, but if you qualify to bank there, you should be able to get an extremely low rate on your mortgage.

The first-time homebuying process

Step 1: Figure out your budget (and stick to it)

Being honest with yourself, your real estate agent and your mortgage lender is key. You don’t want to wind up with a house you can’t afford. Do a thorough accounting of your own finances, and figure out how much you’ll really be able to lay out every month. Make sure to factor in maintenance costs and leave room for unexpected emergencies.

Step 2: Get quotes from at least three lenders

Shopping around is one of the most important parts of getting a mortgage. You want to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal, so be sure to compare all the terms each lender is offering, including the APR, not just the interest rate.

Step 3: Get preapproved for a loan

Once you decide on a lender, you should get preapproved for your mortgage before you start shopping for a house. It will show sellers that you’re a serious buyer, and a preapproval will also help you cement your budget, because you’ll have a clearer picture of what your mortgage will be after you close. Be prepared for a lender to dig into all aspects of your financial life in order to preapprove you for a loan, so have all of your documents handy ahead of time.

Step 4: Find a good real estate agent

Working with a real estate agent who is knowledgeable about the area you plan to buy in will be a big help in your search. You want an agent who can help you find the right home, negotiate the best offer and recommend other professionals for any projects you want to do once you move in.

Step 5: Shop for your home

Make sure your agent really knows what you’re looking for, and do your research not only on the homes you’re going to see, but also on the neighborhood. It’s a good idea to visit the community you’re going to move to at different times of day, on weekdays and weekends, to see what the vibe is like — and, never buy a house sight unseen.

Step 6: Make an offer

Talk to your real estate agent about a reasonable offer and be prepared for some back and forth with the seller. The housing market today is very competitive, so you might have to negotiate against other prospective buyers. Even so, it’s important not to blow your budget. At this stage, it’s easy to let your emotions get the best of you, but you don’t want to be saddled with housing debt you can’t afford. No matter how much you love a particular home, you need to be prepared to walk away if the numbers ultimately don’t work for you.

Step 7: Negotiate closing costs

There are closing costs involved with any real estate sale, and there are many ways to pay them. They might be rolled into your loan (which tends to be more expensive in the long run) or the seller may be willing to pay some of your fees. Don’t ignore this part of the transaction – you may be able to negotiate your way into waived fees and lower costs overall.

Step 8: Hire a home inspector

When you decide on a home you like and make an offer, it’s important to have the home thoroughly inspected before the deal can be finalized. You want to make sure there aren’t any unknown structural issues, or anything else that could affect the livability of your new place. Inspections usually take a few hours, and cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the size of the home.

Step 9: Get homeowners insurance and finalize move-in details

Homeowners insurance is usually required by the lender and helps to protect your investment. Just like with your mortgage, you should get quotes from several companies or work with an insurance broker who can shop rates for you. If your home is located in a federally-designated flood zone, you’ll need to buy flood insurance, too.

As you prepare for move-in day, contact your local utility, cable and internet providers to arrange new service for your move-in date. Don’t forget the largest task: hiring a reputable mover and packing.

Step 10: Seal the deal at closing

Once your offer is accepted and an inspection is completed, you’re on your way to closing. You’ll have to get updated pay stubs and other financial paperwork just before closing to prove your employment status hasn’t changed and that you’ll be able to make your mortgage payments. Within 24 hours of closing, you’ll do a final walk-through of the property to make sure repairs, if any, were made and that the home is vacant.

At the closing table, you’ll sign a lot of paperwork to finalize the loan and transfer ownership of the home from the seller’s name to yours. You’ll also be required to bring a cashier’s check made out to the escrow company, or wire closing funds to the company. Don’t forget to bring your identification, too.

After signing all of the closing documents, you’ll be handed the keys to your new home, and you’ll officially be a first-time homeowner.

Mortgages for teachers and first responders

Local Banks & Lenders

Real Estate Affordability December 15, 2020

Your Dream of Buying a Larger Property After Retirement Can Become a Reality

Retirees who have worked hard and saved carefully may consider buying a larger home better suited to pursuing new hobbies, small business ventures, or hosting family gatherings. For those who have accumulated many belongings over the years or are storing the possessions of college-aged children who haven’t yet settled down, a larger home allows for greater storage.

As a move can be stressful, give yourself plenty of time. You should draw up a moving checklist so you know in advance everything you’ll need to accomplish to get from A to Z. Include precautions to avoid injuring yourself with heavy lifting, especially if you have a lot to transport. If you have family members who are considering residing in your new home, ask them for assistance in moving. You could also hire a senior move manager to assist in relocation.

If you are hoping to move into a larger property, important considerations include financial preparation, knowing the specifications you’re looking for, and of course location.

Debt elimination will increase buying power.

The key to financial preparation is dealing with debt. While it’s not unusual to carry debt into retirement, your buying power is significantly hampered if you owe a lot on credit cards, outstanding medical bills, or other loans. Try to budget a few years in advance of retirement to pay off as much as possible. Research debt consolidation plans to see if any might work for you. And watch your , as your ability to get a good rate depends largely on this.

If your debt is large, try contacting a credit counseling agency and working with a certified debt relief specialist, who can help you find a debt management plan that is right for you, depending on how much you owe, your ability to pay it back, and your regular income.

Figure out what to do with your existing property.

If you are approaching retirement with an existing mortgage, you probably need to sell your existing property and pay off the remaining debt to have funds for a down payment. Another option might be using your smaller home as a rental to generate income to finance your new purchase.

If you intend to use the proceeds of a house sale to purchase a larger property, find out how much you are likely to get – and how quickly. Make a contingency plan in case you need an interim place to stay, between selling one home and acquiring another.

Be clear on what you are looking for in a new home.

Research considerations such as zoning, laws affecting small businesses, and any restrictions on the use of land for farming or livestock. Also, know how much acreage you will need if you intend to keep farm animals, what type of land is ideal for flower or vegetable gardens, and whether additional water sources or drainage will be needed.

When considering different homes, take notes on what you’re looking for in terms of square footage and the number of rooms. If you plan to use your house as a craft shop, small business, or bed-and-breakfast, educate yourself on any regulations regarding occupancy, wiring, food safety, and plumbing. Will you need another kitchen? Extra bathrooms? An attached outbuilding? Research what modifications might cost, too.

Location matters.

While real estate will certainly be cheaper in remote or less upscale areas, such areas may lack the population or infrastructure to make your dreams a reality. If you are planning on opening an online shop, or are interested only in gardening as a hobby, a remote location might not be a drawback. But if you hope to draw customers into your home, you will want to be adjacent to a more populous and thriving region. Also consider proximity to grocery stores and hospitals, and whether roads will remain passable in severe weather.

You have worked hard to earn your retirement. It’s important that you be able to enjoy it as much as possible. With careful planning, you can look forward to many active and rewarding years in a new and larger home.

When you’re ready to begin your search for a new property in retirement, get in touch with Realtor Paul Burrowes by visiting the website or calling (831) 295-5130.

Working From Home November 24, 2020

Know your target audience: 10 ways to understand your people

by Gareth Platt, 3 November 2020

Over the last eight months, reams of reports declared the decline of the events industry. From dire job warnings to protests in major cities, it’s been a tough time for those in our space.

But, instead of looking at the downsides of this locked-down world, we should be paying more attention to the opportunities. If we can dig ourselves out of the Covid-19 hole, we can give ourselves a headstart in this new normal.

Let’s start by getting a better grasp of our target audience. We need to get inside our demographics and understand who needs our services.

This post will tell you exactly how you can know your audience, using a mixture of social media strategy and more old-fashioned methods.

Build an audience profile

Before you can know your audience, you need to know who you want them to be. There’s no point devoting hours of research to a crowd you don’t want to attract.

Verity Dearville, the founder of the Verity Venueevent business, tells us: “In the first stages of event planning it is essential to clearly define your audience, as without this stage it is impossible to target the correct people to attend your event.

“To do this, I find it useful to create an ideal attendee persona, a semi-fictional representation of the people you are attempting to connect with.”

When building your persona, don’t just consider basic details such as age, gender or nationality. Think about what some people call the ‘psychographic’, the reason they might invest in your product or service and the benefits they will get from it.

The more research you can do at this stage, the more accurate and worthwhile your subsequent research will be.

Use the resources you already have

Now, you’ve defined your target market, it’s time to get to know them. And you may well have plenty of information already.

If you’ve already run a similar event, think about who attended last time. Dig into your website’s analytics, to find out who has been visiting your site and the sort of pages that they have visited.

Most important of all, try and recall the conversations you’ve had with attendees at previous events (yours or other people’s). You may find some priceless nuggets of insight.

Use focus groups

When you start to look externally at your target audience, focus groups can provide a great source of information. As Verity Deaville says, “a focus group will help discover what motivates your audience, and their preferred media channels.”

You can recruit participants by going through your existing contacts book or posting ads on social media (we’re going to talk more about the benefits of social in a minute). And you can easily host them online, so there’s no need to test the boundaries of Covid-19 with an in-person meet.

Check out your targets on social media

Ok, we’re going to talk quite a bit about social media strategy now. Because it’s important in loads of different ways. And one of the main benefits is the sheer volume of information people offer on their pages.

When we advise you to ‘check out’ your prospective attendees, we don’t mean you should stalk them. What it does mean is being proactive with your social media marketing campaign, and finding out about the people you want to attract.

Ben Atherton, founder of events business BCA Consulting, says: “Targeted social media profiling is a great way to start improving how to target your content and messages.

“What tone do your audience use on their social channels, what causes have they supported and liked, what comments have they made, when have they stayed silent, who engages with them and more can all indicate a certain bias towards types of content and activations, even influencing choices of venue and style of your set-up.”

LinkedIn offers a veritable trove of information on each potential attendee, from their career history to the business leaders they follow. John Gallery, who runs the Great Potential business support service, says “you can check LinkedIn for individuals, and tailor the invitation to their interests.”

Lead the conversation

In addition to researching your audience on social media, you should offer them something positive in return. To quote an excellent article by social media marketing consultant Pam Moore, we need to “make a commitment to be part of the beating heartbeat that helps the social ecosystem thrive with value, empowerment, relationships and more.”

Posting opinions on LinkedIn, and asking questions on Twitter, is a great way to get your target audience responding to your content. You can also use surveys, and polls, to take the pulse of your desired attendees and find out exactly what they’re thinking.

You can ask about your own events, but also pitch more general questions about the industry or current affairs. The answers your target market provides can unlock crucial information about their outlook.

Use Hashtags

Similar to the point above, this is all about gaining understanding through positive audience interaction. Hashtags, when used carefully as part of a well-planned social media marketing, are crucial to getting to grips with your target audience.

By creating a hashtag around your events, you can find out exactly how people are interacting with them. Plug into a tool such as Hootsuite or Buffer, set up an alert for your hashtag, and find out what people are saying.

Keep all communication channels open

Keep reminding your target audience that they can contact you at any time. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat… whichever platforms you’ve incorporated into your social media strategy, you can use them to maintain a constant dialogue.

When people reach out to you, reply with an opinion or a follow-up question to keep things moving. The more conversation you have, the better you’ll get to know your audience.

Examine your competition

Truly understanding your audience is a tough ask, but don’t worry: you don’t always have to do the work yourself. Sometimes, someone else will have already done the hard yards for you.

Look for examples of similar past events. Often, the website will still be active, and you’ll be able to see a list of those who attended – as well as their testimonials, showing you what they valued in the event.

Also, look at your competitors’ profiles. Look at things like their website presentation, the way they use social media and the key messages they are putting across.

Maximize the events themselves

Remember: each event is a chance to start planning for the next one. The more info you can glean from attendees at your events, the better your planning will be next time. So take every opportunity to talk to your attendees while the event is in progress.

Emma Jackson, a coach and consultant for tech and creative industries who has organised several events in London, explains: “We would circulate at our events. We met and chatted with everyone so we had an immediate feedback loop that the results of which we often used to move onto new ideas.”

Keep moving with your audience

Your target market is evolving all the time, so you need to grow with them. No matter how good your research, profiling or social media marketing program, it counts for nothing if you don’t keep it up. And, every time you launch a new event, you need to get to know your audience all over again.

Emma Jackson continues: ”Build and they will come has never been true! Or at least, you shouldn’t rely on it. If you’ve choreographed an amazing event, at least have enough respect for it to promote it properly!”

Ultimately, the better you know your audience, the more they’ll be able to know your brand. And the better your events will be, for everyone.

Working From Home November 5, 2020

How to Choose the Best Location for Your Home-Based Business

Image via Unsplash

by Tina Martin

How to Choose the Best Location for Your Home-Based Business

Whether you’re running your business from home due to the pandemic, or you’re getting ready to launch a home-based business for the first time, choosing an office location is one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make. As tempting as it may be to run your business from the kitchen table or living room couch, a dedicated home office space will help you to maintain a healthy work-life balance and stay productive and focused throughout the day.  Check out these tips from REALTOR Paul Burrowes of David Lyng Real Estate to learn how to choose the best location for your home-based business!

What are your local zoning laws?

As you choose a location for your home-based business, you’ll first need to check local zoning ordinances to determine whether home-based businesses are allowed in your city or county. According to Entrepreneur, some residential areas may restrict all types of home-based businesses from operating — while others may only prohibit those that could be disruptive to neighbors. But even if home-based businesses are prohibited in your area, some cities and counties will allow you to file an appeal.

If you’re unable to run a home-based business in your current city or county, buying a new home or using a coworking space are other options to consider. However, you’ll need to keep your target audience and any local zoning ordinances in mind when buying a new home in another city or county.

How much office space do you need?

In addition to local zoning laws, your spatial preferences will also come into play when choosing a location for your home-based business. If you have an unused bedroom, walk-in closet, spare corner, or nook, for instance, these areas could be converted into a functional office space for your home-based business. If you need more space or privacy for meeting with clients, hiring employees to work out of your home, or storing any inventory, however, you may choose to build an office addition or buy a larger home altogether.

What is your budget like?

When choosing the right location for your home-based business, you’ll also need to consider your budget. Converting an unused bedroom or living space will be the cheapest option for most business owners, while building an office addition or buying a larger home will likely require some financing. According to Fixr, office remodels typically cost around $20,000 — but you’ll need to budget for other expenses such as:

If you need help paying for these types of home office essentials, you may qualify for government financing through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Several SBA loans include the Express Bridge Loan, Traditional SBA Loan, and Main Street Business Lending Program. However, private loans and grants are also available to qualifying recipients — including the Amber Grant (for female entrepreneurs) and the First Nations Development Institute Grants (for minority business owners).

A Final Word

Choosing a location for your home-based business is a big decision, and the space you choose should depend largely on your local zoning laws, spatial needs, and budget. Converting a bedroom, garage, or basement will be your easiest and most affordable options in many cases, while building an office addition or buying a larger home will require more time, money, and patience.

Before making a decision, be sure to list the different things you want and need in your new office space — and enlist the help of an experienced real estate agent if buying a larger home is the right move for you.

Ready to find a larger home that meets your personal and professional needs? Contact REALTOR Paul Burrowes of David Lyng Real Estate to get started! 831-295-5130 (mobile)

Real Estate Affordability August 17, 2020

How Much House Can I Afford? Quick Guide To Home Affordability

By Richard Stevens
Digital Content Manager
New Silver Lending, LLC

Calculating how much house you can afford is relatively straightforward if you just want a basic estimate based on your current salary. For instance, one quick rule thumb is to multiply your annual salary by 2.5 (or 3 if you have a good credit score). With that being said, you can also achieve a more accurate estimate, using some simple debt-to-income ratios.

The goal of this post is to outline the debt-to-income ratios that most US banks use when calculating your recommended mortgage amount. We will be using several user-friendly charts and examples to help solidify a few key points.

Table of Contents

  1. Quick Rule Of Thumb: Multiply Your Annual Salary By 2.5 or 3
  2. The More Accurate Method: Using The 28/36 Rule
  3. Can You Break The 28/36 Rule?
  4. What Is Debt-To-Income Ratio?
  5. How To Calculate Debt To income Ratio
  6. Debt-To-Income Ratio Example
  7. 5 Tips For Getting A Better Interest rate
  8. Final Thoughts
  9. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Quick Rule Of Thumb: Multiply Your Annual Salary By 2.5 or 3

The quickest way to work out how much house you can afford is to multiply your annual pre-tax salary by 2.5 or 3. If you want a conservative estimate, use 2.5. If you want a more aggressive estimate, use 3. You can see how simple this is to do by taking a quick look at the table below.

Quick Rule Of Thumb How Much House Can I Afford

Using this simple method allows you to quickly work out a potential mortgage amount based on your current salary. Naturally other factors will influence the final bond amount, but this is the place to start if you’re still just browsing for houses.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that the recent drop in interest rates (due in part to Covid-19), means that multiplying by 3 (and even higher multiples) is now more realistic for American’s with a stable income.


The More Accurate Method: Using The 28/36 Rule

The 28/36 debt-to-income rule is effectively the default recommendation that most banks in America support. According to the 28/36 rule:

28% – Your mortgage repayment should not exceed 28% of your monthly pre-tax salary

36% – Your total debt obligations should not exceed 36% of your monthly pre-tax salary

Again, this is easier to demonstrate with a table, so you can get a feel for what certain salary brackets can afford.

Please note, the table above assumes a 5% deposit on the house. Also, you might find that your total debt (mortgage + other debts) is much higher than the table suggests. If that is the case, it will reduce how much house you can afford and your monthly mortgage repayment.

The team from Smart Asset has summarized the 28/36 rule quite nicely. In essence “for every pre-tax dollar you earn each month, you should dedicate no more than 36 cents to paying off your mortgage, student loans, credit card debt, and so on.”


Can You Break The 28/36 Rule?

While the 28/36 rule is a reliable guideline, it is not an immutable law that banks are obliged to follow. It’s convenient to think of the 28/36 total debt rule as the starting point on a sliding scale.

If you have a poor credit score and lots of existing debt, banks might view you as a high-risk individual and grant you a bond that is less than 28% of your pre-tax salary.

Conversely, if you have no car repayment, low student debt, and a good credit score, you could definitely qualify for a mortgage that is more than 28% of your pre-tax salary.

Factors which can decrease your maximum mortgage

  • Large car repayment
  • High student loan debt
  • High credit card debt
  • Low income
  • Poor Credit Score

Factors which can increase your maximum mortgage

  • Small or no car repayment
  • Manageable student loan
  • Little to no credit card debt
  • High Income
  • Good Credit Score

What Is Debt-To-Income Ratio?

Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is the percentage of your pre-tax income that is allocated to paying off debt. Debt-to-income is the basis of the 28/36 rule and it is the primary determinant of how much house you can afford, based on your existing income.

As mentioned earlier, other variables like credit history affect your maximum mortgage amount, but your individual DTI ratio is definitely the most important element in the equation.


How To Calculate Debt To income Ratio

Debt-To-Income (DTI) = Debt / Income * 100


Debt-To-Income Ratio Example

To further illustrate this formula in action, let’s use an example of someone who earns $5,000 per month, and has total debts of $1,800.

  • Monthly Debt: $1,800
  • Monthly Income: $5,000
  • DTI = Debt/Income * 100
  • DTI = $1,800/$5,000 * 100
  • DTI = 36%

It’s clear to see that in the example above, the individual has a DTI of 36%. This is perfectly inline within the recommended range. Also, you can work out your DTI using monthly amounts, or annual amounts.


5 Tips For Getting A Better Interest rate

If you want to save yourself a huge amount of money before you decide to invest in a house, improving your credit score is arguably the most effective way to do so. This is because your credit score will impact the interest rate that a bank is willing to offer you.

On the surface, this might not seem like a big deal, but when you factor in 30 years of compounding (the standard length of a home loan in the US), the difference quite literally becomes exponential.

1. Always Pay Your Bills On Time

It might not seem like such a big deal, but missing a single payment can negatively affect your credit score. The underlying concern is your financial reliability. From a financial perspective, people who miss payments often are less reliable than people who never miss payments.

Credit score companies use this data to calculate your final number, be it good or bad. If this is something that affects you, it could be wise to start an emergency fund in order to prevent late payments in the future.

2. Never Max Out Your Credit Card

Maxing out your credit card is a big red flag for potential lenders. Your credit utilization is the second most important factor in the credit score calculation, so it is in your best interest to stay well within your limits when using credit.

To be more specific, aim to use 30% or less of your maximum credit allowance. By following this guideline, you can quite literally increase your credit score over time.

3. Start Building Your Credit Profile As Soon As Possible

One of the biggest issues that many Americans run into when applying for a first time home loan is a ‘thin credit profile’.

According to Investopedia, there are approximately 62 million US citizens that have this very problem. The challenge for people with a thin credit profile is that credit score companies don’t have enough data points to generate an accurate score.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat this, namely:

Use Experian Boost or UltraFico – These services factor in non-credit variables like banking history and utility payments to start building your credit score.

Use Your Rent Payments To Build Your Credit Score – Companies like Rental Kharma and RentTrack are designed to help you do this. Provided you pay your rent on time, you can start building a positive credit history, even if you don’t have a credit card or utility payments.

4. Make Lump-Sum Payments Toward Your Car Or Student Loan Debt

As mentioned earlier in the article, your debt-to-income ratio is the most important factor in how much house you can afford. Based on this, it makes perfect sense to clear as much of your existing debt as possible, before you apply for a home loan.

Paying off existing debt can increase the percentage of your total debt that is allocated to your home loan, and it can also improve the interest rate that a bank is willing to offer you.

5. Save For A Big Deposit On The House

Saving for a large deposit is one of the best things you can do when trying to buy a home. By putting money away for a big deposit you can:

  • Increase the maximum mortgage amount that banks are willing to offer you
  • Decrease the interest rate that you pay for the duration of the loan
  • Decrease your monthly repayment and increase your monthly cash flow

All of the benefits listed above will have a favorable effect on your financial well-being over the short term and the long term. In other words, putting down a big deposit is one of the best things you can do, provided you have the discipline and financial means to do it.


Final Thoughts

In the end how much house you can afford is primarily dependent on your debt-to-income ratio and your financial track record. Fortunately, by practicing good financial habits, you can improve both of these attributes over time.

Furthermore, interest rates in the US have dipped to some of the lowest levels in over 20 years in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This is good news for aspiring home owners, because you can potentially buy a more expensive home, knowing that your monthly repayment will be manageable due to the lower interest rate.

Lastly, it can also be helpful to run your salary and debt figures through a home affordability calculator. This can help give you an even more detailed understanding of your potential mortgage amount.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How much house can I afford with 40,000 a year?

With a $40,000 annual salary, you should be able to afford a home that is between $100,000 and $160,000. The final amount that a bank is willing to offer will depend on your financial history and current credit score.

How much house can I afford if I make 100,000 a year?

With a $100,000 annual salary, you should be able to purchase a home between $250,000 & $400,000. Again, this will depend on your credit score and your existing debt obligations. For instance, if you have a big car repayment, this could decrease your maximum mortgage amount.

Conversely, if you have no car repayment, you could potentially qualify for an even bigger loan.

Do you have to make a down payment?

There may be some financial institutions that don’t allow a down payment, but most banks will require you to put down a payment of at least 3%. Ideally, you should aim for a down payment that is 20% or more of the property value. Naturally, this might not always be possible, but it is a good target to aim for.

How much can I afford on a house based on my salary?

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the quickest way to estimate how much house you can afford based on your salary is to simply multiply your annual salary by 2.5 (or 3 if you have a good credit score).

Alternatively, you can multiply your monthly pre-tax salary by 0.28, to quickly estimate a guideline mortgage repayment.

What if your income level is inconsistent?

If you are a freelancer with an inconsistent income, it could negatively affect the total mortgage that lenders are willing to give you. Having said that, if your annual income as a freelancer is relatively stable, it stands to reason that banks will consider your income over multiple years when determining your potential mortgage amount.

How much do I need to make to afford a 250k house?

To afford a $250k house, you will need to earn between $5,000 and $7,000 per month, assuming your existing debts are under control and you have a good credit score.

How does your credit score affect how much house you can afford?

Simply put, the better your credit score, the higher your maximum mortgage will be. A good credit score can also help you agree to a lower interest rate with the bank. Over a period of 30 years, a reduced interest rate can save you a huge amount of money.

Six Strategies For Improving Your Credit Score which you can find here:

Real Estate Downsizing May 15, 2020

How to Navigate Moving and Downsizing as a Senior

Image via Pexels

by Michael Longsdon

Moving to a new home is an exciting, yet daunting task. Not only do you have to decide where to live, you also need to think about the logistics of moving. Because most seniors choose to move into smaller homes or units, downsizing possessions might also be on your mind. Below, learn how to choose the best home for your golden years and find tips for moving and letting go of items.

Independent Living Options

When you think of housing options for seniors, the first thing that comes to mind might be assisted living facilities and nursing homes. However, there are actually numerous options that let you live independently.

First, you can simply buy a smaller house that is easier to take care of. This allows you to pick a new city or neighborhood that fits your lifestyle better. By knowing which recreational activities and amenities you want close by, you can narrow your search.

The local housing market might also influence your choice. For example, over the past month, homes in Scotts Valley spent an average of 38 days on the market and sold for an average of $933K. In a competitive market like this, you’ll need to plan and budget accordingly.

In addition to single-family homes and condos in residential areas, you can also weigh the benefits of moving to a retirement community. These places are not like nursing homes. On the contrary, independent living campuses and age-restricted communities have separate living units and come with extra amenities that you wouldn’t get from a regular condo or apartment.

Assisted Living Options

Your health conditions and physical needs will ultimately determine what type of living arrangements are best for you. If you need help with daily tasks, assisted living may be a good fit. Keep in mind that each facility is unique, so it’s important to do your research to find one that’s right for you.

If you don’t need assistance now, but anticipate that you will in the future, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) might be a better match. These communities provide every level of care, allowing you to transition to a higher level if needed.

There is also the option of remaining in your own home and hiring a personal care aide or homemaker. With in-home care, you can remain independent while still getting the help you need.

With COVID-19 concerns being a major source of anxiety for many older people, there is comfort in the idea of remaining at home rather than moving to a communal setting where infections could spread more easily. Whether you choose independent living, in-home care, or assisted living, make sure you stay up-to-date with the latest guidance from the CDC.

Planning Your Move

No matter where you decide to move next, you’ll have to figure out some logistics. It’s important to plan your move as far in advance as possible so you can choose a good moving company, pack your belongings, and tackle the usually dreaded task of decluttering.

Because movers can book up quickly, it’s a good idea to contact a company as soon as possible to ensure you can stay on schedule. To find a moving company, you’ll want to do some research online. Reading mover reviews can provide a lot of insight and help you pick the best service for you.

Even though professional movers can pack on your behalf, you might be more comfortable boxing up things yourself. There are many ways to streamline the packing process so it’s not stressful. For example, Consumer Affairs recommends packing up each room completely before moving onto the next room.

Decluttering will also help tremendously during the moving process. Not only will there be less stuff to pack up, you will also have an easier time fitting everything into your new home.

Moving to your new place can be emotional and stressful, but the move will also come with many new opportunities. By doing your research to find the perfect type of housing and planning your move out step by step, you can ease into your new life with less stress and focus on your new possibilities.


Assisted Living April 23, 2020

Moving to Assisted Living and Leaving the Family Home

When assisted living is on the horizon, there’s one question that looms: What should seniors do with the family home? Most of us dream of passing our homes to our children someday. But in the face of rising assisted living costs, many seniors are realizing that’s no longer an option. If you’re headed to assisted living and wondering the best way to handle your home, this guide can help.

The High Cost of Assisted Living

Nationally, assisted living prices average $4,027 a month for a studio apartment, with higher rates for one- and two-bedroom units. That’s approximately what the average retiree earns in a year before taxes, and seniors living on Social Security alone get by on much less. With these numbers, it’s not hard to see why so many seniors consider selling their homes to pay for assisted living.

Selling a Home to Pay for Assisted Living

Selling a home can be a smart way to afford assisted living. However, it’s important to do the math first to determine if the proceeds of a home sale can reasonably cover assisted living fees.

Assisted living facilities vary in price, and some cost more than the national average. However, seniors on a budget can still find a facility thanks to the wide range of assisted living options. Since pricing depends heavily on individual needs, it’s best to set up tours of facilities to get an accurate estimate of what you’ll spend on assisted living.

Once you understand what assisted living will cost, compare it to home prices in your area. Homes in Scotts Valley sell for an average of $925,000, following an upward trend as the community’s housing market grows more competitive. That could make it a good time to cash in on your investment, but in order to understand exactly how much you could net from selling, you’ll need to do a comparative market analysis to determine what your home is worth. For a basic CMA, look for recently-sold listings in neighborhoods like yours, and choose properties similar in size and condition to your own. This will give you a rough idea of your home’s market value before talking to a realtor.

Renting: An Alternative to Selling?

With the exception of continuing care retirement communities, most assisted living facilities don’t require an upfront lump-sum payment. Rather, payments are made in the form of monthly “rent.” That opens another option for tapping into your home to pay for assisted living: renting.

Two-bedroom units in Virginia Beach rent for around $1,300 a month on average. While that’s not enough to pay assisted living costs in full, it could supplement income enough to make it affordable. That’s especially true if your mortgage is paid off or close to it. Keep in mind, however, that living in assisted living means you’ll need to hire someone to manage your property. Expect to pay around 10% of the property’s rental income toward property management. On the upside, capable property management can increase your unit’s marketability and reduce vacancy rates.

When Keeping the House Makes Sense

For some seniors, the cost of assisted living doesn’t necessitate major financial adjustments. Rather, they’re looking for a way to keep their home in good shape until it’s time to pass it on. While it’s possible to bequeath a home while living, your loved ones will receive more favorable tax treatment if they receive it as an inheritance.

Again, renting may be a wise option. Vacant homes are prone to decay and vandalism, and renting ensures the property is maintained and generates income to cover ongoing expenses. You may also choose to rent the property to family below market rate, although giving loved ones a break on rent has tax implications.

For most middle-class seniors, paying for assisted living means making major changes. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean selling the house. If you’re determined to keep the house in the family, try renting it out while you move to assisted living. But if you’d prefer your old house taken off your hands, get in touch about selling your property for a great price.

by Andrea Needham

Image via Unsplash

Home GardenReal Estate Downsizing June 14, 2019

Downsizing 101 for Seniors