Tuesday
Feb192019

Get Ready for the Spring Market

Kicking off with the last weeks of March, spring is the start of the homebuying season. With families often taking vacations in the late summer and fall occupied by the start of school, the months of April through July account for more than 40% of all housing transactions annually[1]. And in today’s competitive market, you want to do everything you can to put yourself in the best position to find (and secure) your dream home. But don’t worry—here’s everything you need to know to prepare and hit the ground running:

Get your finances in order

Buying a home is one of the most important purchases you’ll ever make, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve done your homework. Spend some of those cold winter days when you’re chased in-doors to gather the documents you’ll need to apply for a loan. Even if it’s just organizing digital documents on your computer, make sure you have bank statements, W-2s, tax returns and documents of your renting history. You’ll also want to order a credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to make sure it syncs up with your records and that there’s no unexpected surprises. It's also important to remember that lenders will be reviewing your debt to income ratio when you apply for financing.

Narrow down your options

Before you start searching in earnest, do research and have conversations to identify what you’re looking for in your future home. What neighborhood or neighborhoods do you want to live in? If you know, take a drive to get a sense of the area, how to get around and the relative distance from different areas to shopping and entertainment centers. You’ll also want to get a sense of how different areas will affect your commute to work, and what public transportation options might be available. With home buying, it can also be important to identify what you don’twant. For example, what are ‘deal-breakers’ in any potential home? What are your ‘must have’s’ and what are you willing to look past for your perfect home.

Do your homework

Along with narrowing down your neighborhood and your ‘dream home wish list,’ you’ll also want to winnow down your price range before you start shopping. You can start at home by using an online mortgage calculator to determine your price range and what kind of loan is right for you. To get the best information, you’ll want to talk to a loan expert to get a broad understanding of all your financing options. He or she can help explain all your options, as well as help explore homebuyer assistance programs that might be offered at the state or local level. You’ll want to interview several real estate agents to find someone that feels like a good fit. They should be knowledgeable about the local markets where you want to buy and serve as a valuable guide in fast-moving markets.

Get pre-approved

Inventory in the market is tight. Once the spring season heats up, so will the competition for the best properties. When you do find that perfect home, having a pre-approval letter from a reputable lender shows buyers that you mean business and can help an offer stand out. With Guaranteed Rate’s industry-leading tech and automated underwriting, homebuyers can complete the Digital Mortgage and receive a pre-approval letter to help make a compelling offer on their dream home.

By Jared Fernley

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/morganbrennan/2013/04/11/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-2013-spring-home-buying-season/#10c3414f7330

Wednesday
Feb062019

Starting an Emergency Fund

Finances - Emergency Saving Funds

Starting an emergency fund is an essential part ( or SHOULD be) of everyone's financial situation. It helps provide a cushion should an emergency arise where you need it! The reasons for using an emergency fund are endless, so it's critical to prepare and build an emergency fund to avoid letting unexpected expenses lead you to financial ruin. 

HOW to START/Build an emergency fund: 

Starting an emergency fund can be as easy as splitting a portion of your direct deposit into a savings account or money market account. It can also consist of setting up a recurring transfer from your checking account into a savings or money market account each week, every other week or monthly. In addition to splitting a portion of your direct deposit into an emergency savings account, tally up your expenses at the end of the month, and compare with your net income. 

If you are not sure where the funds for this emergency fund will come from, re-evaluate your spending habits and your budget. Start with a small amount of savings each month, but try to increase it whenever possible. And anytime you get a tax refund or bonus, add it to your fund. And gradually boost your savings by selling items you don't need, holding a yard sale or putting change into a jar every evening — anything to slowly accumulate cash. Make small goals at first, such as saving $1,000, and then work your way up to a reserve to cover several months' worth of expenses. While your savings goal will depend on your income and expenses, a general rule of thumb is to save enough to cover three to six months' worth of expenses. 
Saturday
Jan122019

Living in a Pajama Room

Designers, builders, and homeowners are looking to new secondary living spaces near bedrooms to provide a cozy secret getaway from the rest of the house. Sometimes called a “pajama lounge,” it’s a room where a family can comfortably gather without worrying about entertaining nonfamily members.

By its name alone, the living room sounds like a comfortable repose for all. But with open floor plans and busy lives defining factors for many Americans, this shared public space often epitomizes the struggle between enjoying real life and keeping a home prim and ready for visitors. A family room or even a kitchen with seating can be too large, open, busy, and associated with entertaining guests. That’s why many seek an alternative space in which to unwind together.

pajama room

© Courtesy of The Agency 

A large home in the Brentwood Park area of Los Angeles offers the ultimate in comfortable luxury: two pajama rooms, one in the basement and this one upstairs near all the main bedrooms. 

 

Chicago designer Rebecca Pogonitz, founder of GOGO Design Group, credits the Scandinavian appreciation for a simpler, more soul-nourishing lifestyle—often known by the Danish term ”hygge” (pronounced hue-guh)—for this move toward coziness and comfort. “My clients crave time for self-care and family,” Pogonitz says. “Many had this growing up but now find their family members aren’t together at home even for dinner. They want to recreate that human connection.”

Now, this desire is finding its way into home design by way of spaces that are sometimes called “pajama lounges,” a cutesy name that suggests a room in which to gather before bedroom, literally in PJs or sweats. This space is usually closer to bedrooms, often upstairs, as an intermediate area for intimate evening hours after dinner and before heading off to sleep. “It’s a place that has a totally different identity from a downstairs living or family room,” says Stephan Burke, a real estate salesperson with Cassis Burke Collection at Brown Harris Stevens in Miami.

Many existing layouts can accommodate this trend, as multipurpose, flex, or bonus rooms can easily be staged to this aesthetic. Madison, Conn.–based architect Duo Dickinson, author of A Home Called New England (Rowman & Littlefield), says it’s important for homes to keep evolving to better reflect how people today want to live. “Homes are just like our clothes. They need to move, grow, and shrink as we do,” he says.

Be aware that buyers may be looking for such spaces, even if they don’t yet know it as a trend or haven’t heard the “pajama lounge” term. While few listings will explicitly include this room as a feature, you can take cues from the examples below and apply them to extra bedrooms, oversized hallways, finished basements, or attic spaces. 

How New Construction Tackles the Trend 

pajama room

© Toll Brothers 

 

Like most home trends, the new-home construction industry can most easily incorporate this change, sometimes by paring the size of bedrooms. Industry groups such as the National Sleep Foundation and the Better Sleep Council suggest scaling back bedroom furniture and accessories to create a more dedicated space for sleep. Dickenson agrees, and says he’s seeing consumers shift away from bedroom designs that accommodate other functions such as homework, reading, and hanging out. “Our clients are increasingly asking that their bedrooms are sized to the beds, plus adequate space around them. The once typical 20-foot-by-20-foot floor plan is decreasing to 14 feet by 16 feet. Closets, however, never shrink,” he says.

Builder Ralph Ramirez, founder of ICH Builders in Coral Gables, Fla., has been including pajama lounges for several years and says they can be pretty small—as little as 10 feet by 10 feet. He often makes them larger, though, so they can serve other functions such as working out, paying bills, and doing homework.

Toll Brothers Inc., a national builder based in Horsham, Penn., has incorporated this type of space for years in its larger homes (6,000 square feet and up), though CJ Ametrano, vice president of national interior merchandising, says the company prefers to call them flex rooms. She adds that the company recently began to incorporate them in its smaller 2,500- to 3,000-square-foot houses by scaling back the size of other rooms.  

Another builder that focuses on large luxury homes takes the concept a step further by giving the pajama lounge some of the best views in the house. Architect Paul Fischman of Miami-based Choeff Levy Fischman puts the spaces near bedrooms on the second level so they overlook water views, as most of their houses face the ocean or intracoastal waterways.

And even when a site seems impossibly tight, Lexington Homes has found a way to squeeze in these spaces. The Chicago builder is adding pajama lounges to the three-story townhomes it’s constructing in the city’s Avondale neighborhood, on the third floor near the master bedroom suite. “The idea,” says co-principal Jeff Benach, “is that children whose rooms and bedroom are on the second floor will come up to the parents’ level so all can hang out together.” For those parents who don’t want to climb an extra flight of stairs, the master suite and flex room might be switched with the second-floor children’s bedrooms. The floor on which the flex space is placed is less important than ensuring that there’s a bathroom close by, Benach says.

Staging Existing Spaces

The key to furnishing a pajama lounge is a mix of comfortable seating upholstered in natural materials, a soft rug underfoot, some tables for games, a bookshelf or two, and good lighting—all in a soothing spa-like palette. Boston designer Frank Roop of Frank Roop Design Interiors put together this look in a second-floor room in a former fisherman’s cottage, which also takes advantage of water views. He custom designed an unusually large sofa that’s more like a big bed at 4 feet deep and 10 feet long. “Users can lie down and stretch out rather than sit upright,” he says. Other creature comforts: an ottoman with a flip top to store blankets and also a TV cabinet.

Because the pajama lounge is often used by children, more whimsical touches might be considered, as Chicago-based architectural firm Morgante Wilson Architects did in recent construction of a suburban house. Taking advantage of the 20-foot-high ceilings on the second level, the design team built a loft into one end of an extra bedroom, reached by a ladder, where the three children in the home can play. “It’s a place where the family can crash together,” says K. Tyler, the principal in charge of interior design at the firm.

Having the option of food close at hand rather than having to traipse downstairs is another worthwhile addition, says Santiago Arana, a real estate salesperson with The Agency in Los Angeles and owner of Cutting Edge Development Inc. A few features he recommends in this space are a minifridge, microwave, sink, and espresso or coffee machine.

The Screen-Time Question

Some families gather specifically to watch movies or favorite TV shows. But others may want to make these lounges tech-free to avoid disrupting family conversation, games, and relaxation. “It’s a place where [family] members might meditate and take a break from everyday life, talk, or read a book,” says broker-associate Carol Cassis, a colleague of Burke’s in Miami.

Cindy Graham, a licensed psychologist and founder of Brighter Hope Wellness Center in Clarksville, Md., considers it a matter of personal family preference and balance. “Many millennials who grew up with technology are now raising children and helping to push the pendulum back the other way. They are advocating to spend time together without as much technology as they may have had, and the results can be positive,” she says. “The family is the first place to learn to interact with others, and, in my work, we are seeing better language development [with less technology use] since there’s increased opportunity for conversations and social interaction.”

Graham and her husband, a Linux systems and software engineer, waited to introduce a Friday movie night routine until their younger child was two years old, since the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages screen media other than video-chatting before 18 months. She encourages adding blankets and other tactile objects to the room and allowing eating there. “Food becomes another opportunity to bond, learn manners, and talk about preferences,” she says.

However a pajama lounge is furnished and wherever it’s located, the goal should be to reflect the needs of the family who will be using it, according to Sherry Petersik, co-author of Lovable Livable Home. “You need things that will drive your family into the room,” says Petersik, who also manages the blog Young House Love with her husband, John. “If your family no longer includes young children, don’t make it a playroom.”

The couple furnished a room down the hall from all the family bedrooms in their two-story, colonial-style home in Richmond, Va., as a pajama lounge. However, they call it their “lazy room.” Says Petersik: “It works for us with tons of cabinetry for storage, window seat, and three chair lounges pushed together. A lot of people like to use updated bean-bag chairs.” Instead of spending evenings there, however, the family gathers in the morning before heading downstairs. Petersik says the timing doesn’t change their casual dress code. “We’re still in our PJs,” she says.

by Barbara Ballinger

Thursday
Jun142018

Teaching Smart Money Habits

 

There's no doubt that teaching your child smart money management habits is vital to their long-term success. But amid all the soccer games, PTA meetings and lunch-packing, the school year can get busy -- making summer the perfect time to start teaching them about money. Here are some great ways to help your child understand finances:

  • Empower them to earn. Start chores young, giving your child small, incremental responsibilities around the house in exchange for money, play time or another reward. Show them that hard work pays off. 
  • Encourage them to get a job. When old enough, encourage your kids to get a job. Maybe it's babysitting for a next-door neighbor or clearing tables at the pizzeria down the street. Whatever it is, working outside the home helps teach financial responsibility, social skills and time management all in one fell swoop. 
  • Try a prepaid debit card. Prepaid debit cards are a great way to teach your kids responsible spending habits without too much financial risk. Consider depositing a small amount onto the card each month and letting them figure out how to budget it week over week. After a few overly indulgent purchases (and a zero balance until the next month rolls around), you can bet they'll start learning how to manage their funds more wisely. 
  • Use tech to your advantage. It's no secret that today's kids are tech-savvy, so why not leverage that? You can find apps to help them manage their allowance, learn to invest and save, and establish smart spending habits. 

Encouraging your kids to develop smart money management habits can set them up for a lifetime of success -- and maybe even help them buy their first home.

 

Thursday
Mar012018

March is here and the winds are howling. Make time to check these 4 items around your house.

March To-Do List for Your Clients

Homeowners who’ve been through multiple winters know that this time of year isn’t a time to be slacking in home maintenance. There’s more to March madness than just basketball—in housing, it’s the time to make sure owners are staying proactive in tending to their homes through these next few springtime months. 

HouseLogic shares four tasks all owners have to do in March:

  1. Patch up spots on the lawn. As spring showers start to arrive, be sure to cover any bare areas on your yard. This is a crucial task to take care of as snow and ice continue to melt away, and doing so will keep mud and water out of your house.
  2. Use binoculars to inspect the roof and siding. It’s important to look for signs of damage on your home’s roof and siding. To save time and as a safer alternative to a ladder, use a pair of binoculars to spot these signs: loose or curling shingles, damaged gutters, peeling paint, or cracks in the foundation. Stop these signs from turning into money-sucking problems and start setting up repairs before anything gets worse.
  3. Install window screens. Window screens last longer when removed and stored for the winter. Whether or not you removed your screens last fall, March is the time to fix any loose screens, frames, or holes. This way, windows can be opened up to let in a clean breeze and keep bugs out. 
  4. Replace smoke detector batteries. Smoke detectors should have batteries changed once a year, so why not now? Another tip: The “test” button on detectors is meant to see if the alarm sound works, not whether it actually detects smoke. To test its functionality, light a match and blow it out near the device to see if it goes off. 

Source: “4 Tasks That Veteran Homeowners Know You Gotta Do in March,” HouseLogic (March 1, 2018)