The SCOOP! Blog by®

Experts offer their top ideas for boosting curb appeal.

You landed a new job and find yourself planning a cross-country move in three months. Or, maybe you finally have the time to spend on home improvement now that the kids are out of the house. Here are some great approaches to home improvements geared toward a wide variety of budgets. We interviewed a number of experts to ask for tips, and all agreed with New York City-based designer Courtney Cachet who said, “For anything past the very basic DIY projects, I strongly recommend a licensed and insured professional.” 

Ready to channel your inner Bob Vila? Click on your budget, then jump to ideas for how to increase your home’s value on your budget.

1. If You Have $100

Beverly Hills home designer Brian DeVille recommends starting with your outdoor lighting. He explains, “I find that curb appeal is key. If you’ve done work inside, they’re not going to see what’s inside. If you drive around an expensive neighborhood, you’ll see the homes have exterior lighting. Lighting can make a home appear taller and add symmetry to the structure and the yard.” More ideas to consider:

Small landscaping projects. From a bed of flowers to mulching around trees and other plantings—nothing beautifies a home more than an eye-appealing landscape. “I always recommend yellow, because yellow is the first color the brain processes,” says Courtney Cachet. “It attracts the eye and looks cheerful. A mix with some pinks, greens, and potted plants, and you’re done!”

Add fresh accessories. “Just as in fashion, accessories are important. That includes new house numbers, a new front door, mailbox, and planters,” says Cachet. “The entryway is key—have a nice solid door,” explains Deville. “If it has wobbly hardware people are going to assume the whole home isn’t well-maintained.”

Refinish floors or cabinets. “If you have hardwood floors, even if you can’t afford to refinish, pull up any wall-to-wall carpet,” says Nyack, New York-based home stager, Darrow Samberg. If your kitchen cabinets are looking outdated, Darrow recommends not spending money on new ones but instead sanding and painting the ones you have.

2. If You Have $500

Pay to get your home inspection before listing it. “It’s much wiser to start out knowing which projects are crucial to repairing before potential buyers walk through the door—you may decide to do an essential roof repair rather than a cosmetic bathroom remodel,” says DeVille. You’re also less likely to recoup your investment in a major kitchen or bathroom remodel than you are to get back what you spend on basic home maintenance such as new siding. Other $500 projects to consider:

 your home’s exterior, shutters, and trim.

Erect a simple fence around your backyard for privacy and safety for kids and pets.

Do a basic “man-cave” or garage spiff-up: Coat the floors in glossy, durable paint, and install inexpensive-but-sturdy shelving and peg board.

Hire a pro to power wash your outside patios, decks, and walkways.

3. If You Have $1000

Build a surround for your TV. “Let’s face it, there’s nothing inspiring about a flat-screen TV just floating on a bare wall,” says Stamford, Connecticut based interior designer Kay Story. “But there are some simple ways to make it look like part of your design scheme without breaking the bank. One option is to build a framed wall out around your set, creating a window for the TV to sit within. The walls will also appear more interesting because there are multiple dimensions on an otherwise flat wall. Be sure to bury all cords in the wall. Add some floating wood or stainless steel shelves below for decor and you have a super chic TV room.” Other $1,000 projects to consider:

Give your home’s interior a paint job, just keep in mind that bold colors aren’t to most buyers’ taste. Go for neutral shades for the widest appeal. Howard Wiggins shares this tip: “Paint stores have color specialists that will help you find the perfect shade—they also know what’s in style right now.” Pros say that neutral paint tones can help make a home’s interior look larger.

Toss outdated or broken furniture, rugs, and artwork. Invest in key items that add pops of color and modernity throughout your home.

Purchase and install a “smart” thermostat. This can save you about $200 in energy costs. Even cooler? Systems like those made by Nest can be controlled remotely with your smartphone or tablet.

Invest in a new front porch. This adds visual interest and a welcoming entryway, especially if your home’s architecture is flat, like a ranch home. If your porch has started to look dated or has structural issues, rebuild it. As DeVille says, “If all your improvements are made on your home’s interior, you’ll never have a chance to show potential buyers the inside.”

4. If You Have $2000

Amp up your home’s interior lighting. “I’m working on a house from the 1920s now. People lived in a very different way back then—more low-lit wall sconces. I added four recessed lighting elements per room—one room for $400 or so. It really gives you a bright, happy room. Pay attention to lighting color—choose a daylight bulb,” says Howard Wiggins, interior designer and author based in Nashville. “Lighting is the best way to not only illuminate a room in a property, but also an excellent method of creating individual ambiances in any room,” adds Wiggins. Other value-enhancing projects in this price range:

Change up your countertops. With a modicum of construction skills, this can be a DIY project that improves the whole look of your kitchen. Keep this improvement under budget by using materials such as stainless steel, polished concrete, stone, woodlaminate, or ceramic tile.

Open up space by taking down a wall. Potential buyers love big, open spaces. (You can even remove a load-bearing wall, though most people don’t know it; our home will remain structurally sound if you leave a beam at the ceiling.)

Update your crown molding. Do away with cracked or chipped trim that can add years to the appearance of a home. Pay particular attention to making your living room or entryway look cohesive and finished.

5. If You Have $5000

“Update your half-bath to make it wow,” suggests Houston-based interior designer Rainey Richardson. “Sand the walls and add wallpaper with bold print and pops of color to add some pizzazz. Update the lighting and faucet to compliment the great paper. Don’t be afraid to choose metals that are less common like chrome and brushed gold to add interest. Choose a quiet countertop, like a solid quartz, to finish the space.” Other $5,000 projects to consider:

Make your half-bath spectacular. Unique spaces will make your home memorable and could increase your value by $7,500 or more.

Transform unused space. The addition of attic bedrooms and basement family rooms can return anywhere from 70 to more than 80% of the money spent.

Add a deck. When selling, a well-maintained backyard deck can hold 65 to 90% of your investment.

Spring for a new heat pump. A basic model can lower your heating and cooling expenses significantly.

6. If You Have $10,000

Remodeling the kitchen, considered by all real-estate pros as the most important room in the house, tops the list. “Replace cabinet door and door fronts with a style that makes sense with your architecture,” says Rainey Richardson, a Houston-based interior designer. Paint or stain the kitchen cabinetry to compliment the space and adjacent areas. Select a new countertop that has some veining and movement to add interest. Finally, choose a backsplash with a decorative tile to finish the look. Keep the backsplash simple and remember that white is the most popular kitchen color with buyers. This update could increase the value of your home by $20,000 or more. Other $10,000 projects to consider—all courtesy of Rainey Richardson:

Replace the flooring in your home’s common areas. Bamboo is a beautiful and not-too-expensive choice.

Add interior shutters to the windows. This gives a more finished and custom look to your home.

Replace windows with new, energy-efficient ones. Collect at least a couple of bids to ensure you get the best rate.

Update kitchen appliances. This improvement is one you can enjoy well before you ever list your home.

By Laura Vogel – To view the original article click here

Posted by Jackie A. Graves, President on November 19th, 2017 8:24 AM

Two - five percent of your loan go to closing costs. Find out what you’re paying for on closing day.

Expect property taxes, homeowners insurance, and lender’s costs to be part of your settlement-day tab.

With your house-hunting and lender searches now in the rearview mirror, you can start steering your way around the final bend that leads to the driveway of your new San Angelo, TX, home: settlement day and closing. A few days before you meet with your real estate agent, a title company representative, and your loan officer for this joyous event, you should have received from the title company a copy of your closing documents. Read these documents carefully — they will include details on the closing costs that are due upon settlement.

·       What are closing costs?

Closing costs are lender and third-party fees paid at the closing of a real estate transaction, and they can be financed as part of the deal or be paid upfront. They range from 2% to 5% of the purchase price of a home. (For those who buy a $150,000 home, for example, that would amount to between $3,000 and $7,500 in closing fees.) Understanding and educating yourself about these costs before settlement day arrives might help you avoid any headaches at the end of the deal.

·       What’s included in closing costs?

Closing costs will cover both recurring and nonrecurring fees that are a part of your transaction. Recurring costs are ongoing expenses that you will continue to pay as a homeowner, with a portion due upon closing; nonrecurring fees are one-time fees associated with borrowing money and the services that were required to purchase the property.

Recurring closing costs are placed in your escrow account, which you might view as a forced savings account for those upcoming home expenses you’ll be facing. They can vary, but the most common ones are property taxes (one to eight months’ worth, depending on when your home purchase coincided with the local tax billing cycle), homeowners insurance (the annual premium is typically due at closing, plus another two or three months’ worth of payments), and prepaid loan interest (for the number of days you’ll have the loan until its first payment is due). Also placed into escrow are costs for title insurance, which is considered a must because it protects you in case the seller doesn’t have full rights and warranties to the title of the property.

Nonrecurring closing costs are fees paid to your lender and other professionals involved in the transaction. They include: any home inspection fees; any discount points you’re paying upfront to lower your interest rate; an origination fee, which is charged by the lender to process your loan; a document-prep fee, which covers the cost of preparing your loan file for processing; an appraisal fee, which covers the cost of a professional estimating the market value of the home; and a survey fee for verifying the home’s property lines. Also expect as nonrecurring costs: an underwriting fee for the cost of evaluating and verifying your loan application; a credit report fee for pulling your credit scores; title search and recording fees; and a wire-transfer fee for wiring funds from the lender to your escrow account.

·       How to prepare for closing costs

The best time to study closing costs is when you’re shopping for a lender and can compare your desired loan amount with interest rates you’re offered (plus any discount points you might plan to pay upfront to lower those rates). Then use a closing-cost calculator to determine what your costs might be. The calculator will gauge your monthly mortgage payments, based on whether you’re financing the closing costs into your mortgage or whether you’ve decided to pay them upfront.

By Trulia – To view the original article click here

Posted by Jackie A. Graves, President on November 18th, 2017 9:24 AM

For many, fall is undeniably one of the most coveted seasons of the year. What's not to love? The leaves are beautiful, pumpkin spice abounds, football spirit is in high gear, it's cool but not cold, and we've got Thanksgiving to top it all off.


What many don't know is that fall is also one of the best times of the year to buy a home. Here's why:

  1. Less competition. Spring and summer are the prime months for buying and selling homes and competition can be fierce. In the Fall, however, there are fewer people in the market, typically resulting in fewer bidding wars and the pressure to sign a contract so quickly. Because the market is quieter, sellers will take your offer seriously.
  2. Sellers are serious. If a home is for sale in the fall, it's usually because of a life event that triggered the sale, such as a job transfer. The power of negotiation is typically in your hands, whether it's price, timing or home updates as they're needing to move versus wanting to move.
  3. Sellers are worn-out. The sellers who listed their home in the spring or summer with aggressive price points or in a saturated market are just plain tired. They've likely lowered their price and, due to the slow movement of the market in the fall, they're willing to negotiate.

If you're in the market to buy, now may be the time as you'll have the upper hand in most cases. Plus, if you're a first-time homebuyer and you close before the end of the year, you can take advantage of tax breaks.

Courtesy of Freddie Mac – To view the original article click here

Posted by Jackie A. Graves, President on November 17th, 2017 7:10 AM

On closing day, all parties will sign the papers officially sealing the deal, and ownership of the property will be transferred to you. It’s your opportunity to make any last-minute changes to the transaction.

It starts the day before

The day before closing, gather all the paperwork you have received throughout the homebuying process: Loan Estimate, contract, proof of title search and insurance if necessary, flood certification, proof of homeowners insurance and mortgage insurance, home appraisal, inspection reports and Closing Disclosure. You might need to refer to these documents at closing.

Most home-sale contracts entitle you to a walk-through inspection of the property 24 hours before closing. This is to ensure that the seller has vacated the property and left it in the condition specified in the sale contract.

If there are any major problems, you can ask to delay the closing or request that the seller deposit money into an escrow account to cover the necessary repairs.

Your roles on closing day

At closing, your participation will involve a couple of steps:
  • Sign legal documents. This falls into two categories: the agreement between you and your lender regarding the terms and conditions of the mortgage, and the agreement between you and the seller transferring ownership of the property. Be sure to read all documents carefully before signing them, and do not sign forms with blank lines or spaces.
  • Pay closing costs and escrow items. There are numerous fees associated with getting a mortgage and transferring property ownership. Usually, the borrower pays these fees with a check at closing. Some fees can be added to the loan balance, or the borrower can pay a higher interest rate and have the lender pay the fees.

Present at closing

Closing procedures vary from state to state and even county to county, but the following parties will generally be present at the closing or settlement meeting:
  • Closing agent, who might work for the lender or the title company.
  • Attorney: The closing agent might be an attorney representing you or the lender. Both sides may have attorneys. It’s always a good idea to have an attorney present who represents you and only you.
  • Title company representative, who provides written evidence of the ownership of the property.
  • Home seller.
  • Seller’s real estate agent.
  • You, also known as the mortgagor.
  • Lender, also known as the mortgagee.
The closing agent conducts the settlement meeting and makes sure that all documents are signed and recorded and that closing fees and escrow payments are paid and properly distributed.

Closing documents

You will receive the following important documents:

Closing Disclosure

This five-page document provides details of the mortgage loan, including the loan terms, estimated monthly payments and closing costs. You are not supposed to receive this for the first time at the closing table; the lender is required to give it to you at least three business days before you close on the loan. During this period, you are encouraged to compare the Loan Estimate with the Closing Disclosure.

Mortgage note

This document states your promise to repay the mortgage. It indicates the amount and terms of the loan and what the lender can do if you fail to make payments.

Mortgage or deed of trust

This document secures the note and gives your lender a claim against the home if you fail to live up to the terms of the mortgage note.

Certificate of occupancy

If you are buying a newly constructed house, you need this legal document to move in.

Once you’ve reviewed and signed all closing documents, the house keys are yours and you will have successfully bought your new home!

By Holden Lewis – To view the original article click here

Posted by Jackie A. Graves, President on November 16th, 2017 7:21 AM

Dreaming of owning a home and wondering how much you can afford? You're not alone. It's one of the most important questions you'll need to answer before you can begin house hunting — and many factors, aside from your income and car payment, come into play.

So, what is your number?

To determine how much you can afford, here are two important guidelines used by most lenders you'll need to consider:

  • The Housing Expense Ratio = This is the percentage of your gross monthly income that goes toward paying for your housing expenses. Your lender will look at how much your mortgage payment (principal, interest, taxes and mortgage insurance) is compared to your monthly gross income.
  • The Debt–to–Income Ratio = The percentage of gross monthly income that goes toward paying for your monthly housing expense, alimony, child support, car payments and other installment debts, and payments on revolving or open–ended accounts such as credit cards. Your combined debt (credit cards, student loans, alimony, child support, car loans and housing expenses) should be less than 50% of monthly gross income at least.

In addition to these key ratios, all of the following will play a role:

  • Your income. You can get a very rough estimate of your affordable home price range by multiplying your annual gross income by 2.5 (this, of course, varies depending on current interest rates, your debt and credit history).
  • Your credit.  Generally speaking, the better your credit, the lower the cost of obtaining credit and the greater your financing options.
  • Current mortgage rates.  Although mortgage rates are rising, they're still historically low — below 4 percent — making homeownership affordable for many.
  • Your downpayment.  Plan to make a downpayment of at least 5 or 10 percent.  If you are able to put down 20 percent or more, you avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), reducing your monthly mortgage payment.
  • The type of home. The type of home you buy influences the mortgage rate for your loan. For example, rates for condos are typically higher and you'll also have to budget for monthly condo fees.
  • Fees and closing costs. Remember to factor in the expenses and fees you will incur for a home appraisal, a home inspection, and other professional services required to buy a home.


Courtesy of Freddie Mac – To view the original article click here

Posted by Jackie A. Graves, President on November 15th, 2017 6:57 AM
Check off these 6 items before buying

Buying a home is a huge investment. Before you jump into the wonderful world of homeownership, make sure you are prepared with these six steps. Learn about credit score requirements, mortgage options and other must-do’s.

6 simple steps to buying a house

  1. Strengthen your credit score.
  2. Figure out what you can afford.
  3. Save for down payment, closing costs.
  4. Build a healthy savings account.
  5. Get preapproved for a mortgage.
  6. Buy a house you like.
Ready to be a homeowner? Compare mortgage rates to get the best deal on a mortgage.
Strengthen your credit score

The higher your credit score, the lower your monthly payments.

“Below 660 or 680, you’re either going to have to pay sizable fees or a higher down payment,” says Barry Zigas, housing policy director for the Consumer Federation of America.

On the other end, a score of 700 to 720 will get you a good deal, and 750 and above will garner the best rates on the market.

Improve your chances by: pulling your credit reports and ensuring you’re not being unfairly penalized for old, paid or settled debts. Get your credit report and score today, free and with no obligation, at myBankrate.

Stop applying for new credit a year before you apply for financing. And keep the moratorium in place until after you close on your home.

Figure out what you can afford

The buyer’s mantra: Get a home that’s financially comfortable.

There are various rules of thumb that will help you get an idea of how much home you can afford. If you’re using FHA financing, your home payment can’t exceed 31 percent of your monthly income. But with some mitigating factors, the FHA will let you go higher.

For conventional loans, a safe formula is that home expenses should not exceed 28 percent of your gross monthly income, says Susan Tiffany, retired director of personal finance publications for adults for the Credit Union National Association.

For a rough assessment of how much house you can afford, check out Bankrate’s new house calculator.

Improve your chances by: trying on that financial obligation long before you sign the mortgage papers. Before you shop for a home, calculate the mortgage payment for the home in your intended price range, along with the increased expenses (such as taxes, insurance and utilities). Then bank the difference between that and what you’re paying now.

Now that you know how much you can afford, compare mortgage rates.
Save for down payment, closing costs

Depending on your credit and financing, you’ll typically need to save enough money for a down payment — somewhere between 3 and 20 percent of the home’s price.

To get an FHA loan, you need a credit score of 580 or higher.

One exception: Veterans Affairs loans, which require no down payment.

Comparison shop for a VA loan today on

Another cash expense: closing costs. Whatever your loan source, you’ll also need money to pay closing costs. For a $200,000 mortgage, closing costs run (depending on where you live) from $2,300 to $4,000. Get the average closing costs in your state at Bankrate’s closing costs map.

Improve your chances by: banking your own money and seeking down payment assistance. Often, it’s location-based or tagged to a certain type of buyer, like first-timers. Search online with the city name, then the county name, along with word combinations such as “down payment assistance,” “first-time homebuyers” and “homebuyer’s assistance.”

In a buyer’s market, you can also negotiate to have the seller pay a portion of the closing costs.

Build a healthy savings account

Building your savings is something you should do over and above saving money for the down payment and closing. Your lender wants to see that you’re not living paycheck to paycheck. If you have three to five months’ worth of mortgage payments set aside, that makes you a much better loan candidate. And some lenders and backers, like the FHA, will give you a little more latitude on other factors if they see that you have a cash cushion.

That money will also help cover maintenance and repair issues that come up when you own a home. While repairs are sporadic, items such as a new roof, water heater or other big-ticket items can hit suddenly and hard.

Improve your chances by: setting aside money every month. A good rule of thumb: On average, you’ll spend 2.5 to 3 percent of your home’s value annually on upkeep, repairs and maintenance. If you’re buying a $250,000 home, aim to save $520 to $625 per month.

Get some interest on your savings today by shopping savings accounts.

Get preapproved for a mortgage

For serious home shoppers, “the No. 1 thing is they better have everything in order,” says Dick Gaylord, broker with Re/Max Real Estate Specialists in Long Beach, California, and former president of the National Association of Realtors. That means that, before the real home shopping begins, you want to get financing in place, he says.

Improve your chances by: getting financing in place “before you walk through the first house,” Gaylord says. Otherwise, he asks, “How do you know how much you can afford?”

Buy a house you like

If you’re buying today for yourself and your family, you want a home that will make you happy for the next few years.

You can’t always count on a quick sale. And depending on how much you put down, and how much you have to shell out to sell and relocate, short-term ownership can be a pretty expensive proposition.

Improve your chances by: stepping back and making certain you like the house.

When you find the right house, shop for a mortgage on

By Dana Dratch – To view the original article click here

Posted by Jackie A. Graves, President on November 14th, 2017 6:55 AM

Most people with private mortgage insurance want to know how to get rid of it. And for good reason: PMI tacks on a substantial extra fee to your already massive mortgage payments. Lenders traditionally require PMI for borrowers who put down less than 20% on a house. Of course, it's a godsend if you couldn't afford a home otherwise. But once you have PMI, is there any way to let it go?

For starters, let's get one thing straight: “Mortgage insurance is neither good nor bad,” says Michael Brown, branch manager for Churchill Mortgage in Nashville, TN. “It can help people become homeowners who would not otherwise qualify because they don’t have 20% to put down. But in the long run, the removal of mortgage insurance could save home buyers hundreds if not thousands of dollars per year, depending on their loan size.”

PMI ranges in price from about 0.3% to 1.15% of your home loan (the worse your credit score, the higher the percentage). On a $300,000 house, that's an extra $900 to $4,500 you'll pay per year. So, it's understandable homeowners will want to learn how to purge this fee as soon as possible.

What is LTV?

To understand how to get rid of PMI, you'll first need to wrap your head around the concept of a home's loan-to-value ratio—which compares the amount of money you borrowed to your home's value.

To calculate your LTV, divide your loan amount by the value of your home. For example, if you borrow $135,000 for a house valued at $150,000, your LTV would be 0.9, or 90%.

Your LTV changes over time, and once it reaches 80% or lower, paying PMI is no longer a requirement.

How to get rid of PMI

There are two main ways to get rid of PMI, each with its own pros and cons. The most obvious is just to keep chipping away at paying your mortgage. It may take several years, but you will get there in due time without stressing your finances too much. Making extra mortgage payments will help you get there sooner, too.

Another way to get rid of PMI is to make home improvements, such as adding a bathroom or renovating a kitchen. From there, you wait one year, then get the home appraised—hopefully for a higher value that pushes your LTV to a level where you can offload PMI.

"Just make sure the upgrades you are doing add substantial value," says Allen Shayanfekr, founder and CEO of real estate investment company Sharestates. In other words: Stick with renovation projects with a high return on investment such as adding attic insulation or a new steel front door (here's a full list of home improvements that'll pay off).

And whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of pouring too much money into renovations that could have gone toward whittling down your mortgage.

How to end PMI with your lender

Under the Homeowner's Protection Act, your mortgage lender is legally required to cancel your PMI coverage once you pay down your mortgage to 78% of the principal, as long as you are current on your payments and do not have an FHA loan.

Once your LTV is below 80%, ask your lender to cancel your PMI, making sure to follow its guidelines. If your lender doesn't approve your PMI cancellation in a timely manner, follow up by sending written complaints that restate your request. Send the letters by certified mail, and keep copies so that you have evidence in case you need to take court action.

Bottom line: Don’t fret if you have to pay PMI. It may be the thing you need to get your dream house, and it doesn’t have to last forever.

By Julie Ryan Evans – To view the original article click here

Posted by Jackie A. Graves, President on November 13th, 2017 6:49 AM

Save your cash for more important things, like, you know, your mortgage.


You can’t swing a tool belt without hitting a website or TV network offering tips on taking care of your digs. Save money by watering your lawn at night! No, water it in the morning! No, dig it up and replace it with a drought-hardy meadow!


Throw in the info you pick up from well-meaning friends and there’s a sea of home care truisms out there, some of which can sink your budget.

Myth 1: Stone Countertops Are Indestructible

FactEven rock can be damaged.


Marble, quartz, travertine, soapstone, and limestone can all be stained. Regular household cleaners can dull their surfaces over time. And marble is maddeningly fragile — it’s the prima donna of stone.


It’s easy to scratch. It’s easy to stain. Here’s the worst part: Mildly acidic substances like soda, coffee, lemon juice, even hard water will eat into marble, creating a cloudy, dull spot in a process known as etching.


“Spill a glass of wine on a marble counter and go to bed without cleaning it, the next morning you’ll have a problem,” says Louwrens Mulder, owner of Superior Stone in Knoxville, Tenn.


And while stone counters won’t crack under a hot pot, such direct heat can discolor quartz or marble, says Mulder. So be nice to your counters, no matter what they’re made of. And note that the best rock for your buck is granite. “It doesn’t stain or scratch. It’s tough because it’s volcanic rock,” Mulder says. Which means it can stand up to all the merlot and barbecue sauce you can spill on it.

Myth 2: Your Smoke Detector's Test Button Is Foolproof

Fact: The test button doesn’t tell you what you really need to know.


Yes, check your smoke detector twice a year. But all that test button will tell you is whether the alarm sound is working, not if the sensor that detects smoke is working. Pretty key difference there.


The best way to check your device is with real smoke. Light a long, wooden kitchen match, blow it out, and hold it near the unit. If the smoke sets off the alarm, it’s working. If not, replace the batteries. If it still doesn’t work, you need a new smoke detector. And replace those batteries once a year anyway, because dead batteries are the No. 1 reason smoke detectors fail.

Myth 3: Gutter Guards Are Maintenance-Free

Fact: You gotta clean gutter guards, too.


Gutter guards keep out leaves, but small debris like seeds, pine straw, and flower buds will still get through.

Gutter guards can lessen your work, though — sometimes a lot. Instead of shoveling out wheelbarrow loads of leaves and other crap twice a year, you might just need to clean them every two years. But if there are lots of trees in your yard, once a year might be necessary.


Related: Money-Saving Tips to Repair Those Dastardly Gutters

Myth 4: A Lemon Is a Great Way to Clean a Disposal

Fact: While wanting to use natural cleaners is admirable, all of them will damage your disposal and pipes over time.


The lemon’s acidic juice will corrode the metal parts of your disposal. The mixture of salt and ice contains metal-eating acid, too. The coffee grounds are abrasive enough to clean the gunk off the blades and make it smell like a cup of americano, but they’ll accumulate in pipes and clog them.


The best natural cleaner for your disposal is good old baking soda. It’s mildly abrasive so it will clean the blades, but it’s a base, not an acid, and won’t damage the metal. Best of all, a box with enough baking soda big enough to clean your disposal twice costs less than a buck.

Myth 5: Mowing Your Lawn Super Short Means You'll Mow Less Often

Fact: You might not have to mow as often, but your lawn will look like awful.


Cut that grass under an inch high, and you’ll never have to mow again because your grass will die. Mowing a lawn down to the root — a screw-up known as scalping — is like cutting all the leaves off a plant.


Grass blades make and store your lawn’s energy. Removing more than 1/3 of the length of the blade will leave your grass too weak to withstand weeds and pests. It also exposes the roots to the sun, causing the lawn to dry out quickly. Leave 1 to 3 inches of grass above the roots to keep your lawn lush.

Myth 6: CFLs Cost Too Much, and Are Dangerous

Fact: CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) have come down in price since they first hit the market and don’t contain enough mercury to cause any harm.


You can buy one now for as low as $3. And replacing one incandescent bulb with a CFL will save nearly $60 a year for the lifetime of the bulb, says Consumer Reports. CFLs last an average of 5 years, so one bulb can save $300. A houseful of them, say 20, will save $600 each year.


And CFLs are a safe option. They actually lower your exposure to mercury indirectly, because they use 70 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs. That means the coal-fired power plants that spew 340 million pounds of mercury into the air each year won’t have to run as long to keep our houses lit. Fewer toxins, lower power bills. What’s not to love?

Myth 7: A Trendy Kitchen Re-Do Will Increase My Home's Value

Posted by Jackie A. Graves, President on November 12th, 2017 8:10 AM

Like using lemons in your disposal (don’t do it!).


You’re always on the lookout for smart ideas and hacks to manage your home (and save money!) — whether that means listening to the wisdom of your parents who’ve owned a home longer than you’ve been alive, or scouring every corner of the internet for savvy tips.

But just because a tip has been pinned, shared, and Instagrammed thousands of times doesn’t make it smart. Here are eight tips (myths, really) that most people believe are good advice, but instead will cost you cash you don’t need to spend:

Myth #1: Lemons Are Great for Cleaning Garbage Disposals

What it could cost you: A plumber’s visit (and maybe a new disposal)

Proceed with caution when it comes to this well-circulated DIY fix. Citric acid is a natural deodorizer, but plumbing experts say it can corrode the metal in your disposal. That tough lemon peel can also damage the grinding components and clog your pipes. Next thing you know you’re Googling reviews for plumbers.

The better way: Turn on the disposal and, while running cold water, dump in two or more trays of ice cubes. Despite the clamor, this will safely dislodge buildup on the walls and the impellers, which grind up the food. 

Myth #2: Use Duct Tape to Seal Ductwork

What it could cost you: Pricier energy bills

Despite its name, don’t rely on duct tape to seal leaks in your HVAC’s ductwork. Testing by the U.S. Department of Energy found it deteriorates over just a few years (hot air from the HVAC system degrades the glue), letting conditioned air escape without doing its job.

The better way: Use duct mastic (a gooey substance kind of like caulk that dries after applied) to seal metal and flexible ductwork, and use it along with a layer of fiberglass mesh for gaps larger than 1/16 of an inch wide. Use gloves with metal ducts because the edges can be sharp, and mastic is messy stuff.

Myth #3: Bleach Will Banish Mold

What it could cost you: A threat to your health, plus hundreds of $ (even thousands)

Although bleach can kill mold on non-porous surfaces, it isn’t effective on absorbent or porous materials — you know, the places it loves to lurk, like grout, caulk, drywall, insulation, and carpet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, it just bleaches it so you can’t see it. And diluted bleach can feed future mold growth (yikes!) because only the water will be absorbed, which mold just loves.


The better way: Use a commercial anti-fungal product to take out mold at its roots. And only tackle mold removal yourself if the area is less than 10 square feet and you use protective gear, such as a respirator and chemical-resistant gloves. Otherwise, call in a mold remediation specialist who’ll know how to remove it without spreading it’s yucky (and potentially harmful) spores.


Related:  How to Get Rid of Mold Forever

Myth #4: Change Your HVAC Filter Every Month

What it could cost you: Around $100 a year

Although the air filter should be changed regularly to keep your home’s HVAC system operating efficiently, this piece of advice is more of a convenient general rule that could cause you to throw away perfectly good filters (and money!).

“The harsh truth is that it’s easier to say, ‘Do it every month’ and know that means people might do it every three or four months,” says homeowner advocate Tina Gleisner of Home Tips for Women.

The better way: The Department of Energy recommends checking, but not necessarily changing, your air filter every month. Change it if it looks dirty, replacing it at least once every three months.

Myth #5: Buy a Rinse Aid for Spot-Free Dishes

What it could cost you: Dollars instead of cents

Most dishwashers now come with a built-in dispenser for commercial rinse aids, plus a free sample to get you started. So now you’re hooked (spot-free glasses every time!), and it has become a regular item on your shopping list, even if it does cost almost $4 for 8 ounces.

The better way: If you’ve never tried, run your dishwasher without a rinse aid. If your water is soft, your dishwasher may deliver spot-free sparkle without any extra help. But if you’re still seeing spots, just fill the rinse-aid dispenser with plain white vinegar (less than a 50 cents for 8 ounces).


Money Tip: Rinse aid does help dishes dry faster, which stops those annoying wet drips from top rack to bottom when you unload. But instead of spending money, unload the bottom rack first while letting the top rack air dry.


Related: Which Homemade Dishwashing Detergent Is Best?

Myth #6: Home Improvement is Always a Good Investment

What it could cost you: Thousands of dollars in disappointment

Dreaming of diving into your own pool or adding a second bath to put an end to those morning squabbles? That’s the beauty of owning your own home, you can renovate to make all your dreams come true. And you’ll get money back on most any improvement you do, but don’t expect it for all improvements. FYI: A new bath returns 52% of its cost.

The better way: First off, your own happiness matters, so by all means, follow your remodeling bliss if you’re financially able. But if payback is important, do some research and talk to a REALTOR® who knows what buyers are seeking in your market. The Remodeling Impact Report from The National Association of REALTORS® (the sponsor of HouseLogic) is a fantastic resource to get the scoop on what projects will boost your equity the most. For example, it points out that small projects such as an insulation upgrade, refinishing floors, and even seeding your lawn will recoup almost all, and in some cases more than, your original investment.


Related: Find Out What Projects Have the Best Return on Investment

Myth #7: Put Dryer Sheets in Air Vents for a Sweet Smell

What it could cost you: Higher energy bills and a potential fire hazard

Social media PSA: Thousands of pins and shares do not mean a remedy is smart or safe. If you follow this popular hack, you’ll block the flow of air in your vents, making your HVAC system work harder and increasing your energy costs. The blockage even can pose a fire risk when the furnace is pumping out hot air. 

The better way: If fragrant air is what you’re after, there are no shortage of options available that won’t burn your house down. Give each room — or each day — a signature scent with all-natural scented candles, sprays, oils, and aromatherapy devices. If you’re seeking a scent to mask an offensive odor, however, it’s important to find and remove the source. Some stinky suspects — like mold, mildew, sewage, and gas leaks — can carry health risks.

Myth #8: Product Warranties Will Save on Repair Costs

What it could cost you: $50 to $100 or more

The last time you bought a major appliance or even a hand mixer, you were probably offered a warranty or service plan. While marketed to cover repair costs, these contracts typically cost more than you would ever spend to fix an item. And keep in mind that most manufacturers offer at least a 90-day warranty anyway.

The better way: Maintain the appliance as recommended by the manufacturer, and smartly stash the dollars you would spend on a warranty in a repair fund instead. Also, buy with a major credit card, such as AmEx or Visa. Many credit card companies extend product warranties (for free!) up to a year or so. Might be worth checking to see if yours does. 


By Amy Howell Hirt – To view the original article click here

Posted by Jackie A. Graves, President on November 11th, 2017 8:30 AM

For most mortgage borrowers, there are three major loan types: conventional, FHA and VA. Here is how they compare.

1. Conventional loans

Who they’re for: Conventional mortgages are ideal for borrowers with good or excellent credit.

Start out right by shopping today for a mortgage.

How they work: Conventional mortgages are “plain vanilla” home loans. They follow fairly conservative guidelines for:

  • Borrower credit scores.
  • Minimum down payments.
  • Debt-to-income ratios.

Debt-to-income ratio

Percentage of monthly income that is spent on debt payments, including mortgages, student loans, auto loans, minimum credit card payments and child support.

Cost: Lender fees, third-party fees, down payments, mortgage insurance and points can mean the borrower has to show up at closing with a sizable sum of money out of pocket.

Find out more about closing costs and how to save money.

What’s good: Conventional mortgages generally pose fewer hurdles than Federal Housing Administration or Veterans Affairs mortgages, which may take longer to process.

What’s not as good: You’ll need excellent credit to qualify for the best interest rates.

2. FHA loans

Who they’re for: Federal Housing Administration mortgages have flexible lending standards to benefit:
  • People whose house payments will be a big chunk of take-home pay.
  • Borrowers with low credit scores.
  • Homebuyers with small down payments and refinancers with little equity.

Shop FHA-approved lenders today.

How they work: The Federal Housing Administration does not lend money. It insures mortgages.

The FHA allows borrowers to spend up to 56 percent or 57 percent of their income on monthly debt obligations, such as mortgage, credit cards, student loans and car loans. In contrast, conventional mortgage guidelines tend to cap debt-to-income ratios at around 43 percent.

For many FHA borrowers, the minimum down payment is 3.5 percent. Borrowers can qualify for FHA loans with credit scores of 580 and even lower.

Cost: Each FHA loan has two mortgage insurance premiums:

  • An upfront premium of 1.75 percent of the loan amount, paid at closing.
  • An annual premium that varies. Most FHA homebuyers get 30-year mortgages with down payments of less than 5 percent. Their premium is 0.8 percent of the loan amount per year, or $66.67 a month for a $100,000 loan.

What’s good: FHA loans are often the only option for borrowers with high debt-to-income ratios and low credit scores.

What’s not as good: To get rid of FHA premiums, you must refinance the loan.

3. VA loans

Who they’re for: Most active-duty military and veterans qualify for Veterans Affairs mortgages. Many reservists and National Guard members are eligible. Spouses of military members who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-connected disability may also apply.

Want to know more? Read up on VA loans.

How they work: No down payment is required from qualified borrowers buying primary residences. The VA does not lend money, but guarantees loans made by private lenders.

Cost: The VA charges an upfront VA funding fee, which can be rolled into the loan or paid by the seller. The funding fee varies from 1.25 percent to 3.3 percent of the loan amount.

The VA allows sellers to pay closing costs but doesn’t require them to. So, the buyer might need money for closing costs. Borrowers may need money for the earnest-money deposit.

What’s good: VA borrowers can qualify for 100 percent financing. Veterans do not have to be first-time buyers and may reuse their benefit.

What’s not as good: According to the VA, there isn’t a cap on the amount you can borrow. “However, there are limits on the amount of liability VA can assume, which usually affects the amount of money an institution will lend you. The loan limits are the amount a qualified veteran with full entitlement may be able to borrow without making a down payment. These loan limits vary by county, since the value of a house depends in part on its location.”

Comparison shop for a VA loan today.

By Holden Lewis – To view the original article click here

Posted by Jackie A. Graves, President on November 10th, 2017 7:09 AM


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