Monday, February 26, 2018

Lease to own: A new program for first time home buyers in Portland

Lease to own: A new program for first time home buyers in Portland: In Portland's booming real estate market, bidding wars and cash buyers can make it tough for first time home buyers to compete. But, a new program is now trying to help.

Monday, February 19, 2018

...Housing Trends eNewsletter- LaTasha Hershey

...Housing Trends eNewsletter- LaTasha Hershey

Get Cookin’! Preparing Your Outdoor Kitchen for Spring

The groundhog has seen his shadow, Cupid has shot his glut of arrows, now the only thing between you and spring are a few lousy weeks of unfortunate weather. Spring is just around the corner, are you going to be ready to fire up the grill on day one? You took the time and effort to carefully put your outdoor kitchen to bed before winter’s cold came, soon it’s going to be time to wake it up again.
Now is the best time to check your equipment, restock your supplies, clean your stuff and do any fix-up that might be called for. There’s absolutely nothing more tortuous than being able to smell a neighbor’s cookout and not being able to have one of your own. But don’t worry, we’ve got your back. While you’re at it, you may want to look at these other maintenance items that start to pop up as winter’s ice starts to recede.

Reopening Your Outdoor Kitchen: Step By Step

Getting ready for spring can start while winter is still finishing up, provided you have several nice days in a row for surfaces and finishes to dry properly. Even if it does snow again, it’ll just be a matter of rinsing the new layer of dirt away. Once you’re starting to see more than a few days in a row with night time weather above freezing, you’re probably good to get started.
Step 1: Remove the Debris
Presumably, you covered your appliances, so we’re not going to address them just yet. First, we’re going to talk about your deck or patio, as well as any prep surfaces. Just because they were covered in snow doesn’t make them clean. In fact, that probably makes them even dirtier somehow.
Start by wiping your counters and other prep surfaces, cleaning out any sinks that might be part of your outdoor kitchen and scrubbing your tables and chairs. Do it in this order so you aren’t having to clean the deck or patio twice. Efficiency! Sprinkle a little water on your clean counters to check the sealant. If those drops are still standing after 10 to 15 minutes, you can skip resealing the counters this year.
Depending on your patio or deck’s surface, a simple sweeping with a broom and a hosing may be all you need to do. Other surfaces might need a power washing and resealing. You’ll have to judge this based on how the material reacts to your efforts. If water beads on the surface, you’re probably ok to skip the sealant here, too. For decks, make sure you drive any popping nails and replace any that have gone missing.
Step 2: Clean the Appliances
There’s no one definition of an “outdoor kitchen,” so what sort of appliances that this may entail can vary wildly from a charcoal grill with a side table to a high end gas number, plus a full size fridge, wine fridge, ice maker, sink with disposal and so on.
Whatever appliances you have, you should clean them completely before you turn the kitchen on for the season. It’s always the best time to clean appliances when they’re empty and not in service. Just be careful to dry them completely, inside and out, and cover them up again if they’re going to remain off, in case it does snow again or you get a freak ice storm.
When it comes to cleaning your grill, break it down entirely, scrub every bit of it within an inch of its life with soapy water and reseason any cast iron grates as needed. Once you’ve rebuilt the grill, it’s a perfect time to test for hot spots.
This Old House recommends covering your grill with slices of white bread and then turning the grill’s heat to high. When the bread’s mostly toasted, kill the heat and flip the bread to learn which areas are cooler and which are hotter. Personally, I prefer to use a handheld infrared thermometer, but to each their own.
Calling a professional appliance repairman to do a quick check-up on things like refrigerator compressors and gas lines can also help ensure that your equipment stays in good working order all spring and summer long. You can check gas lines for large leaks with soapy water, but compressors are trickier, so you might as well have the pros look at both while they’re at it.
If you happen to get this far a little too soon and have a few more frozen weekends than you planned on, you can always work through our late winter maintenance list to kill some time. That way, when spring actually starts to appear, you’ll have the healthiest house on the block!
Step 3: Restocking Supplies
Seriously, you didn’t think we’d let you go without restocking the larder, did you? Your surfaces are clean, your appliances are ready to go (the pros even said they’re in great working order!), but what about all that little fiddly stuff you’re always running out of: disposables like plates, cups, plastic ware, paper goods? Now’s the time. They never go bad and you can keep them inside if necessary.
While you’re out shopping, check out this year’s grilling tools. Your spatula looks like it may have spatula-ed its last burger and that poor pair of tongs was on its last leg last season. Oh, and don’t forget to grab a new meat thermometer because food poisoning is never fun. Last, but far from least, safety gear like fire extinguishers, heat- and cut-proof gloves and something to keep your beard from catching on fire can also prove invaluable. Fire and beards don’t mix.
When stocking your outdoor kitchen, keep in mind that animals and bugs live outside. If you’re planning on storing food in the great outdoors, make sure you have a place that’s safe from bugs, animals and mold spores. Better yet, keep food in the inside kitchen in a designated place unless you have an outside refrigerator. There are a lot fewer things competing with you for that last kettle cooked potato chip indoors.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Your outdoor kitchen is ready to go, all you need is enough nice weather to invite a few friends over for a big flamin’ cook-up. The waiting can be excruciating, though. While you wait, you can work on other outdoor projects to make your patio or deck space even more inviting, even if you’re not all that handy. Just call one of the experts available through HomeKeepr. They come recommended, so you know they’re skilled people you can trust to help you get the party started.

Is there a ceiling for housing market?

Is there a ceiling for housing market?: Home prices set records in 2017, but the hot market raises questions about its upper limits

US home construction jumps 9.7 percent in January

US home construction jumps 9.7 percent in January

WASHINGTON (AP) - Groundbreakings on new homes jumped 9.7 percent last month to the highest level since October 2016, welcome news for a housing market struggling with a shortage of homes for sale.
The Commerce Department said Friday that housing starts came in at an annual pace of 1.33 million in January, up from 1.21 million in December and 1.24 million in January 2017. Construction of single-family homes rose 3.7 percent. Construction of apartments and condominiums shot up 19.7 percent, the most since December 2016.
Home construction soared 45.5 percent in the Northeast, rose 10.7 percent in the West and grew 9.3 percent in the South. But homebuilding dropped 10.2 percent in the Midwest.
Building permits, an indicator of future construction, rose 7.4 percent in January.
A strengthening economy has given more Americans the confidence to shop for homes. But despite last month's uptick, builders haven't been putting up homes fast enough to meet demand.
A shortage of houses on the market has driven up prices and blunted sales. Standard & Poor's reported last month that U.S. home prices rose 6.2 percent in November from a year earlier, according to its CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index. And sales of existing homes fell 3.6 percent in December, though sales rose slightly for the full year 2017 from 2016, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Meanwhile, mortgage rates are creeping up. The rate on the benchmark, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.38 percent this week, the highest level since April 2014.
Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, noted that apartment construction is notoriously volatile and likely would drop in February after the January surge.
Construction of single-family homes in January was "much less exciting ... the underlying story here is that housing construction is grinding slowly higher, and likely will continue to do so through mid-year at least," Shepherdson wrote in a research note. "Higher mortgage rates are likely to become a problem later in the year."
Still, builders are optimistic about the outlook for housing. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Thursday read 72 for the second straight month in February, just shy of the 18-year high for optimism recorded in December.
Readings above 50 indicate more builders see sales conditions as good rather than poor. The index has been above 60 since September 2016.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

what is happening in your neighborhood?

Improving Your Odds of Getting a Mortgage You’ll Love

Oh, sweet mortgage! You’re just a few mental jumps away from applying for a loan that’ll get you out of the apartment life forever and into a home of your own. Before you darken a lender’s doorstep, virtual or otherwise, you should really put a little effort into polishing your financial profile. After all, the better you look to your lender, the better odds you’ll have of getting a mortgage that you’re not just ok with, but pretty freaking pleased about.
We’ve put together a quick start guide for boosting your credit before buying that you can download here that’ll help you fix your credit issues. Then, you’ll be ready to read on for some insights about how the mortgage qualification process works.

Mortgage Qualification Demystified

Although every new borrower goes into a mortgage thinking that it’s a magic process full of unknown factors that appear randomly when they least expect them, the truth is that qualifying for a mortgage is fairly straightforward. It just seems like a gauntlet because you get so much new stuff thrown at you all at the same time, and you’re sort of seriously stressed worrying that you won’t be approved after jumping through so many hoops. Almost every borrower goes through this high pressure experience, unfortunately, but knowing what to expect can make it a little easier.
A mortgage qualification is a simple process, really. The property and the borrower are qualified separately, but for the purpose of this article, we’re only going to focus on you. You’re all that matters here. These are the primary items that your lender is going to look at when it comes to qualifying you:
– Credit history
– Job history
– Debts
– Current base income
– Income potential
– Cash reserves
– Assets and investments
Let’s break each of these items down and discuss what lenders are looking for in an ideal candidate and how you can inch your way toward becoming that perfect borrower. Don’t worry, no one is a perfect borrower, but the better you are, the more likely you are to get the loan you want. The world of home mortgages can be your oyster.
Credit History
This one is kind of a no-brainer. Everybody knows you need good credit to get a loan, so we won’t spend too much time lingering here (don’t forget to download our credit boosting guide!). Pay your bills on time, don’t take out more debt than you can reasonably repay, try to keep your revolving credit under about 30 percent of the limit (yes, that little, for real) and don’t close any credit lines that you happen to pay off. You’ll need them to help decrease your debt to credit limit ratio.
Oh, and be sure to track your credit score using a reputable service like Fair Isaac’s MyFico. It’s not the same as what you get free from your credit card company, this is a powerful tool made by the people who actually created the algorithm that your mortgage lender is going to use to determine your ability to get a loan. Think of it like a monthly trial run.
Job History
Kind of another given. No one will loan you anything, even a lawnmower, if they don’t think you’re stable and they can find you if you don’t bring it back. Having a track record of being at the same company for a while, or in the same field, looks really good for you. This is not to say that you can’t change jobs, but try to limit it to the bare minimum in the three year period leading up to your mortgage application.
The more stable you look to your lender, the happier they’re going to be. There are exceptions, of course. If you’ve been in school for the thing you’re doing now or if you do a thing that is, by its very nature temporary, some lenders are willing to accept that you’re probably still pretty ok. They’re still going to verify that you really did all those jobs, though, so start keeping a list.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Can you actually afford to buy a house? Are you swimming in debt? Are you using debt to pay your debt? Your lender wants to know that you’re not so encumbered that one small bout of food poisoning will result in the entire house of cards falling down and your mortgage ending up in foreclosure.
Try to pay off anything you can, focusing on the biggest monthly payments first. Your future lender is mainly concerned with things that show up on your credit report, so that $100 you borrowed from your brother isn’t really on their radar unless you just can’t bear the weight of the secret and confess it. Even then, they’re not going to get too worried about it.
Current Base Income
People get kind of cranky about this particular item, so let’s just get it out in the open. When lenders look at your income, they’re looking at your base income. They’re not considering bonuses, even if they’re regular, and they don’t give two shakes about all that grueling overtime you’ve been putting in.
The reason for this is that it can’t be relied upon. They only want to use income they know will be there in a near-worst-case scenario. Obviously not having a job would be worse, but if your company needed to slash overtime and stop giving out bonuses, your bank wants to be sure you can still make the payment. Aside from demanding a raise from your boss, there’s not a ton you can do about this.
Income Potential
Mortgages are typically 15, 20 or 30 years in length. Because of this, banks want to know you’re going to be good for the long term. Makes sense. That’s why they poke into your job history and your income stuff so deeply. Your potential to continue to remain employed and to make as much, if not more, money as you do right now is a great big checkmark in your “good to go” column.
Cash Reserves
Do you have a giant vault of money that you swim around in like famed avian tycoon Scrooge McDuck? No? Well, that’s ok. If you did, it would be a lot of wasted effort to get a mortgage when you could just use those gold coins to pay for a house yourself… ahem.
Cash reserves are whatever your personal money vault currently holds. That’s going to include your savings account and whatever amount of money tends to stay put in your checking account. If you haven’t been saving, now’s as good a time as any to examine your spending and make some little changes that will add up to big cash when it comes time to apply for a mortgage.
Those cash reserves are great for so many things as a homeowner, even if you don’t end up needing them at the closing table.
Assets and Investments
The friendly neighborhood 401(k) is probably the most commonly overlooked investment that a large number of potential homeowners have available to them for this particular round of the mortgage qualification game. It’s easy to forget you’re stashing money away in one since it’s automatically deducted and, if your employer’s awesome, there’s some sort of matching that helps you save even faster.
Other investments would include things like stocks, bonds, futures, rental property, stakes in startups that are making money, that sort of thing. Whatever you have, disclose it and if the banker thinks it’ll hold water, they’ll submit it to underwriting to see how it fits into your lending program of choice’s particular rules. These are purely optional, but can help fulfill requirements like reserve funds, when needed.

When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough: Mitigating Factors

Sometimes, no matter what you do, your best isn’t good enough. Your credit’s just a little too unstable, you haven’t been on the job long enough, your bank account is consistently on “E.” When the loan officer comes back with a downturned head and a frown, don’t despair — not yet, anyway. This is when mitigating factors can come into play.
To explain mitigating factors, it’s important that you understand that most mortgages these days are automatically underwritten. Underwriting, for the uninitiated, is sort of the entire process of examining your materials and determining if you’re a good risk for the loan. Fleshy people still have to verify the information that was fed into the computer, but the computer gives the yes or the no, based on a risk-based algorithm.
Sometimes you break the algorithm and it kicks your file right up to a manual (human) underwriter. This person looks at your evidence and your argument for why you’d be a great mortgage holder and never, ever default, and they make the final call. They often do this based on the cards you’re holding in your particular hand. Those are the mitigating factors. There are a couple of examples below, but these are just the tip of the iceberg.
Example #1: Let’s say that you only want to borrow $300k. Your credit is pretty ok, not perfect, but not bad. But, you’ve switched career fields in the last three years and what you’re doing now is totally different from what you were doing, but the income is more or less the same. That’s sort of a huge scary red flag for the computer. As a mitigating factor, you have $100k between your savings and other liquidatable assets. You might very well be approved for the loan anyway because of your assets and cash reserves.
Example #2: You have a good job, a stable job, the pay is ok, but your student loan debt is such a bugaboo. Under the bank’s calculation method, the way your student loan will figure into your debt to income ratio throws your entire DTI into the red zone. You don’t even make the payment the bank figured because you have a modified payment plan, that’s the real steamer! But, you have good credit, you have that 401(k) at work you’ve been slowly contributing to and it’s up to around $50k.
Your good credit, your good job history, your stability and that 401(k) may be plenty of mitigating factors for the bank to go to a “stretch ratio,” effectively allowing you to borrow even though their own guidelines say you shouldn’t.
There are all kinds of ways to win with mitigating factors, but it’s always easier if you don’t have to invoke them. The more you have to mitigate, the more you have to document and the longer it takes to get to the closing table. Best to come with your best face forward the first time.

Find the Mortgage You’re Dreaming Of…

Of course, this is all just theory until you put pencil to paper (or stylus to tablet) and meet with a banker who will plug you into their system and give you the official word. The problem with bankers, though, is that there are lots of them, and it can be hard to know who to trust. Luckily, there are plenty of highly-recommended banking pros in the HomeKeepr community just waiting for your phone call. Check it out, they’re more than happy to help you get started and guide you through the mortgage process.

Monday, February 12, 2018

When Your Home’s In the Cloud: The Internet of Things

Cruising the aisles of your favorite home improvement store, you spot it. Its tall, curvy profile is unmistakable, the glamorous shine of its polished chrome beckons you. The enormous touchscreen asks you if you’d like to order groceries — wait a second…
If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know that smart home devices are popping up everywhere. From smart refrigerators like the Samsung Family Hub line to connected electric toothbrushes, you can get just about anything you want in a version that’ll report back to your smartphone or network. Heck, there’s even a connected water bottle!

Smart Home Devices and the Internet of Things

All those items that live in your house and report back to your smartphone or your hub or maybe even work with your voice assistant, when you consider them together, they make up a part of the Internet of Things. Everything connected to the Internet one way or the other that’s not a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone is part of the Internet of Things.
So, your swank SmartTV, your bluetooth-enabled dishwasher, that self-closing garage door, maybe even your security system, they’re all things that are part of the Internet of Things. It’s important to make this differentiation because unlike the other Internet, the Internet of Things has a big problem that is only just now emerging. Security has become a bit of an issue, with smart home devices turning into backdoors into home and business networks.
Older Internet of Things products are the most vulnerable, since it was uncommon for security to be considered in their design. After all, who’s going to hack a coffee maker? It’s not really the coffee pot that’s the end goal, as it turns out, it’s access. Access to a network that can be used against another entity, often without the owner’s knowledge at all. You could be happily percolating a pot of beans while your coffee pot is participating in a denial of service attack against AT&T and never be the wiser. It’s nefarious.

Is a Smart Home Worth the Risk?

Just because your smart home may be at risk right now doesn’t mean it’s not worth having. That would be just like saying your car is at risk of being hit in a parking lot, so you should never go to the market or maybe even never own a car. Smart home technology can improve and enrich lives when applied strategically, but that’s kind of the crux of the issue here. Having a bluetooth-enabled coffee pot is maybe not a strategic smart home item (but then again, maybe it is, you do you).
When you’re looking at smart home devices, there are a few things you should consider:
What is the brand’s commitment to security? If your product is designed to automatically accept new software when it’s available and allows you to change the password at your leisure, these are good signs that the manufacturer is trying to keep their Internet of Things products secure. Since these updates will be one of your primary defenses, they should be given a high level of consideration during a purchase.
Is this a product that should be connected? Sometimes, brands connect items that maybe don’t need to be connected, like that smart toothbrush, or maybe you don’t need them connected, like the smart coffee pot. It’s ok to not buy a connected item when you have a smart home. In fact, if you strategically purchase bluetooth connected items, you’ll minimize your security risk.
Can I secure this device? This may sound silly, but you should take security of these items very seriously. If you don’t feel that you’re capable of securing your new connected products, then arrange for a tech-savvy person to configure your Internet of Things network before you even turn that new buy on.

Tips for Better Internet of Things Security

So, you have that shiny new connected refrigerator and you’re ready to hook it up to the world. Before you do, it’s time to brush up your Internet of Things security! Here are some tips from us.
1. Set up a separate network for your Internet of Things devices. Known as network segmentation, having a separate, dedicated network for your devices will shield your computers and other more traditional hardware from any risk that your smart home could create. It’s always a good move to have a secondary network, anyway, then when visitors come you can give them the password to your guest network instead of your main network.
2. Always, always use a firewall and WPA2 wireless security with your router. Together, the two will give you extra layers of padding from the outside world. If a hacker does get through, it’s not for lack of armor on your side.
3. Use good passwords. A good password is one that doesn’t relate to you in any way, it’s not your birthday or your kid’s name or your dog’s anniversary. It’s numbers, letters, special characters arranged in some way that you can remember, but not so obvious that someone else could guess. Also, make sure you choose a different password for each device on your network. A password vault can help to keep track of all of these names and numbers, in case you ever need to use them again.

When Your Home’s in the Cloud

Having a smart home means exposing yourself to a bit of risk from your Internet of Things devices, but there are plenty of things you can do to protect yourself. If you don’t feel like you’re ready to set up the right kind of security ahead of your new smart kitchen, you can find someone to help with HomeKeepr. Just log in and in no time a recommended home pro will appear at your fingertips like magic, waiting for your call.

New Home, New Floors! Examining Your Options

Your new house is pretty awesome, otherwise you would never have considered buying it. But, there are some things about it that are a lot more awesome than others. Take, for example, that kitchen floor. You wouldn’t say it’s ugly, but you’ve seen better design harmony in a restaurant trash bin.
It’s gotta go.
Your bedroom carpet is pretty hairy, too, but your agent assured you that these things are fairly easy to deal with, especially if you have the flooring replaced before you start moving in. And it’s true, replacing flooring is easy. Choosing the new flooring, well, that’s tough.

Your Flooring Options: A Journey Underfoot

Whether you’ve owned your house for a day, a year or a decade, picking the flooring you’re going to have to live with for a while can be stressful. There are so many materials available and within those, a huge array of colors and designs. It’s the paradox of choice at work, you have so many options you may literally freeze. That’s why we’re going to break it down for you, in hopes that the overwhelm is minimized when your time comes.
Next time you’re in the mood to look at flooring patterns online or in your home improvement stores, here are some things to consider about the most common flooring options available.
The fuzzy stand-by for living areas and bedrooms, wall-to-wall carpet has been a popular flooring choice for a century. The materials may have changed, but the basic configuration is the same. All carpets are just a series of fibers woven onto a flexible grid, topping a uniformly thick padding.
When choosing a carpet, look for one with a face weight of at least 30 ounces. These are just above builder grade and should last six to 12 years. Always choose the best mid-grade carpet you can afford, you can’t go wrong that way. It’s where value and durability meet. Don’t skimp on carpet pad, either. Let the carpet shop match a pad to the carpet you’ve chosen so that you get the most life out of them both.
  • Best places for carpet in your home:
  • – Bedrooms
  • – Living rooms (excluding the traffic zones)
  • – Offices
  • – Formal living rooms
  • – Dens
Today’s tile comes in a huge range of colors, shapes, sizes and materials, but it all shares one thing in common: it’s nearly indestructible when installed properly and should be considered a permanent decision. It’s not that you can’t untile your entryway, but it’s going to be a difficult job, so take this decision carefully and skip the trendy stuff.
There are several grades of tile, but in general, they’re divided into two camps: wall tile and floor tile. While you can use floor tile on the wall with the right adhesive and a lot of patience, you should never use wall tile on the floor. It’s simply not hard enough and will end up cracking or otherwise failing.
The other major consideration is your floor. Is it a perfectly smooth, flat floor, or does it have some minor bumps and ridges? Even minor settling needs to be kept in mind when you’re choosing a tile size. Small tiles are far more forgiving of uneven floors than huge tiles. When a tile doesn’t make full contact with the mortar bed, it will come loose, then others will follow.
Popping tiles can become a major problem in older homes that are built on crawl spaces or basements, and although there’s a certain amount of compensation offered by cement board, it’s just better to hedge your bets by choosing smaller tiles.
  • Best places for tile in your home:
  • – High traffic areas
  • – Kitchens
  • – Bathrooms
  • – Dining rooms
  • – Mudrooms
  • – Laundry rooms
  • – Sunrooms
Wood floors are timeless and sturdy, and these days, come in both solid wood and engineered formats. Solid wood floors will give you a floor that’s more or less just like those floors of yesteryear, completely seamless and total class all the way. Many people choose prefinished wood floors to make installation easier, but unfinished wood floors are still available and make a vibrant, albeit expensive, statement.
Engineered wood floors, on the other hand, are made from layers of wood and plywood. They look just like finished solid wood floors, but are not as durable overall. Most people won’t be able to tell the difference, however, and engineered wood floors can perform better than solid wood floors in wet places, so you’ll just have to strike a balance between your needs and the materials that are available.
  • Best places for wood flooring in your home:
  • – Living room
  • – Bedroom
  • – Dining room
  • – Staircases
  • – Entryways
  • – Offices
  • – Kitchens (engineered, with proper precautions)
Laminate flooring is a very durable, flexible and affordable hard surface for all sorts of homes and situations. Like engineered wood flooring, it consists of several layers of material, including a clear wear layer, a design layer that can simulate wood, stone and a variety of other patterns, an inner core that provides the majority of the structural stability of the product and a backing layer that helps to protect from warpage.
Unlike a wood floor, laminate floors are installed without glue or nails, which is why some people still refer to them as “floating floors.” They don’t actually float, but walking on one for the first time can be interesting if you’re very sensitive to that sort of thing (many of them are also very slick, just something to keep in mind). Because the material is designed as tongue and groove boards, everything fits tightly as your jigsaw puzzle of a floor is constructed. When it’s done, all that’s required to hold it in place is properly installed trim.
It’s an easy floor. In fact, this is one flooring option you might even want to DIY if you’re the handy type.
  • Best places for laminate flooring in your home:
  • – Living room
  • – Bedrooms
  • – Bathrooms (choose one that’s water resistant)
  • – Kitchen
  • – Foyer
  • – Office
  • – Pretty much anywhere
It wasn’t that long ago that vinyl flooring meant tired patterns on reliable, but boring sheet material that had to be painstakingly glued to the floor. One bubble, one wrong cut, and the whole install might be ruined. Today’s vinyl is anything but fussy, with sturdier and more attractive tiles, planks and glue-free sheet goods. Vinyl is also an affordable solution that can be DIYed fairly easily.
It’s naturally water-resistant, making it a great match for basements and places that get damp. Unlike many other types of non-carpet floorings, however, vinyl can be fairly soft, so if you’re putting it in an area like a dining room, you’ll have to take a lot of care not to gouge it when you’re moving chairs under the table. Overall, vinyl provides a good bang for your buck, and since it’s time-tested, you know exactly what you can expect from it: a long, useful life provided you give it the minimal care it needs.
  • Best places for vinyl flooring in your home:
  • – Kitchen
  • – Laundry room
  • – Basement
  • – Mudroom
  • – Foyer

Time to Get Your Flooring On!

Now that you know what your flooring options are, it’s time to get shopping. Even if you’re not confident in your flooring installation skills, you can still pick out the patterns and materials you want to use in your home. A quick visit to HomeKeepr will set you up with the right flooring installer for a floor you’re gonna love for a long, long time.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Share of First-time Buyers Held Steady at 32n 2017 as Home Prices Continue to Increase under Tight Supply

Share of First-time Buyers Held Steady at 32n 2017 as Home Prices Continue to Increase under Tight Supply

Will Land Prices Keep Booming in 2018?

Will Land Prices Keep Booming in 2018?

Higher prices are behind the land boom. The U.S. dollar volume of land sales increased at a stronger pace of 4 percent from October 2016 to September 2017 compared to the prior 12-month period, according to the 2017 Land Market Survey, produced by the REALTORS® Land Institute and the National Association of REALTORS®. Sales on all types of land posted an uptick; residential and commercial land sales grew by the highest amounts.
Higher prices drove most of the increased dollar volume in land prices rather than due to higher transactions volume, the report shows.
Residential land sales increased 5 percent while commercial land sales rose 4 percent in 2017, according to the report. Sales of agricultural irrigated and non-irrigated land each increased by 2 percent, a reversal from a sales decrease in the October 2016 survey. Agricultural land sales rebounded as commodity prices for livestock, cattle, and grains stabilized after a downfall between 2012 and 2016.
The highest bulk of land sales in 2017 were of residential land at 28 percent and recreational land at 21 percent.
Respondents surveyed expect an increase in the dollar volume of land sales for all types of land to continue in 2018. The strongest pace is expected in residential and recreational land sales, both forecasted to grow by 4 percent from October 2017 to September 2018.

what is going on in your neighborhood? Ask your neighborhood expert - LaTasha Hershey

Monday, February 5, 2018

What’s On Top Matters: Safely Inspecting Your Roof for Damage

Depending on where you live, the end of winter means different things. Maybe it’s the anticipation of an explosion of colorful wildflowers, or maybe it’s just a break from all the heavy, wet snow on absolutely everything. Either way, those warming days when winter starts to turn to spring are ideal for checking your roof for damage from the past season’s storms.
You don’t have to be a roofer to do a simple roof inspection on your own home. There are a few common symptoms of a sick roof that can tip you off that you need to get a set of professional eyes on the job.

Safety First: Looking Up or Climbing Up?

Before we go any further, it’s important to stress the safety considerations involved in roof inspections. Walking around on a roof is dangerous business, even if you’re an experienced roofer. This is why roofers often wear harnesses and other types of safety gear. For the purposes of the style of homeowner roof inspections we’re discussing, you’re not going to set foot on the roof — period. No ifs, ands or buts. Instead, you’ll use no more than two handy tools: a pair of binoculars and a tall ladder.
All roof inspections should start on the ground with your eyes and binoculars, you’ll want to be certain that the fascia is intact and in good shape all around your home before you lean an extension ladder against it. If it isn’t, a six foot stepladder is called for. As always, when using any kind of ladder, make sure someone is nearby to help you stabilize it and to call for an ambulance if you were to fall. Ladder work should be considered potentially dangerous, so proceed with care. Use your binoculars whenever possible, save the ladder work for those hard to get to spots.

Sign of Trouble Up North

Now that we have the disclosures out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the thing. Since about 80 percent of the roofs on American homes are asphalt shingles, that’s what we’re going to focus this roof inspection on. Follow this checklist as you go around your house, completing one whole side before moving to the next.
Ground Check
– Fascia. Begin at the beginning. Check the fascia for signs of rot or water damage, including soft spots, green algae or places where the board is starting to come apart. If the fascia is pulling off of your house, dig deeper and look for rot or damage before proceeding. This may call for expert help.
– Soffit. Your soffit keeps critters out and lets just enough air in for proper ventilation. If screens are torn or vents are blocked, this is a good time to clean them out. If you’ve got other problems, it might be time to replace these work horses.
– Gutters. They’re not really part of the roof, but they’re roof accessories, so make sure your gutters are also looking good while you’re checking the roof. Sagging or signs of separation will warrant further examination.
– Drip Edge. In the space where your shingles stop and the open air begin, there’s a thin strip of metal called the drip edge. It literally does what it says, it moves drips and drops of water from the shingles and away from the fascia. If you have gutters, you may not be able to see this from the ground, but if you can see it, just check that it’s not rusted, bent or broken.
– Shingles. Shingles are pretty cut and dry when it comes to aging and damage. Either they’re torn off, curling up, missing grit or growing moss or they’re more or less ok. The black streaky stuff on your lighter colored roof isn’t anything to worry about, especially if there are big trees over your home. This is just a harmless variety of algae that grows on shingles that aren’t algae-resistant.
– Flashing. Anywhere that your roof joins something else, like a chimney or even creates a valley, there may be metal flashing to protect against leaks. Check that it’s not rusted or oxidizing and that any tar looks like it’s still healthy, not dried out. Rust is rust colored, irregular and almost stone-like, oxidation is white and powdery.
– Vents. There’s not much to know about vents, except that having plenty is great, and fewer isn’t as awesome. However, if you can see them well from the ground, check that they’re not too dented and if they’re the type that rotate, they’re functioning. Dents indicate they’re hail storm survivors and your roof may need to be checked by your insurance company for hail damage.
– Chimney. Since you have your binoculars out, go ahead and check any masonry chimneys you have. Just make sure all the chinking (the filling, if you will, between the bricks) is intact and the bricks are whole and where they should be. If any brick faces are breaking off or the chinking is crumbling, this is cause for concern and a call to a brick mason sooner rather than later.
From the ladder, pretty much everything on the ground list applies in the same fashion. You’ll just be closer and possibly have an easier time discerning the details. Although there are some people who will tell you that you must walk the roof (or at least climb the ladder), the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors seems to think it’s perfectly fine to inspect a roof from the ground to determine if it needs further examination by a roofing expert.

How Often Should You Inspect Your Roof?

If your roof is less than five years old, a quick look now and again, along with a longer exam after a severe storm or high winds, should suffice. Roofs between five and ten years old should definitely be inspected yearly, though more often is obviously better. Any roof older than ten years should be inspected quarterly, along with a professional inspection from a roofing contractor once a year.
It may seem like a lot of hassle, but a compromised roof can damage a lot of other things, too. Along with the insulation in your attic, the sheetrock in your ceiling, your attic-mounted furnace and even the lumber holding that roof over your head could be at risk. It’s a small investment of your time to ensure that your home remains safe and mold-free.
And, of course, when it comes time to call in a roofing professional, you know you can just log into HomeKeepr and find highly recommended pros waiting for you. HomeKeepr helps take the pressure out of choosing contractors for important home-related tasks like roofing inspection and puts the best contractors just a click away.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Your Need to Know Guide to the Debt to Income Ratio

As a functioning adult, you know there’s something about debt that you’re supposed to understand at this point in your life, right? Something about not having too much, or maybe not too much in relation to something else… but frankly, this stuff is kind of confusing and some days you’d just rather take your Visa, buy a pizza, have a massage and then take a nap.
Today, though, you’re on a quest. You’ve decided it’s time to stop renting and become a homeowner. You came here to get some really good information on how to do just that… so, let’s put the credit card away and talk about your debt to income ratio and why it matters to your future mortgage.

What is My Debt to Income Ratio?

If you’re not familiar with the term, don’t be shy, it’s one of the most common questions that first time homebuyers have when applying for a mortgage. That’s because there aren’t a lot of places where it’s obvious that your debt to income ratio is being used to determine your ability to get credit. It’s sort of figured out behind the scenes and you’re none the wiser.
At a very basic level, your debt to income ratio is simply what it sounds like, all your long term, semi-permanent debt compared to your current income. Usually your mortgage lender will do this as a monthly comparison to make it easy, but the ratio’s the same whether you compare month to month or year to year. If you have $1,200 a month in debt and $5,000 a month in income, that’s the same as if you had $14,400 in yearly debt and $60,000 in yearly income. Both come out to 24 percent, which is a pretty good debt to income ratio.
But, of course, it can’t be that easy, can it.

What’s Included in a Debt to Income Ratio?

Things that are included in your debt to income ratio are secured loans like a car loan or a boat loan, which are sort of guaranteed by the property that you’ve borrowed the money to purchase; unsecured loans like credit cards and lines of credit; student loans and any debt you’ve co-signed.
Let me repeat that last thing. Any debt you’ve cosigned is part of this figure. So, if you agreed to cosign a loan for your sister 20 years ago and she’s still paying on it, that’s still going to count against you, even though you’ve totally forgotten about it. If you’re on a joint account with your ex-husband, you’re still on the hook when it comes to debt to income.
Things that aren’t included, that are almost always assumed to be, are items like your car insurance, your utility bills, your cable bills, subscriptions and so forth. Basically, if you can cancel the payment at will (whether or not there are serious consequences like having no lights or being able to watch Game of Thrones), it’s probably not going to be included on your credit report unless you fail to pay as agreed. While you’re at it, it might be a good idea to go ahead and get yourself a credit report from a reputable site like, the Fair Isaac website, just so you can see what is actually reporting.

Adding It All Up

Figuring your debt to income ratio is pretty easy, the hardest part is figuring out what counts and what doesn’t. Just add up your monthly expenses and divide by your monthly gross income, before any taxes, insurance, 401k withdrawal and the like come out. There you go. That’s your debt to income ratio. Now we can do some stuff with it!
There are three major programs that most home buyers utilize across most of the United States. These are the FHA, VA and Conventional mortgages. Each has its own requirements and debt to income ratio ceilings. Some are more complicated than others.
FHA and Front End and Back End Ratios
For FHA, there are two kinds of debt to income ratios to keep in mind. One is called the front-end ratio, the other is, unoriginally, named the back-end ratio. The front-end ratio is only your potential future housing debt; the back-end ratio includes all your debts. With that in mind, the chart below shows how you’d look to an FHA lender as of the writing of this blog.
The first number in the column labeled “Maximum Qualifying Ratios (%)” is the front-end ratio, the second is the back-end ratio. Compensating factors can be thought of as other things you bring to the table to make you into a really awesome borrower. Since you have little to no experience at this mortgage thing, your FHA lender is understandably afraid of your eventually missing a payment in the 30 years you’re going to have a relationship, so they want evidence to show that you’re a stand-up kind of person.
FHA loan debt-to-income guidelines. Source: HUD Handbook 4000.1
Fannie Mae and DTI
Conventional loans are a bit easier. Fannie Mae is the principal agency that guarantees what’s known as a “conventional” or “conforming” loan. Fannie has siblings like Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae, but they’re at the movies right now and we’re not going to involve them in the conversation. For our purposes, conventional loans are all about Fannie Mae.
In general, conventional loans tend to be more difficult to land, in part because they have more rigid income to debt requirements. For borrowers with credit scores of 680 or better and less than a 25 percent down payment, Fannie won’t allow more than a 36 percent debt to income ratio (but she only uses the one number, so at least it’s not more complicated than that). If your credit score is above 700 and your down payment is less than 25 of the home’s price, she’ll allow a 45 percent debt to income ratio.
When it comes to Fannie, bringing more money to the table will absolutely catch her eye. She believes firmly that all things that glitter are definitely gold. That magic number is 25 percent of the sales price of your home. So, if you’re floating in cash, but have a higher debt to income ratio or a little bit lower credit score, you could win brownie points this way.
Veterans Get More Leeway
If you’re a military vet and you’ve not used your VA mortgage benefits, you may be wondering about cashing in that particular chip. When it comes to the debt to income question, it’s a harder one to answer. Generally speaking, the VA wants to see a debt to income ratio below 41 percent, but like with other qualifiers under VA, the rules aren’t really all that hard and fast.
VA loans tend to be a lot more flexible in general, and debt to income ratios are no exception. Although all the loans mentioned in this blog can be manually underwritten, the guidelines only allow for so much deviation outside the rules. VAs give a lot more wiggle room, so if you’re at a 45 percent debt to income ratio, for example, it might not be out of the question if everything else is in line.

Time to Go Apply What You’ve Learned

Figuring out your debt to income ratio is just one of the very first steps you should take on your path to getting a mortgage. Once you can see how much each of your debts affects your ability to get a home loan, you can either refinance those debts into loans with better terms or work extra hard to pay them down before approaching a mortgage lender.
When you’re ready, or if you have any questions about your debt to income ratio, it’s easy to get a quick answer with HomeKeepr. Your Realtor has already recommended some trusted mortgage pros in the community, just log in to make a connection that will make your home buying experience an easy one.

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