4 ways hardscapes can add value to your home

(BPT) – Outdoor hardscape projects add resale value to a home as well as bring extra enjoyment to homeowners while they are living in the home, according to the “Remodeling Impact Report: Outdoor Features” by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP).

The report confirms that investing in landscaping and hardscaping is a win-win, whether you plan to stay in your home or prepare it for market.

“This report validates that outdoor remodeling and landscaping improvements are a necessity when it comes to improving your home’s resale value,” said Missy Henriksen, NALP vice president of public affairs. “Homeowners working with a landscape professional to embark on renovations — whether that means enhancing their turf and growing a lush lawn, overhauling their entire landscape, or incorporating new features like patios or exterior fireplaces — can rest assured that they are making a smart, worthwhile investment.”

Curb appeal

Real estate agents suggest that a home’s first impression is paramount when preparing it for sale. Simple updates such as adding retaining wall units or paving stone edging around gardens add value and curb appeal. More ambitious projects like a front paving stone entrance with patio and a seat wall or two add major curb appeal plus the enjoyment factor from adding a beautiful, functional front yard.

Varying hardscape colors and textures in the front outdoor living space lends maximum visual appeal. Hardscapes also can make routine maintenance easier, such as creating a tree ring from retaining wall units and surrounding it with pavers to reduce the need for trimming after mowing.

Making unusable space usable

A family in Maple Grove, Minnesota, had a hill behind their home that sloped down to a pond. They knew that excavating would be required and contacted Villa Landscapes in St. Paul to help them decide how best to make use of the space.

“The Versa-Lok Standard retaining wall system was perfect for retaining the soil behind the garage when we excavated to create their outdoor living space,” said Lonny Sekeres, a designer with Villa Landscapes. “There are no voids in the units to backfill, and the top-down pinning system made the installation easy. By back-splitting the retaining wall units, we easily created matching freestanding seat walls around the fire feature area too. Plus, the same unit was used to create columns that provide a base for a pergola while giving a nice definition to the outdoor living space.”

Prevent erosion

Damage to your property can devalue a home plus create major headaches. Retaining wall systems are essential in preventing erosion, controlling grade changes in a yard, and preventing damage to the landscape, and in certain environments, even damage to your home.

One homeowner in Apple Valley, Minnesota, had a steep, unusable backyard that sloped toward the home’s foundation. Over the years, water damage to the foundation occurred.

“The negative flow caused water damage, a leaky foundation and the accumulation of dirt that had been eroding down the slope for years,” said Paul Devine, owner and principal of Devine Design Hardscapes in Rosemount, Minnesota. “There was no flat, usable area at the base of the hill, and the client had never been able to grow grass because of constant erosion. The Versa-Lok wall design created a positive flow away from the home’s foundation, steps to the top of the hill, and a flat, usable area for a backyard.”

Devine created a tiered retaining wall design with ample space for perennials and a staggered staircase with landings that feature seat walls for resting.

Safety and privacy

Seat walls can add a measure of privacy and protection against the elements, and energy-efficient landscape lighting can be installed along patios, paver walkways and under retaining wall caps for nighttime ambiance and functionality. Landscape professionals can suggest how adding these and other hardscape elements can increase value and offer measures of safety and privacy.

In the end, investing in your home’s landscape with hardscapes is a long-term win-win, no matter how long you stay in your home or if you are preparing it for sale. Says Henriksen: “Further, that investment is coupled with the immediate happiness received by beautiful landscaping and the long-term enjoyment of outdoor living spaces, which are priceless.”

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House hunting? Use this handy checklist before you make the offer

(BPT) – House hunting can feel like an adventurous new chapter in your life. If you’re lucky enough to find the property that checks off all the “must have” boxes — appearance, size, price, location — it’s easy to fall in love.

Not so fast. Before making an offer on any property, it’s smart to take a deeper look at the overall structure and its systems, just to make sure warning signs of major and costly problems are not hiding in plain sight. If the house holds more issues than your budget (and drive to renovate) can handle, it might be best to walk away.

Of course, once the offer is accepted, it’s always a smart idea to hire a third-party home inspector to take an in-depth look at the property. In the meantime, one last pass-through with this checklist in hand can give you peace of mind about taking the next step.

Exterior: Walk around all four sides of the house, scanning it from ground to rooftop. Note the condition of the doors and window frames, and look for cracked or peeling paint or signs of loose siding. Higher up, eye the chimney, making sure it appears straight and is in good condition, while the gutters and drainpipes should be in place and functional.

Roof: Ideally, the roof would be 10 years old or less, so scan the roof for the classic warning signs of aging and neglect. Things like curled and missing shingles, dark stains, moss growth and signs of sagging can signal serious issues. (A home inspector can confirm if full replacement is needed, or if a few simple repairs would stabilize things for another decade or so.)

Yard: Take note of the landscaping. Is there a slope angled away from the house, or is there a potential for a flooded basement after a major rainfall? Mature trees provide lots of shade, but watch for overhanging branches, as these can break off in a storm and do major damage to the roof. Finally, take note of the condition of the driveway and sidewalks.

Foundation: The sight of a few hairline cracks in the cement is no cause for panic. Do look for telltale signs of serious issues, such as widening cracks, water stains and bulges. It doesn’t hurt to bring a level to make sure the walls are straight.

Plumbing: In addition to checking basement and under-sink pipes for signs of leaks, scan the ceilings for water stains. Open all the faucets to check the water pressure as well as the time it takes for hot water to reach the tap.

HVAC system: Know the age of the heating and cooling systems, and check these for tags and other signs of routine maintenance. If the system is older than a decade, that can spell costly repairs and a replacement in a brief time frame. When it comes to older systems, energy efficiency is another consideration, according to Tom Tasker, product manager with Coleman Echelon Variable Capacity residential systems.

“Newer HVAC systems are remarkably more efficient when compared to those from even a decade ago, which means they keep your house comfortable for as little as half the cost,” says Tasker.

For example, Coleman’s Echelon products are rated up to 20 SEER, which stands for seasonal energy efficiency ratio. Compare these to the 10 SEER systems of 25 years ago, and that can give you an idea of what to expect in potential energy costs, he says.

Appliances: Note the age and condition of things like the refrigerator, oven and range, washer and dryer, and hot water heater. As with the HVAC, older appliances tend to consume more energy and you’ll face a shorter timeline for needed repairs and replacements.

Buying a house is a big decision, but knowing what you’re buying can go a long way in assuring you that you’ve found the right place!

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6 other college costs (and opportunities) to consider when the financial aid letter arrives

(BPT) – The last year of high school is a whirl of activity, and it’s no different when it comes to the final leg of college selection. Once the acceptance notifications arrive, it will soon be time to sit down with a different stack of mail: financial aid letters.

As you undoubtedly know, the cost of college is no small investment. In the 2017-18 academic year, the average tuition and fees for four-year public colleges is $25,620, while for private colleges, the costs are $33,520, and public two-year colleges cost $3,570, according to the College Board.

At the same time, the College Board reports that more than 70 percent of students receive grants to help pay for college. Hopefully, those financial letters contain some good news.

For most families, analyzing the letters is a process of uncovering the college that can offer the best education at the best value for your student. One way to get there is to parse the details of the letter itself so you understand the net cost of your student’s education. Still, it’s critical to look at other factors and opportunities around higher education costs. Taking a deeper look at these can help you and your student reach the best possible decision.

Deciphering free aid vs. other options: Take a close look at each line in the aid column. Key words, such as scholarships, grants and fellowships, signal no-strings money for school. Work-study and student loan packages are options that will need students to find a job or pay the money back.

Cost-of-living expenses: Think about those extra costs that come up over the weeks and months of any college year, such as meals, phone, transportation and laundry. Don’t forget entertainment. After all, they’re not going to spend all their time studying in their dorm room. Does the campus and community offer plenty of low-cost and no-cost attractions and entertainment so they can have fun with their friends without breaking the bank?

Local economy: One thing worth considering is the local economy of the first-choice school, especially if your student may want to pick up a part-time job along the way. Even better, look for local employers that are compatible with your child’s career goals. An entry-level job at one of these workplaces can help make ends meet, while making your student more marketable when it’s time to graduate.

Student achievement: Do a little digging on the success rate for students and graduates, so you have an idea on whether the school has a high job placement rate after graduation. Know the school’s graduation rate, along with the average first-year salary for graduates.

Ongoing costs: The financial aid letter describes the student’s first year. As much as you can, do some forecasting for the next three to four years. It’s especially important to understand whether awards are renewable, or if they’re available only to first-year students.

Negotiation: If the college isn’t coming through with enough aid to make college affordable for your student and family, don’t give up. You might be able to negotiate more aid. Submit a letter and ask for a follow-up appointment. Be specific about what you are requesting, and be sure to explain if you have specific circumstances such as medical costs or a job loss that may have affected your ability to meet the expected family contribution.

If you find the amount of financial aid provided isn’t enough (including the amount offered in federal loans), families may want to research and explore private student loans as an option to cover the additional expenses. Look for competitive interest rates and flexible repayment options that match your budget. College Ave Student Loans also offers a calculator that showcases how much families can save with various loan options at www.collegeavestudentloans.com.

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Do the math: Homebuying now may save a lot

(BPT) – It is a common misconception that a 20 percent down payment is required to buy a home. Advice to wait and save a large down payment is often based on the theory that the cost of mortgage insurance (MI), which is required when you buy with a smaller down payment, should be avoided. This may not be the best advice and is, in fact, not in line with market trends, considering 60 percent of homebuyers buy with a down payment of 6 percent or less, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Yes, you can qualify for a conventional mortgage with a down payment as small as 3 percent of the purchase price. It is also true that you can reduce your monthly mortgage payment by paying for discount points at closing, but that can be 5 or 10 percent of the purchase price — not 20. And because every buyer’s situation is unique, it’s important to do the math. In today’s market, it could take a family earning the national median income up to 20 years to save 20 percent, according to calculations by U.S. Mortgage Insurers using a methodology developed by the Center for Responsible Lending; a lot can change during that time, in the family’s personal finances and in overall mortgage market trends.

How can buying now save you money later?

Consider you want to purchase a $235,000 home. A 5 percent down payment is $11,750 versus $47,000 in cash for 20 percent down. With a 740 credit score at today’s MI rates, your monthly MI payment would be about $110, which is added to your monthly mortgage payment until MI cancels. MI typically cancels after five years; therefore, you will only have this added cost for a short period of time versus waiting an average of 20 years to save for 20 percent.

With home price appreciation, today’s $235,000 home will likely cost more in the years ahead and this will also have an impact on the necessary down payment and length of time required to save for it. There are other variables in the equation too, such as interest rates. As federal rates rise, so too can the costs associated with financing a mortgage. The savings a borrower might calculate today could be altogether negated by waiting even a few more years. Another factor is that rents are on the rise across the nation, leading to a reduced capacity for many would-be homebuyers to save for larger down payments.

If you decide to buy today with a low down payment mortgage option, it is true that MI is an added cost on top of mortgage principal and interest, but keep in mind that it is temporary and goes away. Again, it typically lasts about five years. Private MI can be cancelled once a homeowner builds approximately 20 percent equity in the home through payments or appreciation and automatically terminates for most borrowers once he or she reaches 22 percent equity. And when MI is cancelled, the monthly bill goes down. Importantly, the insurance premiums on an FHA mortgage — the 100 percent taxpayer-backed government version of mortgage insurance — cannot be cancelled for the vast majority of borrowers with FHA mortgages.

So, do the math and let the numbers guide you. There are many online mortgage calculators that can help. Check out lowdownpaymentfacts.org to learn more.

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Tips to save money and energy this winter

(BPT) – Winter is a time of year when expenses can soar, especially your utility bills. Thankfully, Chip Wade, HGTV expert, has some advice on how you can save energy, and ultimately money, this year:

* Lighting: LED bulbs are 90 percent more efficient than incandescent light bulbs.

* Prevent heat loss: Find and seal air leaks in your home. “Areas around windows and doors are often culprits for allowing heat to escape,” says Wade. Use caulking or weatherstripping to seal these leaks and keep the heat inside your home.

* Water heating: Did you know you can control the temperature of your water heater? Most households only require water heater thermostats to be set at 120 F, which is lower than what the temperature is typically set at. By lowering your water heating temperature, you’re not only reducing energy, but also preventing water from becoming dangerously hot.

* Adjust the temperature: Hosting a gathering? Consider turning the thermostat down. “More people in your home means an increase in your home’s temperature,” says Wade. “To accommodate for this, I turn my thermostat five to ten degrees lower than normal before guests arrive, so that they are comfortable.” Also, if you’re traveling, it’s good to keep in mind that programmable thermostats like the YORK Affinity Hx Touch-screen Thermostat can take care of temperature adjustments for you while you’re away. YORK’s free downloadable app allows you to control the thermostat from your smartphone, no matter where you travel.

* Maintain your heating system: Be sure to schedule regular service appointments with your local technician to keep your heating and cooling system running properly. Also, set a calendar reminder to replace your air filters once a month to maintain proper airflow.

* Choose a high-efficiency furnace: Save energy heating your home by choosing a high-efficiency furnace. “Always consider a furnace’s annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating,” says Wade. “The higher the AFUE, the more efficient the furnace and the greater the amount of heat it delivers for your money. Look for models with AFUE of 90 percent or higher.”

For more ways to save energy and money, visit www.YORK.com.

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Woman visibly stressed while reviewing family finances

Solving 5 pain points in the homebuying process

(BPT) – When it comes to buying a home, the beauty of the process is truly in the eye of the beholder. Some people see the opportunity to start a new life, live their dreams and make memories that will, quite literally, last a lifetime. Others get caught up in the problems associated with the home purchasing process, including its myriad pain points, some of which are listed below.

Whichever path you follow, buying a home should be one of the most exciting moments in your life, so follow along to see which pain points in the process you might encounter, and what you can do about them.

1. Packing and moving

According to research from loanDepot, almost 66 percent of respondents listed packing and moving as one of their biggest moving stressors. To combat this problem, start packing early and you’ll avoid the mad dash at the end. You should also seek friends to help you move your items with a promise of a party at the end. The money you spring for pizza will be well worth it.

2. Timing the move

Timing is crucial during a move, so it’s no surprise that 63 percent of those surveyed listed it as one of their greatest stressors. To take the stress out of your situation, it helps to plan for a delay. Rent a storage locker or set up a relative who can host you in a pinch just in case things don’t align as you plan. Plan for the worst and chances are you won’t need your backup plan.

3. Not selling your home quick enough

This is often a product of supply and demand, but your real estate agent should be able to give you a realistic expectation of when your home should sell with current market timing based on realistic comps available in your region. Be honest with them as to when you need your home to sell and be ready to lower your price if absolutely necessary. If getting rid of your old house is paramount, lowering your price to its minimum acceptable value can help make that happen.

4. Coordinating the inspections and paperwork

Inspections and paperwork take time, so your best bet here is to make sure you have time available and protected on your calendar. Once again, your real estate agent can be a valuable resource to guide you through all of the paperwork and inspections that must be completed. They may also have some advice on who to contact to hurry the process along. Once you’ve got the proper information, reach out immediately. The sooner you make contact, the sooner you can get on their calendar and get this necessary work done.

5. Not being able to meet your financial obligations

Whether it’s the down payment for your home or the mortgage itself, buying a new house carries with it a considerable financial obligation — probably the largest you will ever enter into — and that’s certainly cause for stress. Since it’s such an important purchase, not any loan will do. You want to find the best loan opportunity you can. loanDepot can help. loanDepot matches borrowers through technology and high-touch customer care with the credit they need. This allows you to use loanDepot to look for potential loans outside your immediate market and even compare loans to find the best plan for you — a must with a purchase as important as your new home. So don’t delay. Connect with our lending experts today and take some of the stress out of your homebuying process.

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3 technology tips for last-minute gift giving

(BPT) – The holidays are a favorite time of year for many. We love decorating our homes, baking cookies, donating to our favorite charities, and listening to those classic songs we only get to enjoy a few short weeks each year. There’s all the holiday parties and celebrations. And of course, a big part of the season includes buying gifts for those we care about.

There’s a lot that’s crammed into the holidays, so finding the time to get to everything we want and need to do can feel challenging. Fortunately, technology can help!

Check out these gifting tips to help you save time and stay within budget this year.

Free up some room in your sleigh.

If you’re traveling for the holidays, the trip itself often has an impact on the gifts you purchase. But it doesn’t have to. If a long flight or drive made you shy away from larger gifts in the past, choose to buy online and ship your gifts to your final destination this year. Many of these services also offer gift wrapping and because the package is already being shipped, you don’t need to delay your trip waiting for your package to arrive.

No minute like the last minute.

This holiday season forget old fashioned cash and checks. There’s a new way to gift money right from your mobile banking app with Zelle®. Forget about going to the ATM, or having to find a stamp and then wait for the person to go cash your check. Zelle enables you to send money quickly, safely and easily with your mobile phone to almost anyone with a bank account in the U.S. Best of all, the funds are available to your loved one typically within minutes[1] when both parties are already enrolled. Most likely, you already have Zelle as part of your mobile banking app; otherwise, you can still use Zelle by downloading the Zelle app for Android and iOS.

Getting the elves together.

You have that special friend who deserves the designer purse and you know how much it would mean to her. You round up your girlfriends and pool your money together. You can use Zelle to split the cost of the gift with everyone. All you need is their email address or U.S. mobile phone number[2]. Zelle lets you request money with just a few taps on your mobile phone, making it easy to pool your resources and get the perfect gift for that special person on your list.

The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, but they can also be hectic, particularly if you haven’t finished your shopping. Technology can help you make every minute count. Utilize some of the tips above and hopefully your holiday shopping and the festivities will be a littler merrier for you and your loved ones.

To learn more about Zelle and its participating financial institutions, visit www.zellepay.com.


[1] Transactions between enrolled users usually take minutes. Must have a bank account in the U.S. to use Zelle. Zelle and the Zelle marks are property of Early Warning Services, LLC.

[2] Must have a bank account in the U.S. to use Zelle. Zelle and the Zelle marks are property of Early Warning Services, LLC.

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New ways renters are becoming homeowners

(BPT) – Sponsored Content from Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc.

The world that millennials have grown up in is a lot different than the world the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers knew. The digital revolution, widespread use of smartphones and adoption of disruptive technologies such as ride sharing and vacation rental apps are just a few of the factors that have altered the social landscape.

Unfortunately, rising student debt, rising home prices and other economic factors have hit many millennials and left them to believe that they cannot afford a home. Many feel as though they have been priced out of the American dream and they will never be able to buy a home.

But no matter what your age, there are plenty of ways to become a homeowner, you just have to think a little more creatively.

The rise of the rental

Looking at current trends, a recent research study found that more U.S. households are now renting than at any time in the last 50 years. With a rising number of renters, many have worried that we are becoming a nation of renters rather than a nation of homeowners.

This is most evident with the younger generation, people under 30, who the National Multifamily Housing Council have found now account for 50 percent of all renters in the U.S.

They aren’t renting because it’s a more affordable option, either. As many residents know throughout the country, rents are going up and up. Between 2012 and 2015, the median gross rent has gone up 8.24 percent, rising to $959. When you combine that with the utilities, a deposit and first and last month’s rent, it’s a lot of money to spend on something you will never own.

So why do people choose to rent? One reason is that many don’t realize that just like phones, cars and countless other things we use on a daily basis, homes have changed.

New priorities mean a new solution

As demand for housing increases, and prices on new and existing homes continue to rise, manufactured housing has adapted to the standards of today’s first-time homebuyers and provides a solution for a market in short supply of quality, affordable options.

In 2016, the average sales price for a manufactured home without land was around $70,600 — that’s an average of $48.82 per square foot — making them an affordable solution to renters looking to become homeowners.

“We believe manufactured homes offer a great solution for many households seeking affordable housing,” says Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance Inc. President Eric Hamilton. “We work with our customers to help find financing options that fit their needs and circumstances.”

Renters don’t have to continue doling out a monthly check for something they’ll never own. The housing market has changed and with this change, manufactured homes have brought forth new opportunities to become a homeowner.

NMLS Disclosure

Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., 500 Alcoa Trail, Maryville, TN 37804, 865-380-3000, NMLS #1561, (http://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org/), AZ Lic. #BK-0902616, Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law license, GA Residential Mortgage (Lic. #6911), Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee, Licensed by the NH Banking Department, MT Lic. #1561, Licensed by PA Dept. of Banking.

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Top trends for the 2018 housing market identified

(BPT) – In the real estate market, springtime is go time. It’s the busiest time of the year for home sales, and with this year’s stable economy and low unemployment rate, the spring of 2018 has the potential to be especially active.

Every market is defined by its trends, and while each year is different, identifying these trends early on can be a useful tool for buyers, sellers and agents to navigate the upcoming market and secure the best long-term solution for themselves or their clients.

With that in mind, here are a few top real estate trends to watch for in 2018, according to the real estate experts at RE/MAX.

1. Generations on the move

The shift in home buying preferences is more than just an individual choice; it’s a generational one. Two of the nation’s largest generations are suddenly competing with one another in the real estate market. Millennials have come of age, so to speak, and they’re starting to abandon their condos in the city for single-family starter homes in the suburbs to raise their families. This shift has put them in direct competition with baby boomers, who are looking to downsize to something smaller that meets the needs of their new lifestyle.

With these two groups looking for similar housing, well-maintained single-family homes are expected to go very quickly in 2018.

2. Inventory is tightening

While the spring will be flush with buyers, it remains to be seen if sellers will follow suit. The fall of 2017 proved to be sluggish in regard to the number of homes available for sale; in fact, total housing inventory was down 13.4 percent in October 2017 compared to the same time the year before, according to the RE/MAX National Housing Report.

The report also found that only three of the 53 metropolitan areas reported being in a buyer’s market or having an even balance. For the rest of the country, sellers seem to have the advantage. Will that change in the spring? It may, but buyers should be prepared for a market where they will have to be aggressive to purchase the home they want.

3. Housing policies have shifted

The presidential election in November 2016 and local elections from this past fall both have implications on housing policy. Adjustments to tax rates, the growth or decline of suburban options and zoning ordinance changes may all impact the markets where consumers are shopping.

To better understand how these changes may affect the housing search in a given area, potential homebuyers should contact a licensed real estate agent who understands the latest housing policies and how those policies will affect a potential home sale.

4. Technology is king

Like most other industries, real estate today is profoundly affected by the advent of technology. Homebuyers and sellers can go online or use apps to access information about a house or the market like never before, and virtual walk-throughs allow a buyer to enter a prospective home for the first time with few surprises.

For buyers and sellers, technology has the potential to reward those who do their homework and make the most of digital options before deciding how to use their precious time.

Navigating the 2018 market requires expert advice

The 2018 market will be dictated largely by what takes place in the spring, and the trends above figure to play a prominent role in most home sales and listings across the country. Every market contains its own subtle nuances, but homebuyers and sellers everywhere will benefit from the expertise of an experienced real estate agent, one who can help them capitalize on these latest trends and leave the 2018 market with everything they ever wanted and more.

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