Jan Kennemer's Blog
Hopefully, you've made plans in case of emergency and prepared your family by discussing your arrangements and creating an emergency kit. However, surviving the crisis is only part of the battle. The recovery takes a lot longer and requires even more early planning. You can prevent a lot of damage to your home by designing it or updating it to handle whatever comes.
Check and Reinforce your home.
If your area is subject to hurricanes, you need to be careful about choosing the right windows, doors, and roof. Have a professional check out your roof and determine how well-braced it is. They can provide suggestions on the best way to reinforce or add bracing to protect your roof from strong winds. If your windows or doors break and open during the storm, the interior damage to your home will be much more significant. Review your doors and windows to determine if storm shutters and reinforcing bolts are necessary improvements. Don't forget about the garage door. If you're at risk, your local government probably requires wind-resistant garage doors so check your building codes and make sure your door comes appropriately equipped. If it's not, get a retrofit kit to stabilize the door.
Live in tornado alley or an area with high thunder and hailstorms? Plan a yard that will be safe in case of disaster. Keep trees away from your home to prevent them from falling in and causing damage and consider wood chips or mulch instead of gravel which can act like additional hail in high winds. Review your roof and determine its impact resistance to see if you can make any improvements. If improvements are not an option, then be aware of how much damage you might suffer so you can plan for the financial ramifications. High storm areas are subject to flooding, but you might be in a flood-risk area just due to your altitude or if there is nearby water. If you live in a flood-risk area, ensure that your furnace, water heater and electrical panels are off the floor or foundation. Use waterproofing compounds to seal basement and ground floor walls and install "check-valves" in your sewage lines to prevent backup into your drains.
If you're likely to experience an earthquake, you need to check the stability of the entire home. Have a professional check the whole property from roof to walls to the foundation and any brickwork to determine if you need any fortification. If its an older home, especially pre-1935, ensure the house itself is bolted to the foundation. Once you've stabilized the house, you need to do the same thing with your belongings. Use wall and floor fasteners to secure heavy furniture that could be dangerous if it slides around or tipped over. Also, secure large appliances and look into breakaway cords to allow smaller devices to disconnect from the wall instead of pulling on your utility lines. Make sure you have an extra secure space for your family to retreat to in case of danger.
Everyone is in danger of fire, no matter what your location or weather. Protect yourself by installing smoke alarms on every floor, specifically near all sleeping areas and near any appliance with an open flame. Regularly check the batteries on your alarms, ensure they work all the time and replacing batteries if necessary. Make sure all sleeping areas have an available exit to the outdoors, especially upstairs bedrooms. Any window that opens can have an escape ladder nearby or installed to allow for quick and safe exits.
Check Your Insurance and Save Just in Case
All homeowners' insurance is different. Triple check that your policy covers all the disasters you possible in your area. Most policies cover tornadoes and fire, but hurricanes, hail, storms, and flooding are often not covered at all. Check with your insurance carrier about your options to increase your protection. Even the best insurance has a deductible, but it usually requires additional funds to recover your property after a disaster. It is not too early to establish funds in case of a rainy day (or a flaming day, shaking a day or windy day) by putting aside money regularly. You've put so much into the home, that you don't want to lose it. Research the likely damage and replacement costs given your location, risks, and home construction. Once you have the appropriate information, you can start estimating possible expenses and set a reasonable goal amount for your fund.
Always find out your risks before purchasing or building a home when possible. Ask your real estate agent for help finding a home prepared in case the worst happens.
For first-time homebuyers, going from property buyer to property owner may seem virtually impossible. Lucky for you, we're here to help you take the guesswork out of buying a home.
Now, let's take a look at three questions that every first-time homebuyer needs to consider:
1. What is my "dream" residence?
One first-time homebuyer's definition of a "dream" residence may differ from another's. As such, you should consider what you'd like to find in a dream house before you begin your real estate search.
Creating a checklist of "must-haves" and "wants" in your house often serves as a great starting point for first-time homebuyers. This checklist will enable homebuyers to consider what they'd like to find in a dream home and plan accordingly.
Also, it is important to establish realistic expectations before you kick off a home search.
Many terrific houses are available in cities and towns nationwide, but no home is likely to have every feature that you desire in a dream residence.
Therefore, if you establish realistic expectations for your home search, you can avoid potential let-downs as you explore a broad array of high-quality houses.
2. How will I pay for a home?
Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is vital for a first-time homebuyer, and for good reason. With pre-approval for a mortgage, you'll know what you can afford to spend on a home before you enter the real estate market.
Many banks and credit unions are happy to meet with you to discuss your mortgage options. These lenders can outline the differences between adjustable- and fixed-rate mortgages, help you assess your credit score and ensure you can make an informed mortgage decision.
Furthermore, lenders can answer any mortgage questions that you may have. They can help you evaluate your current financial situation and enable you to obtain a mortgage that won't force you to revamp your day-to-day budget.
3. How do I begin searching for a house?
Beginning a home search is easy, particularly for first-time homebuyers who work with expert real estate agents.
An expert real estate agent understands what it takes to find a wonderful house at a budget-friendly price. In fact, he or she will do everything possible to help you navigate the housing market quickly and effortlessly.
Typically, an expert real estate agent will keep you up to date about new homes as they become available, set up home showings and submit home offers on your behalf. This housing market professional also will offer honest, unbiased recommendations throughout the homebuying journey to help you select a house that matches or exceeds your expectations.
When it comes to exploring the housing market, there is no need to work alone. Fortunately, you can hire an expert real estate agent who can help you get the best results possible during the homebuying journey.
Want to acquire your first home? Use the aforementioned tips, and you can move one step closer to owning a top-notch house.
Buying a new television can be a daunting task. With technologies changing so rapidly, it can seem like you need to take a new crash course in the latest tech trends every time you buy a new product.
However, a TV is an investment that you’ll get a lot of use out of if you and your family spend a lot of time in the living room. And, since most new televisions come equipped with apps like Netflix and Hulu, it’s worth taking time to learn which one is suitable for your family and that fits within your budget.
In this article, we’ll give a brief breakdown of the latest trends to help you choose the right TV for your living room.
At one time, the size of your television was the best indicator of price. But these days you’ll find TVs that are the same size but vastly different prices. That’s because TVs now contain a number of features related to audio and video quality, and smart TV capabilities like apps and games.
However, screen size still does matter when it comes to video quality, fitting the layout of your living room and your personal preferences. If you aren’t sure what size you’ll need, try visiting an electronics store and standing as far back from the tv as your couch or sofa. You can also try this at a friend’s house who has a similar setup to you.
Remember that having a huge TV isn’t always the best option if you’re in a small room. For most living room setups, the ideal size is somewhere between 55 and 65 inches.
Many of us have a collection of DVDs somewhere in our house that we save for a rainy weekend. It might surprise you to know that the quality of a DVD is lower than most streaming videos on the internet these days.
Video quality is based on a few factors and one of them is resolution. Screen resolution has improved exponentially in the recent years. What resolutions are available?
4K or Ultra HD - The current gold standard of screen resolutions is 4K, which contains a whopping 8 million pixels.
1080p or HD - Still one of the most common resolutions, 1080p can be found in many recent models and can look at sharp as 4K televisions.
720p - Only the smallest and most inexpensive televisions are still using 720p resolution sizes. However, if you only use your television for watching cable channels, it should be noted that many major networks broadcast in 720p.
To effectively “future-proof” your TV, 4K is your best option. It is slowly becoming the standard for video and will last the longest without looking antiquated.
There are other aspects of picture quality than resolution. The way the TV is lit os one consideration. Most TVs on the market today are LED-based. In LED TVs, a backlight produces the light for each pixel. One exception is OLED TVs in which each pixel is producing its own light.
The jury is still out on which is better, but OLED seems to have a leg up on LED.
The other things you’ll want to consider are a curved screen, Smart TV capabilities, BlueTooth, and the number of HDMI ports. These are all dependent on your preferences, but it should be noted that as TVs evolve, you might not have access to some newer apps.
While working from home and making your own schedule, either freelance or as a contract worker, allows for a particular type of freedom and control of schedules, a dress codes, income limitations, and your life, when it comes to qualifying for a mortgage, your 1099-MISC status comes with some drawbacks.
The so-called “gig-economy” places workers squarely in the “self-employed” column with its tax breaks that reduce the bottom line, letting you keep more of the money you work for. Unfortunately, the mortgage banking industry has not completely caught up to the new reality. The challenge is differing between “provable” income while retaining the tax advantages of self-employment.
Conventional Mortgage Lenders
Typically, the mortgage industry bases your credit-worthiness on provable income. Underwriters (the folks tasked with determining your creditworthiness) use W-2 forms and tax returns to qualify homebuyers for a conventional loan. Without these standard forms, proving your income is difficult for many self-employed would-be homeowners.
Conventional lenders follow a prescribed formula to prove income and credit-worthiness, so many mortgage underwriters merely look at your after-tax and post-deduction income. The result for 1099 workers is a lower provable income than the reality of most entrepreneurs or self-employed workers situation. Certain expenses such as one-time investments in equipment or product, and some depletions or deductions for your existing home, add back into your income on paper, but qualifying with 1099 income requires extra effort on your part.
Unconventional Mortgage Lenders
Conventional lenders offer conventional loans. These are loans qualified for selling on to FreddieMac or FannieMae. Alternative loans—those provided by smaller lenders and investors that hope to realize a better return than a conventional loan offers—might be a more likely option for the self-employed. These loans are not without some added risk. To make them attractive to investors, the interest rate on non-conforming loans typically is higher, and down-payment requirements might be higher as well. Some alternative mortgages with lower interest rates or lower down-payments might be available to self-employed borrowers with exceptionally great credit or an extensive portfolio.
Plan two years in advance: position yourself to qualify for a loan. Once you know where you stand, you can work to move into better condition to qualify. Organize your books and keep accurate financial records. You need to prove your income, so use an invoicing system to show receivables. Often, lenders want to look at two or more years of both tax returns and bank statements. They want to see an average over 24 months to determine your annual income and your ability to pay your mortgage. Keep profit and loss statements, expense reports and a balance sheet. If your accounting is complicated, get professional help. Utilizing a professional bookkeeper and CPA might just save you money and show you have solid business intent.
Save up a more substantial down payment: The more you put down, the less you need to borrow. Showing consistent savings also proves your ability to set money aside and prioritize savings and spending.
Improve your credit score: Sometimes it seems your credit score doesn’t make sense. After all, the calculations and formulas used remain a mystery. You can make significant strides in increasing your score though, by paying attention to two things: payment history and credit utilization.
- Payment history is just what it sounds like—the history of how you pay your bills. Avoid paying late and try to pay early. Your payment history makes up more than thirty-three percent of your total score.
- Credit utilization—the ration of how much credit you have available to how much you’ve used—is another large chunk of your score. If you have a credit card with $2500 available, and you’ve only used $250 (on average) you are using just ten percent of your available credit. On the other hand, if your card only has $250 available and you’ve used just $125 you have used half of the available credit. The higher the percent of your combined usage to your combined credit (all credit cards, personal loans, vehicle loans, etc.) the lower your score.
- The remaining parts of your credit score relate to the length of time you’ve had credit, how many accounts are new, how often you apply for credit and a mix of other bits of information. To help this area, avoid applying for credit cards, car loans or personal loans (furniture, appliances, etc.) for the two years leading up to when you apply for a mortgage. When you pay off a credit card, cut up the card or put it away, but avoid closing the account. Older accounts have a higher point value compared to newer ones, even if you aren’t currently using them.
Start now working on your credit and establishing the best accounting practices to prove your income. Speak with a mortgage lender for information on what it takes to pre-qualify for a loan in your situation.
That starter house is too small and it’s time to move up to something that better fits your growing needs. The original plan—sell the current house and buy a new one—might not be the only option. What if you could keep both?
In many areas, housing is in lower supply. Some buyers are choosing to keep their original home, making it a rental, while buying a new one to live in. Is this a good plan for you? Here are some reasons why it might be (and some why it might not):
You don’t need the equity
Your current home has equity—the increase in value, plus the amount you’ve paid down on the existing mortgage—that you will receive if you sell it.The typical plan is to use that equity to make the down payment on the new home.If you don’t need that equity for your down payment, however, you could keep this home and rent it.
You don’t have equity
If you purchased your home during the last housing boom, or you got a second mortgage or refinanced and took cash out, your home may not have much equity. The cost to sell your home (real estate agent commissions, closing costs, etc.) might just eat up the equity you do have. In this case, keeping the home and renting it out might work out better for you than selling it.
You want to become a landlord
Turning a home into a rental is a business decision. Because it has its own costs, the decision to become a landlord should not be a casual decision. But, if part of your long-term plan includes real estate investment, start with the house you already own. The uptick in the economy and resultant business expansion in many areas means rental housing is at a premium, making this a prime time to own a rental.
The downside of being a landlord
Because it is a business decision, becoming a landlord is not for everyone.This is especially true if your family lived in the home and you have emotional attachments and memories built around it. The possibility of one or more months of no rental income must be factored as well, with a cushion to handle that contingency so that your mortgage is paid and the home you’re living in isn’t jeopardized. Additionally, setting aside funds for repairs from potential renter damage and general maintenance gives peace of mind to a new landlord.
If it makes business sense, but the idea of dealing directly with renters seems daunting or you don’t have the necessary emotional detachment,consider hiring a professional property manager. These real estate professionals know how to set appropriate rental amounts, execute lease agreements, handle repair and other costs, and screen potential renters.
Let a real estate professional know your plans. They can connect you with a property management professional to make becoming a landlord a smooth transition.