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Buying a Home? You Don’t Need to Do It Alone

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Last week, Discover Home Loans released an interesting survey which revealed how prepared home buyers are for the actual mortgage process. The survey reported that 94 percent of prospective buyers believe they are making a good investment decision if they buy a home. The survey also explained that 66 percent of buyers reach out to real estate agents to help determine whether buying a certain home would be a good investment. However, there is less certainty regarding the mortgage process.

You don't need to buy a home alone

Most buyers overwhelmed

The majority of potential buyers are actually overwhelmed with the plethora of information available about the home financing process.  Here are some interesting highlights from the report:

  • Nearly 66% feel overwhelmed with the amount of information available
  • 76% of those under the age of 30 feel overwhelmed
  • 76% of first time buyers feel the same way
  • 54% of those buyers who have previously owned also were overwhelmed
  • 59% of buyers turn to mortgage bankers to help evaluate mortgage terms and comparing offers
  • 49% of buyers turn to real estate agents to help evaluate mortgage terms and comparing offers

There is help available…use it!

Cameron Findlay, chief economist at Discover Home Loans, gives great advice:

“The industry is becoming more transparent in an effort to help homebuyers become informed about changes that may affect their process. The sheer amount of information can lead to confusion and stress. Those looking to purchase should work closely with their lender and realtor to make sure they are comfortable with mortgage terms and understand the impact a loan will have on their finances.”

Bottom Line

The purchasing of a home can put great pressure on a family. Reach out to the best mortgage and real estate professionals in your market for assistance throughout the process.

This article was originally published on Keeping Current Matters. See the original article here.

How to Hang a Hammock in Your Backyard

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Laying in a hammock is the epitome of summertime relaxation. Getting the hammock set up, on the other hand, can be a frustrating endeavor. Consult the tips below to make quick and easy work of the process so that soon, you will have gone from hanging the hammock to hanging out in its comfy, swaying embrace.

Source: Minglewood Designs
Source: Minglewood Designs


Choosing a location for your hammock is perhaps the most difficult part. While you probably don’t have the perfect pair (and ideally spaced) palm trees on your property, you might very well have two healthy oak, maple or beech trees that are strong enough to support your weight. Ideally, those hardwoods would be as far apart as the total length of your hammock, fully stretched out.

If the trees are too close together, the underside of the hammock is going to scrape along the ground. If the trees are too far apart, you’ll need to extend the reach of the hammock by means of an added-on rope or chain. While there’s a simple remedy for the latter problem, there’s unfortunately no fix for the former (other than to buy another, smaller hammock). Note, however, that it can be a mistake to extend a hammock any more than 18 inches at each end. Doing so leaves it vulnerable to ripping. So if you fully anticipate having to add extensions, only consider buying a hammock outfitted with a spreader bar to inhibit rips.


For obvious reasons, it’s important to establish a secure connection at each end of the hammock. One option is to use tree-fastening straps (which may or may not be included with your purchase). These straps feature a loop on one end and a metal ring on the other. Simply wrap the strap around the tree, pass the loop through the metal ring, then attach the hammock to the ring with S-hook hardware. One virtue of tree-fastening straps is that while effective, they cause no harm to the trees involved.

Though there are countless hammocks on the market, most fall into one or two design categories. First, you have traditional hammocks, and then you have hammocks with spreader bars. Traditional hammocks are meant to hang loosely between two trees, with the center dipping down. Since they get attached to points that are 6 to 8-feet high on nearby trees, you can, in a pinch, consider using tree branches, not tree trunks — so long as the branches offer sufficient heft.

The other type of hammock involves spreader bars, which force the hammock to remain open, so the occupant never becomes wrapped up in a hammock burrito. Unlike the traditional design, hammocks with spreaders hang only 4 or 5 feet from the ground. Also, whereas a traditional hammock hangs loosely, these hammocks hang taut; when unoccupied, they are virtually parallel with the ground.

Remember that the wonderful thing about hanging a hammock is that once you’ve finished the job, your reward is right there in front you. Collapse into your new favorite spot — hey, you’ve earned a break!

This article was originally published by Bob Vila on Zillow Blog. See the original article here.

Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at His video-rich site offers a full range of fresh, authoritative content – practical tips, inspirational ideas, and more than 1,000 videos from Bob Vila television.

5 Steps You Can’t Skip During Escrow

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The escrow process, which is also known as closing or settlement, is the endgame of the home-buying process. It is when the buyer, seller and other necessary parties get together to seal the deal.

5 Steps You Can't Skip During Escrow

While your real estate agent and lender may assist you during the process, you should prepare yourself by knowing what to expect once you are in the thick of it.

To do so, brush up on these five prominent hurdles you’ll face during the escrow process.

Escrow Steps for Success

1. Have a Solid Contract

The sales contract or purchase agreement is the blueprint for the escrow process. The real estate agent or attorney typically writes the contract. It should clearly state the terms of the deal and what must occur before escrow closes and the property changes hands. It should not contain blank spaces.

The contract will include details about these specifics:

2. Clear Contingencies

Contingencies are contractual conditions that must be met before the contract becomes official. Inspection, appraisal, and financing are common examples, although contingencies can be written for any event or issue. Contingencies come with a time limit to complete the task.

Once each contingency is completed, the buyer and seller should sign a document removing the contingency from the contract.

3. Review Title Reports

Typically, there are two title reports: a preliminary report and a final report with title insurance. Review the preliminary report to verify the legal description of the property and to learn about any liens, encumbrances or other items affecting the property’s title.

Later, with the final title report, make sure the title is clear and the title or escrow agent knows how you want to take title to the property. Common titles are as follows:

  • Joint tenancy
  • Tenancy in common
  • Tenants by entirety
  • Community property
  • Sole property

4. Track Transaction Costs

In the end, title and escrow costs are combined with mortgage and other transaction costs on federally mandated closing documents. Obtain a Good Faith Estimate to gauge what these costs may be. Then compare them to the HUD-1 Settlement Statement, which is the final line-by-line list of all mortgage and closing costs.

If there are significant discrepancies between the GFE and the HUD-1 Settlement Statement, ask about them, as they may be open for dispute.

5. Be Prepared on Closing Day

On closing day, come to the table only after reading and fully understanding your HUD-1. Bring a pen and paper for taking notes, an attitude of good faith, plenty of time and the willingness to back out if the deal doesn’t follow contractual guidelines. Parties present at closing include these particulars:

  • Lender
  • Seller
  • Seller’s real estate agent
  • Closing agent
  • Attorneys for you, the lender or both

The buyer will deposit any escrow payments and sign necessary documents. The seller signs over the deed and closing statements and receives any money due.

After signing, the deed and mortgage documents are delivered to the county courthouse or other government repository for recording as public records.

Updated from an earlier version by Broderick Perkins.

This was posted by  on See the original article here.

Furniture Arranging 101

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Stripped of all its furnishings, an empty room can be intimidating — or inspiring! For design consultant Robin Long Mayer, it’s definitely the latter. In her work as an editor for CountryLiving and New York Spaces magazines and as the principal of Robin Mayer Design, she has learned a thing or two about the optimal placement of sofas, tables, beds and accessories that fill our homes. While the ideal arrangement in your own rooms will depend on factors such as the size and layout of each particular space, there are certain guideposts that can put you on the right path. Mayer offers the following insights:

Find your focal point

Source: Zillow Digs
Source: Zillow Digs

There are no hard-and-fast rules in furniture arranging, but if there is a focal point in the room — a fireplace, for instance, or a window with a beautiful view — try to place your furniture around it to draw the eye in that direction.

Keep a clear path

You always want to be invited into a room visually, without any obstructions in your path. Be mindful of the number of items you are placing in a room. Use only what you need for comfort, storage and utility, and find new homes for extraneous pieces.

Avoid the perimeter

Source: Kerrie Kelly Design Lab
Source: Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Lining furniture along the perimeter of a room creates a very stagnant look. That being said, we don’t all have the luxury or space to float all our furniture in the center of the room. If a large piece like a couch makes most sense against the wall, float a few smaller pieces — like two comfortable armchairs — in front of it to balance the look.

Encourage conversation

No matter what size your living room is, you should always consider seating that lets you share the space with a friend. Positioning a couch and two chairs near a focal point, or even two love seats or two chaises facing each other, is a lovely way to start.

Consider dining dynamics

Source: Lori Brock
Source: Lori Brock

As a general rule, the dining table and chairs occupy the middle of a room. If there is a chandelier overhead, be sure it does not obstruct views across the table. A sideboard, hutch, console or even a chest of drawers along a wall of the room can add much-needed storage for linens and flatware, and also provide a surface for additional ambient lighting.

Think about function

To determine what pieces you’ll need in the kitchen, think about how you use the space. If you love to cook and entertain, an island or movable workstation is a sensible investment. Seating is vital as well. Choose a table and chairs if you have the room, or find comfortable stools that can tuck under a counter when not in use. If space allows, I highly recommend a couch in the kitchen!

Keep it simple

Source: Michael Trahan
Source: Michael Trahan

It is always nice to wake up to a view outside your windows, so if you have something lovely to look at, place your bed to take advantage of it. Next, consider all the practical things you need in the bedroom: bedside tables and lighting, a dresser or armoire to store clothing, and a chair or bench. Although it isn’t necessary for the furniture finishes to match, I do like the look of soft neutral wall colors, matching lamps on side tables and linens in natural fibers. Save pops of color for decorative pillows or throws; even the art can add a little zing to the space, but keep it simple. I also like to have a rug near the bed for warmth and softness underfoot.

Measure mindfully

Take accurate measurements of your room (and the doorways and entrances) before you start shopping for furniture. To get an idea of what will fit in the space that you have, you can “tape it out” with masking tape on the floor of an empty room using the dimensions of each prospective piece. Allow plenty of room for walking about, pulling out a chair, and accommodating whatever elements you need in order to function in the space.

Clear the clutter

Source: csarchitecture
Source: csarchitecture

I do a lot of work staging homes and apartments for sale, and the biggest words of advice I give are, “Clean out the clutter!” Clutter distracts from the beauty of a room. When guests walk in, all they’ll see is a pile of papers on the counter, toys on the floor, or laundry in the corner instead of that amazing sofa or incredible table you worked so hard for. If you want to display collections or family photos, keep them “stabled” in one place, such as a bookcase, hall table, or dedicated family photo wall, so they look neat and unified.

This article was originally published by Marie Proeller Hueston on Zillow Blog. See it here.

Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at His video-rich site offers a full range of fresh, authoritative content – practical tips, inspirational ideas, and more than 1,000 videos from Bob Vila television.

6 Things Driving Up the Cost of Your Mortgage

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Applying for a mortgage? Do your fees and rates appear to be a little higher than what you see advertised?

6 Things Driving Up the Cost of Your Mortgage
photo courtesy of

If yes, there could be several key factors driving up the cost of your mortgage that you may not know about.

These additional mortgage-pricing factors can make your mortgage cost more. Don’t be fooled by a lower-priced mortgage offer if your financial picture contains any of these key cost drivers.

1. Credit Score

Most lenders have a credit threshold of 740 or above. If the middle of the three credit scores the lender pulls is under 740—even if it’s 739—you could be paying slightly more in terms of interest rate and/or associated costs with your new mortgage application.

If you attempt to raise your score by opening up new credit or paying off debts, it may or may not help you, depending on your credit history. Besides, opening new lines of credit too soon before you buy can be seen as a red flag by lenders, which can hurt your chances of getting a mortgage.

Sometimes your best score is a byproduct of how you’ve managed your liabilities over time.

2. Equity

This one is a biggie, particularly with conventional mortgages, loans not insured by the Federal Housing Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture or U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The cream of the crop conventional loans can become very pricey if you have less than 25% equity and a low credit score, particularly if your score is under 700.

3. Occupancy

If you are financing a property that is not your primary residence, such as an income property/investment property, expect to pay more right out of the gate no matter what your loan-to-value or your credit score.

It’s not uncommon to see as much as .375% higher in rate for income property financing combined with these other risk factors.

4. Loan Size

Let’s say you have great credit—your score is 740 or above—and you take out a $160,000 loan on a primary home with 25% down.

Believe it or not, a loan amount of $200,000 with the same factors will be more competitively priced. Contrary to popular belief, mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have an appetite for bigger mortgages—usually at $170,000 or more—than they do for loans under $170,000.

Therefore, Fannie and Freddie price these smaller loans slightly higher, as the interest they collect on monthly payments is below their margins.

5. Co-Signer

Freddie Mac loans are the only loans on the conventional side (non-government) that allow for the use of a co-signer—or even a non-occupying co-borrower—to help offset a mortgage payment.

Freddie Mac inherently prices its loans a bit higher than Fannie Mae loans, but it offers this loophole.

6. Time Frame Delays

An interest rate lock extension, if not handled in a timely manner, can be a strong driver of cost.

Interest rate lock extension fees can be as high as .375% of the loan amount. For a $400,000 loan, that’s an additional $1,500 for an extra 30-day period of time, while you can expect half that amount for a shorter delay.

Lock extensions typically can be for 15 days, or 30 days, with most lenders. Want to avoid a time frame delay? If a lender requires a pay stub or a bank statement, get it to them quickly.

How to Reduce Your Mortgage Rates & Fees

The following scenarios will always yield the best possible combination of rate and fees.

Middle FICO score: 740 or higher—Lenders consider this the ideal credit score range.

LTV (Loan-To-Value): 70% or lower—Equity and/or down payment at 30% yields substantially reduced pricing adjustments to rate and fees.

Occupancy: Primary residence—Owner-occupied and second home transactions are the lowest cost mortgage types available. A second home is also classified as a vacation home.

Loan amount: Up to $417,000—Using the traditional conforming loan limit at $417,000 in most geographic areas.

Lock Period: 30 Days—Closing escrow within a month. Proactively providing to the lender any documents they may need during the process quickly will keep your rate and fees low.

A 15-day rate lock does have a lower price than a 30-day rate lock because of the time value of money. The longer the holding on that coupon, the more opportunity the market has to change, creating interest rate risk to the lender. By sharing some of that risk with the lender, a savvy consumer may be able to grind out a lower-priced loan.

Ideally, the two biggest factors to pay attention to in reducing your mortgage rates and fees are cash and credit.

First, with managing your credit, a qualified mortgage professional with experience should be able to help you manage your liabilities in order to reduce your mortgage costs. Perhaps, it might mean paying off in full or paying down credit cards or even opening up new credit.

Also, it helps to get familiar with your credit far in advance of applying for a mortgage–six months or even longer–to give you enough time to address any potential problems.

Start by checking your credit reports for any issues, as well as your credit scores. You can check your credit reports for free once a year, and you can check two of your credit scores for free on every month.

Secondly, cash is still king. If you have an interest rate and loan program that is not necessarily ideal, getting a larger down payment together so you have an appropriate loan-to-value can easily shave off thousands of dollars in unnecessary interest over the life of your loan.

Finally, a smart consumer should seek to work with an experienced mortgage professional who can proactively help them manage their credit and finances while ultimately reducing mortgage costs.


This article was written by Scott Sheldon and originally published on

Buying Unique Homes: What You Need to Know

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Imagine living in a missile silo located in New York’s Adirondack State Park, or at the top pyramid of the Smith Tower, once the tallest building in Seattle. Buying unique homes like these comes with challenges, however.

What you need to know about buying unique homes

Buying an unusual house can be the adventure of a lifetime. The character and charm can express your creativity. But that creativity holds its own challenges, from financing your purchase to selling your house.

Unique Homes: Weird and Wonderful

Unique homes elevate your everyday experience. Entertaining guests takes on new meaning under an old barn’s soaring rafters, or as the sun sets behind stained glass.

If you are revamping an abandoned farmhouse or renovating a church, you’ll benefit from the enjoyment of seeing your vision emerge. You may also reap benefits that a more conventional home couldn’t supply. The acoustics of an old church, the lofted space perfect for a home office in reclaimed barn, the hand-carved molding of a cottage that’s almost impossible to find—those are hard to build new, much less a home in a cave or the purple princess Victorian of your dreams.

Other homes may reflect a cutting-edge futuristic village, such as the tiny house movement (which crams a lot of life in a very small footprint) or creating living space out of discarded shipping containers.

Resale Values

If you’re interested in buying a unique house, what you need to know can be summed up in one word: resale.

You may not want to spend your retirement in your houseboat, quarry or renovated submarine—or raise a child in a cave. Whatever the reason, at some point your lifestyle may call for a more traditional home. Finding a potential buyer for your underground abode, dream castle, or haunted house (with or without tennis courts), may prove tough.

You can get lucky. Because your new home is likely a rare find, like-minded individuals could pay a pretty penny if you sell: just look at the missile silo home put up for auction on eBay. After a handful of TV shows worldwide featured the curious abode, a winning bid put $2.1 million in the homeowner’s pocket.

However, just because your strange house is meaningful to you and your creative spirit, don’t count on it being the hottest property on the market.

Uneasy Lenders

How easy will it be to sell the property in the case of foreclosure? This is the main question that looms in lenders’ minds. If the borrower defaults on the mortgage, the lender needs to be able to resell the property within a reasonable amount of time. Because of this risk, buying a unique house may be a challenging process.

Determining the resale value of a house relies on finding similar home sale prices for comparison—but what if no other home is quite like yours? How many converted nightclubs could one find in the same district?

Generally, a larger lender will not want to take a chance on a non-mainstream property. Sometimes small local lenders, familiar with an area’s unusual properties, will offer a loan.

Locating a Lender

To find a lender to finance the unique house you want to buy, consider doing a keyword search online for the best deals—or approaching a mid-sized bank.

Custom builders may be a resource as well, as they often have good relationships with banks, online lenders or other sources of financing. You can consult a broker whose knowledge of lenders can save you precious time so you can move forward with your purchase.

You may receive a high interest rate or need to put down down payment of more than 20% cash, however.

The Downside

Perhaps living in a strange house seems inspiring at first, but the reality is eccentric floor plans can make day-to-day living a more frustrating experience than living in a more traditional setting.

Will your grandmother’s antique dining room table fit in a curved great room? Can that small door accommodate a modern sofa? How do you light a soaring vaulted ceiling?

Try grocery shopping in the Adirondacks—not so easy sometimes. If dusting the tops of your bookshelves is rough now, imagine having to sweep spider webs from the gables of a gothic cathedral.

Consider what life in the unique house of your choice would really require. Calculate how much money it will cost to maintain this place over time.

Finally Home

Whether you dream of living in a lighthouse, having an ice-cream parlor in your living room or enjoying a wedding chapel in your backyard, you can find all kinds of unusual homes for sale.

Whether you decide to market it for resale—or treasure it as your home for the rest of your life—with a little homework you can choose a home to suit your practical needs and creative spirit.

Based on an original article by Published by  on See the article here.

How to Make DIY Wind Chimes

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Wind chimes have long been used as a holistic method of natural mind and body healing. The gentle music they create as the breeze flows through them can provide a feeling of tranquility in your patio, garden or balcony.

How to Make DIY Wind Chimes
photo from

Making your own wind chimes is a fun DIY project that’s great to share with children. Best of all, you don’t need to shop for expensive items for your wind chimes; you can use items already in your house!

Basic Design: Wind Chimes

The most common style of wind chime has a center-mounted wind catcher surrounded by various sound-producing items (such as metal pipes). The wind catcher will also feature a “banger”, which is an object hanging in the center, banging into the surrounding items as the wind catcher moves in the breeze.

This is what causes the chime effect.

Finding Items for DIY Wind Chimes

Since most wind chimes are circular, find a colorful plastic lid you can use as the top of the wind chime. If you don’t have a colorful lid, you can paint any lid the color of your choice.

The best thing about a homemade wind chime is you can use practically anything to make it: old silverware, bells, old keys, small decorative rocks, marbles, seashells, or even sticks. Collect an assortment of items and choose the ones that work best together.

Preparing the Lid

Find the center of the lid and punch or drill a tiny hole through it. Slide a piece of string or nylon thread through the hole and tie it in a knot on the top side of the lid. Measure out the string to your desired length and cut it.

Make additional holes along the outside edges of the lid, one for each chime. Keep the distance between the chimes as even as possible, so the chime will be balanced.

Hanging the Center Banger

Attach your chosen banger at the center point on the center string. The banger needs to be hard and large enough to make a noise when it bangs into the surrounding chimes—but not so heavy the wind catcher below it is unable to move with the breeze. If you choose something circular—like a small rock—wrap the nylon thread or string around it and tie it in a knot. Now apply a layer of non-toxic glue over the string to hold it in place.

At the base of the center string, attach your wind catcher. This can be anything with a large, flat or curved surface to catch the wind, like a smaller plastic lid or a large spoon.

Hanging Your Homemade Wind Chimes

Drill or punch holes through the tops of the chimes and the wind catcher before you attach them to the string so they will hang evenly when the job is complete.

When you hang the chimes, make sure the string is the right length for the banger to hit them all. You can make some strings longer than others in order to give your wind chime a unique look, but remember it must be balanced in order to work properly. If you make one chime short, make the chime directly across from it short as well.

Finishing the Wind Chime

Punch two more holes in the lid, evenly spaced apart. Slide thread through one side and tie it in a knot on the bottom side of the lid. Measure out how much thread you want for your hanging loop and cut the thread. Slide the other end of the thread through the second hole and tie it in a knot on the bottom side of the lid as well.

Find a low tree branch or hanging eave where you can hang your homemade wind chime.

Now, sit back and listen to its soothing music.

This story was rewritten from an earlier version by Dave Donovan. It was published on See it here.