Real Estate News

Good News for the Housing Market: Pending Home Sales Are Up

Another sure sign the housing market is in full recovery mode: Pending home sales rose 3.1% last month from January, according to the National Association of Realtors®. That’s a solid 12% higher than February 2014.

Good news for the housing market-pending sales are up

Strong sales in the Midwest contributed greatly to the gains by offsetting slight dips in the Northeast and South. The Pending Home Sales Index now sits at 106.9, the highest level since June 2013. Pending home sales are measured by contract signings. A contract is considered pending once all contingencies are met. At that point, sales are just waiting to close, making it a valid indicator of future home sale activity.

February’s rise from January gave a clear sign that cold weather had little impact on motivated buyers across the country. The Midwest was the standout, however: Pending home sales leaped 11.6% to an index of 110.4—a nearly 14% increase over February 2014.

“Several markets remain highly competitive due to supply pressures,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “The return of first-time buyers this year will depend on how quickly inventory shows up in the market.”

Inventory remains down across the board. Homeowners have been slow to trade up, or even downsize, leaving few options for buyers looking to make the move from renter to owner. Still, the NAR is forecasting a 6.4% increase in existing-home sales this year. Likewise, prices are expected to increase 5.6%.

February pending home sales dropped in both the South (1.4%) and the Northeast (2.3%), according to NAR. That’s not the full picture, however. The South is still nearly 11% above where it was in February 2014, and the Northeast is 4% above a year ago. The West, a consistently strong performer, showed a 6.6% increase in February and is up a whopping 18% from last year.

As more Americans find employment, consumer confidence has risen. In fact, consumer optimism, as measured by the University of Michigan, reached a 10-year peak of 95.5 in the first quarter of 2015—its highest level since the third quarter of 2004. And the better people feel about the economy, the more likely they are to buy houses.

Published by Chrystal Caruthers on

Interior Design

4 BIG Design Trends to Try This Year

These materials, metals, and trend-forward goods explained by Tiffany Davis are too cool not to try at home.

After 10-plus years covering design trends — from the Birds-on-Everything Movement of a few years back to more recent nautical and neon pop-ups — I can finally share a trade secret: I’m having way too much fun to ever call myself an expert.

But I can tell you that not every trend is for everyone. Still, there are some that are too cool not to at least try.

Last week, I hit Architectural Digest’s Home Design Show for one of my favorite professional pastimes: ogling samples, designers, and things I wish to someday own in the name of scouting trends.

Here are my favorite four design trends spotted at the show, at least one of which you should try out in your own home this year.

1. Marble and polished concrete

Pretty (but not too pretty), with an airy visual vibe. These two “raw” materials are built to last — and enjoying a cool-looking moment in the decor spotlight.

Coil + Drift’s Dusk coffee table is proof that a living room table can stand as its own conversation piece (because with a table this stunning, who needs beautiful coffee table books?!).

Noble Goods’ walnut-wood-and-concrete Shard cocktail table is another stunning example, from the geometric lines down to a few simple inlaid brass rings nodding to gatherings and cocktail parties to come.

2. Copper and brass


Seattle-based Ladies & Gentlemen Studio’s wares range from kitchen cutting boards to living room furniture to jewelry — and the label’s talent shines on all fronts.

Their Forward/Slash desk lamp feels as much like a swank desk accessory as a handy office staple, and the Aura Lights fixture is versatile enough to display in an entryway, over a mantel, or as the main light source in a living room or den.

Meanwhile, New York–based design shopkeeper/designer Michele Varian grounded her brass Mala pendants with an earthy, wanderlusty point of view.

3. Postfab woodwork

Sacramento, CA–based Stikwood has been beloved by indie design writers for a few years now. (I was one of them. I covered their online debut.)

Even more reason I was thrilled to spot them at this show, among household-decor brands that have been around for generations.

Stikwood’s premise is simple — and genius. Pick a wood finish you love. Measure your wall or desired surface. Receive stick-on slats that are easy to DIY apply and have trimmed by a local professional. Revel in the newfound feeling of homeyness, no matter whether you’re renting, buying, or going through a reclaimed-weathered-wood phase. (One of their top sellers, by the way.)

4. Modular furniture (with a human touch)

After spotting Debra Folz’s Wrap Extending dining table, I decided that hosting party guests with a card-table-turned-dining-table was no longer acceptable.

Folz’s diagonally folding design (which recently enjoyed its own New York Times write-up, by the way) is the first convertible table I’ve ever seen that doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s a convertible table.

There’s no leaf table awkwardness, and no card table awfulness. Just pop it into the shape you want and admire it — comfortably — from any angle. (Which is exactly what I plan to do should I persuade my husband to get one.)

Which new trend are you excited to try out at home? Share in the comments below.

This article was published by Tiffany Davis on Trulia Blog.


Tips for When Your House Goes Viral

‘Good Morning America,’ tweeting at Ellen and claiming your home on Zillow are a good start.

When you’re selling a house, you want as many potential buyers to see it as possible. Your real estate agent’s expertise can be a key factor here. But sometimes, like when you’re Yolie Ball of Davenport, FL, it’s all about your teenage granddaughter’s Twitter account.

So what do you do when it seems like the whole world wants to see your pictures? Here are three tips:

1. Get those photos out there as many ways as possible.

If your Zillow listing doesn’t include the viral photos, you can add them by claiming your home. (I’m looking at you, Mrs. Ball.)

2. Strike while the iron is hot.

We saw you on “Good Morning America,” and your granddaughter’s tweeting at Ellen. Perfect.

3. Figure out your next act.

What’s next for you, Mrs. Ball? Perhaps some design and home improvement projects? We’d love to see you on Digs!

Published by Stephanie Reid-Simons on Zillow Blog.


How to Get Your Home Ready for an Open House: Security Edition

Holding an open house is an act of faith. You clean, declutter, and prepare your home to look its best, hoping at least one of the visitors will fall in love enough to make an offer, preferably all-cash. At the same time, open houses are invitations to strangers to walk among your most prized possessions, often with only a single real estate agent present—and so there are very real security concerns, for agents and homeowners alike.

How to Get Your Home Ready for an Open House- Security Edition

At least 40% of the agents surveyed by the National Association of Realtors® for its 2015 Member Safety Report say they have experienced a situation that made them fear for their personal safety: Vacant houses, model homes, properties in remote areas, and open houses all caused trepidation. The study found that many now carry weapons for self-defense—no wonder when agents have been killed in the past.

For homeowners, however, self-defense takes place long before strangers show up at the door—and start looking in the refrigerator, the cabinets, the pantry. (A Maryland woman recently went to jail for stealing jewelry from open houses.) You probably know to lock up or take away valuables, but here are a few more things to remember:

Say ‘No’ to drugs

Remove all prescription drugs from your medicine cabinet, even the ones you think are harmless. There are so many tales of open house visitors rifling through medicine cabinets and taking a few pills, or even whole bottles. In comments on our site, a user calling himself Larry Kean described this very thing, saying people are looking for “abusable” drugs. Likewise, another user, Rose Eneri, wrote that her friend “found a guy looking through her medicine cabinet” at an open house: “Easy pickings for a drug addict or dealer.”

Control your remotes

Most people don’t think about the extra garage remote they leave dangling from a hook near the back door. It’s small and easy to slip into a pocket, so take it with you when you leave for the open house. One commenter wrote that an open house visitor may have taken the garage remote, then returned later to steal the homeowner’s Lexus! All keys, remotes, and fobs should either be locked away or in your pocket.

File this under ‘Lock & Key’

There’s a trend in home office decor to make file cabinets pretty and portable—but portability and security are not always compatible. Buy a heavy, nonrolling commercial-grade filing cabinet that locks—and into it put your important documents: birth and marriage certificates, financial statements, basically any legal, medical, or personal information you wouldn’t want falling into someone else’s hands. Identity theft is real and should be taken seriously.

What about my 50-inch flat-screen?

While it’s unlikely that anyone could walk out of your open house with your TV or other large electronics, they could come back for it. That’s why the next item is so important:

It ain’t over till you check your doors & windows

While agents will go through to make sure all lights are off and the house is in good condition after an open house, they might not check the doors. Unscrupulous people have been known to unlock a window or basement door with the thought of returning later. After the open house, walk through your house and check every window (even on the second floor), gate, and door to be certain that they’re all locked.

Published by Chrystal Caruthers on

Mortgage Tips

Ask These 4 Questions Before Signing Your Mortgage

Before you sign on the dotted line to buy a home, ask your mortgage broker these questions.

Ask These 4 Questions Before Signing Your MortgageSigning a mortgage is a big deal — a BIG, big, big, big, deal that comes with a lot of paperwork. Even if you read the entire document, some information may still feel unclear. Before you sign on the dotted line to buy a home, ask your mortgage broker the following four questions:

What is the APR?

Notice that this question isn’t “What’s the interest rate?” — the question states, “What’s the APR?” There’s a crucial difference. The APR factors all of the ancillary costs of the loan — such as the interest rate, discount points and loan origination fees — while the interest rate only reflects one piece of the overall puzzle. Some lenders, recognizing that the average person might not understand the difference, will advertise a low interest rate for a mortgage that holds a higher APR due to the other associated costs. By law, lenders are required to disclose the loan APR, so search for that number to make sure you’re comparing apples-to-apples when you’re looking at different loans.

Does this Carry a Prepayment Penalty?

Let’s imagine that your boss calls you into his office and announces that you’re getting a sizable raise. Hooray! You decide that you’d love to put this money towards becoming mortgage-free, so you start making extra payments towards your home. But wait! Some mortgages carry a “prepayment penalty,” which is a fee that gets assessed if you pay off your mortgage early (or refinance into another loan). These fees can typically cost between 2% to 4% of the overall loan, and are usually applied against borrowers who repay their mortgage in less than 5 years. Some are flat rates, while others are on a sliding-scale depending on how early you pay off the loan. Read the documents carefully to see if your mortgage has a “prepayment penalty” (sometimes called an “early payment penalty”), and talk to your broker to clarify the terms and conditions around this clause.

Can we Review the GFE and HUD-1 Together?

By law, you’re required to receive a Good Faith Estimate, or GFE, within three days after your lender has accepted your loan application. As the name implies, this document is supposed to give you a reasonable estimate of the loan terms and the settlement charges. You’ll receive the HUD-1 at the closing table. This document will offer an itemized list of every charge and credit, including escrow fees, title insurance, loan origination fees, attorney fees, rate lock fees and more. The HUD-1 can be overwhelming in its scope, but it’s also quite comprehensive. Ask your real estate agent or mortgage broker if you can review the GFE and HUD-1 together, so that you can make sure that the HUD-1 (your final costs) are aligned with the expectations that the GFE established. Bear in mind that you may not receive the HUD-1 until you’re at the closing table, so you’ll need to make prior arrangements with your mortgage broker (or you’ll have to ask your agent if you can receive the HUD-1 early).

How Long will my Rate Lock, and what’s the Maximum Cap?

If you’re taking out an adjustable-rate mortgage, your interest rate will remain “fixed” for a limited number of years (such as 3, 5 or 7). After that, your rate may change. However, each ARM will have a “cap” on that adjustment — meaning that the rate can only adjust a limited number of times, at a limited rate. For example, the ARM might lock in your current interest rate for 5 years. After that, the rate will adjust at a maximum of once every six months, with a maximum rate hike of 1% at each adjustment, and an overall lifetime cap of no more than 6% above your current rate. If you’re taking out an ARM, clarify these limits and guidelines with your broker — and check your budget to make sure you can afford these higher rates.

Published by Paula Pant on Trulia Blog.

Glass Homes

A Glass House Philip Johnson Would Love

In the snow, ‘it feels like we’re floating on this white sea.’

In the heart of 12.7 acres in New York’s Hudson Valley sits a see-through dwelling inspired by Philip Johnson’s Glass House and Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House.

Elegant as it is, the home isn’t exactly simple.

“Whatever time of day you approach … the house presents itself as multiple layers that dissolve into the site and one another,” reads the listing for the $1.95 million home.

The intrigue continues indoors: When the 14-foot-wide doors on the two bedrooms are slid open, “the rooms appear across the courtyard as stage sets, or dioramas,” said Philip Gefter, a former page-one photo editor for The New York Times. He built the house in 2004 with his partner, Richard Press, an architecture major and director of the documentary “Bill Cunningham New York.”

When the bedroom doors are closed, they reveal a wide bookcase.

Despite the brutal East Coast winter, Gefter said radiant heat has kept the home at 70 degrees, and with all the snow, “it feels like we’re floating on this white sea.”

Coming from New York City, they did have to adjust to the lack of curtains. There are tracks for hanging some, but Gefter and Press prefer the in-nature feel — and no one has intruded.

“Most people don’t even know the house is here,” Gefter said.

The home is listed by Jen Harvey, Russ Stein and Tim Lovett of Berkshire Property Agents.

Photos by Jen Harvey. Published by Melissa Allison on Zillow Blog.

Green Homes Renovation

A Guide to Safe, Ethically Sourced Wood Flooring and Alternatives

It’s been a rough month for Lumber Liquidators: Reports of unsafe formaldehyde levels in its Chinese-made wood flooring have shaken home owners and builders alike.

Contemplating the challenge of ethically sourced wood flooring. Credit: Flickr user emilysnuffer
Contemplating the challenge of ethically sourced wood flooring. Credit: Flickr user emilysnuffer

Lumber Liquidators claims the dangers are overstated and the cancer-causing chemical is safely contained by lamination. Others remain skeptical, saying a layer of plastic might not be enough to hold back dangerous fumes and leaching.

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring chemical, so there’s a little of it almost everywhere. Flooring manufacturers use it as an adhesive in composite wood products like plywood—found in “all-wood” engineered flooring—and the particleboard or fiberboard at the core of laminate flooring. It’s also in countless unrelated materials like synthetic fabrics, some shampoos, and even certain cosmetics. It’s all over our homes. State, federal, and international standards seek to limit how much is used, but products made by the uninformed or unscrupulous can slip through the cracks.

All American-made composite flooring is certified safe by various accredited third-party inspectors certified by the International Accreditation Service and the California Air Resources Board, said Kip Howlett, president of the Hardwood Plywood & Veneer Association. And so is the majority of overseas-manufactured wood. But it’s also possible to get away from formaldehyde altogether—though the price of doing so can come in dollars and inconvenience. You can’t just drive down to the strip-mall hardware store and pick up a load of cheap flooring—going formaldehyde-free requires research. Good news: We’ve done some for you.

New hardwood

Toulouse wood flooring from USFloors
Toulouse wood flooring from USFloors

This is what most people think of as hardwood floors: freshly cut wood planks from recently felled timber. It’s beautiful, classic, rustic, or refined, depending on how it’s stained and treated. Some manufacturers, like Georgia-based USFloors, use advanced staining techniques to make their boards look and age like antique wood.

Is it safe? With no gluing needed, there’s zero-added formaldehyde.

Should I feel guilty using it? Maybe. Anyone who has ever walked through a lush forest into a bleak clear-cut site knows the ugly side of logging, and there are plenty of gory videos of rainforests coming down. But a lot depends on geography.

Common North American woods are generally harvested where loggers are bound by U.S. timber industry regulations. Some companies, like Florida-based Goodwin Company, are going an extra step, harvesting only lightning-damaged trees.

Around the world, however, environmentally irresponsible logging has made some of the really amazing old-world hardwood an ethical challenge. Many people in the industry will steer customers away from products logged overseas, especially from South America and China. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species closely monitors sales of some mahogany, rosewood, and other hardwoods that are now plantation-grown because of their scarcity in the wild. If questions about black-market shenanigans ever haunt your flooring purchases, check with the Forest Stewardship Council, which monitors proper forest management and chain of custody issues.

What’s it cost? True hardwood planks can be expensive, hence the popularity of cheap, easy, composite wood products. On the low end, Home Depot and other big-box shops have cherry, oak, and maple available from about $4.50 a square foot up to around $8. It’s important to check with the salesperson that the product you’re buying is solidly the same wood all the way through. Descriptions can be very tricky, with different stores having different names for the same product. On the higher end, all-wood flooring can run $20 a square foot or more, depending on how the boards are customized.

Reclaimed wood

Authentic distressed heart pine wood flooring from Mountain Lumber Co.
Authentic distressed heart pine wood flooring from Mountain Lumber Co.

Reclaimed wood is the opposite of freshly cut timber. These are disused, discarded, or long-forgotten boards and logs just waiting for someone to salvage, denail, and resaw them into flooring. Reclaimers take wood from old fences, 19th-century warehouses, and abandoned barns, leaving nothing to waste.

Goodwin Company, for example, is pulling stunning, 1,000-year-old cypress trees from riverbeds and creating gorgeous flooring. Virginia-based Mountain Lumber Co. uses its website to ask owners of old barns to sell it their wood. New Jersey–basedEcoTimber makes flooring from old orchard trees that no longer produce fruit.

Is it safe? Reclaimed wood can come as whole boards or as the beautiful top layer of engineered flooring. The driving ethos behind companies involved in reclaimed wood makes the use of nasty chemicals highly unlikely. Goodwin, Mountain Lumber, and EcoTimber use nonformaldehyde glues in their engineered flooring.

Should I feel guilty using it? Not at all! With the dirty work having been done long ago, ecology-minded buyers can enjoy this wood’s backstory with a clear conscience. And while some reclaimed-wood companies also dabble in new hardwood, they source domestically and sustainably.

“We don’t take anything out of a rainforest, so no monkeys are being killed on our watch,” said Mountain Lumber sales manager Debra Russell. The reclaimed wood community is so tight that Russell doesn’t even mind naming her worthy, ethical competitors: In addition to Goodwin, she likes Pioneer Millworks, Elmwood Reclaimed Timber, and Olde Wood Limited. “We all do things the right way,” she said.

What’s it cost? The knots and century-old nail holes in these boards make them one of a kind and labor-intensive to clean and prepare. But for many, the look is worth the cost: about $5 to $20 (or more) per square foot, depending on the grain, custom cuts, and finishes.

Engineered wood

Walnut veneer from Columbia Forest Products
Walnut veneer from Columbia Forest Products

This is where layers of less-than-beautiful wood—usually plywood—are topped with a layer of nice-looking wood. In an industry with many different names for the same product, some companies will call their pulp-core laminate flooring “engineered wood.” It is important to know the difference. One is all wood and the other is not.

Is it safe? It can be. There are two ways to make engineered flooring without adding formaldehyde, Howlett said. One is by using polyvinyl acetate, which is best known as wood glue, carpenter’s glue, or the Elmer’s glue you used in school. It first came about in 1912 and is pretty much ubiquitous.

The second is a bit more exotic: It’s based on how mussels attach themselves to sea rocks. Developed by Oregon State University scientist Kaichang Li, who observed that the mollusks emit a special protein that gives them an extremely strong yet flexible hold even in the roughest of tides, this formaldehyde-free adhesive, made from soy proteins, is used by Columbia Forest Products in its engineered-wood flooring. The EPA liked it so much that, in 2007, it gave Li and Columbia the Presidential Green Chemistry Award. Columbia sells its formaldehyde-free wood to Mohawk Flooring, which is sometimes carried by Lowe’s and Home Depot as a special order.

Should I feel guilty using it? It depends on two things: what’s on top and what’s underneath. If your floors are a layer of rare teak logged by forest poachers in a Burmese jungle over a layer of formaldehyde-soaked plywood, you might have, uh, ethical issues. The watchdog group Green Building Supply advises being alert to “greenwashing,” where a thin veneer (pun intended) of environmental sensitivity covers an otherwise ecologically unsound product.

What’s it cost? The range is generally from $2 to about $8 a square foot, depending on a lot of variables, including how much is being purchased. Some discount sites go much lower, and one-of-a-kind flooring from reclaimed or rare lumber can go for $11 a square foot and up.


Amber bamboo flooring from Plyboo
Amber bamboo flooring from Plyboo

Hard and flexible, bamboo is technically a grass but makes really great “hardwood” floors. Like mowing a lawn, cutting bamboo for harvest doesn’t kill the plant, which can regrow 65 feet in less than four years.

Is it safe? Generally, yes. San Francisco–based Smith & Fong is using the formaldehyde-free soy protein to create its bamboo-based product, Plyboo. Great formaldehyde-free bamboo flooring is also available from EcoTimber and USFloors.

Should I fee guilty using it? Absolutely not. Ecologically sound bamboo harvesting has become a sustainable industry in many areas, replacing destructive logging. Companies like Smith & Fong are dedicated not only to toxin-free products but also to humanitarian causes in Haiti and Sichuan, China, and exploring how bamboo can help those and other areas hard hit by natural disaster.

What does it cost? Bamboo floors generally range from about $2 to $8 a square foot. Lower prices are out there, but the product may not be up to snuff. Young bamboo tends to be less durable than older plants.


A cork floor from Globus Cork
A cork floor from Globus Cork

Best known as a wine stopper, cork is another interesting wood-flooring option. Cork tiles are formaldehyde-free, highly resilient, easy to clean, reduce room noise, and even deter termites.

Quebec-based DuroDesign offers 54 colors and six patterns of cork flooring, all sustainably harvested and LEED-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. There are a lot of other cork-flooring companies out there, including USFloors, NYC-based Globus Cork, and many big-box stores.

Is it safe? Yes. Cork flooring is about as free of formaldehyde as anything can get.

Should I feel guilty about using it? No. Rather than cutting down cork trees, skilled craftsmen remove layers of bark, which grows back fairly quickly. Harvesters say the trees actually benefit from the process as it vastly increases their lifespan.

What’s it cost? Favored by in-the-know architects and designers, the cork flooring sells for about $6 to $7 a square foot.

Published by Mat Probasco on

Buying Mortgage Tips

Don’t Have a 20% Down Payment? Check Out These Alternatives

If you’re ready to buy, there are options you can explore that don’t require a 20% down payment.

There are ways to snag that dream home — even without a 20% down payment.
There are ways to snag that dream home — even without a 20% down payment.

You want to start climbing the property ladder. You want to buy your own home. But there’s just one problem: there’s a magic number that you just can’t match.

Don’t have a 20% down payment? Don’t sweat. Regardless of whether you’re a city slicker or a country dweller, a first-time homebuyer or a military veteran, there are plenty of options you can explore.

First, let’s assess your current situation: Are you a first-time homebuyer? Or do you currently own a home? If you’re already a homeowner, you might be in a better position than you realize.

Consider a contingency

You might not have $40,000 lying around to make a 20% down payment on a $200,000 house. But you do have equity in your existing home.

When you sell your home, you can use the equity to pay for the next one. The key is to write an offer that’s contingent on the sale of your current home. This is a common contingency, so your real estate agent will be able to easily include it in your contract.

Because this type of contingency is so popular, the seller shouldn’t balk (unless you’re in a hypercompetitive market).

Underwater on your mortgage or a first-time homebuyer?

1. Apply for an FHA loan

The Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, insures loans for qualified first-time homebuyers. The FHA itself doesn’t actually issue the loan. Rather, a financial institution such as a bank or credit union issues the loan, which is then insured by the FHA. This protects the lender from loss; because the lender carries less risk, it can offer you a loan at a low interest rate with as little as 3.5% down.

However, there are drawbacks or limitations to taking out an FHA loan.

First, you’re qualified to spend only 31% of your gross monthly income on all housing-related expenses, including your mortgage, property taxes, insurance, and any homeowner’s association fees.

This means that if you gross $5,000 per month, you can spend only $1,550 per month on housing. Of course, that’s not entirely a “drawback” — it’ll prevent you from taking out a mortgage you can’t afford.

Second, you’ll be required to pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, until you reach 20% equity. The rates vary, but as a rough ballpark, expect to pay an additional $40–$50 per month on every $100,000 of mortgage you carry. (This will be lumped into your 31% limitation.)

2. Look to city programs

Many cities offer down payment assistance to residents. For example, a program called Invest Atlanta offers $10,000 to $20,000 in mortgage assistance (in the form of an interest-free second mortgage) to people who buy a home within the greater Atlanta metro area. Likewise, the City of San Francisco will lend first-time homebuyers up to $200,000 to put toward their down payment.

Some of these city programs mandate that you must be a first-time homebuyer; others don’t. Some programs are capped at certain income limits; others aren’t.

Research the city, county, and state programs in your local area to find out the details of what’s available in your neighborhood.

3. Get a VA loan

Qualified military veterans can obtain a mortgage with zero down payment, thanks to a program administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Like an FHA loan, a “VA loan” is a federally insured loan that’s issued by a traditional financial institution, like a bank.

VA loans are given to veterans who maintain good credit, meet income requirements, and have a “Certificate of Eligibility” through the VA. These loans don’t require any down payment, and as a bonus, the buyers don’t need to pay PMI either — making them an even better deal than FHA loans.

Furthermore, the VA restricts how much the lender can charge for closing costs, which means you’ll have built-in protection from getting ripped off by ancillary fees.

4. Apply for a USDA loan

Not an urban dweller? You may be able to take out a loan that’s insured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These “USDA loans” are designed to encourage homeownership in rural areas.

To qualify for a USDA loan, your income can’t be more than 115% of the median income within the area in which you reside.

Like the VA loan, USDA loans allow you to purchase a home with zero down payment. However, unlike with the VA loan, you will need to pay monthly PMI.

There are two drawbacks to this loan. First, the USDA approves only certain houses, which means your pool of potential new dwellings will be limited. If you have your heart set on a specific house and it’s not USDA-qualified, you won’t be able to use this loan to buy that particular property.

Second, you’ll be limited to spending no more than 29% of your gross income on all housing-related costs (including PMI), and no more than 41% of your gross income on all of your combined debt payments, including your mortgage, car payments, student loans, and other debts.

Published by Paula Pant on Trulia Blog.


7 Ways To Reduce Stress During A Move

Congratulations! You decided to accept that new job offer in another city, found the perfect apartment on Trulia, or finally closed on the home of your dreams. And while you’re excited about taking that next step, you’re facing a huge frustration: You need to pack all your belongings into boxes, and lug it into another home.

Moving is crazy and stressful. But there are ways to survive the process without prematurely growing (more) grey hairs.
7 ways to reduce stress during a moveHere are seven ways to manage your stress before, during, and after you’ve boxed up your whole life.

#1: Purge.

Clutter is stressful. Minimize the junk that’s clogging your closets, and you’ll automatically breathe a sigh of relief. Clear the clutter from your home by organizing things you no longer need into three piles: Sell, Donate, and Toss.

Put big-ticket or valuable items in the “sell” pile. Then snap some photos and list them on eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook. (Alternately, if the weather’s nice, hold a massive yard sale.)

Score a tax deduction by donating non-saleable items to Goodwill or any other local thrift stores. Or brighten a friend or family members’ day by giving them your old hand-me-downs.

Throw away or recycle any items that are so far gone, even thrift stores wouldn’t accept it.

Here’s the most fun part: Eat through the contents of your refrigerator and pantry. Spend the weeks prior to your move creating “oddball” meals based on whatever happens to be in your cupboards. And don’t forget to drink all your booze!

#2: Clear Your Calendar.

The most stress-free way to tackle the rest of your packing is by blocking off a chunk of time in which you can focus exclusively on that single task. Find a babysitter who can watch your children. (Or save money by asking a friend or family member to watch your kids, and promise to return the favor in the future.)

Request a day off work, or clear your schedule for the entire weekend. You’ll achieve more by packing continuously for several hours than you will by packing in short bursts of time.

If possible, bribe some of your friends to help. Promise that you’ll buy them dinner and drinks, or offer some other treat, if they’ll donate a few hours of their time to helping you pack and move.

#3: Accumulate Boxes.

For several weeks prior to your move, start accumulating a stack of newspapers and boxes. You probably read your news electronically, but don’t worry – print newspapers still exist, and you can usually pick up free copies of community newspapers outside your local grocery store. (Think of those tabloid-layout weeklies that list what’s happening around town.)

Ask your friends if they have any extra boxes from their previous moves. Or visit local grocery stores and retail outlets, walk to the back (where the employees unpack the inventory), and ask if you can walk off with a stack of boxes. CostCo and Trader Joes’ both keep a steady supply of boxes in-store.

If you’re willing to splurge, however, you might decide to buy boxes from shipping and packing stores, or your local home-improvement store. The benefit to buying boxes is that they’ll all be a standard size (they’re usually sold in 3-4 sizes, ranging from small to large), which makes them easier to stack and load.

#4: Plan.

Don’t start packing without a strategic plan. One of the most efficient ways to pack your belongings is to methodically move from room-to-room. Pack everything in the family room, for example, before moving onto the bedroom.

Keep one suitcase per person in which you store the items that you’ll need to immediately access, such as clean underwear, socks and a toothbrush. In other words, “pack a suitcase” as if you’re going on vacation, and then pack the rest of your home into boxes.

Clearly label each box based on the room from which it was packed. This way, when you unload boxes into your new house, you know which room you should deposit each box into – “bedroom,” “kitchen,” etc.

#5: Protect Your Valuables.

The last thing that you need is a nagging concern in the back of your mind that you can’t find your wedding ring and passport. Those worries will stress you out more than almost any other aspect of moving!

Store your valuables in a well-guarded location, such as on your person (inside of a money belt that’s worn around your hips, as if you were traveling), inside your purse (which you’re already trained not to lose), or in a bank safe-deposit box.

#6: Build Yourself Ample Time and Deadlines

Nothing is more stressful than knowing that you can only start moving into your new home at 8 a.m., but you need to be out of your apartment at 12:00 noon that same day.

Avoid this situation by building yourself ample time to make the transition. Yes, this means you may need to pay “double rent” or “double mortgages” for 2 weeks to one month. But this will allow you the benefit of time — and that will work wonders on your stress levels.

In addition, though, create mini-deadlines for yourself. Promise yourself that you’ll pack up one room per day, for example, or that you’ll unpack for 2 hours per night after you move into your new home. This will prevent you from lingering in limbo for too long.

#7: Delegate.

Finally, the best way to reduce stress is by outsourcing and delegating. Use online resources like TaskRabbit and Craigslist to search for people who can help you pack and move. Before they leave, ask them to help assemble furniture and get the big stuff done first.

As the saying goes, many hands make light work. And when you’re moving, you need as many hands on-board as you can get.

Share your tips below.

This article was published by Paula Pant on Trulia Blog.

Real Estate News

Home Sales and Prices Rose in February, but Inventory’s Still a Problem

There’s an imbalance in the housing market, and it’s driving prices higher. In most parts of the country, home prices and rents are rising, leaving many potential buyers in a housing quandary.

Home Sales and Prices Rose in February, but Inventory’s Still a Problem

Homeowners have been slow to put their properties up for sale, causing prices to grow faster than supply. Existing-home sales increased 4.7% year over year, according to the report released on Monday by the National Association of Realtors®. As of February, the median home price had risen 7.5%, to $202,600, from February 2014, marking the 36th consecutive month of price gains.

While higher prices may be good for homeowners, they’re less so for prospective buyers. Nearly 38% of home shoppers say their No. 1 impediment to purchasing has been their inability to find a house that fits their budget, according to daily surveys of buyer traffic at®. Still, first-time buyers accounted for 29% of February buyers, according to NAR. That’s the first increase since November 2014.

“Stronger price growth is a boon for homeowners looking to build additional equity, but it continues to be an obstacle for current buyers looking to close before rates rise,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

The Federal Reserve has indicated that interest rates will probably go up this summer. Buyers trying to lock in in the last days of historically low rates should expect more bidding wars, higher prices, and greater frustration.

The cold weather in the Northeast and Midwest hasn’t helped. February home sales dropped 6.5% in the Northeast and stayed flat in the Midwest, according to NAR. In other parts of the country, however, sales of existing homes were up—5.7% in the West and 1.9% in the South. (The South actually led the country in annual home sales, up 8.5% from a year ago.)

For the most part, the housing market recovery has been hampered by low inventory levels. Inventory is still 0.5% below where it was a year ago this time, according to NAR. For the second month in a row, there is a mere 4.6-month supply of unsold homes available. In a normal market, there would be a six-month supply.

With fewer houses on the market to choose from, renters who want to become buyers are having a hard time settling for what’s available. Rapid rent increases have made home buying attractive to many young people.

In the past five years, rents rose 15% while income grew 11%, said Yun. Yes, more people are working, but wages have not kept pace. To make matters worse, those renters who want to buy are finding it hard to save for a down payment as rents take up a larger share of their income.

Since 2009, rents have increased a whopping 50.7% in New York, according to a new NAR study, “Accelerating Housing Costs Have Renters Feeling the Squeeze.” Other top markets seeing an increase are Seattle (32%); San Jose, CA (26%); Denver (24%); andSt. Louis (22%).

Buying a home, typically with a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, locks in your living expenses so you’re not subject to the market volatility of rising rents. With fewer homes to choose from, however, renters who want to become owners are having a hard time making the transition.

Published by Chrystal Caruthers on