Mortgage before marriage?

For many couples, it makes sense to buy a home before tying the knot. Here’s advice from folks who’ve made the move.

Mortgage Before Marriage

© Tetra Images/Getty Images

After eight years of dating, Greg Hebert and Laura Reiffarth knew it was time to take their commitment to each other to the next level. In June 2012, they took the plunge — and bought a home together.

The couple, who have recently gotten engaged, knew then that they would eventually get married, but buying a house first seemed like the right step for them.

“We knew we couldn’t afford to do both at the time, so we had to make a decision,” Reiffarth says. “We felt it was financially and logically smarter to buy the house first.”

It’s a decision more couples are now making. A recent survey by Coldwell Banker found that 1 in 4 married couples between the ages of 18 and 34 purchased a first home together before marriage.

The trend follows the increase in cohabitation documented by the 2010 census and in a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC study found that nearly half of women up to age 44 had cohabited between 2006 and 2010, compared with 34% in 1995. It also found that 40% of those couples got married within three years of living together.

And for Hebert and Reiffarth, it made more sense from a relationship perspective to buy the house, then tie the knot.

“It’s kind of funny for us to think about how our parents did it,” Reiffarth says. “We look at getting married before moving in together as a huge risk. What if you were married, moved in together and then couldn’t stand the other person? Then you’re kind of stuck, just spent a lot of money on a marriage and a house.”

Changing attitudes
Psychotherapist Robi Ludwig, who worked with Coldwell Banker on the home buying study, says couples who are purchasing homes together are definitely commitment-minded, but that the difficult economy has prompted a shift in priorities.

“You have a population that has to be more aware of fiscal realities and responsibilities, and there is kind of more of a sober attitude when it comes to making pragmatic decisions,” she says. “Couples are deciding, ‘We are committed,’ and it makes sense to save money.

“I don’t think you can separate out the economic and fiscal realities with how couples decide to move forward in their lives,” she says. “How they handle finances will have a huge impact on their relationships. It’s not romantic, but it’s real.”

The way the market is going this spring, if we had waited to buy we would have paid thousands of dollars more,” she says. “Now we can leisurely save for and plan our wedding and make improvements to the house, all from the comfort of our own home.”

A major commitment
But some couples hesitate to purchase a home without the level of commitment that marriage signifies.

“My current husband and I considered this when we were dating, but we hesitated,” Kelli Bhattacharjee says. “Sure if we pooled our assets together we could afford a much nicer home, but I was afraid of the repercussions if we broke up.”

She says she was also afraid that owning a home together might motivate them to stay together for the wrong reasons.

“I did not want to muddy the waters in our relationship,” she says. “I decided I wanted to make the commitment to him before we started entangling our finances.”

After they married, the couple built a home in Hyde Park, Ohio, and Bhattacharjee says she is glad they waited.

“We were more established in our careers and had more disposable income so we could afford exactly what we wanted,” she says.

Testing the relationship
But for some people, buying a home signifies a much bigger commitment than getting married.

“Owning five or six hundred thousand dollars of property together may actually be a stronger bond, one that can be harder to disentangle, than many marriages, which can often be dissolved rather quickly and easily with a no-fault divorce,” says Barry Maher, a motivational speaker who owns two homes in California with his partner, Rose Fennel.

The couple had lived together for eight years before they made their first co-purchase.

“Living together in a rental home was a commitment, certainly much more of a commitment than dating,” he says. “But obviously, it wasn’t nearly as strong a commitment as marriage. All it would have taken for either of us to get out of the relationship was a U-Haul, a couple of friends and a few trips lugging our stuff to a new location.

“But buying a home together is a major commitment, with promises that have to be kept and major consequences if they aren’t,” Maher says. “Just the fact that we were willing to commit to buying that property showed how strongly we were committed to making the relationship work.”

Ryan Lau and his fiancée, Leina Yokota, bought a house together in Honolulu in September 2012 because it made financial sense, but found that the process was a good test of their relationship.

“A Realtor will tell you the top three things to consider before you buy are location, location, location,” he says. “I say, before you decide to buy with your significant other you need communication, communication, communication. Our plan was one that evolved as we went through this process. We listened to each other, were honest with each other and revised our plan as we went along.”

This article was originally published by Leah L. Culler on MSN Real Estate. To see the original article, click here

Ethnic and Old World Decorating Ideas

Whether you’re a world traveler or simply looking for inspiration, check out our favorite ways to bring charm, history and an ethnic look to any space — no passport necessary.

Indonesian Inspiration

RMS user BoBendana

RMS user BoBendana used neutral and organic colors for this Bali-based living room. The tiled fireplace is flanked by two stone carvings (displaying a medley of Pacific Ocean life), but it’s the Moroccan metal chandelier that steals the show.

Eclectic Old World

RMS user DebraCampbellDesigns

RMS user DebraCampbellDesigns

Combining elements from several periods and locations — including an antique Chinese armoire, an Italian chest and a pair of modern paintings — RMS user DebraCampbellDesigns created a charming living room with Old World appeal.

Spanish Courtyard

RMS user Leanne Michael Interiors

This outdoor living space may have been designed in Santa Barbara, Calif., but it’s all Spanish to us. With bright linens, graceful greenery and an oversized white fireplace, this is the ideal place to unwind. Design by RMS user Leanne Michael Interiors

Old World Bath

RMS user DebraCampbellDesign

RMS user DebraCampbellDesign

Complete with a Jerusalem stone floor, beamed ceiling and coordinating linens, this Old World bathroom has the best of the past in the luxurious present. Design by RMS user DebraCampbellDesign

Made in Mexico

RMS user allende

RMS user allende

With 15-foot French doors, the great room in this Mexican home was already off to a good start, but the vibrant splashes of color, matching lamps and oversized iron mirror simply make the space. Design by RMS user allende

Southwestern Style

RMS user MattDouganDesigner

RMS user MattDouganDesigner

Earth-toned stucco with tumbled fieldstone, mesquite doors and wrought-iron gates come together to create the ultimate Southwestern style for this Sedona home. Design by RMS user MattDouganDesigner

Tuscan Dreams

RMS user Newport Beach

RMS user Newport Beach

What makes an antique canopy bed look even more lavish? Placing it beneath a beamed ceiling. Evoking images of the Italian countryside, RMS user Newport Beach transformed this coastal bedroom with golden linens and a crimson accent wall.

This article was originally published by Charity Curley Mathews on To see the original article, click here.

How to Create the Perfect Porch

Turn your frumpy, forgotten porch full of cobwebs and a sagging sofa into a cozy refuge, a space to watch the world go by or escape from it.
How to Create the Perfect PorchYou’re not quite sure how it happened, but your formerly pretty porch with its shiny, clean walls and peppy pillows has turned into a cobweb-filled storage space for bikes, bugs and your old family room couch. Time for a facelift? Absolutely, says Valerie Blood, ASID, president of interior design firm Jamison Kay Ltd. in Denver. “Street appeal is so important. Sometimes people don’t even make it into your house, and their first impression might be their last.”

A clean, fresh, well-kept porch sets the tone for the entire house, Blood believes, even if you don’t have the latest furniture and accessories. “Start with the bones of the space and clean it top to bottom,” she says. “Wash the walls, de-bug the ceiling and put a fresh coat of paint on the trim, rails and floor.”

Joe Ruggiero, a furniture and fabric designer and TV host/producer, loves to add an accent color to the porch floor or rails with an exterior wood or concrete stain. A good stain “will last longer than paint and add color in a surprising space.”

Once you’ve scrubbed, stained and otherwise prepped the framework of the porch, bring out furniture and accessories that will turn the space into an alluring, cozy sanctuary. With outdoor fabrics now made in formerly delicate materials like velvet and chenille, comfort is easy to achieve outside. “We’re seeing a trend that blows the line between indoor and outdoor materials,” Ruggiero says.

Start with a cozy outdoor rug, which visually designates a seating area dedicated to conversation. Next, add furniture. If you’re buying new or painting old furniture, stick to neutral base colors like black, white or beige and incorporate punches of color with cushions and pillows. Blood likes to change the color of the cushions to accommodate the seasons — for example, bright yellow in summer, a rust color in the fall, deep green or crimson for winter and pastels in spring. In Ruggiero’s designs for Sunbrella, a brand of outdoor fabric, he includes a hidden zipper in all his outdoor pillows. “You can trade out color schemes so easily, or just take the covers off to pop them in the washer,” he says.

Hanging porch swings are the ultimate in front porch charm, hearkening back to the good old days, but once you install one, there’s no rearranging, Ruggiero says. He prefers furniture following the new “indoor/outdoor” trend: deep seating comfort furniture, like all-weather wicker with comfy cushions. But most porches aren’t swimming in square footage, so watch the scale of your furniture, Blood warns. “You might have to limit seating to two chairs, a small table and an ottoman, which can double as seating and storage.”

One fix for a space shortage: a wheeled cart that can come out when you’re entertaining. “Roll it outside to serve as a drinks or dessert table, and tuck it away in the hall closet afterwards,” Blood says.

Take a seat in every chair and consider privacy and comfort. “Are the neighbors too close, or does the sun beat down on one side?” Blood asks. That’s an easy fix: Hang an all-weather fabric curtain on a rod, install a painted piece of lattice board and plant vines to crawl up the side, or use topiaries or evergreens in pots to create a visual and sound barrier. Maximize comfort with an outdoor ceiling fan, which keeps the breeze stirring on a still afternoon.

Now to plants. “Greenery is the icing on the cake,” Blood says. She likes to start with big pots of spiral topiaries, and add small pots at the base. If your porch gets a lot of sun, plant flowering annuals in the smaller pots; if not, ivy and impatiens are good choices.

As you started with curb appeal, end with it as well. “A beautiful front door, freshly painted with a clean kick plate on the bottom and a really nice doormat, reflects both the inside and outside of the house,” Blood says. “When people visit, you’ve created a beautiful stage presence.”

This article was originally published by Gretchen Roberts on To see the original article, click here.

The 400-square-foot dream home

Teeny-tiny houses are the next big thing on the horizon. Those who’ve downsized say you can save a ton of money and time — if you can handle the challenges of living small.
400 Square Ft Dream Home
Could you live in a home that’s 400 square feet? How about less than 200 square feet?

Greg Johnson does. His house in Iowa City, Iowa, is 140 square feet — a mere 7 feet by 10 feet.  It’s just large enough for a little kitchen on one side, across from a desk where Johnson can work and eat. Upstairs is a loft that fits a queen-sized bed and is “just big enough to crawl upstairs and go to sleep. It’s cozy,” says Johnson, co-founder and coordinator of the Small House Society, which encourages people to get interested in living small — and he means really small.

“I think it’s the ideal size, at least for me,” he says of his domicile.

Tiny is getting big
Anecdotal evidence suggests that a growing number of Americans are intrigued by so-called “micro-homes.” Call it a fringe offshoot of the anti-McMansion trend. Johnson says his monthly e-newsletter has grown to 477 recipients from just a handful since the Small House Society began in 2002.

A variety of companies, sensing the growing interest — and potential future need — for compact housing offer interesting tiny homes. For example:

  • Central Virginia’s Tiny House Co. sells a 400-square-foot, one-bedroom log cabin with a covered porch that starts at $36,900, and offers plans for the Weekender, a 12-by-24-foot gabled-roof cabin with a kitchen, bath and storage loft.
  • Phoenix’s v2world goes a different route, using stackable, welded, steel-frame modules to create living spaces. Its 448-square-foot v2flat model is a 16-by-16-foot box connected to a 16-by-20-foot box. The v2flat is a high-design, customizable space — and includes all furniture and high-end shrunken fixtures that maximize space. The steel-frame design means that floor-to-ceiling windows can be added on multiple sides to make the space feel larger without losing strength.
  • For its, ahem, small size, Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., with some 15 different models and variations of mini-homes, is a big source of inspiration and homes for tiny home lovers. Shafer helped Johnson design his Iowa City home and now sells plans, consultations and homes on his site.
  • Perhaps the most mainstream person to bring attention to the tiny-house trend is nationally lauded Pacific Northwest architect Ross Chapin, who has made a reputation for building smaller homes around community-fostering spaces. In the Backyard Neighborhood he designed in Langley, Wash., Chapin built two smaller homes on each lot — a 1,200-square-foot home and a 425-square-foot backyard cottage — and placed them on a shared alley. Though the latter is often used as a studio by its owner, Chapin calls it a “relatively fully livable cottage” that could be used by, say, a mother-in-law or a return-to-the-nest child.

Prices of tiny homes can vary wildly, with some going for as little as $20,000 or $30,000. But architect Dennis Fukai points out that even a tiny home still keeps the spaces that are most expensive on a per-square-foot basis in a home — bathrooms and kitchens. He estimates that even a tiny house might cost $75 a square foot in an inexpensive area, “and you could double that, easily, for a custom home” with lots of nice touches and amenities, from space-saving built-in cabinets to a Murphy bed to granite countertops. (Johnson’s home is an exception here in that it omits the restroom altogether; it’s designed to rely on the facilities of an adjacent home.)

The advantages
Tiny houses are hardly a new idea. Henry David Thoreau lived in one on the banks of Walden Pond. And Thomas Jefferson lived in an 18-foot-by-18-foot, two-story, 648-square-foot box with his new wife while building his grand Monticello. Today’s tiny-house advocates extol their virtues, including:

  • Time for what you love. Johnson says he started the Small House Society after seeing that if people bought and lived in smaller, less expensive spaces, they’d have more time to get out in their communities and do the things they love to help affect society. “I’m looking at ways to empower activists,” he explains. A smaller home “saves incredible amounts of time. It saves incredible dollars.”
  • Less of … everything. Fukai, a former Fulbright scholar with a Ph.D. in architecture and author of “Living Small: The Life of Small Houses” focuses on smaller building with his firm,Insitebuilders. “Almost all consumption becomes reduced” when you move to a very small house, Fukai explains — even that extra pair of shoes gets tossed out. Fukai and his wife traded in a 3,000-square-foot home for an 800-square-foot house in Florida about 18 months ago — and haven’t looked back.

Besides paring down your own belongings, you can feel good about consuming less in other ways. In a small home, “automatically everything becomes less energy-demanding,” Fukai says. Even pets and appliances such as computers suddenly heat the small spaces in winter. And since walls must be well insulated by general code today, heat doesn’t penetrate the house in summer, Fukai has found. What’s more, the rooms cool very quickly with just an open window.

  • Little cleaning. A tiny space with less junk in it translates into less time spent cleaning and maintaining it, say owners.
  • The rewards of intimacy. Humans gravitate toward small spaces if they’re cozy and well-considered, says architect Chapin: “Benjamin Franklin used to say that the conversation around the table is much livelier when knees are touching, than at a formal dinner with proper distance.”

The many challenges of living really small
So, small may be beautiful. But it also may not work for everyone, and it poses some unique challenges.

Johnson, of the Small House Society, says micro-homes seem best suited to “people under 25 and over 45” — that is, people who haven’t yet had children, and those whose children have left the nest. Patricia Foreman and Andy Lee, in their book “A Tiny Home to Call Your Own,” suggest others, too: adult children returning to the nest; retirees; grandparents returning to live with the family; newlyweds who don’t mind the very cozy quarters; people in transition; even “couples who make better neighbors than housemates.”

Among the considerations:

  • Accumulators, be wary. “They’re not for people who really want to have a lot of stuff,” says Foreman, president of Tiny House Co. (Foreman lives in a home with a footprint the size of a two-car garage and boasts that she can vacuum it without changing plugs.)
  • Ditto party-throwers. Johnson, of the Small Home Society, finds that some owners of tiny homes get frustrated by the lack of room for socializing. In his house, for example, two is crowded, and “if it’s three people, it’s standing-room only,” he says. That’s why decks are often crucial on tiny homes.
  • Land rich, house poor. Often, land simply costs too much for it to make sense to build a $15,000 home. “If you have a lot that’s $30,000, or in Seattle it might be $300,000, you don’t put a 300-square-foot house on it,” says Fukai. “People who pay $300,000 for a lot don’t live in that kind of house.”
  • Zoning rules. Sometimes, building codes and local zoning rules expressly prohibit homes under a certain size (often 600 square feet or 700 square feet), perhaps under the notion that larger homes will keep the neighborhoods looking nice.
  • Financing. If financing is necessary, it can be tricky. Simply put, banks are wary of tiny homes, says Foreman, of Tiny House Co. Banks want to see something bigger than a one-bedroom house, she says, adding “they’re concerned about resale value.” For example, in Buena Vista, Va., where her company is located, you could build the company’s log cabin, but you couldn’t leave it on wheels because then the home would be classified as a single-wide trailer. Nor could you even leave it on the metal frame because then it would not be considered a standard home, which would create financing problems. “They treat it more or less like a car,” Foreman says. As a result, many of the very small homes the Tiny House Co. has built have been financed with home-equity loans from the owner’s existing home.

Good design is a must
If nothing else, the mini-house trend is cause to re-evaluate just how much space we really need. Architect Chapin thinks that 500 square feet is a minimum for one person. (Chapin’s firm is starting on a new development of homes in Port Townsend, Wash., that will be 10 houses and cottages around a common area, starting at about 600 square feet.) Foreman says that about 700 square feet is optimal, for one person. That allows for an office, an open living area with kitchen and one or two bedrooms. A home needn’t double in size to comfortably accommodate two people, or triple for three, however. Space efficiencies increase with the number of residents, so that three people could comfortably live in as little as 1,200-1,400 square feet.

But whatever the bare minimum, good design is crucial, says Tim Russell, CEO of v2world. If you ask people whether they could ever live in 400 square feet they “categorically” say “no way,” he says. Yet visitors to the company’s 384-square-foot model often think it’s 700 square feet or 800 square feet, Russell says, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows and smaller appliances that are unobtrusive.

This article was originally published by Christopher Solomon on MSN Real Estate. To see the original article, click here

Selling Your Home “As-Is”

Bev Curtis & Associates | House of Brokers Realty
Selling your home as isThinking about selling your home but not sure you want to make needed repairs before listing it for sale? You’re in luck! These days, many homes are being sold “as-is” due to an ever-increasing lack of inventory.

An “as-is” home sale proposition releases home sellers from liabilities and repairs stemming from the home’s condition post-sale. That doesn’t mean a prospective buyer can’t request an inspection. It just means that the seller is not responsible for whatever the buyer discovers in that inspection. So if the inspection reveals issues, you can still sell your home.

If the home in question is a foreclosure, home buyers may be able to negotiate repairs a little more easily with a bank, particularly as they relate to safety hazards.

However regular home sales or short sales are often a different story. Time is generally a motivating factor and multiple offers may speed the process. Home sellers offering a good price are not going to want to do needed repairs if they can sell the property “as-is” to an anxious buyer.

Check local statutes and discuss them with an established real estate expert in your area to determine what you must disclose about your home, before deciding to sell. If you question the integrity of some area of your home, an “as-is” sale may be just the thing!


Single Women Are Buying Homes At Twice The Rate Of Men

A few decades ago, a single woman buying real estate on her own was a rarity.

Single Women Are Buying Homes At Twice The Rate Of Men

Before the Fair Housing Act of 1968, few women could get approved for a credit card, much less a mortgage, without a husband’s or father’s signature.

Now that’s all changed. In fact, the National Association of Realtors reports that since the mid-1990s, single women have purchased homes at nearly twice the rate of single men.

Last year, single female homeowners made up 18 percent of household composition in the association’s Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, compared to 10 percent for single men.

Julie Cook, a public relations professional in Michigan, recently closed on her first home, a three-bedroom ranch outside Detroit. After living in New York City and paying sky-high rent for a few years, the Detroit native recently moved back to the area and decided to take advantage of more affordable home prices.

“At this point, it was a better way to spend my money than putting it into rent,” she says. “I might as well get equity.” She lived with her parents for three months while she saved money for a down payment and browsed properties with her real estate agent. She secured an FHA loan earlier this year and moved into her new house last month.

[See: A Step-by-Step Guide to Homebuying in Today’s Market.]

Interest rates have begun inching back up in recent weeks, so Cook considers herself lucky to have locked in a low rate even as the closing process dragged on. “The hardest part was the wait,” she says. “FHA takes a little bit longer because of the additional layer of policy and law.”

Although she originally pictured living in a loft with a convenient downtown location that requires little maintenance, Cook says her real estate agent encouraged her to consider other types of properties. She says she’s happy to have found a house with a small, manageable yard in a safe neighborhood. “I’m half a mile from restaurants and culture, and I’m able to ride my bike,” she says. “Location was a big part of it.”

According to Jessica Lautz, a manager of member survey research at NAR, neighborhood safety is a top consideration for single female homebuyers. “Their second most important factor is convenience to friends and family,” she says.

“Location, location, location” may be a common refrain in real estate circles, but clearly it’s not the only factor. “[Single women] are a very discriminating buyer,” says Karen Krupsaw, vice president of real estate operations at Redfin, a technology-powered real estate company. “I don’t think they’re unrealistic. They can see beyond the way [a house] may show as well as how they can fix it up and how it can be a dream home.”

Recent data from Redfin found that 46 percent of women buying alone said they first evaluate a home based on whether they love it, compared to 24 percent of men buying alone. The remaining 54 percent of women and 76 percent of men evaluate a home based on value and cost.

[Read: 3 Costly Mistakes of First-Time Homebuyers.]

Cost was a key factor for Cailin Heinze, a veterinary nutritionist and professor at Tufts University who closed on a home in Northborough, Mass., in May. “My rent was already ridiculous for a two-bedroom, and it was going to go up another $200,” she says. “I thought, if I buy now, this is probably the lowest interest rate that is probably going to be around for the foreseeable future.”

Still, Heinze says she was a bit anxious about putting in an offer and closing on the property because other than her educational costs, this was the most she’s ever spent. “It’s intimidating to think I will pay this much a month for the next 30 years,” she says, “but that’s how much I would pay in rent.”

Because the average salary for a woman still lags behind men’s (the American Association of University Women says women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man makes one year after graduation) and lenders favor two-income households over single earners, Lautz says women are “making the most sacrifices to get into a home, but they’re still placing a high value on owning a home of their own.”

Despite lower pay, women handle credit more responsibly than men, on average, according to Experian, which reports that men have a 7 percent higher incidence of late mortgage payments and 4.3 percent more debt than women.

[See: 10 Ways Your Home Can Pay You Money.]

Heinze plans to stay in her house for the foreseeable future, but Cook considers her home part of a long-term investment strategy. Cook has a 30-year mortgage with the option to pay it off early with no penalty, so she says she plans to live in the house and pay it off in four to five years before renting it out and moving into “more of a permanent long-term place with ideally a husband, or a boyfriend or whatever happens.”

For Heinze, solo homeownership carries a sense of pride. “[I’m] able to have a place that would be truly my own that I could decorate the way I wanted to,” she says, “and have some sort of stability.”

This story was originally published by Susan Johnston on U.S. News & World Report. See the original article here.