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June
20

What Exactly Is An Investment Property?

Investment properties and vacation homes might seem like similar concepts — after all, they're both great ways to grow wealth and expand your real estate portfolio. But did you know these two terms have significantly different meanings? The distinction is actually pretty important when it comes to financing, and it really comes down to how you intend to use the property. If you've been thinking about purchasing an investment property, here is what you need to know:

What Is An Investment Property?
An investment property is a property that you purchase with the intent of generating income. In most cases, this means serving as a landlord and renting the property out to tenants. In other words, an investment property may be a business, while a "vacation home" or "second home" is another property away from your primary residence that you use for visiting or living in part-time.

While it's certainly possible to purchase a vacation home that you occasionally rent out, it's important to define the home's primary purpose when seeking financing. Trying to pass an investment property off as a vacation home for the purposes of achieving better mortgage rates can lead to severe legal consequences.

What To Look For In An Investment Property
While a second home or vacation home is often selected based on location and amenities, an investment property should be evaluated on the potential to generate a return. As a result, you'll want to consider features that can help you achieve higher rental income, such as size, parking, amenities, crime, and public transportation. Look into average rent for similar-sized properties within the same area to get a sense of how much you'll be able to charge. You'll need to have a solid business plan when applying for a mortgage on the investment property.

How To Finance An Investment Property
Financing an investment property is a bit more complicated than securing a mortgage on a primary residence or second home. For one, lenders typically require a higher down payment (at least 20%) for an investment property, and there isn't much flexibility here.

Also, because you're going to be making a profit on the property and because the transaction is much riskier, lenders won't hesitate to charge significantly higher fees and interest rates. Your lender also may require that the investment property be located within a certain distance of your primary home.

Tax Implications Of An Investment Property
Owners of primary residences and vacation homes can deduct mortgage interest from their taxes, and investment property owners can do the same. However, investment property owners have the added advantage of being able to deduct many other expenses associated with the property as they technically qualify as business expenses. However, your rental income will also need to be reported too.

Investing in real estate is a great tool for securing long-term financial stability. While financing is a bit more expensive than a vacation home, you also stand to make a larger profit if you're purely operating the property as a rental.

June
13

Military Veterans: The Best Tips For Buying A House

A Veteran's Administration loan is one of the most generous benefits offered to America's military veterans. In fact, many veterans find the VA loan a better proposition than conventional real-estate loans and even other government-funded mortgages.

Perhaps the major advantage of a VA loan is that there's no need for a down payment. Generally, conventional loans call for a down payment and may cover only 80 to 85 percent of a home's value.

A VA loan can allow veterans to buy homes when they don't otherwise qualify for a conventional loan. Backed by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, these loans let homebuyers get lower rates and qualify for a more expensive home than they would otherwise. Further, veterans can qualify with lower credit scores, and will not have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).

An additional bonus for veterans who receive monthly disability benefits is that they don't need to pay the VA funding fee, which can be from 0.5 to 3.3 percent of the overall loan. 

Here's a look at who can qualify for a VA loan, and how to go about it. 

Eligibility for a VA Loan

Who is eligible for a VA loan? A Certificate of Eligibility, or COE, will be given to veterans or family members who meet one of these requirements:

  • Served 90 consecutive days of active service during war;
  • Served 181 days of active service during peacetime;
  • Has been an active member of the National Guard or Reserves for 6 years or more;
  • Was married to a service member who died in the line of duty or from a service-related disability.

To receive this COE, apply online, or mail in an application

Requirements for Getting a VA Loan

As mentioned above, veterans with lower credit scores can qualify for a VA loan. Nevertheless, there are some requirements for getting a VA loan, such as these:

  1. Enough income to afford the home.
  2. Reasonably good credit scores.
  3. Application for a VA Home Loan Certificate of Eligibility.
  4. Have all necessary military documentation, including the DD214, which is issued when a service member leaves the military.
  5. According to the VA website, certification that the buyer will occupy the home.

Find a Real Estate Agent Who Knows VA Loans

Homebuyers seeking a VA loan should see real estate agents who are familiar with the VA loan process. This is particularly important when it comes to the fees involved with VA loans. The VA funding fee is a one-time payment. It is owed by the veteran on a VA direct home loan or a VA-backed loan. This fee helps lower the cost of the loan for U.S. taxpayers since the veteran doesn't have to pay down payments or monthly mortgage insurance. In most cases, veterans with disabilities are exempt from this fee. 

What's more, an agent with VA loan experience won't waste your time with purchases that you can't buy with your loan. They can also have an advantage when it comes to negotiating with the seller's agent. They may be in a position to explain a veteran's story and appeal to the heart of a seller weighing several offers.

Other Loans

You of course can also look at other loans, either through the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which includes the mortgage-loan lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. There may also be some government-funded loans to pursue through agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Federal Housing Administration.

Good luck on your road to homeownership. If you're a veteran and are ready to pursue a VA loan, consult your VA Benefits Advisor today. 

June
10

Are You Ready To Be A Homeowner?

Buying your first home is a rite of passage that many people dream of. However, before you take the plunge, it's important to make sure you're really ready. Your finances have a lot to do with it, but it's not the only thing you'll need to consider.

Here are five important questions to ask yourself before you buy your first home.

  1. Are You Ready to Settle Down? 

This may be the most important question of all. It's completely normal to try living in a few different areas before you're ready to put down roots. However, you won't want to consider buying a home until you're fairly sure you plan to stay where you are for a significant amount of time. 

Ideally, you'll want to commit to staying in your new home for at least seven to ten years, as this is roughly one full cycle of the housing market. 

  1. Do You Have Stable Employment? 

It will be easier to get a home loan if you've been in your current job for at least two years. More importantly, you'll want to know you can count on your current income before you commit to buying a home.

An unexpected job loss can completely upend your life. The loss of income could potentially cause you to have difficulty paying your mortgage. You'll also need to find a new job that's reasonably close to your new home. Otherwise, you may need to sell your home before you're ready or deal with renting it out.

While it's impossible to predict the future, make sure you feel fairly comfortable about the stability of your job before you consider becoming a first-time homeowner. 

  1. Are You Financially Prepared? 

When deciding whether you're ready to buy a home, you'll need to take a close look at your finances. Make sure you have enough saved up for your down payment, your credit score falls within acceptable ranges, and you have an emergency fund.  

It's a great idea to meet with a lender before you start your home search. This will allow you to have a solid understanding of how much you can really afford and what you'll need to bring to the table when you close. Having a pre-qualification letter will also increase the chances that the seller will accept your offer.

  1. Are You Ready for Maintenance and Upkeep? 

Remember that you'll need additional money beyond what's necessary to purchase your home. There's also the cost of keeping up with repairs and maintenance. This may include everything from maintaining your lawn and landscaping to the occasional need for a plumber, electrician, or handyman. 

Caring for a home is also a labor of love. Make sure you're willing to put the time into keeping it looking nice and taking care of any small issues before they can turn into big problems.

  1. Are You Looking for More Stability? 

Buying a home allows you to settle down in a way renting simply can't. When you rent, there's always a chance your landlord could raise the price or even decided to sell.

As long as you make your mortgage and tax payments, no one can make you leave a home you own. This will give you a strong sense of security.

When you're not worried about housing, you can also put more effort into focusing on other parts of your life — like getting that promotion, spending time with your loved ones, and getting more involved in your community.

If you answered "yes" to each of these questions, congratulations! You're both mentally and financially ready to buy a home. Soon, you'll get to enjoy one of the most satisfying adventures of your life.

June
7

Feeling Overwhelmed About Buying A House? These Tips Can Help

Buying a home — whether it's your first home or fiftieth — can make you want to scream. Two-story or ranch... open houses... budgets. So much to do and so many choices. What's a home buyer to do?

You're more than likely making the biggest financial decision of your life. It's natural to feel stressed and overwhelmed until everything falls into place. The good news is that there is plenty you can do to alleviate the stress and keep your focus on the main goal — buying your dream home.

Here are six steps to ease home buying stress: 

  1. Set House Hunting Goals
    Finding the right home for you will be much easier when you have a clear picture of the type of home you're looking for. Decide what is important to you. List out your basic requirements for a home, like the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, yard, neighborhoods, school districts, and anything else that will factor into your final decision.

  2. Understand Your Budget
    Understanding your finances is an important part of buying a home. Without loan pre-approval and realistic budgets, you may lose out on your dream home. Before you start your home search, get pre-approved for your loan, secure the cash for your down payment and educate yourself to understand the whole financial picture of buying a home.

  3. Get Pre-Approved for Your Mortgage
    All home buyers should strongly consider obtaining mortgage pre-approval when diving into the real estate market. Mortgage pre-approval will significantly reduce the stress of buying a house because you won't have to worry about financing once you find the right match. Home sellers prefer pre-approved buyers because it shows that you are a serious shopper from the start.

  4. Don't Take It Personally
    Sellers are looking for the best offer, and at times, yours will not be it. Sometimes, sellers just are not ready to sell even if an offer is perfect. Look at rejection as an opportunity to find something even better. You never know what house is right around the corner.

  5. Have a Timeline
    Buying a home is certainly a process, and it starts long before you start negotiating the terms of a sale. In addition to making a list of your desired features for your new home, it helps set a rough timeline early in the process. Having a general idea of when you want to take each step and how you want to see things progress is a great way to limit stress, even if some steps take longer (or shorter!) than you expect.

  6. Take a Break
    Buying a home can consume you. Make sure you are taking time to do something else every once in a while. Take a break to go work out or have coffee with a friend. When it feels like all you're doing is eating, breathing, and dreaming about new houses, it is probably time to go have a little fun.

Buying your first home can be a wonderful journey with the right plan. Following these steps can help you feel calm and confident when closing day comes.

May
31

Pay Off Your Mortgage Early With These Tips

The answer is different for each homeowner. Your earning power, expected future earning power, savings, and even your hobbies will all have an impact on how you choose to pay your mortgage. The good news is that there really are simple, effective tactics for paying off your mortgage early — as long as you're willing to stay committed to the process.

One of the best ways to pay off your mortgage early is to make sure that your mortgage fits your finances well before signing on the dotted line. Free mortgage calculators are very useful when shopping for a mortgage. If you're already locked into a mortgage, don't worry, there's still plenty you can do to more quickly own your home free and clear.

  1. Cut Expenses, Increase Savings – The number one tip for paying off your mortgage early is both pretty simple on the surface but sometimes easier said than done. It's sort of like saying that to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in. We all know that it's true, but cutting expenses and increasing savings requires a lot of planning, discipline, and persistence.

  2. Earn More, Save More – One of the best options to cut expenses will come when you earn a raise at work or move to a higher-paying position. It's natural to want to splurge a bit, but you've already proven that you can live comfortably on your prior salary. Keep the same budget when you get a raise and put the difference toward paying off your mortgage.

  3. Focus on Frugal Fun – There will always be little sacrifices when you want to pay off a mortgage early, but that doesn't mean you have to forego fun. You'll just want to be smart about how you invest your entertainment budget. Focus on affordable hobbies, plan vacations on a budget, and try replacing a few dinners out with creative, home-cooked meals. It's all about finding the right balance.

  4. Plan Your Financial Future – If you're not on a first-name basis with a financial adviser, now is a great time to change that. A financial adviser can help optimize your budget, minimize your tax load and identify ways to lower spending that won't cut into your quality of life. Investing some of your extra savings can also help with paying off your mortgage early.

  5. Extra Payments – The ultimate payoff of saving more and spending less is the extra payments you'll be able to make, which will help you pay off your mortgage early. These payments add up quickly, and with a little planning, you can start making extra payments soon after buying a house. Your financial adviser can help you optimize your extra payments to make paying off your mortgage early as efficient as possible.

While the goal of saving more and spending less holds true for all homeowners interested in paying off their mortgage early, there are many different ways to reach that goal after buying a house. Research, experiment, and find the savings tips that work for you. The benefits of owning your home free and clear are worth the effort.

May
18

Meeting people is the best way to make your new digs feel like home. 

Whether you're moving across town or across the country, it's tough to feel like the new kid on the block--regardless of your age.  Here are five great ways to make friends with your new neighbors and make the move into your new community.

  1. Just Say Hi! 
    Your new neighbors are busy and most likely won't come knocking to help you unpack. So, if you want to meet your new neighbors make the first step. Start by making the rounds through your new neighborhood and introduce yourself to everyone. Not only is this a great way potentially meet new friends, it's also a great time to get recommendations on things like local mechanics, gyms, grocery stores and upcoming community events; great information to know after buying a new house.

  2. Take the Kids Out to Play
    If you have children, go outside to play.  Go to a local park.  This will give you an opportunity to meet neighbors with children the same age as yours.  Schedule a play date to get your families acquainted.  Walking your children to the bus stop is a great way to meet several parents at once. 


  3. Host a Get Together
    If you don't like the idea of going door to door to meet your neighbors, you can encourage them to come to you. The simplest way to do this is by hosting a meet and greet. As soon as you're settled, plan a small party and invite only your new neighbors. Keep everything low key and friendly. You shouldn't ask them to bring anything. Be clear as to whether or not kids are invited to the get together.

  4. Become an Active Community Member
    After buying a house and getting settled in, look for ways you can become an integral member of the community. Sign up to volunteer at things like your local pet rescue, school functions or 4-H events. You should also consider participating in community rallies and charitable events. The more active you are in the community and the more people you'll meet.

  5. Talk to People
    The odds are pretty good that you will run into at least some of your new neighbors while you're running errands around town. It's so important that you make an effort to be friendly and make small talk as many people as you can in the months after buying a house in a brand-new neighborhood. The few minutes you speaking to a cashier, bank teller or the person standing line behind you could be the start of a new friendship.

When you buy a house, there's plenty to be excited about during the packing and moving processes.  Once you're settled in, roll out the welcome wagon and meet your new neighbors.  Your new house and neighborhood will soon be feeling just like "home sweet home."

May
17

Not everyone is ready to buy a home. But if you are ready, it's one of the best investments you can make.


This is especially true for younger people (the Millennial generation), who arguably have the most to gain from buying a house.


Millennials make up the largest group of first-time homeowners in America, and many in their 30's and even in their 20's are coming around to the benefits of buying their first home. Unfortunately, many factors are keeping Millennials from becoming homeowners—student debt, a volatile job market—but the numbers are improving.  Here are four benefits of buying a home while you are young: 

  1. Spend money smarter. Making monthly payments on an apartment you'll never own can be frustrating, and escaping from the cycle of renting is one of the biggest reasons many Millennials give for wanting to own a home. Putting your money toward mortgage payments instead of rent gives you something to work toward. Many young homeowners find that the responsibilities of homeownership lead to developing better financial habits in general. 

  2. Invest in your future. If you're like many people, a house is probably the most valuable thing you will ever own, but it's more than that. Most real estate increases in value over time, and buying a home at a young age gives you something of great value that you can sell when the time is right—probably for a higher price than you paid for it. Granted, property values can go up and down as the market fluctuates, but if you make a wise choice in the home you choose to invest in, it is unlikely that its value will decrease in the long run. Chances are when you reach retirement age, you'll be glad you bought a house when you were younger.

  3. Build your credit. It goes without saying that if you're buying a home at a young age, you're probably already working with some credit. That being said, buying a house looks good to lenders, and the fact that you're able to achieve it at a younger age than most will only make your credit history look more impressive. Even if you're buying a relatively modest starter home, obtaining a mortgage and paying it off reliably will boost your credit rating and make it easier to buy a larger home in the future. 

  4. Enjoy the tax benefits. Many new homeowners are pleasantly surprised by all the tax advantages that come with buying a house. For starters, mortgage interest is deductible from your annual income tax, and homeowners get tax credits that can lower your tax liability. Simply put, owning your home means that you may owe less to the government when tax time rolls around. 

Age is just a number, of course, and the right time to become a homeowner is when you're ready.

May
10

Organizing your home search makes the process easier. 

Every buyer-to-be knows searching for a home can be a challenge.  However, your house hunt doesn't have to mean chaos if you start with an organized plan. Streamlining your search starts with a healthy dose of preparation by including a great real estate agent, setting a budget, creating a wish list and reviewing real estate listings that meet your requirements. 

These six tips can keep you organized and focused as you search for your new home.

  1. Involve Your Agent
    Your real estate agent isn't there just to set up visits and oversee the closing process when you're buying a house. They're also your number one resource for answering questions, sharing ideas and providing real estate advice.

  2. Set a Budget
    While you don't have to know exactly how much you'll be able to spend at the start, it's a good idea to narrow your budget down to a comfortable range. Setting a sensible budget from the start makes every step that comes after easier.  You can always adjust later if your finances change.


  3. Scout First
    Before you start scheduling visits, it's a good idea to scout some neighborhoods and identify possible matches. Doing online research will help you narrow down the possibilities.  You can learn even more by driving through the most appealing spots that your research uncovers. Be sure to write down the info of any homes that catch your eye so that you can visit them later for a closer look.


  4. When in Doubt, Make a List
    Making lists are a great way to stay organized and super helpful when buying a house. Making lists of your needs, wants and deal breakers will help you lock in on the best fits and save time by quickly eliminating homes that just aren't a match.


  5. Ask Around
    Have any friends or family members who recently bought in a new community or live in a neighborhood you're considering? It helps to get the inside scoop on a neighborhood from someone you trust.


  6. Get Pre-Approved
    Want to impress potential sellers and gain some peace of mind in the process? Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is an excellent idea when shopping for a house and will make life much easier when it's time to make an offer. Get this step out of the way early and you'll be in great shape.

Creating a plan before you start your search for a home gives you the chance to enjoy the process and to make an efficient, informed decision when it's time to place an offer on your new house.

May
3

Waterfront Buying: 8 Steps to Buying a House on the Lake

Does the idea of turning your love of spending weekends out on the lake, fishing, or lounging by the shore, into your everyday way of living? Buying a house on a lake could be your answer. However, be aware it comes with challenges making it a tall order. Still, the effort is worth it!

Let's look at eight crucial steps when buying a house out on the lake:

  1. Connect With a Local Real Estate Agent
    Talk to a trusted local real estate agent as soon as you decide you are in the market. It is not unusual for some agents and firms to specialize in lakefront property. Explain your needs, and they will help you find a terrific property for you.
  2. Visit the Property Multiple Times
    Depending on how developed the lakefront area is, your neighbors could have a significant impact on how inviting the property is to live in. Visit several times – at different times of the week and hours of the day – to get a better sense of the community's culture and the level of privacy.
  3. Make Sure the Water Meets Your Needs
    One of the biggest reasons to pursue lakefront property is to enjoy boating any time you want. This is a laudable goal, but make sure the property can comfortably accommodate your boat. Also, get familiar with local ordinances on boating and docking that could affect your enjoyment.
  4. Factor in Your Frontage
    Frontage is the area of the home that sits along the water itself. In general, the more the amount of frontage, the higher the asking price will be. Rough waters can damage your dock facilities or the lake-facing wall. Factor in these costs and ask the seller about any past repair work.
  5. Give Yourself a "Lifestyle Realty Check"
    Whether you buy a house on the lake or by the ocean, waterfront properties all lend themselves to a certain lifestyle. Double-check to be sure it's really what you want before you commit. The premium you pay for a lakefront home may not be worth it if you never hit the water!
  6. Get a Complete Home Inspection
    Before committing to any lakefront property, get a complete home inspection done. A qualified inspector can uncover issues, such as electrical problems, that might make a home much less attractive. You'll be "in the know" about any repairs that need to be done.
  7. Look Into Wind and Flood Insurance
    Waterfront properties have become riskier buys as climate change strengthens summer storms. In many areas, flooding can happen even outside the rainy season. Depending on your location, this can add substantial insurance costs, so check up on your policy options.
  8. Double-Check for Hidden Costs
    In addition to insurance and vulnerability to weathering, waterfront properties can conceal other hidden costs. One common issue is higher water and sewer rates. Also, review any docking and lift fees and any septic tank or well upkeep charges that apply to your property.

For the right buyer, a lakefront home is an ideal choice. As a primary residence, a seasonal vacation getaway, or even a rental property, it's an excellent investment in your quality of life. Use these eight tips, and you'll be on your way to a successful lakefront buy.

April
20

5 Budgeting Tips When Saving for a Down Payment

Buying a home is a big financial decision and making your new home a reality means you'll need some money for a down payment. Homeownership is a great goal to have, and once you've figured out how much money you need to save, you can get down to business. As a general guideline, you'll need between 5% and 20% of the purchase price of a home. The actual number will depend on your financial situation, but it's always a good idea to get started as soon as possible. If you happen to end up with extra money, it can be applied to your moving expenses.  Here are some suggestions to get started saving.

  1. Make it automatic. Designate a separate account strictly for your down payment and have your money direct deposited or schedule regular transfers from your main account. For many people, it's much easier to save the money if you never see it in your checking account in the first place.
  2. Pay down or pay off your current debt especially if it's high-interest debt. Credit cards and car loans are two common budget busters that can eat up a sizable chunk of your monthly income. You may be able to refinance a car loan to a lower interest rate, and apply the extra money to the principal to pay it off sooner. Most credit cards assess interest daily, so paying more than the minimum as early in the billing cycle as possible will mean you're being charged less interest, allowing you to pay off that card sooner. After you get rid of the debt, you can put that money toward saving for your down payment.
  3. Cut out unnecessary spending. This includes monthly expenses and discretionary spending too. Eat out less, skip the daily latte, cut your grocery bill, give up the monthly subscription box, or get cheaper internet. You also may want to consider living somewhere less expensive or getting a roommate while you're trying to save for a home.
  4. Earn extra income and save it. You could get overtime at your current job, get a second job, or get a side hustle to earn extra income. You could also sell some of your stuff or something big you can do without, like a second car. Then put that money in the savings account for your down payment.
  5. When you do have to spend money take advantage of deals, coupons, and freebies. If you're going out with friends, go for the mid-week dinner specials. Buy one, get one free deal at your favorite lunch place, free concerts, community events, and game nights in can all help you reach your goal.

Saving up for the down payment on your new home can seem like an enormous task. But the truth is several small steps, and a little effort can make a big difference. You'll be in your new home before you know it.

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