What to Know About Home Hazards

Radon

A colorless, odorless gas that can seep into your home from the ground, radon is often referred to as the second most common cause of lung cancer behind smoking.
What to look for: Basements or any area with protrusions into the ground offer entry points for radon. The Environmental Protection Agency publishes a map of high-prevalence areas. A radon test can determine if high levels are present.

Asbestos

A fibrous material once popular as fire-resistant insulation, asbestos was banned in 1985. However, it’s often found in the building materials, floor tiles, roof coverings, and siding of older. If disturbed or damaged, it can enter the air and cause severe illness.
What to look for: Homes built prior to 1985 are at risk of having asbestos in their construction materials. Home owners should be careful when remodeling because disturbing insulation and other materials may cause the asbestos to become airborne.

Lead

This toxic metal used in home products for decades can contribute to several health problems, especially among children. Exposure can occur from deteriorating lead-based paint, pipes, or lead-contaminated dust or soil.
What to look for: Homes built prior to 1978 may have lead present. Look for peeling paint and check old pipes. To get a HUD-insured loan, buyers must show a certificate that their older home is lead-safe.

Other hazardous products

Stockpiles of hazardous household items — such as paint solvents, pesticides, fertilizers, or motor oils — can create a dangerous situation if not properly stored. They can easily spark fires and can cause illness or even death if ingested, even in small amounts.
What to look for: Check all the corners, crawl spaces, garages, or garden sheds in the home. If these products are found, make sure you ask for their removal and get a disposal certificate prior to closing.

Groundwater contamination

When hazardous chemicals are disposed of improperly, they can seep through the soil and enter water supplies. A leaking underground oil tank or septic system can contribute to this.
What to look for: Homes near light industrial areas or facilities may be at risk, as are areas once used for industry that are now residential.

Source: National Association of REALTORS®

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How to Lower Homeowners Insurance Costs

The first step is to shop around; quotes on the same home can vary significantly from company to company.

Review the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange report.

CLUE reports detail the property’s claims history for the last five years, which insurers may use to deny coverage. Make the sale contingent on a home inspection to ensure that problems identified in the CLUE report have been resolved.

Seek insurance coverage as soon as your offer is approved.

You must obtain insurance in order to buy your home. And you don’t want to find out at closing time that the insurer has denied you coverage.

Maintain good credit.

Insurers often use credit-based insurance scores to determine premiums.

Buy your homeowner’s and auto policies from the same company.

Companies will often offer a bundling discount. But make sure the discount really yields the lowest price.

Raise your deductible.

If you can afford to pay more toward a loss that occurs, your premiums will be lower. Also, avoid making claims for losses of less than $1,000.

Ask about other discounts.

For example, retirees who tend to be home more than full-time workers may qualify for a discount on theft insurance. You also may be able to obtain discounts for having smoke detectors, a security system, and high-quality locks.

Seek group discounts.

If you belong to any associations or alumni organizations, check to see if they offer deals on coverage.

Conduct an annual review.

Take a look at your policy limits and the value of your home and possessions every year. Some items depreciate and may not need as much coverage.

Investigate a government-backed insurance plan.

In some high-risk areas, the federal or state government may back plans to lower rates. Ask your agent what’s available.

Insure your house for the correct amount.

Remember, you’re covering replacement cost, not market value.

Source: National Association of REALTORS®

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Questions to Ask When Considering a Condo

Condominiums, townhomes, and properties located within a homeowner association offer certain perks, but it’s important to consider them in your decision process.

How much storage is available?

Some properties include storage lockers, but there may not be attics or basements to hold extra belongings.

How’s the outdoor space?

Your yard may be smaller than you’d find in a traditional single-family home, so if you like to garden or entertain outdoors, this may not be a good fit. But if you dread yard work, it may be the perfect option.

Are amenities important?

Many properties offer swimming pools, fitness centers, and other facilities that would cost much more in a single-family setting.

Who handles maintenance and security?

Property managers often hire professionals to care for common areas and perform in-unit repairs. Keyed entries and doormen may regulate access to your home when you’re not there (good news if you travel).

Are there required reserve funds and association fees? How much are they?

Although fees generally help pay for amenities and provide savings for future repairs, the HOA or condo board determines these fees, and you’ll have to pay them even if you’re not in favor of the improvements.

What are the association rules?

Although you have a vote on future changes, association rules can dictate how you use your property. Some condos prohibit home-based businesses; others prohibit pets or don’t allow owners to rent out their units. Read the covenants, restrictions, and bylaws carefully before you make an offer.

What’s the average vacancy rate?

It’s never too early to be thinking about resale. The ease of selling your unit may depend on what else is for sale in your building, since units are similar.

How many units are owned by investors?

Some lenders require a certain percentage of the building to be owner-occupied and may not be able to offer you financing if the ratio is too low.

Can I meet other residents before making an offer?

You will share space and decision-making duties with your neighbors when part of a homeowner association, so it’s important to make sure you can work together. If possible, try to meet your closest prospective neighbors before you decide on a place.

Source: National Association of REALTORS®

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How to Prepare to Finance a Home

Develop a budget.

Instead of telling yourself what you’d like to spend, use receipts to create a budget that reflects your actual habits over the last several months. This approach will better factor in unexpected expenses alongside more predictable costs such as utility bills and groceries. You’ll probably spot some ways to save, whether it’s cutting out that morning trip to Starbucks or eating dinner at home more often.

Reduce debt.

Lenders generally look for a debt load of no more than 36 percent of income. This figure includes your mortgage, which typically ranges between 25 and 28 percent of your net household income. So you need to get monthly payments on the rest of your installment debt—car loans, student loans, and revolving balances on credit cards — down to between 8 and 10 percent of your net monthly income.

Increase your income.

Now’s the time to ask for a raise! If that’s not an option, you may want to consider taking on a second job to get your income at a level high enough to qualify for the home you want.

Save for a down payment.

Designate a certain amount of money each month to put away in your savings account. Although it’s possible to get a mortgage with 5 percent down or less, you can usually get a better rate if you put down a larger percentage of the total purchase. Aim for a 20 percent down payment.

Keep your job.

While you don’t need to be in the same job forever to qualify for a home loan, having a job for less than two years may mean you have to pay a higher interest rate.

Establish a good credit history.

Get a credit card and make payments by the due date. Do the same for all your other bills, too. Pay off entire balances as promptly as possible.

Start saving.

Do you have enough money saved to qualify for a mortgage and cover your down payment? Ideally, you should have 20 percent of the purchase price saved as a down payment. Also, don’t forget to factor in closing costs, which can average between 2 and 7 percent of the home price.

Obtain a copy of your credit report.

Make sure it is accurate and correct any errors immediately. A credit report provides a history of your credit, bad debts, and any late payments.

Decide what kind of mortgage you can afford.

Generally, you want to look for homes valued between two and three times your gross income, but a financing professional can help determine the size of loan for which you’ll qualify. Find out what kind of mortgage (30-year or 15-year? Fixed or adjustable rate?) is best for you. Also, gather the documentation a lender will need to preapprove you for a loan, such as W-2s, pay stub copies, account numbers, and copies of two to four months of bank or credit union statements. Don’t forget property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and association fees, if applicable.

Seek down payment help.

Check with your state and local government to find out whether you qualify for special mortgage or down payment assistance programs. If you have an IRA account, you can use the money you’ve saved to buy your first home without paying a penalty for early withdrawal.

Source: National Association of REALTORS®

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