Hooray for the FHA!

hooray for the fha

In case you missed it, last summer Congress passed H.R. 3700, The Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2016. By the way, the bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate– not an easy feat, right?

This law, among other aims, is supposed to help ease homelessness and improve “ . . . low-income tenants’ access to low-poverty areas with less crime and well-performing schools,” according to Barbara Sard, vice president for housing policy with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

While those aspects of the Act are certainly worth a look, one is of particular interest to folks hoping to purchase a condo using an FHA-backed loan. These buyers typically include older Americans, those with low incomes and first-time buyers, so making condos easier to finance makes the dream of home ownership a reality to these groups of Americans.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers condo communities a complex and lengthy process to become FHA-approved. It is so challenging, in fact, that many homeowner associations don’t bother pursuing it. Therefore, there are not as many condos available to FHA buyers as the industry would like to see. Because of this, FHA condo lending has been steadily down trending over the past few years. In fact, it fell an additional 8.6 percent during the first quarter of 2016.

One of the criteria for a condo community to become approved is that 50 percent of the units must be owner occupied. H.R. 3700 changes that requirement to 35 percent, opening up many more communities to possible FHA approval, providing more condos for buyers.

That was then. . .and this is now

While all of the above changes took place several months ago, there was even more good news released recently. If you obtain an FHA-backed mortgage you will be required to pay both an upfront mortgage insurance premium and a monthly premium for the life of the loan. Not, that’s not the good news.

The good news is that the amount of the premium is going down. As of January 26 of this year, FHA’s MIP will be cut from .85 percent to .60 percent of the base loan amount.

HUD estimates that this will create at least 250,000 new homeowners and save them, on average, $900 per year (or $75 per month). Sure, that may not sound like much, but for the buyer on a tight budget, that $75 a month helps buy groceries or put gas in the tank.

The reduction in the cost of the mortgage insurance premium applies only to loans with case numbers assigned on or after January 26, 2017. So, if you recently closed on a home, using an FHA-backed mortgage, it won’t apply to your loan. The only way for current homeowners with FHA loans to receive this reduced MIP is to refinance.

Questions? Get the answers, here, or speak with your lender.

The Pros and Cons of the USDA Guaranteed Loan

pros and cons of usda mortgage

If you can’t pay cash for your new home you’ll need a mortgage and, if you’re not in the market for a luxury home, you’ll need a mortgage created for those with a more modest income.

Thankfully, the United States government offers several programs, including the VA loan, the FHA-backed loan and the USDA Rural Development guaranteed loan. If you aren’t a current or former member of the military, you’ll have only the FHA and USDA products to choose from if you want a government-guaranteed loan. While both products have advantages and disadvantages, let’s take a look at those of the USDA guaranteed loan.

Advantages of the USDA Guaranteed Mortgage

If you are short on cash and long on the desire to own a home, you’ll be glad to learn that the USDA loan was created specifically for low-to-medium income homebuyers. It requires no down payment and the borrower can use gift money to cover closing costs and even accept up to 6 percent of the sales price from the seller in the form of closing cost concessions.

These are, of course, compelling reasons to consider using the USDA mortgage program, but there are other advantages as well:

  • The government’s repayment guarantee (should the buyer default) allows lenders to be more generous with interest rate offerings and more lenient credit standards than they would be on a comparable conventional loan.
  • There is no pre-payment penalty for a USDA-backed loan.
  • The mortgage can also be used to purchase some manufactured homes.
  • The USDA loan can be used to refinance a home as well.

Disadvantages of the USDA Guaranteed Mortgage

Taking the bad with the good may be the name of the game if you’re interested in participating in this zero-down loan program, so let’s get to the “cons” of the USDA guaranteed mortgage.

While the fact that you must earn a low-to-moderate income to qualify for the USDA guaranteed loan may be considered an advantage, it may be a disadvantage if you earn over the maximum allowable income (see your lender to determine the current limits).

There are also eligibility requirements for the property you hope to purchase. Chief among these is that it must be considered “modest,” without luxury features, such as a swimming pool. The home must also be located in an area designated as “rural” by the USDA.

The USDA defines rural areas as “open countryside, rural towns (places with fewer than 2,500 people).”

If you hope to use the home as a rental, you won’t qualify for the program—it’s open only to those borrowers who intend on living in the home.

Here are a few other “cons” of the USDA Guaranteed Loan program.

  • There is an upfront fee of 2.75 percent of the loan amount. Now, there is a bright side to this – it will be added to the loan so it’s not money you’ll need to pay out-of-pocket.
  • There is another fee, amounting to 0.50 percent, that is similar to the mortgage insurance premium for FHA loans or private mortgage insurance on conventional loans. This fee stays in force for the life of the loan and is paid annually.
  • Both the lender and the USDA subjects the loan to underwriting so expect closing to take a few weeks longer than other loans.

There is more to know about this program and we aren’t lenders but we are happy to put you in touch with the appropriate professional.

Garden resolutions for 2017

plant a water wise garden

Sure, we’re knee-deep in winter right now but before you know it, temperatures will warm, the garden will beckon and you’ll trade high heating bills for monstrous water bills. “Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day,” claims the EPA; a frightening statistic, when one considers that less than 1 percent of the earth’s water is available for human use.

As you consider your gardening plan for 2017, why not resolve to use less water? You’ll not only save money, but help save the planet as well.

Reconsider those containers

Container gardens seem to be water efficient but, sadly, the opposite is true. Soil in containers tends to dry out quicker than the garden’s soil, requiring more water, more frequently. Unless you’re an apartment or condo dweller with limited space, consider foregoing the terra cotta planters this season and vow to plant everything in the ground.

Lawns are water hogs

Consider this: A lawn requires, on average, 1 inch of water, or a bit more than a half-gallon of water per square foot, according to Ben Erickson at todayshomeowner.com. He goes on to say that every 10-foot square area lawn requires 62 gallons of water at each irrigation. “That doesn’t sound like much until you consider that a 100’ x 100’ lawn uses 6,230 gallons of water every time you turn on the sprinklers!” he adds.

How much does your water cost? Using $2.00 per 1,000 gallons as an estimate, plan on paying about $50 a month just to water your lawn during the growing season.

Sure, a lush, green lawn can amp up a home’s curb appeal, but if you plan on staying put for a while, consider getting rid of it or at the very least, cutting down its size or replanting with a less thirsty variety of turfgrass.

Save water and money by choosing from among these alternatives:

  • Dig up the lawn and build a patio in its place.
  • Reduce the size of the lawn.
  • Dig up the lawn and replace it with a water-smart alternative, such as buffalo grass, clover or silver carpet (Dymondia margaretae).
  • Keep the lawn but work toward decreasing the amount of water it requires. Aerate the soil, fertilize only in the fall and mow less frequently (taller grass cools the soil, keeping it moist longer). Weeds steal water from the lawn, so keep it weed-free. Have a professional inspect your lawn’s irrigation system for leaks and consider replacing it if it isn’t efficient.

Install a drip system

Drip irrigation is the least expensive and most efficient way to water a garden. By slowly dripping water to the plants’ root systems, the soil is able to absorb the moisture and avoid runoff. In fact, according to the EPA, drip irrigation systems use .”. . .20 to 50 percent less water than conventional pop-up sprinkler systems and can save up to 30,000 gallons per year.”

If you must use a sprinkler system, the EPA recommends that you choose one with rotary spray heads rather than mist spray heads.

Go native

Do some research before heading out to your local nursery when the first signs of spring arrive. Find out which plants are native to our area and consider using as many as possible in your garden plan. Native plants are adapted to local weather conditions and soil and require far less water than non-natives.

If in doubt about how much water a plant requires, avoid purchasing plants with glossy, large, dark-colored leaves. These leaves “absorb more heat and require a lot of water, and a larger leaf surface area equals greater water loss,” according to National Geographic’s Carolyn Bistline.

Additional water-saving ideas

  • Know how much water each plant requires and change the irrigation system’s output to match those needs.
  • Water established plants, including trees, at the dripline, not near the main stem or trunk. This is the area where most of the water-absorbing roots are located.
  • Mulch the soil to insulate plant roots from heat and conserve moisture.
  • Keep pruning to a minimum to avoid stimulating new growth (which requires additional water).
  • Avoid plants that will smash your budget by sucking your yard dry. These include the tropicals, such as hibiscus and banana; annual plants, such as impatiens; lemon, kiwi, apple and other water-guzzling fruit trees. Some of the more popular garden plants, such as hydrangea, canna and mint are also heavy drinkers.

 

January is the ideal time to start planning the spring garden. Gather up those seed catalogs and nursery flyers and plan a water smart landscape in 2017.

Decisions: How to choose between two houses

how to choose between two homes for sale

Sometimes, it’s feast or famine in the house-hunting game. Depending on the market, you may find few, if any, suitable homes in your price range. Then there are times when you may find several that seem perfect. When that happens, how do you decide which home to pursue and which to leave behind?

It’s an age-old solution, but one we’ve found quite effective with our clients: the pros and cons list. Naturally, the list works best for singles and couples – the more members of a family there are, the more compromises you’ll need to make.

Read on for a roadmap of sorts to help you compile the pros and cons list.

Location

Since location is typically paramount in determining a home’s economic value, let’s start here to determine its functional value to you.

If you have children, choosing between neighborhoods is a bit easier than it is for childless folks. A neighborhood with other children for yours to play with and its proximity to schools, parks and recreation may rule the decision-making process.

Other homebuyers may need to dig deeper. What do you know about the neighbors? Sure, how well they keep up the exterior of their home will tell you a great deal about them, but a trip through each neighborhood during different parts of the week and during the day will tell you even more about whether this is the community for you. Depending on when you visit you may be fortunate enough to hear or see something intolerable — such as that yapping dog or loud music — that will knock the home out of consideration.

Use schooldigger.com and greatschools.org to research the nearest schools. You may not be thinking about future value right now but that doesn’t lessen its importance. Homes near quality schools hold their value better than those near poor-performing schools.

Additional considerations about the homes’ locations include:

  • If you use public transportation, determine the distance to the nearest stop.
  • Is the neighborhood near the conveniences you frequently use?
  • If homes in one neighborhood are increasing in value faster than the others, make note of that.
  • If you’re concerned about crime rates, contact the local law enforcement agency with questions.

Comparing the homes

When comparing homes, try to look beyond the attractive staging (or lack of) to see what architects call the “bones” of each home. This includes the design, the floorplan and the home’s soundness of structure.

Your primary concern should be your lifestyle, so determine how well each home fits. The number of bedrooms and bathrooms are important, but what about storage space, room to entertain (if this is important to you) and outdoor features?

Consider your future plans as well – including whether you’ll be starting a family or dealing with an empty nest.

Scrutinize those features of each home that can’t be readily changed without spending a lot of money. This includes the flow, the number of bathrooms, closets and room sizes.

Finally, don’t forget your wish list, if you compiled one. Which home hits more of your hot buttons?

Try to remain unemotional during the process. If you find yourself going back to a particular home because of the gourmet kitchen yet another home has more of what you want, your emotions will keep yanking you back to the former. Is it possible to add some gourmet features to the latter home?

Have you ever noticed something new in a movie you’ve watched for the second time? It’s the same with houses; you may have missed something during the first visit.Take an additional tour of each home to help you decide.

Naturally, a fast moving real estate market won’t accommodate your vacillation and you may need to make a quick decision. In that case, and if you’re really stymied, remember that your new home is also a financial investment so consider choosing the home that will hold its value better than the other.

Post-holiday cleaning hacks

post holiday cleaning hacks

The holidays are officially over and millions of American’s are sitting, shell-shocked, in the massive mess left behind in their homes. From grease-spattered stoves and backsplashes to gift wrap and ribbon that needs to be stowed and a tree that needs to be un-trimmed, there’s work to be done to get your home back to normal.

We’ve scoured the Internet to find the best post-holiday cleaning hacks to help you get the job done.

Storage hacks

Your first job is to take down the holiday décor and get it stowed away. It’s a big, somewhat messy job, but we’ve come across some brilliant hacks to help you.

  • Fill a plastic storage bin with plastic cups – the large red Solo brand cups seem to be among the sturdiest. Wrap each ornament in tissue or newspaper and place each one in a cup. For added protection, fold the tree skirt and place it over the cups. Place the lid on the bin and it’s ready to be stored for next year’s holidays.
  • Sure, you can purchase those long plastic bins made specifically to store wrapping paper rolls, but a less expensive option is available from the local dollar store: a tall trash can. Use ribbon or rubber bands to keep the paper connected to the roll, then stand them all up in the trash can.
  • Avoid clogging the vacuum cleaner when you try to suck up pine needles left behind when you dragged the tree out of the house. Use a rubber broom (yes, even on rugs) to sweep them into a pile and then into a dust pan, Marie Stegner, consumer health advocate for Maid Brigade suggests to realsimple.com. The tool also works well to pick up animal fur.
  • The folks at Good Housekeeping suggest winding your tree lights around empty wrapping paper tubes. “Loop the cord around the roll, starting with the side opposite to the plug, then insert the plug into the tube’s opening.”
  • Glitter has a tendency to land and stick to anything upholstered. Use a lint roller to remove it – even from lamp shades!

Kitchen cleaning hacks

  • Greasy gas stove? Place the burner rings and grates into large plastic bags or containers and add ¼ to ½ cup of ammonia. Seal the bag or container and allow it to sit overnight where the ammonia fumes will work their magic. Wear gloves to remove the stove parts from the bag or container and rinse in hot water. Use sea salt to scrub anything that stubbornly clings to the rings. By the way, never mix ammonia with other products, especially bleach as it will emit toxic fumes.
  • How’s the stove hood looking? If you did as much cooking as we did over the holidays it’s probably one big, greasy mess. We found a surprising but brilliant method to remove the grease: mineral oil (apparently, vegetable oil works as well). Use just a few drops on a paper towel and wipe the hood until it’s grease-free. We used a soft rag to wipe off the excess oil but a paper towel will work as well.
  • Squeeze a lemon into a large glass measuring cup and fill to within 2 inches of the rim with water. Place the cup in the microwave and allow it to boil for three minutes. The steam from the boiling water will loosen the grime inside the oven and the lemon helps remove odors. Dip your sponge carefully into the hot water to remove stubborn stains.

 

We’d love to hear about your favorite cleaning tips — feel free to share!

Get buyers out of the car with a front yard that beckons

 

How to make a formal entry

Take a trip across the street and then take a good long look at your house. What you’re seeing is your home’s curb appeal, the lack of which can be detrimental to the successful sale of the home – at least for the amount of money you hope to make.

Homebuyers shopping online want to see photos and they’ll judge your home first by its exterior. Many won’t go on to view interior photos if the exterior is unattractive.

What do potential buyers see when they view your home from the curb? Does it compel them to leave the car and venture into the interior or does it cause them to drive off to the next listing? If the latter is the case, get to work amping up your home’s exterior appeal.

Follow some simple guidelines

Landscaping near and around the home’s entry requires a focus on three aspects, according to Environmental Landscape Associates (ELA), a Pennsylvania landscape design firm:

  • Principles
  • Program
  • Elements

Principles of landscape design

The most important principle, according to the firm, is that the landscape’s design synchronizes with the architectural style of the home. In other words, avoid elements of a formal garden in front of a ranch-style home.

Second in importance when considering landscape principles is ensuring that “the front door is prominently visible and the landscape provides the visitor clues and signals for how to get there,” suggests ELA. Make it easy for potential buyers to get out of the car, approach the home and enter it.

Your landscape design program

How will you utilize the space? The “program” part of the process includes answering this question. Is the entry way merely for ingress and egress from the home or will you use the front porch for entertaining? The program also includes determining your focal point. If you’re selling the home, consider making the porch or front door the home’s focal point.

Landscape design elements

What elements will you incorporate into your design? Think about both the hardscape elements, such as pavers and lights, and which plants you’ll use. Remember, all elements should tie into the home’s architectural style.

Going formal?

The formal entry way is best defined by keeping everything organized and in symmetry. The easiest way to do this is to keep both sides of the entry way identical.

Shaped hedges and patterned hardscapes will also lend a formal, balanced feel to the area. Don’t neglect the area near the front door. Even identical planters and plants on either side of the door will help illustrate the landscape’s design.

Keeping it casual

Obviously, rules for a formal entryway don’t apply here so get as creative as you like. Irregular patterns, mismatched shrubbery and more casual edging materials all lend a relaxed feel.

Soften hard edges, such as walkway surfaces, by lining them with plants that bloom in pastel colors (dusty miller comes to mind) or with coleus, hosta or other plants with interesting foliage.

Plant placement

When the focus is the entryway, plant placement becomes critical. Large plants should be placed at both ends of the home and small plants closer to the front door with medium sized in between.

When grouping plants for a formal design, place them in even numbers, suggests University of Missouri Extension agents. Use odd-numbered plants in informal entryway groupings.

The path to your front door, known as your home’s welcoming “handshake” according to Sunset Magazine, should be landscaped to match or complement your home’s architecture.

Naturally if you’re planning on staying put in the house for some time, you’ll want to find a way to blend design rules with your personal taste. If you plan on putting the home on the market, however, curb appeal trumps your taste.

It’s just business: How to let go of your house

don't get emotional over home sale

Regardless of what went into the decision to sell your home, you most likely didn’t make it lightly. An addition to the family, relocation for a new job, divorce, downsizing, the death of a spouse and financial problems are just a few of the reasons Americans have for selling their homes. Your reason is, in real estate terms, your “motivation for selling.”

Sounds a bit impersonal, doesn’t it? After all, this home is full of memories – both good and bad. Your home is more than the place you store your things, and more than protection from the elements — it’s where you have celebrated holidays, raised children and spent time with the people you love most. These experiences and memories may be difficult to leave behind, or you may feel relief, depending on your motivation for selling.

So, although your motivation may be borne of tragedy or joy, it’s important to put your emotions aside for a short time and treat the sale of your house as a business deal. Let’s take a look at some of the pitfalls you may encounter when selling if you’re emotionally attached to your home.

Love doesn’t equal value

Market value has nothing to do with love. So, despite how you feel about the home don’t expect that there is someone out there who will fall equally in love with it and be therefore willing to pay more for it than it’s worth.

Of course you’ll want to do all you can to raise the home’s perceived value. Get rid of dated features, repair what’s broken and stage the home to appeal to buyers.

Take nothing personally

Taking criticism is never easy and, during the sales process you may have to take a lot of it. From buyers’ agent’s negative feedback to lowball offers to requests to “get rid of the ugly carpet,” once the home is under contract, you’ll have lots of opportunities to take offense. Keep in mind during these times that no home is perfect for everyone.

Depending on the market, even a lowball offer may be worth countering, so put the emotions aside and, again, treat this like a business transaction.

Be Gumby

Life can become chaotic when your home is on the market. Time doesn’t stop – you still have to go to work and, if you have kids, they still have to get to school and to all the lessons, games and other activities. It’s especially easy to tell yourself you’re “too busy” to allow potential buyers to view the home when you’re overly attached to it. But allow them you must, if you want to get it sold.

Being flexible is key here. Understand that your life is going to be disrupted until the home is sold. Accept it, share it with the family and promise yourself that you’ll bend over backward to accommodate potential buyers.

How to cope

For most Americans, their homes are their largest financial investment as well as the icon of a life lived, of sanctuary achieved and dreams both dashed and realized. It’s only natural to feel an attachment, especially if you’ve lived in the home for some time. But letting go, without leaving claw marks, is challenging for some.

“One suggestion to help you let go of a home or other important possession is to realize that its emotional value doesn’t end when you sell it. Through your memories, you get to keep most of the value the object has had for you,” advises Rick Kahler, of Kahler Financial Group.

So, take lots of photos, even grab a handful of dirt from the garden and plant something in it at the new home. Whatever you need to do to let go emotionally will help you get your home sold, quickly and for top dollar.

 

6 ways to save on your home heating bills right now

ways to save money in winter

 

Sure, we’re knee-deep in winter weather right now and many of the tips to save money on heating bills include projects that should’ve been undertaken in autumn. But, if you’ve been feeling that your home is a bit draftier than it should be and the visions you have this holiday season are of dollar bills dancing away from your pocketbook, take heart. There are still some things you can do right now to help stop the money-bleed and warm up your home.

Turn down your thermostat – Ok, so we start with the obvious. But, “for every degree you lower your heat in the 60-degree to 70-degree range, you’ll save up to 5 percent on heating costs,” according to consumerenergycenter.org. Furthermore, set the thermostat to 55 degrees at night and you’ll save an additional 5 to 20 percent off your utility bill. Bundle up in sweats and sweaters and you’ll be the one in the neighborhood laughing all the way to the bank.

Use Those Curtains – Drapes on the windows will help to hold heat in the room. Use heavy fabrics, such as velvet, in the winter and consider backing them with insulated fabric. Drapes, however, can also block the cheapest means of heating your home – the sun. If everyone returns home long after the sun has set, opening these curtains at that time may not be a means of saving energy. But, if sunshine is expected, throw those curtains that rest on south-facing windows wide before you leave for work in the morning and on the weekends. Keeping them closed at night and on dreary days will help insulate the home from the cold.

Curtains can also be used in doorways that divide rooms and will help keep the drafts in those rooms from entering others. These types of curtains are known as portieres, common in homes during the Victorian era. (Photo: Willow Bee Inspired)

Speaking of windows – Consider exterior shutters to keep the howling wind from seeping around the windows.

Reverse your ceiling fan – Reverse the direction of spin on your ceiling fan to help pull cool air up. Stand under the fan and watch the blades spin – they should rotate clockwise in the winter. To change the direction, use the remote control. If you have an older fan that lacks a remote, you should find a toggle-switch on the unit, just below the blades.

If you have vaulted or cathedral ceilings, the fan is mounted too high for this technique to work.

Close the fireplace – Since traditional fireplaces suck warm air up the chimney and pump it out of the house, consumerenergy.org suggests that you not even use it during the winter. If you decide to take them up on that, purchase a piece of insulation and use it to block the chimney. If you still want to use the fireplace, close the vent (after all hot embers have died down) when it’s not in use.

Use a Humidifier – Central heating can be very drying. And this makes everything feel a little colder than it is. Moist air, on the other hand, holds the heat better and naturally feels warmer. Using a humidifier, even in just the room you spend the most time in, will allow you to set the thermostat a little lower.

 There are also some myths that you should be aware of when trying to find ways to save energy. Let’s take a look at one of the biggest:

Close off the vents in unused rooms – We’ve all heard that we should close the heat vents in rooms that we don’t use and seal off the room from the rest of the home. Hogwash, say HVAC experts.  Modern forced air heating systems require a balanced pressure load throughout the house. Blocking one or more vents throws the load off balance, causing the system to work harder, eventually breaking down. The Family Handyman suggests that you speak to an HVAC professional before closing heat vents.

Remember, there are plenty of ways to save and if you’re serious, you might want to take a look at your insulation and HVAC as soon as the weather permits so next winter brings even more savings.

2017: What to expect in the housing market

2017 real estate market forecast

With the new year knocking on the door, one of the questions I hear most frequently is where I think the real estate market is headed in 2017. Buyers, especially, want to know if the market will morph into one a bit more favorable to their interests.

Ah, if only I had a crystal ball and could cut right to the chase to tell you what’s going to happen in the 2017 real estate market. Since we don’t have a handy tool to help us discern the future, we rely on experts in various economic niches for our housing market prognostications every year. Are they always right? Nope, but they do get awfully close.

Personally, I combine what I learn from the economic forecasts with my experience every day as a boots-on-the-ground real estate professional and with our Multiple Listing Service statistics. So, let’s dive in.

Interest rates

As you know, the Feds raised the federal funds interest rates earlier this month. While it was an increase of only a quarter of a percentage point they did say to expect a couple more rate hikes in 2017. So, how does this affect the real estate consumer?

Yes, those with an adjustable rate mortgage will take a hit, as will homeowners with an adjustable rate home equity line of credit, or HELOC, tied to the prime rate (albeit a smaller, hardly noticeable hit in most cases).

If you’re planning on purchasing a home, on the other hand, and need a mortgage, while the feds’ move should encourage you to act more quickly than you’d planned, don’t let it scare you off completely. Even with the interest rate hike in December, mortgage rates are still at historic lows right now, so jump into the market and get that dream home.

If the feds make good on the promise of additional interest rate hikes, homebuyers on tight budgets that choose to wait later in 2017 to buy a home may find themselves knocked out of the market. Even a half a percent increase on a 30-year fixed $250,000 mortgage could increase the annual payment more than $850 according to Fortune.com’s Kerry Close.

Put another way, if mortgage interest rates go from 4 percent to 4.25 percent, 965,000 potential homebuyers will be leaving the buyer pool, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

The good news, however, is that “There’s a lot that buyers can do to mitigate the effects of rising rates, including looking for lower-priced homes, putting more money down or changing term lengths on a mortgage’s fixed-rate component,” Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at realtor.com tells Inman.com’s Amber Taufen.

How about home prices in 2017?

That’s the burning question for folks who plan on buying a home down the road. By the end of November, the median sales price of a home was $271,400, up 7.7 percent from last year.

Housing market experts predict that although they won’t rise as quickly as they did this past year, home prices will rise about 3.5 percent in 2017. So, as long as the aforementioned interest rates stay put, there’s a bit of good news for you if you need to wait until later in the year to purchase.

The bad news is for those on tight budgets, at least according to a study by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). A $1,000 hike in the median price of new homes, they claim, would knock nearly 153,000 potential homeowners out of the market.

If you’re planning on upsizing, fortune.com’s Close says you’re sitting in the sweet spot. Small home prices are expected to rise faster than larger ones and city dwellers can expect more home value appreciation than those in the outlying metro regions. In other words, expect your small home to be the belle of the neighborhood real estate market when it’s listed.

Which leaves first-time buyers and those who hope to downsize in a not-so-sweet spot. Expect lots of competition from other buyers for these smaller homes in the lower price ranges. In fact, prepare for it by cementing your financing and being ready to submit an offer immediately. We can help you with the preparation part – feel free to give us a call.

That elusive inventory problem

Much of the blame for the low inventory of available homes (causing home prices to rise) goes to the lack of new home construction across the country. There was some good news on that front, however, when December’s National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index rose to the highest level since summer 2005. This measure of homebuilder confidence is good news for homebuyers as long as it translates into new housing starts.

A lot of it boils down to “it all depends on . . .”

The housing market’s strength depends on a number of variables, one of the most important of which is the health of the job market. Although it’s better than it was during the recession, and although president-elect Trump is promising to amp it up, hiring is still not quite where we’d like to see it. This is something that Fed policy makers will look at when deciding whether or not to raise rates again.

I know this is a lot to consider as you think about your future home-buying prospects but, really, there’s nothing you can do about anything that will impact the housing market. My best advice to you is to jump in as soon as you can.

Aging in place? 7 things to consider

baby boomer homebuying

Talking about older adults is a challenge. It’s not like talking about teenagers, or toddlers, who all pretty much like the same things. The group includes a broad range of ages, interests and living situations.

Younger boomers sometimes bristle at being called seniors, especially if you call them that while they’re on a road trip on their Harleys or rock climbing on the Costa Brava. To them, “seniors” applies to older folks who are slowing down and find it a bit difficult to get around.

Regardless of what stage of aging you’re in, you, like many older adults in the U.S. may be considering aging in place, either the place you’re currently living, or buying one with a friendlier layout. If so, we invite you to read our list of things you may want to consider when compiling your wish list for that home.

Single level living is easier

A single-story home is the most obvious requirement for an older adult living on his or her own. Even younger Baby Boomers find that traveling up a flight of stairs sometimes hurts the knees. For older folks, not only may stairs be difficult or impossible to navigate, there is the real danger of slipping and falling.

Keep an eye on future mobility

Most hallways in homes are 36 inches in width, which is far too narrow for someone in a wheelchair. In an existing home, knocking out a wall to widen a hallway may be a major project. If you are purchasing a home, ensure that hallways are at least 42 inches wide – 48 inches is ideal, according to the experts with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).

Install a ramp to compensate for changes in level if you have trouble navigating. Curved ramps aren’t recommended, according to the experts at Drummond House Plans, as steering a walker, wheelchair or scooter may be challenging on a curved surface.

Make the bathroom user-friendly

Over 230,000 people are injured in the bathroom each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Two-thirds of these accidents occur in the shower. Making a senior-friendly bathroom is as easy as applying non-skid strips or a rubber mat on the shower floor and grab bars inside the tub. There are, however, other things you can do for extra security, according to the National Aging in Place Council (NAIPC):

  • Remodel the shower so that it’s possible to roll into it in a wheelchair
  • Lower the bathroom sink
  • Install an elevated toilet.

Kitchen

Traditional kitchens are the most challenging rooms for the wheelchair-bound to navigate. Even if you currently don’t use a wheelchair, if you plan to age in place, you may want to consider the possibility that one may be in your future.

The specialists at NAIPC have several suggestions on how to make the kitchen user-friendly for seniors:

  • Install cabinet hardware that is easy to grip.
  • Provide at least one 34-inch tall countertop with no obstructions beneath it. This allows the senior to sit while performing kitchen chores.
  • Elevate the dishwasher one foot off the ground.

Bedrooms

Install a walk-in closet with a doorway that is at least 36 inches wide. To make them easier to reach, lower the shelves and clothing bars. Move the light switch inside the closet to within 36 to 40 inches from the floor.

For those middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom, light the pathway from the bedroom to the bathroom. This can be accomplished with a nightlight or with motion sensor lighting. Large home improvement stores carry nightlights with a kick plate that the user can turn on with the touch of a toe.

Lighting

Good lighting is essential for safety if you plan on aging in place. There’s a delicate balance, however, between adequate lighting and creating glare.

The CDC recommends florescent bulbs while the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) says that LED bulbs are longer lasting than traditional or florescent bulbs. To avoid glare, NARI suggests installing easy-access dimmer switches, pendant lights and under-cabinet lighting.

If you plan on renovating your current home rather than purchase another, be sure to use a contractor that holds the Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) designation.

If you’ll be purchasing, we’re happy to help you find the perfect home in which to age in place.