Tips to create the ideal home-study space for your child

One of the biggest questions during the COVID-19 crisis is whether or not schools should reopen. It’s challenging to keep up with school closures on a nationwide basis since there are a variety of them in use:

  • State-ordered closure
  • State-ordered regional closure
  • Varies by school/district
  • Hybrid or remote instruction only
  • State-ordered in-person instruction

(Ballotpedia.org)

Whatever the current situation, if you’ve decided to home school your child or are forced to, it’s time to dedicate a space within the home for studying.

It’s not as challenging as it sounds

Most students will spend much of their “school” time in front of a computer. Thankfully, laptops are small enough to set up just about anywhere.

Start with a work surface

It doesn’t matter if the work surface is the kitchen or dining room table or a coffee table, as long as it’s large enough to allow your child room for a computer and for paperwork and books.

If using one of the aforementioned surfaces, however, your student will have to clean up after each session. If at all possible, try to find an area for a desk that is roomy enough to hold everything and when the study session is over, he or she can leave it as-is and return the next day knowing where everything is.

Finally, design experts recommend that you place the desk so it isn’t facing a window or any other distracting feature.

A comfy chair will help keep your student working

It’s a wonder that kids learn anything in school with their hineys stuck to that hard piece of wood that serves as seating in a traditional classroom.

Go bigger than our schools and choose a comfy chair. Ensure that the chair has an adjustable height mechanism or that it is the right height for your child to work comfortably and not have to raise or lower his or her head to view the computer monitor.

You may want to add additional seating such as “… bean bags … so your child has the freedom to move about as they study,” suggests Julia Reis at FamilyEducation.com.

Lighten up the area

An overhead light isn’t enough for a child who is doing a lot of reading and screen time.

Although natural light is best (and the more the better), task lighting, such as pendant lights or table lamps, not only help prevent eye strain but help keep “… your child alert and focused,” Deborah Gilboa, MD, tells Jennifer Kelly Geddes at ThisOldHouse.com.

You have so many options when setting up a work space for your children, whether elementary school-aged or high school students. Get some inspiration online at:

Have fun with your project!

Learn about 3 hidden household hazards

When you bought your home you most likely had a home inspector visit to find out what, if anything, is wrong with it.

The professional home inspection, however, only tells a potential homeowner what’s wrong with visible areas of the home and its systems. The inspector can’t, for instance, tell you what’s happening inside the HVAC system in the areas that aren’t visible.

Nor can she tell you what is lurking behind the walls or under the floorboards of the home.

This is why it’s so important to expect your home’s systems at least once a year.

Let’s take a look at three areas of the home to inspect closely to mitigate hidden household hazards.

1. Invisible, odorless and lethal

Radon, a radioactive gas, is a common indoor pollutant. It creeps into the home through cracks and holes in the foundation and walls and, once there, it becomes trapped and the levels continue to rise.

Exposure to radon gas, for long periods, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute.

Testing the home for radon gas is easy and inexpensive, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“There are many kinds of low-cost “do it yourself” radon test kits you can get through the mail and in some hardware stores and other retail outlets,” the agency states in “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon,” its consumer information booklet (you can find it published online at EPA.gov).

The booklet is full of information about how to test for radon and what to do if levels are above a certain threshold.

2. The deadly arc-fault

If you’ve ever experienced an arc-fault in your home, you need no explanation about the hazard. If you haven’t, read on.

“An arc-fault is an unintended arc created by current flowing through an unplanned path,” according to the experts at the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).

An arc is like a mini lightning bolt and its “temperatures … can exceed 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit,” and may ignite anything surrounding it, such as wood framing or insulation.

Although it seems like a longshot that this might happen in your home, that assumption can be deadly.

“Electrical failures or malfunctions were the second leading cause of U.S. home fires in 2012-2016,” according to the National Fire Protection Association.

And, they don’t just occur in hidden areas of the home. A damaged cord or loose connection can cause an arc-fault as well.

The experts at NEMA suggested that protecting the circuit is the best way to reduce the chances of this type of electrical fire.

An arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) is “… a product designed to detect a wide range of arcing electrical faults to help reduce the electrical system from being an ignition source of a fire,” they claim.

Find out why it is important to have an AFCI installed in your home by visiting AFCISafety.org.

3. Swimming pool drains and filters

The drain in your swimming pool uses suction to filter out debris such as dirt, oils from your body and other items.

This suction can be strong enough to trap a child underwater which can lead to drowning.

While on a family vacation, “A six-year-old British girl almost drowned when her hair was sucked into a swimming pool filter at a hotel in Lanzarote,” according to a reporter at BBC.com.

She was trapped for more than two minutes before being rescued. Thankfully, she lived.

While these cases are rare, “… long hair is considered a safety hazard when entering a pool or hot tub,” according to Amy Kapetta at YahooNews.com.

But, it’s not only long hair that can trap someone underwater. Dangling straps from bathing suits, jewelry and more can be sucked into filters and drains.

Tie back long hair before swimming (better yet, wear a swim cap). Teach your children to “…stay away from drains,” Elizabeth Klinefelter, Pool Safely Campaign Leader tells Kapetta.

“Another important safety tip is that while using a spa, always locate the emergency vacuum shutoff before getting in the water,” she continues. “This emergency vacuum shutoff stops the suction in the spa, freeing whoever or whatever is stuck in it.”

Finally, ensure your home pool drain has an antivortex cover.

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There’s more to buying a home than taking on a monthly mortgage payment

There are good reasons that homebuyers are counselled to see a lender early in the homebuying process. Yes, he or she will let you know if you qualify for a mortgage and, if you do, you’ll be given a preapproval letter to submit with an offer to purchase.

But, you’ll also find out how much you can borrow and how much you can afford to spend every month on your house payments.

That lender will expect to be paid for lending you money and will be paid, at closing. And, that’s just the beginning of the additional costs to buying a home that many homebuyers aren’t aware of. Let’s take a look at some of these so you aren’t caught unaware as you take on the process.

The initial outlay

We’ve found that many of our homebuying clients assume that the down payment on the loan is required upfront.

In reality, the lender won’t ask for it until later in the process, but some lenders will want to see “seasoned funds,” meaning money that has been in an account for some time, typically 60 days or longer.

Then, when you find a home that you want to purchase, the seller will expect the purchase agreement to be accompanied by what is known as an “earnest money deposit.”

While there is no set amount required for an earnest money deposit, we tell our clients to expect to submit a check for up to $1,500. This money is held in escrow and will be deducted from the sale price at closing.

According to a study conducted by Porch.com, 88% of homebuyers have the home inspected.

This is another upfront cost (payable at the time of service) and the nationwide average price of a home inspection is $336 but it may be between $200 and $500 depending on the size of the home and other factors.

If the home inspection report shows problems with the home, you may want to hire a specific specialist to investigate and quote a price to fix it. This, too will need to be paid for at the time of the service.

What you’ll need at closing

As mentioned earlier, prior to closing, the lender will expect you to pay your down payment and that amount depends on the price of the home and the type of loan you’ve acquired.

Conventional lenders typically require 20 percent of the loan amount while FHA-backed loans offer several different down payment options, depending on the borrower’s credit score.

The VA loan, specific to military members and their widows or widowers, offer no down payment loans while Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, offer several different programs.

Shortly after applying for a mortgage, your lender will supply you with a Loan Estimate, which will give you a general idea of what to you’ll pay in closing costs.

These numbers, by the way, are estimates. The Closing Disclosure that you’ll receive shortly before closing is the final statement of the terms of your loan and how much you’ll need to pay in closing costs.

In general, closing costs typically equal between 2 percent and 5 percent of the loan amount.

We are happy to answer any questions you may have about the closing process. Or, view the information available online at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website.

But, that’s not all

Welcome to the world of homeownership! Instead of paying rent every month, you’ll be paying your mortgage payment. This payment is divided up to pay portions of the loan’s principal, interest, taxes and homeowner insurance.

The cost of mortgage insurance will be taken out of your monthly house payment as well, if you paid less than 20 percent down.

If your home is in a community managed by a homeowner association, you’ll pay fees or dues and, possibly, assessments. Dues are commonly paid on a semi-annual basis but some HOAs require monthly or quarterly payments.

The toughest transition from being a tenant to a homeowner is the loss of the landlord.

Surprised? Sure, it’s a relief to get out from under a landlord’s restrictions on what you can and cannot do in your home. But what you’ll miss most as a homeowner is your landlord’s deep pockets.

When a pipe springs a leak or the HVAC system dies, the cost of repairs fall on you. Then, there are all the costs of maintaining a home so that you’re not faced with these emergency repairs in the future.

Many financial experts recommend the 1% rule: As a cushion against the unexpected, set aside at least 1 percent of the home’s value each year.

In our real estate practice, we find that far too many homebuyers, especially first-timers, don’t receive the information they need to make smart decisions – something that won’t happen when you work with us.

 

Autumn in the garden

Summer 2020 brought record-breaking heat, leaving many home gardens in tatters.

In fact, “July 2020 has tied for second-hottest July on record for the globe,” according to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“… the Northern Hemisphere saw its hottest July ever,” they concluded.

The results included crispy foliage, flowers that didn’t bloom when expected and vegetable gardens starved for shade.

Temperatures are thankfully falling as we head into autumn, a welcome change for gardeners and their plants. A new season and a new opportunity to grow, whether you’re a flower gardener or crave home-grown vegetables.

Let’s get rid of summer’s detritus and get that fall garden underway.

Prepare for planting

The first step to a successful autumn garden is to clean up the beds. Get rid of plants that sizzled over the summer and anything else that needs to come out to make room for new plants.

Don’t allow the roots to remain. Use a hand tiller to get at them and get them out of the ground.

  • Trim the dead and dying leaves and flowers from your perennials and add a layer of mulch over the root zone to protect them from winter’s cold.
  • Divide perennials that have become overgrown. Those that tolerate October division include Oriental and Asiatic lilies, daylilies, bearded iris, sedum and hosta. For a walkthrough on dividing hosta, visit Gardenologist.org.
  • Add a layer of compost (about 6 inches is fine) to the top of the soil and dig it into the top 12 inches of soil.
  • If you’ll be growing in containers, add some compost to those as well.

Get planting

October is a great month to plant new trees and shrubs. Keep them well-watered so they establish quickly. Stop watering when the ground freezes.

It’s also a good time to plant those cool season annuals, such as:

  • Chrysanthemum
  • Daisies
  • Echinacea
  • Pansies

Don’t forget to get your tulip, crocus and daffodil bulbs into the ground this month.

There are many vegetable plants that thrive in the fall weather, especially if you experience frost-free winters. Consider growing the following:

  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Collards
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard
  • Onions

All of these can be planted from now until late October.

Keep an eye out for pests

Don’t let late-season pests take control of your vegetable garden. Prepare yourself to do battle with them and you’ll have a bountiful harvest. Here are some of the more common fall garden pests to look for:

Aphids—The bane of summer gardens, they’re almost as prolific in fall. Lady beetles can help manage their numbers, but your best recourse is to squirt them off the plants with a strong blast of water from the hose.

Cabbage loopers—Small green caterpillars, cabbage loopers have voracious appetites. Keep an eye on the undersides of foliage, especially on cabbage, broccoli, collard greens and cauliflower. When you find them, treat the plant with Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki). Learn more about cabbage loopers and how to control them at arbico-organics.com.

Cucumber beetles—Don’t let the name fool you; cucumber beetles enjoy lots of vegetables. These include:

  • Beet
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Lettuce
  • Onion
  • Pea

You’ll win the battle if you can get to the larvae before they hatch in the soil. A spinosad spray can be applied as a soil drench and should do the trick.

Slugs and snails—And we thought bunnies are prolific! Snails – all of them, male or female – “… lay hundreds of eggs at a time with a gestation period of only 2-3 weeks, according to the pros at Superior Pest Defense.

“They lay more than half of their eggs in the fall making them a prime garden pest,” they conclude.

They feast mainly at night or on rainy days. Unless you control them you may not have a crop at all. Use a product like BONIDE® Slug Magic or Monterey All Natural Snail & Slug Spray.

Happy fall gardening!

 

 

 

 

 

Is Halloween cancelled this year?

There are Halloween folks and then there are those among us who can take it or leave it. Oh, and a handful of downright scrooges who despise the holiday. Those are the people who don’t buy candy, don’t put pumpkins out and refuse to turn on the porch light.

The latter are the ones who so hope that the holiday is cancelled this year, because of the pandemic.

Guess what? Halloween 2020 is on

Yes, we need to be a bit more creative and a lot more cautious, but Halloween is alive and well, despite COVID-19.

How to celebrate Halloween safely

The Hershey Company and The Halloween and Costume Association have partnered to provide Halloween safety guidelines. Head over to Halloween2020.org. There you will find a map, color-coded by a county’s COVID risk level.

Once you know your county’s color, you are then invited to read a list of safe Halloween practices in your area.

Most counties in the U.S., by the way, are in the “yellow,” or moderate risk category.

Naturally, if you or a family member are in a high-risk category, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions or compromised immune systems, you should stay home and not risk your health.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released its suggestions for keeping safe during the fall holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and, yes, Halloween.

The safety guidelines presented by Hershey and the Halloween and Costume Association are based on the CDC’s guidelines.

Tips on celebrating according to your “risk zone”

In any of the zones, if you decide to throw caution to the wind and head out into the night to get your share of candy, look for the official Safehouse certificate on homes.

“These are the folks that will have a table or sanitized barrier to help you maintain a safe distance as you grab your goodies!

Watch for 6-foot markers in front of homes and in driveways, that’s a great sign that those folks are going the extra mile to help keep you healthy!”

Green Zone

Counties in green zones have the lowest incidence of COVID-19 infections and the recommendations for Halloween celebrations include Trunk-R-Treat.

“It’s not just for parking lots anymore! Neighborhood Trunk-R-Treats will be popping up everywhere this Halloween to help minimize the close quarters of pathways and porches.”

The same goes for the Garage Trick or Treat. “Check out the neighbors that are going all out and paving the way for garage give-outs. Driveways offer up more room to roam than a traditional walkway and can even sport more fun and frightful décor.”

Consider an outdoor (front yard or cul-de-sac) costume party. “…just don’t forget the strategically spaced seating, full moon music and bucketloads of candy!”

Yellow Zone

You’ll need to pay a bit more attention to safety measures if you’ll be trick-or-treating in a yellow zone.

We like the “reverse trick-or-treat” suggestion where the kids, in their costumes, stand in their front yards while the grown-folk neighbors do the walking from house-to-house, handing out the goodies.

Orange zone

The reverse trick-or-treat is also suggested for those in orange zones. Or, load your costumed kids into the car and drive to friends and family and exchange candy.

This one takes a bit of planning and coordinating with neighbors, but it sounds so fun. Create a trick-or-treat treasure map to where the goodies are hidden around your home or neighborhood.

Or, make it HallowEaster and skip the map. Hide the treats in orange and black plastic eggs (maybe even paint them with glow-in-the-dark paint) and let the kids loose to find them.

Naturally you’ll want to ensure that social distancing guidelines are in place.

Red zone

The experts suggest that “At-home celebrations are safest for red zones.”

  • Backyard movie night with your closest friends and family
  • Zoom party—This one can be organized via the NextDoor app. Put the idea out there and you’ll be surprised how many of your neighbors want to participate. Feature “games, scary stories and a costume contest. Goodie bags and candy buckets can be dropped off on doorsteps in advance or porch pickups can be arranged from one location.”
  • House scavenger hunt—Transform each room of the house into a theme room, then “… send the kids on a scavenger hunt for fun swag. Hide candy, toys and prizes or even make some gift certificates to stay up late, choose the movie or eat an extra piece of candy.”
  • Family movie or game night with a twist—at the conclusion, hang a piñata and let the kids go wild getting at the goodies inside.

Halloween 2020 will be different, and in more ways than we’ve mentioned. We’ll enjoy the second full moon of the month (known as a “blue moon”). and it also leads us into the end of daylight savings time

However you choose to celebrate, we hope you stay safe and healthy.

 

Working on the house? Talk to your insurance agent first

The folks at Pew Research released the results of a recent poll that shows “Half of adults who say they lost a job due to the coronavirus outbreak are still unemployed.”

How they are faring financially depends a great deal on how prepared they were to lose their paychecks.

Apparently, some are doing ok, according to another survey that finds slightly more than half of unemployed Americans are performing some sort of home improvement project. Many are going the DIY route, but handy men and women and painting and flooring contractors are quite busy as well.

If you’ve performed home improvements, or are considering doing so, you may want to speak with your homeowners insurance agent to learn if and how these projects will affect your policy.

Certain renovations will increase the home’s value significantly and, thus, the cost to rebuild it as well. Let’s take a look as some of these projects.

Swimming pool installation

Judging by the enormous spike in U.S. sales and installations of inground pools, you aren’t alone in your desire to add one to your backyard.

Although they’re pretty to look at, fun to swim in and one of the best ways to cool off on a hot summer day, they’re also considered a liability risk to insurers. Yes, it probably will raise your premium.

You can mitigate some of the risk by constructing a fence, with a locked gate, around the entire pool.

Speak with your insurance agent before the excavator arrives to get the skinny on what else you can do to keep the cost of your homeowners insurance from skyrocketing.

Need a new roof?

Adding a new roof to the home isn’t one of the more exciting home renovations, but when it has seen better days, adding a new one is a necessity.

The impact on your insurance premium depends on several factors, including the material you choose. Definitely run this plan by your insurance agent because you could qualify for a discount on your premium, depending on the roofing material you choose.

On the other hand, a new roof may increase your property value and you will need additional coverage.

Basement renovation

A finished basement is many a homeowner’s dream. It also adds to the usable square footage of the home thereby increasing the home’s market value and the cost of your insurance premium.

There is also the issue of flooding and most policies don’t cover flood damage.

“There are several reasons why a basement may experience water damage,” according to Guy Kopperud at InsuranceJournal.com.

He goes on to suggest that some of these instances are covered by homeowners insurance and others will require you to buy a certain type of flood coverage.

“Your standard policy flood damage coverage is most often based on whether the event was sudden and accidental, like an overflowing tub or product failure such a malfunctioning washing machine,” Kopperud says.

“Storms and other rising waters are generally not covered under a standard homeowners’ policy and require additional flood insurance.”

He goes on to recommend using one or more sump pumps and keeping them maintained to avoid flooding.

Most important of all is to pick up the phone and call your insurance agent while your home improvement project is still in the planning stages. Ask about discounts and how to get them and how to mitigate anything that will raise your premium.

Most common defects found during the home inspection

There are two points in every home sale that have both the buyer and the seller chewing their fingernails: the appraisal and the home inspection. The results of either may lead to the reopening of negotiations, slowing down the transaction.

Today we’re going to show you three of the most common problems found during home inspections. Each has easy, DIY solutions that you can undertake before putting your home on the market.

1. Exterior caulking and sealer are missing

By far, the most common home inspection problem is insufficient or missing caulk and/or sealer.

Caulk, applied at joints, around windows and nail holes prevents moisture from entering the home at these points.

It also helps keep out bugs and helps with insulating the interior of the home.

Sealing exterior wood and concrete surfaces is important to extend their lives. There are a number of products on the market that will help you with this. See the list at Homedepot.com.

Caulking and sealing are simple jobs, yet more than 16.25% of the homes in the survey had missing caulk and sealers.

2. Doors need adjusting 

It’s easy to get used to problems with doors. A handle that can only be turned one way to open the door? Rather than fix it, a new habit is born – we just get used to turning it the wrong way to open it.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. About 15.4% of home inspections surveyed had door problems.

Lots of little door problems are treated the same. Go through the home and test all the doors. Fixes are typically easy DIY projects that you can get done before the home inspector arrives.

Loose door handle

Door knobs and handles with exposed screws are a cinch to fix by tightening the screws with a screwdriver.

Those with hidden screws are a little more challenging.

The experts at PJ Fitzsimmons say to “… locate the button on the side of the door knob and use a screwdriver to push it in and pull the knob off. Then, use the screwdriver to press the release notch and release the cover plate. After that, you’ll be able to tighten the screws.”

The sticking door

“First, try cleaning the hinges to remove any dirt and build-up and then tighten them down with a screwdriver,” suggests the pros at PJ Fitzpatrick, a home improvement company located in Newcastle, Delaware.

Didn’t work? Find the part of the door frame where the door gets stuck and sand it down.

The door that swings open or closed

This one is truly annoying but an easy fix.

Remove the hinge pin and slightly bend it. TheFamilyHandyman.com offers a walkthrough of the project to help.

If you prefer a video walkthrough, check out David’s Tutorials on YouTube.com.

Stuck deadbolt

This is one of the easiest door fixes of them all. If the deadbolt takes a lot of muscle to turn or is downright stuck, try lubricating the keyhole with something like WD40 or a Teflon lubricating spray.

Insert the key and turn, remove and repeat. After several repetitions, the problem should be fixed.

3. Problems with faucets

Nearly 15% of the home inspections surveyed by RepairPricer.com had a problem with at least one faucet.

Leaky, dripping faucets are another easy DIY fix. The most difficult part is determining what’s making it leak.

“Inside every faucet is a collection of rubber gaskets, washers, and O-rings,” according to Chris Deziel at Landlordology.com.

He goes on to suggest that these are the seals that keep water from leaking out. The most common dripping problem can be traced back to a worn seal.

HomeAdvisor.com offers walkthroughs of how to do the fix by faucet type.

Deziel adds that “… you might, on occasion, have to replace a chipped or cracked valve seat or cartridge.”

Curious about what else made the list of common home defects that show up in home inspections?

  • Faulty switches or electrical outlets
  • Cracks or other cosmetic issues in the sheetrock
  • GFCI deficiencies
  • Light fixture problems
  • Smoke alarms out of date or not working properly
  • The lot doesn’t drain properly
  • Exposed nails and problems with shingles

The Best Ways to Get a Shine on a Laminate Floor

It’s difficult to believe when looking at it, but a laminate floor is actually just a photograph of wood.

This picture is generally attached to melamine and then particleboard and the whole strip is coated with aluminum oxide.

The floor looks like wood but the aluminum oxide coating makes it four times stronger than wood, according to the experts with Lamanator Plus.

While laminate flooring provides the attractiveness of hardwood floors with less maintenance, caring for it regularly helps to maintain its shine.

Protect the Laminate Floor

Use rubber-backed rugs at all doors leading into the room with laminate flooring to catch the dirt before it hits the floor and dulls it.

Place felt pads on the legs of furniture on the floor – especially dining room chairs that are repeatedly dragged over the floor – to prevent scratches.

Use a dry dust mop or vacuum cleaner when you clean, instead of a broom, which may leave tiny scratches that build up over time, dulling the laminate’s shine.

Keep it Clean

Routine dry-mopping or vacuuming keeps small particles of dirt from scratching the laminate floor. Although the scratches may be tiny, from a distance they make the floor appear dull.

Depending on how much and what kind of traffic the floor receives, such as crawling babies or pets, you may need to sweep or vacuum daily.

Running a damp mop over the floor also helps keep the dirt from collecting in the scratches and grooves.

Remove Built-Up Residue

If you use a cleaning product on the floor, such as oil soap, it may build up over time, leaving a residue on the laminate.

Some cleaning products also leave streaks, which dulls the shine.

Remove built-up residue with 1 cup of vinegar in a gallon of water. If the residue layer is particularly thick you may need to use straight vinegar on a cloth.

It’s time consuming to have to clean the floor on your hands and knees but once the residue is removed, the laminate will shine.

Additional Tips

Since excess water may streak the laminate floor, use a slightly damp mop when cleaning.

After mopping, go over the floor with a micro fiber or terry cloth towel to remove excess water and buff the finish. As the towel becomes damp, use another, dry towel.

Remove stains, such as candle wax or chewing gum, with a plastic scraper, or putty knife. Don’t dig deeply into the finish, but lightly scrape the material from the floor.

Then, use a rag dipped in nail polish remover to remove any residue left after scraping.

Home buying 101

Wouldn’t it be great if high schools and colleges actually taught real-world concepts? The phrase “Kids don’t come with an owner’s manual” wouldn’t exist and first-time homebuyers would understand the ins and outs of the process completely. We can’t help you with the kid stuff but you’ve come to the right place to learn the basics of buying a home.

How many homes are for sale?

The inventory of homes available to you will depend on the time of year that you shop for a home and the current market conditions. Homeowners sell homes all year, regardless of the season. That said, more homes are listed in spring and summer than in fall and winter.

The condition of the current housing market bears heavily on the area’s inventory of available homes. When there are lots of other buyers in the market and few homes for sale, we are in a sellers’ market.

This happens for a number of reasons, but the most common is the economy. Low interest rates bring lots of homebuyers to the market, which tends to heat up fast. Home prices begin to rise because of supply and demand.

During a buyers’ market, on the other hand, lots of folks decide to sell their homes yet few are willing to buy. Again, the economy has much to do with this.

Emotions are for tear-jerker movies, not houses

Every day during the course of business, I watch people fall in love with houses. Sometimes it’s an irrational type of love, wasted on a home that is nothing even remotely resembling what they say they want.

At other times, my client has found the “dream home,” and, because of emotions, caution flies right out the window.

The best way to approach the purchase is as an investment. After all, homes offer dual advantages – both as shelters and as investment vehicles.

This is a lot of money you’re about to spend so the least emotional you can be during the process, the better for your pocketbook.

Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally

Algebra – remember trying to learn that one? The reason it’s so challenging for some people is that human beings have a tendency to want to take short cuts.

Sometimes this tendency leads us to success, but at others, like when we try to do the addition portion of an algebraic equation before the multiplication, it dooms us to failure.

The acronym for the home-buying process would be far too long to mess with so, consider the following akin to PEMDAS for algebra.

  • Save money for the down payment and closing costs.
  • Get your finances in order. Look at income and outgo. Determine your DTI (visit ConsumerFinance.gov to learn more), check your credit and fix any problems with it.
  • Get a loan preapproval letter.
  • Choose some neighborhoods that you like and can afford to purchase a home in.
  • Decide what you want in a home and compile a wish list.
  • Hire a real estate agent (there is no cost to you; the seller pays the agent’s commission).
  • With your agent, view homes for sale.
  • Make an offer (based on current market conditions).
  • When you submit an offer to purchase, closely follow the timelines in the contract (we’ll help you with this).
  • Have the home professionally inspected.
  • Buy homeowner insurance.
  • The final walk-through.
  • Closing.

Remember, house hunting isn’t a contest, nor is it a race. The ideal home for you is out there and it may take some time to find it. But if you prepare for the purchase, keep your emotions in check and follow the steps, you will be successful.

So, relax; we’ll be beside you the entire time.

How Do Late Payments Impact My Credit Reports?

Since the middle of March, more than 57 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits. Even with those benefits, millions are falling behind on their debt payments.

Greg Iacurci at CNBC.com, citing a “new study,” claims that the late-July expiration of the additional $600 a week unemployment subsidy “… puts 6 million people at risk of not being able to pay their bills this month.”

For most of them, their credit reports aren’t top-of-mind right now. But if you are among the group, it’s important to at least consider how your unemployment is impacting your credit score.

First, evaluate where you stand

The credit bureaus often make errors in their reporting, so it’s a good idea to check your reports from “the big 3” to ensure there are no errors (such as late payments not dropping off after the time limit and others).

Americans are entitled to one free credit report from Experian, Trans Union and Equifax, every 12 months.

“However, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, all three nationwide credit bureaus … are offering free weekly online credit reports via annualcreditreport.com (the only source authorized by Federal law) through April 2021,” according to Beverly Anderson, president of Global Consumer Solutions at Equifax.

This is such an amazing offer that there is simply no reason to not be keeping an eye on your credit score.

About those late payments

Seven years from the date of the missed payment is the length of time a late payment will remain on your credit report. This applies even if you pay the bill in full, Anderson claims.

If the reason for the late payments involves a Covid-19-related job loss, you may want to consider adding a consumer statement to your credit reports.

Anderson suggests that you keep the statement to 100 words or less and “… clarify why you were late making your payment.”

She includes a sample of what to say in a statement:

“Be advised that the negative accounts on my credit report are related to a temporary reduction in income due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I intend to make these up as soon as I can.”

Of course, the statement won’t hide any negative information, but lenders can view it and learn of the mitigating circumstances. All three bureaus accept these statements in their dispute departments.

To add a statement to your Equifax credit report, visit my.equifax.com.

The folks at Trans Union offer options as well. On their site, “… you can easily choose from pre-worded options like, ‘I am unable to make timely payments due to the impact on my job/wages as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ or you can write your own.” The “Disputes” section of their website is where to get started. Visit transunion.com/disputes.

Experian also directs those who wish to file a personal statement to their dispute area, which you will find at Experian.com.

When things get better for you

Sometime down the line your situation will change. It’s important not to forget those statements you sent to the credit bureaus.

Remember, the negative entries have a life of seven years. Once that time limit occurs, the information will drop from your reports and you should then remove your statement as well.

Why?

“Once the negative information is removed, the statement may unnecessarily notify lenders that you had a payment issue in the past,” warns Jennifer White, consumer education specialist with Experian.

In the meantime, prioritize your bill payments

The top priorities, after paying your living expenses include those related to your ability to get to work. If you need your car to get to work, car payments and auto insurance come right after basic living expenses.

Next, because failure to pay may lead to a driver’s license suspension or arrest, take care of child support and alimony payments. If you are on good terms with your former spouse, the pros at Equifax suggest speaking with him or her about your situation. Try to come to an agreement on when you can make up the missed payments.

Or, contact the Division of Child Support services. “In some cases, you might be able to change your monthly payments to something more affordable,” according to Experian.

If anything is left after paying these bills, pay the following three before anything else:

  • Student loans
  • Personal loans
  • Tax debt

Chin up! There is a light at the end of this tunnel.