Preparing Your Home for a Storm

Between volatile summer storms and hurricane season, mother nature can wreak havoc on your home. It’s important to know how to prepare should severe weather strike.

Perform Outdoor Maintenance

Maintaining the area around your home is one of the best preventative measures you can take before encountering severe weather. Clear long or dead tree limbs, especially those close to your house or power lines. Make sure the trimmings are properly disposed of so they don’t end up in the street amid high winds. Your gutters need to be cleaned and have downspouts facing away from your home so water can drain properly. If you know a strong storm is coming ahead of time, you may want to install temporary protection on critical areas of your home such as windows, doors, and roofing. Check to see that your fences are secured properly and either anchor outdoor furniture or bring it inside. Regularly maintaining your yard will save you time and stress should a hurricane or other serious weather system chart a course towards you.

Create a Storm Emergency Kit

Natural disasters can strike without warning; having an emergency kit stocked and stored can make all the difference in an emergency. At a minimum, your kit should include things like 3 days’ worth of water (at least 3 gallons for a gallon a day), non-perishable food, a first aid kit, a flashlight, a radio, and batteries. Consider your family and any unique needs you have. If you have children, you may want to include books and games to keep them occupied. Once you’ve created it, keep your kit somewhere secure and easily accessible. Periodically check any electronics in your kit to ensure they still work, and make replacements as needed. Consult the Department of Homeland Security’s guide to creating an emergency kit for more information and suggested provisions (including updates from the CDC in light of the COVID-19 pandemic) and to create a family emergency plan.

Check Out Your Homeowner’s Insurance Policy

Familiarize yourself with your homeowner’s insurance policy. Make sure you know what is and isn’t covered and upgrade your coverage if necessary. Many standard plans don’t cover damage caused by flooding or earthquakes, so you may need to purchase additional coverage if you live in an area particularly susceptible to them. Understanding your insurance policy prepares you for handling claims should your home incur any damage as the result of a storm. You can even include important insurance documents in your emergency kit.

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Tips for Planning an Outdoor Movie Night at Home

With the ongoing pandemic, we have to be more creative than ever when it comes to finding ways to stay entertained in and around our homes. Outdoor movie nights are a great way to take advantage of warm summer evenings while still social distancing. Here are some tips for how you can make this happen in your own backyard!

Use a Projector

When it comes to the logistics of showing a movie outside, projectors are your best bet. This allows you to connect to a computer or phone to use any number of streaming platforms which greatly expands your movie options compared to using DVDs with a TV. Use a portable movie screen or take a DIY approach and hang a sheet yourself. If you’re going the DIY route, you can even create your own smartphone projector using a shoebox and magnifying glass!

Decorate

Set the mood and create some ambiance with decorations. You can hang string lights or lanterns for a pop of light. A citronella candle will not only provide subtle lighting but help ward off mosquitoes and other pests. Also, consider a themed movie night and decorate accordingly. If you’re having guests, you can get even more elaborate with the decorations by rolling out a red carpet or offering invitations in the form of tickets. You can make your movie night as minimalist or extravagant as you want.

Get Comfy

The ideal seating solution will depend on your unique space. For some, lawn chairs will work best. Take advantage of any patio furniture you may already have. You may want to spread out blankets and lawn cushions for a relaxed and cozy setup. Creating DIY cardboard cars is a fun activity for kids and makes them feel like they’re attending a drive in movie in your own backyard.

Don’t Forget the Popcorn

No movie night is complete without snacks. No matter your audience, you can’t go wrong with some sweet and salty treats and soft drinks. You can offer a signature drink for adults and a non-alcoholic version for kids. Stick with popcorn in its classic form or try something different like these popcorn chocolate chip cookies.

Check out our blogs for more information, resources, and guides to make the most of homeownership!

5 Tips for Building Equity in Your Home

Equity can be defined as the difference between the current market value of a property and the principal balance of all outstanding loans. This is calculated by subtracting your mortgage balance from the market value of your home. Building home equity is important because it can be converted into cash if need be through a home equity loan or a line of credit or cash. In order to increase your home’s equity, you must increase your home’s value, lower your mortgage debt, or both. Here are 5 methods for doing just that.

Make a Big Down Payment

Down payments provide instant equity, and the bigger the down payment, the more equity you have to start with. As an added bonus, if you’re able to put down at least 20%, you can avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance, also known as PMI. However, it’s important to assess your finances and financial goals when determining the ideal amount of money to put down for you and your situation.

Pay More on Your Mortgage

Your mortgage payments are made to cover both principal and interest. Most mortgages are on an amortization schedule where you make payments of equal installments over a specified period of time until your loan is paid off. Generally, a larger portion of your payment goes towards interest in the beginning and more goes towards principal over time. If you can afford to, consider paying more than you have to. In doing so, you decrease your outstanding loan balance faster, thereby increasing your equity. You’ll want to make sure the extra money you pay goes to cover the principal, not interest. There are a few ways to pay extra money on your mortgage, including adding a fixed sum to your payments each month, switching to a biweekly mortgage schedule, scheduling extra payments at regular intervals, and using extra money such as tax refunds and tax gifts.

Refinance to a Shorter-Term Loan

Choosing or refinancing to a shorter loan term can help boost your equity. Typically, with 15-year mortgages, you not only get a lower interest rate but a larger portion of your payments go towards principal rather than interest. This increases the amount of equity you build each month compared to that of a 30-year mortgage. It’s important to note that payments are also higher with a shorter-term loan, so you should consider whether there’s room in your budget for larger payments.

Improve the Property

Remodeling and home improvement projects can boost your equity. According to Remodeling Magazine, the average payback on the most common upgrades is $0.64 for each dollar spent, or a 64% return on investment. Smaller projects, such as garage door replacements, do a particularly good job of increasing your equity, especially when you pay with cash rather than through a loan. Unless you’re remodeling with the intent of selling, it’s important to think about how much the improvement will enhance your living experience within the home. You should consult with a real estate agent or other home professional to determine which renovations will net you the highest return.

Wait for Your Home’s Value to Rise

If you’re not in a rush to build equity, one thing you can do is simply be patient and wait. The housing market fluctuates and therefore so does your home’s value. Local market conditions will naturally impact the value of your home; when home prices increase and demand goes up in your area, your home value will rise with it. Conversely, if the market slows, your value may go down and you may lose some equity with it. These market changes are largely out of your control, but they’re worth keeping in mind. If you’re curious, you can consult an appraiser or use an online estimating tool to get an idea of your home’s current value at any given time.

If you are considering purchasing or refinancing, please contact one of our experienced loan officers today to get you started!

 

 

Source: https://www.bankrate.com/home-equity/how-to-build-equity-in-your-home/

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/mortgages/6-ways-to-build-your-home-equity/

Home Office Small Space Solutions

Many of us  are now working remotely, and finding the space for an office in your home can seem daunting. Fortunately, even the smallest of areas can be transformed into functional and attractive workspaces! Find your inspiration with these unique creative options for a small space.

 

Closet Conversion

Remove a door from a closet and build or place a desk inside. You can use shelving to maximize your storage space, and use sliding doors or panels to hide any clutter for a crisp clean look. Painting the inside of the closet a different color than the rest of the room helps designate the space. Source: http://www.naptimedecorator.net/diy/the-closet-to-office-aka-cloffice-makeover/

Popup Workspace

If you want the freedom to set and break down easily, a popup workspace can be your best solution. Keeping portable work essentials all together allow you to easily relocate from your kitchen, to a coffee table, or to bedroom as needed. It’s a good idea to still ensure you have ergonomic seating if you will be working in the same place for a long period of time. Source: https://www.popsugar.com/home/popsugar-editor-at-home-offices-47352752

Corner Nook

Almost any corner of your home can fit a small desk and chair. Explore options to see which area of your home will work best for you. You can even purchase or build a corner shaped desk if you find your space is particularly tight. Source: https://justagirlandherblog.com/a-cozy-office-nook/

Many of us at First Home Mortgage are working from home as well. Our experienced Loan Officers are utilizing the latest communications technology to provide the highest level of customer service to our clients while keeping everyone safe. If you have any questions about purchasing or refinancing, please contact a loan officer today!

Photo credit: Betsy Goldbold

When is the right time to buy your first home?

Purchasing your first home is an exciting adventure with plenty of benefits. Homeownership can provide valuable tax breaks and offers an opportunity to build equity rather than spending rent money with no potential return. It is also an important personal and long-term financial decision, so it makes sense to prepare ahead of time and be sure you are ready.

Consider Your Income

Stable income is a vital factor in qualifying for a home loan. Even if you are in a non-traditional career, keep track of all your monthly income. This will help you and your lender to determine how much home you can comfortably afford. When planning a new budget, take all of your monthly bills into account as well as any additional maintenance and living expenses you’ll have in your new home.

Think About Your Lifestyle in the Next 5 Years

Are you planning on staying at the same place of work, or seeking a different career that might cause you to move? Are you considering sharing your space with a partner or having children in the near future? Purchasing a home is a major investment that involves certain costs, so if you think you’ll be moving or need a larger home soon, it might make sense to wait until you can buy something you’ll be living in longer. An exception to this is purchasing a home you plan to fix up and add equity to, in which case you could still move without a loss.

Learn About Where You Are Planning to Buy

Knowing which areas or neighborhoods you want to live in can help you narrow your home search. You may already be familiar with where you want to live, which makes the process easier. If you are relocating and planning to purchase somewhere new, it is good practice to tour the area you are planning to move to and learn as much about it as you can ahead of time.

Review Your Credit

Building your credit score up to a healthy level can help you obtain the best possible interest rate on your home. Paying down your debt and utilizing other methods to boost your score before purchasing a home can lead to significant long-term savings. That said, there are programs available for borrowers with a range of credit scores, so if you are unsure about your score a Loan Officer can advise you on your options.

Plan for Your Down Payment

The traditional 20% down payment is no longer the only feasible choice. There are several programs that may allow borrowers to pay little or no money out of pocket at the time of closing. Review how much of your savings you can put towards a down payment, and talk to an experienced loan officer about different loan programs to learn which is the best fit for you.

Feel Free to Ask Questions

Realtors and Loan Officers are all about customer service and building client relationships. They are happy to speak with you and answer your questions. Even if you are unsure whether now is the right time for you to buy, reaching out for advice from experienced professionals can give you peace of mind and a solid plan of action if you decide to wait.

Here at First Home Mortgage, we continue to provide the highest level of customer service while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Our innovative communication technologies allow us to exceed your expectations while keeping everyone as safe as possible. If you are considering purchasing or refinancing a home, please contact one of our Loan Officers today!

Low Housing Inventory Leads to an Increase in Bidding Wars

Many changes are facing home buyers currently house hunting during the Coronavirus pandemic. State and county restrictions directed towards protecting our health have led to new methods of interacting with realtors, loan officers, and home sellers. Virtual tours and meetings abound, and open houses are limited and require additional precautions. One of the most surprising impacts, however, is the very real shortage of available homes on the market. While demand for homes has declined, supply has declined much more drastically, leading to an unprecedented percentage of bidding wars.

According to Bloomberg, roughly 40% of homes received multiple offers, with the number jumping to 60% in some major cities. Bidding wars are most common in entry-level homes and decline in homes priced over $1 million.

A CNBC article states that home listings nationwide were down 29% in May compared to this time last year. This is thought to be due to sellers concerns over having others tour their home during the pandemic. Even with limited options on the market, many home buyers are seeing this as an opportune time to move, as mortgage interest rates continue to hit historic lows. Some experts also conjecture that increased time at home due to the pandemic restrictions are causing people to look for properties with more interior and exterior living space, driving even more buyers to the market.

In these conditions, it is more important than ever to work with experienced professionals to help find the right home and loan for you. It is important to know as soon as new properties become available so that you can have the chance to view them and decide if you want to put in an offer before they sell. Acting quickly on a home you want to purchase is imperative right now and becoming pre-qualified before house hunting can allow you to get your offer in on your dream home as soon as you find it.

To learn more about your loan options and discuss pre-qualification, please contact one of our experienced loan officers today!

 

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-20/bidding-wars-are-back-even-in-housing-market-stung-by-pandemic
https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/20/coronavirus-bidding-wars-in-a-pandemic-housing-is-heating-up-fast.html

5 Tips for Moving During a Pandemic

Packing up and moving to a new home can feel overwhelming, but during the current global pandemic this feeling can be heightened with extra precautions to consider. Follow these 5 tips to make your move feel as safe as possible.

1. Decide whether to use a moving company

With all of us trying to limit social contact, and states placing restrictions on gatherings, it’s not the best time to rally all of your family and friends for a moving party. Moving everything yourself or with just a couple of helpers is doable, and arguably the safest option overall. However, if you have a lot of large items to move, limited time, or simply don’t feel able to do it yourself, it may be worthwhile to use a moving company. Most states consider movers to be essential, allowing you to lean on those moving companies in your area. Be sure to ask what safety precautions the company is taking to limit contact, and if there are any different procedures they need you to follow.

2. Clean your home before moving day

Thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting your home while packing and before moving helps prevent bringing germs into your new place. It’s also an important measure to help protect your family, friends, or movers who are in your home and handling your boxes and furniture. Cleaning companies may be available in your area, but again be sure to use caution when planning to have additional people in your home.

3. Keep social distancing guidelines in mind

Keep CDC guidelines in mind while moving, particularly if individuals outside of your immediate family are involved. Wearing masks, maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from others, washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your face are all great practices to keep everyone safe during your move.

4. Clean and disinfect your new home before unpacking

Ideally, the prior owners would have already cleaned and disinfected it for you, but in times like these it’s best to be sure! Thoroughly clean and disinfect using CDC recommended cleaning products before moving items into your new home or hire a cleaning company to do it for you.

5. Wipe down boxes before unpacking

Moving companies will often unpack items for you, but some homeowners are choosing to skip that step to limit the potential spread of germs. If you choose to unpack items yourself, wipe down the boxes with disinfectant wipes before opening them. Another option is to leave boxes in your new garage or basement for a few days if possible, until they are past the point where germs could survive on the surfaces.

Following these moving tips can help give you peace of mind, knowing that you’ve done everything possible to keep yourself and those around you safe. If you have any questions about moving or refinancing now or in the future, please contact one of our experienced loan officers today!

5 Fun & Easy Ideas to Make the Most of Your Home During Quarantine

With so many of us enjoying plenty of extra hours in our homes right now, it’s an ideal time to tackle some small but impactful projects to maintain and improve your space. We’ve compiled a list of our 5 favorite ideas, that all require minimal supplies to accomplish!

1. Organize!

This may not be the most exciting task for everyone to tackle, but organizing and reducing clutter makes your home more functional and enjoyable now and in the future.

Some common hotspots include kitchen drawers and cabinets, bedroom closets, home offices, and other frequently used areas. Cutting through clutter and putting everything in its place can be a time-consuming process, but the finished results are well worth it! Find some inspiring before and after pics here!

2. Plant a Kitchen Herb Garden

An indoor herb garden is a beginner-level gardening project that reaps big rewards. Indoor plants help clean the air in your home, and fresh herbs are delicious to cook with! You can get creative with containers and use items you already have. Teacups and teapots are an attractive option, but even Tupperware works! Find a list of popular kitchen garden herbs here!

3. Rearrange Your Furniture – Or Go All Out and Refinish it.

Simply shifting the items you already have in a room can transform it. This can help relieve the boredom of spending so much time in the same place. Try a few different layouts and pick the one you like best. If you get tired of your new arrangement, change it up again!  If you want to impact your look up even more, this is also a good time to refinish any furniture that needs it, or that you’d rather have in a different color!

4. Paint! Paint! Paint!

Touch up paint anywhere that needs it – from walls and ceilings to baseboards to cabinets. Try out an accent wall or new front door color for some extra punch! Check out baseboard painting tips here!

5. Switch Things Up

Change out the photos in your wall frames, update your air vent covers, or swap out your cabinet and drawer knobs for something different. These changes take a bit of time but don’t require anything more than a screwdriver!

Making the most of your extra time at home with easy projects can help pass the time, ease the monotony and boost your enjoyment of your home!

We’re all practicing social distancing at First Home Mortgage, but with today’s range of communication technology our loan officers can still offer you personalized service while keeping everyone safe. If you have questions about purchasing or refinancing a home, contact one of our experienced loan officers today!

8 Ways to Make Your Home a Smart Home

There’s no doubt that technology has revolutionized our everyday lives. Implementing smart devices and technology throughout your home can improve your quality of life. Other than work, we spend the vast majority of our time at home and by using technology to automate everyday processes, we can save time, energy, and even money. Here are 8 ways to transform your home into a smart home.

  1. Smart Home Assistant/ Smart Speaker

The first item you will need to turn your home into a smart home is a digital assistant. The two most popular options are the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Using voice commands, you can control many functions including the temperature, music, and even turning lights on and off. You can also use the assistant to set reminders or create your grocery list.

  1. Smart Home Hub

Some smart speakers have a built-in smart home hub, but if your speaker does not have one you should consider a separate hub. The hub is essentially the brain, a central location where all your devices connect, allowing for total automation of your home from one app.

  1. Smart Lightbulbs

Smart lightbulbs will not only make your life easier, but they are energy efficient! The bulbs will connect to your assistant giving you the power to turn lights on and off in any room with just the sound of your voice or on the app. Depending on the type of smart lightbulb you choose you can even control other settings such as changing colors!

  1. Smart Thermostat

A smart thermostat can be used to automate the temperature in your home. The thermostat can connect to your hub or assistant and can be controlled through the app. It can learn your favorite settings and monitor temperatures in different rooms of your home. Plus, if you are coming back from a trip, you can adjust the temperature so it is perfect once you arrive home!

  1. Smart Doorbell

Smart doorbells have become increasingly popular in recent years. They can create a way to keep your family and home safer. The smart doorbell will alert you when someone is present and allows for you to speak through the doorbell. The HD camera inserted into the doorbell adds the extra protection of checking in at any time. This could come in handy for when you’re not home. Most intruders ring the doorbell before breaking into a home, so if you’re not there and someone rings, you’re able to speak to them and see them which could potentially deter any further crime. Some smart doorbells even have the capacity to recognize frequent visitors and can tell you who is specifically at your door.

  1. Smart Plugs

Smart plugs allow you to group and schedule devices via your app. You can use these to put timers on lighting, turn on appliances, and more! These are cheap, easy to install, and connect to your smart home hub or speaker.

  1. Security Cameras

One of the best ways to keep an eye on your home is through indoor and outdoor security cameras. Most smart home security cameras, whether indoor or outdoor, can easily connect to your home’s wi-fi. Through your smart phone, you can access the cameras to check in and ensure everything is as it should be. Most people opt to have multiple cameras outdoors. Putting one camera on each corner of your home can allow a full range of view to see what is happening all around the perimeter. Many security cameras come with a storage option, some recording movements and allowing you to save or rewind to view previous footage.

  1. Smart Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are essential in turning your home into a smart home. These smart detectors use technology to sense danger and alert you via your smartphone. Some detectors can even detect false alarms, only alerting you of a real threat. Most come with add-ons like sensors to determine occupancy in the home during an emergency.

 

Source: https://thesmarthomer.com/how-to-make-your-home-a-smart-home/

10 Tips for Working from Home

1. Develop Morning and Evening Routines

Working from home can be a major adjustment when you’re used to going into an office every day. To help embrace your new normal, develop a morning routine that sets you up for success, and an end of the workday routine to help send a signal to your brain that the day is done. This adds structure to your week and replaces some of your familiar office habits that you may miss. Popular recommendations for a morning routine are to enjoy a healthy breakfast, get some exercise, and get yourself ready. Some experts suggest it boosts productivity to get dressed as though you’re actually going into the office. When your workday is done, a brief relaxing activity like a game or some leisure reading can transition you out of work mode.

2. Create a Dedicated Workspace

It’s important to have a workspace that works for you, both practically and mentally. A designated space that’s relatively peaceful and quiet is the best way to go. Be sure to set up everything you’ll need to do your job, and since you’ll be spending lots of time there, make it as comfortable and convenient as you can!

3. Establish Dedicated Hours

Some jobs have more set hours, particularly positions where we need to be available to clients and partners during regular office hours. Others can be more flexible. In either case, a set work schedule is considered good practice for working from home. It provides you with a structure similar to what you’re used to, makes it easy to keep track of your time, and helps to keep the boundaries between your work and home life in place.

4. Don’t Forget Lunch and Breaks

Just as you would in the office – be sure to take your lunch and some occasional breaks! Setting alarms to remind yourself can be helpful.

5. Squeeze in Stretching and Exercise

Getting up to walk around and stretch periodically is always important at a desk job, but it can be even more important when working from home. This is because your home desk setup may not be as ergonomic as your office desk and chair. Experts particularly recommend spinal twists and neck stretches to protect your back and posture.

6. Find Some Outside Time

Get some fresh air during lunch and breaks, and as part of your morning routine when possible. It’s important to get out of the house so you don’t feel too cooped up!

7. Focus on Communication

Working from home means you aren’t getting face to face time with your colleagues. This makes communication more important than ever. Stay in touch about projects you’re working on, and call or video into meetings when it makes sense. Multiple sources suggest it’s important to be extra positive in remote communication, since quick texts and emails can be interpreted different ways by the reader. Break out the emojis and exclamation points!

8. Set Work Life Boundaries

A whole new set of “coworkers” can come along with working from home. Setting boundaries for your little ones and furry friends can keep you from feeling frazzled while you’re getting things done. On the flip side, just because you always have access to your work doesn’t mean you should work all the time! Try to maintain the work-life balance you’re used to.

9. Manage Sound to Avoid Distractions

Too much noise can be distracting, and so can too little! If you have to work in a noisy area, sound canceling headphones are a worthwhile investment. If silence is getting to you when you’re used to the hum of a busy office, try playing quiet music or turning the TV on at a low volume.

10. Do What Works for You!

Most importantly, tailor your work from home experience to what works best for you! While working from home can be challenging, there are plenty of benefits to balance that out. Find a space and schedule that makes you happy and productive, and live your best work from home life!

We’re all practicing social distancing at First Home Mortgage, but with today’s range of communication technology our loan officers can still offer you personalized service while keeping everyone safe. If you have questions about purchasing or refinancing a home, contact one of our experienced loan officers today!

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