Pet-Proofing Your Home by Room

When a new furry friend enters your life, it doesn’t take long for them to become an important member of the family. Animals, especially young ones, can be very curious and easily get into things they shouldn’t. It’s important that you take steps to protect your pet from hazards in your home and from potential damages caused by your pet. Here are some tips for pet-proofing different areas of your home.

Throughout the Home

In many ways, your pet is a lot like a little kid. Think about the steps you’d take to make your home safe for a child. If there are areas of your home you don’t want your pet to access, consider using a pet or baby gate to restrict where they can go. You may even want to use childproof latches to stop them from using their paws to open cabinets and drawers. Like you would for a child, beware of small items they can easily swallow such as batteries, coins, magnets, buttons, paper clips, and anything with small removable parts. Try keeping electrical wires and cords out of your pet’s reach so they can’t chew through them, or at least try making a habit of unplugging things when they aren’t in use to minimize the risk of electrocution. The tidier you keep your house, the less likely your pet is to get into something they shouldn’t. When it comes to house plants inside and out, do your research; some flowers and plants (including lilies, tulips, and azaleas) are poisonous to animals and can make your pet critically ill. The ASPCA has a list of toxic and non-toxic plants you can review.

Kitchen

Keep your food up high and secured where you pet cannot access it. The ASPCA has a list of food to avoid feeding your pet so you can take extra care securing foods that are more likely to make your pet sick. Beyond the well-known chocolate, these foods include avocados, onions and garlic, grapes and raisins, coffee, nuts, salt, and gum. Even when a food isn’t harmful to your animal, the wrapper or packaging it comes in could be. Watch out for little things like twist ties and can tabs that your pet could easily swallow. For extra safety, you may want to use a gate to keep your pet out while you’re cooking so they don’t get under your feet and they stay away from any hot surfaces or open flames

Laundry Room

Always check to make sure your pet hasn’t gotten into the washer or dryer before loading them. Keep laundry detergent, bleach, and other chemicals up high and out of reach. It’s best to keep your laundry in a basket to minimize the risk of your pet chewing on or even swallowing small articles of clothing such as socks. When swallowed, things like strings and buttons can cause digestive issues.

Bathroom

Keep any and all medications, soaps, cosmetics, and cleaners up and out of your pet’s reach. Make sure your toilet lid is kept closed to stop your pet from drinking from the toilet. Don’t leave your pet alone when there’s water in the tub or shower to prevent drowning.

Living Room

If your pet is particularly rambunctious, you may want to secure your furniture to the wall to avoid potential tip overs which could injure your animal or someone else nearby. If you have children, keep their toys tucked away when not in use so your pet can’t chew on or swallow them, especially small toys. If you’re concerned about your pet damaging upholstery, there are couch and chair protectors you can buy so they can’t scratch or chew your furniture.

Bedrooms

Keep your clothes and shoes out of your pet’s reach so they don’t have an opportunity to chew on them. Be careful what you leave on nightstands if it’s at eye level or within swiping reach of your animal. Make sure your pet isn’t sleeping in any drawers or closets before closing them. If you have a very small or senior pet that sleeps in bed with you, you may want to purchase a ramp or set of steps to help them get into bed easier.

Outdoors

If your pet has access to a pet door, it’s essential that you have a fence or other barrier in place to keep them within your yard. Check your fence for any gaps or holes where your pet might be able to get through. Be careful and follow directions when using pesticides and other chemicals as these can make your pet sick if they come in contact with them; keep your pet inside when working with chemicals outside and store all chemicals up high and away when not in use. After your pet has been outside, especially in tall grass, it’s important you check them for pests such as fleas and ticks.

Are you looking to purchase a new home or refinance your current home? Reach out to one of our loan officers today to get more information!

Tips for Selling Your Home During a Pandemic

The outbreak of COVID-19 has changed the way we do most things, real estate included. While it may not be the most ideal time to sell a home, it’s also not a bad time. Demand for homes is up, and with mortgage rates near all-time lows, many interested buyers are jumping at the chance to find their dream home. Here are some tips for safely selling your home during a pandemic.

Offer Virtual Tours

A virtual tour could consist of anything from a simple live walkthrough with an agent to a full 3D recorded house tour. These in-person walkthrough alternatives allow a potential buyer to really get a feel for what a house is like without physically stepping inside. Ask your realtor for more information about how to set up virtual tours of your home.

Don’t Forget About Staging

Staging is an incredibly important part of the home selling process, but not everyone wants a stager entering their home during this uncertain time. Some professionals are offering virtual staging services where they can seamlessly add décor to images of your home digitally. If virtual staging isn’t for you, consider taking a DIY approach and staging your home for photos or videos yourself. Items such as blankets and throw pillows, mirrors and framed art, plants, and decorative containers can really elevate the look of a room. Check out these helpful DIY room staging tips from HGTV.

Use the Extra Time in Your Home to Transform Your Space

Most of us are spending more time than ever in our homes. Take advantage of this time by tackling some home improvement projects. Transform unused space in your home into a spare bedroom, home office, or gym. Upgrade your backyard to include a patio or garden. Build the fence you’ve always thought would elevate your outdoor space. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

Take Extra Precautions for Face to Face Showings and Meetings

While it’s great to have virtual options, they aren’t always going to be the best choice for you depending on your unique situation. When welcoming people into your home, be sure to sanitize before and especially after. In their Coronavirus guide for Realtors, the National Association of Realtors offers guidance for what to do before, during, and after in-person showings. First and foremost, you should check state and local mandates and executive orders for any specific requirements regarding in-person showings. During the showing, they suggest maintaining social distancing, limiting the number of people who may attend at one time, hand washing and sanitizing as well as removing footwear at the start of the tour, discouraging the touching of any home surfaces such as handles and light switches, and avoiding handshaking. If possible, keep a log including names, dates, and locations for contract tracing purposes should someone contract COVID-19. Following a showing, you’ll want to wipe down all surfaces visitors came in contact with. For more suggestions, check out our tips for disinfecting your home.

If you have questions regarding financing your home now or in the future, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our experienced loan officers.

How to Get Your Home Ready for Renters

Owning a rental property can be a great investment, but do you know how to properly prepare a space for tenants? Check out these tips for getting your home ready for renters.

Give It a Thorough Cleaning

It’s essential that you clean your house prior to renting, ideally when looking for renters but certainly before anyone moves in. This should go beyond your regular cleaning routine and get to things that are easily neglected or put off such as cleaning carpets, changing air filters, and scrubbing baseboards. You can do it yourself or hire a cleaning company; all that matters is that the job gets done well and from top to bottom.

Perform Inspections

This is another task you can do yourself or leave to a professional so long as it’s done correctly and thoroughly. Inspect your home and everything in it to be sure everything functions properly and is move-in ready. Make sure the structure of your home is in good shape; check out all your ceilings, windows, roofing, floors, doors, walls, systems (plumbing, HVAC, electrical, etc.), and other structural components. Keep an eye out for mold, cracks, and water damage. If the rental comes furnished, make sure there aren’t any issues with furniture on top of checking that all of the appliances are working properly. If you uncover any problems, be sure to have them fixed as soon as possible.

Spruce Things Up Inside and Out

Even if everything works fine, you may find there are still improvements to be made. Lay a fresh coat of paint on all your walls, do some landscaping outside, update lighting fixtures, and make other changes to refresh the space. You can even consider upgrading countertops, cabinetry, and appliances. While improvements and renovations can get expensive, they can also increase the amount of rent you can charge as a result.

Make It Safe

A potential renter wants to know they’re living in a safe and secure home. Be sure to change the locks, make sure all smoke detectors are in working order, and equip the kitchen with a full fire extinguisher. If you don’t already have one, consider installing a security system. Installing motion sensor lights outside is an easy way to give your tenants more peace of mind when they walk outside at night.

Check Your Mortgage for Additional Requirements

Depending on your lender and mortgage type, you may be required to notify your mortgage company before renting out your home. These requirements should be listed in your loan contract; consult a loan officer if you have any questions. You may need to follow up with information about the tenant or provide proof of additional insurance if stated in your contract. When in doubt, contact your lender.

If you’re interested in buying a rental property or have questions about renting your mortgaged home, reach out to one of our experienced loan officers to learn more!

Things to Consider Before Buying a Vacation Home

Vacation homes can be a great investment, whether you plan to use them to rent out, for after retirement, or simply to stay in on vacations. Buying a second home is a big decision, and it’s imperative you take the time to consider the various financial and lifestyle implications associated with this big purchase. Here are a few questions you should be asking yourself when contemplating buying a vacation property.

Can I Afford It?

Whether or not you can afford a vacation home should be your top concern before seriously pursuing the idea. Think about the state of your finances. Are you saving enough for retirement and any emergencies? Do you have enough for a down payment? Can you still meet your other important long-term financial goals? What is your debt-to-income ratio? A debt-to-income ratio is calculated by adding up all your monthly bills and dividing them by your monthly pre-tax income. The lower your debt-to-income ratio, the more income you have to save and spend on other things and the more likely a lender is to let you borrow money. When you look at all your outstanding debts—the rent or mortgage for your primary residence, student loans, any alimony or child support, other recurring payments—do you have enough to live on if you add in a new vacation home mortgage? If your debt-to-income ratio is on the higher side, it’s probably not the best time to buy another home.

Beyond the mortgage, it’s important to take into account the other expenses you would incur. Even if you’re only staying in the home part-time, you’ll still have things like utilities, possible HOA dues, insurance premiums, maintenance fees, taxes, and other bills and expenses to take care of all year long. Can you afford to pay these bills for a vacation home on top of your primary residence?

Is This the Right Location?

When it comes to a vacation home, you could pick just about anywhere in the country or even the world to buy. Make sure wherever you pick is somewhere you really like and either see yourself visiting often or believe will have lots of demand for renters. Consider visiting and renting in your desired location a few times in order to better gauge whether it’s the right place to put down roots more permanently. You should also think about localized taxes and ordinances that may be different than what you’re used to at your primary residence.

Why Do I Want to Buy a Vacation Home?

Sure, we’d all like to have a vacation home, but it’s important to ask yourself why exactly you want one. Is it somewhere you’ll visit regularly? Will you be saving money by owning instead of renting when vacationing? Are you buying it as an investment property to rent out? Is this where you’d like to retire someday? Will you get enough use out of it now or in the future to make it a worthwhile purchase? Having another home may seem ideal in theory, but it’s not always the most practical decision depending on your lifestyle and needs. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of vacation homeownership before making a decision.

Is This the Best Time to Buy?

Avoid buying a home during peak tourist season, be it winter for a mountain property or summer for something by the water. Current owners are likely looking to recoup their investment during the busy season and are less likely to put homes on the market. Wait for the final weeks of peak tourism or later. For properties with summer as their high season, the time between Labor Day and Thanksgiving is perfect to search for your dream property as you take ownership early enough to get an idea of what future summers might be like and still make repairs and do maintenance work before winter sets in. For winter vacation homes, aim to search in the spring (but don’t wait too long to start looking, as some particularly remote properties may get boarded up for the summer months).

If you’re thinking about buying a vacation home, reach out to one of our experienced loan officers today to explore your financing options!

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.

You can find more of our blogs and other resources here!

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 another 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 – most notably housing inventory. 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 the seller’s 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

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