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Serving South Florida

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For over 30 years

Posts Tagged ‘local real estate’

Types of Movers for Home Buyers

relocation

 

relocation

Moving to a new house, city or state is one of the most stressful things a person can go through. Even when everything goes smoothly, you’ll likely be exhausted when all is said and done. Whether it’s down the street or across the country, moving is a major task that requires much effort and coordination. For this reason, many people choose to hire a moving company, but knowing who to entrust your belongings can be a daunting task.

While you do have the option of going the DIY route when moving, things will be so much easier and more convenient for you if you hire professional movers instead. You’ll incur certain costs by doing so, but the help they can provide is worth it.

It’s also a common mistake to hire the first moving company you lay your eyes on in an ad. There are so many moving companies out there, but not all are created equal. The movers you should hire are legitimate ones with licenses, insurance and other vital considerations. You should also get quotes from at least three movers to determine the best deal. Ask for references and verifying credentials. And remember to never pre-pay for a move!

Local Movers

There are many kinds of moving companies depending on the type of move you’re looking to make. Some companies specialize in local moves and will have limitations on the distance they’re willing to travel. Local movers are great for small cross-town moves since they typically charge by the hour.

Long-Distance

If you’re moving across the country, you’ll want to find a long-distance mover. These movers have special licensing that allows them to operate across state lines and they typically charge a bulk rate based on how quickly you need to be moved and how many items you’ll be moving. In some circumstances, you may even need to move out of the country. International movers will help you pack and get your items overseas. These moving companies are usually prepared for immigration and customs issues.

Full-Service

If you want a completely stress-free move, you should consider a full-service moving company. These companies take all the hassle out of your move by disassembling and packing up your old house and then unpacking and reassembling everything in your new place. Additionally, they provide all of the materials so you don’t have to worry about how much tape you’ll need or what size boxes to get.

Tax Considerations When Deciding to Relocate.

Florida retains its ranking as one of the nation’s lowest-tax states, according to the latest study released by Florida TaxWatch. Out of 50 states, Florida ranks No. 42 in the average amount of money paid by residents.
Florida TaxWatch findings:
  • Floridians pay an average $5,679 per person in state and local taxes
  • Residents pay an average $2,584 in state taxes – one of the least amounts nationwide. Only the residents of one other state pay less.
  • However, local tax burdens are higher. “Per Capita Local Tax Collections” ranked No. 27 nationally.
  • In the balance between state and local taxes, Florida relies more heavily on local revenue than almost all other states and is No. 2 nationwide. Local taxes account for 53.3 percent of the total.
  • With property taxes, Florida ranks a solid “average” score – No. 25. The state’s per capita property tax ranking is right at the median – 25th.
  • Florida also classifies 38.7 percent of its state and local revenue as non-tax revenue (such as “fees”) – the 7th largest percentage in the nation.
  • Florida relies more heavily on transaction taxes, such as general and sales taxes. They make up, 81.5 percent of all state tax collections compared to the national average of 47.2 percent.
  • Florida has the highest state and local selective sales (excise) taxes on utilities in the nation. The tax on motor fuels is No. 15; the tax on alcoholic beverages is No. 19.
  • Florida’s housing sector produces significant revenue, and the state’s documentary stamp taxes are rising rapidly post-recession. It collected an average of $276 per capita in 2006, $72 in 2009, and $130 per capita in 2016 – the nation’s second-largest doc-tax burden.
  • Florida is one of seven states without a personal income tax. The average state relies on personal income taxes for 37.0 percent of its tax revenue.
  • Businesses pay 51.7 percent of all Florida state and local taxes – the 12th highest percentage in the nation.

Location, Location, Location!

There are many things that should be considered when buying a home. Since most home buyers expect to buy a bigger and better home someday in the future, resale value is an important factor in decision-making. While no one can guarantee that your home will grow in value, there are steps you can take that maximize your potential gain.
“Location, location, location,” is a common and almost overused phrase in real estate and has been in use at least since 1926, according to the New York Times. It is just as relevant now as it was then.
The idea is to buy a house that will appeal to the largest number of potential future home buyers. A careful choice of location can minimize potential negative influences on future resale value, and maximize positive influences.
So if “location, location, location” is so important, what makes a location good? Here are five characteristics to look for when buying a home. If you can get all five, chances are the home will be a good investment.
Some “good” and “bad” qualities simply vary by community. If you know your local community, you know which parts of town are less or more desirable.
Safety:
People want to live where there’s little or no crime. Naturally, they want to feel safe in their homes and will pay extra for it. A safe neighborhood means people will feel free to walk around, be outdoors and interact with their neighbors.
Good Schools:
Whether you have children, plan on having them, never want children, or they are out of the house; the better the school district, the higher the values of the surrounding homes can be. . The reputation, the quality and the district are additional factors in finding a good school. Homes surrounding good schools are in high demand. Found a home you love but the school district is subpar? Be aware of that issue for resale down the road.
Convenient access to work, popular places, shops and restaurants
Everyone wants to be near the best commercial districts. The closer to the hubbub of a particular town or the best parts of a city, the better the location – and the more someone is willing to pay for a home. The distance from point A to point B is so important. A long commute burns more gas and wastes more time than necessary. Therefore, evaluate the time it takes to travel from the home to the following: work, school, store, hospitals and favorite hangouts. Buyers without cars must live in communities with public transportation access. A community containing local amenities close by is valuable to buyers.
View, Views, Views:
No matter which town or city, someone will always pay for a great view or to be on or near the water.  An interior location with lack of road noise is also an important consideration. If the community does not offer views, then the backyard area and how it is designed is a consideration.
Access to public transit and/or freeways:
In major cities, the farther you live from the bus, subway or other types of mass transit, the less valuable the home. A good location means being very close, and having easy access, to public transportation. Being near a train or bus can get you anywhere in a short amount of time. In some towns, where a commute by car is inevitable, easy access to the freeway makes for a good location. Adding 20 minutes to a commute just to get to the freeway never helps a location.
It’s almost easier to talk about what constitutes a bad location than to discuss good locations. There are some common characteristics that make a location “bad,” no matter where you are. That is because the qualities that make a good location desirable can vary, depending on whether you’re looking in the city, suburbs, the country or the mountains. Bad locations, by their general nature, are easier to pinpoint. Some examples are:
Commercial/industrial areas:
Unless you live downtown, commercial buildings on your block diminish residential real estate values. Part of the reason is because homeowners cannot control loitering. Homes next to gas stations or shopping centers are undesirable because of the noise factor and compromise safely.
 
Railroad tracks, freeways or under flight paths:
Some city dwellers have homes close to railroad tracks and endure rumbling and other noise 24-hours a day. If you have a choice to be in a quiet area, free from road noise within the same community, this is the better choice of residence.
Economically depressed areas:
If owners show no pride of ownership in maintaining their homes, evidenced by lack of maintenance, poor landscaping and junk in the yard, you might think twice about moving into such an area.
Close to hazards:
People don’t want to live next door to power plants or substations. Few home buyers want a transformer in their yard, either. Understand the flooding risks and exposure to natural disasters and the preventative measures that have been taken to minimize them.
Other factors that can make for a “bad” location: very close proximity to a fire station (good if your house is on fire, not so good if you’re trying to sleep); a hospital (frequent ambulance sirens); an airport (sounds of jet engines 18 hours per day) or a school (traffic from buses or parents dropping off children or kids yelling and playing).

Ensure A Smooth Mortgage Application Process

What to do before closing:

  • You can still be denied for a mortgage loan, even after you’ve been pre-approved by the lender. The pre-approval is not a commitment or guarantee. You’ve been conditionally qualified for loan. But you need to stay qualified all the way up to the closing. The less your financial situation changes, the better.
  • If you withdraw or transfer funds for any reason before closing, your lender will probably ask for a written explanation. They will also want to see a record of the transaction, such as your bank statements.
  • Make sure you have a home owners insurance policy in place. Your lender will require this. They might even require you to pay the first year’s premium in advance, by setting up an escrow account. The lender may contact your insurance agent before closing day, to verify the policy and coverage amount.
  • If you make any large deposits into your account, tell your lender about it. It will only help your cause, as far as mortgage approval goes. Provide any documents you have relating to the deposit.

 

What to avoid before closing day:

  • Don’t spend a lot of money. Implement a self-imposed “spending freeze,” as much as possible. You obviously have to buy groceries, gas for your car, and other necessities. But don’t spend anything beyond that. Keep things as stable as possible until after you close on the home.
  • It’s best to avoid any major purchases during this period. Your lender might have certain cash-reserve requirements for the loan. So a major reduction in assets could hurt your chances of getting the final approval.
  • Don’t open any new credit lines, such as credit cards. The same goes for buying a car, applying for a store credit card, etc. These things will change your debt ratio, which could cause problems with your final approval. Mortgage lenders hate surprises.
  • Don’t switch jobs before closing, unless it’s completely unavoidable. A new job usually brings a change in income, as well. If your income goes down, it will alter your debt-to-income ratio in a bad way. A change in employment will also require a lot of paperwork changes. Some lenders will verify your employment again, just before closing day.

 

Why Fla. is the Best State for Retirement

Sunshine, beaches and a laid-back lifestyle have made Florida one of the top destinations for retirees looking to live out their golden years in peace and comfort.

Now a new study from WalletHub.com has named the Sunshine State the best place in the U.S. to retire based on its affordability, quality of life and healthcare. The website pointed out that nearly a third of non-retirees have no retirement savings or pension and said it made its choices to help retirees find the states that offered the most bang for their buck.

Rounding out the top five for 2016 after Florida were Wyoming, South Dakota, South Carolina and Colorado.

At the bottom? Vermont, Connecticut, Hawaii, Washington D.C. and Rhode Island.

Here are the top six reasons why Florida is the best place to retire, according to WalletHub.

Hole in one!
From Seminole Golf Course in Juno Beach (the state’s top ranked links, according to GolfDigest) to Trump National Doral, Florida has the most golf courses per capita in the nation.

Company
Looking for new friends? You won’t be lonely in the Sunshine State, which has the highest percentage of people aged 65 or over of any state.

Out on the town
It’s not Broadway, but theatergoers in Florida have more and better options than ever before. The state has the sixth-most theaters per capita in the U.S.

Help at home
The cost of hiring a nurse and other in-home help can break the bank for many seniors. But Florida has the eighth-lowest cost of in-home services of any state.

Low taxes
Many retirees don’t realize they may need to pay federal and state taxes on Social Security income and withdrawals from IRA and 401(k) funds. Florida’s low taxes make it the 10th-best state for retirees come tax season, according to WalletHub.

A night at the museum
Miami’s burgeoning cultural scene means locals don’t have to travel to New York for their museum fix. From the Pérez Art Museum Miami to the under-construction Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science to HistoryMiami, South Florida museums are on the upswing. Nationwide, Florida has the 15th-most museums per capita.

So what are you waiting for? Florida is calling.

 

Miami Herald, Written by Nicholas Nehamas

2016 Florida Homestead Exemption Reminder

It’s not too early to file for a property tax exemption for next year;  filing now
will allow Florida  property owners to beat the rush that normally occurs early in the year
as people try to beat the March 1 deadline.


Any Florida property owner with legal title to a home and who uses it as his or 
her permanent, primary residence by Jan. 1 is eligible for this exemption.   Homeowners
making their first claim at this time should contact their respective county property
appraiser’s office to find out how best to file for the exemption — many offices
offer applications online or will mail applications to residents. Homeowners may
also file for a homestead exemption in person, bringing along the deed to their
property or a property tax bill — something to prove they own the home. Most property
appraisers’ offices will accept applications for homestead exemption until the March
1 deadline. Please call your local county property appraiser’s office to find out
more.Visit the link found on my web site for contact information.

https://www.optimaproperties.com/south-florida-resources

Here are the criteria to see if you qualify and the documentation you will need 
to provide along with your application:

$25,000 Homestead Exemption

Every person who has legal or equitable title to real property in the State of Florida
and who resides thereon and in good faith makes it his or her permanent home is 
eligible to file for Homestead Exemption. First time applicants are required to 
furnish their social security number, and should have available evidence of ownership(
i.e., deed, contract, etc. )  If title is held by the husband alone, a wife may 
file for him, with his consent, and vice versa. If filing for the first time, be
prepared to answer these and other questions:


1. In whose name or names was the title to the dwelling recorded as of January 1st?
2. What is the street address of the property?
3. Are you a legal resident of the State of Florida? (A Certificate of Domicile 
or Voter’s Registration will be proof if dated prior to January 1st.)
4. Do you have a Florida license plate on your car and a Florida driver’s license?
5. Were you living in the dwelling which is being claimed for homestead exemption
on January 1st?

Additional $25,000 Homestead Exemption for persons 65 and older

Every person who is eligible for the homestead exemption described above is eligible
for an additional homestead exemption up to $25,000 under the following circumstances:
(1) the county or municipality adopts an ordinance that allows the additional homestead
exemption which applies only to the taxes levied by the unit of government granting
the exemption; (2) the taxpayer is 65 years of age or older on January 1 of the 
year for which the exemption is claimed; (3) the annual household income of the 
taxpayer (defined as the adjusted gross income as defined in s. 62, United States
Internal Revenue Code of all members of a household) for the prior year does not
exceed $20,000 (beginning January 1, 2001, this income threshold is adjusted annually
by the percentage change in the average cost-of-living index); and, (4) the taxpayer
annually submits a sworn statement of household income to the property appraiser
not later than March 1.

$500 Widow’s Exemption

Any widow who is a permanent Florida resident may claim this exemption. If the widow
remarries, she is no longer eligible. If the husband and wife were divorced before
his death, the woman is not considered a widow. You may be asked to produce a death
certificate when filing for the first time.

$500 Widower’s Exemption

Any widower who is a permanent Florida resident may claim this exemption. If the
widower remarries he is no longer eligible. If the husband and wife were divorced
before her death, the man is not considered a widower. You may be asked to produce
a death certificate when filing for the first time.

$500 Disability Exemption

Every Florida resident who is totally and permanently disabled qualifies for this
exemption. If filing for the first time, please present at least one of the following
as proof of your disability: A certificate from a licensed Florida physician or 
a certificate from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

$5000 Disability Veteran

Any ex-service member disabled at least 10% in war or by service-connected misfortune
is entitled to a $5000 exemption. If filing for the first time, please present a
certificate from the United States Government.

$500 Exemption for blind persons

Every Florida resident who is blind qualifies for this exemption. If claiming exemption
based on blindness, a certificate from the Division of Blind Services of the Department
of Education or the United States Department of Veterans Affairs or the Federal 
Social Security Administration certifying the applicant to be blind is required.
“Blind person” is defined as an individual having central vision acuity 20/200 
or less in the better eye with correcting glasses, or a disqualifying field defect
in which the peripheral field has contracted to such an extent that the widest diameter
or visual field subtends an angular distance no greater than twenty degrees.

Service-connected total and permanent disability exemption

Any honorably discharged veteran with a service-connected total and permanent disability,
surviving spouses of qualifying veterans and spouses of Florida resident veterans
who died from service-connected causes while on active duty as a member of the United
States Armed forces are entitled to an exemption on real estate used and owned as
a homestead less any portion thereof used for commercial purposes.

Persons entitled to this exemption must have been a permanent resident of this state
as of January 1st of the year of assessment.

Under certain circumstances the benefit of this exemption can carry over to the 
veteran’s spouse in the event of the veteran’s death. Consult your appraiser for
details.

If filing for the first time, please bring a certificate from the United States 
Government or United States Department of Veterans Affairs as your proof of a service-connected
disability or death of your spouse while on active duty.

Exemption for totally and permanently disabled persons


1. Any real estate used and owned as a homestead, less any portion thereof used 
for commercial purposes by any quadriplegic shall be exempt from taxation.
2. Any real estate used and owned as a homestead, less any portion thereof used 
for commercial purposes, by a paraplegic, hemiplegic or other totally and permanently
disabled person, as defined in Section 196.012(10), F.S., who must use a wheelchair
for mobility or who is legally blind, shall be exempt from taxation.

Persons entitled to the exemption under number two (2) above, must be a permanent
resident of the State of Florida as of January 1st of the year of assessment. Also,
the prior year gross income of all persons residing in or upon the homestead shall
not exceed the amount of income, set forth in section 196.101(4), F.S., adjusted
annually by the percentage change of the average cost of living index issued by
the United States Department of Labor. Gross income shall include United States
Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and any social security benefits paid to
the person. A statement of gross income must accompany the application.

If filing for the first time, please bring a certificate from two (2) licensed doctors
of this state or a certificate (per s. 196.091, F.S.) from the United States Department
of Veterans Affairs.

_____________________________

 

2016 Real Estate Forecast

Forecasts for the 2016 housing market are starting to trickle in; analysts are predicting that next year’s market will be a picture of “moderate, but solid growth.”

Several real estate pundits are predicting about a 3% year over year growth in housing prices with price increases being dampened by predictions of mortgage rates increasing to 4.65% for a 30-year fixed by the end of 2016.
Total sales of existing and new homes will reach 6 million for the first time since 2006; new home starts will increase 12 percent and new home sales will grow 16 percent, but it will take continued growth in both the gross domestic product and the job market to get there.
The U.S. economy in 2016 is expected to power forward at a steady, reasonable pace. Surveys of lenders continue to show that credit is becoming more available for homeowners, aided by new jobs for millions more people now working.
Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of REALTORS® expects a moderate annual increase in sales of existing homes of around 7.3 percent in 2015, rising 2.9 percent in 2016. Even brighter is the outlook for new-homes sales, projected in 2015 to grow at 14.9 percent over 2014 levels, and 16.7 percent in 2016.
2015 may have marked the best year for housing since 2007, but the market will likely get even rosier in 2016, according to a recent real estate forecast by Realtor.com®. One of the main drivers behind the brighter 2016 is the projection that employment will continue to grow, which will add to consumers’ wallets and allow them to purchase their first home or upgrade to a new one.
Realtor.com® highlights the following housing predictions for 2016:
1. ‘Normal’ is coming.
Expect a healthy growth in home sales and prices – at a slower pace than in 2015. “This slowdown is not an indication of a problem-it’s just a return to normalcy,” writes Jonathan Smoke,Realtor.com’s® chief economist. New construction and distressed sales are expected to return to more historical levels, and home prices are expected to follow at “more normal rates consistent with a more balanced market.”
 
2. Generational buying trends shape up.
Young adults’ presence on the housing market has been largely predicted for years, but 2016 may finally be the year they make a move in a larger way. Millennials represented nearly 2 billion sales in 2015 – one-third of home-buyers. They are expected to continue to be a major buying pool in 2016 with the majority of buyers between ages 25 and 34 expected to be first-time home buyers next year.
But two other generations will also have a big presence in 2016: financially recovering GenXers and older baby boomers who are entering retirement, Realtor.com® notes. “Since most of these people are already homeowners, they’ll play a double role, boosting the market as both sellers and buyers,” Smoke notes. “Gen Xers are in their prime earning years and thus able to relocate to better neighborhoods for their families. Older boomers are approaching (or already in) retirement and seeking to downsize and lock in a lower cost of living.”
3. New-home construction focuses more on affordability.
Builders have been faced with higher land costs, limited labor, and concerns about the demand of the entry-level market. As such, they have shifted to constructing more higher-priced homes, which has caused new-home prices to rise significantly faster than existing-home prices. In 2016, they likely will shift to more affordable product to cater to the entry-level buyers.
4. Higher mortgage rates.
Mortgage rates will likely be volatile in 2016. But the recent move by the Federal Reserve to guide interest rates higher should push mortgage rates higher in the New Year than the historical lows they have been at for years. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage will likely end 2016 about 60 basis points higher than today’s level. “That level of increase is manageable, as consumers will have multiple tactics to mitigate some of that increase,” Smoke says. “However, higher rates will drive monthly payments higher, and, along with that, debt-to-income ratios will also go higher.” The markets with the highest home prices will see the effects from the higher rates the most.
 
5. Rents to go up even higher.
Rental costs are skyrocketing, and the costs are likely to only go up in the New Year. More than 85 percent of the nation’s markets have rents that exceed 30 percent of the income of renting households. “Rents are accelerating at a more rapid pace than home prices, which are moderating,” Smoke says. “Because of this, it is more affordable to buy in more than three-quarters of the U.S. However, for the majority of renting households, buying is not a near-term option due to poor household credit scores, limited savings, and lack of stable income of the kind necessary to qualify for a mortgage today.”

Should You Buy A Fixer-Upper Home?

Buying a fixer upper  home comes with some unique advantages. For one, the price point for a fixer upper home  will be lower than a comparable home that is in excellent shape. By paying less for a fixer upper home, you can have more of an opportunity to customize and tailor it to fit your unique taste and personality. Indeed, many fixer upper homes are great investments for people willing to put in the time and effort to transform a house into a home. On the flip side, some fixer upper homes might turn out to be more of a cash pit than a profitable purchase. Before you start your search for a fixer upper property, here are a few questions to ask to ensure that you will get the right fixer upper home for your budget, abilities, and future goals.

Has a professional home inspector done a report on the house? 

It is essential that you use an Exclusive Buyer Agent that is working for you and not for themselves or the Sellers. They will be able to identify issues with the area and have resources for buyer oriented inspectors who will give a hard look at the property.

You should be prepared to pay for several inspections and secure cost estimates before you make a final decision on purchasing a fixer upper home.

Some problems in a fixer upper homes are obvious, while others might be hidden beneath the floorboards, walls, or surfaces. Having a professional home inspector check out the house before you buy will give you a realistic idea of what kind of condition the home is in and what repairs it needs.

How many repairs can you do on your own?

Minor aesthetic repairs, such as removing popcorn ceilings, painting the walls, or adding a backsplash to the kitchen can often be done on your own. Expensive repair bills come when there is damage to the structural integrity of the home. These types of repairs will likely require outside help to fix. For example, if the foundation of the home is warped or severely cracked, or if there is extensive termite damage, or the roof of the house needs to be replaced, you must hire an outside contractor. Without pricing these major repairs before buying the home, you could have a higher repair bill than you anticipate.

How much will each repair cost? 

Once you have your list of repairs, it’s time to dig in and start researching the price of each item to fix. For aesthetic repairs, visit your local home improvement store and speak with a sales associate about how much the supplies will cost. For any repair that requires an outside contractor, request bids from local shops. You want to get a realistic idea of what your home repairs will cost to make sure that you will not go over your budget.

Add 20% to your budget for all the unexpected costs that will come with any renovation project.

What expenses am I not considering?

You should take into consideration whether you will be planning to live on or off premises. It’s more economical to live on premises, but for those homes undergoing extensive remodels, this may be unpleasant or not even an option. But, if you do choose to live on the premises you will have to be prepared to live with dust – a lot of dust. Your home will be a construction zone for well up to a year or beyond.

If you plan on doing extensive renovations, then living in the home is not an option. You need to consider the costs of storing your belonging, cost of alternative housing, carrying the property while under renovation, etc.

How much value can you add to the home?

Ultimately, the goal of buying a fixer upper is to create a cozy place to live and to ensure that you will make a financially sound investment. If you find a fixer upper that you are interested in, talk to a reliable real estate agent or home appraiser about each major repair you’re planning to make so you can get a reasonable estimate of how much value you can actually add to the home. You can also take a look at other homes in the area that do not need repair to see what they’re selling for.

Fixer upper homes require you to do your due diligence before signing on the dotted line, and revamping a home can be an exciting experience under the right circumstances. With these tips, you can start your search for a home

 

 

Homebuying Tips and Advice

Buying a house is a difficult process — there are large sums of money involved, the transaction costs and hassle of moving mean that you can’t just buy another house if you don’t like the one you end up with. The best you can do is to educate yourself in all aspects of the house hunt, keep a clear head, and buy a house that best fits your criteria.

There are plenty of articles full of useful tips for first-time homebuyers. I am not going to repeat them. Instead, I will list the lessons I have learned over the past 30 years of working exclusively with buyers that are not often covered.

Think long-term and think re-sale: Are you planning to have kids? Will you be taking care of elderly relatives? You might be planning to live in your first home for only a few years or plan on using it as an income producing property. In that case, who is your target audience when it comes time to sell or rent the house? If you buy a house in a very bad school district or a house with all the bedrooms upstairs when you are ready to sell the house, you will be narrowing the field of potential buyers.

Make a list of items to check when looking at properties: Home-buying is an emotional process. Ideally, you should set aside all your emotions when evaluating a house. Practically, that is impossible. Instead, make a checklist of your must-haves, nice-to-haves or absolutely nots. Then print copies of this checklist or keep it on your tablet. Every time you visit a house, take the checklist along with you; take photographs so you can cross each item off your list. If you fall in love with the house aesthetics but find your checklist shows that the house has none of your must-haves, it will at least make you pause and think.

All the old advice about buying your first home is true. Some examples — have an emergency fund, save for a down payment of 20 percent and closing costs, get your credit into a better shape, and don’t buy more than you can afford.  When budgeting for the house, don’t stop with principal, interest, taxes and insurance; add in utilities, cost of commuting and upgrades and replacement costs for aging roof or appliances. Ask the seller for copies of the utility bills and inquire of the utility companies about budget plans. Will the gas budget for your car go up if you are moving further away from the places you frequently visit? Budget all of these expenses and see if you can still afford the house.

Get Pre-approved:  Why would you want to waste time looking at houses you can’t afford?  Doing the pre-approval process ahead of time is vital. If there is something negative on your credit report, it’s best to find it early in the process, so you have time to correct it.

Ask for the homeowners and condo association documents before you make a decision: If your long- range plan is to rent out the house once you move, then you better insure that there are no rental restrictions that would preclude you from your desired goal. Thoroughly understand the Covenants and Restrictions of any area you are purchasing to ensure that they are in keeping with your lifestyle.

Be sure to read your contract before you sign it: A house is probably the largest purchase you will ever make in your life, so make sure you understand the terms of your contract. If you don’t understand any of the terms, ask your mortgage broker and your real estate agent. Either should be fully knowledgeable to address your contractual questions. I strongly advise that you retain an attorney to handle your closing, review title and loan documents, note title objections, and hold your deposit monies.

Learn about the neighborhood demographics: Do you have kids and are looking at homes without young families?  Are the majority of the residents renters and not homeowners? Define the type of neighborhood you want to live and make this one of your top priorities on your checklist.

Look beyond the staging: The psychology of staging does work; staged houses look far better than houses that are still being occupied. When you are considering a house, mentally try to remove the staging. Pay more attention to the layout of the house and the structure itself. Ugly wallpaper and paint can be easily fixed later.  Does your furniture fit the scale of the room?  Does the house have a functional kitchen?

Indecision:  Ever heard of the saying “Curiosity killed the cat”? Well, here’s another one, “Indecision killed the deal.” Not moving on a house fast enough and taking too much time to make a decision on buying the house is common as well. This indecision gives someone else the opportunity to scoop ups that home before you have a chance to make an offer.  A multiple offer situation is good for the seller, but not so much for the buyer. In this competitive real estate market with low inventory and high buyer turnout, you need to move quickly in order to get the house that you want.

Only checking online sources for mortgage rates and available homebuyer programs?  As much as everyone loves to do everything from their computer or smartphone today, this is one thing that should be done in person or with a phone call. It is always best to call a local mortgage lender and sit down in person with them to talk about the most current rates and programs available. Many of the lenders that you find online are not local and only have teaser rates on their websites. If you choose a mortgage lender that doesn’t have a local presence, a lot can change once they get the paperwork in front of them at the closing table. Insist of using an appraiser that is knowledgeable and does most of their work in area of the property.

Learn as much as you can about real estate, your budget, and your local housing market, but realize that buying a house is all about compromise, and a lot of doubt! No house is PERFECT but if you keep at it the odds are very good that you will find a house that suits your needs and will be a wonderful home for you and your family or your investment goals.