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Remove Wallpaper Without Removing Your Sanity

by Rebecca Shahan

Most people would do just about anything to avoid having to remove wallpaper. It's rarely a task that makes it to the top 10 "fun things to do" list.

But let's face it, when wallpaper needs to be removed, it's got to go. What are some ways to make sure that removing that dated wallpaper doesn't take your sanity with it?

Check to See If Your Walls Were Primed

Those who tell you they just ripped their wallpaper right off had the walls sealed with wallpaper primer. Hopefully your walls have the same preparation.

Priming was more common in the 1990s and prevented the wallpaper glue from soaking into the plaster and making the bond too tough.

You can check to see it your walls are primed by loosening a corner or seam with a putty knife and just pull. If it just comes off in a sheet, you're in luck!

With well-primed walls, dry stripping should work for the entire job and you could finish a room in a couple of hours at most.

Water Works Miracles

Thankfully, wallpaper glue is water based, so water works wonders in removing wallpaper if your walls aren't primed. It's a technique the pros use, it works so well.

Here’s what to do with water:

  • Score or perforate the paper and its backing in sections so water can soak through and loosen the glue. The pros recommend a scoring tool called the PaperTiger (under $20) because it doesn’t harm the wall.
  • Douse the perforated paper with hot water using a pump or compression sprayer. The big mistake most people make is using a regular old spray bottle or damp rag to wet the paper. This leads to hours of fruitless scraping because the paper and its backing don’t get sufficiently saturated. The sprayer, on the other hand, gives you the firepower to really soak the glue.
  • Let the paper soak for about 15 minutes and scrape it off with a putty knife.

It could take you six hours for an average room, but that’s way better than the days of effort it could take if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Avoid Chemical Strippers Because of the Fumes

Why do pros use chemical strippers if water works so well? Because it can dissolve glue faster than water. But the trade-off is the fumes. Plus, water is cheap, so it just makes more sense for DIY.

Don't Try the Fabric Softener Trick

Through the interweb grapevine, you may have heard that fabric softener (diluted with water) is a brag-worthy way to remove old wallpaper. But we couldn’t find a single expert who agrees.

Fabric softener just makes the process more complicated, smelly, and even messier than using just plain old water. You end up mixing glue with the chemicals from fabric softener. In addition, fabric softener may harm drywall.

So when it comes to removing wallpaper, the happiest journey (assuming your walls aren’t primed) involves water — and patience.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Things You Should Know About Buying Your First Home in Lake Travis

by Rebecca Shahan

A down payment may not be the toughest hurdle when buying your first home.

If you're thinking about trading your landlord for a mortgage, here are four things you should think about to help you decide if you're ready to buy a home.

Your Down Payment May Not Be the Biggest Hurdle

Let's admit one thing: buying a home is a huge financial commitment.

A healthy credit history is also important. Most home buyers can qualify for a mortgage with a score as low as 620. But the more competitive rates are offered to those with a score of 700 or above.

Many young adults are carrying student loan debt, making their debt-to-income (DTI) ratio more of a challenge to balance. Mortgage companies want borrowers to have a certain level of cash flow each month, and that means taking into account how much you’re paying out to other lenders. Ideally, a borrower’s debt-to-income ratio — how much you pay toward debt each month divided by your gross monthly income — should fall below 36%. If yours doesn’t, think about how you can get that debt needle moving in the right direction.

Be Emotionally Ready for Financial Surprises

Owning a home comes with unexpected surprises. When you rent, surprises don't require as much emotional investment. If the rent goes up, you can move. When an appliance goes out, you can call your landlord. But when you own a home, if the toilet breaks, it's your job to arrange to fix it. When property taxes unexpectedly rise, it’s on you to appeal or pay up.

Fixing problems in your home isn't just about the money. It's also important to have the mental and emotional capability of dealing with them responsibly when they arise. You could be doing fine for months, then several issues could arise all at once. Stress management and problem solving skills are important when owning a home.

A Mortgage Can Be Cheaper Than Rent

In some cases, a mortgage can be cheaper than rent. But either way, it's still financially advantageous to own your own home and build equity.

Your Lifestyle May Call for Buying Instead of Renting

Many people realize that renting a home can only take them so far, especially when starting a family. Growing families need extra rooms, a yard, and space for your pets. More and more rentals are limiting pets, or just not allowing them at all. That's not an issue if you own your own home.

Then there are the renovations. If you’re itching to test out your DIY skills and personalize your space, you’re probably ready to own. Landlords who allow property renovations — especially DIY projects — are few and far between.

Buying a first home is a big change — both from a financial and an emotional perspective. Still, for many, home ownership can be one of the most rewarding life choices one can make.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Can You Afford That House in Austin?

by Rebecca Shahan

If you plan on buying a home, you probably have already lined up how much you need for the down payment, your desired mortgage payment, along with how much you can afford based on your income.

But have you thought about how much money you need to actually enjoy your new home once you move in? Here are six life factors to consider when buying a home:

Green Thumb?

If you love to garden and landscape, then buying a home with a lawn will be a fun adventure. But if you don't love to garden, then buying a home with a lawn can cost you about $100 or more a month for professional landscape maintenance. Are you willing to skip the lawn in favor of hardscaping to reduce costs?

Factor hobbies and services into your monthly budget to see if the numbers still work out in the black.

Pool Time

Everyone wants a home with a pool, right? Maybe not, once you factor in all the costs and upkeep. You need to add up the costs of pool maintenance and servicing, energy, and insurance (along with liability if you have small children).  After you take all that into consideration, you may decide you would be better off heading to the neighborhood swimming hole.

If you plan to add a pool, don't plan on getting back more than 50% of the cost when you sell your home. Yes, polls are fun, but they take a lot of work to keep up. Factor time and money into your future plans when buying a home with this special feature and, once again, ask yourself if the numbers add up to support your other financial goals.

Children

If you’re buying a home and plan to start a family in the next few years, don’t just consider the amount of mortgage you can afford under your current expenses. Factor in daycare costs and then determine what your cash flow will look like. You may have to adjust the amount of home you’re looking to purchase.

Entertainment

Have you taken into account your entertainment costs? Most of us like to eat out, go see a concert or a movie, or go to a game. You should add up how much you normally spend on entertainment and see how you can balance those costs with owning a home. You may love your new home, but you may not want to feel trapped in it because you don't have the money left to have fun.

Retirement

If you’re in your 20s, you should try to save 10% of your income; in your 30s, you should be saving 15%. If you need to cut back on your retirement savings to make a home purchase work, think hard about when you’ll be able to get back to your ideal contribution levels and how much you may be losing out on during that time.

Although home ownership can help build long-term wealth, it’s important to also maintain retirement savings for future security.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Lesser-Known Fees That Factor Into the True Cost of Home Buying

by Rebecca Shahan

Buying a home can be a tricky process, and there are plenty of little costs that can add up. How can you prepare to cover these costs?

Since most people focus on the larger costs, such as the down payment and mortgage payments, they tend to overlook the smaller fees that come with buying a home.

Here are a few of these lesser known fees and what they could cost you.

Home Inspection

A home inspection is critical to protecting you from buying a home with hidden issues that could ruin your finances. The inspector looks for structural and general issues with the home. Inspections cost between $300 and $500, and whether or not you end up purchasing the property, you still need to pay this fee. You may also have to hire a specialist if specific issues are found, such as foundation issues or termites.

Appraisal Fee

This appraisal report goes to your lender to assure it that the property is worth what you’re paying for it. If you’re selling, review the appraisal thoroughly for any oddball numbers or descriptions that could affect the value of your home. An appraisal can take about 2 hours and costs between $200 and $425.

Application Fees

Before ever approving you for a loan, the lender is going to run your credit report and charge you an application fee, often lumping the credit report fee in with the application fee. This can run $75 to $300. Be sure to ask for a breakdown of the application fees to understand all costs.

Title Services

These fees cover a title search of the public records for the property you’re buying, notary fees for the person witnessing your signature on documents, government filing fees, and more. These can cost between $150 and $400, and it’s important to get a line item for each cost.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

When you put down less than 20% on your new home, the lender requires that you purchase PMI once you reach 78% of your loan-to-value ratio or you have 22% equity. So PMI is a policy that you have to buy to protect the lender from you. PMI rates can vary from 0.3% to 1.5% of your original loan amount annually.

Tax Service Fee

This is the cost (about $50) to ensure that all property tax payments are up to date and that the payments you make are appropriately credited to the right home.

Always ask questions when it comes to understanding the fees you’re paying. If possible, print out documents and go through them with a highlighter to indicate any areas you have concerns about. Discuss them with your lender or real estate agent and determine if you can negotiate any of them down.

Don’t be afraid to price shop to ensure you’re getting the best value. Just because you’re spending hundreds of thousands on a home doesn’t mean you should be comfortable throwing thousands of dollars at fees.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Easy Rules for Negotiating Your Lake Travis Home Offer

by Rebecca Shahan

Here’s the dream: Your offer is perfect, you don’t need to negotiate, and you can spend the next few weeks addressing more pressing home-ownership questions, like “Why is it called wainscoting?” and “Do I want a new couch in blush or emerald green?”

And it could happen. Many sellers accept the best offer they receive, and for a variety of reasons.

But sellers are also known to reject offers for a variety of reasons. Or make counteroffers. This is especially likely if you bid low, or when you’re up against multiple competing offers.

Here are a few rules every buyer should know before they — and their agent — start negotiating:

Act Fast — Like, Now

When you receive a counteroffer, you should respond quickly — ideally within 24 hours. The longer you wait, the more space you leave for another buyer to swoop in and nab the property. Also? If a seller senses hesitation, they may decide to withdraw their counteroffer before you even have a chance to respond.

Raise Your Price (Within Reason)

While you obviously don’t want to overpay for a house, you may have to up the ante — especially if you initially made a lowball offer. Lean on your agent’s expertise to determine how much money you should add to the Before you make an offer, talk with your agent about how high you’re willing to go if the seller doesn’t accept your bid.sales price to make it more enticing to the seller.

Then, through their powers of persuasion, your agent can make the counteroffer look even more attractive by pointing out similarly priced “comps” — recently sold homes in your area that are comparable in terms of square footage and features.

As your agent negotiates, it can feel like things are escalating quickly. It’s stressful. You may feel a sudden urge to do whatever it takes to win.

Before you go overboard, there are two things you must keep in mind:

  1. You can’t exceed the monetary confines of the pre-approved mortgage you received from your lender.
  2. You shouldn’t overextend your budget.

Because your counteroffer has to be an amount you’re comfortable spending on a home. You want that new house and to keep living your life. Plus: You’re not out of options yet.

Increase Your Earnest Money Deposit

Increasing your earnest money deposit (EMD) — the sum of money you put down to prove to the seller you’re serious (i.e., “earnest”) about buying the house — is another way to show the seller you have more skin in the game. A standard EMD is typically 1% to 3% of the sales price of the home. Making a counteroffer with a 3% to 4% deposit could be what you need to persuade the seller to side with you.

Demonstrate Patience About Taking Possession

Depending on the seller’s timetable, changing your proposed possession date — the date you take over the property — could butter them up, too. If the seller wants to stay in the home for a few days after closing, try offering a later possession date. You could also draw up a “rent-back” agreement, meaning the seller pays you rent for staying in the home for a set period of time after the closing date.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

How to Seal the Deal When Closing Your Home

by Rebecca Shahan

This is the moment you've worked for. It's time to close the deal on your new home. The home you've been wanting is almost yours, and the keys are nearly in your hands.

As you cross the finish line, what are some things to consider?

What Does "Closing" Mean?

Closing simply means that you sign the final paperwork that gets you the keys to your new home.

The process really begins when you sign a purchase and sale agreement, which specifies the closing date. It usually takes about 4 - 6 weeks from the signing date to closing date. During this time, purchasing funds are held in escrow, where your money is safe until the deal is officially done.

What's a Closing Disclosure?

A Closing Disclosure, or CD, is provided by the lender at least three days before settlement. The CD discloses you final loan terms and closing costs.

The reason for this step is to make sure there's no surprises during the final closing. You should let your lender and title company know right away if there's a significant discrepancy between the Loan Estimate and CD. Depending on what the underlying issue is, the closing has to stop and a new closing disclosure must be sent out with a new three-day review period.

The main things that can't change between by the time you get the Closing Disclosure is the interest rate and lender fees. Some items can change by only 10% (fees paid to local government to record the mortgage might be one); and others can change without limit, like prepaid interest, because it can’t be predicted at the start of the loan process.

When Will the Final Walk-Through Happen?

Usually within 24 hours of the settlement, you and your agent will do a walk-through of the home, making sure any repair work that the seller agreed to make has been completed.

If any repair work is missed, your agent will contact the listing agent and, in most cases, negotiate to get the seller to compensate you at closing, This will usually be in the form of a personal check for the costs of fixing the problems yourself.

Worst-case scenario: You have to delay closing to resolve problems. In the unlikely event that happens, your agent will help you address the issue.

How Much Will I Pay for Closing Costs?

Closing costs can be frustrating for home buyers, as there can be unexpected surprises.

Costs are split between you and the seller, but as the buyer you’ll cover the lion’s share. You can generally expect your closing costs to be 3% to 4% of the home’s sales price. So, on a $300,000 home, you can pay anywhere from $9,000 to $12,000 in closing costs. (Meanwhile, the seller typically pays closing costs of 1% to 3% of the sales price.)

You can try to predict closing costs with calculators which lets you plug in your mortgage details to get a rough estimate of what your costs will be.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Most of us have our own reasons for wanting to buy a home. Maybe we want a bath with a luxury spa. Maybe we want a huge deck for parties.

But your lender doesn't care about such things - the designer tub, the fire pit, and all the extras. What they really care about is the actual value of the home and if it's worth as much as the value of the mortgage.

To a bank, a house is collateral. That means that they can foreclose on the home if you miss payments.

Therefore, a home must be valued at, or above, the agreed-upon purchase price, and this has to happen before you can close on a house. That’s where a home appraiser comes in.

A Home Appraiser Is Neutral

After you sign a home purchase agreement, which is the contract between you and the seller about the terms of the pending sale, and before your lender approves your loan, the home you’re buying must pass an appraisal.

An appraiser is either licensed by the state or a certified professional. It's their job to asses the value of the home. They are on no one's side, not you or the seller. They are chosen by your lender through an appraisal management company, which is a neutral entity.

Appraisers survey a house in person, using five main criteria to determine the value of a home:

  • Location
  • Age
  • Condition
  • Additions or renovations
  • Recent sales of comparable homes

Be Prepared to Pay for the Appraisal — or to Negotiate

Usually the home buyer is the one that pays for the appraisal, and this is generally included in the closing costs. But this can be negotiated. You can always ask if the seller will pay for it.

Home appraisals are not as expensive as you might think. They will usually cost between $287 and $373.

Appraisals Take a While, So Be Patient

Typically, a purchase agreement has a “home appraisal contingency” requiring that the appraisal be completed within 14 days of the sales contract being signed. Because it takes appraisers some time to visit your house and write a report — up to a week, or longer in a busy housing market — your lender will order the appraisal immediately after you sign the purchase agreement.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Getting a Mortgage With a Low Credit Score

by Rebecca Shahan

Here's a fact many people don't know. The credit score to buy a house can be as low as 580!

Having a low credit score doesn't mean that owning a home is impossible. It will mean, however, that a mortgage will cost you more than if you had perfect credit. But there are still many lenders that will work with you.

Here’s what you need to know about low-credit score mortgages:

What Counts as "Low Credit"?

We first need to get past the myth that you have to have amazing credit to buy a house. Lenders will take into account your entire financial picture. If you have a stable income, regular payment history, and cash in hand, this will all help if your credit isn't so stellar.

Here’s how FICO generally categorizes credit scores:

  • 800+ = Excellent credit score
  • 740-799 = Very good credit score
  • 670-739 = Good credit score
  • 580-669 = Fair credit score
  • Below 580 = Poor credit score

Having a credit score below 669 usually makes you what is called a  “subprime” borrower, according to FICO. This means that a loan will cost more, since you're a bigger risk. You will also have fewer options.

Your primary low-credit-score mortgage option will be FHA , which sometimes give loans with credit scores as low as 580. But the lower your score, the more it will cost you.

How Does Your Credit Score Affect Interest Rates?

Having a lower score means you will usually pay more of a down payment, higher interest rates, and private mortgage insurance.

Buy Now Or Work On My Credit?

If you pay a ton for rent, then buying now might be better, then you can refinance when your credit improves. For others, it may be smart to how promptly you pay your bills; it accounts for 35% of your score. A lender can help you decide. Or you can use an online tool to estimate the cost of different scenarios.

If you’re going to apply for a low-credit-score mortgage, more cash in the form of a bigger down payment helps. Plus, it can reduce your interest rate, which reduces your monthly payment.

How Do I Boost My Credit Score?

If you opt to work on your credit before getting a mortgage, here are a few ways to do it:

  • Look into rapid rescoring. You’ll work through your lender to fix errors and update information with the credit bureaus quickly, sometimes within days or weeks, rather than months. This isn’t credit repair, but a way to accelerate getting updated information through the system and into your report. Discuss with your lender whether this is a worthwhile pursuit for your circumstances.
  • Find a reputable credit counselor to guide you as the industry is fraught with scams.
    • Check your credit report for errors.
    • Pay off credit card balances.
    • Pay off other outstanding collections.
    • If you don’t have credit, get a credit card or small loan and establish a good payment history. (No credit is low credit.)

Even if you have a low credit score, a mortgage isn’t out of reach. While it may cost you more to buy now, in the end, it may be less expensive than waiting. And you’ll get the joy of owning a home to call your own.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Keep Home Improvements From Destroying Your Budget

by Rebecca Shahan

Owning a home is an investment that, as we all know, will need repairs and improvements as the years go by. Many people prepare for the mortgage payment and other costs, but sudden repairs can catch anyone off guard. In fact, around 31% of homeowners don't set aside enough for home repairs.

What are some steps you can take to make sure you're ready for your next repair job or improvement project?

1. Always have a plan

Since there's many items on your to-do list as a homeowner, then logically you should make a real to-do list on paper or spreadsheet program to keep track of it all. Keep track of your regular maintenance items, such as filter replacements and gutter cleaning, as well as projects you want to take care of in the near future. Then make a list of larger updates you would like to do eventually.

Doing this will not only help you remember regular items to keep up, but you can prioritize repairs that will save money down the road. This list will also come in handy when you want to look back at repairs on particular items over the years to see if they justify replacement. And when you go to sell your home, the buyer will appreciate knowing when those items were taken care of.

2. Add to your emergency fund

Setting aside money for repairs is always a good idea, especially if you don't live in a new home. Having an emergency fund can help you take care of unexpected situations, or if you lose income. And you don't have to aim for the stars to start with. Setting aside as much as you can will add up over the months and years. There are also apps for your phone that can help set money aside.

3. Act quickly when it comes to repairs

Take care of a repair as soon as it pops up. Don't wait for the problem to get worse. For example, a leaky faucet can rot the subfloor. Fixing a faucet is far easier than replacing a floor.

4. Know your financing options

Sometimes a repair may exceed your cash on hand. Make a plan to take care of these larger repairs, such as borrowing from a bank or family member. Home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) are also financing options.

5. Consider doing it yourself

Younger homeowners tend to do projects themselves rather than hiring a pro. This can save hundreds on a project. But there's a risk in making huge mistakes that can cost more in the end. Make sure you can handle a project before you DIY.

6. If you go pro, do your research

There's nothing wrong with hiring a pro. But make sure that you research the pros in your area and get several estimates. Ask questions, such as how they intend to do the job, what the estimated timeline is, whether they’re insured and how much experience they have with projects like yours. Don’t simply go with the cheapest contractor to save Money. Yes, they could be the best person for the job, or you may wind up spending more to fix their mistakes.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

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