Maintaining Your Home’s Value: Upgrades, Upkeep… And a Few Flourishes

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Are you watching the value of your home over time, and seeing your equity rise? Are you planning to have your home appraised so you can set an asking price for it, or borrow against its value?

A few simple fixes, upgrades and flourishes can help you sustain your home equity over time, or help your home ace its next appraisal. Here, we’ve put together a checklist of things you can do to get the most value for your effort and investment.

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Applying for a Mortgage? Get the Facts on Credit Scores—and How to Improve Yours

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A credit score is part of each home buyer’s whole debt and income picture. Lenders consider it a key factor when deciding to approve a loan application. To put the score in context, a lender’s top questions are:

  • Whether the borrower can repay the loan, and
  • Whether past credit history suggests that the borrower will repay the loan.

The FICO® Score, which is the best known of several credit scoring tools, comes from the Fair Isaac Corp. As we’ll see, mortgage lenders can take other scores into account, too, and even tweak the factors in the scores to come up with unique tests for loan approvals. The good news? While mortgage lenders use their secret sauces to determine creditworthiness, we, the applicants, give them the ingredients.

Here, we take a look at how credit scoring actually works, and how to optimize your score.

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What to Know Before You Buy a Foreclosed Home

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Thinking of buying a foreclosed home? The lower prices for foreclosures among the listings are certainly tempting! Even better, a lower price translates to lower property taxes. But given the potential pitfalls, will the deal be worthwhile?

Buyers’ experiences vary widely. States vary, too, in laws and policies related to the way foreclosures are handled. That noted, here is a general planning guide to buying a home in foreclosure.

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Can Filing for Bankruptcy Save a Home From Foreclosure?

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It’s not the easiest topic we cover, but we know foreclosure sales will be on the uptrend as the U.S. works for financial recovery from a global public health crisis. Many readers are currently stretched thin by their mortgage obligations combined with other debts. For some, the financial stress will be overwhelming. If any helpful arrangements offered by the government or the lender cannot be sustained, homes can ultimately be taken back by the lending banks.

Under your mortgage agreement, your home is collateral in case you stop repaying the loan. So, in a default situation, a lender will follow the process agreed upon in the contract, in order to sell the house and use the sale proceeds to pay the loan debt and the administrative costs of foreclosure. Many people are anticipating that possibility, depending on how feasible it is for them to adjust to our abruptly changed economy.

For the owner motivated to keep the house, can filing for bankruptcy help? It can, if the homeowner has a regular source of income. Let’s look at how this works.

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How Not to Overpay Your Property Taxes

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Homeowners pay taxes on their real estate to fund local services. Renters, too, pay property taxes, as they’re rolled into monthly rent charges. The property taxes we all pay go to sustain libraries and schools, emergency services, environmental projects, sewer work and road maintenance.

How much is one property’s share? To determine this amount, an assessor multiplies the local tax rate by a property’s value. Many assessors’ offices use discounted values of properties when coming up with their tax assessments, not the full market price; still, property taxes often amount to thousands of dollars each year. With local governments determining them, rates vary from county to county, and big cities generally collect higher property taxes than suburban developments or country towns do.

Home shoppers need to check the property tax when perusing a listing, and include that tax in the cost of owning a particular home. Plus, they should expect a possibly higher tax after buying the home, as there could be a new assessment when the deed changes hands.

A homeowner’s mortgage account may hold money aside in escrow. Of course, the owner pays into the escrow account — but this way, the owner’s taxes will be continually kept up to date without the owner having to remember to submit a payment each time local taxes are due.

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Fraud Watch: Real Estate Scams and the Millennial Home Shopper

According to the Federal Trade Commission, tech-savvy folks aged 40 and under are far from immune to scams and frauds. And most scams that hook them begin in an email. And the coronavirus economy is creating even more opportunities for fraud risk.

Image of a person looking nervously at a computer. Captioned: Real Estate Scams and the Millennial Home Shopper

A bogus email can appear to be a message from an ecommerce or business site, or even from the government. Millennials are twice as likely as people age 40 and older to report falling for a scam while browsing messages or social media posts and clicking on one of the advertisements. There are phony giveaways, the sale of tickets to fake events, and undelivered or counterfeit items. Young adults are also the targets of education, employment, and investment scams.

Some of these tricks can be life-changing. While online shopping fraud might involve just a few hundred dollars or less, millennials also face real estate scams, such as organized wire fraud and mortgage relief ploys.

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DIY Renovations? Everything You Wanted to Know (or Not) About Permits

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Bought a fixer-upper? Sprucing up your house to sell? Yes, a building permit (and the fee that comes with it) might be mandatory for that new fence, deck, or electrical work.

Small faucet or disposal fixes, interior painting and minor stucco repair, as well as ordinary air conditioning maintenance, will probably need no permit. Once you get beyond basic upkeep, though, you’ll want to call the local building and licensing department first.

If you’re told a permit is necessary, consider calling a pro to pull the permit and do the job. Why? A permit represents a legal responsibility to precisely meet the code. Skipping a permit today could come back to bite an owner tomorrow — if someone or something gets damaged, or when the time comes to sell the home. A seller with home improvements on a survey or title search, but without the right records, can face major problems. And sometimes a permit makes the difference between getting homeowner’s insurance to cover a repair or not.

Simply stated, it’s a violation of your local and state laws to carry out work without a necessary permit. So, check with your local building department when you’re making renovation plans. Get familiar with the way the relevant inspection process works. Permit inspections at key phases of the work prevent errors and solidify the value in your home improvements.

Without further ado, here are some of the most common do-it-yourself projects that could need a permit. There are many more projects that could, so consider this a brief intro to the topic. We hope it raises awareness and helps guide our readers’ next major home improvement plan.

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Inundated: The National Flood Insurance System

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A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods, Rachel Carson said. But it’s not the best time to live at the base of a downward slope. And while homes built near water are popular and picturesque, buyers longing for a river view are wise to look closely and ask questions about potential water damage.

Floods are increasingly common. And flooding is the costliest of natural disasters in the U.S., according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA’s system is being put to the test now, as rising numbers of us live with storms and floods. Can flood insurance keep us protected? Here’s what you need to know.

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Black Homeownership and Housing: Amid Persistent Discrimination, New Potential for Change

Home shopping and investment property buying are rapidly joining the digital arena. Can technology offer new models to alleviate bias in lending practices?

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The expanding property tech trend offers convenience in mortgage and property shopping. It offers effective ways to market properties for property owners and managers, now that marketing messages can be placed online to show loan options for interested applicants to use instantly. But for some home seekers, a big concern is how real estate tech profiles apartment and mortgage loan applicants. Are apps, at least in some situations, having racially skewed effects? Can the slant be changed to better fit fair housing law and policy? These questions are now ripe.

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