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5 indoor home improvements you can do during the cooler months

Do these chilly winter months have you hibernating in your home? It’s easy to fall into an unproductive rut when you find yourself avoiding the cold outdoors. Luckily, there is plenty that you can do to improve your home all while staying comfortably inside.

Crown Molding:

Installing crown molding can give your home a finished and refined look. Make sure that you are buying the correct size molding for the room you are installing it in. For smaller rooms with ceiling heights of 8 feet, consider keeping your molding width between three to six inches. Larger rooms and rooms with higher ceilings can support wider crown molding.

Upgrade Your Cabinet Hardware:

Changing your hardware on your cabinets can instantly make your kitchen look more updated. Upgrading the hardware on your cabinets will take less than half a day to complete, and all you need is the hardware itself and a screwdriver.

Add a new backsplash:

After you change out your cabinet hardware, add a new backsplash and your kitchen will look modern and refreshed. Many backsplashes like beaded-board and tile are easy to install so you can do it on your own within a weekend.  Freshening up your kitchen can add value to your home and it doesn’t need to break the bank or take more than a day or two to complete.

Add a Programable Thermostat:

A programable thermostat will help you save energy and money. You can set the thermostat to drop the temperature down 8-10 degrees while you’re at work and sleeping. This will help you save money on utility bills without needing to think about it!

Caulk Your Bathroom:

When you start to notice that the areas of caulking that regularly get wet are yellow and cracked, it is time to redo your caulking. First remove the caulk with the help of a putty knife and caulk remover. Then thoroughly clean the surrounding tiles with a vacuum and alcohol. Then you are ready to apply the new layer of caulk and remove any excess caulking.

Don’t let bitter cold weather keep you from updating your home. Spend the last few weeks of winter inside sprucing up your home and maybe even add some value to your investment!

Helpful Tips

Tips to Land a House in the Spring Market

Although each month is composed of roughly the same number of days from one to the next, some seem to come and go with lightning speed. There's no better example than December, which is frenzied with holiday hoopla.

But once January, February and March roll around, things definitely seem to slow down - and in more ways than the cold gripping the vast majority of the nation. This is also true in the real estate business.

No two ways about it, as documented by the National Association of Realtors and other real estate and home listing agencies, summer is the busy season for buying and selling homes. If you have any mobile apps that alert you to potential homes that are within your budget, you're no doubt well aware that this is the case. Open house announcements were particularly fruitful this past June, July and August as supply levels edged higher. Houses are also remaining on the market for longer stretches, as evidenced in October, the most recent month for which data is available (36 days, up from 32 in September).

However, almost as soon as the vernal equinox sets in - signaling spring has officially sprung - the housing market really starts to pick up steam once again. No matter where you may be house hunting, "first up, best dressed" may be the best phrase to describe the house shopping rush. With the national median existing-home price having risen on a year-over-year basis for 92 months in a row, high demand hasn't let up for a long time.

However, there are things you can do right now to ensure that you get ahead of the rush when April showers bring May flowers and the wide assortment of newly available houses are "in bloom" as well.

Here are a few things to consider if you're considering buying a home in the not-too-distant future:

Get pre-approved

As previously referenced, the housing market is a first come, first served industry. If sellers know you're serious about buying, they'll be more receptive to your interest. One of the best ways of going about this is with a pre-approval letter in hand. 

As its name suggests, pre-approval is a status you can obtain from a lender, which indicates you have the financial means to buy a property up to a certain price. In order to get such a letter, your mortgage provider will need a few things from you for corroboration purposes. Items typically include W-2 forms, two years' worth of complete tax returns, statement of available funds, pay stubs and a copy of your credit report. These particulars will provide your lender with an idea of how much you can afford.

Keep in mind, however, that a pre-approval letter is non-binding. In other words, you will still need to go through a more formalized loan approval process once you settle on the house you'd like to make an offer on.

Raise your credit score

There's no getting around the fact that home prices are notably higher these days than as recently as 10 years ago. The pace with which they're rising is now slowing, thanks to improving inventory. Additionally, interest rates remain near record lows, which can help you save on your monthly mortgage expenses.

The best way to obtain a low interest rate is by improving your credit score. Generally speaking, the higher it is, the lower your potential rate. To see where you stand, you can request a copy of your credit report for free from any or all of the credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Simple ways of improving your score include paying off all your bills by their due date, keeping credit card balances low and applying for credit only on an as-needed basis. Contrary to popular belief, opening new accounts purely for credit diversification purposes has more potential drawbacks than benefits, according to Experian.

Buy now to save later

You may have already gone through the pre-approval process, leaving you to hurry up and wait for spring to roll around. It may behoove you to jump into the home search before winter ends, especially if you want to buy a place at an affordable price.

According to analysis conducted by ATTOM Data Solutions, which examined single-family home and condominium prices over the past six years, winter was consistently the season in which asking prices were at their lowest. Ohio, prices averaged 7.4% below market value in January, -7.2% in February in Michigan, -6.3% in February in Delaware and -6.2% in Tennessee in January.

And in terms of the days of the year in which prices were their lowest, they all fell in the month of December (4th, 26th and 31st), the study found.

Settle on the style

From Victorian to colonial to ranch to split-level, the types of houses are almost as numerous as properties themselves. Each offers its own pluses and minuses when it comes to curb appeal, practicality and layout. If you have a few in mind, try to determine the one that you like the most. You may want to speak with a real estate expert so you can get their insight on the ones that are most in line with your goals and family composition. This will help you with the selection process once places become available.

Shop around for more than rates

As important as it is to do your homework when it comes to the house you intend to buy, the same holds true for the lender you select when applying for a mortgage. There are tons of providers you can consider, some national, local and even those that are exclusively online. Understand that there's more to a lender than just the interest rate. You should also consider their reputation and the type of customer service that others can speak to. Talk to friends for suggestions. You may also want to go online to do some of your own research. The Better Business Bureau is a great place to start.

It's true what they say: How you finish depends upon how you start. We can help you get the ball rolling at Residential Mortgages Services. Apply today or contact us to find out more about the loans we offer.

Helpful Tips

Ways to get ahead of the spring housing market

Top tips for landing a house in an ultra competitive market

You know what they say: The early bird gets the worm. The same goes for the real estate market. Given the ongoing shortage of houses - particularly those that are reasonably priced, such as starter homes - those who vigilantly keep track of what's percolating among newly available properties tend to be in the best position to buy their dream home, assuming they've been prequalified for a mortgage.

Just about everyone knows the housing market really comes to life when the flowers are back in bloom and hope "springs" eternal. Did you know it is also wise to keep an eye out in the dead of winter? A recent study from ATTOM Data Solutions found some of the biggest discounts across the U.S. are between December and February.

No one knows exactly how spring will pan out in terms of buyer activity and property availability, but an uptick in housing starts suggests competition will be white hot. According to the most recent statistics available from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, housing starts nationwide in November  rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.3 million units, up more than 3% from  one year ago. Additionally, among single-family dwellings specifically, the number reached 938,000, a healthy 2.4% rate of growth.

National Association of Home Builders Chief Economist Robert Dietz noted in December that property development in 2019 started off slowly, but finished strong.

"Since the rebound in housing took hold earlier this year, single-family starts have posted a steady improvement in the pace of construction," Dietz explained.

This is particularly true in several regions of the country, as single-family and multi-unit starts jumped nearly 7.5% in the South and almost 9% in the West, the Commerce Department reported.

The pluses and minuses of more inventory

An uptick in supply is a double-edged sword. On one side, more inventory equals a greater amount of potential places to buy, something that would-be buyers haven't had much of in recent years, as supply levels have been limited for quite some time. This is particularly true for families operating on a budget.

But on the other side, growth in volume also brings more competition, especially in springtime, which is hands-down the busiest time of year for both sellers as well as buyers. More competition means a greater chance that your picture-perfect home ends up claimed by someone else who got to it first or made an offer the seller couldn't refuse.

If buying a new place tops your to-do list in 2020 and you want to improve your odds of landing the house you'll come to call your own, here are a few ways you can put yourself in the best position to succeed in an ultra-competitive housing marketplace:

Get prequalified

It's been said before in this space, but you can never hear it often enough: Prequalification is extraordinarily important when it comes to improving your odds of becoming a homeowner.

This status provides certain assurances to a seller, by indicating you have the financial capability to close a deal, usually within a certain price range. While prequalification doesn't meet the precise definition of loan approval, it can help the seller make a more informed decision about your intentions and seriousness of your bid. It can give you an upper hand on your competition, since some people opt not to pursue prequalification in order to save time. In reality, such a letter saves time and hassle, and may be the deciding factor if the competition doesn't have one. Talk to your lender about what you need to do to get one, but at the very least, you'll be asked to provide details about your income, in terms of salary as well as available funds.

Save up for a sizeable down payment

Of course, the main reason people pursue a mortgage is it allows them to come up with a large sum of money immediately, which is then paid down over time. Most loans, however, require a down payment, meaning a certain percentage of the house's list price. Generally speaking, down payments typically range between 3.5% and 20%, although the average runs between 3% and 5%, according to the National Association of Realtors.

If at all possible, try to save up as much money as you can to put toward the down payment. Aside from enabling you to borrow less - which can help you spend less in interest by paying off the loan principal - the size of the down payment may be something the seller takes into account when assessing one offer over another. Simple ways of saving include setting up an account specifically for the down payment and contributing a certain percentage of your paycheck each pay period. 

Work with the experts

Mobile apps and online mortgage calculators, which weren't always available, have revolutionized the homebuying process by making it faster and simpler than ever before. One thing that hasn't changed is the importance of surrounding yourself with professionals in the real estate industry. From loan officers to a real estate agent, the more trusted resources you have available to you, the greater your odds are of being in the right place at the right time when it comes to finding and buying the house you want.

Have a back-up plan

The Rolling Stones sang it best: You can't always get what you want. No matter how hard you try or how early you are inquiring about a house that goes up for sale, there's no silver bullet to buying your dream home when competition is fierce.

That's why it's important to have a fall back if Plan A doesn't pan out. What was it about the house that you liked the most? Was it the price that was right or was it the house itself, meaning its physical makeup or location? Understanding what made your dream house special can provide you with the context your team can use to search for a house that may be even better than the one that got away.

Don't let an intense housing market deter you from pursuing your homeownership goals. Residential Mortgage Services can help you achieve them. Contact us to learn more.

Helpful Tips

4 easy ways to make your home look and feel more wintry

It only comes around once a year but it truly is the most wonderful time when it does: the holiday season. Whether it's the delicious food, the camaraderie of friends and family or giving and receiving gifts, the activities that define the season are unlike any other. And a great way to get into the spirit is by decking the halls with some of the signature symbols of glad tidings, such as tinsel, wreaths, twinkle lights and miniature villages.

Once the holidays are over and the aftermath of presents and parties are cleaned away, you may take the holiday-themed ornaments and lights down, but you don't have to let go of the wintry revelry. When the weather is frigid and frightful, here are a few simple ways you can make your home look and feel warm and delightful.

1. Craft an outdoorsy vase

The key to adding winter festivity is keeping the cold air out but letting in the look that this time of year is known for, which can be found just outside your window. As detailed by lifestyle blogger Julie Blanner, a birch vase may be just the thing to use as a centerpiece for a post-holiday dinner or merely to place on end table for decoration. To put the piece together, you'll need a small log, tri-flute drill bit, saw and sandpaper. You can use it to go over a thin glass vase or as a vase all on its own, filled with holly branches or winter-themed flowers such as snowdrops, pansies or winter honeysuckle.

2. Design a hot cocoa "bar"

A pot of freshly brewed coffee is often the first thing people fire up on a frosty morning, but an ideal replacement is hot chocolate or cocoa. To make each cup extra special and welcoming for yourself or your family, you may want to design a space that can enhance the sweet and delicious ambience. Pen + Paper Flowers has a mockup version you can use as a template, which features a painted wooden sign, wooden bases for placing creamers and containers and a rack with accompanying mugs. You can make it as extravagant or as simple as you'd like.

3. Set up a scenic winter tablescape

One of the more popular ways to celebrate the holiday season is with those villages that arts and crafts stores sell, many of which have certain themes like Charles Dickens or Charlie Brown. But you don't need to go to extravagant lengths to make a table look wintry. All you need is some evergreen garland or tree scraps (most tree lots are more than happy to let you rummage through the tree trimmings and scraps), battery-powered twinkle lights and evergreen tree ornaments. Given that you may see these snow-covered evergreens just outside your window, they make for eye-catching kitchen and end table settings that can be used in the months after November and December.

4. Make a DIY snowflake

Perhaps nothing is more synonymous with winter than the white stuff that can come in flurries or sheets - snowflakes. It's fitting that no two snowflakes are the same, because the same can be said for how you create them or from what you make them. The Crafted Sparrow offers some suggestions for where to begin. After you collect the necessary supplies, putting it together should take between 45 and 60 minutes. All you'll need is some wooden blocks, white acrylic (or chalky finish paint) a foam brush pre-crafted wooden snowflakes (typically available at arts and crafts stores or through Amazon) and hot glue gun with accompanying glue sticks.

With a little elbow grease and inventiveness, you can create a winter wonderland that can help make the season more enjoyable - without the cold. 


Helpful Tips

Thanksgiving leftovers

Turning Your Thanksgiving Leftovers into Delicious Meals

Thanksgiving is one of the most anticipated meals of the year, and you can easily make it the dinner that keeps on giving. Impress your family with these creative and easy ways to repurpose your Thanksgiving leftovers into delicious comfort food for the rest of the long weekend!

Savory waffles:

Pull out that waffle iron that has been taking up space in the back of your cabinet and make a stuffing-based batter. Top your waffles with your favorite Thanksgiving leftovers like turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and you will have yourself a quick dinner that is the definition of comfort food. See the full recipe here.

Turkey Pot Pie:

Shred turkey and throw in leftover gravy and veggies into a casserole pan and top with a pie crust. Toss it into the oven and get ready for a cozy meal that requires minimal prep time.

Thanksgiving in a Sandwich:

Pull out the wonder bread, cheese slices, leftover turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce. Have your family line up and make their sandwiches to their taste. It’s a meal that caters to picky eaters without lifting a finger.

Turkey Salad:

Pull out the turkey, leftover celery, grapes and apples. Chop everything up and toss it all in a little mayo. Serve on bread as a sandwich or scoop it over a bed of greens and enjoy!

Shepard’s Pie:

Did you end up making too many mashed potatoes? Turn them into a delightful shepherd’s pie with stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy and veggies underneath. See Martha Stewart’s full recipe here.

Take a break after making your Thanksgiving meal with easy and quick recipes to use up those leftovers. That way you can spend the rest of your week relaxing with your family!

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