25 Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

By EMILY STARBUCK CRONE

Buying a home can be nervewracking, especially if you’re a first-time home buyer. Not only is it probably the biggest purchase of your life, but the process is complicated and fraught with unfamiliar lingo and surprise expenses.

To make the first-time home buying journey a little less stressful, NerdWallet has compiled these 25 tips to help you navigate the process more smoothly and save money.

1. Start saving for a down payment early

It’s common to put 20% down, but many lenders now permit much less, and first-time home buyer programs allow as little as 3% down. But putting down less than 20% may mean higher costs and paying for private mortgage insurance, and even a small down payment can still be hefty. For example, a 5% down payment on a $200,000 home is $10,000. Play around with a down payment calculator to help you land on a goal amount. Some tips for saving for a down payment include setting aside tax refunds and work bonuses, setting up an automatic savings plan and using an app to track your progress.

2. Check your credit

When you’re taking out a mortgage loan, your credit will be one of the key factors in whether you’re approved, and it will help determine your interest rate and possibly the loan terms. So check your credit before you begin the home buying process. Dispute any errors that could be dragging down your credit score and look for opportunities to improve your credit, such as making a dent in any outstanding debts.

3. Pause any new credit activity

Any time you open a new credit account, whether to take out an auto loan or get a new credit card, the lender runs a hard inquiry, which can temporarily ding your credit score. If you’re applying for a mortgage soon, avoid opening new credit accounts to keep your score from dipping.

4. Determine how much home you can afford

Before you start looking for your dream home, you need to know what’s actually within your price range. Use a home affordability calculator to determine how much you can safely afford to spend.

5. Explore your down payment options

Struggling to come up with enough money for a down payment? First-time home buyer programs are plentiful, including federal mortgage programs with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that allow loans with only 3% down, plus Federal Housing Administration loans and Veterans Affairs loans. You could also try crowdfunding or asking if family members are willing to pitch in with a gift.

6. Research state and local assistance programs

In addition to federal programs, many states offer assistance programs for first-time home buyers with perks such as tax credits, low down payment loans and interest free loans up to a certain amount. Your county or municipality may also have first-time home buyer programs.

7. Budget for closing costs

In addition to saving for a down payment, you’ll need to budget for the money required to close your mortgage, which can be significant. Closing costs generally run between 2% and 5% of your loan amount. You can shop around and compare prices for certain closing expenses, such as homeowners insurance, home inspections and title searches. You can also defray costs by asking the seller to pay for a portion of your closing costs or negotiating your real estate agent’s commission.

8. Set aside more money for after move-in

Sorry, that’s not all you need to save up for before home shopping. Once you’ve saved for your down payment and budgeted for closing costs, you should also set aside a buffer to pay for what will go inside the house. This includes furnishings, appliances, rugs, updated fixtures, new paint and any other touches you’ll want to have when you move in.

9. Consider what type of property to buy

You may assume you’ll buy a single-family home, and that could be ideal if you want a large lot or a lot of room. But if you’re willing to sacrifice space for less maintenance and extra amenities, and you don’t mind paying a homeowners association fee, a condo or townhome could be a better fit.

10. Research mortgage options

Is a 30-year, fixed rate mortgage a given, or is another loan type right for you? If you can afford larger monthly payments, you can get a lower interest rate with a 20-year or 15-year fixed loan. Or you may prefer an adjustable-rate mortgage, which is riskier but guarantees a low interest rate for the first few years of your mortgage.

11. Compare mortgage rates

Many homebuyers get a rate quote from only one lender, but this often leaves money on the table. Comparing mortgage rates from at least three lenders can save you more than $3,500 over the first five years of your loan, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Get at least three quotes and compare both rates and fees.

12. Decide if paying points makes sense

Lenders often allow you to buy discount points, which means prepaying interest upfront to secure a lower interest rate. There may also be an option for negative points, in which the lender pays some of your closing costs in exchange for a higher interest rate. How long you plan to stay in the house is one of the key factors in whether buying points makes sense. You’ll need to do some calculations or speak to a mortgage broker or loan officer to help you decide if buying points is worth it for you.

13. Get a preapproval letter

You can get prequalified, which simply gives you an estimate of how much a lender may be willing to lend based on your income and debts. But as you get closer to buying a home, it’s smart to get a preapproval, where the lender thoroughly examines your finances and confirms in writing how much it’s willing to lend you and at what terms. Having a preapproval letter in hand makes you look much more serious to a seller and can give you an upper hand over buyers who haven’t taken this step.

14. Hire the right buyers agent

You’ll be working closely with your real estate agent, so it’s essential that you find someone you get along with well. The right buyers agent should be highly skilled, motivated and knowledgeable about the area.

15. Stay under your preapproval limit

As your agent shows you homes, look for properties that cost a little less than the amount you were approved for. While you can technically afford that amount, it’s the ceiling — and it doesn’t account for a broken washer or dryer or any other expenses that arise during homeownership, especially right after you buy. Rather than maxing out that amount, set a lower purchase budget to leave yourself wiggle room for unexpected costs.

16. Pick the right neighborhood

Finding the right neighborhood is just as important as locating the right house. Research the schools, even if you don’t have kids, since that affects a home’s value. Look at local safety and crime statistics. How close are the nearest hospital, pharmacy, grocery store and other amenities you’ll use? Also, drive through the neighborhood on various days and at different times to check out traffic, noise and activity levels.

17. Make the most of an open house

Use this as another opportunity to scope out the neighborhood and your potential neighbors. During the open house, pay close attention to the home’s overall condition and look for any smells, stains or items in disrepair. Ask a lot of questions about the home, such as when it was built, when items were last replaced and how old key systems like the air conditioning and the heating are. If several other potential buyers are viewing the home at the same time as you, don’t hesitate to schedule a second or third visit to get a closer look and ask more questions.

18. Buy a home for tomorrow

It’s easy to look at properties that meet your current needs. But if you plan to start or expand your family, it may be preferable to buy a larger home you can grow into. Consider your future needs and wants and whether this home will suit them.

19. Let little things go

When you’re looking at a home, it’s easy to get caught up on superficial details like paint color, fixtures and carpets. These features are easy to change once the home is yours, so don’t let those little details get in the way.

20. Be prepared to compromise

It’s rare to find a house that’s perfect in every way, so think carefully about what you’re willing to compromise on and what you’re not. Perhaps no walk-in closet in the master bedroom is a deal breaker, but an outdated guest bathroom will be tolerable until you can renovate it.

21. Make a strong offer

Your real estate agent can help you with this, but consider how much under or over the asking price you’re willing to pay to obtain your dream home. If there are multiple bids, think about tactics to win over the seller, such as a personalized letter.

22. Avoid a bidding war that blows your budget

In a competitive real estate market with limited inventory, it’s likely you’ll bidding on houses that get multiple offers. When you find a home you love, it’s tempting to make a high-priced offer that’s sure to win. But don’t let your emotions take over; stick to your purchase budget to avoid getting stuck with a mortgage payment you can’t afford.

23. Negotiate

A lot can be up for negotiation in the homebuying process, which can result in major savings. Are there any major repairs you can get the seller to cover, either by fully handling them or by giving you a credit adjustment at closing? Is the seller willing to pay for any of the closing costs? If you’re in a buyers market, you may find the seller will bargain with you to get the house off the market.

24. Buy homeowners insurance

Before you close on your new house, your lender will require you to buy homeowners insurance. Shop around and compare rates to find the best price. Look closely at what’s covered in the policies; going with a less expensive policy usually means fewer protections and more out-of-pocket expenses if you file a claim. Be aware that your insurer can drop your property if it thinks the home’s condition isn’t up to snuff, so you may have to be prepared to find a new policy quickly if it sends someone out to look at the property and isn’t happy with what it finds. Also, flood damage isn’t covered by homeowners insurance, so if your new home is in a flood-prone area, you may want to buy separate flood insurance.

25. Know the limits of a home inspection

Once your offer is accepted, you’ll pay for a home inspection to examine the property’s condition inside and out. But not all inspections test for things like radon, mold or pests, so be sure you know what’s included. Make sure the inspector can access every part of the home, such as the roof and any crawl spaces. Attend the inspection and pay close attention. Don’t be afraid to ask your inspector to take a look — or a closer look — at something and ask questions. No inspector will answer the question, “Should I buy this house?”, so you’ll have to make this decision after reviewing the reports and seeing what the seller is willing to fix.

Home decor: 6 decorating mistakes you really want to avoid!

Nobody likes being told that they’re wrong, so rather than waiting until you’ve made some mistakes and pointing them out, we thought we’d take a proactive stance! Interior designers are well equipped to know what’s hot, what’s not and all the basic rules that will see your home emerging like a beautiful butterfly from an outdated cocoon, but if you don’t have access to any of these amazing professionals, then read on, as we think our tips are a great place to start. Put down the paintbrush and step away from your tatty bathroom and don’t start any new decorating project until you’ve memorized these mistakes that you don’t want to make!

Home decor: 6 decorating mistakes you really want to avoid!

1. Not attending to tile grout overspray

eclectic Bathroom by The Olive Design Studio
Grout is a strange thing. It sticks your tiles to the wall, keeps everything looking fresh and can even be funky if you choose colored or glitter versions, but if you don’t wipe excess away as soon as you spot it, it will become a nightmare! Setting quickly and having a cement-like quality, you’ll struggle to remove it once dry, so never leave it too long!

2. Bad prepping of walls

modern Living room by Sophie Nguyen Architects Ltd

If you don’t want your painted walls to not look how you expected them to, you have got to prep. You might think your wall is good enough to paint, but any uneven surfaces, cracks or dark paint that isn’t primed over could show through. Wallpaper is actually a better covering for a flawed wall.

3. Not accessorising walls

modern Living room by Rosangela Photography

Walls that are too bare look a little sad, that’s just a fact. If you are going for a minimalist look, the rest of your space will reflect that and help a plain wall to fit right in, but in a cozy home, a totally blank wall will stick out like a sore thumb. Art, photographs or a wall decal can easily and quickly solve this!

4. Using the whole rainbow

country Bedroom by The Cotswold Company

You probably think it would be weird to decorate an entire home with your favorite color, so perhaps you strive to use a different shade in every room, but please don’t! Your home doesn’t need to be a rainbow and if you like green, why not use it, in varying hues, in every room? It’s your house!

5. Going too heavy with the drapes

Curtains that are too heavy will drown a room. They might be great during a cold winter, acting as an extra form of insulation against heat loss, but really, you can achieve that with smaller, delicate curtains too. Also, matching your curtains to fabric-upholstered items is a risky business, so be sure you have a pattern that will work!

6. Ignoring lumpy walls

 Walls & flooring by Loft Kolasiński

Unless you’re going for a rustic look, lumpy walls with a coat of paint on them simply won’t do. In a country cottage, that look will work surprisingly well, but a modern home with perfectly smooth walls everywhere else? We don’t think so! Take the time to skim the wall before you paint!

5 THINGS NO ONE TOLD YOU ABOUT MARBLE COUNTERTOPS

They’re stunning, but are they really worth the investment?

 

GettyPBNJ Productions

In a time when marble is everywhere — seriously, it’s even on our walls — it’s normal to want to hop onto a slab of nature’s finest and never let go, especially when you start crunching the numbers (it’s affordable!). If you’re going into a kitchen reno, though, you should know that marble’s pretty exterior is hiding a few dirty secrets. It’s not all bad, but when it comes to making an investment, we’re all about transparency (ha, rock jokes). Here’s everything you need to know.

 

1. Marble is a porous, high-maintenance surface.

We could get into the geology of this, but the takeaway is that marble is vulnerable to staining agents (like wine, juice and oil) that seep deep into the rock. When this happens, it’s difficult to reverse, so professionally sealing the surface upon installation is essential to help prevent damage. The key word here is help. Unfortunately, you’ll need to repeat the sealing process (you can do this yourself, with a quality sealant) every six months if you’re a frequent cook.

If you do find yourself battling permanent “pops of color” due to red wine stains, Carolyn Forté, the Home Care and Textiles Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute, recommends dipping a cloth into a few drops of ammonia and 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide before wiping the stain; repeat until the mark is gone.

2. Be prepared to see some scratches.

And to slice lemons on a butcher’s block. Prolonged exposure to an acid (called etching) removes the polish or sealant from marble’s finish and makes it dull and more vulnerable to scratches. Honing your marble — a process that results in a matte, less polished effect – might make etching less noticeable, but won’t stop it from happening, unfortunately. Another reason for chips? Marble is much softer than other durable stones (think granite!). For this reason, avoid leaning up against your marble island wearing a belt or long metal necklaces.

Getty

3. If you don’t mind the extra work, they are a beautiful addition.

Search “marble kitchen” on Pinterest and scroll through — it’s hard not to pin every single image, right? The gleaming surface looks polished and feminine alongside gold or brass accenting or monochromatic and modern when paired with chrome. Considering marble’s multifaceted ability to work with so many different design styles, it makes sense that it’s trending right now. If you’re a homeowner looking for a wipe-and-go countertop, though, you’ll probably want to skip this one.

4. It’s cost-effective, depending on the type of marble you buy.

Carrara marble (a grayer version with softer veins from Carrara, Italy) is one of the least expensive natural countertop materials on the market, mainly because it’s readily available. Opt for a rarer, luxury stone like Calacatta marble, which offers a whiter surface and more dramatic veining, and the price tag goes up. Unfortunately, much of the marble you’re seeing all over the internet might not be the affordable stuff.

5. Marble is heat-resistant — which is great — but you still need to be careful.

If you’re baking in the middle of a heat wave, you can rely on marble countertops to stay as icy as central air. The stone is also heat-resistant, making it a good option if your kitchen sees a lot of bake-offs. Despite its ability to withstand high temps, you never want to place a piping hot pot on marble (or granite or quartz for that matter!), for risk of discoloring or burning the surface — always use a pot holder.

10 WAYS TO MASTER NAVY BLUE AND GOLD DECOR, PINTEREST’S NEW FAVORITE COLOR SCHEME

01


A GILDED BAR CART

Give your cocktail fixings a pretty place to perch with a classically cool, golden bar cart. Style it against a statement blue wall, as Park and Oak Interiors did here, and it will immediately draw the eye — and the desire for a tasty drink.

Park & Oak

02


A SLEEK OFFICE SPACE

A moody color palette keeps the vibe of this home office, created by Emily Henderson, contemporary. Dark blue walls set the tone, while subtle details like gold-plated desk legs and office supplies complete the look.

 

Zeke Ruelas

 

03


GLAM BATHROOM ACCENTS

This double bathroom by Leslie Cotter Interiors shows just how chic and minimalist a navy and gold color palette can be. Tone down your bold cabinets with elegant marble countertops and gold faucets, mirrors, and lighting.

 

Tim Furlong Jr.

04


GOLDEN FIXTURES

Dark blue is the perfect color to use when creating an accent wall in any room, especially the bedroom. Alex Evjen of Ave Styles collaborated with Decorist to create this modern boho master bedroom, full of original pieces, including a mid-century-inspired pendant light.

Rennai Hoefer

05


A COLORFUL WELCOME

Greet guests with a fancy vintage gold doorknob, set against a shiny navy blue door. Choose a sparkling white paint for the door molding and line the nearby walls with chic white and navy wallpaper for a stylish entrance, just like Erica Burns did here.

 

Erica Burns

 

06


STATEMENT CABINETS

What better way to pull off a two-tone kitchen than using navy blue for your cabinetry? It’s an unexpected color choice that still feels neutral and inviting. The geniuses at E. Interiors added gold faucets, lighting, and decor to give this particular design some depth.

 

E. Interiors

 

07


DON’T FORGET LIGHTING

Bright white rooms are perfect for those seeking a clean and tranquil space, but small pops of color here and there never hurt. Cathy Poshusta of the Grit and Polish added in navy blue pillows against the white bedding and cream headboard, but kept the gold decor minimal by add a simple bedside sconce.

 

 

Grit and Polish

 

08


A RANGE OF HUES

From the velvet couch to the modernist painting, Marks & Frantz played with a range of blues in this cozy but stylish living area. Take his lead and experiment with more than one shade of blue,and then inject some regality into the space with gold underpinnings, like this grand coffee table.

 

 

Marks and Frantz

 

09


PRECIOUS KITCHEN DETAILS

Designers at Grit and Polish transformed their old and outdated kitchen into a bright and airy cooking space. The top cabinets were kept white to match the walls, while the bottom set were painted a gorgeous navy blue and accented with gold hardware. The crisp white backsplash, along with a few plants, make for a lively but minimalist kitchen.

 

 

10


THE PERFECT VELVET SOFA

This spacious master suite — the work of Leslie Cotter Interiors, and shot by Tim Furlong Jr. — draws from both vintage design and contemporary decor. Add a few industrial touches, like these golden bedside lamps, and a little old-world charm with romantic furniture like this divine blue velvet sofa.

 

Tim Furlong Jr.

This spacious master suite — the work of Leslie Cotter Interiors, and shot by Tim Furlong Jr. — draws from both vintage design and contemporary decor.

Add a few industrial touches, like these golden bedside lamps, and a little old-world charm with romantic furniture like this divine blue velvet sofa.

 

This 116-Year-Old Home Is the Original Tiny House

Old-school proportions didn’t constrain its style.

                                                                                                                                       NGOC MINH NGO

Faced with a lack of light and lots of architectural quirks, Sarah Bartholomew refreshed a historic Georgetown rowhouse with neutrals, fool-the-eye details and an aviary’s worth of feathered friends.

Celia Barbour: Tiny houses are a trend now, but this home is 116 years old! How did its size influence you?

Sarah Bartholomew: I always let a house tell its story, and this one was clear about what it needed to be: a pretty, all-American home in beautiful, historic Georgetown. Whoever built it was not especially wealthy, so I tried to keep the style simple: fresh, eclectic and easy- going, but not loose or casual.

Was a 1,200-square-foot house with just four rooms — two downstairs, two up — a design challenge?

Yes. For example, it has no foyer — you walk right off the street into the living room. I wanted to create a moment by the front door where you could pause and hang your coat, but it had to feel cohesive with the room. That’s why there’s a bird print over the entry console instead of a mirror. The kitchen doubles as a dining room. I had the table custom built to a specific size: It’s big enough to accommodate six but small enough that one can move around it.

Your furnishings, too, are often multipurpose.

I like things to be both/and, not either/or. I’m drawn to furniture that’s sculptural, as it adds graphic drama while still being useful. For instance, the Regency-style chairs by the front windows have interesting silhouettes and can serve as pedestals for objects or books, then they can be cleared off when needed as seating. Similarly, the bull’s-eye mirror and Chinese stools add visual impact without making the room feel busy or crowded.

                                                                                                                                       NGOC MINH NGO

These owners could have afforded a bigger house. Why did they opt to go small?

They prefer tiny. This is their second home; their main residence is in California, but that one is not large, either. Having spent time in Japan, the wife believes in living well but compactly. They are always on the go — Europe, Asia, the West Coast — and she doesn’t want a lot to maintain. And no need for a home office: The husband, who is in the tech field, can work anywhere as long as he has a tablet.

Yet it doesn’t feel like a dainty little doll’s house.

Well, he’s tall — he played basketball— so I didn’t want petite settees and French chairs everywhere. The living room needed a comfortable sofa and welcoming lounge chairs. The bedrooms had to feel calm and restful.

What issues did you face updating an old rowhouse?

Houses built a century ago didn’t have things we now consider necessities, like plumbing and electricity. These amenities were added over the years and, as a result, there are all these quirks in the walls and ceilings. To mask them, I hang groups of repetitive (but not identical) items, which draw the eye and distract from the asymmetry. The living room has bird prints by Olof Rudbeck, a 17th-century Swedish scientist and artist. In the guest bedroom, I filled the wall above the bed, which juts out, with brackets holding shells and coral.

Rowhouses can be dark. How did you bring in the light?

The previous owners had put plantation shutters on the front windows, but I wanted more daylight. I installed linen curtains with a sheer lining; they provide privacy but let about 80% of the light through. And I replaced the solid wood panels in the front door with glass panes.

So the whole facade becomes a source of light! What about the interior of the house?

Because the living room is a long, narrow space, it needed overhead lighting, but the ceilings were too low to install cove fixtures — I used flush mounts for ambient light. I didn’t want lamps to stick out too much, so I went with slender brass ones. In the kitchen, the ceiling consists of the floor joists of the master bedroom upstairs. Pendant lamps hang from the support beams, the only place where we could run electrical wire. I also added under-cabinet lighting and sconces on the walls.

sarah bartholomew living room                                                                                                              NGOC MINH NGO

Tell me about your use of color.

The client wanted the main rooms to be neutral. She said, “I’m on the go all the time. I want the house to feel soothing.” I love neutrals, too, but I didn’t want the palette to feel boring or flat, so I layered in a lot of textures and patterns. The sofa has a hand-blocked Carolina Irving Textiles print, the chairs a leafy pattern, the pillows a stripe. There’s even a faint pattern in the rug. Natural textures include vellum, wicker, leather, brass and marble. I added blue whenever we needed a pop of color. I love blue and white — always have, always will — and used the combo in the master bedroom with a traditional floral on the headboard, bed skirt and curtains. Then I added little touches of black to the room with the lampshade and artwork. Black keeps blue and white from going over the edge into sweetness.

You said that a house tells its own story, but this one turned out more like a poem.

Every detail counts: A functional object can become a beautiful moment to look at and enjoy whenever you walk by. Each gesture is an opportunity to tell a little story within the larger story.

See more photos of this gorgeous home »

This story originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of House Beautiful.

20 “One Room Challenge” Makeovers That’ll Inspire You to Roll Up Your Sleeves

Over the past six weeks, a brave group of designers raced against the clock to refresh their least-favorite rooms — or update an entire home. Check out the jaw-dropping results for yourself, and then visit their blogs to see more of each space.



02 of 21

AN OPEN KITCHEN

No, you don’t really need upper cabinets after all. Abby Manchesky never kept many dishes in her tiny kitchen anyway, so she now stashes her pieces right out in the open. The new shelves also set the stage for trendy green cabinets.

See more at Abby Manchesky »



04 of 21

A SERENE NURSERY

With a baby on the way, Chris and Julia needed a space for their youngest daughter. A textured poof brings the cloud wallpaper into the third dimension — and provides a place for tired parents’ feet.

See more at Chris Loves Julia »


05 of 21

A BRIGHT BASEMENT

Christine Covey used three different Farrow and Ball shades — All Black, Wimborne White and Slipper Satin — to create her neutral backdrop.

See more at Christine Dovey »


06 of 21

A FRESH START

The nonprofit Dwell With Dignity completely overhauled this family home, bringing in new furniture and art with the help of design duo Gordon Dunning and almost 90 volunteers.

See more at Dwell With Dignity »


07 of 21

A CHARMING GUESTHOUSE

Erica Reitman reimagined her backyard guesthouse as a “cozy luxe boutique hotel room” for visiting Airbnb-ers. She kept her storage-savvy banquette (which holds sheets and towels) but added a new wallpaper “mural.”

See more at Erica Reitman »


08 of 21

A SLEEK KITCHEN

The corner window made hiding ventilation impossible, so Erin Williamson knew she needed a showstopper hood. The custom piece features tiny metal rods welded in a chevron pattern, just like the floor.

See more at Erin Williamson »


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A MARBLED BATHROOM


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14 Modern Walkways And Paths That Are Creative And Functional

 

Backyard walkways and paths are a great way to connect parts of your yard and create separate areas within it. Today we’re sharing 14 examples of modern backyard walkways that add a creative element to the landscape design, and work to both connect and divide the yard.


 

1. Square pavers arranged geometrically in the backyard of this home create a distinctive walkway through and around the yard.


Designed by Marcio Kogan and Diana Radomysler

2. A short walkway, made from stained wood strips, connect two different parts of the yard in a modern, contemporary way.


Designed by Studio Dwell Architects. Photography by Marty Peters.

3. The walkway in the yard of this home is made up of thin panels of light wood that guide you throughout the yard.


Designed by Jeffrey Allsbrook from Standard Architecture. Photography by Lisa Romerein.

4. Elevated concrete strips lead through the backyard of this seaside home out to the beach, protecting the sand and vegetation beneath it.


Elphick Proome Architects designed this beachside home near Cape Town, South Africa. Photography by Dennis Guichard.

5. The slightly curved wood walkway along the backyard of this home softens up the harshness of the dark exterior and gives a more natural look to the yard.


ONG&ONG designed this modern home in Singapore. Photography by Derek Swalwell

6. Two strips of concrete pavers lead up to the back of this home and help to define the various sections of the yard.


Chauriye Stäger Arquitectos designed this home in Paine, Chile. Photography by Pablo Blanco.

7. A paved walkway runs along the side of the yard, leading from the front to the back of the yard, keeping it open and free for playing and entertaining.


Robert Gurney Architect designed the remodel of this home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Photography by Maxwell MacKenzie.

8. A walkway made from wood leads straight through the home and into the backyard of this family home creating continuity between inside and out.


Austin Maynard Architects designed this home in Melbourne, Australia. Photography by Tess Kelly.

9. An elevated wood walkway leads through the yard of this home, connecting various parts of the home together without impacting the landscape.


Grounded, LLC designed the landscape for this home. Photography by Robert Radifera.

10. The wood pathway through this yard is surrounded by ivy covered arches and is lit up by overhead lights that keep the path safe, even at night.



The Garden Company designed the landscaping for this Melbourne home.

11. The backyard path of this home is lit by LED lights, and leads from the patio out to a secluded entertaining space complete with seating and a firepit.


Phil Kean Design Group designed this home in Orlando, Florida.

12. Concrete pavers make up the pathway around the back of the house, connecting the various spaces and creating a modern landscaping detail.


Walker Workshop designed this home in Los Angeles, California. Photography by Noah Walker and Nicholas Alan Cope.

13. Rectangular concrete pavers have been arranged in a slightly staggered fashion to create a curved pathway that runs through this contemporary backyard.


Steve Hermann designed this house in Santa Barbara, California.

14. A dark wood walkway leads through the backyard of this home, dividing the grassy space and the pool area.



Clever Ways to Add or Boost Attic Storage

 

When it comes to extra storage an attic is a wonderful place. There many different ways in which you can turn your attic into a place that provides loads of storage despite its sloped ceiling. So, take a look at the ideas below and hack your attic for boosting storage:

 

1. Design The Walk in Closet of Your Dreams Inside The Attic


Image via: attic works

2. Build Benches with Storage Drawers


Image via: home dit

3. Install a Built in Bed With Storage Drawers and Shelves


Image via: simplicity in the south , houzz

4. Build a Bookcase in Place of The Stairway Railing


Image via: modern home tours , elephant buffet

5. Create Storage Inside a Knee Wall


Image via: new england

6. Build Modular Shelving Along The Walls


Image via: houzz

7. If You Want to Create a Bunk Room in The Attic Then Add Bookcases at The End of The Bunk Beds


Image via: thrifty decor chick

8. Install a Pull Out Wardrobe or Drawers in The Under-Eaves Space


Image via: jerosch , houzz

9. Build a Bookcase with a Bench and Create a Cozy Reading Nook That Can Store Your Books Too


Image via: freddy and petunia

10. Invest in Free Standing Storage Solutions Depending Upon The Size and Storage Requirement of Your Attic


Image via: houzz

4 Things First-Time Homebuyers Need to Know

My wife and I are hoping to be first-time home-buyers this year. We’ll likely blow our savings on the down payment and closing costs. What’s the best way to handle the costs for home renovations? Private loan? Just wait a year or two for our savings to replenish some? –Brian & Emily, Jersey City

Congratulations on your adventure into becoming homeowners.

Buying a home is likely the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, and it’s not always an easy one.

Low inventory has pushed home prices up in cities throughout the country, giving sellers an advantage. Homes sell fast, bidding wars break out and offers above the asking price are common.

All of this means that buyers need to be on their game and have their finances in order before entering the market.

Here’s what experts said first-time buyers need to know:

 

1. What you can actually afford

Before buyers start their house hunt, it’s important they know how much they can afford to spend.

“Start with a plan,” said Chantel Bonneau, a financial adviser at Northwestern Mutual. “Don’t let your imagination take over and don’t let what you see from friends’ houses drive your budget.”

Buyers should list out all of their monthly expenses. Don’t forget to include items like groceries, transportation, and discretionary spending, like gym memberships and nights out.

Related: Should real estate be part of my retirement plan?

A general rule of thumb is that housing costs shouldn’t take up more than 30% of your before-tax income.

But experts said that the percentage can vary, especially if you have other debts, like student loans or car payments.

Spending too much on monthly housing payments can leave homeowners house poor, and unable to afford other expenses — like saving for retirement.

“A home is not a good excuse to be reckless with the rest of your financial situation,” said Bonneau.

In competitive markets, it’s common for buyers to get pre-approved for financing to get a leg up. But experts said that just because a bank approves you for a certain amount, it doesn’t mean that’s what you should spend. Stick to a price limit you’re comfortable with.

 

2. You need a buffer

While it may be tempting to throw everything you’ve got at your offer to stay competitive, experts recommended having at least some money left over after you close on a home.

“If buying a house takes your checking account down to $1,000, it’s probably too expensive,” said Bonneau.

Experts advised having at least three to six months in savings the day you become homeowners. One reason is that you’ll need emergency savings now more than ever.

 

“You don’t want a flat tire or a deductible on a medical plan to throw you into financial turmoil,” said Bonneau. “When you are a homeowner, you have a lot more things that can go wrong.”

If a home purchase leaves you with no liquidity, it might be worth considering waiting to increase your savings or lowering your price point, advised Neil Krishnaswamy, a certified financial planner with Exencial Wealth Advisors.

homebuyers brian emily
Brian and Emily are looking to buy their first home.

3. The true cost of owning a home

The down payment tends to be the biggest financial hurdle to owning a home, but there are many other costs that pop up along the way: appraisal, origination, credit report and notary fees can all add up.

And the costs don’t stop just when the keys are handed over. There’s the move, new furniture and costs like lawn care and utility payments that former renters might not be used to paying.

“I don’t know if anyone truly understands the total cost of owning a home,” said Krishnaswamy. “Things just continually come up that you want to do, either buy something to fill a room or fix or improve something. Most people underestimate the cost.”

4. Renovations are not as seen on TV

Buying a fixer-up might allow you to snag a bigger home or afford one in a more desirable area, but experts warned there are huge risks.

“Know that it is always more expensive than what you are imagining … or what you see on TV,” said Bonneau.

If a home needs renovations, factor that into the total cost of buying, recommended Krishnaswamy.

A private loan is an option to finance the project, but can be difficult to secure, especially after just taking out a mortgage.

If your home appraises for more than you purchased it for, you could have the option of tapping your equity to help pay for renovations.

There are some mortgage options that include renovation expenses. For instance, 203k FHA loan allows homebuyers to finance the sale and rehabilitation on a single mortgage.

Another option is asking a friend or family member for a loan.

“If you are trying to secure the best low-rate loan, look at those closest to you, but be mindful of your relationship status if you can’t pay back the loan,” said Krishnaswamy.

Simple Steps to Secure Your Home Before You Go

If you are planning to go away for a week on vacation or on a business trip, one of the most important things you should do is ensure your home is safe while you are not there. Here are some simple but essential tips you can use to help you keep your property more secure while you are away.

 

 

Lock All the Doors and Windows

Preventing burglary starts with the basics. When you leave your home, make a final check of all the doors and windows to ensure they are shut and locked.

It won’t take more than a few minutes, but it will be the best protection for your home, and you’ll also have more peace of mind when you go away because you know that you locked up.

Arrange for a Neighbor to Visit

Arrange for a trusted neighbor to pop over to your home once every few days to clear up any mail. Stuffed letterboxes are one of the clearest signs that no one is home, and this can attract burglars.

The United States Postal Service offers a service where you can put a hold on your mail while you’re on vacation, and you can arrange this up to 30 days before you leave. Check whether it is available where you live by clicking here.

Your neighbor can also look for other problems such as water leaks which, left alone, could cause serious problems. And depending on how long you go away for, they might also be able to mow the lawn and trim the hedge so that it does not look like no one is home.

They might also agree to park their car in your driveway so it looks like someone is living there.

Set Up a Smart Alarm System

An alarm system can give you more peace of mind when you go away on a trip. Modern security systems are affordable and provide excellent security.

You might want to look for a system that not only includes an alarm but also includes an internet-connected camera so that you can actually watch the live feed of your home while you are away. Some systems can even send you a mobile alert when there is suspicious activity.

There are many systems to choose from, so learn more about security systems here and decide on the right option for your home.

Other Tips for a Safer Home

As well as the above, there are other steps you can take to secure your home while you are away. For example, you can invest in timer switches for your lights so that a light turns on every night and makes it look like you are in.

Also, don’t forget to lock up the garage. These can be tempting for thieves because security is often not as good, and burglars could also use tools from the garage to break into your home.

Finally, don’t advertise the fact that you’re away from home on social media. Thieves are smarter than ever, and if you are telling everyone that no one is home, this could be the perfect invitation.

Keep Your Home Safe While You’re Away

These are some of the most important steps to take while you are away from your home for any length of time. They are all simple, but they can really help to keep your home secure, and they can also give you more peace of mind so you can enjoy your trip more.