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Published: Thursday, March 01, 2018 @ 3:25 PM
— Whether you're buying a "starter home" or your "dream home," a house can quickly earn the nickname "the Money Pit" if you don't consider the hidden costs of home ownership.
When comparing the costs of renting to the base purchase price of buying your own home, the numbers usually look like a great deal. But in reality, unplanned fees and the responsibilities of maintenance and repairs can be a huge drag on your bottom line. "Buying a home can be expensive, but what newbie homeowners often don't realize is that the spending has only just begun," noted CPA Liz Weston on the NerdWallet blog. "The hidden costs of homeownership can equal if not exceed the mortgage payments you send to the bank."
While the additional outlay doesn't mean that renting for the rest of your life is the only solution, you should weigh the hidden costs long before you start picking out paint colors. That way, Weston advised, you're able to gauge whether that "affordable" home will trash your budget and you can set aside money for those expenses and develop a back-up plan in case you can't cover the unexpected costs with savings.
Expenses that add to the original mortgage cost
You'll certainly know by the end of your purchase that you have to pay property taxes and insurance on top of your mortgage payment, but it's a good idea to consider them at the outset.
Homeowners' association fees
When you're looking for affordable property, make sure to note whether a condo or development charges HOA fees. These can cost anywhere from $100 per month to nearly as much as a decent apartment rental and you can't opt out of them. Be sure to check (or have your agent check) on the bylaws that dictate when and how these fees can be raised.
"No new homeowner, myself included, can ever feel fully prepared for the maintenance costs and renovation costs associated with homeownership," Brunch & Budget's Pamela Capalad told NerdWallet. Maintenance can include anything from keeping the hedges trimmed and the lawn mowed to cleaning gutters and hiring a chimney sweep annually.
Repairs large and small
A financial planner in Brooklyn, Capalad had brand-new pipes burst four years into owning her home. "There went $2,000 in repairs just like that." No more speed dialing the building maintenance crew when catastrophe hits, either. Instead, you'll have to do it yourself, or, in cases where it's inadvisable, hire somebody. A few of the repairs that could be lurking in your home include any plumbing mishaps that result in standing water and correcting a poor roof design.
You probably learned long ago that warm air and hot water don't just magically flow through your living spaces and into your bathtub, but when you're the homeowner, you're in charge of keeping the source in good repair or (shudder) replacing it when the time comes. You can expect the following lifespans for the equipment that heats your home and water, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors:
On the other end of the spectrum - and of particular importance to homeowners in the South - is keeping the air conditioner going. Central AC units have a lifespan of just 7 to 15 years, according to NACHI.
Whether you switch rental arrangements every couple of years or are used to your landlord taking responsibility for replacing appliances, you may be surprised at the cost of replacing appliances yourself. Plan on it, though: "You don't want to be caught off guard when the dishwasher you've been using for a decade suddenly goes on the fritz and you haven't budgeted for its repair or replacement," noted Sears. Assuming you don't get a lemon, you can count on appliance to last at least as long as these estimations:
Looking forward to enjoying lots of time on your new deck? You'd better make sure the deck will be there for you: according to NACHI, deck material doesn't last nearly as long as most homes, predicting that deck planks would last 15 years, composite 8 to 25 years and structural wood 10 to 30 years. Unless the deck was brand-new when you bought it, you might be replacing it sooner rather than later.
Sure, all-wood floors can stand up to hard use for a century. But carpets? They'll go South in 8 to 10 years, according to NACHI. Even if you negotiate an allowance to buy new carpet with the new home purchase price, it will still need replacing pretty quickly.
To narrow your expected home costs even more when you're in the market, hire a good home inspector before you buy, NerdWallet's Weston recommended. A local inspector can give you both an idea of the remaining life expectancy of the house's various components and a rough estimate of how much they'll cost to replace. "It may become apparent that a bargain house will turn into a money pit, while a better-maintained home is worth the extra money."
The solution to hidden home costs, assuming a life with landlords isn't something you're comfortable with, is simply socking away money for potential repairs. "While every situation is different, the typical rule of thumb is to expect to spend an average of one percent to two percent of the value of your home on repairs each year," financial planner Matt Becker told NerdWallet. That may not be the tally every single year, but it should give you a little wiggle room for the years when the big, bad breakdowns (like a broken furnace) occur.
Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 4:01 PM
— The “Agony and the Ecstasy” may be a literary classic, but it's also an on-point description of owning a house with a lawn. Yes, it offers a wonderful play space for the kids and a respite from the workaday world for the adults. But when the heat climbs and the brown spots start showing and the lawn guy who signed up in cooler months starts ghosting you, your lawn can turn into real burden.
It doesn't have to be that way, though. If you select lawn care professionals carefully and follow up with the respect that will keep them around, a lush green lawn can be yours− even in August.
Set the standard
According to Sue Silva of Arbor-Nomics, you should think of keeping your grass green the same way you think of having a healthy smile. "Your dentist provides regular care along with advice on preventing problems and warning signs to watch for. In between visits, you floss, brush and follow recommendations for any special care. You want that same kind of relationship with your lawn service. Regular weed killer treatments and fertilization alone won't guarantee a yard you're proud of and enjoy being in. For best results, you need to work with someone who is knowledgeable in what they do and can explain what you need to do."
Avoid the over-the-phone estimator. You'll never get anywhere with a company or individual who can't be bothered to see your lawn and answer your questions before discussing money.
Ask about later. Potential hires should be able to tell you about their refund policy and how their work is guaranteed. Make sure to get it in writing.
Find someone who understands fertilizer. According to Reader's Digest landscaping experts, many bigger lawn companies recommend too much fertilizer. You can save money and possibly avoid health risks if you look for a company or independent contractor who will employ a fertilizer with time-releasing water-insoluble nitrogen and use it only twice a year on a steady schedule.
Consider several options. It's not just price that will vary depending on who does your lawn. You'll also encounter different ways of billing, bundling services and establishing a fee schedule for everything from buying seedlings to paying electronically. Home Advisor recommended speaking to at least three or four lawn care providers before settling on one.
Check their mowing standard. According to LawnStarter, one simple question will weed out low-quality lawn care providers: "How often do you sharpen your blades?" Dull blades make grass look tattered and brown on top. Ask them how many mowing hours they go through before changing or sharpening blades. The answer should be no more than 10 hours. Popular Mechanics adds that a home owner or a professional will get the greenest lawn by letting the clippings fall while mowing. It's also important never to mow unless there's rain in the short-term forecast.
Get personal. "When it comes to the techs themselves, the fewer the better – at least in terms of who treats your property," Silva noted. "You're better served by having the same dedicated technician or tech team visit after visit. That way they get to really know your yard and can stay on top of any problem areas."
Get references. The lawn care industry is tricky, according to LawnStarter, which operates franchises in the Georgia area, because the industry is decentralized. "While Yelp reviews don't provide the whole story (usually only really positive and really negative experiences are written about), it does provide a good glimpse at what you're getting into. In addition, ask your neighbors which company they use and what they think of them." If you expect immediate service and are willing to pay for the privilege, you might want to consider a company that employs an office manager or owner-manager who can respond promptly.
Look for a business license and insurance. Sure, there are high-quality contractors who don't have multiple certifications, but most homeowners want a firm with a business license and proper insurance, so you won't be liable for injuries or damages, Katherine Hutt, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau, told MarketWatch.
You're part of the equation, too.
When it comes to hiring the most reliable and competent lawn care professionals - particularly the little guy businesses - you're in competition with other homeowners and renters. Think of it like trying to hold onto a really good babysitter. Sure, you're already paying for lawn care, maybe a king's ransom if you've opted for the manicured lawn approach, but if you want your lawn to be the first serviced by an independent contractor when everyone needs mowing at the same time, being nice goes a long way.
Clear the yard before the mowers arrive. Be sure to pick up toys and dog poop and all the other things that can get in the way of the highly qualified professional you hired to mow your lawn.
Put the pets up ahead of time. Instead of inadvertently wasting a lawn care pro's time (or risking having to pay for a return visit), develop a routine that involves securing all your indoor and outdoor pets out of harm's way on mowing day.
Keep the kids off the clock. It's crucial not to waste a landscaper or mower's time. "We know your kids want to help," one professional told Reader's Digest, "but they're just making our job take longer."
Published: Friday, June 08, 2018 @ 8:21 AM
Updated: Friday, June 08, 2018 @ 8:21 AM
— Forget about "Snakes on a Plane," we're more concerned with snakes in the yard. Even though snakes are nowhere near as prevalent as our irrational fears would have us think (assuming you don't live smack dab in the middle of rattlesnake territory), if you're a homeowner with a bit of landscape or yard under your direction, you may encounter snakes on occasion.
That should be no biggie, according to experts at the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.
"As a general rule, snakes are just as frightened of you as possibly you are of them and often they move as quickly as possible in the other direction," the extension noted. Venomous snake bites are rare and you can readily take steps to treat them. If you're an avid gardener, you may even want snakes in your slice of the great outdoors, since they diet on rodents and insects and can actually help protect you from garden pests.
Not buying it? You can try to keep snakes out of your home life. Just understand that even the best measures are not 100 percent foolproof, according to America's Wetland Resources, which is based in the South.
"There are no magic or absolute solutions," AWR asserted. "There are no poisons or repellents that work, though some new 'breakthrough' is occasionally advertised. Horsehair ropes and trails of mothballs have consistently tested negative, and pest control operators have no answers."
Seal crevices. Closer to your home, seal the openings where snakes like to set up house. "Check the clearance of door bottoms, weep holes, openings where pipes enter, cracks and spaces under eaves," AWR recommended. "Don't neglect storerooms and sheds."
AWR added that sealing enough openings to make a difference is much more difficult if you own a raised wooden home.
Tidy up the yard. Snakes might choose to live on your property or simply travel through, according to AWR. You want to make your property as inhospitable as possible, so concentrate on ridding it of any places snakes would consider good spots to hide. Remove debris, from piles of boards, tin, sticks and leaves to flat boats on the ground and piles of bricks or stone, AWR advised, and keep vegetation cut back.
Stop serving the snake's preferred menu. It's a win-win. When you take away potential hiding places for snakes, the spots where rat and mice families like to congregate are also eliminated. But take this one step further, AWR advised, and take further steps to get rid of the rodents that snakes like to snack on. You may want to involve a pest control agent, but you definitely want to practice anti-rodent hygiene, including not leaving pet food out for more than an hour or so, closing trash cans tightly and securing compost in a sealed container.
Combat the climbers. If limbs from a neighbor's yard hang over your fence, snakes may use them as an entry to your place. Consider working with your neighbor to get them trimmed.
Consider the snake-proof fence. If you live in an area where one or more venomous snakes are common, you may want to invest in a snake-proof fence, according to NCSU. "Small areas where children play can be protected from all poisonous and most harmless snakes with a snake-proof fence," it noted. "However, the cost of the fence may make it impractical to protect an entire yard."
Make a fence by burying 1/4-inch mesh wire screening 6 inches underground and building it up 30 inches, instructed NCSU.
"It should slant outward at a 30-degree angle from bottom to top. The supporting stakes must be inside the fence and any gates must fit tightly. Tall vegetation must be removed along the fence, both inside and outside."
It's costly, but you can snake-proof the entire yard with a concrete chain wall that extends six inches or so below the surface, noted AWR.
"If you already have a wooden fence and the boards are very close together, a good solution is to snake-proof the bottom."
One fairly cheap way is to use 1/4-inch hardware cloth cut in strips wide enough to overlap the bottom of the fence so it can be tacked securely and extend down into a narrow trench six inches deep.
AWR added another word of caution for either snake-proof fence design (spoiler alert: it's nightmare inducing.) "Many snakes climb by looping over objects and the above described design may virtually eliminate their entry," it noted. "Others, however, can crawl up vertical surfaces if they are rough, such as the trunk of a tree or a brick wall (including the side of a house)."
To overcome this creepy climbing capability, you can place a foot-wide ledge made of wood or metal flashing along the outer side at the top. "This structure makes the snakes lean out away from the wall and it will lose its grip and fall."
After all this snake talk, AWR does have one bit of great news. "Snakes are rarely abundant in any one location."
And if all your efforts fail and snakes do make their way into your yard, AWR recommended the ultimate failsafe.
Published: Thursday, May 03, 2018 @ 3:37 PM
— Deciding when to shop for your first home can be a big decision.
Maybe you've been holding down the rent payments on your apartment for a few years and you're ready to invest in a place of your own. Maybe you just got married and you're looking for a house with a backyard for your two dogs. No matter what your motivation for taking this step, it's important to start by figuring out how much you can spend on a home without breaking your budget.
The problem is, for first-time home buyers, understanding how mortgage payments are calculated can be about as clear as mud. To help you navigate the numbers, here's a breakdown of what you'll need to think about when estimating your monthly payment:
1. Property Price
The starting off point to figure out your mortgage payment is the property price. Once a buyer and seller agree on a sale price, almost all mortgage lenders will use the results of an appraisal to find out how much the house is actually worth. According to an article on Zillow, lenders might not issue a loan for more than the appraised value, but you can always put up your own money to cover the difference.
2. Down Payment
The amount of your down payment can vary based on a few factors. When shopping for your first home, you want to be realistic about how much cash you will have available for your down payment and closing costs. Speaking to a mortgage lender ahead of time will help you figure out how much you should save for the down payment on the house of your dreams. Once you're ready to get started, here are some tips on how to save for that down payment.
3. Loan term
Your payment can go up or down depending on how much time you have to pay off your loan. MortgateCalculator.org ranks 30-year home loans as the most common.
4. Interest Rate
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, your interest rate is based on things like your credit score, the economy, how much you're looking to borrow, and where your house is located. Because these rates change with the market, it's impossible to pinpoint exactly where they might be on the date of your closing. You want to speak to your lender to figure out how to get the best rate at the time you're ready to buy.
5. Property Taxes
Property taxes are set based on where your house is located. Certain metro Atlanta areas have higher property tax rates than others so you might want to do your research to see how local counties compare. Also, property taxes can change over time so you'll probably see a slight difference in your monthly payment amount from year to year.
6. Other Factors
The monthly payment on your home sometimes includes some other factors. Here are a few you might want to keep in mind:
Homeowners Insurance: Your annual homeowners insurance premium is usually rolled into your mortgage payment.
Private mortgage insurance: Private mortgage insurance (PMI) may be added to your mortgage payment depending on your lender's requirements.
HOA Fees: If your property is a part of a mandatory Homeowners Association, you will have to pay annual fees to participate. HOA fees are paid separately from your mortgage, but should be included in your payment estimates because they are typically paid monthly.
Here's a quick example of a mortgage calculation using the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices app for Georgia properties:
Sale price: $195,000
Down payment: $6,825 (3.5 percent)
Loan term: 30 years
Interest rate: 4.5 percent
Property taxes: $1,200/year
Homeowners insurance: $700/year
HOA dues: $125/month
Based on these numbers, a ballpark guess for your mortgage would be about $1,417 per month.
Published: Saturday, April 28, 2018 @ 4:07 PM
Central State University will host its 27th annual Plant Extravaganza, and money raised at the event will benefit students.
The sale will happen Tuesday from 3-6 p.m. and again Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. in the CSU Greenhouse in Wilberforce.
Students majoring in Sustainable Agriculture and volunteers started in January to plant seeds and propagate houseplants, annual flowers, perennials, herbs and vegetables. The community outreach effort is sponsored by the Department of Agricultural Sciences in the College of Engineering, Science, Technology and Agriculture.
The greenhouse specializes in seed geraniums, coleus, tomatoes and peppers, but there are more than 50 varieties of plants available. Cost per flat is $10, mix or match. Additional donations are accepted.
All proceeds are donated to the CSU Greenhouse Fund, which helps pay for supplies, scholarships, student research and campus beautification.
The public is invited to come early for the best selection. Cash or checks accepted only.