Here’s What Pushes People to Buy Homes in 2015

People buy homes for as almost as many different reasons as there are, well, different types of houses to buy. So if we take a step back and look at the main drivers in today’s home-buying decisions, it helps paint a clear picture of just what buyers these days want. What’s really behind the current frenzy of housing activity?

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In a survey of active home shoppers this June and July conducted for realtor.com® through the BDX Home Shopper Insights Panel, we asked what triggered them to start thinking about purchasing a home. Here are the top results!
1. I’m tired of my house

Out of 22 possible responses, the top reason people moved was—no surprise here—that they’re simply sick to death of their current home. This was cited by 28% of the panel, and it’s a strong indicator of pent-up demand.

The average tenure in a home has increased since the Great Recession, as many homeowners ended up underwater from the price declines of 2007–2011 or simply lacked the confidence to consider changing homes. After four years of above-average price appreciation, confidence in the market has returned, and that has been helping fuel this year’s increase in sales.
2. Interest rates are looking good

Favorable interest rates came in as the second most cited trigger, with 27% of shoppers. While the average weekly 30-year fixed conforming rate varied from a low of 3.63% in January to a high of 4.09% in June, rates remain extremely low from a historical perspective.

It is hard to fathom today, but the average monthly 30-year fixed conforming rate since 1971 is a whopping 8.39%. Compared to that, interest rates will certainly remain favorable for many months ahead.
3. Home prices are, well, not bad either

Hot on the heels of favorable rates: favorable home prices, cited by 26% of active home shoppers. Although the U.S. did hit a nominal record for the median existing-home price nationally in June, on an inflation-adjusted basis, home prices today remain about 20% beneath the peak at the height of the housing bubble.

In 2012, favorable home prices was, by far, the No. 1 trigger cited by 47% of active home shoppers in a similar survey. Opportunistic pricing is less of a motivation today, but it remains a top trigger.
4. I’ve got more money to spend

As evidence that more households are now financially better off as a result of the recovering economy, 24% of active home shoppers cited an increase in income as a primary trigger. When we filter the respondents to look only at 25- to 34-year-olds, this trigger vaults to No. 1, as it was cited by 35% of these older millennial home shoppers.
5. The stork is on its way—and it’ll need some room to land

Rounding out our top five triggers is yet another indicator of an improving economy and resulting life events driving home sales. A change in family circumstance or composition was cited by 18% of this year’s active home shoppers. Births increased last year and appear to be poised for another year of growth this year. Baby needs a new pair of shoes and a room of her own! Can an Xbox be far behind?

I expect favorable mortgage rates to remain a top trigger for some time, but I would expect to see evidence of more life events and continued improving economic circumstances driving tomorrow’s buyers. And with this scenario, at last, the housing market is returning to normal.

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Mortgage Rates May Go Up, but You Can Deal: Here’s Why

It’s a late-summer nail-biter: The U.S. Federal Reserve will announce its current policy for short-term rates on Thursday, ending weeks of suspense. If you’ve been worrying that the Fed will raise rates and thus ruin your dream of homeownership, well, you’re not alone.

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But higher rates won’t hurt the housing market overall, which should console homeowners watching their equity as well as home buyers concerned about their investment.

The Fed’s target for short-term rates has been zero since December 2008. Since then, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate has averaged between 3.31% and 5.59% on a weekly basis. So when the Fed officially moves away from a zero interest rate policy for short-term rates, whether it happens tomorrow or in a few months, it will mark the beginning of the end of an era: seven years of incredibly low mortgage rates and high affordability.

But interest rates matter less to housing demand than consistently high levels of job creation and household formation. That is, when people are able to get jobs, move out on their own, and create families, they’re likely to want to buy a home. So higher rates—though they may price out some buyers—won’t cause a decline in sales, or a decline in prices.

But that may not help you feel better if you’ve yet to buy and lock in a monthly payment at these historically low rates. If that’s you, have you completely missed out on the party?

No. You will still be able to do well by historical standards.

The affordability index reported by the National Association of Realtors® stood at 151.2 in July. That number basically means that a family earning the median household income could afford to buy 151% of the median-priced homes in the U.S. Yes, the index is down 16% from January when mortgage rates were at their lows for this year. But the index has averaged 125 over the past 44 years. That means you can still get more home for your money than most people have for more than 40 years.

Over that same 44-year period, the average monthly 30-year fixed mortgage rate was over 8%. It was 4.06% on Tuesday.

Does that mean dealing with higher rates will be easy? No, we will have to adjust to the impact. A 50 basis-point increase in rates causes a 6% increase in monthly mortgage payments. (A basis point is 1/100th of a percentage point.) And higher payments cause higher debt-to-income ratios, which typically max out for various mortgage products between 36% and 43%.
How can you still qualify even with higher rates?

Consider a higher down payment. Can you swing it? This could qualify you for a lower rate, but even if it doesn’t, you’d have a lower loan balance, resulting in a lower monthly payment.

Pay a discount point. This would also reduce the applicable rate, and could make economic sense if you intend to stay in the home long enough to recover the cost of that discount point.

Consider hybrid mortgages. These offer lower rates that are fixed for a specified period such as five, seven, or 10 years. Since rates have been so low, most mortgages have been fixed for the duration of the mortgage term. But in periods of higher rates, we usually see more hybrid term mortgages because of the flexibility the lower rates provide.

Consider different mortgage types such as an FHA loan. This offers more flexibility on key ratios for qualified buyers.

Finally, consumers may need to rethink their target prices based on what they can afford with higher rates. That may mean rethinking location, size, or key features. An expert local Realtor® can help you think through trade-offs and home in on what matters most.

Bottom line: This era of low rates was a unique period of economic weakness and poor housing fundamentals. That era is ending, as conditions are much, much better now. Yes, that does mean that affordability will be lower, but we are still in good territory by historical standards, and today looks pretty good compared to the future for locking in prices and rates.

5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Renovating a Historic Home

Ever dream of sipping tea on the wraparound porch of a Queen Anne Victorian, or gazing at the soaring ceilings of a Gothic Revival after an endless workday?

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Historic homes carry tons of charm, but here’s the thing: They’re old. And that means they often come with truckloads of hidden or weirdly unexpected issues—and may require exorbitant upgrades.

But fear not! With smart planning and a few expert tips, you can renovate the historic home of your fantasies. And, hey, why not create some new history while you’re at it?

Before you get your heart set on updating a sprawling Georgian manse (like the “Home Alone” house in Chicago), don’t! Instead, read this list of things to avoid:
1. Don’t fall in love before you really know the deal

Before you make an offer, know what you’re getting into, Matt West says. Sure, you (presumably) already know about getting a standard inspection, but a historic home requires something more.

Have a team of top-notch professionals—an agent who specializes in historic neighborhoods, a good home inspector, and a general contractor with experience renovating older properties—walk through and identify all critical issues. Topping the list: lousy wiring and plumbing, drafty or otherwise inefficient windows, badly sloping foundations. Get estimates from at least three contractors for repairs. You might find that the extra costs and time involved are just beyond your reach.

Also, your city’s code enforcement office as a resource for determining whether a historic property is up to code. If you’re obtaining an FHA loan and don’t have the extra cash for renovations, ask your lender if you qualify for the 203(k) loan program. The program allows borrowers to wrap renovation costs into their home loan if the property meets FHA standards.
2. Don’t create a budget with no wiggle room

As with any older-home renovation, expect the unexpected when you open up walls and floors, West cautions. Chances are, something’s lurking behind them.

When you undertake a reno project, you always need to leave some space in the budget for those unforeseen hiccups, like a lead pipe in a wall you were going to tear down, or water damage in a ceiling. Factor in an extra 10% into the budget to tackle those problems, as well as some extra time to get unplanned work completed.

If the renovation goes sideways, remind yourself it’s more important to get the work done right the first time.
3. Don’t lose sight of the place’s character

What makes older homes so enticing? They have personality, uniqueness—and most important—history. Preserving all those characteristics while refreshing the look and floor plans is an important piece of the renovation puzzle.

Some of these homes have design elements that can’t be replicated easily such as detailed crown moldings or ornate fireplaces in nearly every room. Design around those details instead of removing them.

Keep in mind, too, that there might be limitations on what you can change if the surrounding area is designated as a historic neighborhood by your city or state, or if it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which contains more than 90,000 listings across the United States. Make sure you run your renovation plans by code enforcement and your local historic preservation board before any work gets underway.
4. Don’t try to save money by doing it all yourself

Sure, you might be an arena-level rock star when it comes to painting walls and installing light fixtures, but leave the major projects to the pros. Electrical rewiring, foundation and structural repairs, and reconfiguring plumbing aren’t tasks suited for the casual DIYer. Bring in experienced contractors who have worked on older homes before (ask for references!)—unless you want bigger, more expensive headaches down the road. Trust us on this one.
5. Don’t ignore the things you can’t see

Asbestos, lead, radon, wood rot, and mold are common environmental issues that crop up frequently in historic home renovations, especially if a property has been vacant for a long time. Hire a licensed home inspector who can catch these issues early on and recommend companies to address them. If significant mitigation work is required, you’ll be in a good position to negotiate those items (or the price) with the seller.

Now, go forth and get historic.

The Cities With the Highest Credit Scores

Your address doesn’t factor into your credit standing, but there are geographical trends to credit scores. For example, people in the northern Midwest have historically had high average credit scores. Low average credit scores are common in Southern and Western states.

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Four of the 10 cities with the highest average credit scores are in Minnesota, according to Experian’s 2015 State of Credit report. The figures are based on consumer data in the Experian-Oliver Wyman Market Intelligence Reports from the second quarter of this year. It provides an in-depth look at credit characteristics in more than 100 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), as determined by the Census Bureau.

On average, U.S. consumers have a 669 credit score on the VantageScore 3.0 scale (300 to 850), which is up 3 points from last year. In one city, the average score is 37 points higher, at 706. Here are the 10 MSAs with the highest average credit scores (score averages are rounded to the nearest whole number):

Mankato, Minn. — 706
Rochester, Minn. — 705
Minneapolis, Minn. — 704
Fargo, N.D. — 701
Wausau, Wis. — 701
Duluth, Minn. — 701
Sioux Falls, S.D. — 700
Green Bay, Wis. — 700
La Crosse, Wis. — 699
Cedar Rapids, Iowa — 699

The biggest factors that determine a consumer’s credit scores are payment history and amount of debt relative to credit limit, so people who make loan payments on time and use very little of their credit cards’ available credit tend to have great credit scores. Among these 10 cities, consumers used only 26% of their credit cards’ credit limits on average.

There are a lot of things that can indirectly play into someone’s credit score, even though they’re not included in credit reports. Take income, for example: It’s not reported to credit bureaus, and it’s common for someone who might be considered wealthy to have poor credit. Likewise, you can make very little money and have great credit. It’s all in how you manage your finances. Still, a high income theoretically makes it easier to avoid debt and pay bills on time, which in turn can help your credit scores. In a city or state with high average credit scores, that data may be related to a variety of things, like employment opportunities and financial services infrastructure in that area, not just people’s attention to managing their credit.

With the Clock Ticking on Tax Breaks, Is It Black Friday for Homes?

You probably already knew that now’s an ideal time to buy a home. We’ve told you only 9,845 times! Maybe even 9,846.

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Well, in case you needed more incentive, check this out: Some pretty sweet tax breaks that have made home buying particularly enticing are set to expire at the end of this year. Without any indication that those breaks will be extended, right now is kind of the Black Friday of home buying.

It’s anyone’s guess what Congress might do at the end of the year.

Poulos believes some of the key tax breaks may get a reboot, but if you act now, you can be sure of cashing in on a sure thing.

Plus, we dodged a bullet when the Federal Reserve decided in September to keep interest rates low, but word on the street is that the Fed is poised to enact a hike in December.

So here’s how you may want to get in on this:
Private mortgage insurance deductions

If you can’t cough up a 20% down payment, you’ll probably have to shell out a bit more for private mortgage insurance. But there may be a silver lining: In the past, the government has offered a break for all PMI holders.

PMI is tax-deductible (just like mortgage interest), and that goes for any buyers buying a primary residence, even if they’ve claimed the deal in the past.

Right now the tax break is in limbo, but Poulos doesn’t expect that to last much longer. Neither do we.
Energy tax credits

If you’re eyeing a fixer-upper in need of some green upgrades, or you just want to make your existing home a little more green, now might be a good time to take the plunge.

Here are two tax breaks for you:

If you make small improvements—such as installing new windows—you can claim a tax credit for 10% of your purchase cost, up to $500 total.
If you go big, your tax credit can be bigger, thanks to the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit. This one gives you a tax credit for up to 30% of the cost of installing energy-saving systems such as solar panels, water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, and wind turbines—and there’s no upper limit.

The deal has been extended through 2016, but there’s no guarantee it’ll last beyond that.
Buy points, lower your tax bill

This one isn’t technically at risk of extinction (yet), but you’ll want to hop on it before the Fed hikes rates again.

One of the best tax advantages at the moment is the opportunity for those buying a home to buy points for a lower interest rate—not that interest rates aren’t already low enough.

Here’s how it works: If you buy points to get a lower interest rate, you can deduct both what you pay in interest and the cost of the points in the year you buy your home.

That’s because buy-down points are considered mortgage interest and are tax-deductible, and on a purchase they are all deductible in the year you purchase the home.

No one can say for certain (yet) what tax breaks will be extended; in previous years, Congress has waited until the last minute to offer a pass. Either way, if you get in now, you’ll be guaranteed to reap the tax rewards.

In Defense of Buying a Historic Home: It Could Be Downright Amazing

Maybe you’ve always dreamed of buying a beautifully built home, something that doesn’t look like it came out of a cookie cutter.

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And you probably also get some side eye as soon as you mention your historic-home dreams. Real estate agents, friends, and family are often quick to tell you to think twice before investing in an older home. And they’re not wrong.

There are any number of problems that could come with buying a period home. Asbestos! Zoning restrictions! Small rooms! But if you do your homework, those things won’t catch you off guard.

And if you can get past those possibilities, you can embrace the fact that sometimes historic homes are downright amazing.

Sometimes there’s nothing to worry about—it’s just 200 years old, is all.

In fact, there are several reasons historic homes can blow their newer counterparts out of the water. Check out these advantages—but also make sure to find a knowledgeable agent and home inspector you trust.
Quality of construction

The No. 1 thing you’ll find in a historic home that you can’t get nowadays? Sturdy construction with meticulous attention to detail. Leaded glass windows that survive high winds and hail better than its newer neighbors. Floors made from heartwood, which won’t scratch easily or warp (and hasn’t been available in decades).

It is more comfortable, better built, and better designed than anything else around. It has cross ventilation, it has galleries—everything about it is wonderful and gracious and charming. And it’s solid as a rock.
Functional charm

It may feel like a tank, but the architects of yore crammed a lot into a home that you don’t get with today’s fast-paced construction—and most of it served a purpose. Transom windows can be cracked open, pouring cool air into your living room and keeping your AC bill down. The dumbwaiter that used to carry food upstairs can now be used to drop your laundry hands-free to the first floor. And the picture rail lining the bedrooms can safely display your art collection without having to tear holes in the walls. Plus, it all just looks cooler, right?
Tax benefits

If you’re terrified of a bad investment and looking for a little financial reassurance, there are several local, state and federal tax breaks for owners of historic homes. The government wants you to keep preserving these properties, so it’s generally willing to chip in a little bit—even if that means reducing your bill to the IRS,
Landscaping

The advantage of living in an, ahem, “mature” home is that you usually get the mature landscaping to go with it. Imagine living along a tree-lined street that not only makes everything feel cozier, but also increases your home’s value.

Finally, if you’re looking to show off a little, remember that you can always open your home to the public—having a beautifully preserved historic home comes with the possibility of hosting garden or holiday tours. Sure, these old bones aren’t for everyone. But if you’ve done your research and your Realtor and home inspector approve, why not make a commitment to own a piece of history?

Give me an old house any day of the week. They’re just built to last.

Shopping for a Home? Case the Joint Like a Burglar

So you’ve got the whole house-hunting routine down, and you run your must-have home features on a loop in your head like a Spotify playlist. You’ve become a pro at scoping out closet space, bedroom sizes, and whether there’s adequate wall space to mount the big-screen HDTV you plan to buy after the move.

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But here’s something you almost certainly have not thought to evaluate: Just as you size up whether a home fits your needs, how might burglars size it up to see if it fits theirs? Is your new abode safe as a fortress, or does it stand out as a prime target for intruders?

Before you put in an offer for a new home, consider these potential problem areas—and whether you can fix them on the cheap!

Shrouded in shrubbery

Extensive and elaborate landscaping can add appeal to any yard. But bushes placed in front of windows could provide all-too-much shelter from watchful neighbors or passers-by—isolating your home and making it a target for bad guys.

Landscaping that blocks a door or acts as a wall between properties also provides hiding spots for criminals. Scary!

Your security solution: You don’t have to spend a fortune ripping out a bunch of bushes, but you might need some elbow grease.

Landscaping should be kept trimmed so that neighbors—or patrol cars—can see completely around the front side of your house.

A visible security system panel

Of course, having a security system is a popular and effective deterrent for home break-ins. And while it’s helpful to have stickers and placards that announce a property is protected, a poorly placed panel can actually undermine your security goals.

If your alarm’s control panel is visible through glass to someone loitering outside, a burglar can get an idea of how to defeat it.

The best spot for a security panel is close to where you typically exit and enter a home—but not in front of a window.

Your security solution: Negotiate to have it relocated to a more secure, less conspicuous area. In a nearby coat closet or on a wall not visible from a foyer or door window are good choices.

Let there be light, but not too much

A dark doorway lets crooks stroll inconspicuously up to your door and attempt to get in. But an entryway that’s too brightly lit provides illumination for burglars to see what they’re doing, so they don’t need a flashlight to work.

Your security solution: Make sure a home has motion-sensing exterior lights that switch on as a visitor—wanted or unwanted—approaches the house, porch, or side windows.

A monitor sensor light means a crook has to guess correctly if someone is home or not and may be calling the police.

Dimly lit yards are also problematic (no big surprise), because they similarly allow a miscreant to stalk around unnoticed.

We suggest double-cone yard lights be placed on the corners of the home. These do a great job of illuminating the exterior of the house.

Fences make great neighbors for burglars

High fences are dramatic and stately but also alluring for a wrongdoer. That privacy you want? Potential criminals want it even more.

Burglars see a very tall fence or stone wall as an opportunity to work in private. Any fence is actually a welcome sight.

Your security solution: Consider installing a security system or reinforced back/patio doors if the backyard is secluded.

Don’t forget the garage

Doors that lead from the garage are helpful when the weather is frightful or you’ve got a lot of groceries to haul in. But it’s also a security risk if you aren’t vigilant.
Just because it’s on the inside of the house doesn’t mean it should be left open for convenience. That door may be the last line of defense in the event a crook gets into your garage.

Your security solution: Make sure all doors with access to the outside have a deadbolt and are part of your home security system.

Garage-door windows should always be covered to prevent someone from peering in and being tempted by pricey gadgets and tools, your car, an expensive bike, or other valuables.

Before getting your heart set on a new home, most suggest a full security inspection. Much like a home inspection can uncover flaws in the roof, structure, or plumbing, an inspection by a home security company or expert can help identify all sorts of ways a home might catch a malefactor’s eye.

5 Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Home in a Hurricane Zone

As Hurricane Patricia, the strongest storm in recorded history, barrels toward southwestern Mexico and the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, it’s yet another reminder that although coastal living can be awfully appealing, it comes with considerable risks.

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Still, the unique culture of beach towns has an almost magical appeal. So when you weigh that against the risk of hurricane damage, how can you decide whether it’s worth it? Here are some questions to ask to help you figure that out:

1. How much will insurance cost?

Regardless of whether a hurricane hits, you’ll need to pay for hurricane insurance. And rates really do run the gamut: In 2012, Florida had the highest average premiums, $2,084 per year, while Idaho had the lowest, $538. So before you even start house hunting, meet with an insurance agent. It might feel like you’re doing things backward, but an insurance agent can give you a rough estimate of what you can expect to pay each year.

2. Should I buy on the beach, or a few blocks in?

Where you decide to buy can make a difference in your premiums and risk, even if you choose a property just a few miles inland. It all comes down to flood hazard areas defined by the National Flood Insurance Program’s Flood Insurance Rate Map. The highest risk areas are marked as Special Flood Hazard Areas and have at least a 1 in 4 chance of flooding during a 30-year mortgage.

And remember, you don’t have to be near the water to be in a flood hazard area, as communities in central Texas and Oklahoma learned this spring. So when you’re house hunting, consider where each house falls on the map, but also check its flood-zone designation.

3. What type of house should I get?

The type of house you buy can also make a difference, because some are designed specifically to withstand hurricanes. The home may have a dome shape that reduces wind damage, for example, or rest on stilts to escape flooding. These homes may also get a better rating from your insurance provider (translation: lower payments).

So make sure to ask your agent to show you any homes specifically designed to battle the wind and water—or if you’d rather have a traditional house, hire a good inspector to give you a realistic view of the building’s hurricane resistance before you make an offer.

If a house is built to code and to withstand a strong storm or hurricane, it can help lower insurance costs. If the home isn’t up to code, it may make sense to steer clear or bring in a contractor for some improvements, but be sure to crunch the numbers before you commit. If the insurance savings aren’t bigger than the cost to remodel, it’s probably not worth it.

4. If damage does happen, what’s my deductible?

Hurricanes are covered in a homeowners policy, no matter where you live. That makes sense, after all, since hurricanes are still basically wind and rain—just more of it. But policies differ on your financial responsibility if you have to file a hurricane-related claim.
Most insurance companies tack on a hurricane deductible for homeowners in potential danger zones. And unlike regular homeowners insurance, you’ll have to pay this additional deductible if you file a claim.

It is expressed as a percentage of the amount of insurance you have on the house, generally 2% to 5%.

Bottom line: You may not be able to get out of a hurricane deductible altogether, but you can save some cash by shopping around. The cost can vary among insurance companies, so get at least three estimates before you decide on a carrier.

5. Do I need flood insurance, too?

Regular homeowners insurance isn’t all you need if you live in a coastal region. Typically, homeowners insurance covers damage related to the high-powered winds of hurricanes and tropical storms. But it does not cover the other major problem: flooding.

To keep yourself protected, you’ll need a flood policy. Issued by the National Flood Insurance Program, a policy will cover the damage to your property if the heavy rains or toppled levees causes flooding in your home. Ask your insurance agent to go over the policy carefully and explain any concepts you don’t understand. If you’re not fully covered by flood, you may regret it later.

Building a New Home? Add These Upgrades While They’re Cheap (and Easy)

If you’ve decided to build your home from the ground up, determining which extra features are worth adding—and which are equivalent to flushing stacks of hundreds down the toilet—can be tough. And while it’s OK to put off some decisions, certain additions are prohibitively costly to retrofit. You’re dreaming of radiant heating, you say? It’s way better to install now than sacrifice thousands of dollars later.

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Not sure what’s a must-do right now? Here are some of the easiest things to add to a new home that will save you a few migraines down the road.

Cable conduits

In today’s increasingly connected world, future-proofing your home for whatever innovations come next out of Silicon Valley is essential. Luckily, building from scratch allows you to customize your setup to your needs, both now and later.

Yes, smart home features are increasingly going wireless, but that doesn’t mean you should skip running cable conduits throughout the house—especially if you see a big home theater or full-home sound system in your future, both of which work best plugged in directly. Adding an extensive system of cable conduits can make hooking up entertainment much simpler.

Plus, your own hard-wired system amounts to an eavesdropping-proof local network.

Worst-case scenario? You don’t use it, opting for all-wireless instead—but at least it’s there and it’s a feature buyers will appreciate as well.

Radiant heating

As we indicated earlier, radiant heating, typically integrated into the floor, is energy-efficient but not remotely cheap to install. You can expect to pay at least $6 per foot for your system in new construction. Adding it later? Watch that number double (or more).

And it isn’t for everyone. Consider confining it to one room, because it actually can be a limiting factor in future design changes, since the contractor will need to work around it or replace it by zones. But did we mention that if you’re going to install it you should install it now? Install it now.

Outdoor outlets

Holiday lights or evening barbecues in the backyard might seem like little more than a distant fantasy when building your new home—especially if it’s 20 degrees outside—but if you’re big on decorating and entertaining, install outdoor electrical outlets now.

Adding outlets later can cost upward of $250 each. Adding them during construction, when walls are still open and a licensed electrician will be on site? It’s a no-brainer (and cheap, too).

Accessibility

You never know what the future might bring—for yourself or your guests.

Shouldn’t your home be capable of entertaining a prize-winning physicist or a popular president without obstacles to their entry? Uh, yes.
Aside from any luminaries who might be getting on in years, you might consider designing for wheelchair accessibility for you, or a parent. In new construction, contractors recommend making hallways and doors wide enough for wheeled traffic to travel through and turn around. And reinforcing the bathroom walls will allow you to add grab bars later without opening up the walls. After all, anything that is going to require opening the walls rates high on the difficult-to-retrofit scale.

Double-check your plans through the eyes of someone bound to a wheelchair, and ask if it is still so user-friendly. Are you placing all of your switches too high or your outlets too low?

Make the investment in your future well-being now, when it’s just a minor expense. Accessibility is important to plenty of buyers as well. It can actually clinch a deal.

Central vacuums

Forget the Roomba. Central vacuums just make sense. These built-in systems for sucking up dirt and debris not only reduce allergens, they also last longer than traditional vacuums and can potentially increase a home’s value. Installing one in an old home can cost up to $1,000 and requires finding a hidden, quiet spot for the motor in the garage or attic.

The addition later on results in needlessly long pipe runs or less-than-ideal positioning of inlets.

If a smooth, stress-free vacuuming experience is a high priority, your best bet is to install central vacuuming early, when your builder or architect can work it into your existing floor plan.

Eco-friendliness

When you’re building a home, why not take steps to reduce its impact on the environment? During construction is the ideal time to install energy-efficient features that will save you money down the line. Contractors recommend adding reduced-flow showers, low-flush toilets, and reduced-flow faucet aerators, especially if you live in a state affected by drought.

Make sure to choose windows and doors with high energy performance ratings, and talk with your builder or architect about adding skylights—which can add much-needed light to a dark room in addition to reducing heating costs and improving ventilation.

Are you building the home you want now—or the home that will serve you well for 20 years? In new construction, future-proofing your house can save you thousands of dollars. And lots and lots of angst.

Purchasing A Home? Don’t Wait Forever for ‘The One’

When you’re dating, you can spend years searching for the perfect relationship only to—possibly—wait too long and miss out on something great. Suddenly, over your sad microwave meal and bottle of cheap red, you’re looking back on your life choices, wondering what could have been if you hadn’t been so darned picky.

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Well, the same goes for house hunting. You can drive yourself crazy searching for your dream home. You’ve found houses that have come close, after all. So the perfect one is bound to appear soon, right?

Not necessarily. We know the hunt can be emotionally draining, but at some point you have to go from house hunter to home owner.

We’re not encouraging you to make a choice that will fill you with buyer’s remorse. But to borrow a line from the Rolling Stones: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes … you get what you need.

We can’t give you love advice (and trust us, you would not want us to), but we do happen to know a few things about real estate. Here are three questions to ask yourself; the answers will help you determine whether it’s time to settle on a home that might not be what your dreams are made of.

1. Are my expectations realistic?

Everyone has a dream home. Mine is a Craftsman with Victorian high ceilings, art deco details, and a Mid-Century Modern feel. But here’s the thing. That Frankenstein of architectural styles doesn’t exist—and your dream home probably doesn’t either.

There is no such thing as a ‘perfect home’.

There’s always going to be something not so lovable in each house you view. The key to finding the right home is setting realistic expectations.

You can find a home that meets almost all of what you are looking for.

Make a list of your dream features and amenities before you start house hunting—but be willing to let some of those features go once you start looking at properties. It helps to score each feature on a scale of 1 to 10—that way you (and your partner, if you have one) are on the same page about which amenities are deal breakers and which are simply nice to have.

2. How many properties have I viewed?

Once you’re house hunting, it can be nearly impossible to decide when you’ve looked at enough houses. After all, the perfect house could be listed any day now.

Go ahead and view online listings as much as you want. There’s no harm in real estate stalking in your spare time, but you should set a limit for actual viewings.

If you go view more than eight homes [without finding anything], there’s a good chance you’re confused as to what you’re actually looking for. You’re trying to piece together a home that doesn’t exist.

If you find that you’re searching for your own Frankenstein (it won’t work, I promise), take a moment and ask yourself how many homes you’ve visited. Have you reached the (self-imposed) cap? If so, make a list of each property’s strengths and weakness, and then get ready to compromise.

3. What am I willing to compromise?

If you’ve set realistic expectations and looked at more than a few houses, it’s time to start making some tough decisions. It might feel like settling, but you’ll probably thank us later when you’re finally a homeowner.

Just make sure you’re not compromising on something you’ll regret later.

If you’re going to compromise, do not compromise on location.

The real estate adage “location, location, location” bears repeating here. After all, a great house won’t matter much if you’re driving two hours to work every day or the only nearby grocery store closes at 7 p.m.

If you’re not sure where to compromise, ask your Realtor. That’s what they’re there for.

The exception to the rule

After months of searching (especially in competitive markets), you might feel the pressure to choose something—anything—just to achieve homeownership and stop throwing away your money on rent.
We’re going to contradict ourselves a bit here and tell you this: Sometimes it’s OK to keep looking. When you’re deciding on a home, you should always consider the current market, even if it means you’ll be shopping for a little while longer.

If you are having trouble finding a home and you have proper expectations, don’t settle—especially if you’re in a hot market.

If you’re in a sellers’ market, homes can go quickly and you might just be missing the window of opportunity. It might make sense to wait a little longer than rush to try to beat out an overzealous buyer.

After all, competition can breed short-lived desire—and you don’t want to be stuck with a dud after the admirers have moved on to the next attraction.