Articles Tagged "Homeowners"

Dave Arnoldink Blog Home

Subscribe and receive email notifications of new blog posts.

rss logo RSS Feed
Uncategorized | 10 Posts
Holland, MI | 8 Posts
Home ideas | 2 Posts
West Michigan | 6 Posts

Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Buying your first house is exciting! And wild. Homes today cost a median of $391,200 and fly off the market in just 17 days.1 Plus, interest rates are rising fast.2

These trends may tempt you to rush into a purchase before things get any crazier. But slow down! Trust me, you guys, it's worth buying your first home the right way. That means finding one that works with your money goals—not against them.

You may be thinking, Yeah, that's great, Rachel. But I don't know how to buy a house for the first time. Where do I start?

I'm glad you asked! I put together 13 steps to buying a house for the first time. Now, I know that sounds like a lot. But this is a big deal, and you want to do it right! Put these tips into practice so your first home is a blessing, not a burden.

13 Steps to Buying a House for the First Time

1. Pay off all debt and build an emergency fund.

Okay, when you asked for first-time home-buyer tips, you probably didn't expect this one. But it is hands down the most important.

Owning a home is much more expensive than renting, even if your monthly house payment will be less than your current rent. When you're a homeowner, you're responsible for everything. All the maintenance and mishaps add up fast!

Before you even think about buying your first home, get debt-free and save an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses. Then, your money won't be tied up in monthly payments, and you'll have cash to cover unexpected costs.

Avoiding Debt as a First-Time Home Buyer

Once you're debt-free, I want you to stay that way. (Minus the mortgage. More on that in a minute.) So even though you're excited about decorating, it can wait.  

I'm a spender, so I know that's easier said than done. But it's okay to let a room sit empty until you can afford to furnish it. Stick with the good money habits you learned while getting out of debt. Your future self will thank you.

2. Use the 25% rule to see how much house you can afford.

Before house hunting, determine how much house you can afford. Your monthly housing costs—including principal, interest, property taxes, home insurance, private mortgage insurance (PMI) and homeowners association (HOA) fees—should be 25% or less of your monthly take-home pay.

For example, if you bring home $6,600 a month, your maximum house payment is $1,650. Now imagine you get a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage at 4% interest. If your property tax is 1.14%, home insurance is $1,200 per year, and PMI is 0.5% (for down payments below 20%), here are some home prices you could afford:

  • $185,000 home with 5% down ($9,250)
  • $194,000 home with 10% down ($19,400)
  • $225,000 home with 20% down ($45,000)
  • $253,000 home with 30% down ($75,900)

P.S. I got these estimates from Ramsey Solutions' free mortgage calculator. Try plugging in your own numbers to see other home prices that work with your budget.

3. Save a down payment.

The best down payment is an all-cash offer. Nearly 1 in 4 buyers pay cash for their houses.3 But if that isn't reasonable for your first house, then aim for a 20% down payment. That way, your lender won't make you pay for PMI. PMI is insurance that protects your lender (not you) if you fail to make payments—so try to avoid this nonsense.

If 20% is still out of reach for you as a first-time home buyer, a smaller down payment of 5–10% is okay too. But no matter what your down payment is, make sure your housing payments are no more than 25% of your monthly take-home pay on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage. (I'll share more on mortgage types later.)

4. Save for closing costs.

Closing costs are typically around 2–7% of your home's purchase price.4 Here's an example:

$300,000 home x 3% = $9,000 closing costs

That's a big chunk of change—on top of your down payment—but I promise you can do it! Tackle these savings with intensity. You can even put retirement savings on hold for a short time to save for a home.

Choosing a Mortgage

You might be thinking, Wait, Rachel. I haven't even found a home yet!

But remember the old expression, "You snooze, you lose." If you try to get a last-minute loan, you could miss out on your dream house. So it's smart to line your mortgage up before house shopping.

5. Avoid the worst mortgages for first-time home buyers.

A huge benefit to being a first-time home buyer is that you've never fallen for an awful mortgage—and you don't have to!

Many first-time home-buyer loans only make you put a little money down, but they cost tens of thousands of dollars more in the long run. Don't fall for it! Remember—if it seems like a good deal for you right now, then it's an even better deal for your lender in the end.

Avoid these low-to-no down payment mortgage options:

  • Adjustable-Rate Mortgages (ARMs): ARMs sucker you in with a low initial interest rate. But then, your lender raises your rate, and your mortgage payment goes up. No, thanks!
  • Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Loans: FHA loans are popular for first-time home buyers because you can put as little as 3.5% down. But you waste thousands of dollars on mortgage insurance (similar to PMI) for the life of the loan.
  • Veterans Affairs (VA) Loans: VA loans let veterans buy homes with no down payment or PMI. But they carry a bunch of fees and usually charge high interest rates.

6. Know the best mortgage for first-time home buyers.

I only recommend 15-year fixed-rate conventional mortgages. Here's why:

  • Quicker payoff time – With 15-year loans, the monthly payments are higher than 30-year loans. But you'll pay off your mortgage in half the time. Plus, most 15-year loans have a lower interest rate, saving you tons of money.
  • Locked-in interest rate – A fixed-rate loan keeps your interest rate the same over the life of the loan, so you pay less interest and always know what to expect.

How a 30-Year Mortgage Compares

I'll just say it: 30-year mortgages may have a lower monthly payment, but they cost more in the long run. Like tens of thousands of dollars more.

Imagine you want a $300,000 house with 20% down. You need a mortgage for $240,000. Even if the 30-year loan and the 15-year loan offered the same interest rate (unlikely, since 30-year rates are almost always higher), the 30-year mortgage still costs more.


15-Year at 4.5%

30-Year at 4.5%

Number of Payments



Monthly Payment



Total Interest Paid



Total Amount Paid



You'll save $107,331 with a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage—and you'll be payment-free 15 years sooner. I mean, hello!

7. Pick a lender you're comfortable with.

Some lenders only care about profits, while others actually care about helping you become a homeowner. Talk to at least three lenders. Compare their interest rates, fees and customer service to find the best one for your finances and peace of mind.

If you're debt-free like me, you need a lender who doesn't require a credit score. (Because you don't have one anymore—yay!) So look for one who does manual underwriting, like Churchill Mortgage.

8. Get preapproved for a loan before house hunting.

It pays to get preapproved for a loan (not just prequalified). Preapproval is when your lender verifies your financial information and gives you a letter saying how much money you can borrow.

Preapproval shows sellers you're serious, and you can use your letter to get ahead in a competitive market.

Just know some lenders may preapprove you for a bigger loan than you can afford. But you don't have to borrow that much—or look at houses that are too expensive!

Looking for a House

Finally, we're to the fun part! Follow these first-time home-buyer tips to start looking for your new house.

9. Find a trustworthy real estate agent.

One of the most important things you need to buy a house for the first time is actually a person. A good real estate agent will help you find the right home and navigate the buying process.

I always recommend working with a real estate agent. If you're not sure where to start, connect with a RamseyTrusted agent through our Endorsed Local Providers (ELP) program.

10. Get clear on needs versus wants.

Let's be honest: Most of us aren't very good at telling the difference between what we need and what we want. So, what can you do to change that?

Know what motivates you.

It's easy to think you need a super nice house because your parents had one . . . but they worked for 30 years to get it. Or maybe you grew up in a less-than-perfect home, and you want a better one so you'll feel like you've finally "made it." 

When we take time to learn why we spend money the way we do, we can better understand what we need in a house—and what we can do without.

Be content.

When we compare ourselves and our stuff to others, we're struggling with contentment. Contentment can make us rich—and it can keep us from making bad money decisions. When you're grateful for what you already have, it'll put your house hunt into perspective.

Talk to people.

Your real estate agent has helped dozens of first-time home buyers. They can help you discern your needs and wants, set realistic expectations, and show you houses that meet your criteria.

If you're single, talk to a trusted friend who will call you out if you're being unreasonable. And if you're married, now's the time to get to know your spouse better! Be honest about what you both need and want in a home so you can find a place where you'll both be happy.

Be realistic.

As a first-time home buyer, you don't have equity in an existing house, and you may not have a ton of savings either. So you may have to make some sacrifices to stay within your budget. For instance, you may have to buy a house that needs fixing up or a smaller place where your kids share a room.

That's okay. It's tempting to think your first home is your forever home, but for most people, it isn't. You need a house to fit this season of life—and you can always sell it and upgrade later. Keep your perspective and your cool.

Make a list.

Some things really may be nonnegotiable for you—whether they're needs or wants. Maybe you need to live close enough to commute to work every day. Maybe your pets need a fence. Or maybe you want to live in a good school district for your kids.

List 3–5 things your house absolutely must have. (And yes, it's okay to put a want or two on this list.) Then, write down the nice-to-haves that could be the cherry on top of your first home.

11. Start looking for a house.

Okay, you've got your shopping list in hand, and you're ready to roll. Here's how it's done.

Get ideas online.

Find homes you like online and send them to your real estate agent. Then, they can use the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to find more homes that check off the boxes for you.

Home buyers don't have access to the MLS, but your real estate agent can use it to help you view the most properties for sale in your market. They can even help you find great deals on homes before they're listed.

Research neighborhoods for the best fit.

Most home buyers would rather compromise on a home's condition and size than on the quality of the neighborhood.5 Now, your real estate agent can't talk about crime rates, schools or demographics. (That's real estate steering, and it's illegal.) But they can tell you where to find that information for yourself.

You can also look up local schools and calculate your new commute times to see what they're like. If you can, visit the neighborhood at different times to check traffic and noise levels and see if people are comfortable being outdoors.

Once you choose the neighborhoods you like, attend some open houses. Looking at homes for sale—even if they're not perfect for you—helps you learn about the area.

Think long term.

Like I said, you probably won't live in your first home forever, so don't buy the most expensive house on the block. Future buyers who are shopping in a $200,000 neighborhood won't want a $300,000 home. But if you buy in the neighborhood's low price range, you'll have more room to build home value.

Pay attention to what's happening in the community too. Are home prices rising or falling? Are businesses booming or closing? You want a home that will be a good investment in the long run. 

Be patient.

Finding the right house takes time. More than likely, you'll look at several houses. You may even make several offers before one gets accepted. And that's okay. It's part of the process.

So keep dreaming about all the exciting possibilities that are open to you right now. Be patient and proud of the fact that you're willing to wait for the right house—not settle for the wrong one.

Buying a House for the First Time

You finally found a home you love, and you're ready to buy. Congratulations! But there are still a few more steps you have to take before you can call it home sweet home.

12. Make a competitive offer (within your budget).

It can be hard to know how much you should offer for your first house. That's when you rely on your real estate agent's expertise.

Ask them to help you make a competitive offer that's within your budget and close to the home's value. Don't make an impulsive offer you can't afford just to knock out the competition.

13. Close the deal.

Once the seller accepts your offer, you can close on the house. The average closing process takes 48 days.6 During that time, your real estate agent will help you handle the remaining steps to buying the house, and they'll inform you about any roadblocks.

Get a home inspection and appraisal.

Home inspectors can help you spot potential problems so you can fix them—or walk away from a bad deal! If you still want the house, the appraiser will assess its value. You can use the appraisal to try to negotiate a better price.  

Buy homeowners and title insurance.

Lenders require you to buy homeowners insurance, which pays to repair or rebuild your house after a disaster.

Title insurance protects your home from claims against the property or questions of ownership—like the last owner's unpaid tax bill or long-lost grandson who claims he inherited your house. It sounds crazy, but it happens. And it's why title insurance is worth every penny!

Take out a mortgage.

Once you and the seller agree to move ahead with the deal, it's time to return to the lender and get a mortgage. They'll walk you through this process. But I can't say it enough: Don't let them talk you into borrowing more than you can afford! Stick to the 25% rule. Period.

Do the final walkthrough.

Right before you finally buy your first home, you'll get to walk through it and make sure everything's as it should be. This is also your last chance to back out of the deal if something's wrong, so be thorough.

Sign all the papers (but read them first).

You're legally responsible for any papers you sign. Read every document carefully and ask your real estate agent to explain anything you don't understand so you don't end up in hot water.

Ready to Get Started?

Whew, you made it! We covered a lot of ground, so be sure to get our free Home Buyers Guide so you don't miss a thing.

Your first home is a big purchase, maybe the biggest one you've ever made! So you want to get this right. A good real estate agent will make the first-time home-buying process much easier.

Want to meet an agent you can trust? Connect with the RamseyTrusted agents in our Endorsed Local Providers (ELP) program. RamseyTrusted ELPs are top-performing agents who will help you find a home that fits your needs and budget.


Tax tips for homeowners 2022: Tax credits and breaks

Tax tips for homeowners 2022: Tax credits and breaks

Homeownership comes with a lot of financial responsibility and a never-ending list of home improvement projects.

But for anyone who pays a mortgage, the good news is that you can deduct several home expenses come tax time — especially if you itemize your taxes — or enjoy other tax breaks as a homeowner.

Here are the top tax tips for homeowners.

1. Mortgage interest deduction

While you can no longer deduct the cost of homeowners insurance premiums, you can write off what you paid toward mortgage interest — if you're eligible and you itemize your deductions.

Start by looking at the date you took out the mortgage and how much you borrowed. If you closed before Dec. 16, 2017, then interest is deductible on up to $1 million in mortgage debt (or up to $500,000 if you're single or married filing separately). The limit falls to $750,000 ($375,000 for single and separate filers) if you bought the home after this date.

(Photo: Getty Creative)
(Photo: Getty Creative)

2. Home equity loan interest deduction

If you took out a home equity loan or line of credit in 2022, you might be able to deduct the interest paid during the year. But you can only claim this tax break if you 1) itemize your deductions and 2) used the money to buy, build or substantially improve the home.

"Good examples are HVAC (improvements or replacements), remodels, and new roofs," said Dan Herron, a CPA/PFS CFP with Elemental Wealth Advisors. If you're looking to claim the tax break, "do not pay off personal expenditures, like credit card debt," he adds.

If you're eligible, the interest is deductible on up to $750,000 of qualified residence loans ($375,000 for a married taxpayer filing separately), which include your original mortgage plus second mortgages such as home equity loans and home equity lines of credit.

3. Deduction cap for property taxes

The state and local tax (SALT) deduction allows you to deduct up to $10,000 paid toward your state and local governments ($5,000 for married couples filing separately). Taxpayers can deduct property taxes and either 1) state and local income taxes or 2) sales taxes each year. To claim the tax break, you'll need to itemize your deductions.

"Even though you don't think you will benefit from the SALT deduction, still report the related expenditures," Herron said. "You may still have some deductibility on the state return."

4. Tax exclusion for home sale profits

Home prices grew year over year in nearly all metro areas in the third quarter of 2022, making it a good year for home sellers. Even better, those who made a profit on a sale might not have to pay taxes on the earnings. If you lived in your home for at least two out of the five years before selling, then you can exclude up to $500,000 in profits on your income tax return (up to $250,000 if you're single or filing separately).

If you're close to the limit, you can adjust your cost basis by calculating the costs of home improvements. "Keep records of them," Herron advised. "These improvements — think remodels — increase the basis of your home."

Profits on home sales could be not taxable.
Profits on home sales could be not taxable.

5. Other home sale costs

If you do have to pay taxes on some of your home sale profits, expenses used for selling your home — such as legal fees, advertising expenses, and real estate agent commissions — can reduce how much is taxable. These costs are subtracted from your home's sale price, which reduces your capital gains tax.

6. Home office expenses

Whether you're a renter or homeowner, your home office may be tax-deductible — as long as you're self-employed. You don't even have to itemize to deduct expenses like mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, repairs, maintenance, depreciation and rent.

If you work for someone else as an employee, you can't claim your home office as a deduction. But the home office "could be deductible for state purposes," Herron said. Also, "you could approach your employer and see if they will reimburse you for some of your home-related expenditures."

Home office may be tax-deductible - as long as you're self employed.
Home office may be tax-deductible - as long as you're self employed.

7. Energy efficiency improvements

The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act "beefed up a lot of credits you could potentially get if you do energy-efficient improvements and/or add solar to the house," Herron said. You can check the federal government's Clean Energy for All website for information and updates. If you plan to make energy-efficient improvements to your home, save your receipts and any documents related to the work so you can claim the credits at tax time. You can claim some of the benefits for tax years 2022, 2023 and beyond:

  • For tax year 2022: Homeowners can claim a federal tax credit for 10% of the cost of insulation materials and other energy-efficient improvements, such as energy-saving windows and doors. There's also a $300 credit for purchasing efficient heating and cooling equipment.

For tax year 2023: Households can claim up to 30% of the costs for certain energy-efficiency improvements, up to $1,200 each year, plus a $150 credit for getting a home energy audit. You may also get a tax credit for 30% of the costs of buying and installing a heat pump, up to $2,000. States will also launch rebate programs for energy-efficient heat pumps, electric appliances and home retrofits.


The Biggest Mistakes People Make Removing Snow

Snow is not only annoying, but it can damage your home. Here is the proper way to remove snow this winter.

Those living in Western Michigan know a thing or two about snow accumulation in the wintertime. Winter weather is a normal part of life, and so is shoveling snow. Although residents in the area have lots of experience, many people forget to take the right steps when it comes to snow removal. Putting off snow removal or doing it incorrectly can actually make it more difficult and can even be detrimental to your property.

To help you manage the next snowstorm, our real estate agents pulled together a list of some of the biggest mistakes people make when removing snow:

  1. Waiting Too Long
    No one wants to run outside and start shoveling in the middle of a snowstorm, but waiting too long can be risky. The longer snow falls and accumulates, the more difficult it is to remove. Shoveling snow results in up about 11,500 injuries every year, and many of these injuries are caused by attempting to remove heavy snow.

    Instead of waiting for the snow to stop falling, try to break up your shoveling efforts into a few sessions if possible, and try not to shovel more than 2 to 3 inches at a time. Many of the owners of these Grand Haven homes for sale hire a snow removal company to keep their driveways and sidewalks clean and clear. Snow removal companies can cost anywhere from $50 to $125 per visit.

  2. Forgetting About Ice Dams
    When there is a temperature difference between your eaves and roof, you may start to notice ice dams which are ridges of ice that form at the edge of the roof. When left untreated, ice dams can expand and lead to roof damage. Once the ice starts to melt, it can also result in mold and mildew growth. If you notice ice dams developing, it's a good idea to call a professional and have it treated right away.

  3. Neglecting Your Snowblower
    Snowblowers can make life a lot easier in the winter but maintaining them is key. After each use, clean out the auger and impeller. Leaving snow inside any mechanical parts of the tool can lead to ice and damage. You want to ensure your machine is ready to go for the next snowfall.

  4. Leaving Heavy Snow On The Roof
    A few inches of snow on your roof is no problem, but significant accumulation can result in damage. Most residential roofs aren't designed to withstand significant weight over an extended period of time. As a guideline, if your roof has more than 6 inches of compacted snow or 12 inches of fluffy snow, you should remove it with a rake or call a professional.

  5. Using Toxic Ice Melts
    Many of us are quick to grab a bag of ice melt or rock salt to treat sidewalks. While these products are effective, they can also be harmful to pets and landscaping. Make sure to choose a product that is non-toxic to keep your plants and animals safe.

Proper snow removal is the key to keeping yourself and your property safe, so we recommend creating a good routine. Contact us today for more landscaping maintenance tips.


Earnest Money: What It Is and How Much It Is in Real Estate

Earnest Money: What It Is and How Much It Is in Real Estate

What Is Earnest Money?

Earnest money is a deposit made to a seller that represents a buyer's good faith to make a purchase such as the acquisition of a new home. The money gives the buyer extra time to get financing and conduct the title search, property appraisal, and inspections before closing. In many ways, earnest money can be considered a deposit on a home, an escrow deposit, or good faith money.


  • Earnest money is essentially a deposit a buyer makes on a home they want to purchase.
  • A contract is written up during the exchange of the earnest money that outlines the conditions for refunding the amount.
  • Earnest money deposits can be anywhere from 1–10% of the sales price, depending mostly on market interest.
  • Should a buyer break the terms of the contract, they may be at risk of losing their earnest money deposit.
  • However, there are a number of potentially agreed-upon contingencies that may protect the buyer from backing out of a deal but still keeping all of their earnest money.

Understanding Earnest Money

In most cases, earnest money is delivered when the sales contract or purchase agreement is signed, but it can also be attached to the offer. Once deposited, the funds are typically held in an escrow account until closing, at which time the deposit is applied to the buyer's down payment and closing costs.

When a buyer decides to purchase a home from a seller, both parties enter into a contract. The contract doesn't obligate the buyer to purchase the home, because reports from the home appraisal and inspection may later reveal problems with the house. The contract does, however, ensure the seller takes the house off the market while it's inspected and appraised. To prove the buyer's offer to purchase the property is made in good faith, the buyer makes an earnest money deposit (EMD).

The buyer might be able to reclaim the earnest money deposit if something that was specified ahead of time in the contract goes wrong. For instance, the earnest money would be returned if the house doesn't appraise for the sales price or the inspection reveals a serious defect—provided these contingencies are listed in the contract.


In general, earnest money is returned to the buyer if the seller terminates the deal but is awarded to the seller if the buyer unreasonably terminates the deal.

How Much Are the Earnest Money Amounts?

While the buyer and seller can negotiate the earnest money deposit, it often ranges between 1% and 2% of the home's purchase price, depending on the market. In hot housing markets, the earnest money deposit might range between 5% and 10% of a property's sale price.

While the earnest money deposit is often a percentage of the sales price, some sellers prefer a fixed amount, such as $5,000 or $10,000. Of course, the higher the earnest money amount, the more serious the seller is likely to consider the buyer. Therefore, a buyer should offer a high enough earnest deposit to be accepted, but not one so high as to put extra money at risk.

A seller may also require ongoing, periodic earnest deposits to have a prospective buyer continue to show good faith during their due diligence process. For example, a seller may require a buyer to make monthly earnest deposits on a fixed schedule over a three month due diligence period. Should the buyer fail to meet any earnest money deposit requirements, the seller may be entitled to bring the property back to market and potentially recover losses via keeping portions of the earnest money.

How Is Earnest Money Paid?

Earnest money is usually paid by certified check, personal check, or a wire transfer into a trust or escrow account that is held by a real estate brokerage, legal firm, or title company. The funds are held in the account until closing, when they are applied toward the buyer's down payment and closing costs.

It's important to note that escrow accounts, like any other bank account, can earn interest. If the earnest funds in the escrow account earn interest of more than $600, the buyer must fill out tax form W-9 with the IRS to receive the interest.1

Is Earnest Money Refundable?

Earnest money isn't always refundable. The good news for buyers is in most situations, as long as a buyer acts in good faith, earnest money is refundable. As long as any contract agreements are not broken or decision deadlines are met, buyers usually get their earnest money back. Specific conditions where buyers often get their earnest money back include:

  • If a home inspection reveals there are material issues with a property being sold. The buyer can usually choose to negotiate who is responsible for the repairs or can back out of the purchase.
  • If a home appraises for lower value than the agreed purchase price. The buyer can negotiate a lower purchase price or can back out of the purchase price.
  • If a buyer is unable to sell their current house (as long as this home sale contingency is agreed upon).
  • If a buyer is unable to obtain a loan/financing (as long as this funding contingency is agreed upon).

Every situation is different, but broadly speaking, the seller gets to keep the earnest money if the buyer decides not to go through with the home purchase for reasons not specified as part of the contract. For example, if a buyer simply has a change of heart decides not to buy the property, the seller is most likely entitled to retain earnest money proceeds.

Protecting Your Earnest Money Deposit

Prospective buyers can do several things to protect their earnest money deposits.

    • Make sure contingencies for financing and inspections are included in the contract. Without these, the deposit could be forfeited if the buyer can't get financing or a serious defect is found during the inspection.
    • Ensure contract terms are in writing. The contract agreement between a buyer and seller should be in writing. This clarifies any misunderstandings and sets the precedence for terms of the agreement. Amendments to the contract are always allowable, but ensure that every iteration of the agreement is in writing and signed by both parties.
    • Read, understand, and abide by the terms of the contract. For example, if the contract states the home inspection must be completed by a certain date, the buyer must meet that deadline or risk losing the deposit—and the house.
    • Utilize an escrow account to hold funds. Do not send escrow money directly to the seller; if the funds are in direct possession by the other party, they can control the funds and not release funds even if you are entitled to earnest money refunds.
  • Make sure the deposit is handled appropriately. The deposit should be payable to a reputable third party, such as a well-known real estate brokerage, escrow company, title company, or legal firm (never give the deposit directly to the seller). Buyers should verify the funds will be held in an escrow account and always obtain a receipt. 

Example of Earnest Money

Suppose Tom wants to buy a home worth $100,000 from Joy. To facilitate the transaction, the broker arranges to deposit $10,000 as a deposit in an escrow account. The terms of the subsequent agreement signed by both parties state that Joy, who is currently living in the home, will move out of it within the next six months.

However, Joy is unable to find another place of residence by moving day. As a result, Tom cancels the transaction and gets his deposit money back. The deposit money has earned interest of $500 from the escrow account during this time period. Since the amount is less than $600, Tom is not required to fill out an IRS form to retrieve the amount.1

What Is an Earnest Money Payment?

In real estate, earnest money is effectively a deposit to buy a home. Usually, it ranges between 1-10% of the home's sale price. While earnest money doesn't obligate a buyer to purchase a home, it does require the seller to take the property off of the market during the appraisal process. Earnest money is deposited to represent good faith in purchasing the home.

Who Keeps Earnest Money If a Deal Falls Through?

Earnest money gets returned if something goes awry during the appraisal that was predetermined in the contract. This could include an appraisal price that is lower than the sale price, or if there is a significant flaw with the house. Importantly, though, earnest money may not be returned if the flaw was not predetermined in the contract or if the buyer decides not to purchase the house during an agreed-upon time period. 

How Can Earnest Money Be Protected?

To protect an earnest money deposit, prospective buyers can follow a number of precautionary steps. First, buyers can ensure that contingencies apply to defects, financing, and inspections. This protects the deposit from being forfeited in the case that a major flaw is discovered, or that financing is not secured. Second, carefully read and follow the terms of the contract. In some cases, the contract will indicate a certain date by which the inspection must be made. To prevent forfeiture, the buyer should abide by these terms accordingly. Finally, ensure the deposit is handled adequately, which means that the buyer should work with a reputable broker, title firm, escrow company, or legal firm. 

Do You Get Earnest Money Back?

As long as a buyer follows the terms of the contract and adheres to all deadlines agreed to with the seller, a buyer will most often receive their full earnest money deposit(s) back. Should the buyer fail to comply with the agreement, the seller may be entitled to receive some or all earnest deposit funds.

How Do You Lose Earnest Money?

In an agreement between a buyer and seller, there are often a number of contingencies outlined that spell out the terms where a buyer may back out of an agreement. These contingencies include failure of a home inspection, failure to secure financing, or failure to sell a separate existing property.

If the buyer decides to not proceed with the sale for reasons outside of these agreed to contingencies, the buyer is at risk of losing earnest money.

The Bottom Line

When a buyer and seller enter into an initial agreement to transfer ownership right of property, the buyer is often required to make a deposit of earnest money into an escrow account. There's a number of reasons the buyer and seller can agree to where the buyer can back out of the agreement. However, should the buyer break contract or not meet required deadlines, the seller may be entitled to keep the earnest money as compensation for the break of good faith.


Here's Your Compete Guide For Cleaning Carpets

Cleaning your carpets may seem like a hassle, but it's a necessary task. This guide will make the process easier.

While a nice, clean carpet is often a key component of a comfortable living space, it doesn't take long for it to get nasty. Carpet is a harbor for germs, dust, debris, dirt, and so regular cleaning is important for keeping your family healthy and your home's interior looking good.

A good carpet cleaning routine involves more than just regular vacuuming; however, the process doesn't have to be difficult. Establishing a regular cleaning cadence is key. Our real estate agents pulled together this quick guide to carpet cleaning options so you can help preserve the floors and air quality in your home:

  • Always Vacuum First
    Before doing any type of heavy-duty carpet cleaning, vacuuming first is always the right first step. Vacuuming will help remove any surface-level dust and debris as well as prevent grime from embedding itself deep into the carpet loops. You should also make it a habit to vacuum at least once a week, and always vacuum before shampooing your carpet.

  • Scrub By Hand
    If your carpet is in pretty good condition, you can likely supplement your vacuuming with a good hand scrub. Use your vacuum cleaner's brush extension and a good carpet spray or shampoo and go after the dirtiest spots on your carpet. This method is also effective for getting out stains that are limited to a specific area. However, it can be a lot of work!

  • Rent Or Purchase A Carpet Cleaning Machine
    If you need to do a heavy-duty cleaning job, then you'll need to bust out a carpet cleaning machine. You can purchase one for a few hundred dollars or rent a high-quality machine from a local store. Carpet cleaning machines expel a mixture of hot water and carpet cleaning solution, and they also have rotating brushes that will work the mixture into the fibers of the carpet as you move the machine across the surface. Remember, the quality of your cleaning product matters here, so be sure to get a reputable brand name product made specifically for carpet. Afterward, use a wet-dry vac to suction up any leftover water, as leaving the carpet too wet can lead to mold. If possible, you should aim to machine clean your carpet every couple of months.

  • Call In The Professionals
    If you want your carpet to look as good as the carpet in these Holland homes for sale, then you may consider hiring a professional. Carpet cleaning professionals can utilize a wide range of tools, including steam cleaning, shampooing, and chemical cleaning, to help your carpets look brand new. Costs are usually affordable, but they do vary based on the size of your home, the number of rooms, and the cleaning method. However, if you want to feel confident that your carpet is as clean as it can be, hiring a pro is your best choice. It's a good idea to have your carpet professionally cleaned every couple of years.

A clean carpet can make a huge difference when it comes to the comfort and air quality of your home. Regular cleanings can also extend the life of your carpet by several years. Contact us today for more home improvement tips.


Hard Water Can Damage Your Home: Here's How To Address It

It's not always easy to inspect your plumbing. Here's how you can ensure hard water won't ruin your pipes and appliances.

Did you know hard water can negatively impact your home over time? While it's safe to drink, hard water can lead to many interior problems, which is why our real estate agents recommend addressing it as soon as possible. Hard water is common across much of the US, especially in the Midwest. As a result, it's an issue most homeowners have to contend with. Below, we'll tell you all about hard water and share some simple solutions for treating it in your home

What Is Hard Water?
While most water contains minerals, hard water contains high levels of calcium and magnesium. Water accumulates high levels of these two minerals when it streams through deposits of limestone or chalk.  It's usually easy to tell if you have hard water as it often leaves a chalky film on your dishes, or it can even have a strong taste or odor. However, there are also inexpensive hard water test kits available that can tell you for sure.

How Can Hard Water Affect Your Home?
The effects of hard water range from short-term mild inconveniences to significant long-term damage. In any case, it's a good idea to address the issue right away. Here are some examples of the effects hard water can have in your home:

  • Taste And Odor - Hard water often smells bad (like a rotten egg) and has a metallic taste.
  • Residue - It can leave a white residue on your dishes that is difficult to remove, and it can also leave water stains on your sink, bathtub, and toilet.
  • Dry Skin - It makes your skin feel extra dry after you wash your hands and take a shower.
  • Laundry Issues - It can make your clothes feel stiff, and it can dull or fade colors.
  • Plumbing Problems - It can lead to build-up or corrosion in your pipes, which can ultimately result in lower water pressure
  • Poor Appliance Performance - It can affect the overall performance and energy efficiency of water-based appliances such as water heaters, washing machines, and dishwashers.

How Do I Treat Hard Water?
The easiest and most common way to treat hard water is with a water softener or filtration system. Some of these systems use negatively charged magnetic beads to collect calcium and magnesium particles while simultaneously allowing water to flow through. Other systems filter out calcium and magnesium from your water while pumping in sodium ions. The later types come with a separate salt tank, and the salt needs refilling periodically; however, the good news is water softener salt is usually inexpensive.

Once the process is complete, the water then flows out of the filtration system and into your home's plumbing. Water softeners range in price, but purchase and installation are usually around $1,500 on average. However, many of these gorgeous Holland homes for sale are already equipped with a water softener.

Eliminating hard water from your house can help you avoid unwanted water stains, unhealthy skin, and plumbing and appliance issues. It's definitely worth the investment. For more home maintenance tips, contact us today.


The Most Common Landscaping Mistakes — And How To Avoid Them

Great landscaping requires a lot of prepping and skill, which is why it's so easy to make these mistakes. Here's how you can avoid them.

With so many of us spending summer weekends doing yard work, our real estate agents thought it'd be a great time to share some landscaping tips.

Great landscaping is both an art and a science. We know creating the perfect yard takes time and practice, and it's well worth it. Remember, beautiful landscaping can make or break your curb appeal. Therefore, learning best practices and avoiding mistakes can really help boost your property value and attract attention when it comes time to sell your home.

If you're busy working on your yard this summer, here are some common landscaping mistakes you should try to avoid:

  1. Don't Over Mulch
    The purpose of mulch is to maintain soil temperature and lock in moisture. When you apply a mountain of mulch around a tree or shrub, it actually causes the roots to rot and creates a paradise for destructive insects. It may be tempting to apply generous amounts of mulch; however,  you should limit it to only a thin layer around your plants so you can be sure your roots have room to breathe.

  2. Choosing The Wrong Plants
    When shopping for plants, it's easy to gravitate towards the most beautiful options; however, don't forget to consider whether the plant is a good fit for your yard. Where will you place it? If it's a plant that thrives in the shade, you don't want to put it in an area with lots of direct sun exposure. Also, consider if it matches your facade and the rest of your landscaping. If you need some inspiration on choosing the right plants, check out some of the landscaping at these Holland homes for sale.

  3. Planting Too Deep
    We know soil is necessary for plant growth, but you should avoid trying to bury your plant's roots too far below the surface for the same reason you shouldn't over-mulch. You run the risk of ultimately suffocating and damaging the plant roots by restricting airflow. When determining how deep to plant, use the plant's original container as a guideline.

  4. Forgetting The Importance of Sun Exposure
    Homeowners are often so concerned about where plants look the best that they actually forget to place them in an area with adequate sun exposure. In order to ensure your plants grow big, bright, and healthy, they'll need to receive adequate sunlight during most daylight hours. Don't plant them in a shady area under a tree or on a side of the house with limited sun.

  5. Cutting Your Grass Too Short
    Cutting grass in the summer is a weekly occurrence, and many homeowners falsely believe that cutting it as short as possible can buy some extra time. However, when your lawn is exposed to the summer sun all day long, your grass can dry out and die quickly. As a result, you actually want to leave a bit of extra length on your grass blades to provide some extra shade and hold moisture.

Landscaping can be a fun summer hobby, but it's also essential for maintaining your curb appeal and home value. Contact us today for more landscaping ideas.


Here's How You Can Get Ready For Your Home's Appraisal

The home appraisal is a crucial step in the process of selling a home. Here's how you can prepare for it.

Planning to sell your property or refinance your mortgage this year? Our real estate agents usually recommend an appraisal as a good first step. Knowing your home's true value can ultimately help you land more money when you sell (though keep in mind, that the buyer's lender will likely require their own appraisal). An appraisal is also required if you're planning to refinance.

While the home appraisal process is actually fairly simple, it is in every homeowner's best interest to do everything possible to maximize the appraised value. Spending time on home improvement projects can help you realize a higher return. Here are some simple ways you can prepare for your appraisal.

  • Do Your Own Inspection
    Starting with your own home inspection is the best way to uncover problems and fix them before the appraisal. Do a thorough walkthrough and examine everything. Look for any leaks, signs of roof damage, cracked flooring, missing siding, or anything that might make an appraiser pause. As a general rule, minor damage or dated elements usually take a $500 hit on the appraisal, so fix what you can.

  • Make Your Home Shine
    Prior to listing a home (and the appraisal), make sure to clean like you have never cleaned before! This includes both the interior and the exterior. Go through each room and declutter, shampoo your carpets, and clean your windows and baseboards. You may even want to consider hiring professional cleaners. On your exterior, power wash your siding and remove any debris from your yard. If you need some cleaning inspiration, check out these spotless Holland homes for sale.

  • Upgrade Your Appliances
    If you have dated appliances, upgrading to new stainless-steel models can make a great impression on appraisers and buyers, which can result in a higher home value. You'd be surprised how much of a difference a new refrigerator, dishwasher, or oven can make when it comes time to sell.

  • Don't Neglect Your Landscaping
    Your appraiser will spend a good bit of time examining your exterior, so make sure your landscaping is in good shape. Mow the lawn, weed the garden, and trim trees and shrubs. Good landscaping is a great way to make a solid first impression.

  • Highlight Your Upgrades
    During the process, make sure you let your appraiser know about any recent upgrades you've made. This could include roof replacements or repairs, a new furnace or hot water tank, updated siding, or any kitchen or bathroom renovations. You'll want to be sure your effort is reflected in the appraisal.

  • Do Some Local Research
    Your own neighborhood can provide a wealth of information about local home values. Check out the recent sale prices on some similar-sized nearby homes. This can give you a frame of reference when it comes to your own appraisal. Additionally, if there are new local amenities, such as stores, restaurants, or schools, it might be worth telling your appraiser so he or she can factor that into their analysis.

When it comes to a home appraisal, a little extra work can go a long way towards boosting your property value. If you're planning to list your home on the market this year, contact us today.


The 10 Best Sports Bars in Michigan!

The 10 Best Sports Bars in Michigan!

Sports bars are the perfect place to unwind after a long week and watch the big game with friends. Michigan's best sports bars provide an atmosphere comparable to that of a live event. So if you're looking for a great spot to snack on some wings, drink with friends, and watch your team go for the win, check out our favorite sports bars in Michigan! 

1. Jamboozies Sports Bar and Grill, Sterling Heights, MI

Featuring a wide array of food and drink—pretzel pizza with the beer cheese dip comes up frequently—and a 107-inch television backed up by 13 smaller screens to show all the gaming, Jamboozies delivers on the watching and eating. It will even round out the experience with trivia nights, karaoke, and theme events just to round it out.

2. Andrews on the Corner, Detroit, MI

It's not just the "million 60-inch plasmas" that get people coming in here-though there's no shortage of screens showing games. It's the frequent appearance of actual sports figures from broadcasters to coaches, and even former players, that pop in for a bite and a relaxing evening of sport.

3. Monelli's Italian Grill and Sports Bar, Portage and Wyoming, MI

The watchword of the day at Monelli's Italian Grill and Sports Bar is "versatility." Whether at the Portage or Wyoming location, Monelli's is not just a sports bar with plenty of screens—including a nice projector at the Portage location—but it's also a fully functional Italian restaurant. Pizza, pasta, burgers...all the best in sports bar and Italian food are right here to go with your sports viewing. Throw in a substantial array of live tap beers—including beer flights—and you'll have an evening on your hands.

4. Steel Cat Bar, Grand Rapids, MI

Regarded as one of the best sports bars in Grand Rapids, the Steel Cat Bar focuses on its delivery. Featuring the first Frost Rail system Michigan has ever seen—and at last report, the only such item—a cold drink is top priority for the Steel Cat. It also boasts a Chillrite 32 tap system that serves up draft beer at exactly 32 degrees. That's amazing enough—any colder and it'd be solid—but throw in a wide array of draft options and plenty of live events and Steel Cat will deliver in a big way.

5. Big-E Bar and Grill, Holland, MI

Head to Holland for the Big-E, billed as the "only true sports grill" in downtown Holland. Featuring a staggering array of televisions for game watching, a few playable games—including a claw game—for good measure, and a dizzying array of food choices, it's all about big at Big-E. Throw in such spectacles as over 80 taps of beer and a "video wall" measuring nine feet in height and Big-E will deliver a big way.

6. Booyah's Bar and Grill, Muskegon, MI

Muskegon sports fans have a friend in Booyah's, a sports bar that focuses on the food first. Featuring an array of dishes from burgers and wings to ribs and perch, Booyah's is out to fill up its sports fans just as much as—potentially even more than—entertain them. Naturally, the array of flat screens showing the games off won't disappoint sports buffs, but the sheer variety of dishes on hand here will make Booyah's the match of most any restaurant around.

7. Nuthouse Sports Grill, Lansing, MI

Michigan's capital, Lansing, plays host to Nuthouse Sports Grill, a sports bar that pushes value. Featuring regular daily specials—Tuesday, for example, features dollar-off drafts and half-off wings—alongside the normal lineup of exciting food and beverage options, the Nuthouse seeks to deliver a value that few can match. From pizza to grinders to even salads, there will almost certainly be something new at the Nuthouse every time you go in.

8. State Street Grille, Traverse City, MI

Leave it to Traverse City to offer up a top-notch sports bar in the State Street Grille. It's a local haven in many senses, offering an array of beers including plenty of Bells, New Holland and Petoskey as well as spirits from the Valentine Distillery and Traverse City Distillery. You'll also be able to get in on what amounts to the Monte Cristo pickle, a dill pickle wrapped in ham and Swiss cheese, then deep fried in a wonton shell. After that, the sports will almost be an afterthought.

9. Merl's Tavern, Saginaw, MI

One of the most recent additions to the sports bar space in Michigan, Carrolton Township's Merl's Tavern offers an array of choices in food and drink as well as special events. For Cinco de Mayo, Merl's brought out the Cinco de Merl combo dinner featuring beans and rice and a taco, along with $3 margaritas. Add in Team Trivia functions—always fun—and signature drink the Merlixer, which is a combination of wine and vodka along with a suite of fruit juices, and Merl's Tavern will be a great destination.

10. The 906 Sports Bar and Grill, Marquette, MI

Not even the Upper Peninsula has escaped the sports bar fondness the rest of Michigan enjoys, and in Marquette lies one of Michigan's best. The 906 Sports Bar and Grill offers plenty of food and drink options, including a full bar. Throw in pool tables and keno for those who want to play rather than watch, and 13 separate televisions for those who prefer watching, and the whole waterfront is covered. Add in a special "country night" every Friday with live performances, and the 906 will deliver a top-notch value for area residents. Just to round it out, the 906 even boasts a view of the Ore Dock, one of the greatest sights in Marquette.


Creative strategies to buy a house in 2022

Creative strategies to buy a house in 2022

Want to become a homeowner in 2022?

The 2022 housing market looks a lot like 2021: bidding wars abound, houses are getting snatched up in record time, and demand still outstrips supply.

How can home buyers succeed despite the obstacles?

Get creative, say the experts.

Following the status quo when home shopping and making an offer just won't cut it in today's market.

Read on for pro tips that can help you score a deal, outmaneuver your rivals, and achieve your homeownership dreams.

Verify your home buying eligibility. Start here (Mar 23rd, 2022)

What to know about the 2022 housing market

Sure, the market is tough. That's no secret. But homes sold at a record pace in 2021 – which means millions of buyers were successful in their quest.

So how did they do it? What tactics can you use to score a home when competing against many other buyers?

"If you want to own a home, and believe that homeownership is a strong financial move for you, then you must be prepared to fight for the available inventory," says Glenn Pizzolorusso, a licensed associate real estate broker with Compass in Connecticut. "Winning a multiple offer situation takes creativity today."

Jay Zigmont, a certified financial planner with Live, Learn, Plan, based in Mississippi, echoes those thoughts.

"Rising house prices require buyers to be smarter about what, where, and when they buy a home. This may require, for example, looking at smaller homes and different locations or buying with a partner to keep the house affordable," says Zigmont.

But being inventive and resourceful doesn't mean you have to go it alone.

Work closely with a trusted real estate agent, or at least a real estate attorney, who can help you devise the right approaches that can help you find and claim the right home. Once you have strong representation lined up, explore each of the following strategies.

Verify your home buying eligibility. Start here (Mar 23rd, 2022)

Creative ways to save for the down payment and closing costs

You don't need 20% down to buy a home. In fact, many buyers can get into a home with as little as 3% or even zero down.

But saving up for a bigger down payment can help your chances of scoring a home in today's competitive market. Remember that the more money you put down, the stronger your offer appears to a seller and the more motivated they will be to accept.

If you're having trouble coming up with funds for your down payment and closing costs – or want to boost the savings your already have – try these tips:

Tighten your financial belt

The ability to reduce your spending depends on your current income and financial situation, of course.

But, where possible, experts recommend that you stop eating out, cancel unnecessary subscriptions, shop around for cheaper insurance, choose a less expensive grocery store, and cut out unnecessary spending as much as you can.

These might feel like sacrifices in the short term, but even small changes can make a big difference in your long–term homeownership goals.

Look into a down payment assistance program

There are thousands of down payment assistance (DPA) programs available nationwide and locally that offer grants, loans, and credits to qualified home buyers. To help find DPA programs, check out these links:

Ask for help from loved ones

Most mortgage loan programs allow you to cover part or all of your down payment using gifted money from a loved one. Note that the donor will need to write a gift letter to the lender verifying that the funds are a gift, not a loan that needs to be repaid.

Use a low– or no–money–down loan

If your primary goal is to buy a home sooner rather than later, your best bet might be a low–down–payment mortgage. By lowering the down payment bar you can often buy much earlier than if you waited to save 20% down.

Conforming mortgages – the most common type of home loan – have flexible down payment requirements: You could put 3%, 5%, 10%, or 15% down if you don't have the full twenty.

FHA loans are another great option with just 3.5% down. And qualified buyers should look into the government–backed VA and USDA loan programs, which allow 0% down.

Compare home loan options. Start here (Mar 23rd, 2022)

Creative ways to find an affordable home

"Locating an affordable property in an area you prefer is the single most important box on the list to check," says Pizzolorusso. "My advice? Find the worst house on the best street and take your time improving it into your own oasis."

Evan Rosenblum, a Realtor with JMG Realty in Los Angeles, has simple advice.

"Look for homes that you can make perfect, not homes that are perfect right now that everyone else is fighting for," he says.

Keep in mind that the prices of homes tend to decrease the further you get from a city center or other similar location. So it doesn't hurt to broaden your horizons and widen your map.

"Look for homes that are technically further away but are a short commute or near public transportation," Zigmont suggests. "You might find considerable savings by adding a bit more to your commute."

If you work from home, you can get more creative about the location.

"Living out in a country area further from a city may save you considerably, while you can still visit the city for fun occasions. Just make sure the rural location you choose has sufficient infrastructure, resources, and amenities, including broadband access," notes Zigmont.

Creative ways to get the seller to accept your offer

Here's where you'll need to be extra clever and have the right timing.

"Choose a real estate agent or broker who understands game theory and valuation comparables," says Nik Shah, CEO of San Francisco–based Home.LLC. "A quality real estate agent can be the difference between closing the deal or losing it."

"Speed and simplicity will help you with your offer. In this market, you can't wait weeks or even days to put in an offer on something you love," Zigmont cautions. "Know your math going in, and then you can make informed decisions when you find the right house."

For best results, consider these suggestions:

  • Focus only on the homes you truly want to purchase. "Don't put in offers on every home just because you haven't gotten accepted," says Rosenblum. "Tighten up your criteria and be hyper–focused on your search"
  • Use an escalation clause. This clause says that you will offer "X" amount but beat any higher offers that are presented by the amount you specify. "This will allow you to always try and present the highest offer," Rosenblum explains. "Just be sure to put a cap on your escalation to the max price you are willing to pay for the property"
  • Consider waiving key contingencies. "In a competitive market, you might want to rethink how many contingencies you include. Removing your financing contingency, appraisal contingency, and/or inspection contingency could give you a better shot at winning the offer," Shah suggests
  • Request an appraisal waiver from your lender. "If you are putting at least 20% down, see if your lender can confirm that the property will qualify for an appraisal waiver; therefore, you can waive your appraisal contingency," says Rosenblum
  • Ask your lender about tightening your terms. "Can you shorten the length of the escrow period? Can you get the loan pre–underwritten so that you can reduce the timeline for or remove your financing contingency completely?" Rosenblum asks
  • Ask your agent to reach out to the listing agent and establish a stronger relationship. "By developing a rapport, your agent can help you put a face to the name on the offer," recommends Rosenblum
  • Write a love letter to the seller. Explain who you are and why you love this home
  • Explore an all-cash offer. Companies like Ribbon, Knock, and FlyHomes can lend you the money to make an all–cash offer, which should convince the seller to choose you

Creative alternatives in case you can't find a home you want

Still no luck finding the right house or cinching a deal? Drastic times call for even more creative measures.

Buy a fixer–upper on the cheap

"Find a fixer–upper. You will be able to purchase at below–market prices and improve to above–market prices," says Pizzolorusso. "If you can take an outdated home and bring it into the modern day, you will come out far ahead when it's time to sell."

To make this strategy easier, there are special loan programs that let you finance the home purchase and repairs with a single mortgage. If you're considering the fixer–upper route, look into:

Build your home instead of buying

Alternatively, explore hunting for a parcel of land or infill site and constructing a new home on it.

The benefit here is that no one else will be bidding against you on your new home. And you can have it built to your exact specifications.

However, "the problem with this tactic is that building prices are still way too high to make this a wise choice in most markets. You don't want to find yourself upside down on your mortgage upon completion," Pizzolorusso continues.

Split the cost of buying

Or, get a partner to come in on the deal with you as a co-borrower or co-signer on the loan, which can come in handy if you're having trouble qualifying for a mortgage loan or you're worried about affording the costs of homeownership.

"Buying a house with a friend or other person you are not married to is an option, but you need to make sure you have a good lawyer to help on the paperwork," says Zigmont.

Start your home buying journey

Are you ready to get serious about buying a home in 2022?

If so, then it's time to connect with a mortgage lender and get preapproved.

Every prospective home buyer needs a preapproval to learn how much they can afford, which types of mortgage they qualify for, and how expensive their payments will be. Not to mention, your preapproval letter gives you the clout to make a serious offer on a home you love.


Boost Your Home's Value With These Fixes

Your home is usually your largest investment. Here's how you can make sure it holds its value.

Your house isn't just a place to live, it's also a major investment and vehicle for accumulating wealth. While homes generally appreciate over time if you keep them in good shape, there are also things you can do to help generate an extra return when it comes time to sell. At the end of the day, investing in a more livable home is the best way to boost your sale price.

Here are some top recommendations from our real estate agents to maximize your home value:

  • Focus On Curb Appeal
    The view of your home from the street is so important when it comes to selling because it's usually front and center in your listing photo. Good curb appeal is critical for garnering online attention, but it's also the first thing buyers see when they pull up to the home. Simple things like painting the front door, installing a new mailbox, and keeping up with lawn care are all great ways to keep your curb appeal top-notch. Some of our favorite Grand Haven homes for sale have stunning curb appeal!

  • Focus On Energy Efficiency
    Green living is an important characteristic for buyers today, so energy-efficient features are a must. You don't have to install solar panels to make your home energy efficient — there are many simple things you can do, including:
    • Install a smart thermostat to optimize heating and cooling costs.
    • Reapply caulking around your windows.
    • Replace incandescent bulbs.
    • Invest in double-pane windows for extra insulation
    • Install ceiling fans in bedrooms and living rooms to minimize cooling costs.

  • Fix-up Your Kitchen and Bathrooms
    If you're planning a remodel or a major renovation, prioritize the kitchen and bathroom over other areas of the house. These are often the two most important rooms when it comes to attracting buyers. Installing new flooring, lighting, sinks, or counters in the kitchen and bathroom are often considered to be some of the best ways to improve home value. Need some inspiration? Check out some of the beautiful kitchens in these Hudsonville homes for sale.

  • Finish The Basement
    An unfinished basement presents an excellent opportunity to unlock additional value in your property. Buyers seek finished basements to serve as game rooms, dens, extra living rooms, or even home offices. Make upgrading unfinished basement space a top priority.

  • Upgrade The Major Appliances
    Buyers don't want to worry about making major replacements or upgrades shortly after moving in. Furnaces and hot water heaters typically last 10 to 15 years, so if yours is reaching the end of its lifespan, it might be worth upgrading prior to listing your home. Convincing buyers they won't need to worry about major fixes for years to come can really help increase the home's appeal.

  • Take Care Of The Roof
    An aging roof comes with an expensive price tag, and this could quickly turn off buyers. You may want to consider a roof replacement prior to listing your home. However, depending on the cost — it can be difficult to recover your entire investment. At a minimum, make sure to take care of any cracked, missing, or warped shingles that may be leading to leaks in the attic.

When thinking of what repairs and upgrades can drive value, put yourself in the shoes of a buyer. Try to imagine what would make your home more comfortable, liveable, and convenient. Contact us today for more home improvement tips.


Holland State Park Beach, Holland, Michigan

Holland State Park Beach, Holland, Michigan

Holland State Park Beach, Holland, Michigan

Holland State Park Beach, Holland, Michigan

Holland State Park is well known for its enormous sandy beach on Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa. Popular among locals and tourists alike, the beach is perfect for any beach activity you like, from sunbathing and volleyball to building sandcastles, surfing, or just relaxing. Holland State Park has two large campgrounds, a number of picnic tables, grills, and fire pits.

It also has beach volleyball courts and a small beach house. If you like to fish, the walkway and pier along the harbor channel are the best spots for it. You can also enjoy watching the passing sailboats, waiting for the sunset, or taking photos of the Big Red lighthouse. There is a concession stand if the kids get hungry from all the activities. Holland State Park Beach is one of the best things to do in Holland, Michigan.

2215 Ottawa Beach Rd, Holland, MI 49424, 616-399-9390

Fun day trip ideas close to me, things to do this weekend, small towns, best weekend getaways: Getaways in CaliforniaEast Coast beachesNC quick tripRomantic weekend getaways

Holland State Park Beach, Holland, Michigan


Cooking Seasonally Is Easy With These Tips

If you're not used to cooking seasonally, now is the time to start! Here's how you can pick the best ingredients throughout the year.

If you love cooking at home, the best way to eat fresh all year long is by cooking seasonally. Seasonal cooking means creating meals and menus around ingredients as they come into season. Seasonal ingredients taste delicious and are less expensive, and the best part is that you're supporting local farmers, businesses, and the community when you add them to your meal plans.

Our real estate agents are big believers in the benefits of seasonal cooking. After seeing some of the amazing kitchens in these Grand Haven homes for sale, we were inspired to create a list of seasonal cooking tips to help you improve the freshness and quality of the food you eat. Here is what we recommend:

Build Your Menu Around What's In Season
The key is to plan your meals based on what is currently in season, not necessarily what's on sale. Take the time to learn what fruits and vegetables are at their peak around Michigan. Here is a quick guide:

  • Winter: Winter is the time to make good use of root vegetables, as these plants tend to thrive in cooler / cold weather. Kale, carrots, squash, and turnips all make for great choices. You can easily throw these tasty root vegetables into a nice stew or bake them into a casserole.

  • Spring: Now is the time you'll start seeing fresh leafy vegetables and certain fruits at their best. Asparagus, radishes, mushrooms, peas, and strawberries are all great seasonal foods come springtime. Spring is one of the best times of year for seasonal cooking.

  • Summer: Those warm summer months are the right time to enjoy so many of your favorite fruits and vegetables. From a fruit perspective, peaches, apricots, raspberries, cherries, and blueberries are all ripe and ready to be harvested. On the vegetable side, you'll find your brussels sprouts, cucumbers, zucchini, and corn are all fresh. Remember, people enjoy corn on the cob in the summer for a reason.

  • Fall: While we often associate fall with changing leaves and dying plants, there are many fruits and vegetables that thrive during these cool weather nights. Apples are perfect in the fall, as are broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, and sweet potatoes. It's no surprise that many of these ingredients are found in traditional Thanksgiving dishes. 

Don't Forget To Use Local Ingredients
Purchasing ingredients from local farmers or small businesses is the best way to know exactly what you're eating. Some local supermarkets may sell local products, or you can make a stop by some of our wonderful local farmer's markets. Don't be afraid to ask local vendors and farmers how they grow their crops.

Trust Your Eye And Try Something New
You can often recognize seasonal ingredients at the grocery store or farmer's market. Not only will they be prominently displayed, but they'll look good too. Fruit and vegetables appear bigger and brighter when they're in season. Take a stroll through the produce aisle and see what looks good.

Seasonal cooking is great for both your health and the overall community. For more tips on how to make the most out of your kitchen this year, contact us today.


How to buy a house in 2022

How to buy a house in 2022

What to consider

Is now a good time to buy a house?

Yes and no. Mortgage rates reached record lows in early 2021 and have stayed low by historical standards throughout the year even as they fluctuated.  However, strong demand for homes pushed prices up and frustrated many potential homebuyers. According to the CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index, property prices rose by 18 percent between September 2020 and September 2021. Time may be running out to lock in an affordable mortgage because experts predict interest rates will continue to trend upward this year. In many areas of the country, Realtors reported intense competition for homes last year, with some properties getting dozens of offers and going into contract within days of being listed.

That reality has created inevitable concerns about buying at the peak. Home values go up over time, but there is a possibility that prices in some places have hit a plateau.

"I would be careful about buying near the top of the market, especially if I want to be in the home for only a few years," says Ken H. Johnson, a real estate economist at Florida Atlantic University and co-author of the Beracha, Hardin & Johnson Buy vs. Rent Index. "If you look to buy, bargain aggressively and be willing to walk away. Real estate most definitely is a good investment, but don't just buy now because that's what everybody else is doing."

Should I buy a house?

Taking the leap to homeownership can provide a feeling of pride while boosting your long-term financial outlook, if you go in well-prepared and with your eyes open.

When thinking about buying a home, consider whether you want to put down roots or maintain flexibility with your living situation. How secure is your job, and can you comfortably budget for home repairs and maintenance on top of monthly housing payments? Are you ready to stay in one place, and do you have kids or family members to consider?

When should I buy a house?

In normal times, spring is the traditional start of the home-buying season, with many listings typically hitting the market. The market still hasn't quite returned to normal since the coronavirus upended that schedule, however.. This winter should be relatively slow for buying, but with low housing inventory, it will still feel competitive compared to pre-pandemic off-seasons. 

At any rate your own financial readiness is more important than the time of year. This means having your finances organized and your credit in order so that you'll be able to smoothly secure a reasonable mortgage.

In addition to a down payment, potential homebuyers should have enough money set aside to cover closing costs, which can range from 2 percent to 4 percent of the purchase price.

When budgeting for your monthly mortgage payment, factor in not only the principal amount and interest, but also property taxes, homeowners insurance, homeowners association fees (if applicable), plus private mortgage insurance if you're putting down less than 20 percent. Don't forget to set aside money for ongoing maintenance and those unexpected repairs that are bound to pop up, too.

Here's a step-by-step guide on buying a house:

1. Understand why you want to buy a house

Purchasing a home is a major decision that shouldn't be taken lightly. If you're not clear on why you want to buy a house, you could end up regretting your decision.

How to get started: Define your personal and financial goals. "Buyers should think about things like when they intend on moving, what they want in a home (such as) amenities, ideal location and how long it could take them to save for a down payment," says Edwence Georges, a sales associate with RE/MAX in Westfield, New Jersey. "These are all important to help define the goals they would like to meet."

Key takeaways:

2. Check your credit score

Checking your credit score will help you determine your financing options; lenders use it (among other factors) to set your loan pricing and see if you're able to repay your mortgage. The better your credit history, the better the chances you'll have of securing financing with the best terms and rates. 

How to get started: You can get your credit report and score from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, for free once a year. Your bank or credit card company might offer free access to your score or credit report, too.

Key takeaways:

  • Consider how different credit score ranges impact your interest rate, monthly payments and total interest. In general, the lower your credit score, the more expensive your mortgage will be.
  • Pull your credit reports from each of the credit bureaus for free every 12 months at If you discover any discrepancies, contact each agency and report the error.
  • Learn other ways to get your free credit report and score from Bankrate.

3. Create a housing budget

Setting a realistic budget for your new home will help inform what you can afford and how much your all-in costs will be.

How to get started: The purchase price isn't the whole picture. Carefully factor in other expenses to determine what you can afford.

"Buyers tend to forget to factor in other costs like (homeowners association) fees and setting money aside for maintenance costs. Just because you can afford a mortgage and a down payment doesn't mean you can afford those long-term costs after you move."

– Paige Kruger, Realtor, Founder, Signal Real Estate, Jacksonville Beach, Florida

Key takeaways:

  • Determine the maximum loan you qualify for.
  • Decide how much you can set aside for a down payment, plus a buffer fund for ongoing or unexpected maintenance costs. 
  • See if your monthly budget can handle the mortgage payment along with other bills such as day care, tuition, utilities, groceries and more.

4. Save for a down payment

To avoid private mortgage insurance, or PMI, you'll need to save at least 20 percent of the home's purchase price for a down payment. Some lenders offer mortgages without PMI with lower down payments, but expect to pay a higher interest rate.

How to get started: Research the down payment requirements for the loan you want so you know exactly how much you'll need. If a friend, relative or employer has offered to provide a down payment gift, initiate a conversation early on to learn how much they plan to contribute and if there's any shortfall you'll need to cover — and secure a gift letter from them well in advance, too.

Key takeaways:

  • If you don't have much saved for a down payment, consider options backed by the federal government. FHA loans, insured by the Federal Housing Administration, require just 3.5 percent down, while VA loans and USDA loans have no down payment requirement.
  • Conventional loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require just 3 percent down.
  • Look into a local or state first-time homebuyer assistance program to help with closing costs or your down payment.

5. Shop for a mortgage

Getting preapproved for a mortgage is helpful when you make an offer on a house, and it gives you a firmer handle on how much you can afford.

How to get started: Shop around with at least three lenders or a mortgage broker to increase your chances of getting a low interest rate.

Key takeaways:

Sign up for a Bankrate account to determine the right time to strike on your mortgage with our daily rate trends.

6. Hire a real estate agent

An experienced real estate agent can save you time and money by helping you find your dream home and by negotiating with the seller on your behalf. 

How to get started: Contact several real estate agents and ask to meet with them for a conversation about your needs before choosing one. "Someone with knowledge of an area can also tell if your budget is realistic or not, depending on the features you desire in a home," Kruger says. "They can also point you to adjacent areas in your desired neighborhood or other types of considerations to help you find a house."

Key takeaways:

  • Before hiring a real estate agent, find out about their track record, knowledge of your desired neighborhood and what their workload is like. You don't want someone who is over-scheduled.
  • Agents can refer you to other professionals like home inspectors, contractors, appraisers and title companies; however, you should still shop around and compare fees from other professionals.

7. See multiple homes

Simply viewing listing photos isn't a substitute for visiting homes in person — with appropriate precautions in the pandemic — and getting to know the neighborhood and its amenities.

How to get started: Let your real estate agent know what specific kinds of homes you want to see, or search for homes online yourself. Your agent can create your profile in the local multiple listing service (MLS), a database of homes for sale, and set up automatic searches for those that meet your criteria. You may not be able to check off everything on your home amenity wish list, so you'll want to prioritize what's most important to you aside from location.

Key takeaways:

  • Drive through neighborhoods you like to see what's for sale, and attend open houses for homes that pique your interest. Remember to keep notes on each property you visit. After a few showings, it's easy to forget which homes you liked and why.
  • Keep your schedule open so you can pounce when a great home is listed, especially in a competitive seller's market. You could gain an edge over other buyers the sooner you see it and put your offer in.

8. Make an offer

Understanding how to make an attractive offer on a home can help increase your chances the seller will accept it, putting you one step closer to getting those coveted house keys.

How to get started: Once you find "the one," your real estate agent will help you prepare a complete offer package, including your offer price, your preapproval letter, proof of funds for a down payment (this helps in competitive markets) and terms or contingencies.

Key takeaways:

  • Sellers might counteroffer on your price, terms or contingencies. You can respond to the counteroffer if you wish, or reject it and move on.
  • Once an offer is accepted, you'll sign a purchase agreement that includes the price of the home and estimated closing date. You'll need to pay an earnest money deposit, typically 1 percent to 2 percent of the purchase price. The seller may have a right to keep the money if you back out.
  • Contingency clauses are designed to protect the buyer and typically include appraisal, financing and home inspection. If a home inspection report shows major problems, you can often back out of the contract and get a refund.

9. Get a home inspection

home inspection helps you get an overall picture of the property's mechanical and structural issues. The home inspection will help you determine how to proceed with the closing process. You might need to ask the seller for repairs, or you might decide to back out of the deal if you have a contingency in the contract.

How to get started: You can get recommendations for home inspectors from your real estate agent, but also be sure to do your own homework before choosing one. Depending on your contract and state of residence, you'll generally need to complete a home inspection 10 to 14 days after you sign a purchase agreement. As a buyer, you're usually responsible for paying the home inspector, and while the fees can vary, you'll pay an average of $270 to $400, according to HomeAdvisor by Angi.

Key takeaways:

  • To make sure the home inspector has enough experience, read online reviews, ask for past client references and look at their credentials.
  • Look at the home inspection checklist to understand what is and isn't covered.

10. Negotiate repairs and credits

Your home inspection report may reveal major or minor issues. Major problems will likely need to be dealt with before your mortgage lender will finalize your loan, while minor issues can often wait till you take possession of the home.

How to get started: Enlist your agent's help to negotiate with the seller. Ask for the seller to either do the repairs or give you a credit at closing.

Key takeaways:

  • If there are hazards like structural damage or improper electrical wiring, your lender might not approve your loan. Likewise, you might not have the budget or desire to handle such repairs after buying the home.
  • Some sellers won't agree to extensive repairs, and that's why a home inspection contingency is a good idea — to give you a way out of the purchase if the home isn't in ideal shape.

11. Secure your financing

Getting final loan approval means you need to keep your finances and credit in line during underwriting. Once you're ready to close, you won't want to open new credit lines or make other major purchases until the paperwork is signed.

How to get started: Respond promptly to requests for more documentation and double-check your loan estimate to ensure all the details are correct so there are no hiccups later. You may need to submit additional paperwork as your lender completes the underwriting process, such as:

  • Bank statements
  • Tax returns
  • Additional proof of income
  • Gift letter or written statements explaining major deposits into your bank account

Key takeaways:

  • A preapproval doesn't mean you're in the clear until a lender has given the final stamp of approval. Keep your finances and credit in good shape from preapproval until closing day. If you can, avoid changing jobs before closing on your new home, too.

Also, avoid running up credit cards, taking out new loans or closing credit accounts. Doing any of these things can hurt your credit score or impact your debt-to-income ratio, and that can imperil your final loan approval.

12. Do a final walk-through

final walk-through is an opportunity to view the property before it becomes yours. This is your last chance to view the home, ask questions and address any outstanding issues before the house becomes your responsibility.

How to get started: Come with your home inspection checklist and other documents, like repair invoices and receipts for any work the owner conducted, to ensure everything was done as agreed upon and that the home is in move-in ready condition.

Key takeaways:

  • Ask your real estate agent to be there so they can act as a witness and help answer any questions you may have.
  • If repairs or issues haven't been addressed, have your agent communicate immediately with the seller and your lender. Your closing date might have to be delayed to ensure those issues are remedied first.

13. Close on your house

Once all contingencies have been met, you're happy with the final walk-through and the closing agent has given the green light to close, it's time to make it official and close on your home. In this final step, your lender will issue you a "clear to close" status on your loan.

How to get started: Three business days before your closing date, the lender will provide you with a closing disclosure that outlines all of your loan details, such as the monthly payment, loan type and term, interest rate, annual percentage rate (APR), loan fees and how much money you must bring to closing. At the closing, you (the buyer) will attend, along with your real estate agent, possibly the seller's agent, the seller, in some cases, and the closing agent, who may be a representative from the escrow or title company or a real estate attorney. This is also the time where you'll wire your closing costs and down payment, depending on the escrow company's procedures.

Key takeaways:

  • Before closing, review the closing disclosure carefully and compare it to the loan estimate to ensure closing fees and loan terms are the same. Ask questions about your loan and correct any errors (like your name or personal details) before you sign closing paperwork.
  • On closing day, review all of the documents you sign carefully, and ask for clarification on anything you don't understand.
  • Make sure you've been provided all house keys, entry codes and garage door openers before leaving closing.
  • You'll leave closing with copies of the paperwork (or a digital file) and your new house keys. Be sure to store your paperwork in a safe place for future reference.

Once all of the paperwork has been signed, the home is officially yours and you'll get those house keys. Congratulations! Now comes the fun part: moving in and making the house your home.


4 Tips for Buying a Home in 2022

4 Tips for Buying a Home in 2022

A happy couple looks sitting on the floor between moving boxes and drinking coffee.

There are plenty of good reasons to buy a home -- financial stability, building equity in a place of your own, and not having to follow a landlord's rules. If you're eager to buy a home in 2022, here are four important tips to help make that happen.

1. Research home prices ahead of time

Home prices have soared this year due to high buyer demand and limited housing inventory. Come 2022, those circumstances could remain unchanged. It makes sense to research different neighborhoods in advance and see which ones have home prices within your financial reach.

Some buyers embark on a home search before looking at numbers. But it's better to take the opposite approach -- first figure out where you can afford to look, and then start driving out to see different homes in person. If you go the opposite route, you might fall in love with a home or town you can't afford.

2. Work on boosting your credit score

Chances are, you don't have the money to buy a home outright next year. Rather, you'll probably need a mortgage. The higher your credit score is, the more likely you'll be to get approved not only for a home loan, but for an affordable interest rate as well.

You can boost your credit score in a number of ways. First, make sure to pay all of your bills on time. Next, if possible, pay off a chunk of existing credit card debt, especially if you're carrying a high balance relative to your total credit limit across all of your cards. Finally, check your credit report for errors and correct those that could be dragging your score down.

3. Sock away extra money for a down payment

Because home values are so inflated, you should expect to pay up in 2022. And if you want to avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI), you'll need to bring a 20% down payment to the table for a conventional loan. If you don't have that much saved yet, work on boosting your cash reserves. A good way to do so is to get a side gig on top of your main job.

4. Be prepared for competition

Though housing inventory may pick up in 2022, there's no guarantee that will happen. It could also take months for enough inventory to hit the market to satisfy buyer demand. That's why if you're aiming to buy a home next year, you'll need to prepare to duke it out with other buyers. Now is a good time to read up on different strategies for winning a bidding war.

One step worth taking in this regard is getting a mortgage pre-approval letter. That sends the message you're a serious home buyer whose finances have already been vetted. And it may prompt a seller to accept your offer over a comparable one.

Though 2022 may end up being a challenging year to buy a home, there are steps you can take to increase your chances of success. Be sure to check off these boxes if your goal is to become a homeowner over the next 12 months.

A historic opportunity to potentially save thousands on your mortgage

Chances are, interest rates won't stay put at multi-decade lows for much longer. That's why taking action today is crucial, whether you're wanting to refinance and cut your mortgage payment or you're ready to pull the trigger on a new home purchase.

Our expert recommends this company to find a low rate - and in fact he used them himself to refi (twice!).


Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Preparing to buy tips

1. Start saving early

Here are the main costs to consider when saving for a home:

  • Down payment: Your down payment requirement will depend on the type of mortgage you choose and the lender. Some conventional loans aimed at first-time home buyers with excellent credit allow as little as 3% down. But even a small down payment can be challenging to save. For example, a 3% down payment on a $300,000 home is $9,000. Use a down payment calculator to decide a goal, and then set up automatic transfers from checking to savings to get started.

  • Closing costs: These are the fees and expenses you pay to finalize your mortgage, and they typically range from 2% to 5% of the loan amount. You can ask the seller to pay a portion of your closing costs, and you can save on some expenses, such as home inspections, by shopping around.

  • Move-in expenses: You'll need some cash after the home purchase. Set some money aside for immediate home repairs, upgrades and furnishings.

2. Decide how much home you can afford

Figure out how much you can safely spend on a house before starting to shop. NerdWallet's home affordability calculator can help with setting a price range based on your income, debt, down payment, credit score and where you plan to live.

3. Check and strengthen your credit

Your credit score will determine whether you qualify for a mortgage and affect the interest rate lenders will offer. Take these steps to strengthen your credit score to buy a house:

  • Get free copies of your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — and dispute any errors that could hurt your score.

  • Pay all your bills on time, and keep credit card balances as low as possible.

  • Keep current credit cards open. Closing a card will increase the portion of available credit you use, which can lower your score.

Mortgage selection tips

4. Explore mortgage options

A variety of mortgages are available with varying down payment and eligibility requirements. Here are the main categories:

  • Conventional mortgages are not guaranteed by the government. Some conventional loans targeted at first-time buyers require as little as 3% down.

  • FHA loans are insured by the Federal Housing Administration and allow down payments as low as 3.5%.

  • USDA loans are guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They are for rural home buyers and usually require no down payment.

  • VA loans are guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are for current and veteran military service members and usually require no down payment.

You also have options when it comes to the mortgage term. Most home buyers opt for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, which is paid off in 30 years and has an interest rate that stays the same. A 15-year loan typically has a lower interest rate than a 30-year mortgage, but the monthly payments are larger.

5. Research first-time home buyer assistance programs

Many states and some cities and counties offer first-time home buyer programs, which often combine low-interest-rate mortgages with down payment assistance and closing cost assistance. Tax credits are also available through some first-time home buyer programs.

6. Compare mortgage rates and fees

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends requesting loan estimates for the same type of mortgage from multiple lenders to compare the costs, including interest rates and possible origination fees.

Lenders may offer the opportunity to buy discount points, which are fees the borrower pays upfront to lower the interest rate. Buying points can make sense if you have the money on hand and plan to stay in the home for a long time. Use a discount points calculator to decide.

7. Get a preapproval letter

A mortgage preapproval is a lender's offer to loan you a certain amount under specific terms. Having a preapproval letter shows home sellers and real estate agents that you're a serious buyer, and can give you an edge over home shoppers who haven't taken this step yet.

Apply for preapproval when you're ready to start home shopping. A lender will pull your credit and review documents to verify your income, assets and debt. Applying for preapproval from more than one lender to shop rates shouldn't hurt your credit score as long as you apply for them within a limited time frame, such as 30 days.

Home shopping tips

8. Choose a real estate agent carefully

A good real estate agent will scour the market for homes that meet your needs and guide you through the negotiation and closing process. Get agent referrals from other recent home buyers. Interview at least a few agents, and request references. When speaking with potential agents, ask about their experience helping first-time home buyers in your market and how they plan to help you find a home.

9. Pick the right type of house and neighborhood

Weigh the pros and cons of different types of homes, given your lifestyle and budget. A condominium or townhome may be more affordable than a single-family home, but shared walls with neighbors will mean less privacy. Don't forget to budget for homeowners association fees when shopping for condos and townhomes, or houses in planned or gated communities.

Another option to consider is buying a fixer-upper — a single-family home in need of updates or repairs. Fixer-uppers usually sell for less per square foot than move-in ready homes. However, you may need to budget extra for repairs and remodeling. Renovation mortgages finance both the home price and the cost of improvements in one loan.

Think about your long-term needs and whether a starter home or forever home will meet them best. If you plan to start or expand your family, it may make sense to buy a home with extra room to grow.

Check out potential neighborhoods thoroughly. Choose one with amenities that are important to you, and test out the commute to work during rush hour.

10. Stick to your budget

A lender may offer to loan you more than what is comfortably affordable, or you may feel pressure to spend outside your comfort zone to beat another buyer's offer. To avoid financial stress down the road, set a price range based on your budget, and then stick to it.

Look at properties below your price limit to give some wiggle room for bidding in a competitive market.

11. Make the most of open houses

Online 3D home tours have become more popular amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These tours let shoppers virtually walk through a home at any hour and observe details that regular photos don't catch. They don't supply all the information in-person visits do — like how the carpets smell — but they can help you narrow the list of properties to visit.

Open your senses when touring homes in person. Listen for noise, pay attention to any odors and look at the overall condition of the home inside and out. Ask about the type and age of the electrical and plumbing systems and the roof.

" MORE: How 3D home tours work

Home purchasing tips

12. Pay for a home inspection

A home inspection is a thorough assessment of the structure and mechanical systems. Professional inspectors look for potential problems, so you can make an informed decision about buying the property. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Standard inspections don't test for things like radon, mold or pests. Understand what's included in the inspection and what other inspections you might need.

  • Make sure the inspector can get to every part of the house, such as the roof and any crawl spaces.

  • Traditionally the buyer attends the inspection. By following the inspector around you can get a better understanding of the home and ask questions on the spot. If you can't attend the inspection, review the inspector's report carefully and ask about anything that's unclear.

13. Negotiate with the seller

You may be able to save money by asking the seller to pay for repairs in advance or lower the price to cover the cost of repairs you'll have to make later. You may also ask the seller to pay some of the closing costs. But keep in mind that lenders may limit the portion of closing costs the seller can pay.

Your negotiating power will depend on the local market. It's tougher to drive a hard bargain when there are more buyers than homes for sale. Work with your real estate agent to understand the local market and strategize accordingly.

14. Buy adequate home insurance

Your lender will require you to buy homeowners insurance before closing the deal. Home insurance covers the cost to repair or replace your home and belongings if they're damaged by an incident covered in the policy. It also provides liability insurance if you're held responsible for an injury or accident. Buy enough home insurance to cover the cost of rebuilding the home if it's destroyed.


DIY Holiday Crafts You Can Make With Your Family

Looking for a fun way to build some holiday cheer with your family? Try making one or all of these holiday crafts at home.

Nothing gets our real estate agents in the holiday spirit quite like DIY holiday crafts. Holiday crafting is not only a great opportunity to spend time with friends and family, but it also is a chance to create some beautiful holiday decor that you can use to liven up your home for the holiday season. If you're looking for some creative ideas before heading out to the craft store, here are our four most popular DIY holiday craft ideas:

  • Make A Holiday Wreath
    Creating a holiday wreath from scratch is easier than you think. For the base, you can simply use floral wire, twigs, or Styrofoam. For the greenery, you can use juniper sprigs, eucalyptus pods, evergreen boughs, or anything you can find. Them, simply collect your greenery into groups and attach it to your base with floral pins, tape, or craft glue. Lastly, top it off with some holiday bows or other decor. Crating a holiday wreath is not only a ton of fun, but it can make a great addition to your home's facade. Some of our favorite Holland homes for sale have some beautiful holiday wreaths on display this year.

  • Craft Some Simple Ornaments
    Christmas tree ornaments are super easy, and there are so many different types of ornaments to make.

    To make a simple ornament, cut your ornament base from cardstock using any holiday pattern you'd like, and then add some paint and glitter to one side. String a nice ribbon through a hole at the top and bead it on the other end.

    Want to take your homemade ornament game to the next level? Replace the cardstock with a jingle bell, snow globe, or engraved wood, and swap out your ribbon for decorative pipe cleaners. Creating holiday ornaments is also a great crafting idea for the kids.

  • Build A Lighted Pinecone Basket
    Lighted pinecone baskets are one of our favorite crafts. Gather a half dozen sturdy pinecones and apply a coat of clear spray paint. Then, add some gold glitter to the wet paint. While the paint is drying, line a small weave basket with some gold string lights, and then place the pinecones inside. Once you plug in the lights, it should look as if the lights are coming through both the pinecones and the weaved basket.

    A beautiful lighted pinecone basket makes for a great mantle piece or can even fit nicely on the kitchen counter.

  • Design Creative Christmas Cookies
    Decorating Christmas cookies is a DIY craft project that's fun for all ages. Bake some delicious gingerbread cookies, butter spritz cookies, chocolate bark cookies — the opportunities are truly endless. Buy some holiday cookie cutters, icing, and candy, so you're ready to decorate as soon as your cookies come out of the oven. 

Before you start crafting, don't forget to set the holiday scene. Turn on some nice Christmas music, turn on all the lights, and light a fire in the fireplace. It's the perfect way to spend a chilly December afternoon.

For more tips on holiday decor, contact us today.

Login to My Homefinder

Login to My Homefinder