PR Articles

The following articles were ghost written or submitted without by-lines
for various real estate clients. All have been previously published.

Copyright Laura J. Silver

What to Expect When Applying
for a Real Estate Loan

Buying Rural Property

Increasing Your Home's
Curb Appeal

What to Expect When Applying for a Real Estate Loan

People have many expectations, and fears when planning to purchase a home or property. Even if you have done it before, the process of applying for a loan can be daunting. Knowing what's coming can make the loan-application process much less stressful.

The first thing a buyer must do is get "pre-qualified." Before you begin seriously looking at property your real estate agent will send you to a mortgage broker or loan officer to see just how much "house" you can afford under the Byzantine rules adhered to by the mortgage lenders. The ratio of your debt to your income is more important than the income alone. If your debt is low you may actually qualify for a higher loan amount than a wealthier friend who carries higher debt.

Expect to pay up front for a credit check (anywhere from $15 to $50 depending on the complexity of the check), and to disclose your debts and any sources of income that you wish to have considered for the loan. Paperwork and documentation are the heart and soul of the loan process, and pre-qualification is just the tip of the iceberg. Before you begin it is a good idea to gather and organize your last several years' tax returns, investment information, bank records, recent credit card and car-loan statements, as well as any documents that could remotely relate to your financial history. Having everything easily accessible can prevent frustration and last-minute headaches.

Once you are pre-qualified, your agent will begin to show you property in your price range. The good news is that you are on your way. The bad news is that pre-qualification does not guarantee a loan. Once you find a property and make an offer, the real business of getting a loan begins. The pertinent issues and areas of potential difficulty will be: income, debt load, and credit history.

Almost no one has perfect credit anymore, and it is not necessary in order to get a loan. You will be expected, however, to account for any deviation from "perfection", and the amount of deviation will affect the interest rate you are offered. Borrowers with more deviations are assumed to be higher risks — and pay higher interest rates. If you can plan far enough in advance, it is good policy to make sure you have no late payments for at least three years before applying for a loan. If you do have late payments, or any type of court judgments against you (even small claims court appears on your credit record) be prepared to write a letter to the lender explaining the problem areas. Your loan officer can be very helpful with the phrasing of the letter.

Credit card companies are much less willing to make changes to your credit record than they were even a few years ago, but if you think a late payment was wrongly recorded it is worth contacting the company to see if it can be removed from your record. (A word to the wise — always be calm and polite even if the person you speak to is not. Even expressing legitimate frustration seems to generate an automatic "no.") If the company agrees to remove the late payment, they will send you a letter to include with your loan application stating that the item has been removed. Keep the original of the letter somewhere safe (give your loan officer a copy), as you may have to produce it for any loans you apply for in the future. Ebeneezer Scrooge got off easy with those Christmas ghosts — "The Ghosts of Indebtedness Past" can haunt you for years to come.

 Basically, you should expect to jump through any number of seemingly incomprehensible paperwork hoops, and to find there are three more hoops when you thought you were done. The process can be frustrating but don't let it scare you off. The life-long rewards of home ownership are worth a few weeks of bureaucratic red tape.

An experienced real estate agent and a good loan officer can make the loan process much easier. Make sure you find an agent and a loan officer whom you feel you can trust. It is important to have someone who is willing and able to walk you through the process and make sure you understand what is going on. If you have any questions about the loan process, or are interested in purchasing real estate, please feel free to contact us at (client's contact information here.)

Buying Rural Property

There are some concerns all home buyers share, regardless of the location of their new home. Can they afford it? Does it have enough bedrooms and baths? How close is it to good schools, to work? Is the neighborhood pleasant and safe? But buyers of rural property have their own special set of questions they must have answered to ensure a positive outcome.

It can be very attractive to put several acres between you and the world, especially if you are moving from the tight quarters found in many city and suburban neighborhoods.  Be sure to ask yourself how much property you are willing to care for. California is a fire state. Protecting the investment in your home requires keeping a fire-safe zone that could include much of your property, depending on the type of vegetation growing there. Manzanita, for example, is highly combustible, and the bare legal minimum of 30 feet clearance is nowhere near enough.  If you want large acreage, the location and type of vegetation should be considered.

Most rural property gets the house water from a well — the potability and gallons per minute will be tested before you buy — but also ascertain the age of the well pump and the rights to any ground water features such as creeks, ponds and irrigation ditches.

Find out about the electrical reliability in a storm. Above the snowline power can be lost frequently as snow-heavy branches pull down power lines. The gas and electric company works tirelessly in terrible weather to restore power, but some areas have greater priority for repairs. If there is a history of power outages longer than one or two days in your chosen area, consider including the purchase of a generator in your budget.

Roads are another issue in outlying areas. If it snows, who does the plowing? In some counties only major roads are plowed, others are the responsibility of the residents. Some neighborhoods chip-in to hire it done, others have one or more residents with plowing equipment who may or may not ask for monetary assistance (a piece of rural etiquette — you should always offer to help financially if you do not assist physically).

Find out who is responsible when the roads need repairing.  The county does not handle the upkeep on many outlying gravel (and even some paved) roads.  Is there a road association? How much does each homeowner usually pay and how often?

Also find out if your property has any easements which allow other homeowners access onto or through your property.  Usually these are not a problem, but they can become one if your neighbors are contentious.

Confirm as well the permitting status of any outbuildings or additions the previous owners may have constructed. Retroactive permitting fines do exist and you do not want to be the one who has to pay.

These are just some of the special questions rural buyers should ask. Your real estate agent can help you find the answers and direct you to the right sources for information that you want to verify yourself. Buying rural property is a dream many people share and it is very accessible.  Just make sure your dream is built on a good foundation.

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Increasing Your Home's Curb Appeal

One of the most important factors in selling your home is its "curb appeal" - the impression it gives on first sight, before a potential buyer even steps inside. Many elements play into curb appeal, some of which you can control and some you cannot. Unless you built the house, the overall design and the way it is situated on the site were out of your control. There are things you can do, though, to improve the appeal of any design.

One of the absolute essentials of curb appeal is tidiness. Houses with overflowing trash cans, peeling paint, rampant weed growth, garage doors standing open on piles of junk are patently off-putting - and will never look worth the asking price. The old saying "you never get a second chance to make a first impression" applies in full here. When your home is for sale it is "on stage" all the time. Taking care of these obvious problems is an essential first step.

The elements of curb appeal are important for you as well. Even if you are not be planning to sell immediately, keeping your house tidy and in good repair gives you pleasure each time you see it - and decreases the work and expense of preparing when you are ready to sell.

Landscaping is a good investment in curb appeal, but do not expect a dollar for dollar return on the money you spend. Landscaping is not given the same value as structural improvements when a home is appraised. It is weighted more like paint and wallpaper are on the interior - as a cosmetic change that may be torn out by a buyer with different tastes.  If you are fairly certain that you will be selling your home within a few years concentrate more on landscaping details that improve the "bones" of your property - attractive pathways in areas that would make sense to anyone, retaining walls made of visually pleasing materials. It is worth paying a professional for advice even if you do the work yourself. Also spend a little extra for attractive and durable materials. It will be to your advantage in the long-run.

Landscaping can also add to the energy efficiency of a home and thereby its value. Deciduous trees can shade the hot side of a home  in summer and let in sunlight's warmth in winter. If you add trees, try not to block a view that someone else might prefer to have open. The use of native and drought-tolerant plants - called xeriscaping -  is becoming popular and can reduce your outdoor water consumption up to 80%.

Some of the remodeling projects that people undertake to increase their own pleasure in a home can also increase its curb-appeal, particularly changes to the entry areas of the house. Many homes have  flat, uninteresting facades with little sense of a "transition" from the outside world. Research has shown that people feel more comfortable passing under a portico or through some kind of room-like space such as a courtyard or porch. Flat entryways can give people of sense of exposure and vulnerability that may not register consciously but affects how they view a home. If you are planning to remodel the front of your home, consider adding some type of transition area outside the front door.

Your real estate agent can recommend professionals to consult and give you many more suggestions on increasing your home's curb-appeal. If you do not have an agent, feel free to call us (client's contact info here.) We are always happy to help.

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