Should You Start Saving for a Down Payment or Continue Renting?

 

 

 

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It takes homebuyers an average of seven years to save up for a 20% down payment. As a tenant, you’ve probably asked yourself if it’s better to spend that time continuing to rent or whether to start putting money aside for your future home. Number crunching and prospecting the market play an essential role, but they’re not the only factors that your decision should hinge on. Here are a few things worth considering before you start making plans.

How Much Do You Need to Save?

Start by crunching the numbers. As a potential homebuyer, you most likely already know that it’s best to have a 20% down payment ready. Not only will this reduce your loan amount, but it will also remove the burden of mortgage insurance required by lenders.

Look up the average down payment for the area and home type that might interest you. For better or worse, the amount will fluctuate in the coming years, but you can use it as a starting point. Assuming that it will take you around seven years to save up that amount, break down the figures into periodic installments. How much would you need to set aside each month, and how does that figure compare to how much you’re able to save at the moment?

Assess Your Current Debts

A mortgage loan is likely to be the most significant debt you will ever owe. So before you embark on this loan, it’s wise to settle any smaller debts first. Whether it’s student loans, car loans, credit card debt, even medical expenses, take the time to assess how paying them off will impact your ability to set money aside for the down payment. Paying off high-interest debts should take priority, but at the same time, you should avoid straining your budget.

Factor in Other Types of Savings

Before you start setting money aside for a down payment, ask yourself if there are more pressing savings that need your attention. One thing you should prioritize is your emergency fund. It is recommended that you should have enough money set aside to cover between 3 and 6 months’ worth of living expenses.

Don’t forget about the future either. It’s often advised that you save money for your retirement first and then for a down payment. Juggling both at the same time is rarely feasible, so it’s best to decide in advance which one you should prioritize.

Consider Your Career Plans

The amount you can save each month is tied to your current expenses and how much you earn. It’s worth determining whether you will be able to keep putting money aside at the same rate you are now or if that amount is likely to drop. Also, ask yourself how your job is likely to change in the years to come.

Day-to-day expenses are lower if you’re working from home and not spending money on commuting. But what happens if you can’t work remotely? Similarly, a career change or a costly relocation to another city for work can also alter your plans.

Buying to Invest vs. Buying to Live

How do you see your future house: as an investment or somewhere to live? If your goal is to find a dream home and spend the rest of your life living in it, switching from renting to buying is a good call. But if you think of a house as an investment opportunity, spending the next seven years saving up for a down payment is a risky financial undertaking.

A house is not a liquid asset. To tap into the equity, you need to sell your home. And in order to save enough equity so that there’s some payoff to the sale, you need to live in the house for another five years. If your long-term plans focus on investments, ask yourself whether you might be better off continuing to rent and using your remaining funds on liquid assets.

Don’t Rule Out Renting-to-Own

Rent-to-own properties can be a good middle ground if you’re renting a property you like and planning to live there a long time. In this case, you will pay a bit more in rent, but that extra money is factored in towards your down payment for buying the property at the end of the lease. This kind of agreement can work in your favor if you think you’ll find it challenging to save for a down payment on top of paying rent or if you need some time to improve your credit score.

Disclaimer:
This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be deemed as legal, financial or investment advice or solicitation of any kind. Before purchasing real estate or insurance, always consult with a licensed attorney, financial advisor, insurance agent and real estate broker.

 
 

Is Buying Really Cheaper Than Renting?

 
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One of the biggest questions among would-be homeowners is whether it’s cheaper to continue renting or to buy a house. Knowing the answer to this complex question can make the difference between using the local market to your advantage or overstretching your finances. But are there any hard and fast rules applicable across the board? In this post, we’ll take a closer look at recent figures and try to find an answer to this age-old question.

Saving for a 20% Down Payment

The main hurdle all homebuyers face is saving up for a down payment on their home. And yet, there’s a significant gap between homebuyers’ expectations and reality.

One of our recent studies found that, although many Millennials hope to buy a house within a year, they still grossly underestimate the actual costs. The U.S. national average for a down payment is $62,000, yet 40% of Millennials expect it to be closer to $10,000. What’s more, 61% had less than that in savings, while 14% had no savings at all.

When drawing out a savings plan for a down payment, it’s important to set a realistic figure but also factor in other expenses. Can you continue paying rent while simultaneously saving for a home, putting money into an emergency fund, paying off high-interest debts, or setting money aside for retirement?

Many experts recommend using the 50-30-20 budgeting rule: spend 50% of your income on essentials, allocate 30% for leisure and save the remaining 20%. Take the time to determine early on whether that 20% of your income can accommodate all your savings needs.

Don’t forget to take the hidden costs of home buying into account. From appraisals and inspections to closing costs and agent fees, there’s more to budgeting for a home than just saving for the down payment.

Rent vs. Mortgage Affordability

It’s essential to assess how local market fluctuations will impact your housing budget in the long run. One of our reports highlighted that mortgage affordability has worsened in 15 out of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. in the past decade. As a result, homeowners now need to pay more than 30% of their income on mortgage, which is higher than the figure recommended by experts. According to the study, in the most unaffordable cities, homeowners need to boost their income by up to $43,567 to avoid being cost-burdened.

At the same time, the rise in income is nowhere near enough to meet the increase in home prices, and in some cases, the difference between home price growth and income growth exceeds 50%.

Similarly, changes in the rental market pack their own share of good and bad news. According to RENTCafé, rents have increased in 13 of the 30 largest U.S. cities, yet they’ve decreased or stagnated in 18. Another encouraging finding for tenants is that rates dropped in all of the top 10 most expensive large cities for renters.

So, depending on the local figures, it might be cheaper to rent than buy in some areas, while it can be more accessible to buy than rent in others.

Crunching the Numbers: Rent vs. Mortgage Payments

One of the most common arguments used in the rent-vs-buy debate is that if you can afford to pay a certain amount in rent, you can afford to pay the same amount in mortgage. In reality, however, budgeting is rarely that straightforward. Here are two rules that can help you better assess your budget:

  • The 30% rule: aim to spend no more than 30% of your gross income on housing costs;
  • The 5% rule: apart from mortgage, expect to pay an additional 5% of your property value on irrecuperable costs: property taxes (1%), property maintenance (1%) and interest rates (3%).

If your housing budget is within that 30% sweet spot, while also factoring in irrecuperable costs, then switching from rent to mortgage is something worth considering. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, as a tenant, your utilities are often included in the rent, and you don’t have to contend with property taxes, HOA fees, maintenance and upkeep, and so on.

What Money Can’t Buy

The decision to buy or rent hinges heavily on their financial implications. Yet, there are some arguments in favor of each that no amount of budgeting can take into account.

On the one hand, renting comes with a lot of flexibility and freedom to relocate, depending on your lifestyle or career choices. You don’t need to worry about a drop in property value, the stress of committing to a lengthy mortgage or having your home foreclosed due to unemployment.

On the other hand, owning your home provides you with a greater feeling of stability. There are tax breaks you can take advantage of, investment opportunities in the form of renting out, and a gradual build-up of equity.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all scheme, and the decision to buy or rent is a personal one. But before making up your mind, be sure to consult a financial professional for your specific case.

 
 

8 Tips to Choose an Eco-Friendly Apartment

 

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  1. Pick Your Location

Moving to a new apartment complex means choosing a new location. Use that to your advantage by mapping out potential rental spots near places you visit frequently. For instance, an apartment next to a public transportation stop or within walking distance of your job will make it much easier to reduce your gasoline usage.

  1. Find Recycling Programs

Many rental communities have front-door pickups for bags of recycled waste. If so, they’ll mention it on their website alongside other residential perks, such as the property gym or dog park. You can also locate recycling centers near potential apartments and take care of it yourself. Notably, living too far from a recycling center would make it more difficult to minimize how much of your trash ends up in a landfill.

  1. Research the HVAC Units

Some apartments have newer heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units. However, this is not a standard amenity that’s often listed on the community’s website, so you’ll have to call the management office to ask for this detail. But, the extra effort would be worth it as it would improve your carbon footprint. That’s because newer models use modern technology to reduce allergens and moisture that could make you sick and reduce your energy usage.

  1. Locate LEED Certifications

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications mean an apartment building has passed an inspection that requires numerous eco-friendly standards. And, even though rental communities may not feature their accreditation on their website, you can find records of them online to verify a property’s eco-friendly status.

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  1. Prioritize Energy-Efficient Appliances

Potential tenants can also ask about energy-efficient appliances in available units. The management team will clarify what they’ve installed for tenants or point them out during a tour. Eco-friendly dryers or refrigerators will use less energy to meet your daily needs.

  1. Inquire About Building Materials

Apartment managers or property owners can also verify what kind of materials they bought during construction. Sustainable wood and biodegradable insulation are just a few examples of eco-friendly alternatives to materials that otherwise harm the planet.

They may need time to research their construction history before getting back to you. It’s in your best interest to schedule a meeting to discuss it further. The management team will appreciate your thoughtful etiquette if they don’t know the answer right away.

  1. Check the Lightbulbs

Maintenance teams replace lightbulbs in exterior fixtures and any interior lights that aren’t traditional lamps. Call and ask if they stock traditional or compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. CFL bulbs consume less energy, especially if they’re Energy Star certified. It’s information they should be happy to share with a potential tenant, and their answer could make it easier to choose one apartment complex over another.

  1. Ask About Apartment Fixtures

Permanent apartment fixtures may add to your carbon footprint. It depends on which companies they came from and how they were made. Sustainably minded property owners may have picked cabinets made with recycled wood or carpets from eco-friendly companies.

Every tiny detail counts when you’re living a sustainable lifestyle. Inquiring will clarify which community managers actively take responsibility for their planetary pollution or jump onto a trend in only superficial ways.

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Learning how to choose an eco-friendly apartment only takes a few minutes. Use these tips to evaluate new communities and find one that fits your lifestyle without compromising your budget. Your next living space will support the planet because you looked into a few more details while searching for a place to rent.

 
 

Incorporating Vintage Elements in Your Home Design: Dos and Don’ts

 

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The days of walking into one store and picking out a matching living room set complete with end tables and lamps are behind us. Today’s home design trends are all about creating custom spaces that express your personality and suit your lifestyle.

One of the secrets to creating unique interiors with a look all your own is to combine modern pieces with one-of-a-kind vintage finds. But if not done correctly, adding antiques can sometimes make a space look dated instead of curated. There are a few tricks to successfully mix and match modern decor with vintage treasures.

DO Start with a Plan

Before you start adding vintage finds at random, stop and make a plan for your space. Ideally, you shouldn’t bring anything into your home that doesn’t serve a purpose. A vintage piece for the sake of a vintage piece will look out of place, but a vintage bench where you already need a bench can make a real impact.

Consider your home’s current design style and select a compatible look for your vintage additions. Do you want rustic and weathered artifacts, ornate antiques, or classic retro pieces? Once you choose a style, use this as a guide when hitting up antique shops and garage sales to ensure that everything you bring home will work together.

Image: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

 

DON’T Mix Time Periods

When you’re mixing old and new, one way to avoid a hodge-podge look is to incorporate multiple items from the same era. A Victorian chair may look out of place with a mid-century stool and a gothic lamp. But if all three pieces are from the same time period, it will present a unified look.

For an even more cohesive feeling space, choose pieces that come from the same time period as your home. When you have pieces that complement each other and relate to the home itself, it will create a more consistent look.

Image: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

 

DO Use Smaller Vintage Finds to Add Personality

If you’re not ready to invest in large antiques, try starting with smaller vintage items which can still have a big impact. Smaller pieces that are in good shape are often easier to find and bring in a lot of character. Items such as old-fashioned globes, antique clocks, and vintage suitcases will bring a unique look you won’t find in any other home.

Vintage lighting is another great way to add personality and style without making a space feel dated. From delicate paper lanterns to funky industrial lighting or ornate chandeliers, vintage lighting can run the gamut of styles. Look for fixtures such as pendants and wall sconces that have a lot of personality but are easy to install.

Image: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

 

DO Use Vintage Pieces in Unexpected Ways

If your goal is to create a unique and original space, using your vintage pieces in unexpected ways will provide even more impact. A vintage dresser in the bedroom won’t be a big surprise. But if you bring it into the living room to use it as a TV stand with valuable extra storage, you’ve got a conversation starter.

You can also put old and new items together in unexpected ways to add a bit of contrast and interest.  Pair a vintage desk with a modern office chair or an antique dining table with luxe upholstered seating to get the best of both worlds. Hang an ornate gilded mirror in an ultra-modern bathroom to create a captivating focal point.

Image: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

 

DON’T Buy Pieces That Aren’t in Good Condition

Not all vintage pieces are created equal. You can often find antiques that are better made and more durable than most new furniture. However, old furniture in disrepair should be avoided.

Skip pieces with deep scratches and rust unless you’re ready to put in some work to repair the item. And always test furniture to see if it can hold its intended weight. If you find a wobbly chair you love, first determine what the problem is. If decaying wood is the culprit, it’s best to walk away. But if it just needs a few nails or re-gluing, you should snatch that new treasure.

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Using vintage elements to create beautiful and original interiors will give your home a personal touch you can’t find at a big-box store. For the best results, keep it simple and avoid impulse buys that don’t fit with your overall plan. The goal is a collection of old and new pieces that work together for a space that feels intentional.

 

Building Your Home: 7 Things to Do Before Laying the Foundation

 

Building your own home is both exciting and nerve-wracking! Doing it right is a matter of patience and ensuring you fully understand the process. Once your plans have been approved, and the land is purchased, you can be forgiven for wanting to break ground asap. 

However, there are a few essential things to do before you start laying the foundation for your new home. Neglecting to take care of these things can end in disaster, so even though your contractor will probably take care of most of it, it’s worth knowing the processes. In this way, you can discuss in advance what needs to be done and be safe in the knowledge that your future will be built on strong foundations.

Visit the Site with Your Contractor

Before any digging starts, it’s essential that you pay a visit to your plot with your contractor in advance. This saves them from going in blind and gives you both a chance to identify potential issues and deal with them before they become a major set back. Discuss concerns regarding things like water run-off or steep slopes, and ensure that the plans are achievable in reality, not just on paper.

Carry Out a Soil Test

The type of soil a plot of land has can vary drastically, and it’s essential that you know what yours is made of, as some types are completely unsuitable for construction. Knowing the type of soil your plot has enables you to make the best choices regarding how your home is constructed while giving you peace of mind that your home will withstand the elements.

A soil test has to be carried out by a qualified engineer, who will typically conduct two tests. The first is a test to see how your soil reacts when compacted, and the second is a perc test. A perc test gives the engineer an understanding of how your soil absorbs and distributes water. There have been cases of entire blocks sinking due to poor soil that collapsed after heavy rainfall, so this is a very real problem that must be addressed before construction begins.

Check for Underground Utility Lines

You will also need to check that there are no underground utility lines running through your plot. Neglecting to check this can have terrible consequences if a pipe or cable is snagged. In the US, you can call 811 to be directed to your local survey service, who will let you know if there are any lines or pipes under your plot or not. If so, they’ll carry out a survey and identify and stake out the lines, letting constructors know where they can and can’t dig.

Ensure Your Utilities Are Hooked Up

Speaking of utilities, before you begin laying foundations, it’s a good idea to ensure you’re hooked up and ready to go. In most developments, utility hookups will be stubbed at each plot, ready to extend into the new homes upon completion. However, if you’re building on an undeveloped plot, you’ll need to arrange for utilities to be brought to your land. Not only does this let you know exactly where you can run power lines and pipes from and to, but it also makes construction easier.

Understand the Building Codes

Building codes and regulations differ from place to place, so it’s always good to double-check before you proceed with breaking ground. Pay close attention to measurements such as setbacks (which detail how close to property lines a structure can be), and double-check the regulations regarding maximum heightproximity to neighboring structures, etc.

Arrange a Professional Survey

Your house plans probably contain a plat map — a to-scale map showing the divisions of land and plots. However, it’s wise not to trust these completely, as they can often be outdated or inaccurate. Instead, arrange to have a qualified surveyor come to your plot and measure out exactly where your land starts and ends. You might find you’ve gained land that wasn’t on the map, though the opposite may also occur. Either way, it’s important to know, as if your boundary lines are incorrect, you might not actually be building to code.

Get Your Plans in Order

Finally, digging foundations may require you to hire several constructors who will need to work together. It’s important that each and every worker has an identical copy of the plans, to avoid mistakes with measurements and location.

Communication with your construction team is key, and for the most part, a good general contractor will take care of the previous points. However, by personally knowing what needs to be done before breaking ground, you can be sure your home is being built in the best and safest way.

 
 

6 Easy DIY Dog Bed Ideas

 

When it comes to our furry friends, is there anything we won’t do to make them happy? While we love to lavish them with all the best things, your standard dog bed isn’t exactly a hot decor item. If you’re looking for something extra-special to keep your pooch comfy, try one of these easy-to-make DIY dog beds you and your dog will both love.

Dog Bed Nightstand

When your dog loves to sleep in your room, but you’re short on space, you need a dog bed with a small footprint. And as any small space dweller knows, the struggle to find storage in a cramped apartment is real. That’s why you need furniture that works double-duty, like a space-saving nightstand/dog bed.

If your pooch is small enough, you can convert an old nightstand into a dog bed with a few easy hacks. You’ll want to add a row of vents along the sides for airflow and to let your dog see out. And you’ll have to replace the solid panel door with one with slats or chicken wire. You can also find plans online if you want to build a larger nightstand to accommodate big dogs.

A Dog Bed That’s Ready to Go

Image: Nadezhda V. Kulagina / Shutterstock.com

If the thought of an ordinary dog bed makes the design lover in you cringe, just think outside the crate. Give your furry friend a stylish spot to nap by converting a vintage suitcase into a cozy bed. Remove the top of the suitcase and fit the bottom with a pillow, foam pad or thick blanket for comfort.

Go one step further and replace the hinges on the lid with latches so you can put the top back on. Use the pockets to store treats and toys, and you and your dog will always be ready to hit the road.

Upcycled Tire Dog Bed

Give your dog the perfect place to curl up by turning an old (or new) tire into a colorful dog bed. Start by giving the tire a good scrub and then painting it a pretty color. Once the paint is dry, add felt furniture pads around the bottom of the tire to protect your floors. Fit a low-cost foam dog bed into the center of the tire, and voila! A durable but cozy dog bed that can handle a bit of roughhousing.

Put Your Pup in A Basket

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For those who don’t really DIY, a basket dog bed is so simple you won’t believe you didn’t think of it sooner. All you need is the right size basket and a pillow that fits inside. Add a cute pillowcase, and you have a quick and easy dog bed that looks like part of your decor.

Turn Things Upside Down

If you like to treat your dog like royalty, you’ll definitely want to make them their own four-poster bed. An old, out-of-date coffee table is all you need to give your dog a bed that’s fit for a king (or queen).

Look for a square table that’s large enough for your dog to lie on and turn it upside down. Add rubber stoppers or wood blocks as feet to raise it off the floor. Next, sand the table and paint it and the feet the same color. Cut a piece of foam to fit the bottom of the coffee table and cover it with a pretty fabric. You’ve now got a regal four-poster bed perfect for your special pup.

Transform a Piece of Old Furniture

Are you dreaming of a dog bed that doesn’t look like a dog bed? Try converting an old hutch or media cabinet into doggie quarters that look like furniture. Check the attic or browse garage sales for a low, wide cabinet with doors that can be removed to create an opening. Add a foam pad or pillow for comfort, and you’ll have a dog bed no one will notice. Bonus points if the unit has drawers for storing toys and supplies.

Whether you’ve got a big dog, a small dog or a pup, treat them with a one-of-a-kind DIY dog bed to show them how very good they are.

 
 

First-Time Homebuyer Loans & Programs

 

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Buying a home might seem simple, but there’s actually a lot more involved than you might initially think. For instance, in addition to a variety of new terms to understand, there’s also paperwork to complete and fees to pay before closing on your new home. And, while you might be tempted to rush through the process as quickly as possible, cutting corners could be financially detrimental in the long run.

Fortunately, there are quite a few options to help you purchase your first home. Below, we’ll review first-time homebuyer loans and programs that will give you a better deal when you purchase a house. In fact, if you choose one of these first-time homebuyer programs, you may even see significant savings compared to a traditional or conventional mortgage.

FHA Loans

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) operates a program to help people who may not have the best credit history. If you have had your share of financial issues, this program might allow you to buy a house — even if you don’t meet the ideal conditions set by conventional mortgages.

For example, affording a large down payment is a challenge for many first-time buyers, but FHA loans allow you to initiate a mortgage with only 3.5% down. The FHA also guarantees your loan through this program, allowing lenders to accept borrowers with lower credit scores. However, you’ll likely have to pay ongoing insurance premiums to protect the lender, so there may be better options.

VA Loans

If you’re a current or former service member, you can benefit from the VA loans program, in which the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs backs mortgages that could help you secure a home loan without a down payment.

Notably, the VA has minimum requirements for income and debt, but lenders may add additional requirements, as well. VA loans are one of the few $0 down payment loan programs, along with USDA loans.

USDA Loans

If you’re looking for a loan as a first-time homebuyer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a program to help people living in rural areas. If you live in a qualifying area, the USDA offers mortgages with no down payment required. Granted, there can be some restrictions on income, although it depends upon your location. Generally, the population or the area will need to be less than 30,000 people in order to qualify as a rural area. And, if you don’t intend to put any money down, this will be one of several important home buying questions to ask your mortgage broker or lender upfront.

Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-sponsored organizations that make homebuying more affordable by providing conventional loans with discounts. This could mean that you only have to make a 3% down payment with the help of these organizations.

Keep in mind that, when utilizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for a first-time homebuyer loan, you’ll need to have a good credit score.

Good Neighbor Next Door

If you’re a teacher, police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical technician, you could get a discount of up to half off the price of a new home. The program was created by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide access to discounted homes for these vital workers.

It’s worth noting that the homes are in locations that are classified as revitalization areas with lower homeownership rates and household incomes. There are also some restrictions on these properties, including the requirement to continue to live in the home for at least three years. But, if you find a home that you’re interested in, act quickly, as the homes are only listed on their website for seven days.

Dollar Homes

HUD also operates a program in which it sells homes for as little as a dollar. And, while you may find it very difficult to find anything other than a tiny property for that amount, they don’t have many homes available on their site, either. Most homes are more expensive than $1, but they do offer a great value compared to conventional listings, as these are homes that were foreclosures and then acquired by the FHA.

State Programs

While these programs are national, you might be lucky to be in an area where the local government offers assistance to first-time homebuyers. You can see what is available to you by browsing your local government website.

Renovation Loan Programs

If you’re interested in buying a home that needs some renovation, there’s more help available, as well. In fact, there are numerous renovation loan programs to choose from as a first-time homebuyer.

Energy Efficient Mortgages

The Energy Efficient Mortgage program (EEM) can help you buy a larger home while saving money on your bills. Note that the home will need to be assessed to find the cost of energy-saving improvements and to evaluate the savings that can be made each month. Then, if the energy-saving improvements are cost-effective, this amount can be added to the mortgage. While your mortgage payments will be slightly higher, you’ll also be saving each month on your energy costs once the improvements have been completed.

If you’re looking to buy an older home, this can be a great way to save money in the long term while adding value to your home. And, because this can be applied to any mortgage, you can also use it in addition to one of the other loan programs previously mentioned.

203(k) Loans

If you’re looking to buy a home that needs a lot of improvements, the FHA’s 203(k) loan program could be for you. This type of loan considers the property’s value once it has been renovated, which will allow you to borrow the money you need to complete the improvements.

The 203(k) loan can also be a great mortgage product to utilize if you bought a foreclosed home and need to do any renovations or improvements.

HomeStyle

Fannie Mae also offers a loan program to help you buy a home that needs renovations. Similar to the 203(k) loan program, it allows you to complete structural and cosmetic renovations on a new property. It also offers an option for a down payment as low as 3% of your mortgage.

CHOICERenovation

Freddie Mac has a program for homes that need improvement, as well. It also offers low down payment requirements and you can finance renovations for up to 75% of the completed value.

Buying your first home is difficult enough, so make the process a little easier by taking advantage of the programs available to you and research these programs to determine which one suits your situation the best. By doing so, you’ll be able to purchase your home at a better interest rate and with a lower down payment and fees.

It’s also essential to note that if you’re self-employed or do a large volume of cash business, the lender will want to verify where your funds are coming from. There will also be far more scrutiny when you have large cash deposits.

As a first-time buyer, you have many choices when it comes to financing. Make sure you do your due diligence before ultimately deciding which financing program is best for you.

 

7 Awesome Meditation Room Ideas to Help You Relax

 
 

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Meditation offers many benefits, including improved attention span, increased calm and reduced stress. Even though you can meditate almost anywhere, having a dedicated meditation space at home makes it easy to find your Zen.

Ideally, you want a quiet and comfortable spot away from other distractions. There are no hard and fast rules about what you should have in your mediation room, but you want to surround yourself with items that bring you a sense of calm. Try these seven meditation room ideas to help you create the perfect place to find your inner peace.

Less Is More

If you’re having trouble clearing your mind, start by clearing out your space. The perfect meditation space begins with a clutter-free spot that contains only the bare essentials. Clear the floor of everything that isn’t part of your Zen zone. Keep carpets, pillows, plants and perhaps a small table or stool and clear out the rest. Leave surfaces clear and add only art and sculptures that bring a sense of calm.

Carve Out A Corner

If you dream of a private meditation room, but you don’t have a whole room to spare, find yourself a quiet corner to call your own. Hang a hoop canopy with long flowy curtains and pile in some floor pillows to create a cozy spot to practice mindfulness. Add a calming piece of art and bring in a plant or some flowers to complete your meditation corner.

Take in the Views

Sometimes it’s not so much about the room but the view that makes the best spot for meditating. Search out the most relaxing view in your home and set up a comfortable seat where you can appreciate the scenery. Try not to pick a window that looks out on a busy street or a park filled with people. A serene view with as few distractions as possible will be the most conducive to quiet contemplation.

Get Outside

If you don’t have any space to spare indoors, it’s time to look beyond your four walls for a quiet spot to collect your thoughts. The great outdoors is an excellent place for meditation because it offers that oh-so-important connection to nature. Set up a blanket and a pillow in a shady spot under a pretty tree, or find a bench near a stream for the ultimate outdoor meditation room.

Embrace the Elements

No matter where you set up your meditation room, incorporating natural elements will increase your sense of calm and well-being. Plants create a connection to nature and add a sense of peace and tranquility to any space. Alternatively, a sand pendulum brings in the earth element and also creates mesmerizing patterns to help you focus.

Water plays a vital role in meditation as a symbol of the flow of life and inner healing. A water feature is a must-have in your meditation space. A small fountain offers the soothing sound of running water and helps drown out outside distractions.

Envelop the Senses

Find your sense of calm in any space by creating a meditation room that soothes all your senses. Scents have a powerful effect on the mind. Use essential oils to increase your relaxation levels with each inhale. Or look for meditation candles that infuse dried flowers right into the wax for the perfect calming atmosphere. Florals such as lavender, rose, cedarwood and chamomile will transport you to a spring meadow when you close your eyes.

If you have a hard time finding a quiet place to focus on your inner thoughts, try drowning out outside noises with meditative music. Choose music without lyrics that you find soothing to help bring you to a place of calm. You can also incorporate nature sounds such as rain falling, waves crashing or the wind in the trees to create your Zen space.

Level Up Your Lighting

You have two choices when it comes to lighting your meditation room—an abundance of natural light or soft, warm lighting. Although natural light is ideal, you may not have a quiet option that also offers good lighting. If that’s the case, choose candles or low-level lighting to give your meditation room the right ambiance.

By practicing mindfulness, you can improve both your emotional well-being and your overall health. Try these meditation room ideas when you’re setting up your serene space.

 
 

How to Recycle (Extra) Household Items

Image: New Africa / Shutterstock.com

When you combine the popularity of decluttering and organizing shows with a lot of time spent at home, it’s no surprise that people are realizing they have too much stuff. And while the first step of decluttering can be a hurdle, it can be even tougher to figure out what to do with all those extra belongings. Especially if you want to be environmentally friendly and not send it all to a landfill. But there are ways to recycle excess household items; it just might take a bit of extra work.

Both recycling and manufacturing require many resources, so the best option is to find a way to reuse an item. This keeps it out of the landfill and also eliminates the need for a new product to be made. But if you can’t give an object new life, it’s time to look for recycling options. To save you some time and legwork, we’ve researched the best ways to reuse or recycle household items other than your everyday plastics, papers, metals and glass:

How to Recycle Old Clothes

Luckily, we have a lot of options when it comes to giving old clothes new life. If your clothes are in good condition, there are many charities and organizations that will gladly take them. But it’s the stained or damaged clothing that most people have a hard time figuring out what to do with.

If the item in question is something you like, but it needs repair, consider taking it to a tailor. You’d be surprised at how inexpensive it is to have a seam or zipper repaired. If the item is beyond repair, look for donation centers that take old textiles and reuse them for insulation or other purposes.

How to Recycle Electronics

After clothes, electronics are one of the items that we tend to replace most often. Unfortunately, old electronics can leak harmful toxins like mercury and lead into the environment if sent to a landfill. But they’re also filled with valuable resources such as glass, aluminum, gold, silver and copper, which can be recovered and recycled. Many electronic retailers now offer recycling programs that allow you to drop off old items for proper disposal.

But there are also programs that help bring electronics to schools and families in need. If your old electronics are still working, one of these programs is the best way to extend their life. You’ll be helping someone in need and keeping harmful waste out of a landfill.

How to Recycle Batteries

Batteries contain toxic materials that can leach into groundwater and should never be thrown in the trash. A variety of retailers now offer recycling programs where you can drop your batteries in a collection bin. If you can’t find a retailer offering battery recycling, look for a collection program or hazardous waste event in your area. And some manufacturers and recycling facilities also offer mail-in programs to help keep batteries out of the trash.

How to Recycle Books

In some areas, you can include books with your regular recycling. But many recyclers only accept paperback books and not hardcovers. So always check your local guidelines before placing any books in the recycling bin. But books are also one of the easiest items to pass on for reuse.

If you’re an avid reader and have many new and popular books, you can take them to a used bookstore and possibly even get a bit of money for them. Older books can be donated at most thrift stores, but you can also take them to your local library. Some libraries will add books to their collection, but most often, they are sold to raise funds for new books.

While recycling household items may take a bit more work, it is definitely worth keeping these items out of the landfill. Add these items to your recycling list to help reduce the amount of waste you create.

 
 

What Do You Need to Rent an Apartment?

Moving into a new apartment is an extremely exciting process, especially if you’re renting for the first time. The newfound sense of independence can be a little overwhelming at first, but you’ll soon come to love it!

However, it’s not quite as simple as choosing your dream apartment and handing over the rent. Instead, you’ll need to prepare a few things in advance before you can start your rental journey. In this guide, we’ll discuss six essential things you need to rent an apartment.

Let’s find out more.

1.   A solid budget

The very first thing you need before you start browsing rental listings is a realistic budget. Without crunching the numbers, you might find yourself in an apartment that leaves you very low on general living expenses. There’s far more to think about than just how much you’ll need to pay each month in rent.

First, you need to figure out how much your total income is after taxes and other outstanding debts. A general rule of thumb to follow is to reserve around 20-30% of your entire net income for paying rent. Aside from rental payments, you need to remember the other costs associated with renting an apartment:

  • Security deposit: This needs to be paid up-front and will be returned when your lease is over, as long as the apartment is in a satisfactory condition. Normally, the security deposit is equivalent to one month’s rent.
  • Moving costs: Sometimes, you can do the moving yourself, but if you need to hire a van or a moving company, be sure to factor this cost into your budget.
  • Utility bills: These aren’t always included in your rent. If not, you’ll need to figure out how much per month you can expect to pay in utilities. Your landlord should be able to give you a good idea.
  • Renters insuranceThis is worth taking out, as it covers your possessions in case of theft, accidental damage or loss, as well as your personal liability in case of accidents.
  • Transportation: Be sure to factor in the cost of commuting to work or college when figuring out your budget.
  • Food: Depending on where you’re living, you should include at least $100-$200 per month on food expenses.

Another useful budget rule to follow is the 50-30-20 rule, with 50% of your income being spent on needs, 30% on wants and 20% going to savings.

2.   Apartment application form

Once you have an idea of how much cash you have to work with, you can start browsing relevant listings. When you find a place you like, you’ll need to apply using an apartment application form. It normally costs anywhere from $30 to $100 for the application, but this typically includes the cost of your credit check.

Landlords use the application form to screen potential tenants and gather essential information about them. Different landlords ask for different information, but in general, you can be expected to provide the following:

  • Personal information, including name, address, date of birth, phone number, etc.;
  • Property details;
  • Your residence history;
  • Employment and income information;
  • Pets, vehicles and other miscellaneous information

3.   Proof of income

As part of your application, you’ll need to provide information about your income. This lets the landlord know that you earn enough to afford the rent and bills comfortably and aren’t likely to miss a payment. Generally, 3-month’s worth of recent pay stubs are enough, though if you’re self-employed, you may need to submit your latest tax return.

It’s worth noting that many landlords are looking for an annual income around 40 times more than the monthly rent payment.

4.   A healthy credit score

You’ll almost always be required to submit to a credit score check. Generally, you’ll need a credit score of at least 620 to be considered by landlords, particularly in competitive markets. If yours is lower, or you don’t have enough credit history to perform a check, it may still be accepted.

In this case, you will likely need a co-signer or guarantor to vouch for your lease. In case of non-payment, they will be legally obliged to cover the cost. For most first-time tenants, a parent typically acts as a co-signer.

5.   Photo ID

You’ll need to provide a photo ID with your application to prove you are who you say you are. Usually, a driving license is acceptable.

6.   Reference letters

Reference letters from previous landlords can be a fantastic way to stand out from the crowd. If you have pets or a low credit score, positive references can put your new landlord’s mind at ease.