So how do you ensure you not only land the home of your dreams, but get the best possible price from the seller and the best possible mortgage deal from your lender? By becoming the buyer every homeowner wants to sell to a financially stable, credit-worthy, pre-approved purchaser.

“Just as lenders consider many factors beyond your credit score, when deciding whether to finance your home loan, sellers consider more than just the offering price when evaluating potential buyers,” says Barrett Burns, president and CEO of credit score model developer VantageScore Solutions. “Buyers who can move quickly and decisively, who walk through the door with their financing lined up and their credit in good shape, are best positioned to stand above the competition this year.”

Steps toward being a better buyer

You can be a better buyer – one that will appear attractive to both lenders and sellers – with some simple steps.

First, understand your credit score and the role it plays in the home buying process. While a good credit score can ease the borrowing process for home buyers, it’s not the only factor lenders will use to gauge whether to approve you for a loan, Burns says.

“A credit score predicts the likelihood of whether a borrower might default in the first 24 months of a loan,” he notes. “But lenders will also consider how much of a down payment you bring to the table as a percentage of the purchase price, your income and your debt-to-income ratio when considering a mortgage application.”

Remember that lenders will pull your score from all three major credit bureaus, so it pays to check your credit report and score with all three. Reviewing your report and score allows you to catch and correct errors, and have a better idea of how potential lenders might view your credit worthiness, and rest assured that obtaining this information does not impact your credit score.

Understanding your credit score is a more complex process than you might expect. You can test your knowledge about credit scores at www.CreditScoreQuiz.org, a website created by VantageScore Solutions and its partner, Consumer Federation of America.

When you have a handle on your credit, consider other factors that can make you a better buyer, including how much you have to put down on a house.

The days of no-money down mortgages are virtually over, industry experts say. Today, even FHA borrowers will likely need to make a down payment. How much you need will depend on many factors, including the loan program you apply for and the price of the house you’re buying. Generally, it’s a good rule of thumb to save 20 percent of the purchase cost for a down payment.

Keep in mind, the more you put down, the more instant equity you’ll have, the lower your monthly payment, and the better your chances of not needing private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly payment. If you’re able to put down more than a lender requires, a mortgage company may be willing to give you a pass on other issues on your application, such as a less-than-stellar credit score.

“Lenders and sellers are all looking for buyers who are ‘the complete package,’” Burns says. “While you should take care of your credit score, you shouldn’t obsess over it. Instead, look at it as an important part of the overall package of assets that can make you the kind of buyer everyone wants to work with.”

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It may not feel like winter yet, but cold weather is around the corner. Take advantage of the good weather now by following these tips to prepare the outside and inside of your home to survive the winter months ahead.

Outside tips

  •  After a summer of caring for your lawn, you might be looking for a break, but make sure you don’t stop mowing too soon. Lawns should be mowed well into the fall, even after growing stops. Grass should be at least 3 inches high and clippings should be raked up and bagged on the last mowing of the season to prevent roots being smothered over the winter.
  •  If you planted perennials, check with your local garden center about what type of protection particular plants require depending on where you live. Gardeners in Minnesota will face much different winter weather than someone in Virginia. Protecting with extra mulch or soil will help in some places, while others may require covering the plants with burlap, canvas or any other porous fabric. If you have trees that come near a power line, the branches should be trimmed back in the event of ice storms or heavy snowfalls that can cause trees to fall.
  • Some companies manufacture composite decking, railing, and fence products that require less maintenance than traditional treated wood. While no product is maintenance free, low maintenance decking means less work for you to prepare your deck for the winter. Whether your deck is treated wood or composite wood, keeping a clean, dry deck surface is the key to longer deck life and enjoyment. Just as you would rake the leaves from the lawn, sweep the leaves, needles and branches from the deck and remove all smaller debris from between deck boards as proper drainage is important to avoiding moisture build up. You can also use a deck cleaner and power washer to eliminate build-up. If you have a treated-wood deck, make sure you seal or stain the deck to keep water from getting in.

    If you live in a cold weather climate where ice and snow are a factor, use calcium chloride or rock salt to melt the ice and snow on your deck. When shoveling snow off of the deck, run the shovel lengthwise on the deck boards. Shoveling cross-wise can scratch or cut into the planks.

  • Storing deck furniture depends on what type of furniture you have. Wood furniture needs to be treated and covered with a protective, waterproof cover. Folding deck chairs can be easily stored in basements, garages or sheds, while covers are available for most size tables.
  • If you’ve got a snow blower, make sure it’s tuned up and ready to go; if you have a lawnmower, make sure you run it down or drain all the fuel out of it. Fuel in a mower or snow blower should be fresh when you start the season.
  • If you have cracks in your driveway or sidewalks, make sure they are repaired before the snow starts. The thawing and refreezing of snow can cause significant damage when it gets into cracks.

Indoor tips
  • The more cold air you keep out, the less heat you’ll have to use to warm your house. If you have drafty windows, consider wrapping them with plastic to help save energy and keep the cold air out of your house. Another way to keep the heat in is to caulk around windows and door frames where air may leak into the house, and add weather stripping or replace weather stripping that may have worn down.
  • If you have a fireplace, make sure it is capped to keep birds and rodents out. Firewood should also be stored away from your house as it can become a home for mice.
  • Heating accounts for 34 percent of utility usage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, so checking your ducts to make sure they are sealed is a great way to save money by increasing the efficiency of your furnace. Other ways to make sure you are heating your home efficiently is by making sure your furnace is tuned up and installing a programmable thermostat that can be set to regulate your home’s temperature without you having to remember to do it yourself.

Following these tips can help you save money in the short and long term as you get ready to welcome the winter to your outdoor and indoor spaces.
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Final Walk-Through: What to Expect at your Final Walk-Through before Closing
It’s smart to perform a final walk-through before closing. It’s your last chance to make sure the home you’re about to buy is in the condition you’re expecting. Here’s some great tips that you may not have thought of in preparing for your final walk-through.

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Staging your Home: Advice for Sellers

Ten inexpensive real estate staging tips to help create a ‘mood’ or ‘emotion’ to entice and connect with potential home buyers.

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Financing: Advice for Homebuyers

This YouTube channel, provided courtesy of Chase, offers the ins and outs of mortgages, how the loan process works and how to select a lender. Worthy of viewing regardless of whom you select as your lender.

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First-Time Homebuyer Tips: Things to Know when Buying your First Home


First-time homebuyers need to keep their ownership goals in mind and make sure to not rush into decisions or feel pressured. This video offers some great lessons from real first-time home owners.

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Light blocking curtains, sometimes known as blackout curtains or lined blackout curtains, can be a very appealing and functional interior design touch. Once you understand the main elements involved in choosing your light blocking curtains, you’ll be able to  successfully install and utilize them to their maximum effectiveness.

Take Measurements

Blackout curtain drapes or blackout window curtains come from the factory in many different sizes, shapes and styles. Since the main purpose of these curtains is to perform the function of blocking out daylight, it’s essential to take accurate measurements around all of the windows and glass doors in which you intend to hang them. You need to always measure a little wider and lower so that the drapes extend past the corners, bottoms, and sides of the glass where all possible outdoor light can come in.

Are they Dark Enough?

Blackout curtains come in several colors. But they’re all usually dark enough to serve the purpose of blocking the light out of your home, apartment or condominium. If you’re buying them because you want to be able to sleep comfortably during the day when the sun’s bright, then you should carefully choose the darkest color you can find, as this will successfully block out more sunlight than lighter versions. But if all you want to do is block out the often blinding glare of the sun that’s coming into your living room, you can go with a lighter color to match your interior decor.

Materials and Textures

Many of these lined blackout curtains are made of heavy-duty thermal material since thermal textures are more efficient at blocking out the strong, harsh rays of the sun. You have to understand that when this type of material gets dirty from dust and other airborne pollutants, you’ll have to eventually clean them. This will often mean removing them and taking them over to the dry cleaner, as household steam cleaners usually aren’t effective enough for a thorough cleaning and a full disinfecting procedure.

But the many benefits of these heavy, rugged textures also include keeping out the intense heat of the sun in summer time, saving on your air conditioning energy consumption costs, and helping prevent the sun from color fading of your carpets and furniture, especially the leather, velour and suede variety.

Price

You can find these blackout curtains selling for a wide variety of prices depending on which brand you buy and from which online or physical retail location you choose to purchase at. Wider, longer and heavier ones will always cost more. So will ones with custom designs and weaved patterns on them. These are the upscale, high end brands. Many homeowners are content to buy the least expensive, simplest designs and just color coordinate the curtains with their carpet, hardwood floors, wall coverings, and sofas. Well priced light blocking curtains are also going to be incredibly durable. They won’t fade due to the strong sun hitting into them all day long, so they make an excellent household investment.

Versatility

Because light blocking curtains can be used in so many home window applications, they have become very popular over the years since they first came out. Blackout window curtains can be used instead of ordinary blinds to block out much more sunlight. They’re certainly ten times better than even the darkest standard curtains. And these light blocking curtains can be installed over either windows that rise vertically or over ones that roll inward towards the room. They can also be used on sliding glass doors that lead to patios, porches and decks.

By: Alfred Oliver

http://www.articlecity.com/articles/home_improvement/article_7244.shtml

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Unlike early styluses that forced users’ hands into unnatural positions, these pens allow users to draw, write, highlight, annotate and more on their digital touchscreens in a natural manner – making the pens ideal for use in classrooms where youngsters are learning the mechanics of writing in tandem with other subjects. With pens, students can rest their wrists on the tablet surface, just as they would if using a notepad and ink pen or pencil.

“Employing pen technology in the classroom engages students in learning and allows educators to maximize the versatility and benefits of the technology they’re already using,” says Paige Johnson, K-12 education strategist for Intel Corporation. “Pens free both students and teachers, fostering creativity in children and allowing teachers to move more freely around the classroom to collaborate with students during class.”

The advantage of a pen is simple and easy to see. If you’ve ever hit the wrong buttons on your mobile device’s virtual keyboard and ended up with gibberish (and who hasn’t), you’ve experienced the limitations of fingertips: they can’t make as fine a point as a pen can. Pens give young students the flexibility to alternate between the broader strokes of their fingertips and a more precise interface, depending on which is appropriate for the task at hand.

Pioneering educators at Cincinnati Country Day School are using pen technology to virtually eliminate paper from the classroom and homework. The school was the first in the country to ensure every student had a computer. Today, all homework and assignments are done on hybrid PC/tablets, allowing students to write, annotate, highlight and draw with their digital pens. Integrating pen technology into the classroom has resulted in increased student engagement and collaboration at Cincinnati Country Day School.

Parents looking to maximize pen technology as part of students’ education can use it in numerous ways. As you shop for a device for your child, keep these benefits in mind:

* Pens foster more room for an interactive, creative and engaging learning experience for students, facilitating non-linear thinking at all age levels.

* Writing with a pen and paper is one of the first things young students learn. Digital pens reinforce handwriting lessons for younger students, allowing them to hold the pen in a natural way.

* Pens give students the flexibility to choose the best tool for the task at hand – whether it’s a pen, their fingers or the keyboard. The pen is a creativity tool. The keyboard is a productivity tool. Sometimes you need one, and sometimes you need both.

*Pens allow students in higher math and science classes to write out complex formulas and make diagrams more easily and quickly.

Another great resource for parents and teachers who are on the market for a new device is the K12 Blueprint, found online at www.k12blueprint.com. Sponsored by Intel Corporation, this website is a free resource for planning and implementing technology initiatives in districts. You’ll find useful information, including practical guidelines, funding advice, curriculum considerations and real-world success stories.

“For a while, it seemed as if styluses – and possibly even handwriting itself – would become obsolete as touchscreen capabilities opened up new horizons in computing,” Johnson says. “New pen technology is proving that won’t be the case. As parents shop for technology for their children, they should keep in mind that in the classroom, the pen can be just as mighty as the fingertip.”

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The arrival of summer has many homeowners outside planting, preparing the patio for cookouts, and taking evening strolls through the neighborhood. Often, this extended outdoor time brings on a desire to improve a home’s curb appeal.

 
But home improvement projects can be expensive, and many homeowners are still wary about spending money on renovations, despite the improving real estate market. So what’s the best way to spruce up the appearance of your house without breaking the bank?

 
There are many budget-friendly exterior changes that will make a big difference in curb appeal. A fresh coat of paint can work wonders, whether it’s applied to the entire house or just on the front door. If your house is painted a neutral color like white or cream, be adventurous and try an energizing red or soothing aqua on your front door; the pop of color will add appealing interest.

 
While a landscaping overhaul can be very expensive, window boxes or planters are an easy and cost-effective way to add natural beauty to your home’s facade. Learn how to build a container garden that will provide extra dimension and color to a front porch or patio.
Take a look at your house from the street. Do your windows look bare? Try adding shutters, but make sure they are appropriately sized. Buying shutters that are smaller than the windows they flank is an all-too-common mistake homeowners make, which leads to the windows looking disproportionately small.

 
And if you have a garage, don’t overlook the importance of a good-looking garage door. A garage door can account for up to 30 percent of a home’s exterior that is seen from the street, so having an attractive one is vital to good curb appeal. But, like shutters to a window, a garage door should be appropriately matched to its house’s architectural style. Not sure which door fits your home the best? Try out the handy Door Designer tool at www.amarr.com, which lets you choose from six different home styles and then matches an appropriate garage door based on that style.

 
Of all these budget-friendly improvement projects, a new garage door will give you the best return on your investment and provide the most value for your home. Over the last few years, surveys conducted by the Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report indicate that installing new garage doors has been the project moving up the most in the rankings.

 
Most people, to some degree, factor in resale when making their home improvement decisions. Both structural and decorative curb appeal is important when it comes time to sell a home, bringing in a larger number of prospective buyers and making it more likely that they will make the purchase.

 
According to principals at Smykal Renovations, a contracting firm in suburban Chicago, curb appeal projects “may not have the ‘wow’ factor of a major kitchen remodel, but [they] pay off more in the end.”

 
So don’t let budget constraints keep you from improving the appearance of your home’s exterior. There are many low-cost changes that can be made that have a big impact on how your home looks. Whether you’re making these changes to enjoy for yourself, or to make your home more marketable, the summer is a great time to get outside and focus on curb appeal.
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(BPT) – Your home’s front door is more than a portal for family and friends – it makes a statement about your own personal style. Home designers often list the entry door as one of the most cost effective ways to dress up the front of your home for “wow” curb appeal.

“This Old House” magazine notes that since the front door is the first and last thing we touch when entering and leaving our homes, “it’s easy to understand why many of us still like our doors to be made of wood – nothing else matches the material’s warmth and satisfying heft.”

“People choose wood entry doors first and foremost for their beauty; it’s a fine piece of furniture on the front of your home,” says Brad Loveless of Simpson Door Company.

For homeowners who enjoy the beauty of wood entry doors, options are now available to stand up to the harshest climates – from the wind-driven rains of Nantucket Island to the desert Southwest. Following are three ways to have the wood door you want and to ensure it will look great for years, no matter what the climate throws at it.

Bring your dreams to life

With doors available in hundreds of wood species, and numerous designs and glass options, it can be hard to envision how a particular door will look like on your home. Short of hiring an architect to make a sketch, most people have had to rely on their imaginations. Recently, easy-to-use, free online tools have become available to simplify the door selection process. For example, Simpson’s “Test Drive a Door” enables people to upload a photo of their home and view different door options on it. This allows a homeowner to be sure before they buy.

Go for performance

People are used to looking for high performance when shopping for new cars or computers, but might not realize the same approach can apply to doors. Manufacturers have developed high-performance wood doors with superior weather resistance that last in the most demanding exposures, including coastal homes with no porch or roof overhang to protect the door.

One high-performance option to consider is choosing wood species that perform best in moist conditions, as this varies among wood types. Species that have been shown in laboratory testing to have natural moisture resistance include Douglas Fir, Black Locust, Nootka Cypress and Sapele Mahogany, among others. In recognition of the use of such species and advanced joinery techniques, “Window & Door” magazine selected Nantucket Collection doors from Simpson as its “Most Innovative Door.”

Another performance option some manufacturers offer in their wood doors is water-resistant composite blocks within the bottom of the door, where water can infiltrate. Doors also are available with full exterior cladding to protect them from rain and sun, while retaining the beauty of wood inside the home.

A strong finish

With any door, whether made of wood, steel or fiberglass, it is crucial to finish it for long-lasting protection from the elements. Doors are sold either factory finished or unfinished. If unfinished, the door must be finished by the door dealer, a contractor or the homeowner. Manufacturers provide step-by-step instructions for best results from finishing, and those steps typically must be followed to ensure warranty requirements. Chief among these are to finish all six sides – front, back and all edges. As no wood surface should be left unfinished, finish should also be applied to the cut-outs for the handle and lock set, as well as any other openings, such as for mail slots or pet doors.

If the door is exposed to sun, it is generally better to use lighter color paints or stains as those absorb less heat from damaging UV rays.

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