Archives: May 2016

Plant These Fun Veggies Your Kids Will Love to Eat

Posted on: May 19, 2016

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By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon at Houselogic.com

These nifty plants will entice your kids to eat more vegetables and will make gardening fun for the whole family.

Win the eternal battle between kids and veggies by letting your little ones plant these child-friendly varieties in your garden. The more invested they are in the growing process, the more they’ll want to eat the fruits (and veggies!) of their labor.

Heirlooms: Heirloom (non-hybrid) veggies can grow in surprising colors and wacky shapes. Try:

  • Chocolate peppers
  • Watermelon radishes
  • Italian rose beans

As an added bonus: Heirloom plants and seeds can trace their ancestry back hundreds of years, so you can slip in some history while you’re planting with your kids.

Popcorn: Your kids can grow their own popcorn — specialty kernels with tough hulls and starchy centers that produce the pop! when heated. Japanese White hull-less and Robust Yellow hybrid are popular varieties.

Grow in full sun and keep well-watered.

Leafy greens: Greens provide almost instant gratification for kids. Little hands can scatter lettuce seeds anywhere and see tiny sprouts in about a week. In a month, help them cut the tops for a salad. In hot weather, the plants will bolt (kids will love how they suddenly shoot up), flower, and go to seed, which kids can harvest for planting next year.

Pick mild, sweet varieties, such as iceberg, which are more likely to appeal to youngsters.

For some extra fun, plant leafy greens in an old wheelbarrow or unused wading pool that’s reserved as a garden space just for kids.

Climbing peas: Kids will enjoy watching these vines climb up trellises. Some popular pea seeds:

  • Super Sugar Snap
  • China Snow
  • Mammoth Melting Sugar

Plant in full sun as soon as the soil has thawed.

Cherry tomatoes: Kids will gladly pop these sweet mini-tomatoes into their mouths straight from the vine.

  • Sweet 100 and Matt’s Wild Cherry are particularly yummy and sweet.
  • Sungold produces a golden-orange fruit.
  • Snow White is a pale yellow, almost white.
  • Jolly Elf is oblong with sweet, red fruits.

Be prepared to stake or cage the plants, because they can grow 8 feet tall. And throw on some mulch so they don’t dry out.

Growing tomatoes can be tricky, so check out this helpful article, How to Grow Your Best Tomatoes Ever.

Pumpkins: What kid doesn’t love a pumpkin? Large seeds are easy for kids to plant in little hills surrounded by plenty of open growing space: a single vine can stretch 30 feet.

  • Connecticut Field is the traditional jack-o’-lantern pumpkin.
  • Rouge Vif d’Etampes is the Cinderella coach pumpkin.
  • Musquee de Provence is a flavorful, deep-brown pumpkin with orange flesh.
  • Cucurbita maxima is the giant pumpkin that can top 500 pounds.

Even if you can’t get your kids to eat roasted pumpkin, they’ll love the toasted and salted pumpkin seeds. Warning: never throw pumpkin pulp down the drain; it can wreck your disposal.

Potatoes: If your kids like treasure hunts, they’ll love to grow potatoes they can search for in late fall. As foliage grows, continue to add soil around the stems. Then, when the green parts die, let the kids get down and dirty digging up the spuds.

Pizza fixings: Kids can grow oregano, basil, and thyme to spice up their pizzas.

  • Basil likes hot weather and well-drained soil.
  • Oregano self-seeds, so thin plants annually.
  • Thyme seeds are hard to germinate, so avoid frustration and plant seedlings.

Want more veggie gardening tips?

You can find free seeds for your veggie garden right in your own kitchen.

Veggie gardening newbies will want to avoid making these rookie gardening mistakes.


5 Ways You Didn’t Know You Could Save for a Down Payment

Posted on: May 11, 2016

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By: Erik Sherman at Houselogic.com

One of the biggest misconceptions of homebuying? The 20% down payment. Here’s how to buy a home with a lot less down.

Buying your first home conjures up all kinds of warm and fuzzy emotions: pride, joy, contentment. But before you get to the good stuff, you’ve got to cobble together a down payment, a daunting sum if you follow the textbook advice to squirrel away 20% of a home’s cost.

Here are five creative ways to build your down payment nest egg faster than you may have ever imagined.

1.  Crowdsource Your Dream Home

You may have heard of people using sites like Kickstarter to fund creative projects like short films and concert tours. Well, who says you can’t crowdsource your first home? Forget the traditional registry, the fine china, and the 16-speed blender. Use sites like Feather the Nestand Hatch My House to raise your down payment. Hatch My House says it’s helped Americans raise more than $2 million for down payments.

2.  Ask the Seller to Help (Really!)

When sellers want to a get a deal done quickly, they might be willing to assist buyers with the closing costs. Fewer closing costs = more money you can apply toward your deposit.

“They’re called seller concessions,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional mortgage sales manager for the New York metro area at TD Bank. Talk with your real estate agent. She might help you negotiate for something like 2% of the overall sales price in concessions to help with the closing costs.

There are limits on concessions depending on the type of mortgage you get. For FHA mortgages, the cap is 6% of the sale price. For Fannie Mae-guaranteed loans, the caps vary between 3% and 9%, depending on the ratio between how much you put down and the amount you finance. Individual banks have varying caps on concessions.

No matter where they net out, concessions must be part of the purchase contract.

3.  Look into Government Options

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, offers a number of homeownership programs, including assistance with down payment and closing costs. These are typically available for people who meet particular income or location requirements. HUD has a list of links by state that direct you to the appropriate page for information about your state.

HUD offers help based on profession as well. If you’re a law enforcement officer, firefighter, teacher, or EMT, you may be eligible under its Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program for a 50% discount on a house’s HUD-appraised value in “revitalization areas.” Those areas are designated by Congress for  homeownership opportunities. And if you qualify for an FHA-insured mortgage under this program, the down payment is only $100; you can even finance the closing costs.

For veterans, the VA will guarantee part of a home loan through commercial lenders. Often, there’s no down payment or private mortgage insurance required, and the program helps borrowers secure a competitive interest rate.

Some cities also offer homeownership help. “The city of Hartford has the HouseHartford Program that gives down payment assistance and closing cost assistance,” says Matthew Carbray, a certified financial planner with Ridgeline Financial Partners and Carbray Staunton Financial Planners in Avon, Conn. The program partners with lenders, real estate attorneys, and homebuyer counseling agencies and has helped 1,200 low-income families.

4.  Check with Your Employer

Employer Assisted Housing (EAH) programs help connect low- to moderate-income workers with down payment assistance through their employer. In Pennsylvania, if you work for a participating EAH employer, you can apply for a loan of up to $8,000 for down payment and closing cost assistance. The loan is interest-free and borrowers have 10 years to pay it back. Washington University in St. Louis offers forgivable loans to qualified employees who want to purchase housing in specific city neighborhoods. University employees receive the lesser of 5% of the purchase price or $6,000 toward down payment or closing costs.

Ask the human resources or benefits personnel at your employer if the company is part of an EAH program.

5.  Take Advantage of Special Lender Programs

Finally, many lenders offer programs to help people buy a home with a small down payment. “I would say that the biggest misconception [of homebuying] is that you need 20% for the down payment of a house,” says Rodriguez. “There are a lot of programs out there that need a total of 3% or 3.5% down.”

FHA mortgages, for example, can require as little as 3.5%. But bear in mind that there are both upfront and monthly mortgage insurance payments. “The mortgage insurance could add another $300 to your monthly mortgage payment,” Rodriguez says.

Some lender programs go even further. TD Bank, for example, offers a 3% down payment with no mortgage insurance program, and other banks may have similar offerings. “Check with your regional bank,” Rodriguez says. “Maybe they have their own first-time buyer program.”

Not so daunting after all, is it? There’s actually a lot of help available to many first-time buyers who want to achieve their homeownership dreams. All you need to do is a little research — and start peeking at those home listings!


Not Sure How to Price Your Home? Use These Expert Strategies to Hit the Sweet Spot

Posted on: May 4, 2016

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By: Jamie Wiebe at Houselogic.com

Pricing your home based on data, not emotion, can mean a swift sale.

You don’t need to be Bob Barker to know when the price just isn’t right. Just ask Candace Talmadge. She originally listed her Lancaster, Texas, home for $129,000, but “eventually had to accept the market reality” and chop $4,000 off the price.

The home’s location proved challenging: Buyers were either turned off by the area — a lower-income neighborhood south of Dallas — or unable to afford the home.

“Sellers have to keep in mind the location,” says Talmadge. “Who are going to be the likely buyers?”

Home pricing is more of a science than an art, but many homeowners price with their heartstrings instead of cold, hard data. Here’s why crunching the numbers is always the better route to an accurate home price — as well as what can happen when home sellers overlook those all important data points.

The Pitfalls of Overpricing

Homeowners often think that it’s OK to overprice at first, because — who knows? — maybe you’ll just get what you’re asking for. Although you can certainly lower an inflated price later, you’ll sacrifice a lot in the process. The most obvious damage: A house that remains on the market for months can prevent you from moving into your dream home. Already purchased that next home? You might saddle yourself with two mortgages.

“You lose a lot of time and money if you don’t price it right,” says Norma Newgent, an agent with Area Pro Realty in Tampa, Fla.

And worse: Continually lowering the price could turn off potential buyers who might start wondering just what is wrong with your home.

“Buyers are smart and educated,” says Lisa Hjorten of Marketplace Sotheby’s International Realty in Redmond, Wash. “You’re probably going to lose them.”

The Pricing Traps

It’s easy for homeowners to stumble into two common traps:

1.  Conflating actual value with sentimental value — how much they assume their home’s worth because they lived there and loved the time they spent there.

2.  Assuming renovations should result in a dollar-for-dollar increase in the selling price — or more.

“Many homeowners think, ‘Of course my home is worth a bazillion dollars,'” says Newgent. If they put in a few thousand dollars worth of new flooring, for example, they might overestimate the upgrade’s impact on the home’s value into the tens of thousands.

Talmadge’s Texas home came with a built-in renovation trap: It was already the nicest home in the area, making it harder to sell. Major additions had inflated the square footage — and the price, according to one appraiser — without accounting for the surrounding neighborhood. That created a disconnect for buyers: Wealthier ones who might be interested in the upgraded home disliked the neighborhood, and less affluent buyers couldn’t afford the asking price.

“Don’t buy the nicest home on the block” is common real estate advice for this reason.

That’s not to say that renovations aren’t worth it. You want to enjoy your home while you’re in it, right? Smart renovations make your home more comfortable and functional but should typically reflect the neighborhood. A REALTOR® can help you understand what certain upgrades can recoup when you sell and which appeal to buyers.

Another culprit for many a mispriced home is online tools, like Zillow’s “Zestimate,” that prescribe an estimated market value based on local data.

The estimate is often wildly inaccurate. A Virginia-area real estate company, McEnearney & Associates, has compared actual sold prices with predicted online estimates for several hundred homes in the area for the past few years and concluded the predictions failed half of the time.

The Right Stats for the Right Price

The best pricing strategy? Consult a real estate agent, who will use something called comps (also known as “comparable sales”) to determine the appropriate listing price. They’re not just looking at your neighbors; they’re seeking out near-identical homes with similar floor plans, square footage, and amenities that sold in the last few months.

Once they’ve assembled a list of similar homes (and the real prices buyers paid), they can make an accurate estimate of what you can expect to receive for your home. If a three-bedroom bungalow with granite countertops and a walk-out basement down the block sold for $359,000, expecting more from your own three-bedroom bungalow with granite countertops and a walk-out basement is a pipe dream.

After crunching the data, they’ll work with you to determine a fair price that’ll entice buyers. The number might be less than you hope and expect, but listing your home correctly — not idealistically — is a sure way to avoid the aches and pains of a long, drawn-out listing that just won’t sell.

Knowing When the Price is Too High

Once your home is on the market, you’ll start accumulating another set of data that will serve as the ultimate price test: how buyers react.

Agent Hjorten says there’s an easy way to tell if you’ve priced too high: “If we have no showings, it’s way too high. Lots of showings and no offer means you’ve marketed well — but it’s overpriced once people get inside.”

Talmadge didn’t struggle with showings. She says a number of people were interested in the home, but not enough at the price. In the end, Talmadge sold her home for $125,000, with a $5,000 seller’s assist, a discount on the cost of the home applied directly to closing costs.

“It all boils down to location, location, location. In [another] neighborhood, our house might well have sold for well over $130,000,” Talmadge says.

When it comes to finding a buyer, pricing your home according to data — and the right data, at that — is crucial to making the sale.