Which Bills to Pay Off First (or Cancel) When Money Runs Tight

Whether it’s from job loss due to a recession, a drop in income, or an unexpected major expense, there may come a time when you struggle to pay your bills. What can you do when your income and expenses don’t match up?

It’s essential you prioritize your bill payments and what you owe, paying the most important bills first.

Bills to Prioritize When You’re Low on Money

The most important bills are those that cover the necessities: shelter, food, water, and heat, for example.

The next most important are bills that cover things that make it possible for you to get where you need to go, such as your vehicle expenses.

Last on the list are bills that can ding your credit history, but not much else, if you fall behind on them.

Although you can make some adjustments to the order you pay bills based on your circumstances, it’s usually best to focus on paying your housing bills first, then paying what you can with the money you have remaining.

1. Mortgage or Rent

If you fall behind on mortgage payments, you risk having the lender foreclose on your home. If you fall behind on rent, your landlord can evict you.

Even though the foreclosure or eviction process can take months, it’s not something you want to risk happening. Keeping up with your housing payments is a must if you want to stay in your home.

When money is really tight and you’re not sure you can pull together enough to make a payment one month, the best thing to do is talk to your landlord or lender.

Many mortgage lenders have programs in place to help homeowners who are facing financial hardship. Your lender can review your options, such as forbearance or loan modification, with you.

During forbearance, you stop making payments on your loan, but interest continues to accrue. If a lender agrees to modify your loan, they adjust your interest rate or otherwise make changes to lower your monthly payment.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also has programs available to homeowners struggling with their mortgage payments. You can contact HUD to connect with an approved counseling agency. The counselor can work with you to create a plan to help you avoid foreclosure.

If you’re a renter, talk to your landlord as soon as you know you’ll have difficulty paying rent. Explain the situation to them in detail, including whether you think you’ll be late with payment, won’t be able to pay all your monthly rent, or won’t be able to pay at all.

Many landlords are willing to work with you to come up with a solution. You can help the situation by suggesting solutions.

For example, if you’re going to pay late, tell the landlord when you plan to make the payment. If you can’t pay the full amount this month, tell the landlord how you’ll make up the difference. For example, you can add an extra $100 or so to subsequent payments until you pay off the balance.

If you’re renting and your landlord can’t or won’t be flexible about payments, you might have more wiggle room than a homeowner.

Depending on how much time you have left on the lease, you can simply wait it out, then look for a less expensive place to live. Another option is to try to find someone to take over your lease so you can move somewhere that costs less.

2. Utilities

After your mortgage or rent payment, the next most important bills are your utility bills: gas, water and sewage, and electricity. Although some people count TV and the Internet as utilities, those services aren’t essential for everyone.

Fortunately, many programs exist to help people who need emergency financial assistance paying bills. The first place to look is your local utility provider. Many utility companies have programs to help people pay their bills.

Another option is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federally funded program that provides financial assistance to help people pay energy bills. LIHEAP has specific income requirements and is grant-funded, meaning only a set amount of money is available each year.

If you think you qualify for LIHEAP, the sooner you apply for it, the better your chances of receiving aid.

3. Insurance Premiums

Having insurance is always a good idea, as it provides financial protection against the worst things life can throw your way, such as illness, fire, or accidents. Paying your insurance premiums even when money is tight is a smart move. Without insurance, medical bills can easily add up.

If you’re struggling to afford your premiums, you do have some options, particularly when it comes to health insurance.

If you purchased a plan from the Healthcare.gov marketplace, you qualify for a special enrollment period if you’ve recently lost your job and associated coverage, if you’ve had a change in income, if you’ve gotten divorced, and for a few other reasons.

During the special enrollment period, you can apply for Medicaid or CHIP if your income is below the threshold or a credit on your insurance premiums based on your income. Doing so can lower the cost of your health insurance considerably.

4. Food & Household Necessities

Food, soap, and paper products are up there with shelter, heat, and hot water on the list of essentials.

Luckily, you have more wiggle room when it comes to adapting your food and household supply costs compared to your mortgage or rent payments and utility bills.

When money’s tight, there are many ways you can trim your food and supplies bill:

  • Limit Shopping Trips. Plan your meals for the week, make a list of the ingredients you need, and go to the store once. The more you go to the store, the more likely you are to buy things you don’t need.
  • Buy Store-Brand Items. Store-brand products usually taste the same as or similar to their brand-name counterparts, but they cost a lot less. If you typically purchase branded foods and supplies, try switching to the store brand. It’s likely the only place you’ll notice a difference is in your wallet.
  • Limit Packaged Products. Packaged foods, such as grated cheese, bagged salads, and prechopped vegetables are convenient, but that convenience comes at a cost. You can save a lot if you buy whole, unprocessed foods and prepare them at home.
  • Skip Bottled Water. If you live in the U.S., it’s highly likely your tap water is safe to drink. According to the CDC, the U.S.’s water supply is among the safest in the world. Bottled water is expensive and terrible for the environment and is often little more than repackaged municipal water.
  • Buy In-Season Produce. Pay attention to seasons when shopping for fresh produce. Fruits like strawberries and blueberries are usually in season and inexpensive during the summer but cost more in the winter. You can cut your grocery costs if you buy what’s in season.
  • Grow Your Own. Another way to cut your food bill is to grow your own fruits and vegetables. Herbs and green vegetables are usually the most cost-effective edible plants to grow, as you can get an entire plant for the price of a handful of herbs or greens at the grocery store. You don’t need a ton of outdoor space to start a garden. You can grow plants in containers on a small balcony or patio.
  • Use Your Freezer. Frozen vegetables and fruit often cost less than fresh, so it pays to purchase those when money is tight. You can also prep double batches of meals to freeze for later. That way, if you run out of money before the end of the month, you have a supply of ready-to-eat meals waiting for you.

Note too that depending on your income, you can qualify for financial assistance with groceries. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps, helps to cover the cost of groceries for people with income below certain thresholds.

Pro tip: Make sure you’re saving as much money as possible on your grocery trip. Apps like Fetch Rewards and Ibotta allow you to save money on purchases by simply scanning and uploading your receipts.

5. Car Loan & Other Expenses

Your car gets you to and from work and other important places, such as your kids’ school, the grocery store, and the doctor. If you have a monthly car payment, it’s crucial to find a way to pay it.

Just as you can call your mortgage company to work out a deal, you can call the lender behind your car loan to see if you can come to an agreement. Like mortgage companies, these lenders can also offer you loan modifications, refinancing, or forbearance.

Loan modification or refinance can lower the amount of your monthly payments, making it easier for you to afford the car. Forbearance means you don’t make payments for a set period.

Another option is to sell your current vehicle, use the proceeds to pay off the loan, then purchase a less expensive model. If you decide to sell, look for a replacement car that has a low cost of ownership to keep your expenses low. Some vehicles are more reliable than others, meaning you don’t have to worry about expensive repair or maintenance bills.

6. Unsecured Debts

Although you should make every effort to repay your debts, when money is tight, unsecured debt, such as credit card debt and personal loans, should move to the back burner. While these debts typically have the highest interest rates, they also have the lowest impact on your daily life.

You don’t go hungry if you miss a credit card payment, nor can your credit card company take your home or car if you pay late.

That said, it’s still best to pay what you can toward unsecured debts, such as the minimum due on a credit card. If even that is too much for you right now, contact the card company or lender. Sometimes, credit card companies are willing to work with you to create a debt repayment plan or let you temporarily pause payments.

7. Student Loans

While you should make every effort to pay your student loans when money’s tight, the loans often have the most flexibility when it comes to repayment, particularly federal loans.

If you have federal student loans and you’re struggling to keep up with payments, you have multiple options. You can request a deferment or forbearance from your loan servicer, or you can switch to an income-driven repayment plan, which adjusts the amount you pay each month based on your income.

The situation with private student loans is a bit different, as they don’t have the same protections as the federal student loan program.

If you’re having trouble affording private student loan payments, your best option is to contact the lender to see if it offers forbearance, repayment plans, or loan modification.


What to Cancel When Money Is Tight

While some monthly bills are essential, others are considerably less so. Budgeting often involves deciding what you need to spend money on and what you can live without.

When it’s a struggle to make ends meet, here’s what you can consider cutting:

Subscription Services

Netflix, print or digital newspapers, and meal kits are all things that can go. In many cases, you can find free alternatives to the subscriptions you were paying for. For example, some local libraries give you access to streaming movies and local or national newspapers for free.

Make sure you don’t miss any subscriptions that you might have forgotten about. Services like Truebill will find subscriptions and either cancel them or negotiate lower rates for you.

Cable and Internet Service

You may not want to disconnect your Internet completely, but see if you can switch to a slower, less expensive plan.

If you have data on your phone, some providers, like Xfinity Mobile, let you use your phone as a hotspot to get online. In this case, you wouldn’t need a separate home Internet plan.

Phone Service

While you do need your phone to stay connected, you most likely don’t need both a landline and a cellphone. You probably don’t need the most expensive cellphone plan, either.

Shop around with companies like Mint Mobile or Ting to see if you can get a better deal.

Gym Memberships and Wellness Services

Maintaining your well-being is important, especially when money is tight. But if you’re worried about having enough money to pay your most important bills, you shouldn’t have to worry about paying for a monthly gym membership or studio pass.

There are plenty of ways to work out for free from the comfort of your home. For example, you can find workouts available for free on YouTube.


Final Word

When money is tight, it’s vital you focus on paying for the things that can help you sustain your life and well-being, such as food and shelter, when times are tight.

While a missed payment can affect your credit history, in desperate situations, your health and safety are more important than your credit score.

Along with prioritizing your monthly bills, talk to your lenders and service providers. Many companies have programs in place to keep you from sinking deeper into debt and to help you avoid repossession of your home or vehicle. Keep the lines of communication open, and remember you’ll get through it.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Converting Hotels to Housing

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has released new research on the conversion of hotels and motels into housing. While the study was spurred by a 37% drop in hotel occupancy rates driven by the pandemic, the findings have broader implications. Hotel conversions provide a means to simultaneously create renewed profitability and help address the national housing shortage.

Commercial members surveyed

A survey was sent to 75,000 commercial members of the NAR between February and March of 2021. 168 reported being engaged in the sale, leasing, development, property management or appraisal of converted hotels/motels between 2018 and 2020. Of the reported conversions:

  • 79% were for housing.
  • 12% were for homeless shelters, either temporary or permanent.
  • 6% were for healthcare or quarantine facilities.
  • 3% were for retail, industrial, ranch land or other development.

Success stories

The report ends with five case studies detailing acquisition, zoning, renovations and expected final property values. For those interested in engaging in hotel/motel conversions, they’ll find an excellent road map in this report.

Source: century21.com

How to Protect Yourself From a Mechanics Lien

Every homeowner who’s considering hiring a contractor to do some work in or around their house should make sure they’re familiar with their state’s mechanics lien laws before making a decision. Never heard of a mechanics lien? You’re not alone. Let’s uncover what it is and why you should protect yourself from it.

Think Twice About Not Paying

If you wind up having a beef with the contractor you employ for builds or repairs – poor workmanship, perhaps, or maybe they walked off the job before it was completed or failed to finish the work in a timely manner as promised – and you decide not to pay, that contractor can respond by attaching your house to a legal claim for unpaid work until some kind of settlement is reached.
That could turn into a waiting game if you are not considering selling your home. But, if you intend to put your home on the market in the near future, that lien could stop you in your tracks.
mechanics lienmechanics lien

What EXACTLY is a Mechanics Lien?

Sometimes known as a materialmans lien, every state has a a mechanics lien law granting tradespeople a way to protect themselves from those who fail to pay them for services and time rendered.
Here’s how Rusty Adams, a research attorney for the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University, described it in a recent edition of Terra Grande, the Center’s monthly magazine:
“It is an equitable interest that gives its holder the right to have satisfaction out of the property to secure payment on a debt. It is not title to the property, and a lien holder does not have ownership rights. Rather, it is an equitable interest that gives the lien holder the right to have satisfaction out of the property to secure the payment of a debt.”
In other words, it is an encumbrance the property owner must deal with, one way or another. Otherwise, it could result in a foreclosure and forced sale of your house.

How Mechanics Liens Work

None of what follows should be considered legal advice. Rather, it is intended only as a brief, mile-high overview.
A mechanics lien can be filed by anyone with a claim against the property. This concept isn’t new; for example, Uncle Sam can place a lien if you fail to pay your taxes, as can your state. Your homeowners association can do the same if you don’t pay your dues or a special assessment.
In the case of work done to your house, the contractor can file if you fail to pay, even if you feel you’re justified in withholding. The company from which he or she gets their supplies – roof shingles, for instance – can also file against your house if the contractor doesn’t pay them. And if the contractor uses subcontractors, they, too, can go against the house if the contractor doesn’t pay them.
The “very broad” law in Maryland “covers almost everything,” attorney Harvey Jacobs says. For example, if the developer doesn’t pay the paving company hired to cover your cul-de-sac, the company can file a mechanics lien against every house that touches that street. Ditto for the outfit hired to landscape, sod and plant shrubs.
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How to Protect Against Mechanics Liens

Fortunately, lien laws afford owners some protections. In some places, the amount owed must be of at least a certain amount. They also must be filed within a certain number of days from when the work was completed, and may require the property owner to be notified within a specified time that a lien has been filed.
The rules, which also apply to subs and suppliers, can be somewhat tricky for an owner to decipher. But the absolute best way to protect yourself is to require the contractor to provide lien releases before you pay anything more than your down payment. In other words, no draws or final payment until he or she certifies that everyone in the chain has been paid.
Often, says Texas attorney Adams, a notice of intent to file or the actual filing is enough to resolve the debt attached to the property without going through the process itself.
Once payment has been received, a contractor has a duty to remove the notice or the lien itself from public records. Failure to do so allows the property owner to file a lawsuit against the contractor to compel the lien’s removal. But to avoid that, Adams suggests making sure the release has been recorded.

(READ MORE: The Difference Between a Handyman and a Contractor)

Some Important Distinctions

A lien release is not the same as a lien waiver. Nor is it the same as a lis pendens. While a release removes an existing lien, a waiver is an agreement that prohibits a contractor or supplier from placing a lien on the property. But some states don’t permit waivers at all.
A lis pendens, which is Latin for “suit pending,” is a written notice that a lawsuit has been filed in the county land records office involving either the title to the property or a claimed ownership interest in it. The notice alerts a potential purchaser or lender that the property’s title is in question, making it less attractive, if only because the buyer or lender is subject to the suit’s ultimate outcome.
Beyond this, it is crucial for a homeowner to ensure the contractor, subcontractor or supplier has followed the rules of the road.  In Texas, said Adams, the claimant must give the appropriate preliminary notices, make the proper filing and give filing notice to the property owner.
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In Maryland, the unpaid amount must be at least 15% of the property’s assessed value. So if the house is assessed at $100,000, the lien must be for $15,000 or more. “Small jobs don’t count,” Jacobs said. Contractors must also file a lien within 180 days of performing the work in Maryland, but subs must file within 120 days.
In neighboring D.C., though, there is no minimum to file, and the contractor, supplier or sub has only 90 days to file.
(Note: In the case of mechanics liens, property value is an evidentiary question. Courts often use assessed value in deciding whether a lien can be brought.)
In Texas, though, contractors aren’t required to provide a preliminary notice, but they are required to present a list of all subs and suppliers before starting work. But subs and suppliers who have a contract with the original contractor must send notices to both the contractor and the homeowner by the 15th day of the second month.
As you can see, once you get into the tall grass with mechanics liens, it becomes fairly complicated. It’s at this point that it may be time to consult legal counsel.


Lew Sichelman

Syndicated newspaper columnist, Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing market and all it entails for more than 50 years. He is an award-winning journalist who worked at two major Washington, D.C. newspapers and is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

Source: homes.com

What is a Home Equity Line of Credit?

As housing prices continue to rise homeowners are looking into how they can leverage their home’s equity to receive low-interest financing. A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is a great way to gain access to a line of credit based on a percentage of your home’s value, less the amount you still own on your mortgage.

The downsides are that if get yourself into a situation where you cannot repay your HELOC, the lender may force you to sell your home in order to settle the debt.

How a HELOC Works

Home Equity Line of CreditHome Equity Line of Credit

Let’s say your home has an appraisal value of $400,000 and you have a remaining balance of $200,000 on your home’s mortgage. A lender typically allows access to up to 85% of your home’s total equity.

(Value X Lender Access) – Amount Owed = Line of Credit
$400,000 X 0.85 = $340,000
$340,000 – $200,000 = $140,000

Unlike home equity loans, your home equity line of credit will have a variable rate, meaning that your interest rate can go up and down over time. Your lender will determine your rate by taking the index rate and adding a markup, depending on the health of your credit profile.

When a HELOC Makes Sense

Your home equity line of credit is best used for wealth-building uses such as home upgrades and repairs, but may also be used for things like debt consolidation, or the cost of sending your kid off to college. While it may be tempting to use your HELOC for all sorts of things, such as a new car, a vacation, or other splurges, these don’t do anything to help improve your home’s value. To ensure that you will be able to pay back your loan, it’s important to focus on wealth-building attributes where you can.

Home Equity Line of Credit vs. Home Equity Loan

If you’re exploring various lending options, you’ve probably come across two different home lending terms, home equity line of credit and home equity loan.

While home equity loans give you all the flexibility and benefits of tapping into the value of your home when you need it, a home equity loan offers a lump-sum payment.

Depending on your situation, a lump-sum withdrawal may be better suited for your needs. Understanding the differences is the first step in making a loan decision that is best for you.

Home Equity Loan (HEL) – A home equity loan lets you borrow a fixed amount in one lump sum, secured by the equity of your home. The loan amount you will qualify for will depend on your Loan to Value ratio, credit history, verifiable income, and payment term. These types of loans have a fixed interest rate, which is often 100% deductible on your taxes.

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) – A home equity line of credit is not so much a loan, but a revolving credit line permitting you to borrow money as you need it with your home as collateral. Applicants are typically approved based on a percentage of their home’s appraised value and then subtracting the balance owed on your existing mortgage. Things like credit history, debts, and income are also considered. Plans may or may not have regulations on minimum withdrawals and balances, as well as a variable interest rate.

Before tapping into your home’s equity, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each type of loan for your situation. Because your home equity line of credit and loan involves your most important asset – your home – the decision should be considered carefully. Is a second mortgage better than a credit card or a secured loan? If you’re not 100% sure, talk to a finance specialist before putting your home at risk.

Source: creditabsolute.com

Cities with the Most Mobile Homes

When they peaked in popularity during the early 1930s, mobile homes were once considered a thing of the future — but now they seem to be a thing of the past to many people. Despite their decline in popularity, these styles are still a cheaper alternative to a traditional home. Some communities across the nation still honor the antiquity of the mobile home, and today, they can be customized to fit the needs of any family size and can feature just about all the amenities that a traditional abode offers. Here are some cities with the most mobile homes.

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21.5 percent of homes in Lakeland, Florida are mobile. Located in the Tampa Bay region, this Polk County city is the largest between Tampa and Orlando. True to its name, Lakeland mostly comprised of lakes — and some land. With so much space, it’s the perfect place to have a lot to put a mobile home on. Lakeland has over 30 mobile home parks for those looking to settle in one.

McAllen is a small Texan town that has a large percentage of mobile homes – 14.6 to be exact. According to data by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), An estimated 58 percent of all renter households live in single-family homes, duplexes, or mobile homes. The average price for a mobile home in McAllen in 2016 was just over $36,000, making it an affordable alternative to traditional houses. Columbia, South Carolina, the state’s capital, has a mobile home stock of 13 percent. According to data, South Carolina has the most mobile homes per capita than any other state. 12.8 percent of homes in Augusta, Georgia, located close to the South Carolina border, are also mobile homes. The Palmetto State actually makes our list twice, with a mobile home housing stock at 12.6 percent in Greenville, South Carolina.

Mobile Home Advantages

  • Mobile homes are generally more affordable than traditional homes
  • Renters living in a mobile home park usually have a lower rent than what traditional renters pay.
  • Mobile homes are often more energy efficient than traditional homes.
  • Mobile home parks can be situated in nice communities depending on the city.

Mobile Home Disadvantages

  • Mobile homes can often be harder to sell than a traditional home.
  • The cost of moving a mobile home, particularly if it is older, could cost more than what the home is worth.
  • In the event of a major storm, mobile homes aren’t as safe as traditional homes.
  • Mobile home living has been stigmatized by movies and TV shows.

Mobile Home Safety

Read on for more reasons to make your next home a mobile home.


Mahogany is a Content Marketing Coordinator for Homes.com. In her spare time, Mahogany enjoys reading, writing poetry, blogging, traveling, and loves a good southern idiom. Mahogany is also a certified Reiki practitioner and enjoys all things supernatural.

Source: homes.com

How to Decide Your Offer Price in a Strong Seller’s Market

As a buyer in this intense seller’s market, you may have experienced this unfortunate scenario: You find the perfect house, make what you believe is a strong offer, wait on pins and needles to see if it was accepted, only to find that you haven’t won this round of bidding wars. It begs the question: how do you choose your offer price so you know it’s competitive right out of the gate?

What the Current Market is Demanding of Buyers

As cash offers have risen sharply and multiple offer situations have become the norm, buyers are having to bring more to the table, employ strategic tactics, and work with an experienced, full-time real estate agent. But one of the biggest questions buyers are navigating these days isn’t merely how much they’re willing to offer; they’re having to decide how much they’re willing to offer over list price. And while there isn’t a perfect formula to help a buyer decide, there are several things to consider when creating a purchase offer that could help it stand a chance of winning a bidding war.

offer priceoffer price

How Much To Offer On A Home

The median existing home price is up over 17% from March 2020, and what this means for buyers is that they will need to pay substantially more than they probably want to pay and more than they would’ve paid just one year ago.

In some markets, offering a few thousand dollars over list price might be all it takes to win a bidding war. But in other markets, offering $50,000 over still won’t get the job done. Since real estate is a local endeavor, it’s critical to work with an experienced buyer’s agent that has a pulse on the current trends of your market.

Tips when deciding on the offer price:

  • Have your buyer’s agent pull the localized data on recent home sales to determine what percentage of the list price the previous sales received.
  • Determine if the local comps support a higher purchase price than the current list price.
  • Evaluate how much liquid cash you have to pay over appraisal value if need be.
  • Before you agree to an escalation clause, make sure your agent fully explains how they work.
  • In most cases, you don’t get to know what others are bidding on the home. You are blindly bidding against someone else, so in this market, offer your best right out of the gate, keeping in mind that the highest isn’t always the best if it means you’ll wind up “house poor.”

Other Ways To Strengthen Your Offer

There’s a reason real estate contracts are several pages long, and price is only one small section in the offer. While presenting a strong purchase price is critical, there are other factors that make up a home purchase contract — which means there are other ways to strengthen an offer in this seller’s market!

Remove Contingencies

One of the biggest ways buyers weaken their offer is by including contingencies. The most common contingency is the home sale contingency—the purchase is contingent upon the sale of their home. While needing to sell in order to buy is common and reasonable, in this market, sellers are just not wanting to entertain these offers if they can avoid it.

Buyers should consult their lender to see if they can safely purchase without having to sell. In addition, work with your real estate agent to determine a reasonable list price and sale price to get your home sold quickly. And while it’s not ideal, buyers should consider selling first and living in temporary or month-to-month housing while they search for a home to avoid having a contingency offer. If a home sale contingency is necessary, buyers can strengthen their offer by adding a kick-out clause.

Remove Requests

If you’re considering asking the seller to pay for your closing costs, you should rethink it depending on your local market. A strong offer these days means that it’s “clean” and over list price, so sellers won’t be likely to consider requests for concessions, personal property, or any others. Before buyers begin their home search, they should educate themselves on the upfront costs of purchasing a home, and become familiar with loan programs available to buyers that assist with some of those upfront costs.

Forego Repairs Or Offer A Repair Threshold

In this market, sellers are doing less and getting more. They’re not wanting to spend thousands on repairs, especially when there’s plenty of buyers who would purchase it “as is.” That said, offers that forego inspection and repairs or offer a repair threshold stand out among the crowd.

While waiving an inspection altogether can be highly risky (and is often not recommended), it is happening in many markets. But, if you still wish to have the comfort and protection of a professional home inspection without sabotaging your offer, consider an offer that specifies there will be no requests for repairs, or that you will request repairs only if they meet a certain financial threshold. This tactic gives buyers the protection of an inspection discovery while also reassuring the seller that they won’t be nickel-and-dimed on repairs.

Include An Appraisal Gap

In years past, the appraisal price was the dominant factor in the transaction and one of the biggest protection for buyers. Now, however, buyers are readily agreeing to pay well over appraisal. By including an appraisal gap in a purchase offer, buyers can substantially strengthen their offer. An appraisal gap is when a buyer agrees to pay all or some of the shortage between the offer price and the appraisal value. It’s important to remember that banks will only lend on the appraised value, so any appraisal gap is the out-of-pocket responsibility of the buyer.

What NOT To Do In A Seller’s Market

The best way to get your offer accepted? Submit an excellent offer and keep it ethical. Submitting a subpar offer but including a buyer love letter is no longer the way to win a bidding war. Not only is it risky, but it can also potentially violate federal law. So forego the love letter and instead submit your strongest, cleanest offer for the best chance to stand out from the crowd. It might not be the most convenient scenario, but if you’re really wanting to buy, it could mean all the difference between getting that coveted house or staying in the search pool!


Jennifer is an accidental house flipper turned Realtor and real estate investor. She is the voice behind the blog, Bachelorette Pad Flip. Over five years, Jennifer paid off $70,000 in student loan debt through real estate investing. She’s passionate about the power of real estate. She’s also passionate about southern cooking, good architecture, and thrift store treasure hunting. She calls Northwest Arkansas home with her cat Smokey, but she has a deep love affair with South Florida.

Source: homes.com

Temptations to Avoid When Searching for your Starter Home

Advice for First Time Home BuyersAdvice for First Time Home BuyersPicture this; you have a perfect image in your head of the home you are going to buy. It’s the first time you are buying a house and from the look of things, everything is going perfectly; you have narrowed down your search to a favorable neighborhood and made the necessary arrangement to own the home. Then you start noticing flaws that you could have avoided if only you had taken time to do things the right way.

This is a common story amongst most first time homeowners. To avoid falling into the same trap, here are temptations to avoid when searching for your starter home.

Not Hiring an Agent

Real estate agents are good at their job but they don’t come cheap. Instead of paying an agent, most first time homeowners decide to go it alone. The thinking here is that by foregoing the services of an agent, you can save a few bucks. You embark on open houses, hunting through one listing to the other.

This is usually a bad decision that puts many people at crossroads on which home to buy or how to bargain on a deal. Having an agent means that the leg work is reduced considerably, because not only do they have access to Multiple Listing Service (MLS) but they can also spot an overpriced home from a mile away.

Falling in Love at First Sight

When it comes to real estate, love, at first sight, is one temptation that can cost you dearly. Getting the right home requires due diligence. You should take it upon yourself to have the property inspected and appraised before you make a final decision. As a good measure, it’s advisable to at least view 5 houses to see how they compare.

Being unduly hasty to acquire the very first home that tweaks your interest can make you overlook important appraisal details. Information such as the actual market value of home, age of the home and its general condition could take time. Hurrying the process could mean waiving some of these key processes.

Relying on Your Family for Advice

The pride that comes with homeownership can cloud your judgment especially when it comes to getting advice. Family and friends can actually lead you into settling on the wrong home. This is because their advice is biased and will mostly reflect their own housing conditions.

As a first time homeowner, you may not be too choosy or hang-up on every small detail. This is not to say that you should skip the home inspection; however, there are some minute imperfections that you can deal with. Your family or friends may have an issue with such details and advise you against buying such a home.

What they don’t know is that you could have gone through several homes before you settled on that one they are trashing. It’s advisable to only heed the input of those members who have been with you through the entire process.

Waiting Too Long For the Market to Shift

The housing market fluctuates through buyers’ and sellers’ markets. The two shifts are a result of supply and demand. When the supply of desirable houses is low, prices shoot upwards favoring sellers; on the other hand, a surplus causes prices to tank, a situation that favors buyers. What’s the importance of this information for first-time buyers?

Here is why: A common piece of advice that you will get when looking to buy a house is that you should wait for the prices to come down. This is sound advice but how long is too long- how patient should you be?

It’s hard to give a clear answer on this. The best you can do is keep yourself updated on the housing market. Keep tabs on the Housing Market Index specific to your location. By watching these trends, you can (to a certain degree) know when prices are low enough for you to buy.

Final Take

While buying a house, most first time owners make mistakes by letting their emotions drive them. Temptations will make you approach a deal blindly; you go it alone or sideline your agent, settle on the first home that interests you, go with a family member’s advice or waiting too long for prices to fall. These temptations can lead you into making the wrong buy.

Source: creditabsolute.com

What You Need to Know Before You Move to Massachusetts

When it comes to the New England region, Massachusetts is the most populous state. Home to prestigious schools, many historic sites, and booming businesses, this coastal state has become the sixth-most popular destination for foreign travelers. The Bay State is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, and the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. Great for urbanites and nature lovers alike, Massachusetts has a variety of different communities and regions.

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Housing Trends in Massachusetts

Since Massachusetts is a popular state, you’ll want to get on board with home scouting quickly. One of the most prominent housing trends in Massachusetts is the lack of supply. This shortage has created a surge on home prices according to a recent statement by the Eric Berman, director at the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. In fact, there were fewer than 10,000 single-family homes for sale in December and January in Massachusetts, compared to 38,000 in September 2006.

A Seller’s Market

Yes, it’s a seller’s market in Massachusetts. Here’s the lowdown. Although single-family home sales in January were slightly down — 1.2 percent — compared with the same period last year, the median price jumped 4 percent to $369,000, per the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. For condominiums, the median price increased more than 6 percent to $355,000 for the month of January, though sales fell by about 7 percent.

Why the price hikes? It’s due in part to the lack of available land for new construction. Also, in some of the more affluent areas, people seem to be staying put in favor of remodeling or adding extra space. Together, these decisions may limit housing supply – at least in some areas – for first-time buyers and moderate budgets.

Renting in and Around Massachusetts

Should you rent instead? If the idea of buying appeals to you but you just can’t pull it off, renting may be an option. The average rent for an apartment in Boston is $3,001, a 3% increase compared to $2,925 in 2017. For this price, you may get – on average – 815 to 986 square feet.

But other cities may be more reasonable. As of May 2018, the average rent for an apartment in Springfield was $1,061 which is a 0.94% increase from last year when the average rent was $1051, and a 1.23% increase from April 2018 when the average rent was $1048. Naturally, you need to factor in your location needs and maximum tolerance for commuting.

Primary Housing Styles in Massachusetts

With a history of settlement since the Pilgrims in 1620, New England boasts a spectrum of architectural styles that are older and more varied than in any other part of the country. One of these, not surprisingly, is the Cape Cod. It is one of America’s oldest home styles and has a very cozy feel. Other popular styles include an easy-living ranch and a country-style with a wrap-around porch.

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Multi-Faceted Massachusetts

Massachusetts has something to offer whether you prefer the beach or big city bustle. Here are a few places to keep in mind when you are ready to put down some roots. What is your neighborhood style?

  • The Quainter Side of MA: To experience the quainter side of Massachusetts, you may want to head about an hour’s drive north of Boston to the seaside town of Rockport for, yes, rocky beaches, seagulls, and probably a lobster roll. Marblehead, a town of about 20,000 people, is less than an hour north of Boston and is often called the birthplace of the American Navy. Its known for its yachting, sailing, kayaking, etc.
  • Mountain Hip: Great Barrington has a Railroad Street, the Guthrie Center, eateries and folk music with some skiing close by if you like winter sports.
  • Outdoor Adventure: 90 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through Massachusetts, so get your hiking boots and head out for a long-distance or day hike. Or walk the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile, brick-lined route that leads you to 16 historically significant sites in Boston.
  • Way Cool: Three of Boston’s neighborhoods get high marks for cool and are cited by the Boston Globe: (1) Jamaica Plain as “edgy cool,” (2) Allston – Brighton as well-educated and “up-and-coming,” and (3) Davis Square for trendy, walkable, and “prime hipness.”
  • Charmed I’m Sure: Massachusetts really turns up the charm in Cambridge. A classic university town, here you can find cobblestone streets, musicians busking, street vendor artists and small cafes. Harvard Square in the center is always action filled and great for people watching.
  • Great Day for a Swim: Woods Hole in southern Cape Cod could make for a perfect day at the beach. This area shows off a great bike path along the coast leading to Falmouth, golden beaches, aquariums devoted to marine biology, shops, and the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Provincetown, aka P-town, is another Cape Cod city that attracts events like the International Film Festival, a strong LGBTQ community, art galleries, and craft stores.
  • High Crime: North Adams, Fall River, and Brockton are areas to watch for. You can also check current FBI stats to help you determine whether to pass through or put down roots.
  • Tech-Savvy: Cambridge is home to MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology so there’s potential recruiter heaven. According to Built in Boston, there are 50 start-ups to watch over the next year, as Boston’s tech sector flourishes and venture capital firms pour money into edtech, fintech, and healthtech.

It seems that modern Massachusetts is also somewhat of a global leader in biotech, engineering, higher education, finance, and maritime trade. Perhaps this is why Forbes ranks Boston #30 in its list of Best Places for Business and Careers and #77 in job growth.

Find Your Perfect Home in Massachusetts

We can help you find your perfect home in Massachusetts. Whether it is to rent or buy, start your search on Homes.com today!


Rana Waxman parlays years of work experience in several fields into web content creation aligned with client needs. Rana’s versatile voice is supported by a zest for research, a passion for photography, and desire to provide clients with a purposeful presence online. In her non-writing hours, Rana is a happy yogini, constant walker, avid reader, and sometimes swimmer.

Source: homes.com

Six Ways to Build Equity Faster

Equity is the money you make from owning your home. You can calculate your equity by subtracting the amount of principal you owe on your mortgage from your home’s value. Equity increases as you pay off your mortgage and as your home increases in value. It decreases should your home lose value.

Getting your hands on your equity is not easy. You can get cash from your equity in one of three ways: refinancing your existing mortgage, taking out a second mortgage, or selling your home. You can borrow against your equity with a home equity line of credit, but a HELOC is a loan that you must repay.

Following the housing crash in 2006-2007, home values plummeted, especially in markets like Las Vegas, San Francisco and Miami where they had appreciated quickly during the housing boom. US households lost over $7 trillion in home equity before prices recovered. Some 22 percent of all homeowners went “underwater;” they owed more on their homes than they were worth. Millions of homeowners lost their homes during the Great Recession when they could not meet their mortgage payments and owners had no equity in their homes.

Now that the recovery is underway and prices are rising, equity is booming. During 2017, the average homeowner gained $15,000 in equity. By the end of the year, less than 5 percent of all homeowners still had negative equity.

As long as home prices are rising in your market, you are probably gaining equity. You can gain equity even faster by taking steps to increase the value of your property or decrease the amount that you owe on your mortgage. Here are six ways you can speed up the growth of your equity.

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Three Ways to Reduce Your Mortgage Principal:

1. Make a Larger Down Payment

You don’t need to put 20 percent down to get a mortgage today. Last year, 61 percent of first-time buyers put down less than 6 percent. Lower down payment options, like FHA and down payment assistance programs, help families to become homeowners if they don’t have the cash available for a 20 percent down payment. With a lower down payment, however, homebuyers must repay a higher principal, which results in higher monthly payments, more interest, and less equity. Buyers who can afford a 20 percent down payment build equity faster. They also avoid the requirement to take out mortgage insurance.

2. Take Out a Shorter Mortgage

Most buyers today take out 30-year mortgages because monthly payments are lower than mortgages with a shorter term. However, they pay more in interest over the 30-year lifetime of their mortgage, so over its lifetime, the cost of a 30-year mortgage is higher than a 15-year mortgage.

3. Pre-Pay Your Mortgage

After several years in your home, you or your spouse may be making more money each month. One way to put that extra income to good use is to pay more than your required mortgage payment each month. The amount you pay that exceeds your monthly mortgage payment goes towards reducing your mortgage principal. By pre-paying your mortgage, you are increasing your investment in your home by building equity. You also reduce the time it will take to become mortgage-free and improve your credit by reducing your debt.

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Three Ways to Increase Your Home’s Value

1. Keep Your Home Clean, De-cluttered and in Good Repair

Some owners wait until they are selling their homes to get it ready for sale. Keeping up with repairs on an ongoing basis is a better idea. Well-maintained HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems will last longer. You won’t lose things or forget to do something because you put off repairs and de-cluttering until the last minute. It’s much more pleasant to live in a home that is clean and spacious than one filled with clutter. When you are ready to sell, getting your house clean and staged won’t be a big deal.

2. Make Home Improvements to Increase Your Home’s Value

It’s a fact that most remodeling projects don’t increase the value of your home enough to pay for themselves on a dollar-for-dollar basis. In other words, when you sell your home, you should not expect to recoup every dollar you spent on most improvement projects. However, all improvements increase your value somewhat, and some will be necessary to sell your home. Since you are going to have to make these improvements anyway, it’s a good idea to make improvements as you go. Remodeling magazine conducts an excellent annual cost vs. value survey of small, medium and major projects.

3. Get an Appraisal

Determining a house’s value is far from an exact science. Many factors, including your home’s age, location, size, condition, and style, determine the value of your home. Moreover, home values are constantly changing to reflect local real estate markets. Home appraisers value your home on the basis of recent sales of nearby comparable homes. It makes sense for you to have your home appraised to get an accurate and fresh valuation of your property after you have completed some projects. With a current appraisal, you can use it to calculate your home’s equity accurately. If you sell in a few years, a relatively recent appraisal will come in handy when you price your home for sale.

For many couples, equity is a nest egg that is the foundation of their personal wealth and financial security. The housing crash shook many homeowners’ faith in homeownership. Now that conditions are improving and equity is building in their homes, owners are taking a very conservative approach towards their equity by refinancing to convert some of their equity into cash.

Homeowners who lived through the housing crash ten years ago learned the hard way that every investment, including homeownership, has its risks. Individual owners can’t do much about trends in real estate markets, but prudent owners who take good care of their homes and protect their equity are more likely to come out ahead.


Steve Cook is the editor of the Down Payment Report. He is a member of the board of the National Association of Real Estate Editors and writes for several leading Web sites, including Inman News. From 1999 to 2007 he was vice president for public affairs at the National Association of Realtors.

Source: homes.com