Monday, September 21, 2020

Mortgages To Help Low Income Buyers

With the COVID-19 pandemic still going strong, many city dwellers may be considering a move to the country—and there's a specific type of mortgage that can help make this a reality, called a USDA loan.

Offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and backed by the agency’s Rural Development Guaranteed Housing Loan Program, these mortgages are designed to help buyers with moderate or low income purchase property outside cities.

They accomplish this by offering several key benefits—such as low or no down payments and looser qualifications for income and credit history.

“More people should absolutely consider using USDA loans to finance their homes,” says Jan Hadder, regional vice president of the builder division at Silverton Mortgage in Columbia, SC. “If you’re not living in the city, this can be a great option to finance your home."

USDA loans could be a boon to the wave of buyers who are currently contemplating fleeing cities right now.

As it happens, searches for homes in rural ZIP codes jumped more than 15% this May, compared with a year ago, according to® data.

Yet many Americans aren’t aware of USDA loans, or assume that they don't qualify. They may also have other assumptions about these mortgages that aren't true or in step with recent changes in the terms.

If you want to avoid overlooking this hidden financing gem, here are a few things to know about USDA loans today.

You don't have to buy a house in the boonies

The biggest misconception about USDA loans is that you have to live in the middle of nowhere.

In reality, homes qualify as long as they're located outside a metropolitan area. In fact, communities with populations of up to 35,000 may be fine. The USDA offers an online map where you can search for properties that are eligible for the loans.

Matt Ronne, a loan originator at Motto Mortgage Preferred Brokers in Athens, TN, says USDA loans are a “vital asset” to home buyers in his area of southeastern Tennessee.

“It has been a high-demand product,” he says. “My county, McMinn, and most of the surrounding counties are 100% eligible for this type of financing, as long as those clients meet the credit, income, and property requirements.”

You don't have to be destitute—and income limits recently increased

"Many people think that the USDA loans are meant to be subsidized housing, or that they are only intended for use by those with very low income,” says Gwen Chambers, a mortgage loan originator at Motto Mortgage Superior in Germantown, TN.

But that's not the case. There are actually two types of USDA loans. Direct housing loans are for low-income individuals; guaranteed loans are designed for moderate-income buyers.

The USDA recently increased its income limits for loans, allowing more home buyers to be eligible. In most locations, the income limit for households with one to four people is $90,300, and $119,200 for households of five to eight people.

USDA loans are easier to get than ever

The income limits have been raised, Hadder says, and some elements of the application process for certain USDA loans have been relaxed.

For example, in response to COVID-19, the period for which certificates of eligibility are valid has been extended for some borrowers, and some parts of the application process will be streamlined, including credit reviews and loan processing.

Although the specifications vary by lender, borrowers typically need a minimum credit score of 640, whereas conventional home loans often require a credit score of 700 or higher.

“These new loan changes are designed to make it easier for a borrower to qualify for a USDA loan,” Hadder says.

Because certain parts of the application process will be waived or relaxed, she says, "borrowers will hopefully have a better chance of getting approved.”

USDA loans aren't just for first-time buyers

Another misconception about USDA loans, Ronne says, is that they’re just for first-time home buyers.

“USDA only allows a borrower to own one property at a time, so using the USDA loan program allows for additional purchases in the future, as long as the current home is sold, or will be sold prior to closing on the new one,” he says.

As long as buyers continue to qualify, they can use the USDA program as many times as they want, Chambers says.

USDA loans have great interest rates

Mortgage interest rates for traditional loans have dropped to record lows in recent months, and now hover around 3%. The rates for USDA loans, however, are even lower.

As of Sept. 1, interest rates for Single Family Housing Direct Home Loans are 2.5% for low- and very low-income borrowers.

“The rates on USDA loans are often very competitive, and the fees are relatively low,” Chambers says. “In my community, consumers often find USDA loans to be their go-to loan of choice.”

USDA loans carry few added costs

In addition to low interest rates, USDA loans offer families the opportunity to own a home with few out-of-pocket expenses, like closing costs.

In addition, certain USDA loans offer 100% financing with no down payment, welcome news in today’s uncertain economy.

“Now, more than ever, because of the potential instability in the workforce over COVID-19 and possible future furloughs, layoffs, and cutbacks, having money in the bank to fall back on in case of emergencies has never been more important,” Ronne says.

“Personally, as a mortgage broker, I never want to see a buyer exhaust their savings for a down payment when they may not have to, especially a first-time home buyer,” he says.

More investment in rural communities benefits homeowners

The USDA loan programs can also give rural homeowners a boost indirectly. The agency recently announced new initiatives to increase private investment in rural communities across the country, Hadder says.

This includes changes to four of its business loan programs to standardize the requirements for loan processing, credit review, loan service, and loss claims.

These measures could help rural homeowners. New investment could add new jobs to an area, create better schools, and boost local economies.

This could increase property values and attract new residents to the area—all good news for local homeowners.



Friday, August 21, 2020

Is This Your Situation: Searching for the Perfect Home to Retire In?


The answers to these five questions will help you hone in on your perfect retirement home.

1. Does a single-story home make more sense for me?
As we age, our chances of becoming disabled and losing mobility increase. Choosing a retirement home with a single-story floor plan, a first-floor bedroom or an elevator ensures that stairs never become an obstacle for you. 

2. How much do I hate cleaning the gutters?
If you already hate mowing the lawn, having more time to do it after retirement won’t make you suddenly love it. Finding a single-family community where the condo association handles lawn care and exterior maintenance maybe just the thing.

3. Who’s visiting and who’s living with me?
Want the children and grandchildren to visit? Pick a community with fabulous recreational amenities or a vacation-worthy location. Want to keep visitors to a minimum, minimize the number of extra bedrooms in your new home or buy in a 55+ community.

4. How attached am I to my stuff?
Downsizing sounds better in theory than in practice. Are you ready to let go of your possessions? Do your kids want the family heirlooms? To keep those heirlooms, you’ll need a similar size home to what you’re living in now.

5. Do I want to be near family?
Live long enough and you may eventually need a caregiver. You’ll make that task easier if you live near the person who’s going to help you as you age. In the meantime, how easy do you want to make it for the kids to drop off the grandkids on a moment’s notice?

I can help you find the perfect retirement home. Drop me an email or call me if you want to discuss your options.


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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

8 Crafty, Creative Ways to Meet the Neighbors

Wondering how to meet the neighbors after moving to a new town? In the past, you would have baked an apple pie and popped on over, but come on, that's so 1950s. What do people do now?

After scouring the craftiest corners of the Internet—from Pinterest to Etsy and beyond—we learned that meeting the neighbors today can be as simple as printing out a few pun-filled flyers, attaching a memorable munchie or gift, then dropping them on doorsteps to work their magic. Here are a few creative ways to meet the neighbors that you can buy for just a few bucks, or (if you're a hands-on crafter) use as inspiration to make your own knockoff.

They're guaranteed to make a memorable first impression.


Pop over with a snack

Who doesn't love popcorn? 

Who doesn't love popcorn?

Download a printable template, edit with your new info and attach to a package of microwave popcorn. Clever, right? Also not too costly, and easy to put together when you're also trying to unpack a billion boxes.


Make 'em melt with s'mores

Make new friends, but keep the old, etc. 

Even total shut-in neighbors will be tempted to warm up to you once they read one of these cards paired with a bag of marshmallows, a bar of chocolate, and a box of graham crackers. Or, maybe you give a different s'mores component to each of your neighbors and invite them over to share at your firepit.


Share whatever you're great at

Show off your mad skills (whatever they are) to your new neighbors. 

Maybe popcorn or campfire treats aren't your thing. No judgment! These handcrafted tags allow you to gift whatever you desire. Homemade cake's the example given here, but maybe you want to show off your soap-making skills or the dahlias in your new backyard.


Make 'em laugh

If you don't dress like a clown, we'll get along fine.

Hand out these cards to show off your sense of humor and indicate how your expectations are honestly pretty low for a neighbor: Just please don't be a serial killer. Hopefully, they have a funny bone.


Kick-start some good karma

"Pay It Forward" ain't just a terrible Kevin Spacey movie. 

Pile some cookies on this "giving plate" and pass it on! Since the whole point of the plate is to "pay it forward," this gesture paints you as a generous soul—and a great addition to the neighborhood.


Hold a housewarming party

Why wait to be invited to the block party when you can throw your own party right now? 

Why wait to be invited to the block party when you can throw your own party right now?

If you're the extroverted type, don't stop at simply saying hi. Ask them over already, using these customized housewarming party invites.


Feed their coffee addiction

Seriously, who doesn't like a free travel mug?

Seriously, who doesn't like a free travel mug?

It's coffee's world. We just live in it, so why not hand out travel mugs to your new neighbors? They will think of you every morning on their way to work.


Just give 'em cookies

Delicious, easy, done 

These free printable tags don't bother being cute, they just get right to the point: We're new here. We give cookies. Trust us, it works.


 (you could download printable templates at

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Monday, April 27, 2020

Home Prices Not Dropping Yet

Home Price Growth Slowing Down, but Not Dropping—at Least Not Yet

As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, it continues to take a toll on the housing market, as home price growth continues to soften and the number of new homes for sale plummets, according to the most recent® data.
The median home list price was up just 0.3% year over year on in the week ending April 18 in the 100 largest real estate markets. The previous week it was up 0.8%, the week before that it was 1.6%, and there was a 2.5% rise in the week prior to that.
"We're seeing prices slow down. They haven't dropped, but they have slowed down significantly," says Senior Economist George Ratiu. "Prices are likely to decline moderately over the next months and a lot steeper later."

The national median home price held steady at $320,000, virtually unchanged for the past six weeks. While most real estate experts believe prices will remain strong, with no fire sales like around the Great Recession, this spring buying season definitely won't be as strong as in previous years.
After all, about 26 million Americans filed for unemployment in the first five weeks of this crisis.
Many buyers, about 38%, are simply waiting for the health and economic crisis to pass to purchase a home, according to a recent survey. The survey was conducted April 15–17.
“Pricing your home the way you did two months ago is impractical," says Ratiu. "In a normal market, a lack of inventory pushes prices up. In the current market, the lack of inventory indicates sellers are not confident they can sell their homes at top dollar.”
The number of new listings on has continued to fall. Sellers worried about having buyers inside their homes, not being able to fetch a good price, and moving during a pandemic are pulling their homes off the market. Many would-be sellers are deciding to wait until the crisis is over to put their properties up for sale.
The number of new listings dropped 42% in the week ending April 18 compared with the previous year. The prior week the number of listings fell 47%, and they were down 31% in the week before that.
"Sellers are reacting [to this crisis] by choosing not to put their homes up for sale," says Ratiu.
In another sign that COVID-19 has upended the housing market, homes are sitting on the market for six days, or 10%, longer than last year. That's the biggest increase since 2013.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

House Hunting Amidst COVID19

Now that the coronavirus pandemic has people across the country hunkering down at home to lower their exposure levels, even the most determined home buyer might be wondering: Is it safe to shop for a house right now?

While risk is a personal decision, the real estate industry is adapting to provide ways to go about home buying safely during the coronavirus pandemic. You can now do many things at a safe social distance, or even remotely, when it comes to buying a home that you may not have considered doing in the past.
Here are all the ways in-person checkpoints to buying a home have changed to keep you safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
FOR SALE: 20209 Creekspring Ct, Purcellville VA

Finding the right real estate agent

When it comes to buying a home, pairing up with the right agent is always key to finding your perfect property. But today, you need one who is tech-savvy and comfortable conducting meetings and business online.
 To find an agent to further help you remotely, ask candidates if they offer virtual consultations and home tours. They should also be able to help you with e-signature apps so you can send and receive documents to sign digitally through email.
"If an agent doesn’t offer these services yet, I highly recommend finding an agent who is [comfortable] working with technology," adds Wells.

 Virtual home tours

Crowded open houses with a plate of cookies for everyone to grab are a thing of the past—at least for now. Instead, you've got virtual open houses and video tours.
There are several ways to virtually tour a home. Along with photos, many listings were already starting to incorporate videos or virtual reality tours.  You'll be able to tour the home, room by room, without physically stepping onto the property.  However, these videos are filmed and edited, so you may not be able to see every nook and cranny. If you want to do a deeper dive, many agents will accommodate you.
Granted, we're not necessarily saying you should buy a house without seeing it in person, unless there's no choice in the matter. Nonetheless, it's smart to do what you can remotely to whittle down your options so you can choose what's worth an in-person visit, now or later.

Remote mortgage pre-approval

Some lenders had already made the entire mortgage process digital long before social distancing was needed. And now, many more have jumped on board out of necessity.
The first step is to interview a few loan officers over the phone or by video chat. Since mortgage interest rates are all over the map these days, it's extremely important to shop around and compare what they're offering—and make sure they're comfortable conducting all steps of the transaction online.
Ideally you want a lender that allows you to track your loan progress, view educational resources, and stay in touch, all without leaving the house.
In order to get pre-approved for a loan, the lender will need to review your income, debt, credit history, and other factors—and you'll need to submit paperwork verifying all of the above.
Luckily, most of this paperwork should be available online, such as pay stubs, tax returns, and bank statements. If you're unsure how to access them, a tech-savvy lender should be able to help. (Here's more on the paperwork needed for mortgage pre-approval, and why getting pre-approved matters.)

Remote home inspections

At a remote home inspection, inspectors take a lot more pictures than they might have in the past so clients can get a good idea of where the issues are. Once the report is completed, Sisson sets up a video call and emails clients PDFs of background information about why inspectors test what they do.

Virtual home appraisals

Home appraisals required by a lender generally include a site visit, which is not possible in some parts of the country where this is not considered an essential service. Luckily, appraisals pertain only to those getting loans, so cash buyers can skip this process entirely. But if you are getting a mortgage, fear not.  The appraiser uses comparable properties for the reports. While these methods may not be to the penny in terms of value, they are relatively accurate and allow lenders to continue operating.

Remote home closings

In-person home closings—where all parties come together to sign contracts, swap keys, and shake hands—are, for the most part, not happening right now (especially the shaking hands part). However, most closings require some face-to-face interaction, since people have to sign documents and notaries need to stamp them in person.
So while home buyers will probably have to show up on closing day, it will look far different from the past.



Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Small Kitchen Island Ideas for Every Space and Budget

FOR SALE: 20209 Creekspring Ct Purcellville
A kitchen island is a useful and multifunctional component. Even the smallest kitchen island has the potential to offer many uses. When considering small kitchen island ideas, select an island that has the five following abilities:
1. Creates extra counter space
2. Can be used as an eating counter or breakfast spot
3. Has additional storage via drawers, shelves or hooks
4. Is sized correctly to not interrupt your kitchen work flow

A practical eating counter island needs open shelving where knees can tuck or an overhang on at least one side for low-profile, backless bar stool to tuck in.

Good places for islands include the center of a kitchen. If you find that your kitchen doesn’t have the space for a permanent island, choose an island that can be rolled, tucked away or moved to another area as needed.

You don’t have to specifically go out and purchase or custom make a kitchen island. There are a variety of small kitchen island ideas that may work better in your small space than a permanent cabinet piece. Here’s our favorite small kitchen island ideas.

Here are some kitchen island ideas:

A Restaurant Grade Small Kitchen Island

18 rest card main
Visit a restaurant supply store and pick up an industrial, commercial stainless work table. They’re lightweight yet sturdy, durable in stainless steel, come in a variety of sizes as narrow as 16” and are fairly inexpensive.
For the most use, select one that has a towel bar for hooks and textiles and open shelving below. Locking wheels are helpful if you plan on moving your island often, although restaurant grade work tables are often lightweight enough to move without needing wheels.

A Butcher Block Kitchen Island

 21 butcher main

A butcher block is a perfect island alternative. The surface is ready for kitchen use and you can usually add a couple of stools to create a snack counter.

A Repurposed Furniture Kitchen Island

A cheap and effective way to add an island to a small kitchen is by repurposing a furniture piece as an island. Some furniture as small kitchen island ideas include:

A sofa table

Sofa tables are designed to be narrow enough to sit behind a sofa or in an entry way. Available in a variety of sizes and styles and normally around 30” high, they make a good kitchen island option.

A cabinet

Recycle an old or vintage cabinet as an island. Look for ones that have plenty of shelving, drawers or other storage options. The one in the image above was once a clothing store display cabinet.

A bar height dining table

4 bar main
A tall dining table in the right proportion can be the perfect island for dining, prep and counter space. Add hooks to the side for extra storage.

The Drop Leaf Kitchen Island

25 drop leaf main

A smart way to add extra counter space to a kitchen involves the drop leaf. Pop it up when needed and drop down for ease of movement in a small kitchen.
If adding an island is not possible, take inspiration from the drop leaf island and add a drop leaf at the end of a kitchen cabinet or kitchen wall. The extra counter space could serve as an eating nook or extra prep area that can be stored when not in use.

A Floating Island Ledge

Find a space where a simple butcher block ledge can serve as a kitchen island. If a ledge isn’t possible, create an enclosure with a minimalist island design. Take inspiration from these two kitchens:
24 resize main
20 floating main

A Storable Kitchen Island

Is there an open spot where an island can store when not in use? Design a kitchen island that will fit in the dimensions of the opening. Better yet, if you’re designing a kitchen, include one cabinet piece that can roll out and be used as an island or extra counter space in a different spot.

A Rolling Kitchen Island

22 industrial main
Regardless of the island you use, if you need the island to be mobile, adding high quality wheels to one is an easy upgrade. Choose high density polyurethane wheels that have a locking mechanism that keeps the island from moving.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Spring Market Is Starting Now

Competition for housing is so high, the spring market is starting now
The severe shortage of homes for sale is upending the sales calendar for the whole housing market. Spring has historically been the busiest buying season, but as competition for homes heats up across the country, January is the new April. Spring starts now.

“As shoppers modify their strategies for navigating a housing market that has become more competitive due to rising prices and low inventory, the search for a home is beginning earlier and earlier,” said George Ratiu, senior economist at “With housing inventory across the U.S. expected to reach record lows in 2020, we expect to see this trend continue into the new year.”

Home price gains had been shrinking in the first half of 2019, but those gains began to pick up again in September and continued in October, according to the latest S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. Price increases are broadest on the lower end of the market, while they are softening slightly on the high end.

With more buyers jumping into the market in January, this year’s spring market will likely see even fewer homes for sale. Current homeowners are reluctant to give up what they have, given how pricey the market is now, so it is up to the nation’s homebuilders to ease the supply crisis. They are increasing production slowly, but have not fully focused on the lower end of the market, where supply is leanest.

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