Friday, December 28, 2007

Age Differences: Old Homes vs. New

Of the many concerns to weigh when buying a new house, a major one is whether to buy a new one in name only: both state-of-the-art properties and distinguished older homes have their attractions – and possible drawbacks.
In making this decision, it's important to literally leave your preconceptions at the door of any home you're considering. Quality construction can appear in any era, and you just have to be knowledgeable about the strengths and problems to look for in each individual house.

Surely newer homes assure a certain measure of structural integrity, energy-efficient features, and safer electrical wiring and heating systems. They can have less wear and tear, more modern conveniences built in, an aesthetic more suited to today's tastes, and often better handicap accessibility. On the other hand, older homes can have a proven history of safety and stability, styles appealing to those looking for more old-fashioned elegance and charm, and a track record of repairs that leaves no surprises.

There are some pros and cons in which old and new houses are evenly matched. Newer homes, as part of newer economic growth, can be found in more promising areas just setting out on a boom of development (and thus presenting substantial investment advantages), while older homes can be found in more established, comfortable, and picturesque locations which have their own premium value to many types of subsequent buyers. Older homes can come with the headaches of aging structures and systems, while newer ones can be hastily made, with their own set of consequences. Old homes can harbor the health concerns of obsolete materials (like lead paint and asbestos), while new homes can include ones more recently recognized (like arsenic in outdoor wood and formaldehyde in carpets). But either can still be your dream home, and this overriding point is tied more to the intangible interests that lead you to shop for homes in the first place than it is to scientific specifics. For any house you'll want to get a professional inspection done, but in the end you have to follow your heart.

Old homes and new ones have upsides and downsides of equal weight, so tip the balance with your own preferences and abilities – personal taste, financial resources, handy-person skills, available time and long-term goals. Which is the winner of Old vs. New? If you decide carefully, either one can be the winning choice for you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Paying It Forward: How Renters Become Buyers

Nothing compares to the feeling of having a place to call home. At one time or another, however, most of us have felt frustration at seeing hard-earned money go into rent every month rather than a more permanent house payment. Renting is most people's first step toward homeownership, but what do you need to do to realize the dream of owning a home?

Sometimes, it's not the regular rent-money obligations but other expenses that are the main obstacle in saving. A whole debt-counseling industry has arisen to guide consumers in getting out from under what they owe. Smart saving – not depriving yourself, just ensuring stability and enjoyment over the longest term – involves many moves both major and simple, and can help prepare you for that first down payment.

On the simple end, rediscovering home cooking (and enjoying the leftovers as brownbag lunches) can amount to significant savings as compared to regularly dining out. On a higher level of financial planning, establishing a household budget and sticking to it – including a specific amount set aside for savings every month – can get you to your home-affording goals sooner than you might have imagined.

You may also want to meet with a counselor who can negotiate a lower rate and set a sensible structure for your repayments on credit cards - while advising you how to ease dependence on them. (This not only gets you on your own financial feet, but helps keep your credit rating intact for the very home loan you hope to someday secure.)

There are additional ways to start working toward homeownership. Some sellers will enter into a "rent-to- buy" agreement, in which part of the regular rent is considered an installment of the home's down payment, which, once built up, can help you obtain financing. Low-income renters may also qualify for federal "Section 8" vouchers which are paid to the landlord, subsidizing your rental expenses and helping you save for a permanent home.

Just as some renting options allow you to set funds aside, some types of purchases can help defray your costs even as you fulfill the stepped-up obligations of homeownership. Pooling resources with other buyers to occupy a two-family home could be one; buying such a home by yourself and renting one half of it could be another.

Even if your economics remain challenging, there are low-down-payment mortgages, and other forms of financing for special circumstances, available to buyers who meet the right criteria. Your local real estate professional can help you navigate through these options (accessing such resources as ERA Mortgage). He or she can also identify what government help might be available, and generally counsel you on your readiness to be a buyer – and on what else you might need to do to get there. If you consult the right sources and seek common-sense strategies, then your every move in the renter's world can be pointing you home.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Helpful Home: How Accessibility Features Can Serve Homeowners of All Ages and Abilities

We all need a helping hand from time to time, but prefer to remain as independent as possible. Accessible features in a home are a way of lending ourselves a hand, and staying in our own house for much longer than we otherwise might.

As more members of the baby boom generation – which comprises the largest segment of America's population – reach retirement age, many of them show a preference for "aging in place" in their own homes rather than moving to traditional elderly communities and facilities. This trend has created more interest than ever in the designing and retrofitting of homes for maximum ease of use. Heightened awareness of the needs of disabled people of all ages, and increased legislative attention to their rights, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), have also helped drive a trend which can benefit all homebuyers.

What has come to be called "Universal Design" is a set of standards for making every house a welcoming home for inhabitants of all ability levels. These include placing light switches and thermostats low enough, and electrical outlets high enough, for anyone to reach; outfitting hallways with railings and showers with grab-bars and stools; replacing doorknobs with levers; offering ramps as well as stairs, and doorways that can accommodate wheelchairs; and minimizing falling risks through secure, low-pile carpeting.

Though there was a time when accessibility was considered an obstacle to resale value and desirability, attitudes – and demographics – have changed, and Universal Design is now considered a resale advantage. This potential extra salability can be achieved through minimal effort and expense. For instance, in many cases a room can be made wheelchair-accessible simply by changing the direction of a swinging door.

The simplicity of such measures – and their popularity with potential homebuyers ® makes it equally desirable to build a new home with these considerations in mind, or to retrofit an existing home with them. No one has to feel they've turned their home into a medical facility – you can avoid this with some smart and simple methods that enhance convenience and are common sense for all homeowners, while maintaining the more intangible comforts of home, like independence and familiar communities.

In addition to the convenience offered by making these types of upgrades to a home, there are government loan programs that can help subsidize accessibility modifications. Talk to a local real estate professional about accessible-home options in any area where you may be interested in buying; he or she can also find out about financing opportunities and other ways to keep your path to satisfying and secure homeownership a clear one.