5 Mortgage Steps You Need to Know

Brandpoint  |  2015-12-08

(BPT) - The home loan process can seem intimidating, especially for a first-time homebuyer. It is not a simple process, but it doesn't have to be too complicated. There are many resources available to help you prepare for your home buying journey, and your mortgage lender can answer the questions you have throughout the process.

"We're finding that many of our customers come into the home loan process with limited knowledge of how the home loan process works," says Eric Hamilton, President of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance. "It's important to take the time to familiarize yourself with the process so you know what to expect."

Here are some of the key steps to the home loan process, as well as some tips to help you understand what you can expect:

1. Preparation and self-assessment

Before you dive head-first into buying a home, make sure that you know how much you can afford. The first step is to calculate your "debt-to-income ratio." You can do this by adding up your current monthly bills then subtracting your total current income. This will help you determine whether you can afford a mortgage payment, and if so, what amount might fit into your budget. Using an online mortgage calculator is a good way to help you determine what the estimated cost of your monthly mortgage payment will be. Doing these calculations first will help you assess your resources and determine your budget to purchase a home.

2. The loan application

Download a blank loan application ahead of time so you can look it over and familiarize yourself with it. This will give you an idea of the information you need when completing and submitting the application. The necessary documents may include: proof of income, proof of employment for the past two years, proof of identity, proof of residency and your social security card.

3. Origination and Underwriting

Origination - The loan officer will review your financing options, work with you to complete the credit application and create the loan account.

Underwriting - An underwriter will review the application and determine the level of credit risk you represent based on your credit score, income, existing debt and down payment. You may be asked to provide additional information about your finances during this step.

4. Satisfying loan conditions and full loan approval

In this step, you will receive a "conditions to approval" list from your lender, which outlines the tasks you must complete before the loan can be closed. For example, the lender may ask for additional documentation to verify income, savings or emergency funds or other proof that you can afford to repay the loan. At this point in the process the lender may offer a conditional loan approval and start the document verification process. If you accept the conditional loan approval offer, once all conditions have been met, the lender will issue a full loan approval.

5. Processing

Once you've selected your dream home, you'll sign a purchase agreement with the seller. The purchase agreement tells the lender how much you have agreed to pay to purchase the home. The lender may then have the home appraised and will provide you with a copy of the appraisal.

6. Closing

In the final step of the process, the lender works with a title company to obtain and review a title report and then finalize your title on the home. The titling company receives a closing package, which contains the documents that need to be signed, recorded and become part of your mortgage loan file. At the closing, you will sign all closing documents and pay any closing costs. The lender then receives all of this signed paperwork to complete the process.

Once this process is complete, you're ready to move into your dream home. The home loan process may take some time, but these steps are well worth the wait. For more mortgage and loan resources, visit: www.vmfhomeloan.com.

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4 Ways to Improve Curb Appeal

Brandpoint  |  2015-12-08

(BPT) - You never get a second chance to make a first impression. This steadfast advice isn't just for interviews and first dates; it's also applicable to your home.

Whether it's a potential buyer or simply a visitor, within seconds of seeing your home's exterior, that first impression will be made. That's why experts from home builders to real estate agents sing the praises of stellar curb appeal.

If you're thinking of selling your home or just want to give it a facelift, here are ways you can increase your home's curb appeal:

Revamp the roof
Your roof is an important element of the exterior design aesthetic. If a dingy old roof is killing your curb appeal, a style and color upgrade can breathe new life into your home's facade.

The first step is to evaluate roofing options for style cohesion with your home's existing siding. For a traditional look, try TAMKO's Heritage shingle line with colors and tones that mimic what's found in nature. Some styles are manufactured to resemble wood shake for a classic upscale look at a lower cost. Visit www.tamko.com for facade inspiration.

Shake up shutters
Don't be tempted to ignore your shutters. Much like how jewelry adds the perfect finishing touch to an outfit, stylish shutters in attractive hues can pull your home's entire front exterior look together.

Shutters provide a great opportunity to add a splash of color for a touch of personality to your home's exterior without going overboard. Pull shutters down and clean them up with soap and water before adding a fresh coat of paint. Make sure to get enough paint so you can freshen your front door in the matching color as well for a coordinating look that can enhance curb appeal.

Pretty the patio
Front patios should convey an inviting appearance that complements the entryway. For dated and dirty concrete slabs, special paint can instantly provide an eye-catching focal point that looks like new. For old or rotting wood surfaces, consider replacing that deck or patio surface with composite deck boards like Evergrain Composite Decking. This compression-molded product creates the look of wood without painting or staining.

Finish beautifying patio spaces with a few extra touches that warm the area. Depending on the space parameters, the addition of a wicker chair, a few potted plants and a new welcome mat can make a world of difference in boosting curb appeal.

Love the landscaping
Overgrown plants, messy mulch and low-hanging tree branches can kill curb appeal fast. Take a look at your home from the street and notice whether plants and landscape beds could use a tidy touch.

Keeping bushes and trees neatly trimmed can increase curb appeal, but don't stop there. Deadhead flowers and pull plants that are past season. Finally, add a fresh layer of mulch to cut down on weeds and provide a freshly landscaped look.

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Sell This Winter, Reduce Competition

Brandpoint  |  2015-12-08

(BPT) - Stop waiting - go ahead and put your home on the market. Even now, with temperatures dropping, airports bustling and retailers prepping Black Friday deals, it’s a good time to sell.

In fact, Greg Jaeger, vice president at USAA Bank and former real estate agent, says waiting could decrease potential buyers, especially if mortgage rates increase soon and price some out of the market. Delaying a sale also could increase your competition and stress.

“Those who sell their homes in the winter can reap financial and emotional benefits since they are not waiting until everyone else is trying to sell,” Jaeger says.

Less Competition

Your home has a greater chance of standing out from the crowd in the winter months, December through February. In the summer, you have to compete with other sellers looking to lure buyers expecting deals. To be sure, sales trends are different among colder and warmer states. And summer is often a more ideal time for families with young children to plan moves before school starts. However, you may be overlooking another group of buyers, Jaeger said.

“During the summer, buyers look like families. In the winter they look like investors,” he said.

Sellers often are able to ask more for their homes in winter, Jaeger said. A study by online brokerage firm Redfin found average sellers earn above their asking price December through March than they do in the summer months. In addition, in winter months a home is on the market for an average of 26 days, compared to 33 days in non-winter seasons, according to Redfin’s data.

Less Stress

There’s a certain ecosystem to the home buying process, which includes realtors, home inspectors, appraisers, the title company and the bank processing the loan. That ecosystem is tense when activity is the busiest, Jaeger said. In peak buying season, there’s overwhelming demand to process transactions, with potentially an overwhelmed system for processing them.

“You can help reduce the typical home buying and selling stress by selling your home during the winter ‘shoulder season’ and working with experts who really understand your needs,” he said.

Those needs often are more complex when the military is involved. While the military’s Permanent Change of Station season typically prompts many military families to sell their homes during the busy summer months, duty can call in the winter too.

“Working with an experienced real estate agent, such as a USAA Real Estate Rewards Network agent who focuses on serving the military community, can help keep extra stress at bay,” he said.

To learn more or to find a USAA Real Estate Rewards Network agent near you, visit usaa.com/findanagent.

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3 Step Credit Prep for Homeownership

Brandpoint  |  2015-12-03

(BPT) - Homeownership is a dream for many Americans, and maybe it’s one of yours as well. Making this dream a reality requires hard work, dedication and the proper preparation. You must figure out where you want to live, what type of home you desire, what you can afford and also how your credit rating may impact your home-purchasing goals.

Your credit rating can play an important role in the home buying process, and your creditworthiness could also affect the amount that you can borrow, the interest rates you will qualify for and your ability to obtain a mortgage loan in the first place.

“A consumer’s credit is one of the biggest factors that goes into the mortgage-application process,” says Eric Hamilton, President of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc. “Before applying for a loan, it is crucial to get your credit in the best shape you possibly can.”

To help you build good credit and increase your ability to obtain better loan terms, Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc. offers these tips for improving your credit:

Pay your bills on time

Late or missed payments on any of your credit accounts, such as credit cards, mortgages and other loans, could cause a drop in your credit score. To prevent this, make your payments on time. Making additional payments whenever possible and paying extra toward the principal balance will also help to keep a good payment history and decrease the payoff timeline. Using an Extra Principal Payment Calculator tool can also help you calculate the savings that come with paying extra – generating additional motivation to do so.

Minimize any outstanding debt and keep existing debt manageable

Paying your statement balances in full instead of letting debt accumulate can improve your credit scores, which may result in better terms being offered from lenders. Lenders often check your credit report when you apply for a loan and measure the amount of debt you’re carrying against the loan amount they've requested. Excessive debt is one of the factors that could cause a lender to decline your application.

Avoid applying for unnecessary credit

Credit applications can appear as inquiries on credit reports, which may suggest to lenders that an applicant is taking on additional debt. Be aware of advertising or sales promotions that offer purchase discounts if you apply for a credit card. Even these cards could show up as inquiries on your credit report. These inquiries remain on credit reports for two years. Instead of applying for additional credit, use your existing lines of credit to showcase your responsible credit management by paying bills on time and paying off the debt quickly.

"There are a lot of steps you can take to improve your credit, but it's important to remember that credit scores don't change overnight," says Hamilton. "It takes time to increase your credit rating, and while it may feel like a slow-moving effort, it is well worth the wait when you get to open the door to a home of your own for you and your family."

For more credit tips, you can check out the full Guide to Credit, and find other useful guides for homebuyers on vmfhomeloan.com.

NMLS Disclosure

Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., 500 Alcoa Trail, Maryville, TN 37804, 865-380-3000, NMLS #1561, ( http://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org), AZ Lic. #BK-0902616, Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law license, GA Residential Mortgage (Lic. #6911), Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee, KS Licensed Mortgage Co. (SL.0000720), Licensed by the NH Banking Department, Mississippi Licensed Mortgage Company, MT Lic. #1561, Licensed by PA Dept. of Banking.

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5 Tips for Settling Into Your New Home

Brandpoint  |  2015-12-03

(BPT) - Though summer is winding down, for many families, hectic moving schedules are still underway. Whether you are moving this season or planning for a move in the near future, consider some helpful guidelines on packing up, moving out and settling in without a hitch — plus, the latest technologies to turn your new house into a home.

Here are five tips to help you minimize moving stress and settle in quickly:

Make a list, measure it twice. After celebrating the signing of your new home (congratulations!), it’s time to begin the moving process. Even before you start packing, it’s important, if possible, to visit your new home with a tape measure. Carefully measure and take note of the square footage and dimensions of every room in your new home. Do the same with any existing appliances and furniture you plan on relocating to your new home to ensure that everything fits through the door and in the space. LG's moving guide (www.lg.com/us/moving) is designed to help and includes tips on measuring your current appliances to make sure they’ll fit. If you’re purchasing new large appliances or furniture, be sure to measure everything in the store or take note of each item’s dimensions online to make sure it fits. Removing or replacing a refrigerator, for example, is a time-consuming and expensive task that can be avoided with careful planning. If you aren’t able to visit before moving in, ask your broker or real estate agent for a copy of the floor plan.

Pack strategically, unpack easily. Pack and label items by category, such as dishes, winter clothes and books, or by appropriate area, such as bedroom, kitchen and living room. To limit damage, be sure to pack fragile and valuable items carefully with padded packaging, and communicate fragile items clearly with your movers. To save even more hassle, pack a couple of boxes of essential items, specifically for the first night in your new home, which would otherwise be hard to find. You’ll thank yourself when items such as cleaning supplies, fresh linens and a coffeepot are right at your fingertips. Staying organized is key to avoid losing your belongings — resulting in saving time and unnecessary re-purchasing expenses in the process.

Find savings and convenience in new technology. Moving is a common time to buy new electronics — and there are some simple ways to make these new purchases more customizable than ever. For example, rather than choosing surround sound speakers that require lots of cumbersome wiring to install, select a wireless speaker and TV surround sound system like LG’s Music Flow. It offers a range of speakers and soundbars that you can mix and match to create a customized and easy-to-use home audio system for your new living space. With Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and Google Cast built in, systems like this let you can stream your favorite online music services, including Spotify and Pandora, straight from your mobile device. There’s no need for additional hardware or wires.

Share your new address. Take initiative and update your employer, bank, school, doctors, pharmacist and credit card company with your new address as early as possible. This can affect billing statements and formal records, which are a headache to change at a later date. Be sure to call your electric, cable and internet companies to swap your address, and inquire about any potential changes in your service. Sign up for USPS mail forwarding to ensure all of your mail reaches you in a timely manner. And don’t forget to keep your friends and family in the loop! It’s a busy and exiting time, so share your news!

Upgrade your appliances. If you’re not planning to bring your current laundry appliances to your new home, look for a new ENERGY STAR washer and dryer with the latest cleaning technologies that help make clean-up a breeze and save on your electric bill, too. One such example is LG’s top-load laundry pair with the dryer featuring an EasyLoad door, the first machine to open two ways. The unique door can be accessed from the top (hamper style) to easily toss in wet clothes from the washer and sideways to quickly unload clothes into the basket. This makes it easier than ever to drop in and unload laundry.

For additional tips on moving and settling into a new space, as well as a complete, eight-week timeline, check the helpful LG moving guide (www.lg.com/us/moving). It’s impossible to anticipate every bump in the road, but having a thorough yet flexible plan will help minimize stress and ensure the moving process goes smoothly.

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Low Energy Bills with Hot New Trend

Brandpoint  |  2015-12-03

(BPT) - Imagine being able to heat your home with no more energy than used by a hair dryer turned on low, or even going off the grid altogether.

Thanks to smaller, carefully planned home designs, coupled with a superior insulation system, super energy-efficient small homes are growing in popularity.

Once perceived as the housing of commune-living hippies in the 1960s, today’s small homes feature exceptional design and comfort. Although the average size of U.S. homes increased 57 percent in the past 40 years, more Americans are becoming interested in smaller homes designed to make the most of each square foot, rather than just building bigger. This trend is seen in the growing popularity of TV shows like “Tiny House Nation,” and dozens of websites and blogs devoted to the small house movement.

Although there is no formal definition for these smaller abodes, The Tiny House Community website considers a home to be “small” if it is under 1,000 square feet, and “tiny” if less than 400 square feet. At the extreme, some “tiny houses” are less than 100 square feet — about the size of a camper.

The secret to living smaller is optimizing the available space, and creating areas that are cozy instead of cramped. One key is making use of otherwise wasted space, such as adding storage under beds or under staircases, and doing away with non-critical features like the great rooms that sit unused in many homes. Small home designers are able to create a sense of openness and light in the small footprint by including numerous windows or mirrors, as well as other design touches such as lofts and curved ceilings. In essence, in the smaller spaces there is clear purpose for every element in the home.

“Attention to the small gives character to the whole,” says acclaimed architect and simple-living proponent, Sarah Susanka. Susanka is author of the book, “The Not So Big House.”

For many small home enthusiasts, the appeal is not only a simpler life in a smaller, un-cluttered home, but also saving money and living green by consuming much less energy. All else being equal, it takes less energy to heat and cool a smaller home than a larger one, but many small homes also use an advanced building technique for high energy efficiency and quick construction — structural insulated panel (SIPs).

“SIP panel walls and roofs combine the insulation and structure in one unit,” says Joe Pasma, technical manager for Premier SIPs, North America’s largest SIP panel manufacturer. “The end result is much lower air leakage and continuous insulation, which helps reduce heating and cooling energy use up to 60 percent compared to other building methods — whether in a tiny house or a standard-sized one.” As visually interesting home designs are important to many small home dwellers, Pasma notes that SIP panels can be used in virtually any architectural style.

An increasing number of builders in the U.S. specialize in tiny house designs, with many of them offering SIP panel homes. These range from do-it-yourself kit homes up to fully personalized homes. Getting started is simple explains Patrick Sughrue, president of Artisan Tiny House in Vancouver, Washington.

“We use a step-by-step process in which we take one of our templates that’s close to what you want and customize it to make it yours.”

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Which Fixes Are Worth It?

NewsUSA  |  2015-11-24

A new roof can boost your home

(NewsUSA) - Okay, don't panic.

If you're one of those homeowners who's been moaning about how hard it's been trying to sell your house, your bargaining power -- you remember that concept, right? -- hasn't been completely devastated just because a flood of new foreclosures is expected to hit the market as a result of the recent $25 billion "robo-signing" mortgage settlement.

In fact, while studies have shown your own property value could take up to another 4 percent hit if you're within a quarter mile of a foreclosure ultimately snapped up at auction or taken back by the lender, the thing to remember is this: Most buyers today are only interested in homes that are "move-in-ready," so if yours isn't ... well, there's your problem.

"Buyers generally look at 'as-is' properties that need work, and say 'I'll pass,'" says Patsy O'Neill, a sales associate with Sotheby's in Montclair, N.J. "That's why I tell clients it's worth making certain strategic fixes if they're looking for quicker and more profitable sales."

So, which "fixes" are worth it, and which aren't? Read on:

Worth It: Addressing major maintenance and safety issues. Would you buy a house with faulty electrical wiring? Enough said.

Not Worth It: Major bath renovations. "Whatever you do might not suit the buyer," says O'Neill, "and meanwhile, you'd have spent as much as tens of thousands of dollars." Meaning, stick to things like repairing cracked shower doors, and save your visions of a modern-day spa for your own new abode.

Worth It: Ripping up old carpeting. Whether you replace it with new carpets or refinish the underlying wood floor is less important than getting rid of an eyesore.

Not Worth It: Major kitchen renovations. Same "taste" issue as above.

Worth It: Anything that enhances "curb appeal." If the first thing prospective buyers notice even before exiting their cars is that your roof looks like it's been whipped by a tornado, say, chances are you've already lost the sale. "It's a huge turn-off," says O'Neill, "and makes buyers predisposed to find even more things they don't like." So, if your roof needs replacing, check out the Value Collection Lifetime Designer Shingles from GAF (the largest roofing manufacturer in North America), which have the look of luxury shingles but at very affordable prices (www.gaf.com).

Not Worth It: Anything that screams clutter. The less of "you" there is, the more likely prospective buyers are to imagine themselves happily living there.

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