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How to's and money-saving tips from resident homeowner and mortgage professional, Cathy West

Category Archives: Purchasing a Home

Renting vs. buying a home

When buying a home beats renting in the long term

Fifty years ago, buying a home wasn't just an option; it was the norm. Renting homes for anything other than a very short-term arrangement was seldom thought of as a housing goal. Today, almost the exact opposite is true.

Millennials are renting instead of buying in great numbers, favoring the ability to travel, move, and be more flexible in their living arrangements over the stability of a single, owned residence for three or four decades. The question is, though, whether renting actually is the better choice. Studies show that owning can improve homeowners' lives in ways that renting doesn't, and surprisingly, those benefits aren't just financial.

Money matters
Of course, the money-related advantages of purchasing a home can't be denied. Lowered mortgage payments, as compared to average rental rates, housing stability, and the use of an owned property for later rental income are all benefits that most, if not all, homeowners experience. Just look at this calculator by Smart Asset, which shows the differences between rental rates and mortgage rates, calculating for you the financially wiser decision between renting and owning.

Non-financial benefits
The upside of owning a home don't end there. According to this Quartz article, owning a home offered three key benefits that aren't related to finances at all, but are focused on well-being and mental health. The authors of the article, who wrote the book "A Place Called Home: The Social Dimensions of Homeownership", stated that owners experience an overall reduced risk of health problems. Furthermore, theyreport feeling more satisfied with their financial lives than renters, even amidst nationwide financial crises. This is telling, as these people could just as easily be affected by a housing crises, and yet are less likely to feel the stress of that possibility than renters are. Lastly, being a homeowner increases one's feelings of control, increasing the feeling of safety in the process. This contributes to overall more positive instances of reported mental health.

Even in conditions that are unpredictable for both renters and homeowners, science tells us that the simple act of owning a home is enough to make them feel more safe, more happy, and more satisfied with their lives overall, while contributing to their increased physical safety as well. For a long-term solution, home owning is a clear winner over renting a home in nearly every circumstance.

Additional research, suggests that not only do these positive experiences improve owners' lives, though – the feeling of safety and satisfaction is present in their neighborhoods and communities as well. This is largely due to the increased participation of long term residents in their local and community elections, participation in community programs, and connection with other neighbors who may have remained in the community for many years. This goodwill coming from the homeowners actually improves the neighborhood around them, and even contributes to lower rates of crime in most neighborhoods.

The evidence overall suggests that owning a home is a smart choice, both financially and ethically. Most homeowners feel more secure and more happy than their renting counterparts, and that feeling of satisfaction is brought into the community as well.

For more information about this article, call 866-614-5959.

How to finance a second home

How to finance a second home

A number of Americans may have the financial means and desire to buy a second home, and may have many reasons for wanting to do so. However, the process for financing that purchase is often quite different from the standard mortgage process, and as such may require would-be second-time buyer to approach the mortgage process here with all due caution.

Often, those seeking a second mortgage will face significantly higher costs, both up front and in the long term, if they don't have a sound strategy in place, according to HGTV. Typically, the interest rates on second homes are much higher than those for a primary residence, and lenders often require larger down payments as well. Some buyers may be able to offset those issues by putting up the equity on their first homes as collateral.

What to do
Because the process of getting a second mortgage can be so complicated, many industry experts recommend simply working with a mortgage broker on the issue, rather than doing the legwork alone , the report said. In addition, it may be wise for owners to be a little more realistic about what they can afford, because not only will they face higher mortgage charges, but also potentially more costs associated with homeowners insurance policies, property taxes and upkeep.

With these issues in mind, it may also be important for would-be buyers to make sure they are working with an experienced real estate professional who knows the area in which they are looking to buy, according to Bankrate. These agents will typically be able to give them better advice about how to approach a planned home purchase, especially with respect to comparing prices to other, similar properties in the area and other issues associated with these houses.

Those real estate pros may also be able to advise about the likelihood of risk factors like flooding, and how that might affect a home's insurance needs going forward, Bankrate noted.

What's it for?
It is also important for homeowners to note the tax implications of buying a second home if they intend to rent it out on occasion, according to The Mortgage Reports. For instance, any money earned from a property being rented for more than a few weeks a year will have to be counted as taxable income, and that could further impact ownership costs going forward, too.

It's also worth noting that rental properties tend to have more complicated and expensive mortgage processes, so in a lot of cases it may be advantageous to simply use a second home as just that, and avoid renting it out, the report said.

Of course, every homeowner's approach to buying a second property will be different, because no two people have the same needs in such a situation. For that reason, it's vital to work with qualified and experienced mortgage and real estate professionals throughout the shopping, loan application and closing processes to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

For more information about this article, call 866-614-5959.

Finding the perfect neighborhood

Tips for finding the perfect neighborhood

When buying a new home, location is just as important as the property itself. Not only do you want to find something with a reasonable commute and neighbors you'll like, but you'll also want to make sure the surrounding area fits well with your lifestyle and needs. Make sure to think about these subjects before making any final offers.  

Is it safe? 
Especially for homeowners with families, safety is of the utmost importance. Realtor Mag suggested contacting the local police department to inquire about crime trends. Verify what type of crime is most common and if rates are going up or down. For example, an area with a small amount of burglaries may appear to be good at first glance, but if theft has increased 200 percent over the last year, it may be worrying even if the number of instances are still low. 

Thankfully, doing a fast online search for "crime report" and including the home's zip code should uncover similar information in a quick, efficient way.

Asking fellow homeowners about safety is another way to gauge how comfortable people are in their homes at night, if you have to be aware of anything in particular and if there are any programs in place like a neighborhood watch.

Check the covenants 
home owner's association (HOA) can drastically impact a neighborhood, according to Cents and Order. Each HOA will have covenants, or rules related to how you can use your property and any required maintenance or landscaping.

If your dream neighborhood is quiet during the evenings with orderly, manicured lawns, then an HOA with strict rules may be beneficial. However, if you prefer a laid back environment where rowdy block parties are the norm, a house with any type of community restrictions may be out of the question. Decide what you want your neighborhood to feel like, and make sure any rules and regulations match with your ideals and values.

Is the local economy good? 
A strong economy can benefit property values and the feel of a neighborhood over the long term. If the city starts experiencing economic hardship, school quality can decrease with fewer tax dollars coming in and home prices can plummet. Check for warning signs of a poor economy including increasing foreclosures, businesses that are boarded up, commercial vacancies and decreasing home prices. 

If there is a downtown area in the city you're considering, walk the street and stop in a few businesses. Ask how business has been and if they notice any recent trends in numbers of buyers or amount of purchases. Also check to see if there are a variety of businesses that provide local jobs. 

Is it kid-friendly?
If your family has children, make sure to examine the neighborhood for features like parks and schools. 

A good school district can increase property values and provide a better educational experience for residents' kids. By doing an internet search for "school district ratings in [zip code]" you should be able to find measures including test scores and teacher ratings. If the school has had a decrease in scores recently, it may be worth calling for an explanation. Even if your little ones are still young, make sure to check out the high schools since they grow up quickly. 

In addition to safety, you'll also want to see if there are any community centers or activities for younger residents that could help pass long summer days or weekends with the family. Parks with playgrounds and water features during hot weather are also a bonus. 

Does it fit with your interests and values? 
Each buyer has a different set of opinions and politics they come with. If you're a political person and lean to either the right or left, you may be more comfortable in a neighborhood with similar tendencies. 

The same goes for interests – make sure there is an opportunity to indulge in your favorite hobbies without driving long distances. If you like to watch movies and the closest theater is an hour away, you might want to look for homes in a different area. 

No matter what, you want to feel comfortable and fulfilled in your neighborhood as well as your home. 

These cities are most appealing to young home buyers.

Best cities for millennial homebuyers

Millennials are now the largest group of homebuyers in the country, making up about 35% percent of homebuyers, according to BankRate. They are now changing the way properties are marketed in an effort to meet their needs. Unlike less informed generations, these buyers typically know exactly what they're searching for in a new home, as well as what they're willing to compromise on. They usually begin house hunting after plenty of online research and come to open houses armed with pricing and neighborhood information.  

What are they looking for?
Millennials tend to fall into two categories: professionals searching for move-in ready, urban homes, and DIYers looking to invest time and money into a home for the long-term. For those looking to rent, a smaller place in the city is often preferred, but the as much as 66 percent of these buyers, according to Inc., prefer suburban homes just like the generation that came before.

No matter what category they fall into, many people in this generation are searching for a home that provides enough space to entertain friends and family as they begin having children. At the top of the most-desired list were open-space floor plans with combined kitchen, living and dining areas, which allow guests to mingle while moving between spaces. This factored into the desire to have large gatherings with extended family and create a sense of community by inviting neighbors and friends over. 

We see this trend, again, in outdoor features. Most millennials favor large backyards that include cooking or dining spaces, like outdoor grills, refrigerators and ample seating. This again serves to allow homeowners to host gatherings and join in the party instead of cooking in the kitchen while guests mingle outdoors.

Where they're looking
To find the homes that best allow millennials to host community, most are searching in a few cities that offer average to low cost homes close enough to the city to allow for a comfortable commute and yet suburban enough to allow for bigger yards and ample entertainment space.

So where is this generation buying homes? Check out our list of top cities for millennial homebuyers

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania isn't always considered a top real estate market, but the state is now home to a booming population of millennials thanks to affordable properties and gracious communities. Lancaster in particular seems to be a haven for younger buyers due to year-round farmers' markets, a thriving arts community and supportive communities for small business owners.

Some residents travel to Philadelphia or other nearby cities, but working from home is also completely achievable. Homes cost an average of $125,000, according to Zillow, which may provide enough wiggle room for most buyers to get a spare office. 

Cleveland, Ohio
Buying a home in Cleveland will get you the most home for your money right now. Zillow reports that the average price for a home is around $70,000. Cleveland may not be a large city, but it has a variety of options no matter what your interests including an art museum, zoo and orchestra. Lake Erie has beaches and hiking trails and the city also has professional teams in every major sport.

Cleveland isn't as big as other cities you might consider, which can offer a small city feel for people who want to know their neighbors. 

Indianapolis, Indiana
Homes in Indianapolis cost an average of $144,000, and the city is perfectly suited for young families and professionals. This city is home to one of the largest children's museums in the world, and has plenty for the adults to indulge in as well, with a thriving downtown area.

The cost of living in Indianapolis is low, and the job market is relatively strong, making this a stable environment to live in with children.

Residents also enjoy warm summers that make it easy to enjoy this bike-friendly city.

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Of course, millennials who love the outdoors will find much to love in Minneapolis, which is home to 197 parks and is the only American city that ranks high among all international locations for cycling, according to the Star Tribune. The city is dedicated to eco-conscious living: most people live within 10 minutes of a park and the city has earned the title of third-most energy efficient state in 2016.

The city was also rated second in the nation in terms of fittest residents, many of whom love biking, running, and racing. 

If you're a realtor working with younger buyers, make sure to promote perks like open floor plans in any of the cities listed above. 

For current house-hunters, these locations may give you a good starting point if you're looking to relocate. 

Hottest rental markets to buy in

The hottest rental markets to buy in

Looking to diversify your rental property portfolio? These are some of the hottest markets for investment buyers across the nation. These neighborhoods and cities are booming and have a large amount of people looking to rent, so it'll be easier to fill an empty unit than other cities. Plus, rental prices are projected to remain stable over the long term, making these neighborhoods better suited for extended ownership rather than quick property flips. 

Here are five cities worth considering. 

Orlando, Florida
Orlando tops the list of best places to buy a rental property in 2018. To maximize your investment, buy earlier in the second quarter (sometime in April) so you can be ready for the most popular season for new renters to move. According to Forbes, the market in Orlando is projected to grow by 35% by the beginning of 2021.

What does this sunny city have to offer your renters? Job growth is at 7 percent and climbing. There is a steady stream of tourists to keep the economy afloat and jobs are relatively stable long term. Warm weather, sandy beaches, and a thriving downtown district offers residents an idyllic life. Even in slower rental seasons, there are plenty of people moving to and renting in this city.

Jacksonville, Florida
Also in the southern half of the country, the next city is Jacksonville, located on the northeast coast of Florida. Most units in Jacksonville are being rented between $701 and $1,500, and rental prices have continuously risen since the beginning of this year. Since 2017, prices are up 4.5 percent, and the upward trend is expected to continue based on data compiled by Rent Jungle. The south side and Jacksonville Beach are the most profitable regions of Jacksonville, though Atlantic Highlands comes in at a close third.

Located on the coast, Jacksonville is sunny and warm, much like Orlando, but less well known, which generally means fewer crowds and a slower living. That can be a big draw for families and older renters. Having child-friendly features in a unit will allow you to target people with children who are looking for a good long-term home.

Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh joins the list with high demand for small spaces. While rental prices haven't risen as much as Orlando, they are still on the upswing — the average cost being 2 percent higher than last year's prices. Studio apartments are in higher demand, with prices growing an average of 5 percent higher than last year. If you're looking to buy in Raleigh, you should consider multi-family units in the city, close to downtown attractions that will most appeal to young professionals who just need a small studio apartment.

Zillow reports that the job market in Raleigh is secure and rising in both healthcare and finance, which means you should be seeing more renters in 2018. If you're going to buy in Raleigh, better to do it soon as there are new residents moving in every day scooping up available real estate. 

Nashville, Tennessee
Across the country, there's a trend towards living in smaller cities that offer in-demand jobs coupled with lower-cost rentals. Nashville is no exception, with high rental prices and a constant stream of people looking for apartments. Millennials are choosing Nashville at higher rates than people in other generations, possibly because of the university, friendliness of the people or large number of small businesses.

Tennesseean Online reported that disposable income is projected to be 40 percent higher in Tennessee than the national average, making Nashville a secure, sustainable long-term rental option. Additionally, it's expected that 20,000 people will be moving to Tennessee every year for the next five years including, a combination of university students, entrepreneurs, and millennials.

Columbus, Ohio
With a recent decline of about 2 percent in rental prices, it might be surprising to include Columbus in the list of top hottest rental markets. Rental properties are long-term investment and if you're willing to wait, it's likely you'll be rewarded. The city has been going through a transformation in the last couple of months with new buildings and jobs flooding the region. The growth is expected to continue to over the next several years as new urban projects are completed and more new companies move in.

Already, Columbus has a stronger job and rental market than nearby cities in Ohio, making it one of the best options for investment in the entire state. 

While the numbers from 2018's first quarter are encouraging, rental markets rely on the long-term investment rather than a quick flip. The important factors to watch when searching for new properties are job growth and forecasted population growth. These five cities are all expected to see positive increases in economy and renters in the coming years. 

How FHA loans decrease your down payment

How FHA loans decrease your down payment

Many consumers may think it could be difficult for them to get into the housing market at a time when competition is on the rise among buyers. A lot of that concern might revolve around their abilities to build a sizable down payment, but the good news is that for many borrowers, getting a mortgage through the Federal Housing Administration can significantly reduce their down payment requirements for mortgage qualification.

While many mortgage lenders will typically require applicants to provide down payments of 20 percent or more, would-be borrowers can avoid that high bar by going through the FHA, according to NerdWallet. The government agency requires borrowers to carry credit scores of at least 500 – the vast majority of borrowers are above that level – but that is often far lower than what is required by private financial institutions.

Lower costs available
When borrowers qualify for an FHA-backed mortgage, they unlock the potential to save on down payment requirements, the report said. For 2018, any borrower with a credit score between 500 and 579 will only be mandated to make a down payment of 10 percent, while anyone whose score is 580 or more will only be required to put 3.5 percent down.

There are, however, other rules in place, the report said. Borrowers will need to have at least two types of credit in their name already and no outstanding debt with previous FHA-backed loans. They will further need to show proof of where any cash gifts that go toward the down payment came from. Applicants also cannot have debt-to-income ratios exceeding 50 percent.

What about closing costs?
Meanwhile, borrowers will also face more or less the same closing cost requirements as anyone else with a mortgage, according to The Mortgage Reports. The added twist is the FHA will require borrowers to pay for mortgage insurance – typically equal to 1.75 percent of the loan value – up front.

However, consumers will also have to keep in mind that FHA loans tend to carry larger interest rates than other mortgages and, because of the smaller down payments, higher monthly payments as well, according to HSH.com. In addition, the mortgage insurance costs they have to pay will typically be applied for the life of the loan, regardless of owners' accrued equity.

As with any other mortgage issues, consumers should make sure they explore all their options for finding an affordable mortgage that works for them. That, in turn, will help them achieve their goals of homeownership without creating long-term financial concerns for themselves.

For more information about this article, call 866-614-5959.

Dealing with shifting affordability

Dealing with shifting affordability

Over the past several months, a number of factors have come together to make the housing market substantially less affordable than it was just a few years ago. The good news for would-be buyers – regardless of their financial readiness – is that current conditions are still markedly more affordable than they were prior to the economic downturn

However, those who are in slightly tenuous positions when it comes to maintaining a high credit score and making a sizable down payment may find it more difficult to navigate the market these days, according to Trulia. This is due, in part, to the fact that affordability is declining continually thanks to rising rates and increased competition among buyers as the economy improves. However, many would-be buyers aren't deterred by declining affordability these days, meaning bidding wars are becoming increasingly common as a result of the constricted inventory seen in most major markets.

Why is affordability still high?
With these conditions in mind, it may lead one to wonder why today's affordability is still quite high in comparison with historical norms, and the answer is "mortgage rates," the report said. While rates are certainly rising somewhat sharply these days, they had previously dropped to their lowest levels ever by far.

Indeed, rates today are hovering in the 4.5 percent range or so, but prior to the economic downturn they typically fluctuated between 5.5 percent and 6 percent, meaning the current level has a long way to go before reaching previous averages, the report said. Moreover, even those rates were still down somewhat from all-time historical averages, meaning affordability could linger for some time to come.

A potential issue
However, as mortgage rates rise, it could present a different inventory issue for would-be buyers, according to Zillow. Millions of current homeowners refinanced when rates were at some of the lowest levels ever observed in the housing market, meaning that to sell their homes now would lead them to face rates often more than a full percentage point higher than they were previously paying, and in a lot of markets prices still haven't risen enough to offset that risk.

This is an issue that could be addressed by home prices that, in many markets, are still rising at rates well above historical averages, but nonetheless it may keep inventories constricted for some time to come, the report said.

With this in mind, it's vital for shoppers to understand what constitutes an affordable mortgage both in the big picture of the overall market and their own finances, according to Investopedia. It's therefore vital to sit down and figure out "how much home" is affordable given current income and debt levels; these calculations should include not only mortgage costs themselves, but also those related to homeowners insurance, local property taxes and the like.

Consequently, it's important for would-be buyers of any financial situation to make sure they talk to a lender or real estate professional (or both) to determine what would actually be affordable for them based on their unique circumstances.

For more information about this article, call 866-614-5959.

Buying a new home with kids.

Choosing a home with kids in mind

When moving your family into a new home, there are many factors to consider. For those with babies, keep in mind that the average length of home ownership is 13 years according to the National Association of Home Builders. That means you'll want to think about schools and neighborhood factors that may impact older children and teenagers. 

Floor Plan 
If you have young children, pay extra attention to the floor plan, suggested Parents Magazine. Having a master bedroom on a different floor as the rest of the bedrooms can make nighttime difficult. Parents with infants will need to climb stairs for midnight feedings and might not hear toddlers who still wake up at night. More independent kids might attempt to scale the stairs in the dark leading to trips and falls in the middle of the night. 

An open floor plan with an indoor play area is helpful for cold weather climates. Since evenings and play-dates may be spent indoors, make sure to have an area that's large enough for toys and movement. By having an open layout from the kitchen to living area, parents can cook and clean while little ones play within sight. 

Another consideration is stairs from the garage or entryway which can be common in townhomes and buildings in flood zones. Climbing up one or more flights with a load of groceries can be overwhelming with little ones running around. If you have an infant, remember it might be years until you can trust them to go up the stairs solo while you carry items from the car. 

Yard 
For many families, a yard to play in is extremely important. Make sure to consider the right outdoor space for your needs. If you have an extremely active life and spend little time at home, a smaller yard will be more manageable and require less work.

However, if you are a stay-at-home parent or have in-home childcare, a yard might be more important. Consider looking for a home with a a play structure already installed or adequate space to build one. Fenced in areas provide peace of mind since physical barriers prevent young children and pets from wandering off. 

Before purchasing a home with a pool, consider safety features like fences and gates to prevent unattended children from falling in. 

Schools 
Even if you don't have children yet, a great school district can boost the value of a property, according to HGTV. Most real estate apps list nearby schools and school ratings. Quickly search online for elementary, middle and high schools to see how they compare to nearby areas. Even if your kids are still in diapers, make sure to choose an area with access to quality high schools since they'll grow up before you know it. 

A realtor or neighbor should be able to give you information about zoning changes or new schools that may impact your decision. 

Neighborhood 
Look for an area with lots of parks and a high level of safety. Older kids will appreciate an outdoor play space, and a low-crime area will allow them to walk alone once they're big enough. Also consider other neighborhood kids and how likely it is to find friends for your little ones. 

For more information about this article, call 866-614-5959.

Steps to purchasing a home if you've had a foreclosure or bankruptcy in the past

Steps to purchasing a home if you’ve had a foreclosure or bankruptcy in the past

The good news for the housing market is that the improving economy has allowed many Americans to boost their finances and put in the work to be in the position to buy a home these days. However, for many people, the toll of the financial downturn was too great to bear and resulted in them either having to file for bankruptcy or go through the foreclosure process, which seriously damaged their credit standing.

Even those people, however, might be back to the point at which they're ready to buy a home (either again or for the first time) and they may need to navigate some murky waters when it comes to dealing with lenders, according to The Mortgage Reports. Typically, would-be borrowers have to wait years after various types of bankruptcy filings to even come close to being eligible for a refinance, though that waiting period will vary depending upon the type of loan they're seeking.

For instance, a loan obtained through the Federal Housing Administration would only take two years of waiting, but people applying for a a conforming mortgage backed by Fannie and Freddie will typically have to wait for double that period, the report said. Even then, however, it may be difficult for them to qualify simply because of how much damage has likely been done to their credit scores.

What about a foreclosure?
Those who have gone through a foreclosure will typically have to wait a much longer period of time, according to Credit.com. The typical waiting period required for homeowners who have previously been foreclosed upon is seven years, and that will often also apply to people who avoided foreclosure by going through short sales and loan modifications. Depending upon the lender, however, those alternatives could carry shorter "seasoning periods" for borrowers, and these periods will typically vary by lender; here too, the FHA or other government organizations may apply shorter time spans than traditional lenders.

The good news, of a sort, is that for previous homeowners who went through both bankruptcy and a foreclosure, these waiting periods run concurrently, not consecutively, the report said. This means borrowers who suffered both these processes in recent years would likely only have to wait the longer of the two terms to be eligible to buy a home once again.

What to do
Even after those waiting periods have expired, would-be buyers will likely have to do plenty of work to improve their credit standings to satisfactory levels once again, according to Realtor.com. That means dealing with any lingering debt-related issues like delinquencies, keeping outstanding balances down, and taking other steps that are typically seen as good practices when it comes to maintaining a high credit score.

In addition, many traditional lenders will want a lot of information about why a foreclosure or bankruptcy filing happened in the first place, and providing documentation could be vital, the report said. However, if hopeful borrowers can prove the circumstances that led to their adverse situations were beyond their control, they may be able to overcome some of the associated hurdles.

As with any other mortgage-seeking effort, it's vital for those who have gone through previous financial hardships to ensure they have done all the necessary research to understand what will be required of them in the home loan process. That will help inform a number of financial decisions that aid potential buyers in unlocking the best possible affordability available to them.

For more information about this article, call 866-614-5959.

Apps to help home buyers.

Apps for the home-buying process

Buying a new home has become more high tech in recent years. Smart phone applications can now help buyers search for properties, explore neighborhoods and apply for mortgages on the go.

Residential Property Search 
For anyone looking to purchase a condo, coop or single-family home, these apps will give you access to current listings. 

  • Trulia –  This is a good option if you're looking for a comprehensive data source on each listing including property history and neighborhood data. All features are free and each post includes crime reports for the surrounding area. Each home has a general neighborhood crime rating that you can click for more information. That pops up a map with color coding for crime rates on a block-by-block basis with a list of associated incidents.
  • Zillow – The search filters on Zillow allow you to draw a search region with your finger instead of choosing an area by zip code or predetermined neighborhood. Save any searches so you don't need to enter the parameters multiple times and get notifications when new properties are listed. 
  • FSBO – This app is made specifically for properties that are for sale by owner. Remember that most FSBO homes do not use a Realtor or staging professional to decorate before a sale. The images you see might require a little extra imagination but for someone who is looking to work directly with a seller, it's worth it. 

Buying a Rental Building

Multi-family homes and rental properties are often categorized as commercial properties. If you're looking for an investment this app may have more listings than those focused on the residential market

  • Loopnet – According to the Loopnet website, this app will allow you to access over 500,000 listings. A large database of properties for sale by owner can be found using this tool, as well as ones represented by an agent. The quality of listings and amount of photos for each property can vary widely, but contact information is readily available so you can get more information on anything that catches your eye.  

Neighborhood
There's a reason "location, location, location" has become the mantra of real estate agents around the country. The businesses and neighborhoods around a property can greatly impact it's value. For active families, an like-minded community with lots of nearby businesses may be important. For homebodies, low crime rates and open spaces may be more important.

  • Walk Score – This app allows you to judge the walk-ability and bike-ability of a neighborhood. Enter an address and it will assign a walk score to the neighborhood, including a breakdown of how many grocery stores, restaurants and coffee shops there are nearby. It allows buyers to explore a neighborhood without spending the time walking around. This is particularly good for people who prefer life without a car or are planning to rent their home in the future. 
  • Google Maps – This sounds obvious, but Google Maps is for more than directions. Before going to an open house, you can check the neighborhood using Google's street view feature. Just find the icon of a small yellow figure at the bottom of your screen and drag him to the street or address you'd like to see. Buyers can "walk" the neighborhood by clicking forward in street view. If you're wondering if it's worth considering a new area, this is a good way to scope it out before making the trip.

Mortgage 

  • U.S. Mortgage Calculator – Download this if you'd like to know how much you can afford. Enter your down payment, location and mortgage amount and the app will be able to calculate your monthly payments. Choose if you'd like to factor in add-ons like insurance and taxes for a more accurate assessment. 

For more information about this article, call 866-614-5959.