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17 Tips for Packing Like a Pro

Moving to a new home can be stressful, to say the least. Make it easy on yourself by planning far in advance and making sure you’ve covered all the bases.

Plan ahead by organizing and budgeting. Develop a master “to do” list so you won’t forget something critical on moving day, and create an estimate of moving costs. (A moving calculator is available at REALTOR.com)

Sort and get rid of things you no longer want or need. Have a garage sale, donate to a charity, or recycle.

But don’t throw out everything. If your inclination is to just toss it, you're probably right. However, it's possible to go overboard in the heat of the moment. Ask yourself how frequently you use an item and how you’d feel if you no longer had it. That will eliminate regrets after the move.

Pack similar items together. Put toys with toys, kitchen utensils with kitchen utensils. It will make your life easier when it's time to unpack.

Decide what, if anything, you plan to move on your own. Precious items such as family photos, valuable breakables, or must-haves during the move should probably stay with you. Don't forget to keep a "necessities" bag with tissues, snacks, and other items you'll need that day.

Remember, most movers won’t take plants. If you don't want to leave them behind, you should plan on moving them yourself.

Use the right box for the item. Loose items are prone to breakage.

Put heavy items in small boxes so they’re easier to lift. Keep the weight of each box under 50 pounds, if possible.

Don’t over-pack boxes. It increases the likelihood that items inside the box will break.

Wrap every fragile item separately and pad bottom and sides of boxes. If necessary, purchase bubble-wrap or other packing materials from moving stores.

Label every box on all sides. You never know how they’ll be stacked and you don’t want to have to move other boxes aside to find out what’s there.

Use color-coded labels to indicate which room each item should go in. Color-code a floor plan for your new house to help movers.

Keep your moving documents together in a file. Include important phone numbers, driver’s name, and moving van number. Also keep your address book handy.

Print out a map and directions for movers. Make several copies, and highlight the route. Include your cell phone number on the map. You don’t want movers to get lost! Also make copies for friends or family who are lending a hand on moving day.

Back up your computer files before moving your computer. Keep the backup in a safe place, preferably at an off-site location.

Inspect each box and all furniture for damage as soon as it arrives.

Make arrangements for small children and pets. Moving can be stressful and emotional. Kids can help organize their things and pack boxes ahead of time, but, if possible, it might be best to spare them from the moving-day madness

Moving With Pets

Moving to a new home can be stressful on your pets, but there are many things you can do to make the process as painless as possible. Experts at The Pet Realty Network in Naples, Fla., offer these helpful tips for easing the transition and keeping pets safe during the move.

Update your pet’s tag. Make sure your pet is wearing a sturdy collar with an identification tag that is labeled with your current contact information. The tag should include your destination location, telephone number, and cell phone number so that you can be reached immediately during the move.

Ask for veterinary records. If you’re moving far enough away that you’ll need a new vet, you should ask for a current copy of your pet’s vaccinations. You also can ask for your pet’s medical history to give to your new vet, although that can normally be faxed directly to the new medical-care provider upon request. Depending on your destination, your pet may need additional vaccinations, medications, and health certificates. Have your current vet's phone number handy in case of an emergency, or in case your new vet would like more information about your pet.

Keep medications and food on hand. Keep at least one week’s worth of food and medication with you in case of an emergency. Vets can’t write a prescription without a prior doctor/patient relationship, which can cause delays if you need medication right away. You may want to ask for an extra prescription refill before you move. The same preparation should be taken with special therapeutic foods — purchase an extra supply in case you can't find the food right away in your new area. Seclude your pet from chaos. Pets can feel vulnerable on moving day. Keep them in a safe, quiet, well-ventilated place, such as the bathroom, on moving day with a “Do Not Disturb! Pets Inside!” sign posted on the door. There are many light, collapsible travel crates on the market if you choose to buy one. However, make sure your pet is familiar with the new crate before moving day by gradually introducing him or her to the crate before your trip. Be sure the crate is well-ventilated and sturdy enough for stress-chewers; otherwise, a nervous pet could escape.

Prepare a first aid kit. First aid is not a substitute for emergency veterinary care, but being prepared and knowing basic first aid could save your pet's life. A few recommended supplies: Your veterinarian's phone number, gauze to wrap wounds or to muzzle your pet, adhesive tape for bandages, non-stick bandages, towels, and hydrogen peroxide (3 percent). You can use a door, board, blanket or floor mat as an emergency stretcher and a soft cloth, rope, necktie, leash, or nylon stocking for an emergency muzzle. Play it safe in the car. It’s best to travel with your dog in a crate; second-best is to use a restraining harness. When it comes to cats, it’s always best for their safety and yours to use a well-ventilated carrier in the car. Secure the crate or carrier with a seat belt and provide your pet with familiar toys. Never keep your pet in the open bed of a truck or the storage area of a moving van. In any season, a pet left alone in a parked vehicle is vulnerable to injury and theft. If you’ll be using overnight lodging, plan ahead by searching for pet-friendly hotels. Have plenty of kitty litter and plastic bags on hand, and keep your pet on its regular diet and eating schedule.

Get ready for takeoff. When traveling by air,check with the airline about any pet requirements or restrictions to be sure you’ve prepared your pet for a safe trip. Some airlines will allow pets in the cabin, depending on the animal’s size, but you’ll need to purchase a special airline crate that fits under the seat in front of you. Give yourself plenty of time to work out any arrangements necessary including consulting with your veterinarian and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If traveling is stressful for your pet, consult your veterinarian about ways that might lessen the stress of travel.

Find a new veterinary clinic and emergency hospital. Before you move, ask your vet to recommend a doctor in your new locale. Talk to other pet owners when visiting the new community, and call the state veterinary medical association (VMA) for veterinarians in your location. When choosing a new veterinary hospital, ask for an impromptu tour; kennels should be kept clean at all times, not just when a client’s expected. You may also want to schedule an appointment to meet the vets. Now ask yourself: Are the receptionists, doctors, technicians, and assistants friendly, professional and knowledgeable? Are the office hours and location convenient? Does the clinic offer emergency or specialty services or boarding? If the hospital doesn’t meet your criteria, keep looking until you’re assured that your pet will receive the best possible care.

Prep your new home for pets. Pets may be frightened and confused in new surroundings. Upon your arrival at your new home, immediately set out all the familiar and necessary things your pet will need: food, water, medications, bed, litter box, toys, etc. Pack these items in a handy spot so they can be unpacked right away. Keep all external windows and doors closed when your pet is unsupervised, and be cautious of narrow gaps behind or between appliances where nervous pets may try to hide. If your old home is nearby, your pet may try to find a way back there. To be safe, give the new home owners or your former neighbors your phone number and a photo of your pet, and ask them to contact you if your pet is found nearby.

Learn more about your new area. Once you find a new veterinarian, ask if there are any local health concerns such as heartworm or Lyme disease, or any vaccinations or medications your pet may require. Also, be aware of any unique laws. For example, there are restrictive breed laws in some cities. Homeowner associations also may have restrictions — perhaps requiring that all dogs are kept on leashes. If you will be moving to a new country, carry an updated rabies vaccination and health certificate. It is very important to contact the Agriculture Department or embassy of the country or state to which you’re traveling to obtain specific information on special documents, quarantine, or costs to bring the animal into the country.

Common Closing Costs for Buyers

You’ll likely be responsible for a variety of fees and expenses that you and the seller will have to pay at the time of closing. Your lender must provide a good-faith estimate of all settlement costs. The title company or other entity conducting the closing will tell you the required amount for:

Down payment

Loan origination

Points, or loan discount fees, which you pay to receive a lower interest rate

Home inspection

Appraisal

Credit report

Private mortgage insurance premium

Insurance escrow for homeowner’s insurance, if being paid as part of the mortgage

Property tax escrow, if being paid as part of the mortgage. Lenders keep funds for taxes and insurance in escrow accounts as they are paid with the mortgage, then pay the insurance or taxes for you.

Deed recording

Title insurance policy premiums

Land survey

Notary fees

Prorations for your share of costs, such as utility bills and property taxes

A Note About Prorations: Because such costs are usually paid on either a monthly or yearly basis, you might have to pay a bill for services used by the sellers before they moved. Proration is a way for the sellers to pay you back or for you to pay them for bills they may have paid in advance. For example, the gas company usually sends a bill each month for the gas used during the previous month. But assume you buy the home on the 6th of the month. You would owe the gas company for only the days from the 6th to the end for the month. The seller would owe for the first five days. The bill would be prorated for the number of days in the month, and then each person would be responsible for the days of his or her ownership.

What's a Home Warranty?

A home warranty is a service contract, normally for one year, which helps protect home owners against the cost of unexpected covered repairs or replacement on their major systems and appliances that break down due to normal wear and tear. Coverage is for systems and appliances in good working order at the start of the contract.

Check your home warranty policy to see which of the following items are covered. Also find out if the policy covers the full replacement cost of an item.

Plumbing

Electrical systems

Furnace

Water heater

Heating ducts

Water pump

Dishwasher

Garbage disposal

Stove/cooktop/ovens

Microwave

Refrigerator

Washer/dryer

Swimming pool (may be optional)

Source: American Home Shield, www.ahswarranty.com, REALTOR® Benefits Partner

5 Things to Know About Homeowner's Insurance

Know about exclusions to coverage. For example, most insurance policies do not cover flood or earthquake damage as a standard item. These types of coverage must be bought separately.

Know about dollar limitations on claims. Even if you are covered for a risk, there may be a limit on how much the insurer will pay. For example, many policies limit the amount paid for stolen jewelry unless items are insured separately.

Know the replacement cost. If your home is destroyed you’ll receive money to replace it only to the maximum of your coverage, so be sure your insurance is sufficient. This means that if your home is insured for $150,000 and it costs $180,000 to replace it, you’ll only receive $150,000.

Know the actual cash value. If you chose not to replace your home when it’s destroyed, you’ll receive replacement cost, less depreciation. This is called actual cash value.

Know the liability. Generally your homeowner’s insurance covers you for accidents that happen to other people on your property, including medical care, court costs, and awards by the court. However, there is usually an upper limit to the amount of coverage provided. Be sure that it’s sufficient if you have significant assets. .

8 Tips to Guide for Your Home Search

Research before you look. Decide what features you most want to have in a home, what neighborhoods you prefer, and how much you’d be willing to spend each month for housing. Be realistic. It’s OK to be picky, but don’t be unrealistic with your expectations. There’s no such thing as a perfect home. Use your list of priorities as a guide to evaluate each property.

Get your finances in order. Review your credit report and be sure you have enough money to cover your down payment and closing costs. Then, talk to a lender and get prequalified for a mortgage. This will save you the heartache later of falling in love with a house you can’t afford.

Don’t ask too many people for opinions. It will drive you crazy. Select one or two people to turn to if you feel you need a second opinion, but be ready to make the final decision on your own.

Decide your moving timeline. When is your lease up? Are you allowed to sublet? How tight is the rental market in your area? All of these factors will help you determine when you should move.

Think long term. Are you looking for a starter house with plans to move up in a few years, or do you hope to stay in this home for a longer period? This decision may dictate what type of home you’ll buy as well as the type of mortgage terms that will best suit you.

Insist on a home inspection. If possible, get a warranty from the seller to cover defects for one year.

Get help from a REALTOR®. Hire a real estate professional who specializes in buyer representation. Unlike a listing agent, whose first duty is to the seller, a buyer’s representative is working only for you. Buyer’s reps are usually paid out of the seller’s commission payment.

How Big of a Mortgage Can I Afford?

Not only does owning a home give you a haven for yourself and your family, it also makes great financial sense because of the tax benefits — which you can’t take advantage of when paying rent.

The following calculation assumes a 28 percent income tax bracket. If your bracket is higher, your savings will be, too. Based on your current rent, use this calculation to figure out how much mortgage you can afford.

Rent: _________________________
Multiplier: x 1.32
Mortgage payment: _________________________


Because of tax deductions, you can make a mortgage payment — including taxes and insurance — that is approximately one-third larger than your current rent payment and end up with the same amount of income.

For more help, use Fannie Mae’s online mortgage calculators.

What You Can Do to Improve Your Credit

Credit scores, along with your overall income and debt, are big factors in determining whether you’ll qualify for a loan and what your loan terms will be. So, keep your credit score high by doing the following:

Check for and correct any errors in your credit report. Mistakes happen, and you could be paying for someone else’s poor financial management.

Pay down credit card bills. If possible, pay off the entire balance every month. Transferring credit card debt from one card to another could lower your score.

Don’t charge your credit cards to the maximum limit.

Wait 12 months after credit difficulties to apply for a mortgage. You’re penalized less for problems after a year.

Don’t order items for your new home on credit — such as appliances and furniture — until after the loan is approved. The amounts will add to your debt.

Don’t open new credit card accounts before applying for a mortgage. Too much available credit can lower your score.

Shop for mortgage rates all at once. Too many credit applications can lower your score, but multiple inquiries from the same type of lender are counted as one inquiry if submitted over a short period of time.

Avoid finance companies. Even if you pay the loan on time, the interest is high and it will probably be considered a sign of poor credit management.

This information is copyrighted by the Fannie Mae Foundation and is used with permission of the Fannie Mae Foundation. To obtain a complete copy of the publication, Knowing and Understanding Your Credit, visit www.goodmortgage.com.

Lender Checklist: What You Need for a Mortgage

W-2 forms — or business tax return forms if you're self-employed — for the last two or three years for every person signing the loan.

Copies of at least one pay stub for each person signing the loan.

Account numbers of all your credit cards and the amounts for any outstanding balances.

Copies of two to four months of bank or credit union statements for both checking and savings accounts.

Lender, loan number, and amount owed on other installment loans, such as student loans and car loans.

Addresses where you’ve lived for the last five to seven years, with names of landlords if appropriate.

Copies of brokerage account statements for two to four months, as well as a list of any other major assets of value, such as a boat, RV, or stocks or bonds not held in a brokerage account.

Copies of your most recent 401(k) or other retirement account statement.

Documentation to verify additional income, such as child support or a pension.

Copies of personal tax forms for the last two to three years.

Loan Types to Consider

Brush up on these mortgage basics to help you determine the loan that will best suit your needs.

Mortgage terms. Mortgages are generally available at 15-, 20-, or 30-year terms. In general, the longer the term, the lower the monthly payment. However, you pay more interest overall if you borrow for a longer term.

Fixed or adjustable interest rates. A fixed rate allows you to lock in a low rate as long as you hold the mortgage and, in general, is usually a good choice if interest rates are low. An adjustable-rate mortgage is designed so that your loan’s interest rate will rise as market interest rates increase. ARMs usually offer a lower rate in the first years of the mortgage. ARMs also usually have a limit as to how much the interest rate can be increased and how frequently they can be raised. These types of mortgages are a good choice when fixed interest rates are high or when you expect your income to grow significantly in the coming years.

Balloon mortgages. These mortgages offer very low interest rates for a short period of time — often three to seven years. Payments usually cover only the interest so the principal owed is not reduced. However, this type of loan may be a good choice if you think you will sell your home in a few years.

Government-backed loans. These loans are sponsored by agencies such as the Federal Housing Administration or the Department of Veterans Affairs and offer special terms, including lower down payments or reduced interest rates to qualified buyers.

Slight variations in interest rates, loan amounts, and terms can significantly affect your monthly payment. For help in determining how much your monthly payment will be for various loan amounts, use Fannie Mae’s online mortgage calculators.

Tax Benefits of Homeownership

The tax deductions you’re eligible to take for mortgage interest and property taxes greatly increase the financial benefits of homeownership. Here’s how it works.

Assume:

$9,877 = Mortgage interest paid (a loan of $150,000 for 30 years, at 7 percent, using year-five interest)
$2,700 = Property taxes (at 1.5 percent on $180,000 assessed value)


______
$12,577 = Total deduction
Then, multiply your total deduction by your tax rate.
For example, at a 28 percent tax rate: 12,577 x 0.28 = $3,521.56
$3,521.56 = Amount you have lowered your federal income tax (at 28 percent tax rate)

Note: Mortgage interest may not be deductible on loans over $1.1 million. In addition, deductions are decreased when total income reaches a certain level.

7 Reasons to Own Your Home

Tax breaks. The U.S. Tax Code lets you deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage, your property taxes, as well as some of the costs involved in buying your home.

Appreciation. Real estate has long-term, stable growth in value. While year-to-year fluctuations are normal, median existing-home sale prices have increased on average 6.5 percent each year from 1972 through 2005, and increased 88.5 percent over the last 10 years, according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. In addition, the number of U.S. households is expected to rise 15 percent over the next decade, creating continued high demand for housing.
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Equity. Money paid for rent is money that you’ll never see again, but mortgage payments let you build equity ownership interest in your home.

Savings. Building equity in your home is a ready-made savings plan. And when you sell, you can generally take up to $250,000 ($500,000 for a married couple) as gain without owing any federal income tax.

Predictability. Unlike rent, your fixed-mortgage payments don’t rise over the years so your housing costs may actually decline as you own the home longer. However, keep in mind that property taxes and insurance costs will increase.

Freedom. The home is yours. You can decorate any way you want and benefit from your investment for as long as you own the home.

Stability. Remaining in one neighborhood for several years gives you a chance to participate in community activities, lets you and your family establish lasting friendships, and offers your children the benefit of educational continuity.

Online resources: To calculate whether buying is the best financial option for you, use the “Buy vs. Rent” calculator at www.GinnieMae.gov.

10 Ways to Prepare for Homeownership

Decide what you can afford. Generally, you can afford a home equal in value to between two and three times your gross income.

Develop your home wish list. Then, prioritize the features on your list.

Select where you want to live. Compile a list of three or four neighborhoods you’d like to live in, taking into account items such as schools, recreational facilities, area expansion plans, and safety.

Start saving. Do you have enough money saved to qualify for a mortgage and cover your down payment? Ideally, you should have 20 percent of the purchase price saved as a down payment.

Also, don’t forget to factor in closing costs. Closing costs — including taxes, attorney’s fee, and transfer fees — average between 2 and 7 percent of the home price.

Get your credit in order. Obtain a copy of your credit report to make sure it is accurate and to correct any errors immediately. A credit report provides a history of your credit, bad debts, and any late payments.

Determine your mortgage qualifications. How large of mortgage do you qualify for? Also, explore different loan options — such as 30-year or 15-year fixed mortgages or ARMs — and decide what’s best for you.

Get preapproved. Organize all the documentation a lender will need to preapprove you for a loan. You might need W-2 forms, copies of at least one pay stub, account numbers, and copies of two to four months of bank or credit union statements.

Weigh other sources of help with a down payment. Do you qualify for any special mortgage or down payment assistance programs? Check with your state and local government on down payment assistance programs for first-time buyers. Or, if you have an IRA account, you can use the money you’ve saved to buy your fist home without paying a penalty for early withdrawal.

Calculate the costs of homeownership. This should include property taxes, insurance, maintenance and utilities, and association fees, if applicable.

Contact a REALTOR®. Find an experienced REALTOR® who can help guide you through the process.


Why You Should Work With a REALTOR®

Not all real estate practitioners are REALTORS®. The term REALTOR® is a registered trademark that identifies a real estate professional who is a member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION of REALTORS® and subscribes to its strict Code of Ethics. Here are five reasons why it pays to work with a REALTOR®.

You’ll have an expert to guide you through the process. Buying or selling a home usually requires disclosure forms, inspection reports, mortgage documents, insurance policies, deeds, and multi-page settlement statements. A knowledgeable expert will help you prepare the best deal, and avoid delays or costly mistakes.

Get objective information and opinions. REALTORS® can provide local community information on utilities, zoning, schools, and more. They’ll also be able to provide objective information about each property. A professional will be able to help you answer these two important questions: Will the property provide the environment I want for a home or investment? Second, will the property have resale value when I am ready to sell?

Find the best property out there. Sometimes the property you are seeking is available but not actively advertised in the market, and it will take some investigation by your REALTOR® to find all available properties.

Benefit from their negotiating experience. There are many negotiating factors, including but not limited to price, financing, terms, date of possession, and inclusion or exclusion of repairs, furnishings, or equipment. In addition, the purchase agreement should provide a period of time for you to complete appropriate inspections and investigations of the property before you are bound to complete the purchase. Your agent can advise you as to which investigations and inspections are recommended or required.

Property marketing power. Real estate doesn’t sell due to advertising alone. In fact, a large share of real estate sales comes as the result of a practitioner’s contacts through previous clients, referrals, friends, and family. When a property is marketed with the help of a REALTOR®, you do not have to allow strangers into your home. Your REALTOR® will generally prescreen and accompany qualified prospects through your property.

Real estate has its own language. If you don’t know a CMA from a PUD, you can understand why it’s important to work with a professional who is immersed in the industry and knows the real estate language.

REALTORS® have done it before. Most people buy and sell only a few homes in a lifetime, usually with quite a few years in between each purchase. And even if you’ve done it before, laws and regulations change. REALTORS®, on the other hand, handle hundreds of real estate transactions over the course of their career. Having an expert on your side is critical.

Buying and selling is emotional. A home often symbolizes family, rest, and security — it’s not just four walls and a roof. Because of this, home buying and selling can be an emotional undertaking. And for most people, a home is the biggest purchase they’ll ever make. Having a concerned, but objective, third party helps you stay focused on both the emotional and financial issues most important to you.

Ethical treatment. Every member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION of REALTORS® makes a commitment to adhere to a strict Code of Ethics, which is based on professionalism and protection of the public. As a customer of a REALTOR®, you can expect honest and ethical treatment in all transaction-related matters. It is mandatory for REALTORS® to take the Code of Ethics orientation and they are also required to complete a refresher course every four years.