The little monsters stole our bowl!

November 6, 2008

trick-or-treatCan you believe it? The little monsters ran off with our Trick-or-Treat candy bowl! What is going on with this world? What kid would have the audacity to steal a Halloween candy bowl from in front of someone’s home? When I was a kid I was nervous even looking at an adult wrong. Well, that’s probably an exaggeration, but I was definitely not crazy enough to steal from them or anyone.

I guess it’s our fault. The problem stems from our lack of planning. On Halloween night my wife and I suddenly realized that we didn’t plan ahead and we didn’t buy enough candy for the kids. In a panic my health conscious wife started grabbing bags of pretzels, sunflower seeds, and other crazy stuff no kid wants to see in their candy basket or bag. She piled it all in this big pink plastic bowl with a look of pride on her face, as if she deserved some sort of medal for her ingenuity.

A few kids came by that really had no business Trick-or-Treating (facial hair, garter belts, beer bellies) and soon our big pink bowl was almost empty. Can you believe they got excited about the sunflower seeds? Anyways…we didn’t have any more candy to pass out and I sure didn’t want to stick around and hide behind the couch and ignore the kids knocking. So we left for Carrabas for a late dinner, but only after leaving our big pink bowl on the welcome mat in front of our door for all the lovely and polite children to reach in and take a few pieces each.

When we got home our bowl was nowhere to be found. Someone ripped us off. And we really loved that bowl. You should have seen it. We found it at the dollar store for like…$1 I think. What a deal! Now someone else is enjoying the fruits of our labor. Someone, somewhere in our subdivision is giggling to themselves as they eat popcorn out of our big pink plastic bowl.

I can’t even talk about it anymore or I’ll get all emotional.

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No-Nonsense Guide to Home Buying – 12 Steps to Success

November 3, 2008

by Brandon Cornett

In the last few years, the process of buying a home has been altered by the so-called mortgage crisis and the continued evolution of online real estate tools. So in this article, we will take a fresh and modern look at the process of buying a house. More specifically, I will outline the general process in twelve clear steps.

1. Check Your Credit

Credit scores have always been important for home buyers, but they are more in the wake of the mortgage meltdown of 2007 – 2008. According to industry experts, home buyers in 2006 needed a credit score of at least 620 to qualify for the best interest rates on a loan. Two years later, borrowers needed a score of 760 or higher to get the best rates. That’s a much stricter requirement!

So your first step should be to review your financial situation. Order your credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, and check them for errors. Order your credit score (different from your reports) to see how you stack up against the national average. If necessary, focus on improving your score by paying down credit card balances, making all future payments on time, etc.

2. Determine Your Budget

Don’t make the mistake of letting a mortgage lender tell you what you can and cannot afford, in terms of a monthly mortgage payment. In reality, the only thing a lender can tell you is the amount you qualify for — not the amount you can realistically afford. In other words, you should determine your home buying budget for yourself. There are a lot of free mortgage calculators online that can make this process easier for you.

3. Research and Choose a Type of Mortgage

Do you know the difference between a fixed-rate mortgage and an ARM? This is just one of the things you need to understand before applying for a mortgage loan. Because of increased competition in the lending industry, there are more types of home loans today than ten years ago. The key to success when choosing a mortgage is to consider your long-term plans and find a loan that matches those plans. To do this, you must learn the pros and cons of the primary loan types.

4. Get Pre-Approved for a Loan

Pre-approval is a process in which the mortgage lender reviews your financial and credit history to determine your “creditworthiness” … an industry term that means: “How much of a risk is this person, and how much are we comfortable lending?” When you get pre-approved for a certain loan amount, there’s a good chance that you’ll receive final approval for that amount as well, when the time comes.

Having a pre-approval letter in hand also shows sellers that you are serious about (and capable of) purchasing their home. This can make a big difference in hotter real estate markets, where the seller may receive multiple offers from competing buyers.

5. Find a Real Estate Agent

If you are buying a home for the first time, or in a new city you’re not familiar with, it’s wise to hire a professional real estate agent. When you compare the amount of money you’ll pay for a new home with the size of the agent’s commission, you’ll see that it’s worthwhile to hire an agent. Choose an agent who specializes in helping buyers, as opposed to sellers.

6. Narrow Your Search

The neighborhood you choose is nearly as important as the house itself, because both have a direct bearing on your quality of life — not to mention the future resale value. For these reasons and more, it’s always best to live in a city for a while before buying a home, even if it means renting an apartment for a while. That way, you can discover which areas you like best before committing to an area.

7. Begin House Hunting

This is where you and your agent visit properties in order to find one that matches your needs. Here are some helpful tips. Take a digital camera with you to get pictures of each home. This will help you recall the details later on. Bring a notepad as well, and for the same reason. While you’re at it, you might want to bring a friend along for an unbiased opinion of each property — you know, that outspoken friend who calls it like it is.

8. Evaluate the Asking Price

It’s referred to as the “asking price” for a good reason. Just because a property is listed at $250,000 doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth that amount. This is another area where it helps to have a real estate agent. Most agents are expert at validating sale prices against recent sales in the area, and that’s the best way to find out if the price is realistic or inflated.

9. Make an Offer

Once you’ve determined that the price is fair and reasonable, you are ready to make an offer on the property. Always make the offer contingent upon the home inspection (see next item). That way, if the inspector uncovers an issue that you consider a deal breaker, you have a way out of the contract. Ask your agent about contingencies.

10. Get a Home Inspection

Most inspections only cost a few hundred dollars. That’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind you get in return. A home inspector will review the structural and mechanical aspects of the house, including (but not limited to) the roof, foundation, electrical, and heating / cooling system.

11. Attend the Closing / Settlement Process

So, you’ve made it through all of the inspections and the process is still on track. Great! The next step will be the closing / settlement process (it goes by different names in different parts of the country). Actually, you can prepare for this process early on by putting extra money aside. This is when the title to the property is transferred from the seller to the buyer. You’ll also be signing a lot of paperwork and paying any other fees that are due.

12. Tie Up Loose Ends

After your move, you’ll have a few more things on your task list. Transfer your utilities if you haven’t done so already. Complete a change-of-address form with the post office. Get a safe deposit box for your home insurance policy and other important documents. Set up a mortgage payment schedule or an online auto-pay system. And give yourself a pat on the back … you’re now a homeowner!

About the Author: Brandon Cornett publishes the Home Buying Institute, a website full of advice on mortgages loans, house hunting, credit scores and more. Learn more or contact the author by visiting

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Buying a House in the New Economy – Advice For Buyers

November 1, 2008

by Brandon Cornett

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for the Today Show, was on TV recently to talk to consumers about their credit scores. She confirmed something I already knew, but backed it up with some eye-opening numbers.

Specifically, Jean was explaining the credit score you need to qualify for the best mortgage rates when buying a home. Here is how she broke it down:

* May 2006 – Borrowers needed a credit score of 620 to get the best rates.

* May 2008 – Borrowers needed a 760 or above to get the best rates.

That’s an increase of 140 points, which is a significant difference when you consider that the overall credit range only goes from 300 – 850.

Recent Economic Changes

Credit has always been important when buying a house and applying for a mortgage loan, but today it’s more important than ever. To fully understand the reasons for this, we need to look back over recent economic changes.

The subprime mortgage “meltdown” that started in 2007 caused widespread economic changes that we are still seeing today in 2008. Many lending institutions went out of business, and thousands of Americans lost their homes due to foreclosure. This caused a general tightening of credit that affected consumers and businesses alike.

What It Means for Home Buying

If you are planning to buy a home in the near future, this has everything to do with you. As a result of these and other factors, the process of buying a house in today’s market is more challenging. As I’ve already stated, you will need a higher credit score for home buying today than in the past, especially if you want to quality for the best rates on your loan.

Additionally, buyers with bad credit have fewer options today, because the subprime mortgage is practically extinct. This makes financial responsibility all the more important for buyers in the modern economy.

So what credit score is needed for home buying in today’s economy? Well, this will still depend on the individual mortgage lender involved and their particular lending practices. But it’s important to realize that there’s a big difference between qualifying for a mortgage loan and getting a good rate on the loan. For example, you might get approved for a mortgage with a credit score of 580. But you certainly won’t get the best rate at that level. This means you will pay more each month as long as you keep the loan.

According to the figures presented by Jean Chatzky, a couple of years ago you could have elevated your score by just 40 points to qualify for the best interest rates — i.e., you would boost it from a 580 to a 620. Today, however, you would have to increase your credit level by 180 points (from 580 to 760) to qualify for the best rates. That’s a huge difference!

My Advice to Buyers

The home buyers of today need better credit than the buyers of, say, three or four years ago. The federal government is putting more pressure on lenders. The mortgage lenders are scrutinizing borrowers. And borrowers are under increased pressure to have good credit scores to qualify for loans.

All of this is unlikely to change anytime soon. So if you fall into the bad credit range, my advice to you is this:

Do not buy a home until you get your financial “house” in order. Even if you do get qualified with a low score, you are going to pay a huge amount of interest on the loan. So instead of rushing out to buy a home before you’re financially ready, focus instead on improving your credit score. Pay all of your bills on time. Minimize your debt. And start saving money — the more of it the better.

About the Author: Brandon Cornett publishes the Home Buying Institute, a website full of advice on mortgages loans, house hunting, credit scores and more. Learn more or contact the author by visiting

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