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Buying house? Use this handy checklist before you make the offer

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House hunting can feel like an adventurous new chapter in your life. If you’re lucky enough to find the property that checks off all the “must have” boxes — appearance, size, price, location — it’s easy to fall in love.

Not so fast. Before making an offer on any property, it’s smart to take a deeper look at the overall structure and its systems, just to make sure warning signs of major and costly problems are not hiding in plain sight. If the house holds more issues than your budget (and drive to renovate) can handle, it might be best to walk away.

Of course, once the offer is accepted, it’s always a smart idea to hire a third-party home inspector to take an in-depth look at the property. In the meantime, one last pass-through with this checklist in hand can give you peace of mind about taking the next step.

Exterior: Walk around all four sides of the house, scanning it from ground to rooftop. Note the condition of the doors and window frames, and look for cracked or peeling paint or signs of loose siding. Higher up, eye the chimney, making sure it appears straight and is in good condition, while the gutters and drainpipes should be in place and functional.

Roof: Ideally, the roof would be 10 years old or less, so scan the roof for the classic warning signs of aging and neglect. Things like curled and missing shingles, dark stains, moss growth and signs of sagging can signal serious issues. (A home inspector can confirm if full replacement is needed, or if a few simple repairs would stabilize things for another decade or so.)

Yard: Take note of the landscaping. Is there a slope angled away from the house, or is there a potential for a flooded basement after a major rainfall? Mature trees provide lots of shade, but watch for overhanging branches, as these can break off in a storm and do major damage to the roof. Finally, take note of the condition of the driveway and sidewalks.

Foundation: The sight of a few hairline cracks in the cement is no cause for panic. Do look for telltale signs of serious issues, such as widening cracks, water stains and bulges. It doesn’t hurt to bring a level to make sure the walls are straight.

Plumbing: In addition to checking basement and under-sink pipes for signs of leaks, scan the ceilings for water stains. Open all the faucets to check the water pressure as well as the time it takes for hot water to reach the tap.

HVAC system: Know the age of the heating and cooling systems, and check these for tags and other signs of routine maintenance. If the system is older than a decade, that can spell costly repairs and a replacement in a brief time frame. When it comes to older systems, energy efficiency is another consideration, according to Tom Tasker, product manager with Champion.

“Newer HVAC systems are remarkably more efficient when compared to those from even a decade ago, which means they keep your house comfortable for as little as half the cost,” says Tasker.

For example, Champion Momentum Variable Capacity residential systems are rated up to 20 SEER, which stands for seasonal energy efficiency ratio. Compare these to the 10 SEER systems of 25 years ago, and that can give you an idea of what to expect in potential energy costs, he says.

Appliances: Note the age and condition of things like the refrigerator, oven and range, washer and dryer, and hot water heater. As with the HVAC, older appliances tend to consume more energy and you’ll face a shorter timeline for needed repairs and replacements.

Buying a house is a big decision, but knowing what you’re buying can go a long way in assuring you that you’ve found the right place!

Real Estate

4 ways to use technology to simplify your home buying process

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While spring is typically the busiest period in real estate, particularly for families looking to get in to a new home before the school year starts, the fall months have become increasingly active for those who have more flexibility or are looking for a good deal.

With increased competition in many cities around the country, finding ways to simplify the home buying process while saving money is top of mind for potential home buyers. Many consumers are seeking real estate brokerages that make the home buying process less stressful by providing access to tech-based tools, data and the guidance of smart, local agents.

“Buying a home is typically the most expensive purchase most people will make, and people are choosing brokerages that offer the right tools and data to help inform their decisions and make the process more efficient,” said Dario Cardile, Vice President, Growth Marketing at Owners.com. “Savvy home buyers are utilizing technology and data to inform their home search, but are also demonstrating that they value working with an expert local agent who can offer on-the-ground expertise and help them get the best deal.”

Cardile offers these tips for ways potential home buyers can utilize technology to simplify the real estate process.

* Ensure that your finances are in order. To purchase the home of your dreams you’ll need the right loan. So before you begin your search, request a free annual copy of your credit report from the government-authorized AnnualCreditReport.com. Pay attention to the scores in your report, as the better your scores, the more likely you are to receive favorable terms and interest rates on your loan.

* Narrow your housing search. Searching for homes on the internet is easy, but finding the one that is just right for you can be more difficult. Fortunately, Owners.com can help, as it leverages data and technology to connect you to homes matching your personal preferences and ranks those homes based on the features you highlight as being most important. The platform also notifies you of regular updates on the properties of your interest, and suggests similar properties based on your preferences. You will have access to local listings from the Multiple Listing Service and for-sale-by-owner properties, so you don’t miss out on a potential home.

* Explore the area before you get there. Whether it’s a local dog park, fun shops to visit on the weekend or a quaint bistro for a night out, your neighborhood needs extend beyond the walls of your home. Fortunately, hyper localized data such as walk scores, neighborhood and school information and modern mapping solutions can give you insights into the entire community before you even start your search. And don’t be afraid to look up area attractions on social media and read some reviews. It’s a great way to learn what everyone is saying about your potential neighborhood.

* Find the right agent. A great real estate agent can help you save time and money in the real estate process. While many consumers are self-informing their search with online data, a recent survey from Owners.com of more than 1,000 recent home buyers nationwide found that the majority (83 percent) worked with an agent to purchase their home. The full service website and mobile app make it easy to find a local agent that’s right for you, as well as provide you with the digital tools to make the process less stressful. An expert local agent can provide inside knowledge of the property and community, on-the-ground expertise, and help you strike the best deal to get into your dream home.

Finding the best home for you

The fall real estate market won’t wait for you, so start your planning now and begin your housing search with the power of technology at your fingertips. With you, your agent and technology working hand in hand, your dream house is there for the taking.

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Real Estate

5 home-buying tips for first-timers and old-timers

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Whether you are buying a home for the first time or you are just looking for an upgrade, it is never a bad idea to arm yourself with tips that can make your search go from overwhelming to enjoyable. Rather than learning the hard way about hidden expenses and difficult neighbors, there are things you can do to feel more confident as you begin your search.

With a seller’s market in many parts of the country, these tips are even more important as you battle other buyers for the home of your dreams. The more efficient and straightforward you are in your search, the better chance you’ll have to hear “offer accepted.”

Consider all the costs

When starting the home-buying journey, the first thing to consider is the cost and expenses. When pre-approved for a mortgage of a certain amount, keep in mind that number is not a target — it is a maximum. While a seller’s market often means little wiggle room on price, your best bet is to find a property below that number so you have a financial cushion when negotiations happen.

It is important to remember the mortgage is not the total cost of your home. It usually only covers principal, interest, property taxes and homeowner’s insurance premiums. Homeownership involves many other expenses like closing costs, home repairs and potential yearly increases in property taxes.

Last, and something few people think about, if you have a life insurance policy, be sure to review it to make sure your coverage takes into account the mortgage debt on your new home. This ensures that if something happens to you, your family is financially secure.

Be flexible but firm

Finding the right home requires a delicate balance of flexibility and finesse. At the same time, you want to stand firm when it comes to your non-negotiables in your new home (price, school district, a second bathroom).

This is where having a real estate agent can be of enormous benefit. Agents have the expertise and time to devote to your search that allows you to flex when opportunity arises and get a home that doesn’t break your budget. Finding the right agent is a lot like finding the right home — you need to do your research. Get referrals for accredited agents and have meetings with two or three of them before deciding who to hire. Make sure they have experience working with homes in your price point and are familiar with the areas you are looking to buy in. Lastly, do not sign an exclusive broker agreement unless you are certain you have found the right agent for you. There are many resources available to help you find an agent that understands your individual needs, such as USAA’s Real Estate Rewards Network.

Meet the neighbors

While location is important, many factors feed into a great neighborhood. From disputes over pets and parking to personality clashes, neighbors can have a big impact on your happiness as a homeowner. Before committing to a neighborhood, take time to walk the street and gauge compatibility with the neighbors you meet. Talking with the neighbors may also reveal hidden quirks about the home you would not have known otherwise, such as a basement that constantly floods or an ongoing dispute about a property line.

More house is more work

Television shows have glamorized home renovation. Before deciding on a “fixer upper,” make sure you have a full understanding of what it will take — and how much it will cost — to make the house match your vision. Construction projects often take longer than anticipated and can reveal other problems that end up costing more money. If your home is a complete renovation you also won’t be able to live there during construction, so you need to ask yourself, can you afford to pay for two homes for several months?

Similarly, a larger house means more time and money spent on upkeep. A house with a big yard may have great curb appeal but will you truly use all that space? Be realistic, because the money for maintenance on a bigger house is money in your pocket at a smaller house that has many of the features you want.

Lastly, remember that no home improvement project will change your commute or how noisy the nearby traffic is.

Use your head, not your heart

One final piece of advice — do not let your emotions take over the process. Choosing a home can be stressful and overwhelming. It is important to keep a level head. No decision this big should be made on an impulse, so take your time and think through every aspect of the process.

To learn more tips and tricks to buying a home or to find a trusted agent near you, visit USAA’s Home Learning Center.

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