How to Assess a Neighborhood When House Hunting

House-HuntingWhen you buy a house, you aren’t just buying a house. In a way, you’re buying a neighborhood. After all, you’ll likely choose a home partly because it’s close to work, the schools are great, or it’s walking distance to restaurants and stores.

In fact, you could argue that picking the right neighborhood is more important than picking the right house. The last thing you want is to buy property in a place where everyone is trying to leave. So if you’re looking for a home for your house, here are some things to consider.

1. What to look for. If you’ve been focused on your dream house and not your dream neighborhood, the most popular areas tend to be ones that offer an instant sense of community to those relocating there. If living in the right community is important to you, then it’s important to think about these five factors:

  1. Aesthetics. An attractive neighborhood indicates the residents care about it.
  2. Affordability. Sure, you want an inexpensive house, but you also want to be able to afford the cost of living in the neighborhood.
  3. Safe environment. Nobody wants a criminal as a neighbor.
  4. Easy access to goods and services. Can you make a quick run to the bank or grocery store, or will every day be a headache behind the wheel due to traffic congestion or construction?
  5. Walking distance to goods and services. If exercise and a sense of community are important to you, find a house near the establishments you’ll be frequenting that is accessible by foot.

2. Online research. You probably use websites like Zillow.com, Realtor.com, Trulia.com, or Homes.com to search for a new house. But there are neighborhood-related websites and apps as well. Here’s a sampling of what’s available:

  • HomeFacts.com. This website contains mostly neighborhood statistics and information, but it also has data on more than 100 million U.S. homes (type in the street address of your prospective house to get the scoop on the whole area). Wondering how many foreclosures are in the area or if there are any environmental concerns? This is your site.
  • NeighborhoodScout.com. Read up on crime, school, and real estate reports for the neighborhood you’re considering.
  • Greatschools.org. Here, you can find reviews written by parents and students of schools in the neighborhood you’re considering. You can also find test scores and other data that may help you decide if this is a school you want your kids to attend.
  • CommuteInfo.org. This site offers a commuting calculator. Plug in information like miles driven and how many miles per gallon your car averages, and the calculator will give you an average cost of what your commute costs may look like in a month and in a year.

3. Red flags. As you’d expect, spotting a neighborhood on the decline isn’t rocket science. For example, pay attention to the property maintenance – overgrown lawns and shrubs, toys left outside, garbage bins not taken in – often reflect that the area is not well cared for and it can negatively affect the property value.

Though things are subject to change, selecting the right neighborhood is important. Your neighborhood’s character will likely shape your family’s character.

If you’re looking to purchase or refinance a home, First Financial has a variety of options available to you, including 10, 15, and 30 year mortgages. We offer great low rates, no pre-payment penalties, easy application process, financing on your primary residence, vacation home or investment property, plus so much more! For rates and more information, call us at 866.750.0100, Option 4 for the Lending Department.*

You can also sign up for our Mortgage Rate Text Messaging Service to receive updates on our low mortgage rates straight to your mobile phone. To be a part of the program, text FIRSTRATE to 69302 and each time our mortgage rates change, we’ll send you a text message with the new rates.** 

*A First Financial membership is required to obtain a mortgage and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. Subject to credit approval. Credit worthiness determines your APR.

**Standard text messaging and data rates may apply.

Article courtesy of US News Online by Geoff Williams.

The Hidden Costs of Buying a Home

American home with three car garageYou’re looking for a house and see the perfect listing. And it has a big number on it, say $300,000. If you’re like most prospective homeowners, you imagine you will soon be talking to a lender and getting a loan for this amount.

But as veteran homebuyers may already know, you are going to pay much more than $300,000.

Yes, almost everything we buy has a hidden cost. You buy a toothbrush for a few dollars, and since you’ll have to purchase toothpaste, the ownership cost of a toothbrush is more than $2 – especially if you throw in a toothbrush holder. Obviously, the hidden costs of buying a house are far more complex. And if you aren’t prepared for them, you may come away from the experience feeling as if you’ve had the wind knocked out of you.

So if you’re thinking of buying your first house, be alert and prepared for these hidden costs that you need to keep in mind:

Home inspection costs. Before you close on a house, your mortgage insurer may require a home inspection, which can run several hundred dollars. But even if an inspection is not required, it’s worth paying a professional to evaluate the house so you can avoid spending hundreds of thousands on a train wreck disguised as a house.

Survey costs. Your lender may want you to have a professional survey of the property, so everyone knows exactly where your land’s boundaries are. That’s another several hundred dollars.

Taxes. You probably know you’re going to be paying taxes, but it can be easy to forget that you’ll likely need to pre-pay those taxes at closing. At the beginning of your mortgage, it can be a shock when you’re saddled with paying a couple months’ worth of property taxes, maybe a year’s worth of homeowner’s insurance, and possibly homeowner’s association dues as well.

Fees. Maclyn Clouse, a finance professor at the Reiman School of Finance at the University of Denver, rattles off a list of fees you may also pay at closing:

  • Government recording charges: The cost for state and local governments to record your deed, mortgage, and loan documents.
  • Appraisal fee: The cost for an appraiser to decide how much your house is worth.
  • Credit report fee: Your lender had to pay to get your credit report, so oftentimes you will cover that cost.
  • Title services and lender’s title insurance: Fees related to your home’s title.
  • Flood life of the loan fee: The government tracks changes in your property’s flood zone status, you’ll pay a small fee.
  • Tax service fee: Another pretty minor fee – this service ensures the taxes previously paid on the house are up to date (if your home was previously owned).
  • Lender’s origination fee: The charge for processing your loan application.

Moving costs. Will you be gathering friends and family to help you move your furniture and possessions into your home, or do you need a moving truck? Don’t forget about the cost of movers, if you are hiring them.

Total cost of ownership. Someone will have to mow the lawn with the mower you’re fated to buy, or you’ll hire a service. You’ll also probably need furniture and maybe a major appliance, like a washing machine. Even paint and paint supplies costs money and adds up quicker than you think.

Be ready for anything. Some houses (previously owned) come with propane or oil tanks, and at closing buyers have been asked to reimburse the sellers for the fuel remaining in the tank – in certain cases.

Looking for a mortgage? Check out First Financial’s mortgages, featuring great rates and low fees. We also have a 10 year mortgage as well – great for refinancing! 

First Financial also offers a Mortgage Rate Text Messaging Service so you can receive updates on our low Mortgage Rates straight to your mobile phone. To be a part of the program, text FIRSTRATE to 69302 and each time our Mortgage Rates change, we’ll send you a text message with the new rates.

*Standard text messaging and data rates may apply.

Article Source – Geoff Williams of Money.USNews.com: http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/03/12/the-hidden-costs-of-buying-a-home

How to Cut Home Buying Costs

Pair of scissors cuts business expense word COSTS in half to savFor nearly all of us, buying a home represents one of the biggest financial transactions of our lifetime. There’s really nothing that compares to buying a home, since not only do we have to put up thousands of dollars of our own money but we also (usually) have to borrow much more than that.

There’s really no getting around the fact that buying a home is expensive. It takes a lot of financial discipline to save up a down payment and make the monthly payments. Along the way, there are bound to be problems that eat into your savings too. For example, everything from a new roof to a broken water heater is going to cost you. (Of course, renting can also have costly surprises such as escalating rent or being forced to move). While there’s not a whole lot you can do about some of the costs of buying a home, there are ways to reduce your out-of-pocket costs.

Shop Around for Your Mortgage

One of the easiest ways to cut costs when buying a home is by finding a low interest loan. Get quotes from banks and credit unions so that you can compare their fees and rates. Make sure that you compare the Good Faith Estimate given to you by each financial institution. One thing to note is that you are permitted to get as many quotes as you want within a three-week period. Normally, each quote would be a separate credit check, but when you’re shopping for a mortgage, multiple quotes are considered only one inquiry on your credit reports.

Check out First Financial Federal Credit Union’s mortgages, featuring great rates and low fees. We also have a 10 year mortgage as well – great for refinancing! 

First Financial also offers a Mortgage Rate Text Messaging Service so you can receive updates on our low Mortgage Rates straight to your mobile phone. To be a part of the program, text FIRSTRATE to 69302 and each time our Mortgage Rates change, we’ll send you a text message with the new rates.*

Negotiate With the Seller

If you’re looking to get a portion or even all of your closing costs covered, then negotiating with the seller is your best bet. Depending on the state of the real estate market in your area, you could ask for more or less. If the real estate market is struggling or the property in question has been on the market for an extended period of time you may be able to get the seller to cover your closing costs.

Article Source: http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2013/12/16/how-to-cut-home-buying-costs/

*Standard text messaging and data rates may apply.

What to Do If Your Credit Score Is Too Low For a Mortgage

first-time-home-buyer-1If you’re preparing to buy a home, you probably know that your credit score is important. Maybe you’ve already been turned down for a mortgage because of a low credit score. Or maybe you’ve recently pulled your credit report, only to realize that your credit is worse than you expected.

Don’t give up on buying a home yet! There are plenty of places to turn if your credit is too low to get a conventional mortgage. But first, you should figure out what lenders expect of your credit score, since you might be surprised to find that you may be able to buy a home with your current credit score.

What do lenders expect?

Lending requirements vary from one lender to the next, but they’ve generally become more strict since the subprime mortgage lending crisis in 2008. As a rule of thumb, though, you’ll need a FICO score of about 650 to get a conventional mortgage – and that’s on the low end.

Remember, the lower your credit score, the higher your mortgage rate is likely to be. This can have a dramatic effect on how much you pay for your home over time. So if you’re sitting on the mid-to-low end of the credit spectrum, you may want to look into some of these options, even if you qualify for a conventional mortgage.

Put More Money Down

Mortgage lenders look at a host of factors when deciding whether or not to lend you money. One of those factors is your credit score. But another factor is your down payment.

With some lenders, you may be able to offset a weak credit score with a higher down payment. With a bigger down payment, you’ll have more equity in your home, which means the lender takes less of a risk when lending to you.

If you’ve got a substantial amount of money in savings, but still have a fairly low credit score, consider applying for a mortgage with a community credit union, like First Financial. Often, these smaller entities operate under more flexible lending guidelines, so you can talk to a loan officer about your situation and maybe get a favorable result.

To speak with First Financial’s lending department, call us at 866.750.0100 option 4, and to learn more about our mortgages – click here.

Work With a Homeownership Counselor

There are some local and national nonprofits that offer homeownership counseling.

Nonprofits like these offer counseling to future homebuyers who need help raising their credit scores or navigating the homebuying process. It may take some time, but with the help of a credit and housing counselor, you can learn which steps to take to raise your credit score and apply for a home loan.

First Financial offers a free Home Buying and Mortgage seminar every year; stay tuned for our next one! To register for our upcoming free seminars, click on the event calendar tab at the top right of our website. All of our staff is here to help you, if you ever have any questions please don’t hesitate to stop into any one of our branches and see us!

Get Your Credit Score Up

You could also simply take the time to bootstrap yourself into a better credit score. Raising your score isn’t complicated, but it does take time, discipline and hard work. These steps can help get your credit score up so that you can qualify for a mortgage.

  1. Correct any errors on your report, especially late payments or collections accounts that aren’t recorded properly.
  2. Make all your payments on time. Late payments are the # 1 way to ding your credit score.
  3. Pay down revolving debt like credit cards. A high debt-to-credit ratio is another surefire way to lower your score.
  4. Wait it out. As long as you’re paying down debt and making payments on time, your credit score will eventually rise on its own.

Don’t forget to utilize all of our free online financial calculators located on our website too.

*Click here to view the article source by Abby Hayes of US News. 

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4 Things All Home Buyers Should Keep in Mind

Excited couple about their houseNo matter how you slice it, buying real estate is a complicated process that takes time and hard work to get right.

Whether you’re looking for your dream home or an investment property to help build your retirement nest egg, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Mortgage rates are still low.

Mortgage rates have bumped up a little lately, but they are still low by historical standards. Many people have stopped chasing their dream home or investment property because of the recent rate increases, but they’re making a huge mistake. Rates will likely head even higher over the next few years, and you’re going to kick yourself for failing to secure a fixed rate loan before those even higher rates kick in.

It sounds cliche, but real estate is buyer beware.

Your real estate agent can guide you to make a smart purchase, but it’s your job to make every decision and do all the analysis that goes along with purchasing property. You’ve got to make sure it is a smart financial move to buy the property. You’ve got to review the title documents, mortgage loan documents and disclosures, homeowners’ association documents, home inspection reports, seller disclosures, etc. Each document contains important information that you need to understand to avoid problem properties. It’s a real challenge, but you must do the hard work needed to reduce your risk.

You should never buy a property that you don’t love.

If you don’t love it, don’t buy it. Real estate is likely the most expensive and complicated purchase you will ever make. So don’t buy a property if it isn’t a great fit for what you want. Don’t buy if your attitude is “we just want to get something even though this isn’t a perfect property for us.” Note: No property is perfect — especially not at the price you’d like to pay — so be realistic when determining which property you “love.”

Shop properties for at least 4 to 12 months.

Take your time. Look at dozens of properties. Drive the areas you like during the day, night and on weekends. Talk to neighbors. You’re probably risking your entire net worth when purchasing property, so make sure you are adequately educated on what you are buying — and that takes time!

Apply for a 10, 15, or 30 year First Financial Mortgage today!*

You can also subscribe to our Mortgage rate text message service by texting “FIRSTRATE” to 69302, and receive instant notification when our mortgage rates change.**

* A First Financial membership is required to obtain a mortgage and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. Subject to credit approval. See Credit Union for details.

**Standard text messaging and data rates may apply.

Article Source: http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2013/09/12/4-things-all-buyers-should-keep-in-mind/

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Mortgage Market Seminar Summary

mon125027-resized-600Recently, First Financial hosted a free Mortgage Market Seminar. The seminar was intended for anyone looking to buy or sell a home in the current state of the economy. Those in attendance were provided with detailed descriptions of the home buying and mortgage application process as well as advice on how to choose a realtor and lending institution.

The presentation began with an overview of the home buying process and emphasized that it is important not to be intimidated by the long process or be worried about credit score. By finding and choosing the right financial institution with an appropriate lending product and a realtor that one feels comfortable with, this process can be much easier. In order to choose the right financial institution, it is necessary for one to understand all the costs of owning and maintaining a home and determining how much he or she can afford. Some of the most common expenses of owning a home are the mortgage payments covering principal and interest, taxes and insurance, and upkeep. It is recommended that homeowners also set aside a reserve of cash for unforeseen expenses or emergencies.

Once a financial institution has been found, the potential home buyer needs to be approved. The difference between pre-approval and pre-qualification is that the first is a formal commitment from the lender and requires verification of income, funds on deposit, and credit report. When choosing a realtor and attorney, it’s recommended you choose someone with whom you are comfortable with and not make a decision based solely on fees.

No one should ever allow themselves to be persuaded into an agreement or contract about which they feel doubtful or uncomfortable with. It’s also encouraged to ask for closing credits and make your purchase offer contingent upon things such as affordable financing and satisfactory home inspection.

On that note, it is highly recommended that potential home owners have the house inspected. It might cost you a few hundred dollars now, but it gives peace of mind and might potentially save you from thousands of dollars in costs that could have accidentally been overlooked.

The seminar concluded with describing the differences between a fixed and an adjustable rate and closing costs. If you or anyone you know has any questions regarding a mortgage or a future seminar at First Financial, contact us.