Lighting the Way

 

Deck Lighting

Deck lighting extends party time on your deck, and adds safety, too. Fixtures on posts offer ambient lighting and signal the railing location. Low-voltage LED light fixtures run on 12-volt current that’s much safer than regular 120-volt household current, making installation DIY-friendly. Make the posts from pieces of lumber so there’s a hollow channel inside; run low-voltage wiring in the channel. A lighting kit with 8 fixtures, wire, and a 12-volt transformer is around $600.

Brought to you by Nate Baer and Brought to you by the National Association of Realtors®

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Eco-friendly Kitchen Floors

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Get into the groove of sustainable living through eco-friendly kitchen floors. With the growing numbers of sustainable products, going green is definitely here to stay! And there’s no better way to start your eco-friendly lifestyle than at the heart of your home, the kitchen.

Making green choices can seem overwhelming, especially with the growing options for eco-friendly products. To help you determine which products are right for you and your home, here are some popular flooring options.

1. Wood Flooring

When it comes to eco-friendly flooring materials, wood is undeniably still the leading choice. It is a timeless, warm and versatile material that adds value to your home. One option is to use laminated wood with recycled wood fibers. This usually comes with 90 percent recycled wood fibers and 100 percent recycled polyethylene for its underlayment, which will reduce heat transfer between kitchen and basements. Another eco-friendly option is to use reclaimed wood. Do not use wood products with added formaldehyde, which is usually found in engineered or pressed wood for backing or sublayers. Opt for distributors who offer low-VOC sealers and cleaners.

Why is wood flooring sustainable?

Wood comes from a renewable source, assuming there is sustainable management of forests and plantations.

Almost no waste is produced since dust, bark and trims are gathered to fuel wood production facilities.

Compared to concrete and steel, wood requires less energy to produce.

2. Bamboo Flooring

Certified as a sustainable material, bamboo is a highly recommended material for your eco-friendly kitchen floors. Bamboo is denser than oak, and laminated bamboo floors won’t warp or expand easily. This eliminates the creaking sound that occurs when wood floor planks compress. Bamboo’s distinctive appeal, tightness of grain and uniformity of color create a desirable and flexible material for any kitchen style. Being moisture resistant and durable makes it an even more workable material for kitchens.

If you love warm shades of brown, then bamboo flooring is a great choice as it comes either in its natural light color or in a darker honey-brown color. Honey-colored bamboo flooring has undergone carbonization, during which the material is subjected to steam and pressure, causing the fibers to darken. The darker the shade of bamboo, the longer it has been subjected to carbonization.

Why is bamboo flooring sustainable?

Bamboo comes from a renewable source and can be grown and harvested faster compared to hardwood.

According to Bamboocentral.org, bamboo forests can give off 35 percent more oxygen than a group of hardwood trees.

It does not need fertilizers or pesticides to grow as it is naturally resistant to mildew and insects. This attribute is also seen even after bamboo is made into planks.

3. Cork Flooring

Cork is one of the most comfortable and beautiful materials for floorings. Although it may not be a glamorous option, it can be manufactured to simulate hardwood floors. If you’re looking for a low maintenance type of eco-friendly kitchen flooring, cork is a perfect fit.

The material can also be made into a variety of colors to mix and match. Plus it’s a healthy option for your kitchens for its anti-microbial, anti-fungal and hypoallergenic properties.

Why is cork flooring sustainable?

As a softwood material from the cork oak tree, it is harvested without cutting the tree down.

You do not need regular adhesives or nails when installing cork flooring.

Cork flooring is usually from recycled cork, and the flooring itself can be reused or recycled.

Other Eco-Friendly Flooring Options

Other options to consider are natural stone, linoleum and tiles. Recycled, reclaimed or salvaged stone or wood are also good picks. Innovative and high-tech floors are also great options to look at. Ariostea has recently released their 4.7 high-tech tiles, which can be used as a second skin for floors or even walls. It is ecological by nature and fully recyclable. Switching to eco-friendly kitchen floors can be an easy and cost-effective choice – all you have to lose are the pollutants.

Can I Use My 401(k) to Buy a House?

For many families, their 401(k) or other retirement plan is their biggest, most important asset. So it’s very natural to wonder if you can use your 401(k) to help make a down payment on a house.

The answer is a qualified “yes.” It is possible to use a 401(k) plan to help with purchasing a home, though if you are still working for the company, your plan rules have to allow for something called an “in-service withdrawal.”

If You Still Work for the Company

If you are still actively working for the plan sponsor and your plan rules allow for in-service withdrawals, all you have to do is notify your human resources department or your plan administrator that you want to take a distribution to put toward the down payment of a home. Some plans also have a separate set of emergency or hardship distribution rules that allow you to access your 401(k) balance in the event of an “immediate and heavy need.” Some plans include the purchase of a personal residence as such an event. This may also enable you to access your 401(k) balance for the purchase of a down payment on a personal residence.

If you can qualify for the withdrawal under the emergency distribution rules, that’s even better, since that may enable you to sidestep the 10 percent penalty that usually applies to distributions prior to age 59½. (The 10 percent penalty is also waived if you are age 55 or older and you have left the service of your employer.)

If You Have Left the Company

If you have left the company, you can also take a distribution, paying income tax and – depending on your age, a possible 10 percent penalty. (To avoid the penalty, you may want to conduct a 401(k) to IRA rollover first. This may help because there are no penalties on up to $10,000 in distributions for the purpose of putting a down payment on a first home if you take the distribution from an IRA.)

Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantage to using a 401(k) to help with a down payment is obvious: You can get that money now, and save yourself from having to rent for months or years while you save up for a down payment.

You should also be aware of a number of downsides, though:

The 401(k) plan provider will withhold 20 percent of your withdrawal to pay income taxes with. So you won’t see your entire distribution – only 80 percent of it.

You’ll have to pay income taxes. Since you didn’t pay income taxes on your contribution, you’ll have to pay them in the year of the withdrawal. The plan administrator will send you and the IRS a Form 1099.

You are unplugging a tax-deferred vehicle. However, your home also grows tax-deferred, and the first $250,000 in gains are tax exempt. For married couples, you have up to $500,000 of gains exempt from capital gains taxes when you eventually sell the home.

401(k)s receive unlimited protection from creditors under federal law. Home equity may not have the same protection, depending on your state.

401(k) Loans

Some plans let you borrow from your 401(k), rather than make a withdrawal. This lets you tap the funds in your 401(k) with no taxes or penalties. You just have to pay yourself back with interest. But since you are paying the interest to yourself, this isn’t a big deal.

Normally, the most you can borrow from a 401(k) is $50,000, or half the plan balance, whichever is less. This is usually enough for a down payment on a primary residence for most of us, though. Also, most 401(k) loans must be paid back over five years – normally via payroll deduction. So your employer will take your repayment out of every paycheck until the balance is paid off. Some plans, however, let you extend the repayment period to 10 or 15 years for loans to help buy a personal residence.

Use caution, though: If you lose your job, or leave your employer, you normally have just 60 days to pay off the loan. Otherwise, the IRS deems it a distribution, and the rules above apply.

Not every plan allows for 401(k) loans, so check with your human resources department for the rules specific to your plan.Image

9 Reasons To Buy A House Now

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If you’re planning to buy a house right now, the next few months may be the best time to buy. Waiting for both housing prices and interest rates to fall may not be a good strategy for potential home buyers since analysts don’t expect any significant declines in these two most important home-buying factors. Here’s nine real estate trends that suggest you should get into the housing market sooner than later.
1. Lowest Housing Prices in Years -Nobody knows when the housing market will hit bottom, but prices are at their lowest in several years and may soon start inching back up again. So buying now or in the near future may be the right time. An abundance of bargain-priced housing is now available because of foreclosures and falling prices.
2. Interest Rates at a 50-Year Low – Interest rates are near a 50-year low, according to housing analysts. By the second week of May, 2011, 30-year fixed mortgage rates had fallen to their lowest rates of the year at 4.63%. Although mortgage rates vary from day to day, the 30-year rate at this level is an attractive inducement to first-time buyers, or buyers who want to either move up to larger residences, or others, including many empty-nesters wanting to sell and move to smaller houses or condos.
3. Interest Rates Expected to Go Up – As the economic recovery gains momentum, interest rates are expected to increase, making mortgages more expensive. Even a half-percent increase in mortgage interest can add a hundred dollars or more to your monthly payments, depending on the amount of your loan.
4. Adjustable Rate Mortgages at Record Lows – Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs) are also lower now, although there are risks that interest rates may increase over the life of the mortgage and the balloon payment due at the end of the mortgage life, usually three or five years, could be substantial. Nevertheless, for new buyers who are sure they’ll have enough income to meet payment obligations, an ARM may be the best way to buy a house. Keep in mind that payments may increase on a monthly basis. For a full explanation of advantages and risks in an ARM, visit the http://www.federalreserve.gov.
5. Low Down Payment Mortgages Available – Low-down-payment financing through Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages is available as an additional inducement to buy a house now. Down payment minimum requirements also fluctuate and may increase as the market heats up, so potential buyers with less cash to consummate a deal may be well-advised to buy now.
6. Easy to Qualify, Easy to Borrow – Lending standards have become less rigid recently, so qualifying for a mortgage may be easier. Experts advise that a potential buyer become pre-approved for a loan by a lending institution – meaning that a lender guarantees to make the loan contingent on an appraisal of the property. But the good news in seeking pre-approval is that lenders are now willing to let a potential buyer take on more debt than the previous formula allowed – a percentage of monthly income.
7. Lenders Offer No-Fee Mortgages – Many banks and other lending institutions are waiving mortgage loan generation and other fees and points (each point represents 1% of the loan amount), thereby reducing the cost of buying.
8. Home Builders Eager to Sell, Offer Incentives – Home builders, competing with the resale market, are offering incentives to potential buyers to reduce their inventory of unsold new homes. Incentives may include cash for furniture or free refrigerators, washers and dryers. In Seattle, for example, builders have offered opportunities to win iPads or Smart phones, and $3,000 buyer bonuses. Specific demographic groups, including military personnel, police, firefighters and health-care workers, have been targeted by builders for special offers. But virtually anyone who can qualify for a mortgage is likely to get a good deal from a home builder who is eager to sell.
9. Motivated Home Owners Eager to Sell – Sellers of existing homes have also been offering attractive inducements to potential home buyers, including warranties on appliances, air conditioners and furnaces. Some sellers are even offering furnishings, refrigerators, washers and dryers as a bonus to potential buyers. With so many existing homes in foreclosure or underwater – bargain prices are abound in this depressed market.
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The Bottom Line – With a convergence of the factors above, all of which are favorable to the prospective home buyer, there may not be a better time to buy than right now. It’s a buyer’s market, but like everything else in life, the bargain deals won’t last.
For more information and more, please contact us:
Nate Baer & Kylie Wyze
Keller Williams Realty Alaska Group
907-727-1130  OR  907-440-4661
natebaerhomes@gmail.com
kyliewyze@gmail.com

Your New Home and Its Appliances

The money pit – that’s how lots of homebuyers describe their new purchase. First, there’s the down payment, then the closing costs. Then, there are all the things to purchase to make the home comfortable for you and your family.

Sometimes the house just needs a new coat of paint, or new flooring. Many new homeowners, though, are faced with the purchase of costly new appliances.

On top of all the money you’ve just shelled out to buy the house, these expenses can add up. In fact, the average homebuyer spends $7,400 on their new home in the two years following the purchase, according to the National Association of Home Builders. About $5,000 of that is spent the first year.

Home Appliances and Sellers

To avoid having to purchase new appliances, provided the ones in the home are in working order, request that they be included in the sale. If the sellers agree, ensure that your agent lists these items in the purchase agreement, typically under “personal property included in the sale.” Name the brand and model number in the contract. Be aware that many savvy listing agents will counter this request to include a “no-warranty” clause in the contract to protect the seller in the event an appliance breaks down shortly after the sale.

When checking the home’s appliances, consider the following:

  • Any appliance repair problems the seller experienced
  • The age, make and model of any used appliance
  • The approximate life of the home appliance
  • The functionality of the appliance
  • The safety of the appliance wiring
  • Whether the appliance uses gas or electricity.

Some of this information may be readily available, while other details (such as the safety of appliance wiring) may need to be answered by a home inspector.

Considerations When Shopping for Appliances

If the seller isn’t including the appliances in the sale, or should you decide you’d rather purchase your own, there are several things to think about.

The Federal government occasionally offers tax credits to homeowners who purchase energy-efficient appliances. These credits come and go, so check with your accountant about the current tax code. If you qualify for a tax credit, it might be a good idea to pay a bit extra to purchase energy-efficient appliances. Not only does the credit help offset what you originally pay for the appliance, but the efficient use of energy will save you money on your utility bills as well.

Determine Which Appliances to Purchase

If you’re strapped for cash, prioritize your appliance-shopping list. Spend more to buy a quality washer rather than a dryer since washers break down far more often than dryers, according to the experts at Consumer Reports. These same experts suggest that the least expensive refrigerators are those with the freezer at the top. Simpler appliances, those with fewer parts, tend to last longer than those with complex systems.

After the cash crunch caused by the home purchase, many new homeowners just don’t have the funds for new appliances and decide to purchase used appliances. The biggest disadvantage of buying used items is the lack of a warranty. When buying anything from a stranger you take a chance that you aren’t getting what you’re paying for. Before laying out the cash, have a professional go over the appliance. It may cost you a little extra, but the peace of mind is well worth it.

Is it Worth Paying Points On a Mortgage?

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When financing a home purchase or refinancing a current home, you have to make a number of decisions. You will have to choose from among a half dozen different mortgage types available to you. Regardless of which type of mortgage you choose, you’ll be faced with another question: should I pay points?

Points, or discount points, are a cash payment that you make to the bank (or your mortgage lender) to get a lower interest rate on your loan. A lower interest rate means a lower monthly payment and savings to you, the homebuyer. The lender also benefits by getting some cash up front, so points can be a win for both parties. However, paying points for a reduction in your interest rate isn’t always worth it. Let’s look at some simple scenarios to answer the question, “Should I pay points on my refinance or new mortgage?”

Let’s assume you are borrowing $250,000. You are quoted an interest rate of 5 percent on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. This means that every month you’ll be paying $1,342.05 in interest and principle for your mortgage. By the way, you don’t need to be a math wizard to calculate these numbers, your mortgage broker or bank loan officer will provide this information to you, and there are great mortgage calculators online that make doing the math a snap.

Here’s how buying points works: on this same type of loan you might see that paying 1 point lowers the rate to 4.675 percent. Each point equals 1 percent of your total loan amount. So, with our $250,000 loan, 1 point costs $2,500. The math looks like this:

[points] / 100 x [loan amount] = [cost of the discount]

1 / 100 x $250,000 = $2,500.

Also, points may appear on mortgage rate tables a few different ways – as number or a percent, and sometimes under the heading “points” or “discount.” Despite these stylistic differences, the numbers are always the same.

So, we know that to reduce this mortgage interest rate from 5 percent to 4.675 percent will cost $2,500. Now let’s figure out if it’s worth it. The new monthly payment at this lower rate is $1,292.84. This is $49.21 less than the payment for the loan at 5 percent. By spending $2,500 we save nearly $50 a month. Since our 30-year mortgage will last 360 months, that’s a savings of almost $18,000.

It sounds good, saving $18,000 by paying $2,500. But keep this in mind, you only get your $18,000 in savings if you stay in the house for 30 years. With a savings of $49.21 per month it will take you over four years to break even. Here’s the math:

[cost of the discount] / [monthly savings] = [number of months to break even]

$2,500 / $49.21 = 50.8 months (or 4 years and 3 months)

If all these savings sounds great, conventional wisdom actually tells us this is not a great deal. Most experts agree that it is not worth paying points on a mortgage if you won’t break even in less than four years.

This is true for a few reasons. Most likely you won’t be in your house for 30 years, so you never realize the full value of the savings. Second, your cash has value today. In the above scenario, if you spend $2,500, you break even in four years and three months, and double your money in eight years and six months. Could you make better use of this cash? When you pay points, you’ve spent the money, so it can be redeemed no matter how long you’re in the house. For it to make sense, in the above scenario, you’d ideally like to be saving about $60/month not $50.

Deciding whether it is worth paying points on a mortgage can be confusing because it’s difficult to know exactly how long you’ll be in a house and how your financial situation might change over time. If you’re faced with the dilemma of whether you should pay points during a refinance or home purchase, the simple formulas and guideline above can help you through the process

How do I Find out How Much a House in My Neighborhood Sold For?

How do I Find out How Much a House in My Neighborhood Sold For?

If you’re thinking about selling your home, you are probably asking yourself, “How do I find out how much a house in my neighborhood sold for, and are the prices houses sold for in my neighborhood comparable to the price I could ask for my house?”

When deciding how much you should list your house for, you have a couple of options.

A CMA will Show what Prices Houses Sold for in Your Neighborhood

If you’re looking to sell your home, a real estate agent will be able to give you the prices houses sold for in your neighborhood. This will help you determine how much you should list your home for.

If you’re selling your home, you need to get the best and most accurate pricing data you can find. The best way to do that is by contacting a real estate agent. There is typically no charge for getting specific information on how much houses in your neighborhood sold for. A realtor will go through your home and provide a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA). This is typically free of charge, and there is no obligation for you to list with anyone who prepares the Comparative Market Analysis. The CMA will provide information on how much several comparable houses in your neighborhood sold for.

Just ask a local real estate agent to give you a Comparative Market Analysis or information on the prices of houses that sold within the past three months in your neighborhood. You’ll also want to know which of the houses sold in your neighborhood were short sales and bank owned.

Using Tax Assessor’s Data to Find House Prices in Your Neighborhood

If you’re thinking about selling your own home as “For Sale By Owner” or if you’re just doing research out of curiosity for future planning, many counties have their real estate records online. These are typically found through the county tax assessor’s data. If your city doesn’t have this information available online, you could go down to the courthouse and look it up. Keep in mind that doing this research can be time consuming.

If you are hoping to sell your home without a realtor, there is one thing to consider when finding out how much houses sold for in your neighborhood. Statistically, For Sale By Owner homes usually sell for less and remain on the market longer than those represented by a licensed real estate agent. An agent would contact his or her network of realtors and potential buyers to quickly get the word out about your property, and your home would be listed in at least one Multiple Listing Service (MLS), giving other agents a way of finding out that your home is on the market. If you’re a good negotiator and willing to do a lot of leg work, you’ll be fine, but you could end up losing money in the long run.

Using Online Databases to Find House Prices in Your Neighborhood

If you’re not using a real estate agent and you don’t feel like making a trip down to the courthouse, you can read the property transfers in your local newspaper or research online databases where you can find the information you’re looking for. Many states have a public MLS that will show you comparable properties. One word of caution, though: the accuracy of online pricing databases can sometimes be a little questionable. Public records and search engines could give you an incomplete picture of the market, because they gather sold property data from public records, which can be outdated and incomplete.

Most Important Factors When Finding Out How Much a House Sold For

When you find out how much a house in your neighborhood sold for, don’t forget to truly compare your house to the houses for which you have data. Does your house really have similarities, and is it comparable in size? How many bedrooms and bathrooms does it have? Does your home have the same curb appeal? Have you done any bathroom or kitchen upgrades? Just make sure you only compare properties that are really comparable.

Finally, the easiest and fastest way to find out how much a house in your neighborhood sold for is to find a reputable real estate agent and have him or her provide a Comparative Market Analysis.

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