Tips on Improving Your Credit Score for Homeownership

growing moneyIf you are currently renting and are considering purchasing a home you may need to check a few things before you begin your search. One of the most important things to know before you venture into home ownership is what your credit score is.

Your credit score will tell you everything about your credit history and this is what lenders will be looking at when deciding whether to approve you for a home loan. You may have thought you were doing everything right but your credit score will be the deciding factor. You are able to request a copy of your credit report from the three reporting companies (Transunion, Experion, and Equifax). If you find something on your report that is fishy you can look into it, this is another way to keep track of any identity theft that may have happened that you may not even be aware of.

Credit scores can range from an excellent rating of 800+ down to below 499 which is as you can guess, not great.  The higher your score the better chance of getting a better rate and being approved for a loan. There isn’t really a secret formula for improving your score except for paying your bills on time and being consistent. Also eliminating debt whenever possible will bump up your score. Some experts will tell you to pay off the higher interest rate credit cards or loans first, others say get rid of the smaller balances. This is really a personal decision, but either way paying off as much debt as possible will increase your credit score.

Another factor is how long your credit history is. If you have had a good history and have a had a credit card for a long time that will work in your favor. If you have cards showing on your report but they have not been used in a while you may want to charge small amounts on them every so often. These will then be considered active when the credit agency is figuring your score. Also do not open a bunch of new cards at once, this will lower the average age of your accounts and will push your score down. Another thing to consider is if you close your cards, this can lower your score as well.  Again these are all suggestions but only you can decide what your best option is.

Those that may have had financial struggles in the past may bury their head in the sand and not want to look at their credit score. However being educated on this will only help you in the end achieve the best loan rates and getting on the road to owning your home.

Have more questions, give us a call! If we can’t help you, we can direct you to an experienced lender who can. Chris 480-754-9077 & Cheryl 480-754-9477

Fire Safety Tips for Your Home

front entranceWhile not as glamorous or as fun as decorating your home, keeping your home safe from fires is of paramount importance when it comes to safety in your residence. One of the more obvious tips is to make sure all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in your home are in full working order. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that you change batteries in these devices at least once a year. If you have children or older individuals in your own, you may want to change these batteries twice a year. Following a replacement schedule is the easiest way to remember to do this (ie, on New Year’s Day and on Fourth of July, every calendar year).

However, changing the batteries alone isn’t sufficient. Setting a monthly schedule to test each detector is also critical.  (You can write it on your family calendar to remind yourself). Oftentimes, fire departments discover that fires occur in homes with smoke detectors that weren’t operational, either because the battery wasn’t working, or was disconnected temporarily (ie, after a smoky cooking incident).

Moreover, do you have a home fire safety plan? Does every member of your family know what to do when there’s a fire?  Make sure there are two ways out of every room, and that each member of the family knows what they are. For windows, are they stuck closed? Can the screens be removed quickly? Does everyone know how to check doors to see if they are hot, and if so, how to find another way out? Remember that towels can be used for handling, touching or grabbing items to avoid burns, and also can be used as a cover to protect faces and cover mouths.

If you have a second floor, do you have an escape (rope) ladder in a central location, near windows? And does every family member know where it is, and how to use it if there is a fire? Also, have you designated a meeting spot outside of the home where everyone can meet if there’s a fire? Everyone needs to understand that once they exit the home, they can’t go back inside for any reason (even if there are pets inside). As a corollary, do the adults have a plan to find and transport any pets in the home if there is a fire?

We hope you find these tips to be useful, and worth discussing with your family.

Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks

pumpkin pieRegardless of whether you want to try cooking a new Thanksgiving dish or sticking to your reliable menu, preparing for Thanksgiving dinner is an overwhelming event that rarely goes without unavoidable mishap.

The Turkey Won’t Thaw – Defrosting a turkey takes quite a while. Regardless of whether you neglected to remove the turkey from the freezer in time, or still have a half frozen bird, place it in a sink loaded with cold water, changing the water at regular intervals until it is defrosted. The turkey will take around 30 minutes for each pound to defrost in the sink.

The Turkey Is Undercooked – Grill it, roast it, deep-fry it, smoke it or brine it, cooking a turkey is at the center of Thanksgiving meal preparation. Most cooks fear slicing into a Thanksgiving turkey to find it still uncooked! You can rescue the circumstance via cutting off and serving the parts that are cooked, and putting the rest back in the broiler while everybody eats.

The Turkey Is Overcooked – Well, at least it’s done! You can alwasys salvage an overcooked turkey by smothering it in gravy.

Not Enough Room at Your Table – If hosting Thanksgiving dinner pushes the limits of your home’s ability to accommodate guests, then it’s time to get creative. Once all the seats at the dining room table and folding card tables are taken, start putting people around the coffee table, or seat children on a blanket on the floor, picnic-style.

Not Enough Food – A key part of your Thanksgiving dinner should be making sure you have plenty of food. In the event you have more guests than expected, whip up some extra mashed potatoes, soup, stuffing, rice or pasta!

You’ve Forgotten a Key Ingredient – Google “substitute for” and whatever it is you’re short of and recipe substitutions will be your new best friend on Thanksgiving.

Thankfully, the most important part of Thanksgiving is the time spent with loved ones. Year from now, your kitchen mistakes will be only an amusing story to tell at the next Thanksgiving dinner!

Safety Around Pools

backyard pool

Living in Arizona, we are spoiled by having such beautiful, sunny weather almost year round. With that, most homes here in the Valley of the Sun have backyard pools. However, we have to be ever mindful of the dangers owning a home with a pool can have.

The majority of homes in the Phoenix area have pools, but do we check regularly to make sure that safety checks are in place for our pools? Drowning is the number one accidental death for kids under age 5 and there are things we can do to help prevent drowning.

If you have a gated pool, make sure it is secured and the lock is in good working condition and cannot be reached or opened by a small child. Never prop the gate open. If it has a self-closing mechanism, make sure it works properly.  Have an adult poolside at all times when children are in the backyard. This person must be diligent to not get side tracked: no phone calls, texting or walking away for even a minute. Make sure someone knows CPR and have safety equipment by the pool. Do not leave toys in the pool after everyone is done swimming, toys left in the pool tempt small children who will reach in to try to grab it and before you know it they have fallen in. If your child seems to be missing, check the pool area first and foremost, and really check it. Don’t just look out the window, walk outside and look in the pool.

Pools can be a great source of entertainment and family fun, but they also need to be taken seriously.  Even if your child has taken swim classes and you think they are good swimmers, you must still be vigilant in watching them in and around the water. There is no substitute for a set of eyes on your pool.  All it takes is one moment for a child to slip under water or to panic for a second and go under. There is nothing worse than hearing on the news about another drowning in Phoenix, so please watch your kids around water!

Are Home Warranties Worth the Cost?

kitchenAs a home buyer or home seller, you may have wondered whether a home warranty is worth the cost. Homeowners insurance protects your home against unforeseen accidents or damage.  A home warranty, on the other hand, is a supplement to this insurance. Simply put, a home warranty is a convenience program that covers normal wear and tear on the major electrical and mechanical systems in a home, typically for a one-year period.

A home’s ventilation, heating and air-conditioning, plumbing, water heater and kitchen appliances are typically covered by a home warranty. However, be sure to read the fine print on any home warranty. Be sure to note what exactly is covered and what isn’t.

Another wrinkle with home warranty plans is that they don’t offer quick fixes to any problems that are discovered within the home. Home warranties are not the same as emergency home service contracts, where the homeowner can make a phone call and have the problem diagnosed and fixed within the same day.  Instead, with a home warranty, the homeowner will have to file a claim, and the home warranty company will choose a local service contractor to diagnose the problem for a service fee, which isn’t covered by the warranty.  Then, the claim must be approved by the company.

While a home warranty can be a nice back-up plan, it’s critical that any homeowner identify any necessary repairs during the home inspection period.  The home inspection will typically uncover any major issues with the maintenance of the home, and will set a precedent for regular service of the major mechanical services. For example, some home warranty companies won’t cover an air-conditioner that hasn’t been serviced in a past set number of months. Therefore, having this done during the home inspection negotiation period will help to set up a seamless transition to the home warranty service period. Home warranties in Arizona average around $400-500 depending on the size of the home.

Click here to begin the search for your next home! 

5 Packing Tips for Your Move

moving dayYou sold your house-congrats! Now you must tackle the daunting task of moving! Use these helpful tips to pack up and move with ease:

1-Have a place in your home that is designated “packing central”.  All your moving information and needs like labels, box tape, markers etc. should always be kept in the same location so you know that is where everything is during the moving process.

2-Make a list. If you write things down you won’t forget things. For example, you may want to make a packing list. For every box you pack you will have the box numbered with the contents listed clearly on the box.  This will help not only you, but the movers as well. If items are clearly labeled “kitchen” then the movers won’t put that box in a bedroom.

3-Or instead of numbering the boxes, you can color coordinate your boxes. For example, anything with yellow on the box is for the kitchen and red marked boxes are for the master bedroom. You can then place a color sticker on the doorway at the new home that matches the ones on your boxes so the movers will know where each box is to go.

4-Wardrobe boxes are very handy. They can take all the items from your closet and transport them easily to your new home without worrying about being all creased when you get there. You can also fill the bottom of these boxes with shoes and purses and then cover the clothing with dry cleaning bags to keep from getting dirty.

5-Give yourself plenty of time to pack.  Do a little bit at a time and you won’t feel so overwhelmed and stressed out that it needs to get done quickly.  This is also a good time to clean out your closets and cabinets of items you no longer need or want.  You can make a big trip to a local Goodwill or other charity in your area that can use your household items or clothes.

Moving is a hassle and no one really enjoys it, but with any luck you are moving into the home of your dreams and this will be the last move you make for a long time!

Rattlesnake Safety

snakeDid you know there are 13 different types of rattlesnakes slithering throughout Arizona? April through October, rattlesnakes can be found anywhere from hiking trails to city streets, so it’s important for everyone to know what to do when crossing paths with a snake.

While snakes aren’t looking to cause trouble, people still must use extreme caution when they come across a rattlesnake. A snakebite has enough venom to cause serious injury or even death. Most snakebite victims have to spend at least two to three days in a hospital and spend weeks rehabilitating the area around the bite in order to regain full range of motion and muscle functionality.

Valley fire departments offer these tips for making your property less hospitable to snakes:
-Eliminate rodents (a snake’s preferred food) from around your home.
-Remove wood piles and junk from your yard to eliminate potential homes for snakes and their prey.
-Walls deter snakes from entering your yard. Solid walls 4 feet high with a four-inch lip angling outward will discourage most snakes. Sink the bottom of the wall well into the ground.
-Install gates snugly against the ground.
-Keep walkways clear of brush.
-Light pathways around your home.

Tips to keep safe when rattlesnake activity is at its peak:
-Stay on the trails. Rattlesnakes are more likely to be found in places with better opportunity to hunt, hide, and stay out of trouble.
-Be aware of your surroundings. Watch your step. Texting while walking has resulted in at least one bite that we know of, and head phones will keep the natural warning system from working.
-If you have a dog, keep it on a leash. Have the dog vaccinated for rattlesnake bites, and have it trained if it’s available in your area.
-If you encounter a snake, take a step (or two or three!) back. Snakes can only strike at a distance of one-third of their full body length, thus a three-foot snake has an effective strike range of 12 inches. The average human stride is 36 inches, so a step back will quickly put you out of harms way. If those seem to be obvious, it’s because they absolutely are. Rattlesnakes are simply not a threat to those who don’t go looking for it. Staying safe is just a matter of knowing better, and if you didn’t before, now you do.

For more information or to speak to a snakebite expert, call the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center’s free, 24-hour hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

Smart Home Features

Google homeDo you have a “home assistant”? I’m sure many of you have one like we do, we have a Google Home on our kitchen counter. We use it to set timers and ask her to play bluetooth from my phone. We can also can use voice activation to control one of my other smart home devices like the temperature on our Nest thermostat. During the Phoenix summers, Nest helps us save money with intuitive temperature control when we are in and out of the house. Smart thermostats, home assistant speakers and door locks are popular and well-known products, but did you know there are even more smart devices available?

Smart Vacuums
Now vacuuming can be as simple as literally just lifting a finger. If you have an Apple Watch, you can set up a Roomba vacuum so all you need to do is tap to start the device in your home.

Smart Light Switch
You may have heard of the lightbulbs you can control color and intensity of with your voice, but what about the light switch you can talk to? Smart light switches are wired into your existing switch configuration and allow you to set nightlight settings, responsive times to turn on and off, and integration with Alexa voice activation, all from your phone.

Smart Plugs
Are you ever at work and wonder if you unplugged your curling iron, never fear – you can now switch it off from your phone! Smart plugs are simple to use, they plug into the wall, your device plugs into the smart plug, and now you’ve got full access to control it from your phone. TVs, lamps, crockpots and more can all be controlled remotely!

Smart Scales
Smart scales do way more than just tell you your weight. They help users more effectively monitor and track their weight and health by reporting proportions of fat, muscle mass and other metrics straight to your phone. If you wear Fitbit, there’s even a special scale that connects with your tracker.

Smart homes are increasing in popularity as people are more willing to invest in homes and devices that save time and money. Are you looking for a smart home? Let us know and we can begin your search today. Chris 480-754-9077 & Cheryl 480-754-9477

Pros and Cons of Artificial Turf

artificial turf

Since Arizona is primarily composed of desert land, with very little rainfall, you may have considered installing artificial grass instead of real grass in your front or backyard. One of the biggest reasons to install artificial turf is the lack of maintenance. Gone will be the mornings of mowing, weeding and trimming your grass. Instead, you’ll only need to occasionally rake off some leaves and debris. Additionally, with artificial grass, you won’t have to pay for fertilizer, watering or seeding, so the ongoing maintenance costs of real grass will be nixed. Another upside to artificial turf is its appearance. Your lawns will always be green, verdant, and lush-looking. The average life expectancy of artificial turf, depending on the product itself, is 15-25 years, so it likely will be something you won’t have to worry about with the entire time you live in your home. Finally, there are many more options of artificial grass nowadays, with many more realistic artificial turf choices out there, instead of the plastic-looking turf of the past.

Some of the cons of artificial turf to consider are first, the cost. Artificial grass averages around $7/square foot, so the initial expense can be considerable. This cost, of course, should be balanced against the maintenance and landscaping costs of real grass on an annual basis. Also, in Arizona at least, the temperature of artificial grass as opposed to real grass can be a real concern. The surface temperature of artificial grass can exceed 150 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes this surface a very real danger. Watering down the surface on hotter days can cool it down, but this may negate the fact that you’re trying to reduce water usage.

We’d be happy to discuss these pros and cons with you, especially with regard to listing or buying a home. Chris 480-754-9077 & Cheryl 480-754-9477

Treating Termintes

pest controlWhether you are buying, selling or living in a home, termites are likely something you will encounter. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that homeowners spend more than $2 billion annually on termite pest control and on repairs caused by termite damage. Termites also damage more than 600,000 homes annually here in the United States, thus making termite prevention and control a critical part of home maintenance.

The first thing to remember is that termites do work slowly. Most termite colonies take 2-3 years to form. Therefore, if you do see evidence of termites, you have time to determine how you’re going to deal with them most effectively, and it’s not going to be an emergency situation. Generally speaking, termites become more active in times of moisture as they can’t move around without moisture. So here in Arizona, that time is typically after monsoon season has ended, and the temperatures have dropped; mid-September through December.

It’s critical that you have a termite inspection of your home at least once a year. In between the inspection times, be sure to personally walk around the exterior and interior of your home every few months to look for mud tubes. The mud tubes look like dry brown tubes about the width of a pencil on the walls. If you discover evidence of termites in the form of these tubes, it’s time to call a termite exterminator.

Finally, take steps to prevent future termites. Preventing moisture from getting inside the walls of your home is critical. Therefore, keep your home’s foundation dry by preventing irrigation systems from dripping or leaking near your home’s structure. Keep attics well-ventilated and seal all openings into your home such as cracks and knotholes. Taking these simple steps will go a long way to prevent these omnipresent wood-loving bugs.