Archive for: My Life – Page 2

Choosing a Wedding Venue

As previously mentioned, I’ve been waiting for a few years for the proposal to happen.  And in that time, I’ve given thought to our wedding – not in great detail, but I’d think of things here and there.  One of the ideas that popped into my head was to get married in the summertime at a big ski house up in the mountains.  I thought a weekend getaway with family and friends would work out wonderfully.  Not to mention that those ski houses rent for extreme discounts in the summer (or, most of them do).

As usual, my GREAT idea wasn’t such a great one after all…  Turns out that many of the houses actually don’t allow weddings.  As one agent told me, too many of the owners had bad past experiences with weddings and had since nixed the idea.  The few that I found that would allow large events and weddings just weren’t going to accommodate everyone we needed to accommodate.

So, I was back at square one.  In searching for venues that had an outdoor ceremony site with a rustic, mountainous setting, I found that they came with exorbitant prices tags, too.  I knew weddings were expensive.  I didn’t know just how expensive.  I had gotten pretty frustrated, trying to find the right location, especially with so many possibly coming in from out of town, with the right setting and the right price.

I asked my co-workers if they knew of any local areas that weren’t listed on all of the wedding websites (since I’d already exhausted all of those…twice).  I got lucky.  A co-worker told me about a local historic apple orchard that also does events.  After showing me all of the pictures on their Facebook page, I was in love.  It was perfect!!  Even better that he knows the owner – and, here’s the kicker, her name is Sharon, too!  He texted the owner and found out that cost for getting married on a Friday was half the price of anywhere else I’ve looked and she already had many of the tables and chairs we’d need.  She also didn’t have nearly the requirements that other sites did, so we could really make our wedding what we pictured.

We went out that weekend to tour the farm – I tell ya, the views are amazing!!  Longs Peak sets the backdrop, and the farm is set with old cottonwood trees, historic buildings, and fun animals.  There is even a lake at the back of the orchard!!  Zach loved it, too

🙂  I wrote the deposit check on the spot!!!  And all my stress disappeared!!!  Well, that is until we had to tackle the guest list……..

This is our dance floor the evening!!  I love those cafe lights!!  We'll have fire pits, lights, beautiful flowers and more!!

This is our dance floor the evening!! I love those cafe lights!! We’ll have fire pits, lights, beautiful flowers and more!!

Cheers,

Sharon

What it Costs to Own a House

There are a few obvious expenses associated with buying and owning a home – mortgage payment (principal and interest) and utilities.  But there are also other fees, costs, bills and charges that add up quickly.  To save you the headache of finding out about these costs later in your home shopping and buying process, here is a quick run down of lesser-known expenses and costs related to home buying and ownership:

Your monthly payment is perhaps the most obvious of housing costs, aside from your purchase price.  However, there are certain expenses included in your monthly payment of which you may be unaware.  Your principal and interest are the bulk of your payment, but if you’ve put down less than 20% of your purchase price, you will be paying PMI, Private Mortgage Insurance, which essentially “makes up” the difference between what you’ve put down and 20%.  This can be significant – over $100 a month in some cases.  Keep this in mind.  You will stop incurring this monthly payment once you’ve paid your principal down to less than 80% of your purchase price, but that could take years.  You will also pay into an escrow account every month to cover your home owner’s insurance and annual property taxes (you can estimate this by looking at tax records for the property available on the assessor’s website – see my previous post Be a Know-it-All).  You will be expected to make up the difference if what you’ve contributed to your escrow account does not cover your taxes.

In addition to your monthly payment, you’ll pay for utilities.  This includes:  water, sewer, gas (if applicable), electricity, trash and any cable, internet and phone services you want.  Some of these may not apply – for example, if you’re on septic, you won’t have a sewer bill, but you will have to pay to have your system pumped occasionally.  You may be on strictly electric (no gas).  However, these costs can definitely add up.  Unfortunately, utility companies are not allowed to give you any information pertaining to what prior owners have paid – that information is now covered under privacy laws.  But you can ask friends and other people you know for some estimates and ball park your costs from there.  If you live in an HOA, your trash may be covered in your dues.  HOA dues are also recurring fees that you need to be aware of and for which you need to budget.  Cable, internet and phone bills seem to be on the constant rise and I think you can expect to pay $150 per month for a mid-level package (*this is only an estimate – there are ways to lower this payment, and believe me, there are ways to make it higher)!

When purchasing a home, you again are aware of the cost of the house – the purchase price (if you’re not aware of this expense, I’d like to live in your world for a day).  The good news is, your fees are less than those associated with selling your house.  You shouldn’t be responsible for paying your agent’s fees.  You will need to pay for your inspection, appraisal and any other similar services (a sewer scope, for example).  You may also need to pay for an ILC (Improvement Location Certificate), which is just a basic survey.  Your lender/title company can give your more information on this, if it’s needed.  Some of these charges are part of your closing costs, but will be paid for in advance.  Some are entirely independent but recommended.  You can offset some of your fees by asking for closing costs from the seller.  If you’re using an agent, they should explain all of these options to you in further detail.  Certain fees (title, survey, closing) can be negotiated in a offer.

You will be required to put a certain amount of money down.  And, here’s the kicker:  it’s got to be YOUR money.  Your lender can give you further detail, and fill you in on applicable laws, but it’s worth knowing that you have to have proof of funds for your down payment, and in today’s financial world, chances are you’ll have to justify any deposit that is not salary related.  So, if your down payment is a “gift” from a family member, you may run into some trouble.

Hopefully, some of this information will give you a heads up on what can be associated with house-buying and ownership, and it’s definitely worth crunching and recrunching the numbers.  But, I’d rather know ahead of time what I’m getting myself into (it’s usually nothing good) than have awful surprises down the road.  Good luck!

Cheers,

Sharon

Our First House! Exterior Pictures

The front of our new house!

The front of our new house!

Zach and I finally closed on our first house about a week and a half ago.  Many of you have been asking for pictures.  I took a LOT of them, so here is round one – the exterior of the house and our property.  We bought a 1948 ranch home on about half an acre.  We have a detached garage/shop and plenty of room to play.  Duke is in HEAVEN in his new yard 🙂  There are many bunnies for him to chase.  Keep in mind, these are VERY before pictures.  We bought this house as a fixer upper.  Stay tuned for more before pictures, and our work and renovations on our property!!!

The LOOOOOONG To-Do List

After thoroughly enjoying the almost overwhelming joy of finally being engaged, I got right down to business with the planning of our wedding.  (Again, in case you missed it, five years comin’).  Wonderfully, we had the “down time” away from our daily lives being that we were out of town on holiday.  Step one was calling and telling ALL family members.  My uncle, seriously funny man that he is, asked me if I had gangrene between my toes, when I asked, GUESS WHAT!  (EEEEWWWW)  Notifications done, we had to choose a date – one date – preferably one that Zach would be able to remember, one that most people could attend, and one that would suit our preferences (outdoors, etc.).  Out of 365 days, we had to choose 1.  Hmmm….that was a challenge.  To make a long (and probably less-than-interesting) story short, we chose July 25.  Yes, that’s a Friday.  Since I’ve answered this many times already, I’ll save you the trouble of asking, “Why Friday?”  Well, because it’s cheaper than a Saturday in wedding world, and because it’d work out well to have the rest of the weekend for us, since we won’t be taking a honeymoon.  So, Friday, July 25, 2014 is the 1 in 365 choice we made 🙂  Let the countdown begin….

Then, I’m told by all of the those amazingly helpful (overwhelming), organized (messy) and “everything in one place” (ALL things you could ever want and NOT ever want) websites that my to-do list is in the range of 155 items long.  WHAT?!  Yikes.  Well, okay – here we go…plug in my wedding date and…AHHHHHH!!  25 of those 155 things just became overdue.  Huh?  You mean I’m supposed to take a year to plan?  No.  I’ve waited five.  One more is not an option.  So, Plan B it is.

Plan B consisted of deleting those tasks that do not apply, i.e. write an engagement/wedding announcement for your local paper and submit with a picture.  Right.  I’m excited for me, but I’m fairly certain that no one else will care.  One down, 154 to go.

Skip forward approximately 30 minutes and my to-do list is in the manageable range of 110 ish items.  Well, November to July – that’s eight months, totally do-able.  So, I began the joyous process of planning my wedding….next up, find a venue….

Cheers,

Sharon

Financing – The Nitty Gritty

Most people might think that looking for a home comes first, but having just gone through all of this, I suggest getting your financing in order first…so that you’re ready to pounce on the dream home when you find it.  Wonderful as it is when everything falls into place, it’s devastating when the money side falls apart – and on that note…

Money.  A lot of money… is needed to buy a house.  (Unless you’ve figured out how to grow money on trees, in which case, I’d love to know your secret.)  Regardless of your source, money is required to purchase a home.  I’m going to guess here that the financing aspect of buying a home is probably the most daunting part in the entire process for most.  If not, you’re a lucky one.  While I am not an expert, I will share with you a few of our experiences that might help you feel a little more reassured about the financing side of buying a home.

First, there is an important distinction to make.  Being pre-qualified and getting pre-approved are two different things.  Being pre-approved carries a stronger value.  To put it briefly, being pre-qualified essentially means you’ve talked to a lender and based on limited, basic information (income, debt, etc.) they agree they think you’ll qualify for a mortgage.  Being pre-approved gets a bit more dirty.  You’ve talked with said lender and they’ve pulled your credit, you’ve given them an amount for which you’d like to be approved, you’ve submitted bank statements, taxes, pay stubs, etc. etc. etc. (our lender calls it the “infamous list”) and the lender has “crunched the numbers” (I’ve always wondered where that saying originated) and come back with interest rates, closing costs, etc.  Basically, the money is yours pending approval (usually from an underwriter).  You are a stronger candidate to a seller of a home if you’re pre-approved.  The lender can provide a pre-approval and/or a pre-qualification letter for you to submit with an offer on a house.

Okay, now that those are out of the way, here’s the good news.  There are actually a lot of options out there when it comes to financing a home.  Even better news, there are lots of options for first-time home buyers.  At first, we were limiting ourselves to using our credit union (with which Zach has been banking for life and through which I intentionally got my car loan in order to build some financial history with them).  Turns out, they weren’t the most competitive, by far, particularly when it came to closing costs, which we knew we needed from a seller anyway.  Enter:  Agent (see my previous blog about whether to use an agent).  Our agent pointed us to a lender who has provided us with a product that perfectly suits our needs!  Mortgage and/or finance companies have the ability to offer products not available through banks, which generally offer traditional options.

There are other sources for financing mortgages, too.  The government is an option (this is accessible through your lender).  Certain states may have programs, too.  Keep in mind that you must qualify for some of these programs.  VA has loan programs, but again, you must qualify.

The process for procuring financing can be a lengthy one.  Here’s what we learned along the way.  A good loan officer can give you a rough idea of where you stand in regards to a mortgage simply by getting a few details from you and working through the numbers.  Be honest throughout this entire process – and on that same topic, be conservative.  You’ll be glad for it.  Be prompt – if your lender requires information – get it quickly.  Don’t necessarily be sold on the first option.  NEWS FLASH:  In the past, it’s been detrimental to shop around for mortgages, because every company pulls your credit.  It’s now OK for you to have unlimited mortgage-related credit pulls within 30 days.  So, get multiple options and choose from there.  Be good to your credit and finances until a few days after you’ve closed…only then may you go charge all of your new furniture, décor, etc. on your credit card.  But, maintaining the financial picture you present to your lender is crucial – they will re-verify your credit/finances the week and morning of your close.  NOTE:  Quitting your job at all during this process is not recommended.

Happy shopping!

Cheers,

Sharon

Be a Know-it-All

Last time, I exhausted you with all of the reasons why utilizing an agent has been a good thing for us and why you should consider using one yourself.  Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  Agents don’t know it all.  Agents don’t generally have the time to know it all.  At least not for every deal they work.  Here we go…

Did you know that property records are available to you?  Many counties have online assessor records that you can search to see what taxes are for a particular property (helpful for calculating monthly payments – stay tuned for the next post about financing and money) and sometimes you can even see the property sales history (also available on websites like Zillow.)  A note:  you usually have to click through to some kind of map or property explorer, then search by address.  Does this tell you everything?  No.  But, depending on what the market is like in your area, it can give you an idea of how long someone has been there and what the property sold for previously.  It gives a place to start for comparison and the actual value of the property.  Keep in mind, as I mentioned, this does not always provide pertinent details (such as liens against a property.)

Another source is the county foreclosure listings.  You can see if the house was foreclosed upon – also something an agent can provide – either in the current transaction, or perhaps previously.  Sometimes, there is an NED (Notice of Election and Demand for Sale) available in the foreclosure records, even if the house hasn’t been foreclosed upon – meaning the owners have somehow resolved the discrepancy.  This can give you valuable information about the current value of a note on a house (can you say, “bargaining power?”) and may tell you if a seller is highly motivated – and therefore may accept a lower offer if you come in as a strong buyer (being pre-approved, no contingency, short closing date, etc.) as long as your offer is still above what they may owe.

Additional information can be found on real estate websites and the like, simply by searching using the actual address of the property.  Websites may pop up that contain previous listings for a property – you may get additional photos, previous uses and more.  I’ve also found that when looking through pictures on Zillow, you can find older (and more) pictures by clicking to enlarge the photos (this is what hours of researching houses will find you – just saying – an accidental click here, being curious there…)

I’ve learned just as much about a property by doing my own research as I have communicating with an agent.  Additional insight is invaluable and I’ve appreciated knowing whatever I’ve found.  Have any more thoughts and suggestions?  Feel free to post below.  Good luck!

Cheers,

Sharon

My First Wedding Post

Okay, confession:  I have all these great ideas, such as writing posts about our wedding, planning, etc. and then become too busy to actually put said ideas into action.  However, today is the first post about our upcoming nuptials!

First, a little about us.  Zach and I have been together for 5 (yes FIVE) years.  For approximately 4.78 of those years, I knew he was the “one” – cheesy as that sounds.  Sometimes, when you know, you know.  So, for the last 4.78 years, I’ve been patiently waiting for a proposal (that’s an exaggeration, I knew it was too early in those beginning years.)  However, I was beginning to wonder about the “when” come last year – time kept passing and I kept thinking, maybe now, maybe now.  Maybe not.  Not one to do things conventionally, Zach found a way to surprise, just when I had begun to give up hope —

Sitting at the airport gate, the empty airport gate, waiting for our flight back to Indiana for Thanksgiving last fall, is where he popped (literally) the question.  I, having traveled all of my life and having been through most any situation involving airports, flights and the like, was adamant about getting to the airport at least two and a half hours early – just in case we were going to be dealing with long security lines, lost reservations, double-booking for our seats, etc. etc. etc.  Surprisingly, Zach didn’t question me and cheerfully showed up on time ready to leave for the airport.  Generally, I’m at least told that I’m a nerd and too worried about things.  True to form, I was wrong about needing such a lead time and we were at the gate in less than 15 minutes from being dropped off.  Right.  Thank goodness Zach had the grace not to mention anything about my miscalculation during the extra two hours we had at the gate.  Whew.  Instead, he decided to start drilling me about my packing.  Did I remember everything?  Yes.  Did you pack clean underwear?  Mmmm hmmmm.  How about socks – have enough of those?  Yup.  Toothbrush?  Sure did – I made a list and crossed EVERYTHING off so I’m sure I packed everything.  You sure you didn’t forget anything?  I’m sure, butthead (my affectionate name for him.)  Pregnant pauseI  know what you forgot.  Now I’m trying to rack my brain to determine (a) what I forgot and (b) how he might possibly know about it.  By the time I realize what’s going on, Zach was already on one knee, pulling out a ring box from his vest, and asking me to marry him.  In all of my infinite ability to quickly adapt (right?), I said…….WHAT?!  (And covered by entire face behind my hands.)  Recovering, and realizing that this is what I’ve been waiting for, I said YES!  Smiling the best smile you’ve ever seen (no exaggeration, it’ll make you weak at the knees) Zach put the ring on my finger.

photo

I proceeded to enjoy every minute of my new-found euphoria – for the next 14.29 hours or so until the planning began 🙂

Cheers,

Sharon

To Agent or Not to Agent…?

…That is the question.  Okay, maybe “to agent” doesn’t make much sense.  I’ll give you that.  But, this is still an important decision.  Originally I, probably more so than Zach, was reluctant to use an agent.  Nothing against agents (I gave serious thought to pursuing my broker’s license in Colorado), but let’s face it, the real estate market is cutthroat and I wasn’t interested in getting in the middle of agents trying to make deals and make money.  The deeper I got into my digging, the more agents with whom I came into contact, and the more turned off I was.  Everything was about signing contracts locking me in and guaranteeing money.  No.  Thank.  You.

Then, I called on a house I had seen listed (seemed like a great deal, so of course, I had to know more.)  Turns out, that was not the house we needed to be in (concrete and foundation issues enough to keep me in trouble for years to come), the agent I spoke with was the right one.  A note:  there is a difference between a buyer’s agent and a transaction broker.  Make sure you’re aware of how you’re being represented.  That being said, our agent is a transaction broker for us.  However, we’ve been fortunate in that he’s represented us well.

Agents have invaluable knowledge of the process and contracts involved in buying a house.  Just as important, in our case, were the connections our agent has had for us.  He sent us to a mortgage specialist who had a better product for us than those available through our credit union (surprisingly enough.)  More on that later…  He also works with an inspector who, wait for it, happens to be a structural engineer (in Colorado, with erosion issues, this is good.)  Bonus – he happens to know the listing agent for our house (we’re under contract), too.

So, in conclusion, it’s completely what you’re comfortable with, but I will say that in our specific situation, having someone represent us and guide us in this process has been completely worth it.

Cheers,

Sharon

My Name is Sharon and I am a first-time home buyer…

Whew!  The hardest part is admitting it…right?  No, I’m not addicted to home-buying, or being a first-time home-buyer, but I am addicted to information (see disclaimer below).  Being a first-time homebuyer can be very daunting.  I write this post, and the ones that will follow, to share with you the information I’ve found, the mistakes I’ve made, what I’ve learned, and the things that went well.  This is by no means an expert’s opinion and I would always recommend using qualified professionals to assist you in the process of buying a home.  Perhaps, however, my mishaps (those humorous and not-so-humorous) will offer you a place to start and let you know that you are not alone in the great big world of real estate.  Follow along on my (our) journey of buying our first house.

DISCLAIMER:  I preface this series with the following:  I am an odd duck – I will dig for information and answers, crunch numbers and run through different scenarios until I am blue in the face (a regular person would be various shades of purple and pink by this point, if not passed out.)  So, some of the things that I was aware of going into this process stemmed from spending much time doing research, reading, and asking questions; simply familiarizing myself with the market, process and facts.  Here we go, to wit… (yikes)

Let’s just say I started this process years ago.  Ridiculous, right?  My hard-working (very intelligent, mind you) man tells me, and I quote, that I’m a nerd.  And, it’s true.  I can’t help myself.  I was began looking at properties a very long time ago.  Here’s the benefit:  I learned the market.  I was able to see how the market changed over the course of the recent past.  And, I knew when properties were good deals; although, I was cautious and never assumed that things were necessarily as wonderful as they seemed.  I also knew when a property was over-priced.  I could see when the local and regional housing markets were on the up (which is why we are buying now, before the market for what we want is beyond our current reach).  I even learned to read in between the lines a bit.  Essentially, I familiarized myself with the comparables (hint:  real-estate term).  This gives you fodder in the future when it comes to wheelin’ and dealin’.

So, here’s my advice – starting poking around NOW, even if you’re a year, or more, out from being ready to buy a home.  Get familiar with what’s going on, learn some terms, ask a few questions (sites such as Zillow and regional MLS sites are great to see what’s going on around you.)  You’ll be amazed at how comfortable you’ll be once you are ready to begin looking.  One word of caution:  do not drive your significant other crazy with “Look at this one!!!” and “This one is a GREAT deal…” or “We should move on this one!”  You’ll be met with very little enthusiasm and much eye rolling.

Cheers,

Sharon

 

NEXT UP:  To Agent or Not to Agent?