June 30, 2016

Get to know your home's electrical system

Your home’s electrical system is more than just a bunch of wires – it’s a complex system, carefully designed to deliver all the power you need for modern life in the safest way possible. Knowing how your home’s electrical system works will help you be a more “empowered” homeowner.

Electrical System Components

The electrical system consists of the line from the pole, a meter where electrical usage is tallied, a main circuit breaker panel (sometimes called “load centers” and, in older homes, fuse panels), separate wiring circuits to all the rooms in the home, outlets, light fixture boxes, and various hard-wired appliances.


Home Electrical System

The Meter

The main line typically comes off a pole (but can also be buried underground) to the house where it connects to the meter. Meters are typically installed on the exterior of the home, where they can be read by utility company meter-readers. Most meters are mechanical, with a spinning wheel and mechanical display of numbers. Some newer meters are digital, showing a display on an LCD screen. The meter tallies the amount of electricity used in a home in units of kilowatt hours (kWh). The total increase in the number of kWh from one month to the next is the number used by the electric utility for your bill.

Mike Ashenfelter, Safe Electricity Advisory Board Member adds, “Most meters work only one way, adding up electricity flowing into a home. Some “smart meters,” used on homes which generate renewable energy from wind or solar, will count electricity flowing both into and out of a home. This allows homeowners generating renewable energy to sell excess renewable electricity back to the electric utility.”

The Main Breaker Panel

While it is possible to install a weather-proof main breaker panel, most main breaker panels are installed inside the home. When the main electric supply line leaves the meter, it enters the home and arrives next at the main breaker panel at the main circuit breaker.

The maximum amount of electricity that a home can use at one time is dictated by the size of the main breaker. The breaker is a type of switch, set to flip off in case of an overload in the home, reducing the risk of fire or electrocution. Most modern homes will have 200 amp (short for amperage) service, while an older home might only have 100 amp service and a larger home 400 amp service. If you’re curious about your home’s electrical service, open the main breaker panel and look for the largest breaker switch in the panel, usually mounted at the top of the panel. The number on the switch will tell you the total amps of your home’s electric service.

Below the main breaker, electric service is divided up by smaller circuit breakers which govern the amount of electricity available to each circuit. Those circuits usually represent individual rooms, but may also represent hard-wired appliances like air-conditioners, furnaces, and water heaters. So, for example, of the 200 amps available to a home, the kitchen may have two 20 amp circuits, the bedroom may have a 15 amp circuit, the air-conditioner a 30 amp circuit, and so on. These circuit breakers work much the same as the main breaker – if an electrical overload occurs, the breaker automatically shuts off the electricity to the circuit, reducing the chance of fire.

Each circuit should be clearly labeled on the inside of the main breaker panel door (i.e. “living room” or “air-conditioner”). This will make it easy to know which breakers control which rooms or hard-wired appliances when you need to turn them off to replace a switch or outlet or perform maintenance on a hard-wired appliance.

Be aware that some older homes may still use fuses instead of breakers. Fuses are meant to be weak links in an electrical circuit which “burn out” safely when an overload occurs on a circuit before the circuit itself can overload and cause a fire. Once a fuse burns out, the overload must be fixed and the fuse then must be replaced by a new fuse with the same amp rating before the circuit will work again. Never replace a larger fuse with a smaller one. That’s because wires are rated in amperage also, so the fuse and wire size are determined by the load requirement of the electrical circuit. This older type of system is less safe than the newer, breaker-based systems.

The Circuits

From the smaller circuit breakers, bundles of wires run through walls, ceilings, and floors to each room and hard-wired appliance. Each bundle of wire has at least three wires within – two with plastic insulation and one bare. The black and/or red insulated wires are the “hot” wires coming directly off of the circuit breakers. The white insulated or “neutral” wire carries the current back to the electrical source at the panel. The bare copper wire is the ground wire, which is the safety part of the circuit. The two wires insulated wires are attached to outlets or switches so that when nothing is plugged in or a switch is in the off position, the wires do not meet. When you plug something into an outlet or turn a switch on, you complete the circuit, allowing electricity to flow through a light or appliance to activate it.

The ground wire is literally a direct path to the ground which acts with the circuit breaker, in the event of a short circuit. It is attached to all metal parts of a fixture or appliance. If a faulty appliance, frayed wire, or wet conditions give electricity a separate, less resistant path to the ground, the ground wire acts as a path of least resistance, allowing the excess electricity to travel directly to the ground and triggering the circuit breaker to shut off, helping avoid electrocution or fire.

While standard circuits to plugs and outlets are usually 110 volts, some larger hard-wired and plug-in appliances, like electric ovens, ranges, and clothes dryers, are 220 volt

Some circuits don’t travel to rooms, but to individual, hard-wired appliances. Most commonly these are appliances which require a lot of electricity like air-conditioners, electric furnaces, and electric water heaters. If labeled carefully, it is then easy to turn off power when replacing or servicing hard-wired appliances. Smoke alarms in modern homes are often hard-wired, and each will also have a battery back-up for additional safety in the event of a power outage. Mike Ashenfelter says, “Carbon Monoxide detectors are now also required in many jurisdictions. In new homes, or remodels smoke detectors must be hard-wired and battery backup. Combination CO and Smokes are available for installation. In some areas CO detectors can be of the plug in type, and do not have to be hard wired. Always check your local codes.”


The most common safety device beyond the breaker system is the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt (GFCI) outlet or breaker. A GFCI senses the moment when a person begins to receive a shock, and shuts off the electricity at the outlet or breaker within milliseconds, avoiding the shock and potential electrocution. GFCIs are typically installed in locations where water may be present, like bathrooms, kitchens, unfinished basements, garages, and even outdoors. The most common type of GFCI is the outlet, but GFCI breakers can also be used in the main breaker panel to give all outlets in a given circuit GFCI protection.

GFCIs look like typical electrical outlets, but also include a test and a reset button. In the event that a GFCI is tripped, pressing the reset button will restore power (assuming the original problem is fixed). Since GFCIs include electronic sensors, and are subject to possible failure over time, homeowners should test them once a month to ensure that they are still working. Press the test button, which will trip the GFCI, then press the reset button to restore power. If pressing the test button doesn’t trip the GFCI, or pressing the reset button doesn’t restore power, the GFCI should be replaced.


A “ground fault” is an extreme event, when water or metal complete a circuit outside of the intended circuit. Direct metal-to-metal or water-to-metal electrical shorts are called “dead shorts,” and are easily detected by a GFCI device. However, when the fault in the circuit is less direct, it may not result in a dead short, but in electrical arcing, which a GFCI may not detect. In this case, as when a nail is driven into the wall and accidentally through an electric cable, the damage to the wires within can cause electricity to leap a very small gap, creating a white-hot “arc” between the not-quite-touching metal wires. Accidental arcing in an electrical circuit is just like intentional arcing with an arc-welder, with very hot temperatures resulting, sometimes exceeding 10,000?F. These high temperatures can ignite wood framing, insulation, and other nearby combustibles, potentially resulting in a house fire. Arcing can occur in many situations, including at loose connections or where furniture impinges on electrical cords, and can often occur inside of walls.

The solution is to install Arc Fault Circuit Interrupts or AFCIs. Only AFCIs can prevent this type of hazard. AFCIs are now required by the National Electrical Code in many areas of the home including bedrooms, family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, sunrooms, closets, hallways and similar rooms or areas. Like GFCIs, AFCIs can be of the outlet type or the circuit breaker type.

AFCI Outlet

Installing a New System

Because of the potential, inherent risks involved in installing and servicing of electrical systems, they are subject to rigorous national and international regulations through building electrical codes. Ashenfelter says, “In most areas building permits are required and can be obtained from your local building department.” Systems should always be installed by trained professionals, adhering to the most current codes. System plans are subject to approval by city building codes offices. An electrical inspector will also inspect the system twice during installation: once after wiring, just before the walls are closed in, and once when the home is completely finished, after outlets, switches, lighting, and hard-wired appliances are installed.

That said, it’s important that you are involved in making decisions about your new electrical system. While things like minimum number of outlets and distance between them are stipulated by codes, there are still many decisions to make. Once installed, it’s difficult to change key elements of your system, so you will want to indicate things such as the number, type, and placement of outlets, light fixtures, switches, and hard-wired appliances. Many decisions will depend on how you intend to use each room, and where things like furniture, appliances, and electronics will be located. Once the walls are up for your new home, but before the wiring has begun, it’s okay to walk through the unfinished rooms with the electrician and change the plan. It’s often easier to visualize an electrical plan when walking through the unfinished rooms than on paper architectural drawings.

It’s also important to communicate any special electrical needs you may have. Here are a few things you may want to consider in your home’s electrical system design and communicate to your architect or electrical engineer who is helping to plan your system:

·         A well-thought out lighting design is vital. Lighting affects not only the aesthetics and ambiance in a home, but also the safety and security of its occupants and the home’s overall energy efficiency. Be sure to create a lighting design that considers all of these aspects

·         Will you have a home office or complicated home theater system in your new home? If so you may require an advanced wiring system to handle loads, potential surges, or power conditioning.

·         Do you have family members who are children, elderly, disabled, or who have special needs? Electrical systems can be designed for enhanced safety and/or universal access.

·         If you plan to use super-efficient LED lighting in your home, tell the electrician. Special dimmers are required for these types of bulbs.

·         Energy use monitoring and automation can help a homeowner see their energy use and then automate parts of the system for maximum comfort, energy efficiency, and safety. Think about integrating both into your system during the design process.

·         Include other wiring requests like telephone, data, cable and satellite TV, and security systems during the design process. Many times, this wiring can be brought into a central “hub” which then distributes each of the services throughout the house.


Link to the original article- http://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/skills-and-know-how/electrical-and-wiring/know-your-homes-electrical-system?nl=DIY_063016_hrz2cta&c32=89fdf495febb8db3a0bf4860b6ec937afb53f5a8&sni_by=&sni_gn=Female&ssid=2011_DI_MANCAVESWEEPS&bid=7051577
June 27, 2016

5 Inexpensive Items That Make Gorgeous Backsplashes


The backsplash is by far the most fun design decision during a kitchen remodel — so why settle for standard tile or stone? Instead, turn an everyday collection into an unexpected backsplash display. The design secret here is the multiples: when small graphic items are arranged side by side, the result is a surprisingly cohesive, curated look. The best part? Not only will a DIY backsplash elevate you to Pinterest goddess status, but employing everyday items (instead of expensive marble or tile) will save you major renovation bucks, too. Win-win? We think so.

Read on for our favorite DIY kitchen backsplash ideas, and be sure to ask your local hardware store for installation tips before trying it at home.

Wine Corks

Memorialize your favorite Merlot by adhering the corks to a wet bar's backsplash in alternating horizontal and vertical pairs. Use the DIY project as an excuse to drink more vino (we won't tell anyone), or simply purchase used wine corks online. They're easy to find and usually super inexpensive.


Get your kitchen's game face on with dominoes. The classic black and white game pieces add a decidedly sophisticated touch when arranged in rows. Complement the look with the latest kitchen trend: dark gray cabinets and warm brass hardware.

Bottle Caps

Bottle caps, which look like colorful penny tile from afar, are right at home in the kitchen. Choose a color theme — only blue bottle caps, for example — or include all hues for the ultimate vibrant look. Enlist friends to collect, or buy bottle caps in bulk from Etsy sellers, like TorBearNC.


Bar and restaurant coasters, bursting with fun fonts and graphic treatments, are an inexpensive way to replicate the look of ceramic tile but with an unexpected twist. Make a point to collect the coasters during travels, and you'll create a memory-filled scrapbook for your walls. Simply arrange the coasters as if you would square tiles and then cover them with a large glass plate for protection against cooking oils.


Channel your inner Antoni Gaudí and design a mosaic backsplash using smashed dinner plates and platters. Vintage varieties are a dime a dozen at antique stores and flea markets, usually costing a mere few dollars each. Pile the dinnerware in a cloth bag (to avoid flying pieces) before breaking them with a hammer. Then glue the roughly one-inch pieces to your walls in a pattern or at random.


Original Article: http://www.popsugar.com/home/DIY-Kitchen-Backsplashes-37492262

June 22, 2016

Buying and Selling Your Home: Which comes first?



Unless you’re upgrading to a new home every year, chances are the buying and selling process has changed significantly since you were last in a closing. The market is different, new lender requirements have been introduced and you probably have a different set of needs for your next house, leaving you stuck at the first step: Should you buy your new home or sell your current one first?

A simple way to solve this potential conundrum is to look at how much risk you’re comfortable taking on. If the thought of making payments on two homes at the same time if your current home fails to sell quickly sounds painful, securing a sale before starting your search for a new home might be your safest bet.

“I’d want to get my house sold first, and then get out there to look – it would just make me nervous to do it any other way,” says David Howell, executive vice president and chief information officer of McEnearney Associates Inc., a real estate firm covering the District of Columbia metro area.

But there are other factors that can sway your decision. Rising home values across the country and low housing inventory may mean that you could sell your home but not be able to find the next place you want right away. The pressure to find a new place to live could tempt you to buy a home lacking key features you want and need in your next home.

[See: The 20 Best Affordable Places to Live in the U.S. ]

For a better understanding of how you can ensure the timing of your next sale and purchase are a success, ask yourself these five questions:

Can you handle two loans at once?

Look at your income and determine whether you’ll be able to make monthly payments on two mortgages at the same time. If you can’t, a lender will tell you to sell first.

“If there’s an overlap for one day, you have to qualify for full payment [of both loans],” says Anslie Stokes, a Realtor with McEnearney Associates.

You may qualify for a bridge loan, which is a short-term loan meant to give you more flexibility in the interim between buying one home and selling another (typically six months to a year). However, not all lending institutions offer bridge loans.

You also need to know where your down payment will come from. Do you have that money on hand, or is it in the form of equity in your current home? Depending on the type of loan you qualify for, that may not be a problem, explains Kevin Parker, assistant vice president of field mortgages at Navy Federal Credit Union.

“We have 100 percent conventional [loans] and we offer [Veterans Affairs] financing. We have the benefit of, in a lot of cases, allowing members to do 100 percent financing," Parker says, adding that homeowners then don't have to worry about pulling equity out of their current home to purchase the next one.

[Read: Finding the Right Mortgage for You .]

How quickly do you need to move?

Your biggest motivation for changing homes can also have an impact on what you do first. If you’re relocating across the country for a new job, for example, Stokes says putting your home on the market right away might be necessary as you visit your new city to go house hunting. The faster you can sell your current home, the easier it will be to fully relocate.

On the flip side, if you’re looking for a new home as a step up – whether you're seeking more bedrooms for your growing family or additional property to fit your desired lifestyle – it may be beneficial to hold off on selling until you find the right home.

In that case, Stokes recommends working with your real estate agent to prepare to sell your home, but waiting until your desired home in your must-have neighborhood goes on the market.

Have you factored in new regulations?

In October 2015, the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure rules went into effect nationwide, requiring lenders to provide two forms laying out the details of a mortgage to borrowers, one at the beginning – the Loan Estimate – and one at the end of the loan approval process.

The second form, the Closing Disclosure, must be given to the borrower at least three days before the real estate closing. If you need to sell your home to be approved for a new mortgage, you can’t close on the sale one morning and close on your purchase in the afternoon of the same day – a lending practice Parker recalls being fairly common previously.

“Post-TRID, that presents a challenge because we have the three days that we have to deliver the Closing Disclosure, which means we basically have to have everything finalized and approved before that three-day period,” Parker says.

As a result, the process of selling one home and buying another can be more uncertain, with the possibility of delays in closing. To reduce the chances of federal regulations causing problems, be sure you’re working with an agent and loan officer who know the ins and outs of the process, says Kevin Strong, a Realtor in Salt Lake City.

“It’s very important for a good, seasoned agent to counsel their buyers and their sellers on this process – how TRID has changed things with redisclosure, where it will slow things down,” Strong says.

Do you need a leg up in negotiations?

Of course, buying your next home before selling your current one does have some benefits. In a competitive market where bidding wars are common, placing an offer that's not contingent on the sale of your home will surely get the seller’s attention.

“If you can afford both mortgages, it typically gives the buyer more flexibility, specifically with making an offer. It makes the offer more attractive to listing agents because it’s one less thing to worry about,” Parker says.

[See: 10 Unorthodox Ways Your Real Estate Agent May Market Your Home .]

Do you have somewhere to live while you wait?

A tight market with low inventory can leave you without a house, should you sell your home before purchasing a new one. Strong says it’s common for homeowners in Salt Lake City to sell a home in the $250,000 range with the intention of buying a home priced around $400,000. But inventory in the higher range is often so low that there isn’t a home for them to purchase immediately.

“A lot of times they’re forced to move, and they don’t have a place to go. So in some cases, these people are actually having to move to a rental,” Strong says.


Devon Thorsby is a Real Estate reporter at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

March 23, 2016

A Real Estate Wrinkle

How to age proof your home

I live in Boston in a 1916 New England colonial that I love. It's a perfect location, across from a park, five minutes from public transportation and four blocks from restaurants and stores. But the house won't be perfect if my husband and I have mobility problems when we get older. There are steps galore, narrow doorways and bathtubs and showers that require agility.

This is a challenge that many of us must face one day. A recent study conducted by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies found that fewer than 25% of homeowners age 55 and older have a no-step entry into their house or between rooms, or a first-floor bedroom and full bath.

Rather than wait for a crisis, some couples are retrofitting their space- for example, moving the laundry room from the basement to the first floor, converting the downstairs den into a bedroom and building additions. They are putting in kitchen counters at different levels for sitting or standing, recessing mats into the floor so there's less risk of tripping, stacking closets where an elevator could later go and installing backing for grab bars- just in case.

"Baby boomers and other homeowners don't want their home to look like a hospital, retirement facility or an old person's home. They want safety, but with the current look of home remodeling," says Joel Ambrose, CEO of HandyPro, a national company with a home modifications division.

"Everyone remembers going to an elderly relatives' home and seeing a hospital bed in the living room with medical equipment," says Deborah Pierce, a Boston architect and author of The Accessible Home. "Housing for aging in place can be beautiful if it is thought through beforehand and not when there's a crisis."

These days, many grab bars look like pretty towel racks or elegant toilet tissue holders. A ramp into the house can be disguised with landscaping on both sides as a gently sloping walkway.

Tweaks such as a curbless shower with a bench or drop-down seat, wide doorways, levers instead of doorknobs and nonskid flooring are just good universal design, better for not only walkers and wheelchairs, but baby strollers and bikes, too. Controlling heating, lights and doors remotely from a smartphone or keypad works for all generations.

More availability and support

The aging of the baby boomers has spawned Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS), who receive special training through the National Association of Home Builders. People who have earned the CAPS designation are typically contractors, architects and interior designers who use their training to make homes safer and more accessible for older  adults.

The fixes range in price. Grab bars cost $50 to $250; adding handrails on a staircase and lever handles on faucets and doors can be less than $1,000; adding a handheld shower can cost $300; removing a tub and replacing it with a curved shower is $8,000 to $10,000, while adding a walk-in shower with glass is $12,000 to $15,000.

Also, widening a doorway is $800 to $1,200; putting in a wheelchair ramp tuns $1,600 to $3,200; installing a stair lift is $3,000 to $12,000. An elevator can be $20,000 plus.

Expensive, yes, but Houston CAPS contractor Dan Bawden urges homeowners to compare a $75,000 aging-in-place project , let's say with the price of long-term care. (According to a 2015 study by Genworth, a long-term care and insurance company, the mean cost for one year of assisted living is $43,000, while a year in a nursing home runs $80,300 to $91,250.)

The downsizing approach

Jeanette Watling-Mills went with a different approach. The 66 year old Sarasota, Florida widow decided to sell her 3,000 square foot home and move to a place half the size. While the new house was on one level, parts were not designed for aging in place- especially the master bath. She gutted and reconfigured the master bathroom and also changed her front door so it now has a keyless entry, opening with a keypad or remote control. When she needs to replace kitchen appliances, Watling-Mills plans to get a stove with front controls and create a lower countertop 'Should I ever need to be on wheels," she says.

Even so, that perfect home for growing older may not be so perfect. "Your place could be age-friendly and wonderful until you can't drive anymore and can't get home-care services," says Denver geriatrician Mary Tuuk. "Planning ahead for how and where you're going to age in place is critically important."

7 Steps for making your home age-friendly

1. Talk to a real estate agent before you renovate to make sure it's a good investment for resale.

2. Compare the costs of renovating to moving.

3. Think about the community, not just your house. Will you be too isolated as you get older? What kind of services and opportunities are nearby (not just doctors, but transportation, stores, restaurants, entertainment?)

4. Figure out what changes you can make before you need to. 9Do you have a bedroom or full bath on the first floor, or room for them? Easy access from the driveway or sidewalk? Slippery rugs?)

5. Be realistic. If you're redoing a bathroom or kitchen, design it for the future you, not just today's needs.

6. Find a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) in your area (nahb.org/capsdirectory).

7. Check out these resources:

AARP HomeFit Guide, search 'Home Fit Guide'

AARP Liveable Communities Index, search 'Liveable Communities'

MetLife Agiing in Place Workbook, search 'Aging in Place Workbook'

National Aging in Place Council


By Sally Abrahms- an expert on baby boomers and seniors, focusing on age 50-plus caregiving, housing and aging in place technology.

March 17, 2016

The Colors That Help (and Hurt) Your Home’s Selling Potential

When decorating a home it’s easy to appeal to your own personal taste: A kitchen painted your favorite shade of red, or a brightly colored statement chair in your living room, can instantly make a new house feel like home.

But, if you’re ever planning to sell your home, you should know how your color choices now will affect a buyer’s view of your home later.

In a recent survey by Better Homes and Gardens, 400 homeowners were polled on the colors they’re most and least attracted to. The results showed strong preferences—not just for color in general, but also for how and where each hue was used.

Here are a few takeaways to keep in mind:

Avoid these three colors

Orange, black, and violet: Of the homeowners polled, 58% said they’re least likely to decorate with orange, claiming it’s “way too loud.” Black and violet followed, snagging the second and third spots on the list of colors homeowners would rather live without.

A fan of these condemned tones? Well, we’re not saying they’re banned. Just try to limit them to small surfaces and keep them off your walls—they can be overpowering for buyers.

Don’t oversaturate your interior

When it comes to color, the biggest fear among homeowners (read: your potential future buyers) is that they’ll get sick of the color they’ve chosen. That means if you’re going to use saturated hues, you’re going to want to see them limited to certain rooms and decor.

Those polled ranked the living room (63%), kitchen (53%), and bathroom (52%) as the top three spots where color is most likely to be used. In other spots, you’ll want to go easy on the saturated shades—specifically, the foyer (36%), dining room (24%), and adult bedroom (24%).

Think accent, not statement

When it comes to buyer-friendly decor, you can still use the colors you want, but small doses are best: 41% of participants preferred using color as an accent throughout the home.

We think you know what this means. Leave large surfaces—walls, floors, and ceilings—neutral to act as a backdrop for your furnishings and accessories. When it comes time for a walk-through or open house, the potential new owners can imagine their life and belongings in the home without being overwhelmed by your design.

Go bold—outside

Have a penchant for color but afraid of the consequences when you go to sell? Take that personality to the exterior of your home and opt for a front door in a shade other than white.

Bringing a touch of color to the front of your home will feel welcoming.  But keep it to the front door or shutters—only 8% say a bold-colored exterior would be something they’d consider.

Feeling blue is actually a good thing

When it comes to decor, that is.

The calming shade won the most affection from homeowners, with 62% favoring a palette rich in blues. The fervor for earthy hues continues with green as the second favorite; neutrals follow as the most common choice on interior walls.

So, whether you’re hoping your house sells in the next 20 minutes or you’re planning to put it up for sale in 20 years, you should consider the consequences of your color choices.

During your time in a home, decorate for yourself (and enjoy it!). Opt for a throw or a bright piece of artwork to add personality to neutral-colored rooms. And, if you so dare, paint a room in a bold shade—just be ready to repaint or tone it down with neutral furniture when it’s time to move on.

The post The Colors That Help (and Hurt) Your Home’s Selling Potential appeared first on Real Estate News and Advice - realtor.com.

Feb. 22, 2016

Bad credit? You still might get a mortgage

Looking for a mortgage loan with bad credit? Believe it or not, you may be able to seal the deal even with a credit score below 620. You'll just have to be willing to jump through a few hoops.

First, you'll need to know where you stand. You can get your credit report for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also pull a free credit report summary every month from Credit.com.

Here's what to expect when you're ready to apply.

1. You have limited options

The only program out there for applicants with credit scores below 620 is the Federal Housing Administration. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac offer conventional loan financing with a hard credit score requirement of 620. Generally, you'll need a minimum score of 600 to buy a home or a get a mortgage.

2. There are stringent income requirements

The lower the credit score, the more risk the lender takes in approving your loan. To minimize your chances of defaulting (and to protect themselves from a legal standpoint,) lenders now require consumers have a 43% debt-to-income ratio, consistent with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's definition of a "qualified mortgage."

In other words, your existing monthly loan obligations, like an auto loan or credit card balance, in addition to your proposed mortgage payment, can't exceed 43% of your total monthly income.

For example, if your mortgage payment is $2,800 per month, consistent with 3.5% down FHA loan on a $425,000 home, and you also have other payments on tax obligations and car payments at $600 per month, you must be earning $7,906 of income to offset the liabilities.

3. You may have to complete homeownership counseling

Some mortgage companies require consumers with bad credit complete online counseling to ensure they fully understand what homeownership entails. (It doesn't matter if you are refinancing or have previously owned a home.) Typically, this counseling can be completed online. If required, get it done early on in the loan process as a sign of good measure.

4. You'll face higher rates and pricing

Your mortgage, unfortunately, will cost more in fees and interest due to your bad credit. Lenders charge in accordance with the risk they are taking. For example, a borrower with a 620 credit score will pay a rate that's approximately 0.5 percentage points higher, and approximately $2,000 more in loan fees than a borrower with a credit score of 620 or higher, based on FHA's risk-based pricing.

Raising your credit score to the tune of 620 or higher will help you qualify for better rates. Mortgage lenders may use an industry-specific version of your credit in their underwriting process, so there's a chance the score they see will differ slightly from the one you are looking at.

The bigger picture

Keep in mind, buying a home and making on-time payments to your mortgage may cause your score to rise,.This improvement in turn, could help you qualify for a refinancing offer down the road, netting you a lower interest rate and a more affordable monthly payment.

Talk to your mortgage professional about your credit and the means you currently have to buy a home while considering what options make the most financial sense for you overall.

More from Credit.com

How much house can you afford?
How to get your free annual credit reports
Can you get collections removed from your credit report?

Credit.com is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news and commentary. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

Feb. 22, 2016

What Lurks Outside Those Walls?

Home inspections often don't delve into landscaping issues- but should.

Mature trees towering over a yard may draw house hunters, but failing to inspect the health and location of those trees could prove a costly mistake. The same goes for inspecting a home's irrigation system, soil and grading, and decks and patios.

Prudent home shoppers are looking beyond the aesthetics of a home's exterior and doing careful preinspections of the landscape in order to stave off buyers' remorse and better understand maintenance needs.

Relying solely on a home inspector's advice may not suffice for an outdoor issue. "A lot of home inspectors don't focus on the landscape, yet it can have a big adverse impact on a home," says Jeremy Johnson, president of CRI Home Inspections in Riverside, Calif. "Landscape are a huge issue both financially for a home owner and structurally for the house." Johnson began offering a landscape inspection as part of his standard home inspection after seeing a need for a more inclusive look at the home's exterior. He's discovered a number of problems that can lurk: over saturation of soil; tree branches hanging over a home that can damage roofs and allow pests access; broken or misaligned sprinklers that can lead to dry rot or termites; inefficient rain gutters that cause drainage problems; and lawn slopes that drain toward the house rather than away, setting the scene for flooding issues.

Buyers should ask the home inspector what components of the landscape are included in the inspection and try to find a home inspector who is knowledgeable and who routinely includes an outdoor review in an inspection package. That may be the best approach for  obtaining an unbiased overview of conditions outside the house. But in some cases, landscape specialists are needed for a more thorough investigation, such as irrigation companies to evaluate the sprinkler system; geological inspectors for slope, drainage and soil concerns; and arborists for issues with trees and plants. The costs vary, but typical ranges are $75 to $120 for a termite or pest report; $150 to $350 for an arborist review; and $350 to $450 for a septic system inspection, according to Costhelper.com. Some specialists may offer a free analysis, hoping that buyers will step up to pay for recommended services. Consumers generally should be wary of "free" assessments. On the other hand, buyers may benefit from learning upfront that the removal of a single large tree could run upwards of $1,500.

"Smart buyers will have a landscape inspection done before they buy," says arborist Jim Houston, vice president of Midwest operations at Davey Tree Expert Co., a national tree service and landscape care company. "A true professional should give you a fair, unbiased assessment, even if it means you don't need any extra services."

By Melissa Dittman Tracey for Realtor Magazine

Feb. 22, 2016

Packing Up? How to grieve and get on with it

Denver Post article by Marni Jameson

For those of you just tuning in- and I'm afraid that includes me- my home life has gone through a metamorphosis lately.

Two and a half years ago, I lived in a mountain home I owned in Colorado with a husband, two kids, two dogs and a horse.

Today, I live alone in a beautiful Southern plantation-style home I rent in Florida.

I will spare you the twists and turns, but, briefly, a much-wanted job, a too-big-too-remote house that was holding me back, a marriage that needed a rest and kids going off to college (the youngest just this fall) were the forces behind my new solo situation.

Poof! Suddenly my once-full, rambunctious home became very, very quiet. (The years are short, but the days are long, a wise woman once told me about child rearing.)

Thirty months after it happened, I can look back and say that as scary as that cross-country move was, it was the right one. It allowed me to reboot my career and send my daughter to a better high school.

Moving, whether it's up, out, or on, is never easy, says life-change expert Russell Friedman, co-author of four books including, "Moving On."

"Even when you're moving for positive reasons- a better job, a better house, better schools- moving is a major grief event," said Friedman, who is executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

He defines grief as "the conflicting emotions caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior."

"I could be your poster child," I tell him during a long recent conversation. (I don't tell him I've actually moved three times in as many years, as he would seriously suspect my sanity, which actually is in question.)

The point I'm getting to here, and I swear there is one, is that a home- and I don't mean a house- must be elastic. It must give, expand and contract, while helping  you hold it all together, like a good pair of Spanx. And when it no longer does, it may need to go.

Although my compulsion to nest is stronger than any bird's, I know at the cellular level that a home's job is to support those who live there, not enslave them. When where you live weighs you down like a boulder, it's time to roll that stone.

Friedman heartily agrees: "Many people don't make the changes at home they need to make because they're afraid of the feelings they will have. they're fearful, so stay stuck in an unrewarding place."

"Oh, I am on a first-name basis with fear, postponement and uncertainty," I say.

"You have to take some action and trust the parachute will open. There's got to be some faith in the leap."

"I'm also personal friends with the great unknown," I add.

"Change is hard because our brains crave the familiar, and want things to stay the way they were."

"My brain is just trying to remember where I put the corkscrew."

Moving is difficult, agrees Paula Davis-Laack, an attorney turned resilience expert, and blogger for Psychology Today. The longer you've lived somewhere, the harder it is. "Our brains often work against us, providing lots of evidence for, and reasons why, it makes sense for us to stay," she says.

While I"m not recommending my steady diet of upheaval, I am encouraging those who are stuck in a house rut to find some courage.

I'm not saying it's easy. I am saying it's worth it.

To help those who are "home stuck," I tapped advice from Friedman and Davis-Laack. Think about these when you're deciding it's time to move.

1. Is your house supporting you, or are you supporting it? Strongly consider moving if your home is keeping you from pursuing goals, from furthering your career, or from a lifestyle you want.

2. Has the family has changed? Kids come, grow and go. Elderly parents move in; couples separate or retire. If your home can accommodate all that, terrific, but if it's no longer a fit for those who live there, a new place might be better.

3. Can you afford to move? Can you afford not to? The first is the question most people ask. But the better question is the second one. Run the numbers, but get creative. I thought I was trapped by a big house that I didn't want to sell in a down market. But renting it out and selling half of the furniture freed me tremendously.

4. Face the feelings. People avoid moving and making the changes at home they should make because they're afraid of being sad. But sad is just a feeling, remind Freidman. Don't dodge it; feel it. "It does feel bad when the familiar is missing. People want to live on one side of the line, but if you don't feel sadness, you can't feel joy," he said.

5. Acknowledge the losses, celebrate the gains. Yes, I miss having my family around the dinner table, and the clamor and laughter and tumult. But I can work late, sleep in, not make dinner if I don't feel like it and know that last night's Chinese takeout will still be in the frig when I get home.

Meanwhile, I'm heartened to know that my daughters are thriving at college and will be home in two weeks for Thanksgiving. That they know, as I do, that we are family, wherever we are.


Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (De Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.


Feb. 12, 2016

Aluminum Branch-circut Wiring

This article comes from one our of preferred inspectors, Pillar to Post.


If you ask three electricians about the uses and safety of aluminum wiring, you will likely get at least three different answers. Furthermore, opinion varies again depending on where you live in North America. The more you research into aluminum wiring, the more frustrated you may become. We hope this article will clear up any confusion and end the frustration.


What's the problem with aluminum wiring?

From the mid 60's to the late 70's, aluminum wire often replaced copper as a less expensive alternative. Aluminum, however, is not a direct replacement for copper since each type of wire has different physical properties. Aluminum's properties proved problematic for reasons no one has anticipated. What you need to know is the following: with aluminum wiring it is possible that, over time, a high resistance connection and/or arcing could development somewhere in the electrical system, resulting in a connection that gets very hot and increases risk of fire.

Fortunately, the problems associated with aluminum wiring are now well understood, thus shifting the focus to rendering existing installations safe. A knowledgeable electrician with aluminum wiring experience can check for safety and fix what needs fixing.


Rewire the home

If you are renovating, or the configuration of your home is such that stringing new wiring is relatively easy, re-wiring your home may be a good idea. In most cases, however, re-wiring is an expensive and disruptive undertaking.

COPALUM Crimp Connection

COPALUM is a proprietary system that involves crimping a copper wire to existing aluminum wire using a special crimp connection tool that exerts extremely high pressure on the joint. This kind of connection is called 'cold welding.' The copper wire is then connected to fixtures and outlets, etc. Once you 'convert' the aluminum to copper with the cold-weld method, the repair is considered permanent. This solution, however, is expensive and requires an electrician certified in this system.

Pigtail Repair

Similar to the COPALUM connection described above, the pigtail repair method involves attaching copper wire to the existing aluminum. Pigtailing uses special twist connectors compatible with both aluminum and copper. While the pigtailing parts are inexpensive and readily available, the pigtailing technique requires specialized knowledge and experience. Furthermore, although pigtailing is cheaper then the COPALUM system, its success depends on entirely on how well the electrician executes the repair. It is difficult to get a good connection that will not oxidize, making long term safety an issue. Some believe that a poorly executed pigtail is worse than doing nothing. In some geographical areas, pigtailing is not considered an acceptable solution. 



Retrofit all Connections with Aluminum Compatible Devices

Standard electrical outlets and light switches are not compatible with aluminum wiring. Fortunately, tested and approved replacement devices and connectors are available from electrical supply shops. Some devices, however, such as ceiling mounted light fixtures not rated for aluminum wire, still require an electrician who knows the pigtailing technique.

A few more points

In 1972, a new aluminum alloy, and aluminum-compatible devices, entered the market. Homes wired with aluminum after 1972 are more likely to have this new aluminum. This new aluminum solved many of the problems associated with the original aluminum wiring. These homes, however, still require an experienced electrician for a wiring retrofit.

Also, generally speaking, the problems associated with aluminum wiring have to do with branch-circuit wiring smaller than 8 gauge. Anything 8 gauge and higher, such as wiring for a dryer or stove, does not present a problem.

Most important to remember: if you have aluminum wiring, a licensed and experienced electrician should perform all electrical work.

The Best Course of Action

Since even amongst electricians misinformation and confusion persist, an electrician with specific knowledge and experience should evaluate each home on a case-by-case basis.


Feb. 11, 2016

Tax Breaks Soften the Blow of Losing a Spouse

This article was published in The Denver Post and written by Kevin McCormally


Because federal tax law reaches deep into all aspects of our lives, it's no surprise that the rules that affect us change as our lives change. This can present opportunities to save or create costly pitfalls to avoid. Being alert to the rolling changes that come at various life stages is the key to holding down your tax bill to the legal minimum. If you've experienced the loss of your spouse recently, know that the tax code has ways to help you at this difficult time.

Filing Status

If your spouse died this year, you may still file a joint return for the year. This gets you the most favorable tax rates and the largest standard deduction (if you don't itemize).

You may also claim a full exemption amount for your late husband or wife regardless of when during the year the death occurred. For the first two years after your spouse's death, you can file as a "qualifying widow or widower if you have a child living with you who qualifies as your dependent". This filing status also lets you use joint-return rates, but you don't get an exemption for your late spouse.

Starting in year three, if you have a dependent child living with you, you can claim head-of-household status, for which tax rates are less favorable that for joint return and qualifying widows and widowers, but better than the rates for single taxpayers.

Life Insurance

The proceeds you receive from a life insurance policy are income tax-free. It doesn't matter whether your spouse paid the premiums or his or her employer paid for the policy. Don't report the proceeds as taxable income.

Inherited IRA

Widows and widowers get a special break when it comes to individual retirement accounts inherited from a spouse.

Non-spouse beneficiaries must begin taking withdrawals (based on their life expectancy) in the year following the death of the original owner, or clean out the account completely within five years. (This rule applies to both traditional and Roth IRAs.)

If your husband or wife named you the beneficiary of the IRA, however, you have another choice: You can claim the IRA as your own. If it's a traditional IRA, that means you would not be required to take  minimum distributions until you reach age 70 1/2. If it's a Roth, you'd never have to take distributions. 

In some cases, though, it might make sense to treat the account as an inherited IRA rather than your own... at least for a while. If you are younger than 59 1/2, you can withdraw funds from an inherited IRA without paying the 10% penalty for early withdrawals. (This penalty is often of little or no threat to Roth IRAs.) If you'll need some of the money in a traditional IRA before age 59 1/2, you could treat the IRA as an inherited account until you reach that age and then claim it as your own.

Stepped-up Basis

The tax basis of most of your assets you inherit from your spouse if stepped up to the property's value on the day he or she died. (The exception to this rule applies to retirement accounts.)

Since the basis is the amount from which gain or loss is figured when you sell the asset, this means that tax on any appreciation prior to the death is forgiven. Say, for example, that your husband had stock in a brokerage account for which he paid $10,000 but was worth $50,000 when he died. Your basis would be $50,000. Only if you sold the stock for more than that would you owe any capital gains tax. If you sold it for less than $50,000, in fact, you would have a tax-saving capital loss. If you and your spouse owned investments jointly, at least 50% of the basis is stepped up to the date-of-death value. If you live in a community-property state, 100% of the value may be stepped up.

Rental Property

If you inherit rental property from your spouse, note that the step-up in basis discussed above will increase the depreciation deductions you may claim on the property. The higher basis needs to be cranked into your calculations if you continue to rent the property. It will also reduce taxable capital gains when you sell the property.

Selling the Family Home

There's a special rule for widows and widowers who sell the family home within two years of the day their spouse died. Single homeowners can take up to $250,000 of profit on the sale of a home tax-free. For married couples, the maximum tax-free amount is doubled to $500,000. To qualify for this break, you must have owned and lived in the house for two of the five years leading up to the sale. But if you and your spouse met the ownership and use tests before his death, you get to use the full $500,000 exclusion if you sell within two years of your spouse's date of death. You may not need to rush to sell to protect the profit. The stepped-up basis rule discussed earlier would also limit the possible taxes on home-sale profit.

Tax-free Inheritance

Property you inherit from your spouse is generally income tax-free. But there are major exceptions.

If you inherit or are named the beneficiary of a retirement account (such as an IRA or 401(k)), withdrawals will be taxed to you just as the money would have been taxed if your spouse were alive and withdrawing the cash. When a traditional IRA is involved, for example, withdrawals are fully taxable (except to the extent, if any, that your spouse had contributed after-tax dollars to the account). If it's a Roth IRA, however, withdrawals are generally tax-free. If you are the beneficiary of a commercial annuity purchased by your spouse, you'll owe tax on a portion of each payout- just as your spouse would have.