Ways To Use Your Tax Refund If You Want To Buy a Home

Ways To Use Your Tax Refund If You Want To Buy a Home.

Have you been saving up to buy a home this year? If so, you know there are a number of expenses involved – from your down payment to closing costs. But did you also know your tax refund can help you pay for some of these expenses? As Credit Karma explains:

“If one of your goals is to stop renting and buy a home, you’ll need to save up for closing costs and a down payment on the mortgage. A tax refund can give you a start on the road to homeownership. If you’ve already started to save, your tax refund could move you down the road faster.”

While how much money you may get in a tax refund is going to vary, it can be encouraging to have a general idea of what’s possible. Here’s what CNET has to say about the average increase people are seeing this year:

The average refund size is up by 6.1%, from $2,903 for 2023’s tax season through March 24, to $3,081 for this season through March 22.”

Sounds great, right? Remember, your number is going to be different. But if you do get a refund, here are a few examples of how you can use it when buying a home. According to Freddie Mac:

  • Saving for a down payment – One of the biggest barriers to homeownership is setting aside enough money for a down payment. You could reach your savings goal even faster by using your tax refund to help.
  • Paying for closing costs – Closing costs cover some of the payments you’ll make at closing. They’re generally between 2% and 5% of the total purchase price of the home. You could direct your tax refund toward these closing costs.
  • Lowering your mortgage rate – Your lender might give you the option to buy down your mortgage rate. If affordability is tight for you at today’s rates and home prices, this option may be worth exploring. If you qualify for this option, you could pay upfront to have a lower rate on your mortgage.

The best way to get ready to buy a home is to work with a team of trusted real estate professionals who understand the process and what you’ll need to do to be ready to buy.

Bottom Line

Your tax refund can help you reach your savings goal for buying a home. Connect with a local real estate professional about what you’re looking for, because your home may be more within reach than you think.

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Builders Are Building Smaller Homes

Builders Are Building Smaller Homes.

There’s no arguing it, affordability is still tight. And if you’re trying to buy a home, that may mean you need to look at smaller houses to find one that’s still in your budget. But there is a silver lining: builders are focused on building these smaller homes right now and they’re offering incentives. And that can help give you more options that fit the bill.

Newly Built Homes Are Trending Smaller

During the pandemic, homebuyers wanted (and could afford) larger homes – and builders delivered. They focused on homes that were bigger, so people had more space for things like working from home, having a home gym, bonus rooms for virtual school, and more.

But with the affordability challenges buyers are facing today, builders are increasingly shifting their attention to bringing smaller single-family homes to the market. The graph below uses data from the Census to show how this trend has evolved over the last few years:

a graph of a number of blue bars

So, why the shift to less square footage? It’s simple. Builders want to build what they know will sell. Basically, they focus on where the demand is strongest. And once mortgage rates started climbing and consumers felt the challenges of affordability creeping in, it became clear there was (and is) a very real need for smaller homes. As the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) explains:

“After a brief increase during the post-covid building boom, home size is trending lower and will likely continue to do so as housing affordability remains constrained.”

A recent article in the Real Deal says this about how this helps buyers:

Even a slightly smaller home can be thousands of dollars cheaper — for both builders and buyers. . . In response to affordability challenges, major homebuilders are shifting priorities away from the big ticket homes and towards the cheaper set.”

What This Means for You

If you’re having a hard time finding something in your budget, it may help to look at smaller homes. And, if you consider new builds specifically, you may find a few other fringe benefits that can help on the affordability front – like price reductions or mortgage rate buy-downs. As NAHB says:

“More than one-third of builders cut home prices in 2023. NAHB expects builders to continue offering smaller homes and more affordable designs as housing affordability remains a barrier to homeownership.”

As Charlie Bilello, Chief Market Strategist, at Creative Planning, explains:

“Homebuilders are adapting to the lowest affordability on record by building smaller homes and offering more incentives/price cuts. The median square footage of a new single-family home in the US has moved down to its lowest level since 2010.”

If you explore these options, you’ll also get brand new everything, enjoy a house with fewer maintenance needs, and some of the latest features available. That’s worth looking into, right? 

Bottom Line

Builders building smaller homes can give you more affordable options at a time when you really need it. If you’re hoping to buy a home soon, partner with a local real estate agent to find out what’s available in your area.

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The Top 5 Reasons You Need a Real Estate Agent when Buying a Home

The Top 5 Reasons You Need a Real Estate Agent when Buying a Home.

You may have heard headlines in the news lately about agents in the real estate industry and discussions about their commissions. And if you’re following along, it can be pretty confusing. But here’s the thing you really need to know – expert advice from a trusted real estate agent is priceless, now more than ever. And here’s why.

A real estate agent does a lot more than you may realize.

Your agent is the person who will guide you through every step when buying a home and look out for your best interests along the way. They smooth out a complex process and take away the bulk of the stress of what’s likely your largest purchase ever. And that’s exactly what you want and deserve.

This is at least a part of the reason why a recent survey from Bright MLS found an overwhelming majority of people agree an agent is a key part of the homebuying process (see visual below):

 a green and grey pie chart

To give you a better idea of just a few of the top ways agents add value, check out this list.

1. Deliver Industry Experience

The right agent – the professional – will coach you through everything from start to finish. With professional training and expertise, agents know the ins and outs of the buying process. And in today’s complex market, the way real estate transactions are executed is constantly changing, so having the best advice on your side is essential.

2. Provide Expert Local Knowledge

In a world that’s powered by data, a great agent can clarify what it all means, separate fact from fiction, and help you understand how current market trends apply to your unique search. From how quickly homes are selling to the latest listings you don’t want to miss, they can explain what’s happening in your specific local market so you can make a confident decision.

3. Explain Pricing and Market Value

Agents help you understand the latest pricing trends in your area. What’s a home valued at in your market? What should you think about when you’re making an offer? Is this a house that might have issues you can’t see on the surface? No one wants to overpay, so having an expert who really gets true market value for individual neighborhoods is priceless. An offer that’s both fair and competitive in today’s housing market is essential, and a local expert knows how to help you hit the mark.

4. Review Contracts and Fine Print

In a fast-moving and heavily regulated process, agents help you make sense of the necessary disclosures and documents, so you know what you’re signing. Having a professional that’s trained to explain the details could make or break your transaction, and is certainly something you don’t want to try to figure out on your own.

5. Bring Negotiation Expertise

From offer to counteroffer and inspection to closing, there are a lot of stakeholders involved in a real estate transaction. Having someone on your side who knows you and the process makes a world of difference. An agent will advocate for you as they work with each party. It’s a big deal, and you need a partner at every turn to land the best possible outcome.

Bottom Line

Real estate agents are specialists, educators, and negotiators. They adjust to market changes and keep you informed. And keep in mind, every time you make a big decision in your life, especially a financial one, you need an expert on your side.

Expert advice from a trusted professional is priceless. Connect with a local real estate agent today. 

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Don’t Let Your Student Loans Delay Your Homeownership Plans

Don’t Let Your Student Loans Delay Your Homeownership Plans.

If you have student loans and want to buy a home, you might have questions about how your debt affects your plans. Do you have to wait until you’ve paid off those loans before you can buy your first home? Or is it possible you could still qualify for a home loan even with that debt? Here’s a look at the latest information so you have the answers you need.

A Bankrate article explains:

Roughly 60 percent of U.S. adults who have held student loan debt have put off making important financial decisions due to that debt . . . For Gen Z and millennial borrowers alone, that number rises to 70 percent.”

This includes one of the biggest financial decisions you’ll ever make, buying a home. But you should know, even with student loans, waiting to buy a home may not be necessary. While everyone’s situation is unique, your goal may be more within your reach than you realize. Here’s why. 

Can You Qualify for a Home Loan if You Have Student Loans?

According to an annual report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 38% of first-time buyers had student loan debt and the typical amount was $30,000.

That means other people in a similar situation were able to qualify for and buy a home even though they also had student loans. And you may be able to do the same, especially if you have a steady source of income. As an article from Bankrate says:

“. . . you can have student loans and a mortgage at the same time. . . . If you have student loans and want a mortgage, there are multiple home loan programs you might qualify for . . .”

The key takeaway is, for many people, homeownership is achievable even with student loans. 

You don’t have to figure this out on your own. The best way to make a decision about your goals and next steps is to talk to the professionals. A trusted lender can walk you through your options based on your situation, and share what’s worked for other buyers.

Bottom Line

Lots of other people with student loan debt are able to buy their own homes. Talk to a lender to go over your options and see how close you are to reaching your goal.

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Top 5 Reasons To Hire an Agent When Buying a Home [INFOGRAPHIC]

Top 5 Reasons To Hire an Agent When Buying a Home [INFOGRAPHIC].

a poster of a company's process

Some Highlights

  • Hiring an agent when buying a home helps you understand the buying process and the local market.
  • They’ll also go over contracts and fine print with you, so you understand what you’re agreeing to. Plus, they’re good at negotiating, making sure you get the best deal.
  • Expert advice from a trusted real estate professional is priceless. Connect with a local agent today.
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Newly Built Homes Could Be a Game Changer This Spring

Newly Built Homes Could Be a Game Changer This Spring.

Buying a home this spring? You’re probably navigating today’s affordability challenges and dealing with the limited number of homes for sale. But, what if there was a solution that could help with both?

If you’re having a hard time finding a home you love, and mortgage rates are putting pressure on your budget, it may be time to look at newly built homes. Here’s why.

New Home Construction Is an Inventory Bright Spot

When looking for a home, you can choose between existing homes (those that are already built and previously owned) and newly constructed ones. While the number of existing homes for sale has increased this year, there are still fewer available than there were in more typical years in the housing market, like back in 2018 or 2019.

So, if you’re looking to expand your pool of options even more, turning to newly built homes can help. As Danielle Hale, Chief Economist at Realtor.com, explains:

“The shortage of existing homes For Sale has opened up the possibility of new-home construction to more buyers who may not have once considered it.”

And the good news is, there are more newly built homes to pick from right now. The graphs below use data from the Census to show how new home construction is ramping up in two key areas (see most recent spike in green):

 a graph of a number of homes for sale

Starts, or homes where builders just broke ground, have seen a big increase lately. And completions, homes that builders just finished, are also up significantly. So, if you want a new, move-in ready home or you want to get in early and customize your build along the way, you have more options right now.

Builders Are Offering Incentives To Help with Affordability

And to sweeten the pot, builders are offering things like mortgage rate buy-downs and other perks for homebuyers right now. This can help offset today’s affordability challenges while also getting you into your dream home. Mark Fleming, Chief Economist at First American, explains why you may find builders have more wiggle room to offer more for you than the typical homeowner:

“Builders aren’t rate locked-in. They would love to sell you the home because they’re not living in it. It costs money not to sell the home. And many of the public home builders have said in their earnings calls that they are not going to be pulling back on incentives, especially the mortgage rate buydown, so that will help the new-home market continue to perform well in the spring home-buying season.”

An article from HousingWire also says this about what builders are offering right now:

 “. . . the use of sales incentives still shows some momentum as 60% of respondents reported using them, up from 58% in February. “

Just remember, buying from a builder is different from buying from a home seller, so it’s important to partner with a local real estate agent. Builder contracts can be complex. A trusted agent will be your advocate throughout the process.

They’ll be your go-to resource for advice on construction quality and builder reputation, reviewing and negotiating contracts to get you the best deal, helping you decide on which customizations and upgrades are most worthwhile, and a whole lot more.

Bottom Line

If you’re struggling to find a home to buy, or with today’s affordability challenges, connect with a local real estate agent to see if newly built homes could be the solution you’re looking for.

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Is It Easier To Find a Home To Buy Now?

Is It Easier To Find a Home To Buy Now?.

One of the biggest hurdles buyers have faced over the past few years has been a lack of homes available for sale. But that’s starting to change.

The graph below uses the latest data from Realtor.com to show there are more homes on the market in 2024 than there have been in any of the past several years (2021-2023):

a graph of a number of homes for sale

Does That Mean Finding a Home Is Easier?

The answer is yes, and no. As an article from Realtor.com says:

There were nearly 15% more homes for sale in February than a year earlier . . . That alone could jolt the housing market a bit if more “For Sale” signs continue to appear. However, the nation is still suffering from a housing shortage even with all of that new inventory.

Context is important. On the one hand, inventory is up over the past few years. That means you’ll likely have more options to choose from as you search for your next home.

But, at the same time, the graph above also shows there are still significantly fewer homes for sale than there would usually be in a more normal, pre-pandemic market. And that deficit isn’t going to be reversed overnight.

What Does This Mean for You?

You might find a few more choices now than in recent years, but you shouldn’t expect a ton of options.

To help you explore the growing list of choices you have now, team up with a local real estate agent you trust. They can really help you understand the inventory situation where you want to buy. That’s because real estate is local. An experienced agent can share some smart tips they’ve used to help other buyers in your area deal with ongoing low housing supply.

Bottom Line

If you’re thinking about buying a home, team up with a local real estate agent. That way, you’ll be up to date on everything that could affect your move, including how many homes are for sale right now.

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Single Women Are Embracing Homeownership

Single Women Are Embracing Homeownership.

In today’s housing market, more and more single women are becoming homeowners. According to data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 19% of all homebuyers are single women, while only 10% are single men.

If you’re a single woman trying to buy your first home, this should be encouraging. It means other people are making their dreams a reality – so you can too.

Why Homeownership Matters to So Many Women

For many single women, buying a home isn’t just about having a place to live—it’s also a smart way to invest for the future. Homes usually increase in value over time, so they’re a great way to build equity and overall net worth. Ksenia Potapov, Economist at First American, says:

“. . . single women are increasingly pursuing homeownership and reaping its wealth creation benefits.”

The financial security and independence homeownership provides can be life-changing. And when you factor in the personal motivations behind buying a home, that impact becomes even clearer.

The same report from NAR shares the top reasons single women are buying a home right now, and the reality is, they’re not all financial (see chart below):

a blue and white diagram with white text

If any of these reasons resonate with you, maybe it’s time for you to buy too.

Work with a Trusted Real Estate Agent

If you’re a single woman looking to buy a home, it is possible, even in today’s housing market. You’ll just want to be sure you have a great real estate agent by your side.

Talk about what your goals are and why homeownership is so important to you. That way your agent can keep what’s critical for you up front as they guide you through the buying process. They’ll help you find the right home for your needs and advocate for you during negotiations. Together, you can make your dream of homeownership a reality.

Bottom Line

Homeownership is life-changing no matter who you are. Connect with a local real estate agent to talk about your goals in the housing market.

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What Every Homebuyer Should Know About Closing Costs

What Every Homebuyer Should Know About Closing Costs.

Before making the decision to buy a home, it’s important to plan for all the costs you’ll be responsible for. While you’re busy saving for the down payment, don’t forget you’ll want to prep for closing costs too.

Here’s some helpful information on what those costs are and how much you should budget for them.

What Are Closing Costs?

A recent article from Bankrate explains:

Closing costs are the fees and expenses you must pay before becoming the legal owner of a house, condo or townhome . . . Closing costs vary depending on the purchase price of the home and how it’s being financed . . .”

Simply put, your closing costs are the additional fees and payments you have to make at closing. According to Freddie Mac, while they can vary by location and situation, closing costs typically include:

  • Government recording costs
  • Appraisal fees
  • Credit report fees
  • Lender origination fees
  • Title services
  • Tax service fees
  • Survey fees
  • Attorney fees
  • Underwriting Fees

How Much Are Closing Costs?

According to the same Freddie Mac article mentioned above, they’re typically between 2% and 5% of the total purchase price of your home. With that in mind, here’s how you can get an idea of what you’ll need to budget.

Let’s say you find a home you want to purchase at today’s median price of $384,500. Based on the 2-5% Freddie Mac estimate, your closing fees could be between roughly $7,690 and $19,225.

But keep in mind, if you’re in the market for a home above or below this price range, your closing costs will be higher or lower.

Make Sure You’re Prepared To Close

Freddie Mac provides great advice for homebuyers, saying:

“As you start your homebuying journey, take the time to get a sense of all costs involved – from your down payment to closing costs.”

The best way to do that is by partnering with a team of trusted real estate professionals. That gives you a group of experts to help you understand how much you’ll need to save and what you’ll want to be prepped for. It also means you have go-to resources for any questions that pop up along the way.

Bottom Line

Planning for the fees and payments you’ll need to cover when you’re closing on your home is important. Partnering with a local real estate professional can give you the guidance and confidence you need throughout the process.

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3 Helpful Tips for First-Time Homebuyers [INFOGRAPHIC]

3 Helpful Tips for First-Time Homebuyers [INFOGRAPHIC].

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Some Highlights

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