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HOME & GARDEN

10 Interior Design Tips for Every Budget

If current rates have you staying put, that doesn’t mean your decor has to stay the same, too. There are plenty of great ways to use interior decorating to refresh your space while reaching your savings goals. So many great ways, we couldn’t fit them all into this blog. To get you started, here are our top 10 interior design tips for a home that’s easy on the eyes and your bank account.

Top 10 Budget-Friendly Interior Design Tips

  • Reorganize and rearrange
  • Declutter
  • Repaint your trim
  • Replace fixtures
  • Thrift accent pieces
  • Add a pop of color to smaller furniture with paint or wallpaper
  • Support local/independent artists
  • Don’t forget the frame
  • Splurge on one item that makes a big difference
  • Be patient

1. Reorganize and rearrange

Before you consider purchasing new furniture and decor, take inventory of what you already have. Whether it’s adjusting the angle of your couch, moving those throw pillows to the bedroom, or rearranging your gallery wall, a new look doesn’t have to mean new stuff.

2. Declutter

Interior decorating isn’t just about adding new pieces—what you take out can have just as much impact. And, if you’re moving on from pieces that are still in good condition, you could actually resell them and make money off your redecorating plans rather than lose it. Pro-Tip: Not sure where to start? Ask yourself WWMKD: What would Marie Kondo do?

3. Repaint your trim

Painting is one of the cheapest ways to update your home’s look, but repainting entire rooms can be a lot of work. If you like work, more power to you! Otherwise, simply repainting the trim in your home can make a big difference for a small amount of money and effort.

4. Replace fixtures

When it comes to interior design tips on a budget, it’s all about the little things. In this case, swapping out knobs and handles on your cabinetry and furniture is a quick way to add character to your space and tie your rooms together. Unlike more work-intensive projects, this interior design tip is quick, mess-free, and easy to do yourself.

5. Thrift accent pieces

Thrifting can be hit or miss, but by sticking to smaller accents like lamps and side tables, there’s a good chance you’ll find quality pieces that fit your budget. Especially if you’re aiming for a more eclectic look over modern minimalist trends, thrifted furniture can bring a space together in a way that’s truly unique. Not to mention, it’s good for the environment and most vintage stores are independently owned and operated.

Pro-Tip: Nail your vintage purchase with this handy list of furniture thrifting considerations.

6. Add a pop of color

From repainting your bedside table to wallpapering the interior of your bookcase, a little color can turn a standard piece of furniture into a statement. Don’t be afraid to try out multiple patterns and palettes. If you change your mind later, you can always repaint again. And in this case, fortune really does favor the bold—it’s often easier to find bolder colors on sale since they’re generally not as popular as neutrals.

7. Support local/independent artists

Real talk: Fine art pieces are out of the average person’s budget. That doesn’t mean you have to settle for recreations and reprints. Seek out local (or independent, “local” is a relative term in the digital age) artists for unique pieces at reasonable prices. Just don’t try to haggle them to even lower prices. Remember that you’re paying them for the years spent learning their craft, the materials, the hours spent creating it, and the originality—not just the piece itself.

8. Don’t forget the frame

Unframed movie posters might be a coming-of-age decor right of passage, but you’re an adult now. That means you need to frame. Your. Art. The right frame can elevate a photo or art print you already have, create dimension on your walls, and bring texture to your interior. From simple custom frames to vintage scores, there are endless affordable options to express your style.

9. Splurge on one item that makes a big difference

Sometimes, it pays to pay more. If you’re thinking of replacing focal items like your couch or bed, you’ll save more in the long run by buying quality pieces that stand the test of time. It’s ultimately up to you to decide what’s worth splurging on based on how you use it. If you work from home, you may want to spend more on a great desk and comfortable chair. For families with kids and pets, a durable couch might be the priority. And if you’re a vampire who never sleeps, we understand if you’d rather invest less in your bed.

Pro-Tip: If you’re not sure how to prioritize what’s worth the splurge, check out this breakdown of essentials.

10. Be patient

All those home renovation shows make one big, complete transformation seem like the way to go when you decide to refresh your decor. Realistically, though, decorating your home is an ongoing process. Don’t spend money on pieces you don’t love just for the sake of filling a space. Take your time, buy as your budget allows, and don’t settle for anything that doesn’t feel like you (are we still talking about interior decorating?).

Any other interior design tips to consider?

The most important interior design tip we can give you might seem counterproductive to this whole blog you just read, but here it is: Trust your own taste over any interior decorating advice you might receive. Tips and tricks are a great place to find inspiration, but it’s ultimately your home, your budget, and your call. And if redecorating gets you thinking about larger-scale renovations, we’ve got a loan for that.

Thrift, paint, repeat. Try these easy interior design tips to give your home a fresh look without compromising your financial goals.

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PURCHASE

Should You Buy or Sell First?

So you’re ready to move, but should you buy or sell first?

It’s time. Your family’s getting bigger and you need more space, or maybe you’ve got an awesome job opportunity somewhere else. No matter what’s causing you to consider moving, there’s always going to be that one tricky question. Should I buy a new home, or sell this one first? It’s a common problem. Managing the sale and purchase of two homes at once takes a lot of planning. Unless everything turns out perfectly, there’s likely going to be a time in the process where you either don’t own any houses, or you own two at once. So, which one is better?

The pros and cons of selling your home first

Pro: Fewer mortgage payments

One of the biggest perks of selling first is that you won’t be responsible for two mortgages at once. That relieves some of the pressure to lower the price of your home or sell it quicker than you wanted to. Selling your home allows you to access the equity you’ve built, which can come in handy when you’re looking for a place to stay or store your things in the meantime. You can even put it toward a down payment on your new home.

Most of us don’t have the money to make a down payment on a new house or the income to keep up with two mortgage payments indefinitely, so selling first may seem like the obvious choice. But even though you won’t be paying two mortgages, you’ll still be spending your money on the things we just mentioned.

Con: Finding housing during the transition

Finding a place to stay and store your things can be expensive. If you have friends or family you could stay with for an extended period of time, that may be your best bet. The downside is you’ll essentially be moving twice, and it puts pressure on you to find a new house as soon as possible. But if those aren’t problems for you, selling first may be in your best interest.

The pros and cons of buying your home first

Pro: Flexibility of contingent offers

If you want to move directly into your new home without a pit stop in between, you’re going to want to buy first. It may not seem ideal unless you’re sitting on a mountain of cash, but there are ways to make it work, even if your bank account is a little more down to earth.

Your best bet if you’re trying to buy before you sell is to make a contingent offer on your new home. What this means is that you’ll enter into a contract to buy the new home if and when you sell your current one. The contract will have an expiration date, so you can’t promise to buy your new home, then take your sweet time selling your old one.

Con: Contingent offers don’t always carry weight in a hot market

If the house you’re looking to buy is in high demand, a contingent offer may not get much consideration from sellers. A seller is already worried about selling their own home, and with a contingent offer, you’re asking them to worry about you selling yours, too. Contingent offers also take away most of your ability to negotiate. The asking price will likely be the floor, not the ceiling, of your offer. It’s important to talk to your real estate agent about whether a contingent offer makes sense in the market you’re looking to buy in.

Pro: Bridge loans.

If the conditions aren’t right for a contingent offer, all hope isn’t lost! Assuming you’ve built up some equity, you can use your current home to finance your next one. Bridge loans are short-term loans designed to help bridge the gap between buying and selling. You can get bridge loans to either pay off your existing mortgage and provide a down payment on your new home, or you can get one just for the down payment. Be careful though. Bridge loans are considered high-risk, so they’re harder to get and usually come with a higher interest rate.

So, should I buy or sell my home first?

The right choice for you is dependent on your financial situation and the conditions of the local market. In a buyer’s market, you’ll have more leverage as a buyer so a contingent offer may be the way to go. In a seller’s market, selling your home first may be the strategic choice. Our advice? There’s safety in numbers. Give our mortgage calculator a spin to see what’s possible.

Only you can answer the question of buying or selling your home first. But we can certainly offer some expert advice to help make your choice clearer.

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PURCHASE

House Bidding Wars: What to Expect and How to Win

Buying a house these days can feel a bit like the frenzy of Black Friday shopping—minus the low prices. While these might not be ideal conditions, life doesn’t wait for the market to change. When you need a house, you need a house. So, let’s dig into some helpful house bidding war strategies to help make your purchase process as smooth as possible.

Top 5 House Bidding War Strategies

  • Get pre-approved
  • Lower contingencies
  • Include an escalation clause
  • Stay flexible
  • Don’t give up if your first offer isn’t accepted

Get Pre-Approved

As you’ve started researching your home purchase, you may have heard of pre-qualification and pre-approval. Both are good to have, but only pre-approval will help you sweeten the deal with your seller.

Pre-approval is a preliminary loan offer made after a full review of your financial information. It’s good for up to 60 days, and it essentially lets sellers know that if they accept your offer, you already have financing lined up. If 60 days pass without an accepted offer, don’t worry. You can always renew your pre-approval, but keep in mind that rates change frequently. So, the amount you get pre-approved for when you renew could be different from the original estimate.

Lower Contingencies

Contingency clauses in your offer allow you to walk away with your earnest money* if the seller doesn’t meet the outlined conditions. Some common contingencies include selling your current home before buying the new one, walking away if the appraisal comes back lower than expected, and requesting repairs. While it’s good to protect your interests as the buyer, sellers tend to (understandably) favor offers with limited contingencies. If you’re having trouble prioritizing, ask yourself which contingencies are essential to staying within your budget.

*Earnest money is a deposit made to the seller that assures the purchase agreement is reliable. Usually, it’s 1–3% of the purchase price. This deposit will count toward your down payment and/or closing costs.

Include an Escalation Clause

When you bid on a house, consider leaving some wiggle room in your budget for an escalation clause. This clause sets the baseline amount you’re offering, but also includes the highest amount you’re willing to pay if someone bids above your offer. Keep in mind that house bidding wars aren’t like an auction with real-time back and forth. You just have to submit your best offer and hope nobody’s submitted a better one. An escalation clause can help you make a stronger offer, and you’ll only have to pay that higher amount if the seller proves there was a competing bid above your baseline amount.

Stay Flexible

In a big financial decision like a home purchase, it can be hard to stay flexible and still meet all your needs. But the more you’re able to accommodate your seller, the better your chances of winning when you bid on a house. Usually, that means being open to later closing dates to allow the seller more time to move out. After all, they’re just a person who is likely going through the same purchase process as you are for their next home. Remember the Golden Rule you learned in kindergarten? Treat others the way you want to be treated. Unlike in kindergarten, now it might just be the difference between buying the home you want or starting over.

Don’t Give Up

Speaking of starting over, there’s always a chance your bid won’t win in spite of your best efforts. Don’t let it get you down, though! It happens to the best of us, and all you can do is figure out what went wrong and do your best to fix it for your next offer. The right real estate agent can help you strategize ways to improve. Some common fixes include:

Any other tips for winning house bidding wars?

  • Maybe the real win in a house bidding war was the friends you made along the way. Actually, it’s how much you learn from each offer. Even when you lose, knowing what doesn’t work gets you that much closer to knowing what does. Through it all, let an accurate budget be your compass. Calculate how much home you can afford, the easy way, with our affordability calculator.

    And don’t forget the training montage music. It helps, trust us.

House bidding wars are competitive, but we’ve got tips to help you nail your game plan. First up: Get pre-approved.

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PURCHASE

Tax Proration: How to Pay Property Taxes Like a Pro

Barring very special circumstances, taxes are a fact of life for the vast majority of people. Sales tax, income tax, and for home buyers and owners alike, property tax. By now, you’ve probably already paid property tax on your vehicle. But paying property tax on a home? That hits different.

Depending on the date of closing, the amount of property tax that a home buyer and seller are responsible for will vary. The process of figuring out who pays how much is called tax proration, and it’s one cost that many home buyers overlook when calculating their cash to close.

What Is “Tax Proration”?

Simply put: Tax proration helps level the playing field. Property taxes on homes are billed at the beginning of the calendar year for the year prior. So in 2023, you’d get a property tax bill for 2022. Let’s say you bought and closed on a home in November. Should you be responsible for the property taxes owed on that home for the months before closing? Didn’t think so. Proration involves a bit of math (don’t worry, nothing you need to worry about) to figure out how much of the bill each party is responsible for.

Tax proration /ˈtaks prō-​ˈrā-​shən/ n. When property taxes are fairly divided between buyer and seller based on date of ownership transfer or closing.

Here’s where it gets a little headache-y: Homeowners (or the sellers) don’t typically pay their part of the property tax bill directly. Depending on the date of closing, or the particular situation, there are a couple of options to consider: 

Escrow

Credit

In this situation, the sellers place their payment for the property tax bill in an escrow account. The buyers would do the same, and the bill would be paid from that escrow account when it’s due. 

This process could be continued even after the buyers take the keys for the next annual property tax bill. Part of their monthly mortgage payment would go into the escrow account, accumulate over the year, and be used to pay the property tax bill on time. 

Nope, not a line of credit. In this situation, the sellers issue a “credit” to the buyers at closing. 

This doesn’t lower the home’s price directly, but it’s a similar mechanic. It’s essentially a discount on the closing costs, which would require the buyers to bring less cash to close — allowing them to use that “extra” cash to help pay the annual property tax bill. 

Three Proration Pro-Tips

Before you walk into closing, keep these three tips in mind:

  1. Leverage
    Depending on the market, the property tax bill could be used as leverage. In a seller’s market, where there are tons of competing bids, motivated buyers might offer to pay the seller’s portion of property taxes to get a leg up on the competition or expedite the sale. In a buyer’s market, the seller might offer to “pay” the entire property tax bill in exchange for coverage of other closing costs.
  2. Exemptions
    Age and disability status could come with tax implications, for yourself or the sellers. Those implications affect tax responsibility. For example, perhaps the seller is a disabled senior citizen. Local laws might have provided relief for that person — relief that is unlikely to be passed on to the buyer. Communicate with your team to determine potential roadblocks.
  3. Projects
    New builds, rehabilitation, and renovations will result in different tax assessments. New builds may not have received a tax assessment at the time of closing, and since there was no previous owner, the buyer would be responsible for an entire year’s worth of taxes. Rehab and renovation projects increase a home’s value, which could result in an increased tax bill. Make sure your assessment is up-to-date to avoid any surprises.

Coming Full Circle

After figuring out your initial prorated tax bill, new homeowners will be responsible for state and local property taxes for as long as they own the home. If that seems like a dim future, we’ve got some light: You may be able to deduct those property taxes (up to a certain amount) when it comes time to file your tax returns. Individually, you can deduct up to $5,000 in property taxes. Filing jointly? Double that figure and enjoy a $10,000 deduction.

But hey, we’re a mortgage company talking taxes here. Consult a tax professional to confirm your eligibility.

Now that you’ve got more detail on property tax proration, you’re prepared to close with confidence. But have you considered the elements of purchasing a home? Are you pre-approved? Do you know what goes into a down payment? We can help with those, too — it’s all part of our goal to give you the tools you need to feel better about borrowing.

Simply put: Tax proration helps level the playing field.

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PURCHASE

What is PMI?

With so many acronyms in the mortgage world, it can be hard to keep track of what’s what—and which ones you actually need to know. Take it from us, PMI is definitely one that’s worth unpacking.

So, what is PMI?

What is PMI?

PMI stands for private mortgage insurance. If you’re taking out a conventional loan and you put less than 20% down you’ll likely be required to pay this fee through your lender. PMI is typically a monthly premium, but you can also opt to pay it off up front instead (more on that later).

What is mortgage insurance? Is there a difference between mortgage insurance and PMI?

Mortgage insurance has the same function as PMI—the difference is the insurance company. Since conventional mortgages aren’t backed by a government agency, the insurance won’t come from a government agency, either. Your lender will work with a private insurance company instead, and that’s how we get the “private” in private mortgage insurance.

PMI FYI: Other loan types have their own versions of mortgage insurance, like mortgage insurance premiums (MIP) for FHA loans. Some—like VA loans—won’t require mortgage insurance at all.

Why do I need PMI?

Private mortgage insurance protects your lender, not you, if you stop making payments on your loan. You can still benefit from PMI though! Paying PMI means you could qualify for a home loan that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise, because you won’t have to wait until you can make a larger down payment.

How much does PMI cost?

The average annual cost of PMI is between 0.58% and 1.86% of your loan amount. The exact amount you end up paying for mortgage insurance depends largely on your credit score (higher credit score equals lower PMI) and down payment (the more you put down, the lower your PMI). Other factors that could potentially impact your payment include:

Loan Amount

If you take out a larger loan amount, you can expect to pay more for PMI as well.

Occupancy

If the loan is for your primary residence, your PMI will be lower than if you were taking out a mortgage for an investment property or vacation home.

Mortgage Type

With a conventional loan, you’ll have a choice between a fixed rate or adjustable-rate mortgage. In a fixed-rate mortgage, your payment will stay the same each month, right up until your mortgage is paid off or you refinance your loan.

In an adjustable-rate mortgage, your monthly payment changes over time. You could start out with lower payments for a fixed period, but after that window your interest rate will likely change. This entails more risk for your lender than a fixed rate, so your PMI will probably be higher.

How can I get rid of PMI?

When it comes to avoiding that monthly fee, there are a few routes you can take.

Put 20% Down

With a conventional loan, PMI isn’t required if your down payment is 20% or more of the purchase price.

Pay it Up Front

While this is still technically paying for PMI, you might save overall by paying off your PMI up front. If you plan on living in your home for at least three years, this could be a great option to avoid the additional interest charges on your PMI bill. If you think you’ll be moving (or refinancing) before then, it will most likely be cheaper to pay in monthly installments.

Refi After Building Equity

We get it, a 20% down payment isn’t doable for everyone. The good news is that over the life of your mortgage, you’re building equity (equity is how much of your home you actually own). So, after you’ve built up 20% equity in your home, you can refinance your loan and qualify to drop your PMI.

How do I get PMI?

This is the easy part! If you’re required to pay PMI, your lender will make the necessary arrangements before closing. While a dependable lender will go over all the options with you regardless, make sure you get the full breakdown of what your PMI will cost, your payment options, and the timeline for when you may be able to drop it.

Is there anything else I should know about PMI?

Your homeownership journey is unique, so your PMI needs will be too. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question “What is PMI?” but now you know the fundamentals of private mortgage insurance and can start your purchase or refi process confidently. And if you have questions along the way that we didn’t answer here, our friendly loan originators are always available to help.

You can avoid paying PMI by making a down payment of 20% or more when you purchase your home. You may also be eligible to drop PMI when you refi your mortgage.