Most of us tend to think of air pollution as something that occurs outdoors where car exhaust and factory fumes proliferate, but there’s such a thing as indoor air pollution, too. Since the 1950s, the number of synthetic chemicals used in products for the home has increased drastically, while at the same time, homes have become much tighter and better insulated. As a result, the EPA estimates that indoor pollutants today are anywhere from five to 70 times higher than pollutants in outside air.
Luckily, there are many ways to reduce indoor air pollution. We all know that buying organic and natural home materials and cleaning supplies can improve the air quality in our homes, but there are several other measures you can take as well.
How pollutants get into our homes
Potentially toxic ingredients are found in many materials throughout the home, and they leach out into the air as Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs. If you open a can of paint, you can probably smell those VOCs. The “new car smell” is another example of this. The smell seems to dissipate after a while, but VOCs can actually “off-gas” for a long time, even after a noticeable smell is gone.
We all know to use paint and glue in a well-ventilated room, but there are many other materials that don’t come with that warning. For instance, there are chemicals, such as formaldehyde, in the resin used to make most cabinets and plywood particle board. It’s also in wall paneling and closet shelves, and in certain wood finishes used on cabinets and furniture. The problems aren’t just with wood, either. Fabrics—everything from draperies to upholstery, bedding, and carpets—are a potent source of VOCs.
The good news about VOCs is that they do dissipate with time. For that reason, the highest levels of VOCs are usually found in new homes or remodels. If you are concerned about VOCs, there are several products you can buy that are either low- or no-VOC. You can also have your home professionally tested.
How to reduce VOCs in your home
Make smart choices in building materials.
- For floors, use tile or solid wood—hardwood, bamboo, or cork – instead of composites.
- Instead of using pressed particle board or indoor plywood, choose solid wood or outdoor-quality plywood that uses a less toxic form of formaldehyde.
- Choose low-VOC or VOC-free paints and finishes.
Purify the air that’s there.
- Make sure your rooms have adequate ventilation, and air out newly renovated or refurnished areas for at least a week, if possible.
- Clean ductwork and furnace filters regularly.
- Install air cleaners if needed.
- Use only environmentally responsible cleaning chemicals.
- Plants can help clean the air: good nonpoisonous options include bamboo palm, lady palm, parlor palm, and moth orchids.
- Air out freshly dry-cleaned clothes or choose a “green” cleaner.
Fight the carpet demons.
- Choose “Green Label” carpeting or a natural fiber such as wool or sisal.
- Use nails instead of glue to secure carpet.
- Install carpet LAST after completing painting projects, wall coverings, and other high-VOC processes.
- Air out newly carpeted areas before using.
- Use a HEPA vacuum or a central vac system that vents outdoors.
- Clean up water leaks fast.
- Use dehumidifiers, if necessary, to keep humidity below 60 percent.
- Don’t carpet rooms that stay damp.
- Insulate pipes, crawl spaces, and windows to eliminate condensation.
- Kill mold before it gets a grip with one-half cup of bleach per gallon of water.
We hope this information is helpful. If you would like to learn more about VOCs and indoor air quality, please visit http://www.epa.gov/iaq/.
Investing in real estate is one of the world’s most venerable pathways to building wealth. When properly managed, income from renting or real estate investment trusts can provide you with the financial security to plan out the rest of your life. The conclusion is easy to envision, but knowing where to begin can be overwhelming, particularly for anyone who has never previously owned a home.
At Windermere our goal is always to improve and support our communities, so we’ve put together a few key things to keep in mind as you enter the world of real estate investment.
Know the right type of investment for you
Investing in real estate needn’t commit you to being a landlord. A Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) is a low-maintenance way to get involved in real estate with next to none of the day-to-day monitoring required of direct property management. REITs are trusts that typically own multiple properties, and investors may purchase shares within the REIT. Typically, as the value of the property rises, so too do the values of your shares. If you’d like to dip a toe into real estate investing before diving in fully, a REIT is a great place to start.
Start with your own home
Owning the roof over your head is a basic step towards investing success. Even better, when you plan to live in the home you’re buying (rather than renting it out), you will likely benefit from lower mortgage rates and a cheaper down payment. The reasoning is straightforward – lenders see a loan to people purchasing the home they live in as an investment in people highly committed to the property.
Once you’ve owned your own house for a few years, you can look to purchase a new home to move into. By purchasing the new home with the intent to move in, you’ll be eligible to receive more favorable financing once again. After you’ve secured your new home, your first home is primed to be transformed into a rental property, and you can continue to see a return on your investment. If you’re seeking further support with buying a first, second, or third home, our website and our agents are full of information.
Cast a wide net
The best investment opportunity isn’t always going to be right underneath your nose. While there are logistical benefits to focusing locally with your investment, you may miss more profitable opportunities in another burgeoning market. Real estate is a long game, and patience tends to be rewarded. There’s no cause to rush a decision of this magnitude, so investigating other states and regions to find the property that best fits your situation is a process worth considering.
There are a number of things that can trigger the decision to remodel or move to a new home. Perhaps you have outgrown your current space, you might be tired of struggling with ancient plumbing or wiring systems, or maybe your home just feels out of date. The question is: Should you stay or should you go? Choosing whether to remodel or move involves looking at a number of factors. Here are some things to consider when making your decision.
Five reasons to move:
1. Your current location just isn’t working.
Unruly neighbors, a miserable commute, or a less-than-desirable school district—these are factors you cannot change. If your current location is detracting from your overall quality of life, it’s time to consider moving. If you’re just ready for a change, that’s a good reason, too. Some people are simply tired of their old homes and want to move on.
2. Your home is already one of the nicest in the neighborhood.
Regardless of the improvements you might make, location largely limits the amount of money you can get for your home when you sell. A general rule of thumb for remodeling is to make sure that you don’t over-improve your home for the neighborhood. If your property is already the most valuable house on the block, additional upgrades usually won’t pay off in return on investment at selling time.
3. There is a good chance you will move soon anyway.
If your likelihood of moving in the next two years is high, remodeling probably isn’t your best choice. There’s no reason to go through the hassle and expense of remodeling and not be able to enjoy it. It may be better to move now to get the house you want.
4. You need to make too many improvements to meet your needs.
This is particularly an issue with growing families. What was cozy for a young couple may be totally inadequate when you add small children. Increasing the space to make your home workable may cost more than moving to another house. In addition, lot size, building codes, and neighborhood covenants may restrict what you can do. Once you’ve outlined the remodeling upgrades that you’d like, a real estate agent can help you determine what kind of home you could buy for the same investment.
5. You don’t like remodeling.
Remodeling is disruptive. It may be the inconvenience of loosing the use of a bathroom for a week, or it can mean moving out altogether for a couple of months. Remodeling also requires making a lot of decisions. You have to be able to visualize new walls and floor plans, decide how large you want windows to be, and where to situate doors. Then there is choosing from hundreds of flooring, countertop, and fixture options. Some people love this. If you’re not one of them, it is probably easier to buy a house that has the features you want already in place.
Five reasons to remodel:
1. You love your neighborhood.
You can walk to the park, you have lots of close friends nearby, and the guy at the espresso stand knows you by name. There are features of a neighborhood, whether it’s tree-lined streets or annual community celebrations, that you just can’t re-create somewhere else. If you love where you live, that’s a good reason to stay.
2. You like your current home’s floor plan.
The general layout of your home either works for you or it doesn’t. If you enjoy the configuration and overall feeling of your current home, there’s a good chance it can be turned into a dream home. The combination of special features you really value, such as morning sun or a special view, may be hard to replicate in a new home.
3. You’ve got a great yard.
Yards in older neighborhoods often have features you cannot find in newer developments, including large lots, mature trees, and established landscaping. Even if you find a new home with a large lot, it takes considerable time and expense to create a fully landscaped yard.
4. You can get exactly the home you want.
Remodeling allows you to create a home tailored exactly to your lifestyle. You have control over the look and feel of everything, from the color of the walls to the finish on the cabinets. Consider also that most people who buy a new home spend up to 30 percent of the value of their new house fixing it up the way they want.
5. It may make better financial sense.
In some cases, remodeling might be cheaper than selling. A contractor can give you an estimate of what it would cost to make the improvements you’re considering. A real estate agent can give you prices of comparable homes with those same features. But remember that while remodeling projects add to the value of your home, most don’t fully recover their costs when you sell.
Remodel or move checklist:
Here are some questions to ask when deciding whether to move or remodel.
1. How much money can you afford to spend?
2. How long do you plan to live in your current home?
3. How do you feel about your current location?
4. Do you like the general floor plan of your current house?
5. Will the remodeling you’re considering offer a good return on investment?
6. Can you get more house for the money in another location that you like?
7. Are you willing to live in your house during a remodeling project?
8. If not, do you have the resources to live elsewhere while you’re remodeling?
Now that spring has sprung, let’s clear the cobwebs and get your home ready! Here is our quick guide to spring home maintenance:
Inspection top to bottom: Now that the weather is temperate you will want to check on how your home weathered the winter. Check the roof for leaks, the gutters for damage, and the siding for cracks. You will also want to inspect your basement or foundation for any shifts. Make repairs now to prevent further damage.
Clean out the gutters: April showers bring May flowers… so clear out the gutters to keep rain from pooling on your roof or near your foundation.
Pest control: Spring is mating season for eight-legged critters, so sweep out cobwebs, clear debris, and check the nooks and crannies. If you live in an area prone to dangerous species like brown recluse or black widows, you may want to contact your local pest control, but otherwise, household spiders do help eliminate other bugs.
HVAC system: If you have an air conditioner now is the time to check to make sure it is ready before summer gets here and everyone else is clamoring for maintenance. Now is a good time to check your home air filters and replace or upgrade to keep allergens at bay.
Clear the clutter: Do a sweep around the house and get rid of junk that you don’t use! Take a little time each week to tackle a room. Closets, playrooms, and basements can be especially daunting, but getting rid of old stuff and refreshing your space will go a long way!
Deep clean: On a nice day open the windows, dust, wipe, scrub, and clean. You will get a nice workout and your home will look and feel so fresh after a winter of being cooped up.
Update your décor: Add a splash of color to your home with small embellishments. Add a colorful vase, a lighter throw for your sofa, pretty pastel pillows, or spring-time candles, to upgrade your living space.
Take it outdoors: Let your throw rugs, curtains, and other tapestries air our outside. Shake off the dust, spot clean what you can and let everything bask in the sun for an afternoon.
Don’t forget the back yard: It may not be time to start up the grill, yet, but you can get started on your outdoor entertaining checklist. Check your lawn, and if you have some spare spots start filling in with seed. Check your outdoor plants, prune, plant bulbs, start to replenish the soil for your garden, and mow, so you are ready to start when the season allows.
Speaking of the grill – if you have a gas grill you will want to pull this out and perform a maintenance check. Clean everything up and check to make sure all the gas lines are clear, as these can get clogged after sitting idle all winter. Make sure the grill is clear of spiders too, as they can build webs in the tubes, causing damage to your grill. You can start to bring out your garden furniture too, or clean it up if you left it covered outside all winter. Because before you know it, it’ll be barbeque season!
Our bulbs went full bloom at my house a few weeks ago, which prompted the awakening of spring fever: mostly the urge to air out the house and get rid of clutter (again, didn’t we just do this?). In my desire to purge, I have been trying to find the best ways to get rid of things; to sell some items in order to reinvest in updated accessories, to support local charities, and just get rid of the junk in the most environmentally-friendly way possible. I am not as methodical as I’d like to be, but I am already seeing a difference with the reduced clutter. Here are some of my tips and favorite resources:
Are you a piler or a stasher? We create stacks in our household, which we have to go through weekly, then move to our respective offices, where they wait (indeterminate lengths of time) to get filed. One of my first steps in clearing out the junk was to deal with the piles of paper. I shredded anything that should be shredded and recycled and filed the rest. If you are supremely organized, I suggest taking this time to note what bills you actually get paper invoices for, and move towards electronic billing. Also, if you haven’t already, take a moment to stop your junk mail, saving yourself a step in the filing process and reducing some paper use.
I finally went through the stack of magazines piling up next to the bed, tearing out any recipes, articles and ideas I wanted to reference later, and throwing the rest away. If you are looking for an electronic alternative to the magazine clutter, read your magazines online and save your favorite articles with a social bookmarking tool such as delicious.com to easily search your saved files with your own key words.
If there is a bookcase in our house, it will be filled so, instead of investing in ANOTHER bookshelf, I decided to make space for all the books I will likely buy this year by getting rid of books I probably won’t read. We will be reselling some books to amazon.com while others will either go to the local used bookstore for store credit or be donated to a local charity.
You can also gain a lot of space by going through your media. If you still have DVDs and CDs, inventory them and decide if you can move to a digital archive. It may take some time, but downloading and backing up your media could make you more organized in the long run and eliminate unnecessary clutter. Get rid of the disks once these have been backed up, reclaiming that shelf space.
As more and more of our lives are kept in digital files, it is important to take precautions to protect our files as well as the hardware that stores them. If you store important documents, family photos, media, or other items on your hard drive, make sure you have a backup plan. Learn more about digital storageoptions so if anything happens to your hardware you don’t lose everything.
Whenever I go to the hardware store, I must suffer from temporary memory loss; what else would explain the multiples we acquire? This year we are doing an audit. If we have enough stuff to justify it, we will do a garage sale, but most likely we will sell what we can on craigslist or eBay and give away the rest on freecycle.org. These are all great options for ridding yourself of unwanted, outdated and duplicate items. We also have a pile of electronics to get rid of: an old microwave, tv, toaster oven, printers, juicer, etc. We don’t want to dump these if they can be recycled. We are looking into e-cycle options in our area, including local Windermere offices holding e-cycle events regularly, which also benefit the Foundation.
The same rules apply to our excess storage.
As you de-clutter and reorganize, make updates to your home inventory list. Spring is a great time to make sure your list of household items is up-to-date for insurance purposes. It is also a good time to check on your major appliances to determine if your furnace/water tank/septic or other major systems need to be serviced.
As the seasons change, it is a good idea to go through your clothes in order to renew and refresh your wardrobe. If you have items that can be updated with a few alterations, make a plan to spend some time with your tailor. Otherwise, look critically at the clothes you have. If you didn’t wear it in the last year and it cannot be altered to work with the rest of your wardrobe, consider donating it to Goodwill or your preferred charity. Throw any soiled or damaged clothes away. Spring is also a great time to get rid of any old linens and towels that have seen better days.
You will likely be surprised by how light your load is once you have really gotten into the de-cluttering process. If you have furniture you don’t use or that doesn’t fit with your décor, consider your options. You may be able to repurpose your furniture for more efficient use, such as a console table as a landing strip next to the door, an armoire for playroom storage, or even old doors as a headboard. Or you may breathe new life into your furniture by painting or re-staining. If you can’t repurpose, why not recycle? You can donate your furniture, sell it on craigslist or give it away on freecycle.org. Getting rid of excess furniture can revitalize a room almost as much as buying new furniture.
Once you have cleared the clutter and made way for a fresh perspective, figure out what will help keep the clutter at bay, and add design elements that inspire you. Decorative baskets keep magazines in order; decorative vases with flowers add natural elements help keep the indoors fresh; and new lighting or a new paint color can brighten up a room in an instant. Subtle updates in your rooms can make all the difference once the clutter is gone.
What are your tips for preparing for spring? What are your favorite spring rituals, once the cleaning is done?
Moving is stressful, whether it is across town or cross-country. Once you have closed on your house, the reality of packing, moving, and setting up a new home can become overwhelming. While no list can make a move “stress-free”, planning ahead and staying organized can help make your move a little smoother. Here is our list of tips:
· Once you know your prospective move date set up a quick timeline to make sure you can get all the important tasks done and ready in time for your move.
· Consider how much stuff you have by doing a home inventory. This can help you decide whether you need to hire movers to help you or if you will be managing your move on your own. Many moving companies supply inventory lists to help you assess the size of truck you will need. You can use your list as double duty for insurance purposes later.
· As soon as you decide how you will be moving, make your reservations. In general, moving companies and truck rental services are over-booked at the beginning and very end of the month. If you are planning on hiring a moving company, contact a few in your area for a price quote. To find companies ask your real estate agent, family, or friends, and consult online reviews. It is also a good idea to request a quote and compare companies.
Preparing for your move:
· Moving is a great opportunity to get rid of clutter, junk, or outdated items. Set aside some time to sort through your closets, storage spaces, files, drawers, and more. Go through cluttered areas and organize items by “keepers”, “give-aways” and “garbage”. You will have less to pack and an opportunity to update after you move. Contact a local nonprofit organization for your donations; some will arrange to pick up larger donations like furniture. If you have items of value, eBay or craigslist are good options.
· Changing your address is one of the more tedious tasks in the moving process. You will need to change your address with the United States Post Office. You can find the online form here: https://moversguide.usps.com/icoa/icoa-main-flow.do?execution=e1s1.
· You will also need to change your address with each account you have. Here is a list to get your started:
· Utilities (Electric, Water/Sewage, Oil/Gas)
· Cable/ Telephone
· Cell phone service
· Credit Cards
· Magazine subscriptions
· Insurance companies (auto, home/renters, health, dental, vision, etc.)
· Other personal services
Let the packing begin:
· Before you start packing, it may help to visualize where everything you have will go. Perhaps furniture will fit better in a different room? Consider the floor plan of your new home and figure out what will go where. This will aid in packing and labeling as you box everything up.
· Use a tool like floorplanner.com to plan where furniture and items will go.
· When it comes to packing you have some options. You can work with a service that provides reusable boxes for moving or you can reuse or purchase cardboard boxes. Make sure you have enough boxes, packing tape, dark markers, and packing paper.
· Pack rooms according to your floor plan. Label boxes with contents and room. This will make it easier to unpack your home, knowing where everything is going.
· Real Simple magazine has some great tips on packing for your move.
· If you have to disassemble any of your furniture, make sure you keep all the parts and directions together.
· Make sure you set aside your necessities for the day you move. Being tired and unable to take a shower or make your bed can be hard at the end of a long moving day. Here are some ideas of what you may like to pack in your “day-of-move” boxes.
· Clean linens for the beds, pillows and blankets
· Clean towels
· Shower curtain, liner and hooks
· Toiletries, hand soap, tooth brush, etc.
· Disposable utensils, cups, napkins, etc
· Rolls of toilet paper
· Snacks and water
· Change of clothes
· Tools for reassembling furniture, installing hardware, and hanging photos
Making your move
· Come up with a game plan with your family, so everyone has a role and a part to play
· Once the house is empty, do a once over on your old place to make sure it is clean for the next owners/occupants. Here is a useful checklist for cleaning.
Warming your new home
· Once you have settled into your new home, warm it up by inviting friends and family over to celebrate. Here is a great infographic about housewarming traditions and symbolism.
· Announce your move to far-away friends and family through moving announcements to make sure you stay on the holiday card mailing list.
Do you have any other tips or advice for achieving a smooth move?
Short sales are complicated. With all the variables that need to be juggled, it’s easy to make mistakes that end up derailing a transaction. Here are the most common reasons that short sales fail.
1) Failure to understand and justify market value.
Setting a price for a short sale is the delicate art of balancing what a buyer will pay and what the lender will approve. It’s important to understand how the lender values a property. The bank will commonly hire an appraiser or BPO broker to set a value after you submit an offer. If you have set the price too low, the lender will not approve the offer. Everyone loses. The buyer has been given an unrealistic expectation of what they should pay, so usually is not willing or able to offer much more. More importantly, your client’s clock is ticking. They have a certain deadline to do a short sale and avoid foreclosure, and you have squandered valuable time on a deal that was never going to go through. (If you think the value the bank set is unreasonable, this Ask the Expert article explains how to dispute lender valuations.)
2) Not knowing the specific lender’s short sale process.
On average, the bank’s short sale negotiator has over 1,000 short sale transactions that they are processing at any given time. And each lender’s process is different. If you don’t follow the lender’s specific process or there is an error in the paperwork or you’re missing a form, it all comes to a halt. Your file gets set aside until the issues can be resolved. And unless you call, it can be weeks before you are even aware that there is a problem. (We have a dedicated staff that follows up with lenders daily to make sure the process is moving forward.)The short sale transaction that closes, and closes quickly, is the one where everything is done right the first time.
3) No system to monitor the short sale process.
Because a short sale has so many more variables than a traditional real estate transaction, one of the most important jobs the listing broker has is making sure everyone involved has all the information they need to make their part of the deal happen. We have a private password-protected online system that lets all parties see what’s happening with a transaction at any time – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This helps everyone involved track deadlines and ensure that no details fall through the cracks. It’s also important for you to build a team of professionals who are highly experienced in short sales. For example, we work with title and escrow agents who understand the additional documentation and complex issues that are specifically related to short sales.
Richard is a Windermere broker in Bellevue, WA and co-founder of Washington Property Solutions, a short sales negotiating company. Since 2003 he has helped more than 700 homeowners sell their homes. A Bellevue native and a University of Washington grad, Richard is an avid sports fan and a devoted Little League and basketball coach. You can learn more about Richard here or at www.washortsales.com.
By Michael Doyle
Have you ever wondered if your real estate agent understands what you are going through? They come into your house speaking confidently about your neighborhood and market trends. They have vendors ready to help you prepare your home for sale. But do they really think it’s that easy? Do they understand the conversations that follow once they’ve left your dining room table? Have they lain awake at night in worry?
You might be surprised.
I’ve been a real estate agent for eight years and recently attempted to sell my condo. My income hadn’t been what I’d planned; I was upside down and worried about the risks of holding onto it. I wanted less stress, so after months of consideration, I decided to sell.
Here’s how it went down:
-I chose my agent and sat down for a meeting. “Are you willing to meet the market?” she asked? That wasn’t easy to answer! The choices I’d made at purchase (lay out, upgrades, etc.) weren’t as valuable in her eyes as I had anticipated. I tried to fight the urge to feel that my home was worth more than she did.
-We moved out of the condo and hired a great stager to “edit” what we’d left behind. What?! You don’t like the black and white poster of John Lennon from my mother’s Let It Be album?!
-We had handiwork done and a professional photographer shot some great images. My agent listed the property, but after only one day on the market without an offer, I was already anxious.
-Then the Homeowners Association sued the developer (long story, but in short: not good for sales) and convinced me that I was definitely not prepared to meet the market. So, we removed the home from the market, and moved back in.
-Then, the phone rang. Agents wanted to show it, earnestly offering “My clients aren’t concerned with litigation.” Surprise: I didn’t believe it. Right or wrong, I suspected that these well-meaning people would not make it all the way to closing. I wasn’t ready to board that roller coaster.
And, it felt like the market was finally turning.
A property that had once seemed like a heavy weight began again to look like home; like a place that – from a post-tax perspective – is only marginally more costly than renting. So, here I am, happy with my decision to stay in my home and reminded what it’s like to walk in my sellers’ shoes – a win-win situation all the way around.
Michael Doyle is an agent with Windermere Real Estate’s Lakeview office in Seattle, WA.
The April 15th deadline to file your taxes is less than two weeks away. Worrying that things would be complicated for me as a first-time homebuyer, I had my taxes done this year by a CPA. Here are a few quick tips for fellow new homeowners that I learned from the experience.
Claim the 2009-10 First-time Homebuyer Tax Credit
You could qualify for the up-to-8,000 credit if you bought a home in 2009 or are in contract for your new home on or before April 30, 2010 and have not owned a home three years prior to buying.
- Don’t e-file. You must file an old-fashioned paper tax return. You can still use online software, just be sure to print and mail all your documents.
- Make sure the IRS receives your return by mailing it as Certified Mail with a Return Receipt.
- Include your HUD-1 or Form 540.
Deduct Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) and Property Taxes
Did you put less than 20% down on your home purchase and are now required to pay PMI? This year, you can deduct that cost.
- On your tax forms provided by your lender, look for the amount of PMI premiums paid in the last year to add to your Schedule A when filing.
- All homeowners can also add tax payments of up to $500 for single homeowners or up to $1,000 for married taxpayers in addition to their standard deduction.
Save those receipts for energy-saving improvements
Receive a credit of 30% of the purchase price for energy-efficient improvements on your primary residence made between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010. The maximum credit amount is $1,500 over the two-year period.
- Qualifying improvements can include: insulation, exterior doors and windows, approved natural gas, propane or oil water heaters.
Because my tax preparation skills are usually limited to answering the yes or no questions on Turbo Tax, please speak with your professional tax preparer or accountant for specific information about these and other tax related questions. Also visit irs.gov for official tax information.
By Jennifer Calonia
Owning a home comes with its rewards — it’s an investment, a cozy haven to kick-up your feet after a long day of work, and a welcoming place to bring family and friends together. Although all of this makes homeownership fulfilling, owning a home also opens the door for unexpected (but necessary) expenses.
If you’ve suddenly been hit with a home improvement project that’s pinching your budget, like a roofing issue or heater malfunction, a personal loan might be an option to help cover the cost.
What is a personal loan?
A personal loan is an installment loan that’s typically issued by a bank, credit union or online lender. According to the Federal Reserve, the average interest rate on a two-year personal loan is 10.70% but varies depending on your credit score and other criteria. Some lenders offer repayment terms anywhere from 12 months to five years.
A benefit of using a personal loan for emergency home improvement projects is that the approval process is generally quick so you can address urgent home repairs sooner. Some online lenders can run a credit check, approve your application and send funds your way with a couple of days. The approval process for banks and credit unions, on the other hand, can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, if the lender needs additional information.
How to find a personal loan
If you’ve decided that a personal loan makes sense to fund your next home project, make sure you’re aware of these next steps.
1. Assess your budget
The last thing you need is taking out a personal loan only to realize after the fact that you can’t afford to repay it. Calculate how much you realistically need for your home improvement project, giving yourself a reasonable buffer for unforeseen repair expenses (e.g. permit fees, price changes for a specific material, etc.)
Then, tally your monthly income and financial obligations to ensure you still have enough cash on hand to keep the lights on and make monthly installments toward your loan. Using a spreadsheet or budgeting app can help you track these numbers easily.
2. Know your credit score
Generally, you need a good credit score to get approved for a personal loan. Your credit score is one of the key factors that lenders use to determine whether your application is approved, and a higher credit score results in a lower interest rate offer.
Check your credit score with the three credit bureaus to ensure there isn’t an error or suspicious activity that might inadvertently lower your credit score. For a free credit report, go to AnnualCreditReport.com to see where your credit stands before moving forward in the process.
3. Compare rates and terms
When you’ve confirmed that you have a good credit score that can get you competitive interest rates, it’s tempting to accept a loan from the first lender that approves you. But like other major purchases, it’s important to shop around.
Compare interest rates, annual percentage rates (APR), and term durations available, and read the fine print for any conditions or fees that might offset any benefits.
To start, try reaching out to your existing financial institution first to see what they can offer; sometimes credit unions, in particular, offer rate incentives for loyal members. Also, consider using a personal loan aggregator website to compare offers from multiple online lenders at once (just do your due diligence to ensure the site is legitimate).
4. Submit an application
If you’re ready to submit an application, you can either complete a form online or apply in-person, depending on your lender. Although all lenders require different information to process a loan application, some common information to prepare ahead of time include:
- Personal information
- Employment information
- Reason for the loan
- Amount you want to borrow
To minimize any delays on your end, it’s helpful to prepare copies of verification documents, such as a driver’s license, proof of address like a utility statement, information about your home and pay stubs. Your prospective lender will likely reach out to you if they need any other information to make a decision.
Although it’s always best to have emergency savings set aside for a sudden home improvement project, turning to a personal loan is a useful option when you’re pressed for funds and time. As urgent as your project might feel, however, always take the time to do your research to ensure you’re making the right move for your situation.
Jennifer Calonia is a native Los Angeles-based writer for Upstart whose goal is to help readers get excited about improving their financial health and lifestyle. Her work has been featured on Forbes, The Huffington Post, MSN Money, Business Insider, CNN Money, and Yahoo Finance. When she’s not wordsmithing, you can find her outdoors, exploring state and national parks.