What This Military Family Faced—and Fought—To Buy Its First House

first time home buyerNatalie Johnson

First-time home buyers today face a tough road, shopping for homes during a pandemic, high housing prices, and deep economic uncertainty. For military families deployed overseas, it’s all even trickier to figure out.

In this second story in our new series “First-Time Home Buyer Confessions,” we talked with husband and wife Kyle LaVallee and Natalie Johnson. They were renting an apartment in Fayetteville, NC, when they decided to start shopping for their own home in the area in April.

At the time, LaVallee was stationed in the Middle East as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. Yet even though he was thousands of miles away, he managed to attend every home tour with Johnson via FaceTime. In July, they closed on a brick, ranch-style three-bedroom that LaVallee would not see in person until a long-awaited trip home in October.

Here’s the couple’s home-buying story, the hardest challenges they faced, and what LaVallee thought of his new house once he home managed to lay eyes on it for the first time.

Location: Fayetteville, NC

House specs: 1,166 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
List price: $111,900
Price paid: $115,000

A pandemic plus deployment seems like a tough time to buy your first house. What convinced you to forge ahead?

Johnson: Kyle was deployed in October 2019 while we were renting a one-bedroom apartment in Fayetteville. Kyle wasn’t fond of renewing the apartment lease—we had been there for two years and were running out of space. We wanted to get a dog; we wanted a yard, and our own property where we can do anything we wanted.

We started educating ourselves on the process. We knew a mortgage was going to be significantly less than what we were paying in rent. Kyle thought it would be smart to buy because [nearby] Fort Bragg is one of the biggest military bases in the world. If we ever leave or get stationed somewhere else, we’re not going to have a problem finding anyone to rent it. And we could always come back.

Kyle LaVallee and Natalie Johnson at one of their favorite hangouts in Fayetteville, where they’ve decided to put down roots

Natalie Johnson

LaVallee: I was interested in gaining equity and ownership, rather than just paying to rent something I’d never own in the end.

Johnson: We started looking at houses back in January. In April, we kept seeing information about lowering interest rates. That’s why we got serious about the process in the middle of the pandemic, and when we connected with our real estate agent, Justin Kirk with Century 21.

How much did you put down on the house—and how’d you save for it?

Johnson: We put 20% down.

LaVallee: I was making a lot of money while I was deployed, and I had no expenses really. I was just saving everything I had, knowing I wanted to invest it in a house.

Johnson: I cut spending. I didn’t buy things I wanted, just what I needed. The pandemic helped a lot, honestly because we obviously couldn’t go out.

LaVallee: We qualified for a VA loan, but we just wound up using a conventional loan. Most people in the military will use a VA loan where you don’t put any money down, but [since we had enough saved] we wanted the lowest monthly mortgage payments.

first time home buyer
LaVallee and Johnson on LaVallee’s first morning in the new house after coming home from deployment

Natalie Johnson

What were you looking for in a house?

LaVallee: We knew we might [eventually] be moving, so it wasn’t like it had to be a house we would stay in forever, more of an investment property.

Johnson: We were looking for things that would be attractive to future renters. We had a military family in mind because Fayetteville’s got more than 50,000 active-duty. We looked for a location close to a Fort Bragg entrance. We thought three bedrooms was perfect for us because our families are close with each other, so they’ll all come down at the same time so we’ll have two extra bedrooms for them. Kyle really wanted a garage, so that was a huge thing.

LaVallee: Garages aren’t very common down here, so that limited a lot of options for us. A lot of houses have carports, or they finish the garage and turn it into a bonus room.

Johnson: We wanted something that needed a bit of fixing up, because we like to be handy and put our personal touch on everything, and we ultimately knew that would be a lower-cost house.

Johnson and LaVallee’s new kitchen

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How many homes did you see in person, and how did Kyle participate from overseas?

Johnson: It was 10 or 12 homes. We were out three to four times a week looking at places with our real estate agent. We wore our masks for the tours, and I used hand sanitizer since I was opening and closing drawers and closets. Most were vacant, but we did tour one house that still had people living in it, although they were gone during the tour, so we avoided touching a lot of things.

During tours we FaceTimed Kyle in. We figured that was probably the most convenient way to do it since he could see every single house and room in detail.

The large living room in Johnson and LaVallee’s new house

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LaVallee: Well, I couldn’t really see all the details.

Johnson: He got to know our real estate agent really well via FaceTime. Our agent would say, “Let me know if you need me to hold Kyle while you go look in this room.” I felt so bad, though, because I work full time, so I’d tour homes around 5:30 in the evening, which for Kyle was 2:30 in the morning. But he stayed up for every single tour.

LaVallee: I was sometimes frustrated not being able to be there. I left it all up to her. I had to trust the feelings and vibes she got from each house.

The big backyard where Johnson and LaVallee hope a dog will someday run around

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How many offers did you make before you had one accepted?

Johnson: We put three earlier offers in.

LaVallee: They would be listed and the next day would be sold. The first three offers we put in were asking price, and I’m pretty sure everybody else offered more, and ours were never even considered.

Johnson: It was ridiculous. It was definitely a seller’s market, so you had to act really fast and you had to be really competitive. On our fourth offer, we ended up at $3,100 over asking. I felt like we had to fight for this house.

Johnson had to move into the new home without LaVallee’s help.

Natalie Johnson

Were you competing with other offers for the house you bought?

LaVallee: There were multiple offers.

Johnson: Our real estate agent told us, “You should definitely write a letter and talk about how Kyle’s gone right now and you’re first-time home buyers and this one really clicked with you,” which it did. The second I walked in, it’s this adorable brick house, it’s super homey, it has a great yard. In the letter, we just talked about how all of that was so attractive to us as first-time home buyers, and we were really excited and could see ourselves in this home.

Our real estate agent suggested going in higher than asking, so we just rounded up to $115,000. He also suggested doing a higher due diligence payment—we usually did $200, but this time around we did $500. And the earnest fee we put in was $500 or $600.

After our offer was accepted, we knew it was going to be kind of difficult with the home inspection. They were already redoing the roof, which was a huge cost on their part, so asking for more was definitely going to be a challenge. So we didn’t ask for much.

LaVallee and Johnson are happy they stuck it out in a competitive seller’s market and landed this home.

Natalie Johnson

What surprised you about the home-buying process?

Johnson: How fast it went, for me at least. Our first home tour was in April and then by June, we had found our house and the contracts were written up. I guess I was expecting it maybe to be double the time that it actually was, but houses were just turning over so fast, we had to act fast.

LaVallee: From my side, I thought it happened very slowly! I felt like so much was happening in between each step in the process. I had to be patient because I had so little control of the situation, other than just trying to stay involved and be a part of it.

Johnson: You never really think that when you’re married, you’re going to buy your first house while your husband is on the other side of the world. But we got through it.

Johnson and LaVallee (pictured on the right) on the day LaVallee returned from deployment

Natalie Johnson

So Natalie, you were living in the house for a few months before Kyle returned from deployment in October to see it. What was that homecoming like?

Johnson: He came home a few days shy of the 365-day mark. We were anxious and excited. Several other families and I waited outside of a hangar on base, and soon after hearing their plane landing, we saw the group walking toward us and everyone start cheering and crying.

Because it was dark when we got home, Kyle couldn’t see the outside of the house much, or the “Welcome Home” decorations I hung up! But the moment he set foot in the front door, he just stood there and looked around with the biggest smile on his face.

I gave him the grand tour the next morning. He said it looked much bigger than what he saw on FaceTime. We celebrated with a home-cooked meal and the wine our agent gave us when we closed. It was really special.

LaVallee: I came home to a nice house. Natalie was worried I would come back to culture shock. But I’ve felt at home ever since I’ve been here.

Johnson decorated the house for LaVallee’s return from deployment.

Natalie Johnson

first time home buyer
After LaVallee came home, the two finally got to toast their first home with a bottle of wine, courtesy of their real estate agent.

Natalie Johnson

What’s your advice for aspiring first-time home buyers?

Johnson: I would say to go with your gut. Some of the houses you’ll tour are really logical to buy, but if they have a bad vibe or they’re just not really welcoming, then look at others. A healthy balance between logic and feeling is important.

LaVallee: We didn’t even know what we wanted until we saw five or six houses, so it’s definitely important to shop around and see what’s out there.

Johnson: We really didn’t know much. I told our real estate agent, “Hey, listen, we’re really going to need some guidance. We don’t know what things mean, we need you to break it down for us. You have to be patient with us.” I reached out to three different real estate agents, and Justin was the one who not only answered all my questions but was giving a ton of positive feedback. It was nice to have that encouragement, and it definitely made us more confident. You learn a lot by looking at houses, you learn a ton about yourself.

Johnson and LaVallee met in elementary school.

Natalie Johnson

The post What This Military Family Faced—and Fought—To Buy Its First House appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

5 Myths About Transitioning From Renter to Homeowner

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Making the leap from being a renter to becoming a homeowner is a process that includes taking stock of your financial situation and determining whether you’re ready for such a massive responsibility. For most people, the primary question is affordability. Do you have enough cash in the bank to fund a down payment, or do you have a credit score high enough to qualify you for a home loan? But there are other considerations, too—and plenty of misconceptions and myths that could keep you from making that first step.

Below, our experts weigh in on why some situations that may seem like roadblocks are actually not as daunting as they appear.

1. Buying a home means heavy debt

Some may argue that continuing to rent can spare you from taking on heavy debt. But owning a house offers advantages.

“Buying a home and using a typical loan would be spread out over 20 to 30 years. But if you can make one extra payment a year or make bimonthly payments instead, you can shed up to seven years from that long-term loan,” says Jesse McManus, a real estate agent for Big Block Realty in San Diego, CA.

Plus, as you pay your mortgage, you gain equity in the home and create an asset that can be used when needed, such as paying off debt or even buying a second home.

“Currently, mortgage interests rates are at their lowest point in history, so … it’s a great time to borrow money,” McManus says.

2. At least a 20% down payment is needed to buy a home

“Contrary to popular belief, a 20% down payment is not required to purchase a home,” says Natalie Klinefelter, broker/owner of the Legacy Real Estate Co. in San Diego, CA. “There are several low down payment options available to all types of buyers.”

These are as low as 0% down for Veterans Affairs loans to 5% for conventional loans.

One of the main reasons buyers assume they must put down 20% is that without a 20% down payment, buyers typically face private mortgage insurance payments that add to the monthly loan payment.

“The good news is once 20% equity is reached in a home, the buyer can eliminate PMI. This is usually accomplished by refinancing their loan, ultimately lowering their original payment that included PMI,” says Klinefelter. “Selecting the right loan type for a buyer’s needs and the property condition is essential before purchasing a home.”

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Watch: 5 Things First-Time Home Buyers Must Know

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3. Your credit score needs to be perfect

Having a credit score at or above 660 looks great to mortgage lenders, but if yours is lagging, there’s still hope.

“Credit score and history play a significant role in a buyer’s ability to obtain a home loan, but it doesn’t mean a buyer needs squeaky-clean credit. There are many loan solutions for buyers who have a lower than the ideal credit score,” says Klinefelter.

She says government-backed loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration have lower credit and income requirements than most conventional loans.

“A lower down payment is also a benefit of FHA loans. Lenders often work with home buyers upfront to discuss how to improve their credit to obtain a loan most suitable for their needs and financial situation,” says Klinefelter.

McManus says buyers building credit can also use a home loan to bolster their scores and create a foundation for future borrowing and creditworthiness.

4. Now is a bad time to buy

Buying a home at the right time—during a buyer’s market or when interest rates are low—is considered a smart money move. But don’t let the fear of buying at the “wrong time” stop you from moving forward. If you feel like you’ve found a good deal, experts say there is truly no bad time to buy a home.

“The famous saying in real estate is ‘I don’t have a crystal ball,’ meaning no one can predict exactly where the market will be at a given time. If a buyer stays within their means and has a financial contingency plan in place if the market adjusts over time, it is the right time to buy,” says Klinefelter.

5. You’ll be stuck and can’t relocate

Some people may be hesitant to buy because it means staying put in the same location.

“I always advise my clients that they should plan to stay in a newly purchased home for a minimum of three years,” says McManus. “You can ride out most market swings if they happen, and it also gives you a sense of connection to your new space.”

In a healthy market, McManus says homeowners will likely be able to sell the home within a year or two if they need to move, or they can consider renting out the property.

“There is always a way out of a real estate asset; knowing how and when to exit is the key,” says Klinefelter.

The post 5 Myths About Transitioning From Renter to Homeowner appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

7 Low Cost, Non-Traditional Wedding Venues

If you’d like to avoid wedding debt and save on wedding expenses, you may want to consider getting married in a non-traditional wedding venue.

The post 7 Low Cost, Non-Traditional Wedding Venues appeared first on Bible Money Matters and was written by Melissa. Copyright © Bible Money Matters – please visit biblemoneymatters.com for more great content.

Source: biblemoneymatters.com

How to Make Better Financial Decisions

Woman learning how to make better financial decisions

A key financial decision people struggle to make is how to allocate savings for multiple financial goals. Do you save for several goals at the same time or fund them one-by-one in a series of steps? Basically, there are two ways to approach financial goal-setting:

Concurrently: Saving for two or more financial goals at the same time.

Sequentially: Saving for one financial goal at a time in a series of steps.

Each method has its pros and cons. Here’s how to decide which method is best for you.

Sequential goal-setting

Pros

You can focus intensely on one goal at a time and feel a sense of completion when each goal is achieved. It’s also simpler to set up and manage single-goal savings than plans for multiple goals. You only need to set up and manage one account.

Cons

Compound interest is not retroactive. If it takes up to a decade to get around to long-term savings goals (e.g., funding a retirement savings plan), that’s time that interest is not earned.

Concurrent goal-setting

Pros

Compound interest is not delayed on savings for goals that come later in life. The earlier money is set aside, the longer it can grow. Based on the Rule of 72, you can double a sum of money in nine years with an 8 percent average return. The earliest years of savings toward long-term goals are the most powerful ones.

Cons

Funding multiple financial goals is more complex than single-tasking. Income needs to be earmarked separately for each goal and often placed in different accounts. In addition, it will probably take longer to complete any one goal because savings is being placed in multiple locations.

Research findings

Working with Wise Bread to recruit respondents, I conducted a study of financial goal-setting decisions with four colleagues that was recently published in the Journal of Personal Finance. The target audience was young adults with 69 percent of the sample under age 45. Four key financial decisions were explored: financial goals, homeownership, retirement planning, and student loans.

Results indicated that many respondents were sequencing financial priorities, instead of funding them simultaneously, and delaying homeownership and retirement savings. Three-word phrases like “once I have…,", “after I [action],” and “as soon as…,” were noted frequently, indicating a hesitancy to fund certain financial goals until achieving others.

The top three financial goals reported by 1,538 respondents were saving for something, buying something, and reducing debt. About a third (32 percent) of the sample had outstanding student loan balances at the time of data collection and student loan debt had a major impact on respondents’ financial decisions. About three-quarters of the sample said loan debt affected both housing choices and retirement savings.

Actionable steps

Based on the findings from the study mentioned above, here are five ways to make better financial decisions.

1. Consider concurrent financial planning

Rethink the practice of completing financial goals one at a time. Concurrent goal-setting will maximize the awesome power of compound interest and prevent the frequently-reported survey result of having the completion date for one goal determine the start date to save for others.

2. Increase positive financial actions

Do more of anything positive that you’re already doing to better your personal finances. For example, if you’re saving 3 percent of your income in a SEP-IRA (if self-employed) or 401(k) or 403(b) employer retirement savings plan, decide to increase savings to 4 percent or 5 percent.

3. Decrease negative financial habits

Decide to stop (or at least reduce) costly actions that are counterproductive to building financial security. Everyone has their own culprits. Key criteria for consideration are potential cost savings, health impacts, and personal enjoyment.

4. Save something for retirement

Almost 40 percent of the respondents were saving nothing for retirement, which is sobering. The actions that people take (or do not take) today affect their future selves. Any savings is better than no savings and even modest amounts like $100 a month add up over time.

5. Run some financial calculations

Use an online calculator to set financial goals and make plans to achieve them. Planning increases people’s sense of control over their finances and motivation to save. Useful tools are available from FINRA and Practical Money Skills.

What’s the best way to save money for financial goals? It depends. In the end, the most important thing is that you’re taking positive action. Weigh the pros and cons of concurrent and sequential goal-setting strategies and personal preferences, and follow a regular savings strategy that works for you. Every small step matters!

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Want to know how to allocate savings for your financial goals? We’ve got the tips on how to make financial decisions so you can be confident in your personal finance! | #moneymatters #personalfinance #moneytips


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150+ Birthday Freebies: Where To Get Free Stuff On Your Birthday This Year!

Celebrating your birthday is fun, but it’s even better when you get free stuff. Here’s a list of 150+ birthday freebies that you can get this year.

The post 150+ Birthday Freebies: Where To Get Free Stuff On Your Birthday This Year! appeared first on Bible Money Matters and was written by Peter Anderson. Copyright © Bible Money Matters – please visit biblemoneymatters.com for more great content.

Source: biblemoneymatters.com

The 5 Best Eye Shadow Palettes

Woman using best eye shadow palette

Just because you’re going out less frequently doesn’t mean you have to let your eye shadow game slip. I mean, you want to glow like a goddess on those Zoom meetings, right? And now you have plenty of time to perfect your look and find new colors to make your eyes pop.

You know your go-to colors, sure, but why not try something fun and new? Here are some excellent eye shadow palettes that offer a wide range of shades and won’t break your budget. (See also: The 5 Best Stay-At-Home Beauty Essentials)

Top 5 Eye Shadow Palettes

Lamora Nude Eye Shadow Palette

The Lamora Eye Shadow Palette in nude is a best-seller for a reason. It was created with high-quality ingredients into a waterproof cream formula. In order to enhance the wearer’s natural beauty, this palette offers 16 rich colors from rose gold to dark brown. The palette comes in a sleek case that’s small enough to take on-the-go. 

It includes a message inside that says "Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful," which is a reminder we all need, and it’s backed by over 9,500 five-star reviews on Amazon.

Currently $15.95 at Amazon.com

UCANBE Twilight and Dusk Eye Shadow Palette

The UCANBE Twilight and Dusk Eye Shadow Palette includes 18 incredible shades — 10 matte, seven shimmer and one metallic glitter colors that will make your eyes catch everyone else’s. All shades are waterproof, easy to blend, safe for sensitive skin, and has not been tested on animals. With the wide range of colors, you can easily take your look from day to night.

This palette is also backed by over 1,500 five-star reviews on Amazon.

Currently $9.98 at Amazon.com

L.A. Girl’s Beauty Brick Eye Shadow Palette

L.A. Girl’s Beauty Brick Eye Shadow Palette is the ideal palette to take on-the-go because of its magnetic case, double-sided applicator, and mirror so you can apply your shadow wherever you are. It has 12 highly pigmented nude shades featuring smooth mattes and dimensional shimmers. You can create a look for every occasion using the double-sided brush to contour, line, and highlight your lids.

It also has over 5,000 five-star reviews on Amazon.

Currently $6.99 at Amazon.com

Beauty Glazed Shimmer Eye Shadow Palette 

The Beauty Glazed Shimmer Eye Shadow Palette offers 15 gorgeous colors in a long-lasting formula that you’ll never want to take off. It’s waterproof too, so no need to worry about the weather interfering with your look. From light pinks to bold blues, this palette is bound to make your eyes pop.

And it’s backed by over 2,000 four-star reviews on Amazon.

Currently $9.99 at Amazon.com

SHANY Bold and Bright Eye Shadow Palette

If you want a complete palette to meet all of your makeup needs, the SHANY Bold and Bright Eye Shadow Palette is it. This palette has 120 bold colors to match every item of clothing in your closet, every mood, and every occasion. Each color is highly pigmented and won’t smudge. Whether you’re a beginner in eye makeup or a polished veteran, this palette will be your new favorite makeup item.

It’s backed by outstanding online reviews, including over 1,000 four-star reviews on Amazon. 

Currently $17.96 at Amazon.com

And those are our recommendations for the best stay-at-home kitchen essentials. As always, be sure to check Wise Bread’s Buying Calendar to learn when and how to buy just about anything!


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