5 Signs you're ready to buy your first house

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Buying your first home takes stamina, desire and commitment not only to navigate the complicated and time-consuming purchase process, but also to learn the ropes of being a responsible homeowner.

Maybe you've dreamed about buying. Or perhaps you've researched for-sale homes online, tried to calculate how much you can afford to spend or peeked inside a few open houses.

But are you really ready, emotionally and financially, to step up your game and make your move? Here's a look at what mortgage and real estate pros know about who's good to go and who needs more time to prepare for homeownership -- five ways to know if you're ready to buy your first home.

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How not to buy a 'lemon' house

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Many states have so-called lemon laws that protect consumers who buy a brand-new car that turns out to be defective. But no lemon law protects homebuyers.

Safeguards do exist for homebuyers:

  • Sellers usually are required by state law to disclose, though not necessarily repair, material defects.
  • Builders typically offer warranties for brand-new houses.
  • Home warranty policies can be bought for resale houses as well.

Still, no house is perfect, and none of those protections is a guarantee against the risk that any house could wear out, fall apart or break down in myriad ways after it's bought. In fact, all houses suffer wear, tear and damage over time.

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Anxious about getting a mortgage?

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Let's be frank: It's not easy to get a home mortgage. Nor is it impossible. In fact, millions of people apply for and obtain a new mortgage every year.

If you want to get a mortgage but you're anxious about the process, you might want to start with online research and self-education.

Online is where most people begin, according to research from the National Association of Realtors, or NAR. Researching online can help you get comfortable with the process and find professionals to contact.

Eventually, you'll have to reach out to a live person to move forward. As Ken Pozek, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Northville, Mich., says, "You can't figure out everything using an app.

"Until you talk to someone who's very knowledgeable, you might forget to ask about private mortgage (insurance), homeowner association dues -- there are so many little idiosyncrasies. It's the mortgage professional's job to walk you through that," Pozek says.

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One-year plan for would-be home buyers

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

It's never too soon to start planning ahead if you hope to buy your first home within the next year.

That's the key message that real estate and mortgage brokers say prospective first-time homebuyers should take away from any preliminary thoughts or discussions about buying.

Variables like loan qualifying guidelines, interest rates and house prices aren't within your control and might change before you're ready to move forward. But it's still smart to start educating yourself about factors you can control, such as your down payment, credit score and housing needs and wants, as early as possible, says Julie Miller, branch manager at Broadview Mortgage in Tustin, Calif.

"It's important to have a plan in place to ensure you're on the right track for qualifying for a mortgage," Miller says.

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Happening hardscapes: walkways, walls, steps and borders for your yard

By Marcie Geffner - NewHomeSource.com

Whether it’s flagstone, Bluestone, concrete, boulders or other manmade or natural materials, hardscape — as opposed to vegetative landscape — can be an important and impressive element in any homeowner’s yard.

Used for walkways, steps, retaining walls, borders or columns, hard materials can create focal points, separate plant beds and wooded areas, surround swimming pools and perform many other functions, says Brent Diemer, owner and president of Everett’s Landscape Management in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Bluestone, Flagstone
Bluestone or flagstone can be a fine choice for a walkway, even though the stones are irregularly shaped and challenging for the installer to form into a defined space.

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6 Signs of a new age in consumer banking

By Marcie Geffner - Bankrate.com

Banking might seem like a staid business in which not much changes over time. But in fact, consumer banking is constantly in motion.

Despite the Great Recession and the period of recovery since then, banks have been in technology transition, boosting and incorporating new high-tech systems to make banking easier for consumers.

Whether it's universal tellers at bank branches, check-deposit services on mobile devices or concerns about the security of debit card transactions, there seems to be something new. Here's a look at the latest banking trends and how they might affect you as a checking or savings account holder.

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First-time buyer's open house guide

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

There’s more to buy your first home than shopping online for mortgage rates. To find the perfect home, you have to log off the computer, get in your car and see homes for yourself.

One way to do that is visiting open houses.

First-time homebuyers might naturally be reluctant to attend an open house held by a Realtor. After all, no one likes to be hassled by a pushy salesperson. But in fact, open houses can be a good opportunity.

As Ken Pozek, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Northville, Mich., explains, "It's a cool idea."

Instead of calling around to find a real estate agent you like, you can go out on your own, see some of the homes that are for sale and meet the agents in person.

"You don't have to be nervous," Pozek says. "It can be fun. If there is a sign there, they want you to go in and they expect you to look around."

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Getting a mortgage more difficult for some

By Marcie Geffner - HSH.com

Consumers have a positive outlook toward housing and the U.S. economy — for the most part.

That’s according to the latest monthly National Housing Survey by Fannie Mae.
Consumers’ outlook has “fluctuated somewhat during the past few months, but the trend for most indicators remains positive overall,” Fannie Mae said in a release.

Here are some of the findings:
- Fifty percent of the respondents said they expected home prices to rise during the next 12 months, a 7-point increase compared with the prior month. Only 38 percent expected prices to stay the same, a drop of 7 percent.

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