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Category: Home Buying

9 Things I Wish I Had Known About Owning My First Home (Before I Bought It)

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Years before I ever dreamed of homeownership for myself, I was an HGTV connoisseur. In college, I double majored in “Property Virgins” and “House Hunters” and spent hours glued to the TV with my roommate, ogling other people’s granite countertops.

Fast forward nearly a decade, and the time had arrived for me to purchase my own home. (No granite countertops here—my house was more like the “before” scene in an episode of “Fixer Upper”).

Not surprisingly, TV homeownership didn’t prepare me for the real thing. There are lots of lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way.

If you’re gearing up for your own journey into homeownership, turn off the TV and gather ’round. I’ll fill you in on a few things I wish I had known beforehand, and a few surprises (some happy, some frustrating) that I encountered along the way.

1. A beautiful yard takes work

That lawn’s not going ti cut itself

mustafagull/iStock

I never met a succulent that I didn’t kill. Even my fake plants are looking a little wilted right now. But even though I don’t have a green thumb, landscaping and yard maintenance are forever on my to-do list.

Each spring, I spray Roundup with impunity, attempting (and failing) to conquer the weeds. My husband handles mowing and edging.

I’ve slowly started to learn which plants can endure abuse, neglect, and a volatile Midwestern climate. I still have a long way to go in my landscaping journey, but all this work has given me a new appreciation for other people’s lush, beautiful lawns.

When you’re house hunting, keep in mind that those beautiful lawns you see—and that outdoor space you covet—come at a steep price. Either your time and frustration, or a hefty bill for professional landscapers, will be necessary to keep things presentable.

2. You might get a bill for neighborhood improvements

Your property taxes should pay for every improvement to the neighborhood, right? Not necessarily.

When my neighbors came together to petition the city for a speed bump on our busy street, the cost was passed on to us homeowners. It wasn’t covered by property taxes, so we got a bill in the mail a few months later. Surprise!

When you’re preparing to buy a house, make sure you budget for homeownership expenses—not just repair and HOA costs, but those pesky fees that crop up when you least expect them.

3. Brush/trash removal? It works differently in every city

You might not be able to just leave your leaves on the curb…

Instants/iStock

As a kid, I spent many fall weekends scooping leaves into yard waste bags that we left on the curb for pickup. But when I became a homeowner, I realized that my early brush with brush removal was unique to the suburb where I grew up. Every city handles it differently, if the city handles it at all.

In Milwaukee, where I live, homeowners can put leaves on the curb for pickup on designated days. For big branches, you need to request a pickup, or potentially dispose of them yourself. Check with your city to find the ordinances and regulations where you live.

4. You’ll want to clean (or hire someone to clean) your nasty windows

Window maintenance was never on my radar as a renter, probably because I never had more than a few windows in an apartment. But then I became the proud owner of many, many windows—and all of them were coated in a thick film of gunk after years of neglect.

After we moved in, I started to tackle the cleaning on my own. But I quickly realized I was getting nowhere fast, and there was no way I could safely clean the exterior windows up in the finished attic.

So, I swallowed my pride and hired window washers. It was some of the best money I’ve ever spent.

5. You may feel a sudden urge to stock up on seasonal decorations

I never looked twice at a $50 wreath or decorative gourd before becoming a homeowner. Now, I have a burgeoning collection of lawn ornaments in the shape of snowmen and spooky cats. Sometimes I don’t even know who I am anymore.

6. You’ll need to create a budget for Halloween candy

Stock up…

leekris/iStock

At least I did in my Halloween-loving neighborhood, where the trick-or-treaters come out in droves.

I spent upward of $100 on candy my first year as a homeowner, and most of it was purchased in a panic at the Dollar Store after I noticed that our supply was dangerously low just halfway through the evening.

Now, I stock up in advance and shop with coupons to save a few bucks.

7. DIY renovation is equally rewarding and soul-crushing

Maybe just call someone next time…

neirfy/iStock

For the first few months after we closed on our house, my husband and I spent every free hour after work and on the weekends ripping out carpeting, pulling nails one by one from the hardwood floors, and scrubbing away at generations’ worth of grime in the bathrooms and kitchen. It was some seriously sick stuff.

Being frugal and ambitious means we can accomplish a lot on a small budget. But acting as our own general contractors became a full-time job on top of both of our full-time jobs.

Simple pleasures like “having a social life” or “Friday night with Netflix” became distant memories. It’s easy now to say it was all worth it, but at the time, I daydreamed about winning the lottery and hiring a team of pros to handle our rehab.

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Watch: Here’s How Low You Can Go in Making an Offer on a Home

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8. My impulse to check real estate listings lingered for a while

When I started house hunting, I obsessively searched for new home listings every day, poring over MLS descriptions and swiping through photos. Reaching for my phone to refresh the realtor.com app became muscle memory.

But after we closed on our house, my impulse to follow the market didn’t disappear overnight. Even though I was a homeowner, I also had a phantom limb where “checking the real estate listings” used to be.

A friend of mine put it best when she wrote about the sensation of loss she experienced when she “no longer had an excuse to occupy [her] free time with these real estate apps.” It’s surprisingly challenging to turn off your home-buying brain after months of being on high alert.

9. You’ll never want to go back to sharing walls

I like my neighbors. I like them even more because, for the most part, I can’t hear them. Gone are the days of people above me making bowling sounds late at night.

Now, I enjoy the sweet, sweet silence of detached living—no adjacent neighbors blasting music or loudly quarreling. All the yard work in the world is worth it for this level of quiet.

The post 9 Things I Wish I Had Known About Owning My First Home (Before I Bought It) appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Healthy Food on a Budget

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Mint opinions and text are all mine. 

While I love making healthy recipes, I often get messages from people who think that eating healthy is expensive. To some degree, I can agree with that because in my family of four I can spend over $300a week at the grocery store. It’s important to me to share nutritious and delicious recipes, but I also understand that affordable recipes are just as important so that budget can’t be an excuse to have a fast food diet and skip healthy eating.  It is possible to eat good foods at a low cost- I made this Spaghetti Squash Lasagna for only $15, but it did take some planning and research to be able to prioritize both health and savings in my home.  

To help get you on the right track, here are my top tips about how to eat healthy on a budget: 

1) Set a food budget…and stick to it!

Establishing a budget is usually one of the first steps when it comes to saving money.  You have to have a real sense of what you actually need and compare that to what you actually want to spend.  This is easily done through Mint, a free service that helps track all your finances, helps with budgets and financial goals. Since utilizing the Mint app, I’ve been so much more conscious of my spending- it’s been life-changing actually! I’ve set myself on a budget in groceries, clothing, entertainment and dining. I then made a separate goal with all the money I plan on saving for a family vacations and home improvements.  All I did was connect my accounts and cards, and my spending automatically gets categorized so I can see all that I spend on groceries- and everything else. I even received emails each week to show my spending categorized in a chart, which I can easily compare to the previous week. Once I saw how much I was spending, I knew I had to scale back and be smarter about eating healthy. All this money spent on food could be saved to spend in other categories like a trip to Hawaii!  

That was when I created my food budget.  My goal was to first reduce spending in my groceries category to $200 a week, so I set my amount to spend each month.  After that, each time I went to the grocery store, the transaction would post and automatically show how much of the grocery budget was already spent for that month.  It even lets me know if I’m getting close to my budget for the month and a notification when I go over. Seeing that budget has helped me so much in making sure that I’m not overspending. It’s a great tool and almost like having online partner helping me stick to my budget each month.  

2) Use Seasonal Produce 

There are so many reasons why eating seasonally is better- less impact on the environment, more nutrients, and better taste (to name a few)- but buying produce in season is actually a great way to save money and eat healthy.  You don’t have to spend on foods that are imported from different regions when it’s growing in season. I like to go to farmer’s markets because you can really see what’s growing at the moment, plus you support your local farmers.  I personally like the anticipation of waiting for foods to be in season- especially in the summer months when there are so many delicious fruits available. 

3) Buy in bulk 

Yes, this is the trip to the warehouse.  I know that this may seem like it’s not money-saving when you’re shelling out hundreds of dollars for a cart full of multi-pack foods, but if you play this right, you can save so much per month.  One trick is to see what you find yourself running out of each month. For instance, if you know you make pasta once a week, why buy individual boxes of pasta and sauce when you can buy everything ahead of time and be set for the month?  I would rather be fully stocked than having to take the time to go to the grocery store each week for items that are in my weekly meal plan. Time is money, but when you’re also buying in bulk, the price per ounce is usually a greater idea.  I also find that since I have twin girls who are in a growth spurt, having snacks and fruits readily available is best for them, and buying those ahead of time in bulk saves time, money, and my sanity! 

4) Have a meal plan and grocery list 

I suggest planning out your weekly meals and making a grocery list for it. This not only saves a lot of money, but will also help reduce food waste. Of course leave some wiggle room for those impulse buys and cravings we all have, but it’s still good to come to the grocery store with a plan. It also takes some stress away from the week knowing we have a menu plan for each meal. It is actually very motivating to set a challenge and meet it. When I saw I saved $100 last week I gave myself a mental high five! Setting a goal by putting myself on a budget was actually fun! Who doesn’t love a challenge?  

If you’re looking for recipes to cook at home, I have so many healthy recipes on my blog for all preferences, but I’m really excited to share my Spaghetti Squash Lasagna to help kick you off on your money-saving healthy recipes.  It’s only $15 for 4 servings, and it’s low-carb, gluten-free and keto-friendly so it can fit into many different diet plans.  What I love is that this recipe suits my husband since it’s gluten-free, it fits my diet since it’s low-carb, but it’s so delicious that it doesn’t even matter to my girls! Anything that looks or taste like a noodle and my kids will gobble it up. 

 

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna | MyHealthDish | Mint Blog

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna 

2 spaghetti squash  

1 jar marinara sauce 

4oz mozzarella cheese 

1/2 cup low fat ricotta cheese 

1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese 

1 pound lean ground turkey 

1 tbsp. minced garlic 

1 tsp. of salt 

1 tsp. black pepper 

1 tbsp. olive oil 

 

Instructions: 

With a sharp knife poke a few holes around spaghetti squash.  

In a large pot bring water to a boil and submerge both squashes simmering for 20 minutes. 

Drain and cool for 15 minutes before cutting in half and scooping out seeds. 

With a fork shred squash strings and place in a large bowl. 

In skillet pan heat up oil to medium heat and add garlic and ground turkey. Cook and stir for 7-9 minutes or until turkey is completely cooked. Season with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2. tsp. black pepper.  

Add ground turkey with squash, then marinara, Parmesan cheese, ricotta and remaining salt and pepper. Gently fold and mix.  

Scoop back into halved squash shells and add slice thin mozzarella on top. 

Bake in oven at 350F Degrees for 15 minutes for all the cheese to melt 

 

The post Healthy Food on a Budget appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

‘I Bought This House Based on Listing Photos Alone’: Was It Worth the Risk?

Angela Caban

The coronavirus has galvanized many die-hard city dwellers to pack up and flee for the suburbs or beyond. But how easy is it to pull off such a drastic move during a pandemic?

Just ask Angela Caban, a former Broadway dancer and decorative painter who, after 28 years of living in New York City, reached her breaking point in April. Quarantined in a cramped apartment in Queens, hearing sirens wailing all night, she decided to buy a house in Charleston, SC, an area she’d grown to love during her frequent work trips there over the years.

Yet since Caban was on lockdown in New York, she had to shop for homes remotely and make offers without seeing places in person. Here’s what it was like to buy a house sight unseen, and the lessons she learned that might inspire other longtime urbanites and first-time home buyers to make the leap themselves.

Angela Caban bought this South Carolina home online just from this listing photo.

Southern Bell Living

Location: Hanahan, SC
House specs: 1,804 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, separate barn
List price: $234,000
Price paid: $232,000

How did the pandemic play into your decision to leave NYC?

You give up a lot to live in New York because it has a lot to offer, but when those things go away, you start to question why you’re giving up so much.

Once COVID-19 hit in March, April, and May, I was stuck in my apartment for three months straight with no work. I wasn’t getting unemployment because that hadn’t kicked in. I had no outdoor space to speak of. I just wanted to have some room to roam, be in nature, and not feel desperate. That’s what put me over the edge.

Caban’s old apartment building in Astoria, Queens (She lived on the ground floor to the right of the red awning.)

Google Maps

I felt like no matter how difficult New York had been in the past, this was a whole new ball of wax. I was there for 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. When other tragedies had hit New York City, people were saying, “We’re in this together.”

When COVID-19 hit, all of a sudden there was suspicion. Everybody was frightened of everyone else.

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Watch: Listing Agents Answer Our Burning Questions About the ‘Silence of the Lambs’ House

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The ambulance sirens were nonstop. Plus, my small apartment was directly on the street, with the garbage cans right outside my window. So when I tried to open the windows during the pandemic, there were roaches coming in. I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.”

first time home buyer
Caban’s new living room is almost the size of her old apartment.

Angela Caban

What made you choose Charleston as your new home?

I’d have work meetings down here, and I had fallen in love with the area. I liked the sense of history, the weather. And financially it was doable. My mortgage now is less than half my rent for my tiny apartment in New York City.

Caban’s new spacious kitchen makes her want to cook again.

Angela Caban

How did your house hunt go?

I started looking near the end of April. I put an initial offer in on a house that fell through after the home inspector I’d sent to look at it said it would fall down in two years. Then I was in a panic because I’d already given notice on my New York apartment. So basically I had six weeks total to find another house and close on it. 

Caban loves spending time on her new front and back porches.

Angela Caban

What were your biggest challenges?

There was no inventory. Every house I looked at and said, “Oh, that’s a possibility,” would be gone by the time I called. An hour after being listed, the house would no longer be accepting offers!

How did you find the house you eventually bought?

Lucky for me, this house had been on the market for 60 days. I don’t know if it was because the photos were crappy, or the fact that the neighborhood was considered a little dicey. But I’m from New York, so the neighborhood seemed comfortable to me. I put an offer in within 48 hours of losing the other house. 

Wasn’t it scary to buy a house you hadn’t seen in person?

I was emboldened because I could always back out—you have two weeks to do so when bidding on a house. So I got in the car and drove down to look at it two days after my offer was accepted. I literally did it all in one day; it took me 12 hours to drive down. I saw the house and drove around for about two hours, and then I drove back because I had to start packing! I literally didn’t sleep for 26 hours. It’s probably why I have more gray hair now than I should.

first time home buyer
Caban is happy to have a fireplace to decorate for the holidays.

Angela Caban

How did the house look once you saw it, compared with the photos online?

It was much better than I thought. There is a lot of detailing, dental molding, wainscoting, and paneling in the living room, along with 16 windows that let in a lot of light. Plus, there’s the barn in the back that is another 600 square feet or so. My eventual plan is to make a workshop and a place to make art and teach.

Caban’s Charleston, SC, home has a 600-square-foot barn.

Angela Caban

How was the mortgage process?

It was a nightmare. Nobody wants to give mortgages to a single, female, sole proprietor who does not have pay stubs—especially during COVID-19, when they’re afraid people may default on their loan. They had also enacted new COVID-19 regulations that meant I had a boatload more paperwork. I had to submit letters from clients, proposals for work that was going to happen, invoices for work that I was still waiting to be paid for. … It was insane. I joked with them that I had to give them everything except a bone scan.

Caban’s new bedroom—one of four in her Charleston home

Angela Caban

How did you finally secure the loan?

Thanks to the help of my real estate agent, John Bell of Southern Bell Living, and his mortgage broker, Ethan Lane at Mortgage Network. They were amazing, and I was an absolute basket case: “What else do you want from me? I have no place to go. I’m going to be homeless!”

I look forward to giving them both a hug someday after COVID-19 is under control.

How did you close on the house during the pandemic?

That is a whole additional saga. I was finishing up a painting job in New York when all of a sudden on Friday they said, “You’re closing on Monday,” so I had to get an attorney to attend the closing for me. To get that, I had to get a statement notarized. In the middle of COVID-19! I met the notary on the street, but then I had to have two witnesses! It took me asking 18 strangers to find two people who said they’d help.

Caban painted her new door red and added the bumblebee knocker.

Angela Caban

How did you pull off a move during the pandemic?

I couldn’t get a truck in New York. So I packed my car and drove down to Charleston, where I dropped off my cats in the new house. Then I rented a U-Haul and drove it back to New York, hired two guys who then met me at my old apartment, packed the truck. Drove it back down to South Carolina, where I hired two more guys to help me unload the truck, and voilà.

Caban’s cats adjusting to their new home

Angela Caban

Was leaving New York hard after living there for 28 years?

Leaving was difficult because you almost feel like it’s a badge of honor that you’re a survivor in New York City. But down here, I finally feel like I can actually live my life instead of just trying to make it from one month to the next. I can think big thoughts and make big things happen, for which I simply didn’t have the energy in New York.

A formal dining room is a luxury that few New Yorkers can afford.

Angela Caban

Now that you’ve lived in Charleston for a few months, how are you feeling?

It’s like I can finally breathe, and I absolutely love it. I sit every morning out on my back patio and watch woodpeckers, blue jays, and cardinals. I have roses that are blooming that I planted.

Caban now loves starting her days watching birds on her back patio instead of exterminating roaches in her New York apartment.

Angela Caban

What advice would you give first-time home buyers and others looking to move now?

When you’re looking at homes online, don’t immediately discount a property just by how it looks in its photos. It’s like online dating that way. You need to see how it feels once you’re face to face and interacting with the space. Luckily, though, the minute I saw it in person, I knew I would be very happy here.

first time home buyer
Caban says she can finally breathe since leaving New York.

Angela Caban

The post ‘I Bought This House Based on Listing Photos Alone’: Was It Worth the Risk? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

How To Create A Budget Friendly Spread For Fourth Of July

Nothing says summertime like a BBQ, and getting friends and family together for some food and friends for the Fourth of July is the perfect way to celebrate. I’m usually the host for these get-togethers, and even though I absolutely love having people over, feeding everyone can take a toll on your budget, especially with a big family like mine.

Now that I’ve been using Mint to keep track of expenses, here are some tips on how to have a cost-conscious Fourth of July spread:

1) Declare the BBQ a Potluck.

There’s no secret here: potlucks save money AND time. When you invite your guests to bring dishes to the party, that basically means they’re not only helping out with the food budget, they’re also taking the time to shop for the ingredients and deliver it to your house ready to eat! I would suggest setting some guidelines for your guests so that there is a variety of food in your spread and not just 5 versions of chips and salsa….and that’s it. To divide up the dishes, you could try a few different methods:

  • Assign your guests by categories. If there’s an easy way to divide up your guests, like by their last name, or their birthday month, then you could assign one set of guests appetizers, and another set of guests foods for the grill, for example. For this option, I would suggest asking your guests to confirm their choice with you and even post it on a message board if you are using a website to plan your party, so that you know and your other guests what’s coming and to avoid too much of one type of food.
  • Ask guests to bring specific foods. If your best friend makes the most amazing potato salad, and you need potato salad, ask your best friend to bring potato salad. There’s no need to do all the work when you can tap into the strengths of your guests. For those who are known to shy away from cooking, ask them to bring something simple like a salad or lemonade.

2) Set a food budget….and stick to it!

This tip comes directly from my previous post on Healthy Food on a Budget because it’s also important to serve your guests healthy food and stick to your budget. Just because it’s a party doesn’t mean you should let your health and your money slip up! It’s easy to set up budgets in Mint, like saving for a vacation, but you can also set up smaller budgets like for a summer BBQ celebration. Ideally, since you’re having everyone over for a potluck, this get-together won’t take a huge toll on your wallet, but it’s still important to set limits for what you can spend. I like to make it a fun challenge to see how much money I can save and get the most bang for my buck, while not cutting corners on the quality of food served for my guests.

3) Check out the weekly sales ads.

Don’t throw away those ads because right before Fourth of July, the mail will be filled with sales on foods for entertaining. Gather those ads up to look through what’s on sale for the week and map out your menu from those hot buys. If you have apps for your favorite stores, check those out too because I’ve seen in-app coupons that weren’t in the print ads that have saved me some money. Once you cross-reference the sales and build your shopping list, also plan out where you will shop from. If you have to travel from 2 different stores to save $15 dollars, I think it’s worth it to take the time to shop smart. Sure, it may take an extra 15 minutes, but I can bet that you’ll feel a lot better to have that extra money in your wallet.

4) Pick a dish that saves you money and time.

As the host of the party, you’ll be pretty busy with all the details of the day so your time on the day of the party will be limited. From cleaning up the house to setting up the grill, there’s plenty to do before guests show up. The last thing you want to do is prep a labor-intensive dish when there is so much more on that to-do list. To save money and time, I like to serve up a dessert dish that brings a wow-factor to the party, my Banana Boat S’mores. These delicious treats light up the eyes of all my guests, and if they knew how cost-effective they are, they’d light up even more!

To save money, I like to use fruit for dessert, especially in the summer season, because they’re more affordable, easier to prepare, and most importantly, they’re healthier! Bananas are only 19 cents each, so just make sure to have at least one banana per guest. I also know that marshmallows and Graham crackers are always on sale for $1 around this time of year, so already, this is a dish that costs less than 50 cents per serving.

To save time, I like this dish because you can have your guest prep their own Banana Boat. All you have to do is set up a station of the ingredients and let them make their creation as they please. When you get your guests involved in the food preparation, you’re saving some valuable time on your end, but also your guests are having fun! They’ll leave your party with another recipe under their belt as well, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

5) Buy your food in bulk bins.

Don’t pass up those bulk bins on your shopping trip, because buying from these can be 30-40% cheaper than packaged branded items. For the chocolate, I paid per ounce from the bin instead of buying packages. Since I’m setting up a station for my guests at my own home, I don’t need the packaging or extra chocolate so why should I pay extra for it? Half a pound only costs $2, whereas if I were to buy a bag or a bar it would cost me close to $5.

With these tips on how to have a cost-conscious Fourth of July spread, I hope you can spread out your budget and use some of that money you save on other fun activities this summer!

The post How To Create A Budget Friendly Spread For Fourth Of July appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

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