Saving Money On Your Housing
By Chemain Evans
Whether you rent or own the place that you live, chances are pretty good that a large portion of income goes to pay for it. You may find yourself wondering how you can save any more money on your housing. What follow are some ideas to help you save money on renting, buying, or improving your home, as well as purchasing major appliances.
Renting a Place to Live
Rental properties (and rates) can vary widely, even in the same area. Do not limit your rental housing search to classified ads or referrals from friends and acquaintances. Select buildings where you would like to live and contact their building manager or owner to see if anything is available. Remember that signing a lease probably obligates you to make all monthly payments for the term of the agreement. As with most other things, weigh the cost of the rent against other factors, like the area, convenience, access, length of contract, etc.
When purchasing a home you basically have three options-you can use a real estate agent, you can buy a home for sale by the owner, or you can build a new home. Each has its pluses and minuses. A real estate agent can help guide you through the process, and point out good and bad things about the home you are looking to purchase. He/she can help you arrange financing and handle most of the paperwork, as well as arrange for the closing and turning over of the keys, etc. However, you generally (but not always) will pay a higher price because the agent's (usually) 6% commission is figured into the price of the house.
If you choose to use a real estate agent, do not choose the agent who represents the home you are interested in buying. If you do, that agent then has a conflict of interest, representing both buyer and seller, and you generally will pay a higher price. Instead, select a buyer's agent or broker who will represent only you. He/she will be in a better position to negotiate a lower sale price.
Choosing to buy a home for sale by owner may save you money, but will require a lot more time and legwork on your part. You will need to do some research to determine whether or not the home is worth the asking price (information that real estate agents generally have easy access to). You will have to arrange for an appraisal and inspection.
Be sure you fully understand the terms of the seller's agreement before you sign it because you will be legally bound to it. If you are selling your existing home and buying another, make sure the seller's agreement on your new home stipulates that your purchase of that home depends on the sale of your other home. Otherwise you could find yourself making two mortgage payments.
Building a home allows you to get exactly what you want, but beware that not all builders and contractors are the same. Do your homework and get referrals. Check up on them. Building is usually a very lengthy process-be aware that promises to build a home quickly often equate to lesser quality. Finally, also consider that when your house is done, you'll still have all the landscaping to do!
Do not purchase any house until it has been examined by a home inspector that you have selected, preferably one accredited by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Make it a part of your seller's agreement that your purchase of the home is dependent upon the outcome of the inspection. That way you'll be able to legally back out if something is wrong, such as termites, mold, structural issues, etc.
When shopping for a mortgage, look for a lender that carries the smallest difference between the interest rate and the Annual Percentage Rate (APR-what you actually pay when you figure in the effects of all the fees). Close on your home during the last two weeks of the month (if you have to finance it). That way you'll have less interest to prepay, also lowering your closing costs.
Think of maintaining your home as protecting your investment. Home repairs often cost thousands of dollars and are the subject of frequent complaints. Select from among several well-established, licensed contractors who have submitted written, fixed-price bids for the work. Ask for referrals and check on them. Do not sign any contract that requires full payment before satisfactory completion of the work.
If you choose to do the repairs yourself, be sure you know what you're doing. People often meet with injury and even death when trying to do their own repairs. Get appropriate licenses and permits as necessary. Take a look at how doing it yourself might affect the resale value of your home. More than one home's value has been severely decreased by do-it-yourselfers' projects that didn't quite turn out right! Decide if the money you may save is really worth the time and the risk involved.
One of the best ways to find out about major appliances is to consult a consumer information magazine, like Consumer Reports, that is available in most public libraries. It contains information about specific brands and how to evaluate them, including energy use. There are often great price and quality differences among brands. A more expensive, yet more energy-efficient model may pay for the difference in price rather quickly.
Once you've selected a brand, check the phone book to learn what stores carry this brand, then call at least four of these stores for the prices of specific models. After each store has given you a quote, ask if that's the lowest price they can offer you. This comparison shopping can save you as much as $100 or more.
From renting to owning (and everything related) we hope you've been able to glean a few ideas on how to save money on your housing. And, as always, remember that an investment of time on your part can generate more money in your pocketbook.