Will your home gain value over the next 12 months? Nobody can know for sure, of course, but should recent housing trends continue, there’s concrete cause for optimism.

The housing economy has suffered since 2007, knocking home values down nearly 20% nationwide. And while some areas have fared better as compared to others but, in general, home values are down. 

Mortgage rates are down, too, and that’s good news for buyers in Richmond. The combination of low rates and low prices has led home affordability to an all-time high. As you’ll hear in this 4-minute interview with NBC’s The Today Show, carrying a mortgage costs 25% less per month as compared to just 3 years ago.

Some other notes from the interview include :

  • There are more buyers out looking for homes today, which leads to more sales
  • The housing market is expected to get gradually better, month-by-month, in 2012
  • Foreclosures will continue to be a big part of the housing market

With housing supplies shrinking, buyers throughout Virginia may find their best “deals” today — before the Spring Buying Season begins in February.

However, we can’t forget that housing markets are local — not national. Each town and neighborhood has its own market drivers and prices where you live may have already started to climb.

For accurate, up-to-date data on the housing market, talk with a local real estate agent. 

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FICO recipeWith Halloween behind us, retailers are in the Holiday Spirit. Businesses know that consumers spent a median $556 on holiday gifts last year and they want this year to be just as strong.

That’s why it’s barely November and, already, Black Friday ads clog our mailboxes and the airwaves. Retailers want our dollars and they’re offering great deals to early shoppers.

There’s one discount a smart shopper should think twice, however — the ever-present “Open A Charge Card Today And Save 15%” promotion. In the short-term, deals like this will save money. 

Over the long-term, however, opening a charge card could cost you much, much more — especially if you plan to refinance your home or buy a new one.

Applying for a charge card can lower your credit score up to 85 points.  

According to the myFICO.com website, as a category, “New Credit” accounts for 10% of your 850 possible credit points, comprising the following credit traits :

  • Your number of recently opened accounts
  • Your number of recent credit inquiries
  • Time elapsed since your recent credit inquiries
  • Your proportion of new accounts to all accounts

Each trait is a negative in the FICO-scoring credit algorithm which means that, with each in-store charge card application, your credit score is likely to fall. How far your score will fall depends on the rest of your credit profile.

Meanwhile, low FICO scores correlate to higher loan fees.

Using a real-life example, assuming 20% equity in a home, for either purchase or refinance, look how loan fees for a $200,000 conforming mortgage change by FICO score :

  • 740 FICO : There will be no added loan costs
  • 720 FICO : You’ll have a 0.250% increase in loan costs, or $500
  • 700 FICO : You’ll have a 0.750% increase in loan costs, or $1,500
  • 680 FICO : You’ll have a 1.500% increase in loan costs, or $3,000
  • 660 FICO : You’ll have a 2.500% increase in loan costs, or $5,000

You can see first-hand how expensive low credit score can be — much more costly than the 15% saved at the mall. That’s why people planning to refinance to today’s low rates and soon-to-be Henrico homeowners, shouldn’t rush to save 15% at the register. 

For people in want of a mortgage, high FICO scores are worth protecting.

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Maximizing your home appraisalA home appraisal is an independent opinion of your home’s value, performed by a licensed home appraiser. Appraisals are part of the traditional home purchase process, and lenders require them for most refinances, too.

Appraisers are trained professionals. First, they derive a base for your home’s value based on the recent sales prices of homes that are comparable to yours in terms of bedrooms, bathrooms, style, and square footage.

Then, accounting for features and amenities that make your home different, the appraiser applies “adjustments” to that base value.

This methodology is called the “Sales Comparison” approach and the result is your home’s appraised value.

It’s the most common appraisal method used by lenders.

As a homeowner in Henrico , you can’t affect the sales prices of your home’s comparable properties, but you can help your appraiser understand how your home stands apart from these homes. This, in turn, can affect your home’s adjustments, resulting in a higher appraised value.

With home appraisals, every valuation dollar can matter. With that in mind, here are a few tips for maximizing your home’s appraised value :

  1. Be home for your appraisal so you can answer the appraiser’s question, if there are any.
  2. Mention any new roofing, flooring, HVAC, plumbing, or windows you’ve installed since purchase.
  3. Don’t mention projects or repairs you’re “about to undertake”. Appraisers don’t credit for unfinished projects.
  4. Make minor household fixes prior to the appraisal (e.g.; leaky sink, running toilet, peeling paint). 
  5. Present a tidy home. This can contribute to a higher “overall condition” adjustment.

Lastly, schedule the appraisal for a time that is convenient for your entire household. An appraiser needs to see, measure, and take photos of every room in your home. If a room’s door is closed because of a resting child, for example, the appraiser may need to schedule a second appointment to complete the appraisal, and that can raise your appraisal costs.

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It’s no secret. Rates are low right now. And, it’s not just mortgage rates, either — all types of┬árates are scraping rock-bottom. Borrowing rates, lending rates and savings rates are at or near their all-time lowest levels.

As a homeowner in Midlothian , one way to take capitalize on today’s low rates is to apply to refinance your home. But there are other ways to take advantage, too.

In this 5-minute piece from NBC’s The Today Show, you’ll learn of a half-dozen ways to exploit the current rate environment, including:

  • Refinance a car loan from a high rate to a low rate, for cheap, in an hour
  • Balance transfers between credit cards with teaser rates lasting up to 20 months
  • Move some savings to an “online” bank where savings rates are higher

The interview’s theme is to examine both where you’re spending and saving your money, and make sure you’re doing what’s best for your budget.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has pledged to hold the Fed Funds Rate near 0.000% until at least 2013. So long as the Fed Funds Rate is low, there will be places you can save.

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Last week, the Federal Reserve pledged to leave the Fed Funds Rate near 0.000 percent until at least mid-2013. For credit card holders in Virginia who carry a monthly balance, this is good news. Because of the Fed’s call, credit card rates are unlikely to rise before mid-2013.

But cardholders can save on more than just interest costs, as you’ll learn from this two-and-a-half minute piece with NBC’s The Today Show. In the interview, you’ll hear about “built-in” perks offered by most credit cards and ways by which you can save on everyday goods and services.

For example, did you know your everyday credit card might offer:

  • Travel perks : Automatic trip cancellation protection and car rental insurance.
  • Shopping perks : Discount admission to concerts and museums; free shipping from overseas.
  • Consumer perks : Price protection against a drop in price; insurance against theft; extended warranties.

And it’s not just “high end” cards that offer these options, either. Credit cards of all types do what they can to improve consumer loyalty. Offering free perks is just one way in which they try.

Most credit cards offer websites detailing cardmember perks and benefits. Visit the site of your favorite card and see where you might save on everyday items.

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Plan ahead for Labor Day closingsHome sales have heated up, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

More homes are going under contract this summer than went during the winter or spring seasons. Many of these homes are scheduled for late-August/early-September closings. 

If your home is among them, plan ahead. 

Like for the rest of the U.S. workforce, Labor Day is a popular vacation time in the real estate, title and mortgage industries. Closings come together more slowly when the parties involved are on holiday. In addition, when issues arise, they are often slower to resolve because not everyone is “present”. 

Therefore, if you’re under contract to buy or sell your home, or have a refinance in-process with a lender, get proactive with your home and your loan. Finalize your approval as quickly as possible.

Here are some tips to help your loan clear faster:

  1. Prepay your first year of homeowners insurance, effective your closing date. Provide proof of payment to your lender.
  2. Document and deposit all gifts and retirement withdrawals to be used at your closing as early in the process as possible.
  3. Get Power of Attorney forms signed by all parties, and lender-approved, if applicable.
  4. When your lender makes a paperwork request, fulfill the request within 24 hours.

There are steps you can take to make your closing go more smoothly, too.

First, if your transaction is purchase, don’t leave your walk-through for the last-minute. Schedule it for as early as reasonable. This way, if there’s an issue, there’s ample time to resolve it. Remember, it’s harder to solve problems when one or more parties to the transaction is away on vacation.

Second, if you have planned time off between now and your closing, make it known, and be reachable in the event of emergency by phone, email or both.

Lastly, if possible, avoid scheduling your closing for the Friday before Labor Day or the Tuesday after. Real estate, title and lender offices are notoriously short-staffed and overworked on these two days. Routine tasks take longer than usual.

You can’t stop people from going on vacation, but you can plan for it. It would be foolish not to.

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As home buyers in the Henrico area , we tend to research homes a lot. We look at square footage; at upgrades; at landscaping; at community statistics; and, at every other “number” on which we can get our hands.

But those are just statistics. What about the home’s “feel”? 

In this 5-minute piece from NBC’s The Today Show, you’ll learn a dozen complementary home-shopping techniques to help you review and evaluate a home for purchase. Each is focused on findings you won’t see listed on a website.

For example, instead of scheduling your second showing for the same time of day as your first one, revisit a home during an “opposite” time. if you originally saw the home in daylight, go see it at nighttime. If you first saw a home on the weekend, go see it during the work week.

By seeing a home in two distinct settings, you can get a better feel for what the home and neighborhood are really like.

Some of the other tips from the video include:

  1. Visit during Rush Hour and on a Saturday night. This will help you gauge sound levels of the street.
  2. Go to Google Maps and study the aerial shot of the home. What’s nearby?
  3. Talk to neighbors. They’ll share everything about the neighborhood with you — good and bad.

When you buy a home, you committing to more than just the property. You’re committing to the neighborhood, too. Armed with the methods described in this video, you’ll be better prepared to make a good decision.

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Cost of Living varies from town to townIt’s a fact: It’s more expensive to live in some cities than others. Beyond just the costs of buying a home, different cities also carry a different Cost of Living. For households relocating from Virginia and  across state lines, the change in “life costs” can be jarring.

Depending on where you live, everyday expenses — from groceries to gasoline — make a different-sized dent in a household budget. And now you can see in numbers by how much your expenses might change.

Visit Bankrate.com’s Cost of Living Comparison Calculator

The Cost of Living Comparison calculator is as basic as it is thorough. The calculator asks just 3 questions —  (1) Where do you live now, (2) To what city are you moving, and (3) What is your salary — and uses your answers to produce a detailed, 60-item cost comparison between the two towns.

The city-to-city cost comparisons include:

  • Dry Cleaning Costs
  • Total Energy Costs
  • Beauty Salon Costs
  • Movie Costs
  • Dentist Visit Costs

The list also features a mortgage rate comparison, and a comparison of local home prices.

The Cost of Living calculator is based on data from the ACCRA. On the ACCRA website, a similar report sells for $5. At Bankrate.com, the information is free.

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