In today’s world of online shopping, it’s easy to find whatever we need just a few clicks away. However, what you may need may already be in your house. With just a few adjustments, some old items in your home may become like new and serve a brand new function. Consider how repurposing can work for you.

Ice Trays
Maybe you finally upgraded your refrigerator, and the new model includes an ice-making function. Now, you have a few ice trays on your hands. These can serve several new purposes. Ice trays are wonderful drawer organizers for small items. They also can serve as wonderful eating trays for small children, separating the food and controlling portion sizes.

Remove the handle from a rake you no longer use, clean the head, and hang it on the wall. It provides a creative way to store necklaces and bracelets so that pieces don’t get tangled. Not a jewelry person? It’s a decorative place to hang baseball hats, kitchen utensils, or even wine glasses.

Some work on the exterior of your home may have resulted in old shutters lying around. Before taking them to the dump, consider hanging one by a door frequently used for entering and exiting your home. With some clothes pins and S hooks, the old shutter can be a new place to keep keys, store outgoing mail, and clip reminders.

The concept of repurposing ladders has been around for some time. Often used as towel or magazine racks, they add a unique feature to a room. With a few additional steps, ladders can also provide two other functions. First, consider using it as a new place to hang damp laundry. Using a saw, size the ladder accordingly, add a coat of paint, and hang it from the ceiling of your laundry room. With hooks fastened to the rungs, you can give your shower curtain rod a break and use this as a place to hang clothes that need time to air dry. Another ladder option includes hanging it horizontal on the wall and using it as a book shelf. Either leave the weathered look or give it a nice coat of paint.

Similar functions that people use for ladders can be applied to cribs. If your children have outgrown their cribs and you aren’t quite ready to give them away (the cribs, not the children), then you can use the railing as a rack for magazines, towels, or blankets. The railing can be used like this for as long as you need it or until it is needed as a crib again.

Did the glass break in your favorite frame? If another pane of glass is not available for replacement and you want to keep the frame, use picture wire to hang across the frame, attaching at the back. With several rows of wire, you have a beautiful place to showcase and store your earrings.

Our society is one of convenience and immediacy. Now, more than ever, it is important to think of ways we can repurpose what is around us so that we do everything we can to help lessen our individual carbon footprint. It’s earth friendly and also can add unique and functional touches to your home!

Budgeting and Planning a Renovation

Is your home a little…tired? Are you house-hunting and finding properties you love except…they need some work? The solution is renovation. If you want to improve your current home, you probably already have ideas, from the important-but-mundane (new roof) to the more-frivolous-but-fulfilling (spa bathroom). If you are buying a home, the home inspection will reveal the necessities and your own taste will tell you if the bathroom needs an upgrade. Now, how do you decide what to do, set a budget, and pay for it? Here are your next steps for planning and budgeting a renovation.

Need or Want? There will be things you’ll need to address (leaky roof, broken entry steps), and things you want to have (luxury fixtures in a new master bathroom, professional kitchen). The needs, as unexciting as they may be, must take priority. If you don’t replace the roof, the leaks will ruin your hardwood floors.

Return On Investment. As you consider your remodeling budget and what splurges to add, consider whether they are worth it. Certain projects may add value to your home (although you are unlikely to recoup your entire expenditure), others will not. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add an outdoor kitchen, but you need to realize it’s not going to pay for itself when you sell.

Keep Track. Budgeting means planning and tracking. You can go old school with paper, put a spreadsheet template on your computer (scroll down on the template website to see the examples), or choose an app for your phone. Whatever method you choose, the key to success is to be thorough and keep it up-to-date.

How To Budget. Now that you have your priorities in mind, you need to start budgeting. Begin with a rough idea of what your renovation will cost. Talk to designers (free consultations are usually available at home improvement stores), search online, and ask friends who’ve remodeled recently. Get estimates for roofing and exterior work, like stucco or siding. Don’t forget to include the cost of demolition and waste removal. Plug the numbers into your spreadsheet, and add 20% for unexpected items. Your priorities will probably change as you see the costs, so start replacing ballpark figures with actual prices, always keeping the additional 20%. Be as detailed as possible. When you ask for quotes from contractors, you need to know exactly what you want, down to the kitchen tile and bathroom faucet.

Beware The Scope Creep. Most people who’ve remodeled have experienced the urge to say, “as long as we’re doing this, let’s add that.” Don’t do it. Expanding the scope of work will blow your budget, extend the length of time your home is under construction, and add stress to an already stressful process. If you start with a half-bath renovation, end up living in the garage for several months with your two teenage daughters and a fridge and microwave for a kitchen, you may have gone too far.

Do It Yourself. Depending on the project, and your skill set, you may be able to do some of the renovation and save money. Leave certain work, like electrical and plumbing, to licensed professionals. Even demolishing an interior wall comes with dangers (oops – was that the HVAC duct I just broke?). However, if you are taking out a refi renovation loan, or purchase + renovation loan, you cannot DIY.

Pay For It. As mentioned above, there are loans specifically for renovations. You can purchase a home and include the renovation funds in the loan. You can refinance your existing home with a loan for renovations only. These loans have strict requirements, including the amount you can spend on renovations, what items are allowed, who can do the work, and how/when the funds will be disbursed. If you are going to take out a renovation loan, whether purchase or refi, it’s critical that you work with a loan originator who understands the programs. At First Choice Loan Services Inc., we not only have experienced mortgage loan originators, we also have a dedicated in-house renovation team to handle your renovation loan.

Ready to make a good home better? Call The Crosby Team now to get your financing in order and start planning!

Joe Baio
Senior Vice President, Collateral Services

Handling Robocalls

It happens to me no less than three times a day. The phone rings. I hope it’s a friend inviting me to a fun event or even a family member calling with good news. But, no. More times than not, it’s a solicitor. The messages range from offering a different insurance plan to applying for a new credit card to warning that the IRS , but the voice is often recorded. It seems even if you do press the button to be removed, the calls continue. In today’s age of technology, our cell phone numbers are easy to find, and that makes us all vulnerable to these types of calls. What is the best approach to handling robocalls?

According to NBC News, 5.2 billion calls were placed to phone numbers in the United States in March of 2019; that’s an increase from 2.5 billion from three years ago. The Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Program receives around 500,000 complaints a month regarding these unwelcomed calls.

The good news is that efforts are being made by the U.S. Senate through the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act to prevent criminal use of robocalling. The act would require the adoption of a call authentication system called “STIR/SHAKEN.” STIR is an acronym for “Secure Telephone Identity Revisited,” while SHAKEN stands for “Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs.” It will help ensure caller ID is accurate, promote cooperation between agencies to address the problem, and expand powers to enforce civil penalties on violators.

In the meantime, if you find them as annoying as I do, here are tips for handling robocalls.

Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry. This submits the request for your mobile or landline to be removed from companies’ call roster. This can reduce the amount of calls you receive from robocallers and telemarketers, but it will not stop them entirely. This will not prevent you being contacted by city services including weather warnings and/or school closings, organizations and businesses with whom you have or had a relationship, or tax-exempt, non-profit organizations.

Many phone providers have launched services of their own to help protect their customers from falling victim to robocall scams. Some of these programs are free while others might add a few more dollars to your monthly bill for a stronger blocking system. For example, Verizon provides Premium Caller ID for $3 per month. T-Mobile supports a service at no additional charge. AT&T offers Call Protect Plus for an additional $4 per month. According to a study by Mind Commerce, these systems vary in accuracy ranging in success of 93% of the time for Verizon to 86% of the time for AT&T.

As with anything, there’s an app for this. Free apps including Hiya, Mr. Number, RoboKiller, and YouMail provide alerts for robocalls. For a couple of dollars a month, Nomorobo offers the same. Because each system works differently in terms of accessing your contact information, you’ll want to review the privacy policy of the one you choose before using it.

Most phone companies and/or smart phone settings include a feature that allows you to automatically reject incoming calls identified as anonymous. In addition, these calls will not have the ability to leave a voicemail. It is good to note that any personal friend, family member or important business will also be rejected if they call in from a number marked as anonymous. This may cause you to miss important calls.

Hang up. Just hang up. If it’s a recording, you’re not hurting the machine’s feelings. If you’re somehow transferred to a person, in my experience, they stick to their script and don’t acknowledge my voice. A simple hang up will do the trick. You can also go into your call history and block the number. Likely, the system will use a different phone number in your caller ID, but that at least will remove one more they can use.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to avoid robocalls completely… other than not owning a phone. My addiction to Candy Crush won’t allow me to give up my phone, so for the time being, I’m going to rely on the methods above.

Chad Peterson
Senior Vice President, Communications

June 2019 Housing Market Recap

After a promising increase in May, existing home sales dropped as reflected in the June 2019 Housing Market Recap. While two regions saw small gains in sales, they were more than offset by losses in the other two regions. Of course, prices aren’t slowing down. The median sales price for existing homes hit an all-time high. The pace of sales slowed very slightly from both the previous month and a year ago. Finally, lack of inventory is still the story, with no relief in sight.

June existing home sales fell 1.7 percent from May, and are down 2.2 percent compared to June 2018, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) June Existing Home Sales Report, released July 23rd.

Home prices hit an all-time high. The median price of existing homes sold in June was $285,700, an increase of 4.3 percent from June 2018 ($273,800). We’ve now reached 88 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) increased slightly from May, moving from 26 to 27. A year ago, homes typically stayed on the market for 26 days. To look at it another way, 56 percent of homes sold within a month of being listed for sale. This housing market continues to move at lightning speed.

Inventory increased slightly from May to June, and year-over-year, but not enough to mark a shift from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. At the current sales rate the supply of unsold inventory was 4.4 months, up from 4.3 months a year ago. (NAR consider 6 months of inventory a balanced market.)

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun pointed out that low inventory is (still) a major problem. “Home sales are running at a pace similar to 2015 levels – even with exceptionally low mortgage rates, a record number of jobs and a record high net worth in the country,” said Yun. “Imbalance persists for mid-to-lower priced homes with solid demand and insufficient supply, which is consequently pushing up home prices.”

Regions: Prices up, sales mixed. Comparing June to May, sales rose 1.6 percent in the Midwest, and 1.5 percent in the Northeast, but fell 3.5 percent in West and 3.4 percent in the South. The Midwest led year-over-year price increases at 6.7 percent, followed by the South at 4.9 percent, the Northeast at 4.8 percent, and the West at 2.3 percent.

Buying now? You may feel like you’ve no sooner seen a new listing online than it’s under contract. Improve your chances by following these steps. First, line up your financing (with a First Choice Loan Services Inc. mortgage loan originator, of course!). Next, work with a trusted Realtor® who knows the neighborhoods that interest you. Finally, be flexible. Broaden your search area and look at homes that need some work. At First Choice, we have purchase + renovation loans that allow you to finance the remodeling with your purchase so you only take out one loan and close one time, saving you time and money. Be patient, be persistent, and don’t give up. Your home is out there.

Fast Ways to Add Curb Appeal

When it’s time to sell, you’ll want to make your home as attractive as possible. Sparkling clean? Check. All appliances and systems working? Check. Clutter tamed? Check. Staged (if your Realtor® advises it)? Check. That takes care of the inside, but what about the outside? Those critical first seconds when a prospective buyer sees the exterior of you home, whether online or in person, can make the difference between an interested buyer and a pass. To increase buyer interest, you need to bump up your curb appeal. Here are ideas for fast ways to add curb appeal that don’t take a lot of time or money.

First Impressions. Realtors know that if buyers don’t like the look of a home in a photo or on a driving tour, they won’t want to look inside. Even in this red-hot market, buyers will be reluctant to view a home that doesn’t meet their initial expectations. It may be a cliché, but you only have one chance to make a first impression. Make it a good one.

The Basics. Let’s start with the minimum. Think clean, think tidy, think well maintained. Your home should tell buyers at first glance that you have cared for it and it’s in good condition. Start by standing outside, across the street or on the sidewalk. Pretend you’re a buyer and you’ve never seen the home before. What do you see? Unless your home was just featured as an “after” on an HGTV remodeling show, you’ll have work to do. Mow the lawn, trim overgrown shrubs, sweep paths and the driveway. Better yet, wash the sidewalk, paths and driveway. When was the last time you cleaned the windows? Do them yourself, or pay for professional cleaners. If the house exterior is dirty, you can try a power washer, but be careful to avoid areas you could damage, like windows or doors. Don’t forget to declutter. Put the bikes and toys away, get rid of any broken pots you’ve been saving “just in case,” and coil the hose neatly or hide it in a hose pot or storage box.

Dig Deeper. Dead flowers and sickly bushes are not appealing. Be ruthless. Rip them out and plant something new and colorful. Yes, buyers will see that you have done some yard renewal, but that’s a positive. You’ve done the work so they won’t have to! No need to go overboard, but a few well-placed shrubs or a new tree will be attractive without breaking the bank. Be sure to weed and mulch your flowerbeds, too. If the lawn looks patchy, consult your garden center about ways to re-seed.

A Lick Of Paint. Paint is an inexpensive way to give your home a fresh face. Start with the front door and entryway trim. Then consider other accent areas, like windows and trim, or shutters. When you are thinking of colors, look at your home’s style, main body color, and current color trends. For inspiration, visit the ever-popular Houzz website. Remember, if you live in a planned development, check with your homeowners’ association (HOA) for any color restrictions.

Little Things Mean A Lot. A few thoughtful touches can make a tired exterior look appealing. When was the last time you replaced your mailbox? What about your house numbers? Your doormat? Think about making your entry more welcoming with a patio chair (add a bright cushion) and a container or hanging basket of flowers. Check your lighting, too. You don’t have to spend a fortune on exterior light fixtures and they can provide a quick update to your entry.

Now that your home is ready for its close up, don’t skimp on professional photos. Your internet listing is the showcase for that impressively renewed exterior, so be sure the photos are top notch. Happy selling!

James Iley
Executive Vice President | National Production

Wire Fraud Can Steal Your New Home

Fraud takes our money and undermines our trust. Real estate wire fraud targets the transfer of funds in the last stages of a transaction. In the worst-case scenario, wire fraud can steal your home. So if you read nothing else today, please read this: No matter what, your initial wiring instructions for your purchase will not change. If you are provided new instructions, STOP! Wiring instructions do not change during the closing process. Call your mortgage loan originator and/or Realtor® immediately if you receive new wiring instructions. If that got your attention, read on.

A Fool And His Money. You probably know the old saying “A fool and his money are soon parted.” While you may feel foolish if you fall for a scam, realize that fraudsters are incredibly sophisticated in their understanding of one thing: people. They rely on their knowledge of humans and human nature to part you from your valuable personal data and your hard-earned dollars. Hackers know that people aren’t as careful as they should be when they set passwords. Phone scammers know how to play on your fears. Real estate wire fraudsters rely on bogus emails and exact timing to take advantage of you in an unfamiliar and stressful situation.

Why Wire Fraud? Broadly defined, wire fraud is a scheme to obtain money on false pretenses using electronic means. So why do fraudsters target wire transfers? Here’s another saying, this one attributed to bank robber Willie Sutton (although he may never have said it). When asked why he robbed banks, Sutton was said to have replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Consider this. Globally, electronic funds transfers are in the quadrillions of dollars annually. I can’t even imagine what one quadrillion looks like, but if you want to steal money, that’s a very tempting target.

What Just Happened? You’re getting close to your closing. You know you are going to wire funds to the title and escrow company’s trust account, where the money will be secure until it’s time to disburse it according to the closing instructions. An email arrives from the title and escrow company with updated wire transfer instructions. You arrange for the transfer and check another item off your long to do list. The next day, or the day after that, the title company contacts you with a reminder to wire your funds. What? A quick conversation reveals that the money never arrived. You review the wire instructions with them and realize that your money went to an unknown account and the instructions came from a fraudulent email address. By now, your funds are probably gone forever, transferred out of the false account immediately after they arrived. Let’s back up and see how it was set up.

How It Works. The Multiple Listing Service (MLS), Zillow, Redfin and other real estate services are one prime starting point. It’s not difficult to obtain the listing agent’s email address, or see when the home goes under contract. A hacker can break into the agent’s email account and find out who’s involved in a transaction. Fraudsters then try phishing to gain personal information about the buyer, seller or title and escrow company. Because real estate transactions involve multiple parties, each of whom has an email address, that are multiple targets to attack. Scammers send emails that appear to come from a legitimate source, but the email address will be one letter or number off the real one. They request information, or send fraudulent instructions, and suddenly the transaction is compromised. Read a real-life example here.

Protect Yourself. Saving yourself from wire transfer fraud starts at the beginning of your transaction. You are going to receive and send so many emails and phone calls that they’ll become routine and you’ll assume that they are legitimate. Don’t. That’s exactly what the fraudster relies on. Check email addresses carefully. Look for anything in an email that seems off. Don’t trust that a call is really from your bank or the title and escrow company. If they call you, hang up and call them back using a number you know is legitimate.

Never accept wire instructions via standard or unencrypted email or telephone. Even if a fraudster has obtained information to disrupt your transaction, there is one very important thing you can do. Never take instructions for a wire transfer via unsecure email or phone. At First Choice Loan Services Inc., our Closers only provide documentation through a secure portal, where the borrower is required to login to retrieve the documents and information. We prefer working with title agents who do the same. For your protection and to safeguard your personal information, never accept changes to wiring instructions via email or telephone. ALWAYS CALL YOUR LENDER TO VERIFY.

Jerra Ryan
Senior Vice President, Compliance

Building a Green Home

If you plan to build a green home, energy efficiency will be high on your list of requirements. However, there’s more to green building that the cost of heating, cooling and Energy Star appliances. (Although all three are important!) Building a green home takes into account the entire life of the structure, from planning to demolition, and places the health of the occupants as a prime concern.

Location, Location, Location. It’s not just how you build; it’s where you build. The site will have a major impact on the success of your green home. A west-facing home on an exposed hilltop will suffer from direct sun on hot afternoons and cold winds in winter and spring, raising energy use. If you have to drive 30 miles each way to buy a carton of milk (whether almond, dairy, or oat), your trip cost (money and pollution) will factor into your overall environmental impact. Finally, how will your home fit into the landscape? A home that works with its location will be more successful. A Cape Cod isn’t suited to the desert, and a flat-roofed adobe won’t stand up to a New England winter. There will always be trade-offs, but think carefully about your site before you buy.

Right size. How much house do you need? Not everyone can be comfortable in a tiny home, but a smaller house used efficiently will result in a smaller carbon footprint. Make rooms do double-duty. A modern version of the Murphy Bed will drop down from a stylish wall unit to turn your home office or craft room into temporary guest quarters. If you don’t want or need a formal living or dining room, create a great room that includes spaces for cozy conversations and family dinners. Think about how you really live and how much space you need.

Building Materials. Green homes use natural, non-toxic materials. They may be sourced locally (stone), be renewable (bamboo flooring), or be recycled (old wood). Materials may include non-toxic paints and finishes, wool carpet, and natural fiber insulation. While it would be ideal to use only green materials, you will need to balance cost, availability, and cost-effectiveness. Green building may not be more expensive in the long run, but you will need to look beyond your construction costs to get the full picture.

A Room With A View. One of the biggest energy wasters? Windows. Apparently, the U.S. is coming late to the party for high-performance windows. Our friends in Europe have been creating extremely efficient windows that not only keep their homes warmer/cooler, but also offer ventilation options for cleaner air and reduced moisture build-up. You can install the most energy efficient HVAC system possible, but if your windows aren’t effective, you’re wasting your money. In fact, you may be able to save on mechanical systems by spending more on your windows.

Find Your Builder Or Your Home. For any construction project, you need to make sure you are working with someone who is properly licensed and insured. Beyond that, you’ll need to find a contractor with knowledge of green building materials and techniques. While there is no one central licensing body, there are several independent associations you can check. If you aren’t going to do a custom build, look for Energy Star Certified homes and builders.

Ready to go green? You and your mother (Earth) will breathe easier.

Joe Baio
Senior Vice President, Collateral Services

May 2019 Housing Market Recap

After two months of sales declines, existing home sales rose, as reflected in the May 2019 Housing Market Recap. All regions saw sales gains, with the Northeast leading the charge. Prices increased yet again, while the pace of sales dropped slightly from the previous month. Although inventory rose, it remains near historic lows and continues to dominate the market narrative.

May existing home sales rose 2.5 percent from April, but are down 1.1 percent compared to May 2018, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) May Existing Home Sales Report, released June 21st.

Inventory increased from April to May, and was up year-over-year. At the current sales rate the supply of unsold inventory was 4.3 months, up from 4.2 months a year ago.

Home prices continued to increase year-over-year. The median price of existing homes sold in May was $277,700, an increase of 4.8 percent from May 2018 ($265,100). We’ve now reached 87 consecutive months of year-over-year increases.

Days on the market (DOM) increased slightly from April, moving from 24 to 26. A year ago, homes also typically stayed on the market for 26 days. The small increase in month-to-month DOM has little impact on the speed of the market. It’s still moving fast!

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun considers low inventory an ongoing problem and thinks that an increase in new construction is critical. “More new homes need to be built,” he said. “Otherwise, we risk worsening the housing shortage, and an increasingly number of middle-class families will be unable to achieve homeownership.”

Regions: Sales and prices rise. Comparing May to April, sales rose 4.7 percent in the Northeast, 3.4 percent in the Midwest, and 1.8 percent in both the South and West. The Northeast also led year-over-year price increases at 6.6 percent, followed by Midwest at 5.6 percent, the West at 4.1 percent, and the South at 3.6 percent. Rochester, NY, took top honors this month on the hottest metro areas list (days on the market/listing views per property). The rest of the May Top 10 were Fort Wayne, IN, Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH, Midland, TX, Columbus, OH, Manchester-Nashua, NH, Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA, Yuba City, CA, and Pueblo, CO.

Low Inventory Is The Never-Ending Story. If you’re selling, you’re in good shape (as long as you have a place to move!). If you’re buying, it may feel like you’re running a marathon. Or maybe a series of sprints. Get a fast start by finding out how much home you can afford, and then learning what loan options are available to you. Talk to The Crosby Team at First Choice Loan Services Inc.. Every journey starts with a single step, including your journey to a new home.

Timothy M. Sheahan, Jr.
Executive Vice President | Secondary Marketing

Best of Your Backyard


June 21 marks the first day of summer. There’s no better season to make the best of your backyard. Here are a few ways to make this area of your home your new favorite place to entertain (with only a little labor required)!

Design Your Own Putt-Putt Course:
This is a great summer project for the whole family. The course can be as involved or as easy as your time allows. Brainstorm with your family what the theme of each of the 18 holes could be. Twisted pool noodles creating a spaghetti-themed hold, stuffed animals creating a jungle themed-hole, and the traditional windmill are all great places to start. Take a trip to a craft store like Michael’s or a party store like Party City and shop for items to build your course. Not all items need to be purchased. Leftover materials from other projects are all over the house; items like wood, wrapping paper rolls, baking tins can all be put to good use. Decide what to set as the par for each hole. Invite other families to join in and create their own portion of the course.

Twister With A Twist:
Grab some cans of spray paint and create your own Twister board. Recreate the Twister game by spraying rows of the colored dots on your grass. To help your dots be more precise, cut a circle into a cardboard box for a user-friendly template. Use the spinner from the actual game or create your own (like spin the bottle). It’ll add a nice twist to the game and a soft place to fall.

Words With Friends, Backyard Edition:
Create large letter tiles out of poster board. Include the points given in Scrabble or Words with Friends. Be as creative with the look of the lettering as you want. Your entire backyard can be your board. If it’s a windy day, be sure to have ways to weight or stake your tiles into the ground.

Create Your Own S’More:
We all know the standard s’more: marshmallow, chocolate and graham cracker. Offer options to create and name a customized s’more. Set out marshmallows of different sizes and different colors. Give choices of white, dark and milk chocolate. Consider graham crackers other than the first that comes to mind; flavors options include vanilla, honey, cinnamon, and chocolate. Think outside the box for extra, finishing touches like sprinkles, pretzels, or bacon (yes, we said bacon). Have sticks ready for the cooking and comfortable sitting around the fire pit for the creative cooking to begin.

Oldies but Goodies:
We’ve shared these ideas once before but they’re worth sharing again:

Create A Drive-In.
If there’s not a traditional drive-in nearby, create one in your own backyard. Spend some time in the afternoon making your own cars out of cardboard boxes and have them frame your comfortable launch chair. Projection systems are more affordable than ever before. Hang up a white sheet on the side of the house or between trees, invest in an inflatable screen or purchase a portal screen. Vote on a family favorite or select a movie new to your family and hit play. Remember the popcorn!

Camp Out.
No need to venture deep into the forest for a camping adventure. Bring out your sleeping bags, pop up a tent, and get ready for a night under the stars. Build a fire or use a grill for dinner and (more importantly) s’mores. Be sure to have playing cards, games and ghost stories ready. Best part: indoor plumbing easily available! If glamping is more your style, set out some rugs, a sofa or chair, and an air mattress to make the backyard even more comfortable.

One last reminder: because these activities will encourage the party to continue after dark, remember to hang market or string or Christmas lights in your trees. It’ll had a nice, festive, welcoming touch.

Enjoy all that your backyard offers!

Chad Peterson
Senior Vice President, Communications

7 Things Not to do Before Buying a Home

All the signs may be pointing to yes. Everything in your life may be in line and in favor of you purchasing a home. Even though you may see a lot of green lights to move forward, there are a few stop signs that are good to recognize and listen to. The home buying process can be filled with a lot of fun “yeses,” but there are a few “noes” as well. Here are 7 things not to do before buying a home.

Don’t Change Jobs.
You may get an exciting, new job offer. It may provide you the opportunity to exit a job you aren’t thrilled about and enter a field that better matches your passion. If your new employer really wants you, though, they’ll be willing to wait until after you close on your home. Switching to a new job can demonstrate financial instability to a lender, and that can cause them concern. Your lender will like to see a consistent and steady employment history. Even if the professional move is your decision, that may not be reflected in the information they review. Hold off on a job change until after you have the house keys in hand.

Don’t Change Banks.
The same emphasis on financial stability applies to changing banks. Changing your banking account from one institution to another while going through the pre-approval process can have an impact on your ability to qualify for the home loan. Your current bank may have angered you. You may want to move to a local bank in your new town. There may be an outstanding offer at a different financial institution. Whatever may motivate to move your account, wait to change your bank until the closing process is complete.

Don’t Make a Major Purchase.
Moving to a new home and/or a new town can make you aware of purchases you need to make. Some are relatively small and insignificant. Others, however, may be larger. Washer/dryer, refrigerator, furniture, or a car… there are some big-ticket items you may find that you need for the new chapter in your life. While you are applying for your home loan and until the transaction closes, it’s best to wait to make these purchases. Part of the lender’s job when processing your application is to determine how responsible you are with your available credit. Incurring additional debt during the time you’re being evaluated for your mortgage could increase your debt-to-income ratio and work against your ability to qualify.

Don’t Fall Behind on Payments.
The fun part of being an adult: you get to set your own bedtime. The not-so-fun part of being an adult: bills. Whether credit card statements, student loans, car payments, or utilities, your monthly budget includes bills. To help ensure your credit score is not negatively impacted, pay your bills on time. The benefit of living in a technology-driven world is that you can often set automatic withdrawals for your regular payments. If that is not an option, set a reminder on your smart phone or regularly-used calendar that will alert you that a payment is due. Falling behind on payments could affect your credit score enough to make a difference on if you qualify for your mortgage or not.

Don’t Co-Sign on Someone Else’s Loan
They may be your brother, your mother, one of your children, or your favorite great aunt, but while you are going through the home loan process, do not co-sign on someone else’s loan. It will seem like a good deed, but while hoping to qualify for a mortgage, it’s likely to be detrimental. Even though you do not appear as the primary person on the loan, when you co-sign, you are still financially obligated for the loan, and it will appear on your credit report. Feel free to help out someone in this way after you’ve closed on your loan.

Don’t Make Large Withdrawals and/or Deposits.
Suggesting that you not make large withdrawals while purchasing one of the largest financial investments of your life may seem like a no-brainer, but no large deposits too? To which we say, “No large deposits too.” Mortgage lenders like to see that the money on which they are determining your eligibility to qualify is “seasoned,” meaning that it has been in your accounts for at least two months. It demonstrates financial stability and your ability to cover your mortgage payments. Recent large deposits can raise red flags and raise questions of fraud.

Don’t Open a New Credit Card.
The offers never stop coming, and you may be tempted, but even if you are offered a credit card with 0 percent interest or 0 payments for a certain amount of time, turn them down. While something like a $600 stove for 0 percent interest or 0 payments for 6 months could derail the purchase of the home. Additionally, you want to avoid inquiries into your credit. When a mortgage lender sees credit inquiries, it can assume you’re working to take on more debt, even if that is not the case. It’s best not to do anything like this that could put a “ding” in your current credit situation.

We want your mortgage journey to be smooth and seamless as possible. Avoiding the above potential pitfalls can help you soon say the words you’ve dreamed of saying, “I am a homeowner!”

Matthew Martin
Senior Vice President | National Production