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To-Dos: Your October Home Checklist

It’s a great time to clean your gutters, swap out seasonal clothes and wallow in favorite fall traditions. What’s on your October list?



With the air turning crisp, leaves falling and farmer’s markets overflowing with squash, gourds, apples and potatoes, October is a time to celebrate the harvest — and button up the home and garden for the winter ahead. From raking leaves to sharpening knives, see which of these 13 to-dos make your list this month.

10-Step Guide to Buying a House


10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoAre You Ready to Become a Homeowner?
Whether you’re becoming a homeowner for the first time or you’re a repeat buyer, buying a house is a financial and emotional decision that requires the experience and support of a team of reliable professionals. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoGet a REALTOR®
In the maze of forms, financing, inspections, marketing, pricing and negotiating, it makes sense to work with professionals who know the community and much more. Those professionals are the local REALTORS® who serve your area.Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoGet a Mortgage Pre-approval
Most first-time buyers need to finance their home purchase, and a consultation with a mortgage lender is a crucial step in the process. Find out how much you can afford before you begin your home search. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoLook at Homes
A quick search on® will bring up thousands of homes for sale.  Educating yourself on your local market and working with an experienced REALTOR® can help you narrow your priorities and make an informed decision about which home to choose. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoChoose a Home
While no one can know for sure what will happen to housing values, if you choose to buy a home that meets your needs and priorities, you’ll be happy living in it for years to come. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoGet Funding
The cost of financing your home purchase is usually greater than the price of the home itself (after interest, closing costs and taxes are added). Get as much information as possible regarding your mortgage options and other costs. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoMake an Offer
While much attention is paid to the asking price of a home, a proposal to buy includes both the price and terms. In some cases, terms can represent thousands of dollars in additional value – or additional costs – for buyers. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoGet Insurance
No sensible car owner would drive without insurance, so it figures that no homeowner should be without insurance, either. Real estate insurance protects owners in the event of catastrophe. If something goes wrong, insurance can be the bargain of a lifetime. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoClosing
The closing process, which in different parts of the country is also known as “settlement” or “escrow”, is increasingly computerized and automated. In practice, closings bring together a variety of parties who are part of the real estate transaction. Read more »



10 Step Guide to Buying a House photoWhat’s Next?
You’ve done it. You’ve looked at properties, made an offer, obtained financing and gone to closing. The home is yours. Is there any more to the home buying process? Whether you’re a first-time buyer or a repeat buyer, you’ll want to take several more steps. Read more »



Courtesy of

Locals Guide: Road Closures And All You Need To Know Surrounding The Upcoming Two Weeks of ACL Music Festival

acl 2014The tell-tale sign of fall has arrived: Zilker Park’s Great Lawn is now closed in preparation for Austin City Limits Music Festival.

Beginning on Monday, the Great Lawn will be closed to visitors until October 26. “This includes 11 days of festival set up, two event weekends, a week to remove staging and at least a week for the annual Parks and Recreation Department’s post-event maintenance,” according to the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

During the festival’s run from October 3-5 and October 10-12, expect area roads to be closed beginning at 12:01 am on the Friday before each weekend and running through the following Monday morning.

The following roads will be closed:

  • Barton Springs Road from Robert E. Lee to Rollingwood Drive
  • Stratford Drive from Barton Springs Road to Nature Center Trail
  • Barton Springs Road/Lou Neff to Stratford Drive (right lane westbound)

The Zilker Botanical Gardens and Austin Nature and Science Center will be closed only on the festival weekends. Barton Springs Pool and the parking lot on Robert E. Lee will remain open for business (or should we say, “swimness”) as usual.

4 things you need before buying a home

home for saleBuying a home can be very exciting. But it can also be scary if you’re not sure if it is the right decision for you and your family. Many factors go into whether it makes more sense to buy or rent.

Here are four things you should have before you take the plunge into homeownership. If you have them, buying may be a smart move.

1. An emergency fund

If you have avoided or paid off debts, your credit is healthy and you are saving for retirement, you may feel good about your financial situation. Before buying a home though, it’s important to go another step further: Focus on building up an emergency savings fund.

While everyone should really have an emergency fund to cover unexpected costs, it’s especially important to homeowners. This should be in addition to the money you plan to use as a down payment. If you have enough liquid cash to cover three to six months of your living expenses, you are much more prepared for homeownership.

This way, in case your steady income is interrupted, you can still afford mortgage payments while you get back on your feet.


2. A proven ability to stick to a budget

A track record of maintaining a budget can be a good sign. Because you already have a budget, try adjusting it to fit your new financial life as a homeowner before you buy. This should include mortgage payment, utility bills, homeowners insurance, property taxes, maintenance and upkeep costs. It’s a good idea to even try living on that new mock budget for a few months. If you can do that comfortably, it may be a good time to buy.


3. A steady income

With mortgages usually 15 to 30 years in length, buying a home is a serious long-term financial decision. When calculating how much house you can afford a consistent income that covers monthly payments and miscellaneous home expenses is important.

You may want to consider your other goals beyond buying a home. This may include how your financial situation will be affected if you plan to go back to school, start a family or change careers in the near future.

It’s important to keep in mind the average time it takes to recoup your buying and selling costs is three to five years. If you sell before then, you risk losing money on the deal, so it’s good to look at buying a home as a long-term commitment.


4. A good credit score

When you go to a lender to apply for a mortgage, they will also look at your credit score in addition to your income. It’s important to know where you stand before you actually apply for the mortgage, since there may be incorrect information on your credit reports that you can correct. And since your credit score will be a major factor in determining not only the interest rate you’ll qualify for, but also whether a lender can even lend to you.



By AJ Smith,

Beat the Competition in Austin’s Market with a Pre-Approved Loan

mortgage appWith the Austin housing market  red hot, you’ll have to compete with other buyers for a home.  But with a pre-approved loan from a lender, you’ll give yourself a head-start in the race for a home you love.  Pre-approval also comes in handy when you’re dipping your toe into the market. Even in a soft market, you’ll have to compete with other buyers if you find a home in excellent condition with an attractive price tag.

What is a pre-approved loan?

Every potential homebuyer should start the process of looking for a home with a visit to a reputable mortgage lender. While a lender can give you a pre-qualification for a home loan based on your credit score and your stated income and assets, a home seller wants to see you’re completely pre-approved for a loan.

To find a lender who will help land your dream home, try a pre-approved loan service like the one featured on the® individual listings page. By checking the box that says, “I want to get pre-approved by a lender” you’ll be connected with up to three lenders right away.

A pre-approval requires complete documentation of your finances. Be prepared to provide these piece of information:

  • A review of your credit report
  • Verification of your income and employment history
  • Bank statements to prove you have the resources for a down payment, closing costs and cash reserves
  • A calculation of your debt-to-income ratio based on your gross monthly income and the minimum payment on all recurring debts

Your lender will review your documents and discuss loan options with you, so you’re prepared to close as quickly as possible once you have a signed contract. The pre-approval will be based on all elements of the home loan other than the specific property you intend to buy.

The lender will tell you the maximum loan amount you can qualify for, but you should also be certain you understand the monthly payments associated with each loan—don’t get in over your head.

After you have a pre-approved loan letter in hand, it’s important to maintain the same credit profile so that you can be certain that your loan approval is valid.

Be sure to keep a paper trail of all unusual deposits and pay your bills on time. Don’t apply for new credit, close any credit cards, or take on new debt—these actions can impact your credit score and force your lender to re-check your credit before closing.

How a pre-approved loan can help you compete

If you’re competing with other buyers, a mortgage pre-approval makes your offer stronger. While many buyers today have a pre-approval handy, you can use yours to win the bidding war by providing a financial statement along with a pre-approval letter from your lender with your offer.

If your pre-approval letter is for an amount above the asking price for the home, this will give the sellers confidence in your ability to easily finalize the loan. You also can ask your lender to call the listing agent directly to emphasize your ability to close the deal and to discuss how quickly the contract can go to settlement.

Most real estate contracts include a contingency: the offer depends on the buyer obtaining financing. If you have a strong pre-approval letter and feel your lender is dependable, you can remove the financing contingency or shorten the contingency term.

Sellers are happy to see an offer without a financing contingency, because it proves the buyer has confidence the loan will close on time. However, waiving this contingency can be risky because if your financing doesn’t come through you could lose your earnest money deposit and even run the risk of being sued by the sellers.

A shorter contingency might be safer and still garner you the attention and confidence of the sellers in a competitive situation.


Six Reasons To Hire An Interior Designer

12milOur homes are our sanctuaries. We want them to be stylish yet comfortable, polished yet functional. And, above all, we want them to reflect our personal styles.

But sometimes even defining a “personal style” can be difficult. We know what we like, but we don’t know how to articulate it to a salesperson. Or, when we do bring home new treasures, we can’t decide how to pull them all together — not only to make our rooms aesthetically pleasing but also to make good use of our spaces.

Thankfully, these are all things a professional interior designer can help us do. And contrary to what you may think, a designer is not a resource that only the wealthy can afford. Designers work within all budgets, and most will take on clients for by-the-hour consultations or small project fees.

And, if you believe Dallas home and design expert Peggy Levinson, a professional designer may even save you money in the long run. Levinson, a former showroom owner herself and current consultant to the local design industry, says whether you need help with space planning, selecting fabrics and furniture, or a game plan for a top-to-bottom refresh, an interior designer is not a luxury but a necessity.

To find a designer, ask your friends — the ones who wised up before you did — for referrals, or turn to your favorite local showrooms and home and design stores for names, because they work with designers all the time. Remember, working with a professional should be a fun and inspiring adventure. If it’s not, find another designer, Levinson says.

With that in mind, here are six reasons why everyone should hire an interior designer:

You will avert at least one very costly mistake.
Imagine this scenario. You see a coffee table in a store, and you know it’ll be just perfect in your living room. So you pay dearly for the table, then pay again to have it delivered. When it arrives, you discover it’s too big and overpowers the space — even though in the store, the size looked just right. Yes, the store will take it back — perhaps for a restocking fee and more delivery charges — and still you don’t have a coffee table. A professional designer understands scale, Levinson says, and could have saved you a whole lot of trouble and money.

A designer sees potential where you don’t.
You know that horrid, orange-ish wood chair your great aunt gave you — the one covered in olive green chenille that smells vaguely of cat pee? An interior designer will see it and swoon, Levinson says, because he or she knows that it just needs a little refinishing and reupholstery to become the chair that everyone raves about — and no one else has. Plus, you get to take the credit for having it in the first place.

There’s a world of design out there that you don’t know you love until you learn about it.
Crusty polychrome finishes, sleek Biedermeier styles, Middle Eastern carved chests — you never know what you like until you are introduced to it, Levinson explains. As a famous designer said, “You don’t know you want a Bentley until you drive one.” A professional opens up the world of design to you.

A designer can help you discover and define your style.
If you happen to love copper pots, then they should be incorporated into your home’s design because it’ll make you happy to look at them. When your friends come over, they should see you reflected in the space. You can steal ideas from a blog post or pick out a whole room setting from a magazine — but that’s someone else’s taste, not yours, Levinson says. Work with a designer to figure out your style.

A designer is also a space planner.
You just found your new favorite chair. But will you have a lamp and table close by so you can truly sit and enjoy it? Is the seating in your living room close enough for comfortable conversation? Does your family room flow into the kitchen, or is there a giant piece of furniture in the way? A designer not only beautifies your space, but also ensures it’s comfortable and suited to your lifestyle.

A designer actually will save you money.
A good interior designer doesn’t just throw out the old and bring in the new, Levinson says. He or she repurposes or moves around your current belongings so you can see your stuff in new ways. Maybe you have a chair hiding in a guest room that belongs in the den. Or perhaps you have a few accessories stashed away in a closet simply because you didn’t know how to display them. A designer can “discover” items in your own house and situate them in a way that makes you love them again.

Here are 10 tips for buying a home in Austin’s hot housing market.

home for saleHire your own broker

Hire a broker who will do the legwork for you in determining what you can afford and then finding great houses in your price range in the neighborhoods you want. You’re going to be paying a broker’s fee in the sales price regardless, so don’t use only the seller’s broker, who legally represents the interests of only the seller. Interview several agents to find the right fit.


Get pre-qualified or pre-approved for financing

In Austin the demand for homes is high and good listings are getting snatched up quickly. Being pre-qualified is a preliminary step that tells the seller that your income and credit has been looked at and, based on what the lender knows from that, you are qualified to purchase a home at a certain price. A pre-approval is generally a more in-depth process and may be a good idea especially if you are self employed. Being pre-approved means that you have a loan already arranged, which will make you one of the best candidates when a seller is selecting among competing buyers.


Be prepared to put 10-20 percent down

Depending on the price and your credit score, that’s the going amount of down payment in cash typically needed for standard mortgages for buying an existing home in Austin. However, if you buy a new home from a builder, they may be able to provide special builder financing for closer to 5 percent down or even less. And the builder may offer some incentives such as paying closing costs or getting you a better interest rate.


Don’t forget to calculate property taxes

As home prices have gone up at unheard of rates in Austin, so too have property tax appraisals, and that translates to significantly higher annual property taxes. Be sure to calculate that into your monthly payment (your Realtor can help do the math), or as an annual payment due at the end of the year on some loans. It can be quite a sticker shock — three times your monthly payment or more.


The appraisal is the key

The mortgage company will not lend you the money unless an appraisal is done that meets the contract price. They will especially look at recent comparable home sales in the immediate area. With increasing home prices in Austin, the “for sale” price on a home may exceed recent comparable sales in the same neighborhood. This is a significant problem in getting loans for houses in the hot local market and may cause the sale to fall through, or you may find yourself renegotiating the price of the home or agreeing to come up with more cash down payment.


Ask about owner financing

If buying a resale home, ask if the owner will “owner finance” a portion of the home price. Many sellers who have lived in their homes for a long time have a considerable amount of equity in their homes due to the recent increase in Austin home prices. If they sell and don’t reinvest their proceeds, they have to pay taxes on a portion of the gain, so the seller might consider financing a portion of the sale price to you.


Make you best offer

It’s not uncommon for a seller to receive multiple offers, some even higher than the original asking price. If you want the house, you probably won’t get a second chance, so make sure your offer is one you’ll feel good about if someone else’s offer is accepted. You don’t want to say, ‘I wish I had’ after another offer has been accepted because by then it is too late.


Buy in a hot neighborhood

This could be the hottest year ever for Austin home sales. Look for the hottest neighborhoods that still have housing availability. Remember, the three rules of real estate are still “location, location, and location,” says Wheeler. There are a number of mid-city neighborhoods that are jumping in popularity because of their close-in locations, access to a growing number of hot restaurants and good neighborhood schools. Your broker can help you find one that’s right for you.


Consider the schools

Even if you don’t have kids, the quality of the schools will make a big difference when it comes time to sell your home. Districts like Lake Travis, Leander, Westlake and Round Rock are standouts, but there are great schools located within all districts. Check out the schools in your target area at


Weigh the costs of owning vs. renting

With Austin’s rapid rise in rental prices, and interest rates on home loans hovering between 4-5 percent, owning can often be cheaper than renting, notes Wheeler. But coming up with a large cash down payment may be intimidating. If there is a good chance that you may be moving out of the area within the next two years, you should probably consider renting. The costs associated with selling your home can be more than you might expect in appreciation even in a normal market.

Tips courtesy of Texas American Title


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