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Home Maintenance Inside and Out

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Now that you are a home owner, you need to be aware of the upkeep both inside and outside that will maintain your home’s value, safety and comfort. If you are handy, you can take care of many of these chores yourself, especially with the help of online videos and articles. It might be wise to have experts handle some of the others, even if it just means you don’t have to climb a ladder, buy expensive tools or spend your own valuable time doing something you’d rather pay someone else to do.


The intent of this article is just to give you an idea of the things you need to be aware of, not all the how-to or know-how you will need to perform the maintenance yourself. When in doubt, call an expert. You can find one with good reviews online or from your neighbors.



We are usually less likely to look carefully at the outside of our home than we are the inside, where we spend more of our time and are impacted by needed repairs, so let’s start out there.

  • Roof: Materials and workmanship—as well as the weather in your location—determine the lifespan of a roof. Check regularly for missing or damaged shingles, or damage to other roofing materials. Check in the attic for leaks or any sign of weather damage.
  • Chimney: If you have a fireplace, your chimney should be inspected annually and cleaned periodically, depending on how much you use it. Even a gas fireplace can leave deposits on the inside that could be a fire hazard. A cap on a chimney to keep out animals is also a good idea.
  • Gutters/downspouts: Trees are notorious for filling your gutters with leaves. Even dirt from the air and particles from shingles can fill them up to the point when water cannot reach a downspout, will back up and cause damage to your roof or the siding of your home. If you live in an area with cold, snowy weather, consider heat tape in the gutters to keep ice from blocking the flow of melting snow. Call an electrician about that.
  • Siding: Whether the outside of your home is brick, stucco, vinyl, or wood, it will need power washing, painting, checking for mold or rotting wood, caulking of holes made for wiring, repairs to damaged brick or stucco or other signs of wear and tear. Give it a good inspection every year.
  • Foundation: Check your foundation at least once a year for cracks caused by weather, shifting of the ground the house is built on, damage by insects or leaking pipes. Correct small problems before they become big ones.
  • Windows: Wash or have your windows washed regularly. Besides adding to the beauty of both the outside and inside of your home, regular washing prevents hard water buildup that may eventually damage the glass and be very difficult to remove. While you’re there, check the caulking around the windows for possible wear that is allowing air or water to get in or out.
  • Doors: Wash the outside of your doors as needed using mild detergent and water. Check the weather stripping on all sides and bottom for leaks where heat can get out or cold get in. Replace hardware that is sticking, loose or might make it easy for someone to break in.
  • Garage door and opener: Oil the opener, hinges and chain according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. If you suspect trouble, call an expert before you find yourself unable to get your car in or out.
  • Driveway and sidewalks: Cracks in concrete or damage to the surface can be caused by weather, salt, trees, or even heavy use. Repair cracks while they are small. Remove trees whose roots are cracking or raising the concrete. Wash off salt picked up by your car on icy roads or sprinkled there yourself to melt ice and snow. Check into the surfaces now available to protect garage floors and driveways.
  • Deck: If you have a deck, click here to see our article on deck maintenance: https://www.citywidehomeloans.com/article/how-to-maintain-your-wood-deck/
  • Fencing: The type of fencing you have, the weather and its age will determine the amount of maintenance it requires. Even a vinyl fence needs power washing. Wooden fences need weather protection, staining or paint. Chain link fences can rust. Animals can dig under any type of fence.
  • Sprinklers: Check all your sprinkler heads and valves in the spring before hot weather sets in. Replace any that are damaged or that could be buried or blocked by overgrowth of lawn and other plants. Be sure to turn off the water and drain the lines in the fall before the ground freezes and can break the pipes.
  • Water spigots: Repair any drips or leaks ASAP. Be sure water is not getting inside your walls. Remove hoses before winter sets in.



Some inside maintenance can be purely esthetic, but other tasks that should be performed regularly can become issues of safety and additional damage in the future, if neglected.

  • Flooring: Carpet, tile, vinyl, wood or laminate flooring all require a different kind of care, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Following those instructions will keep your flooring beautiful for years to come and protect the subflooring underneath. Normal wear will eventually lead to the need for replacement.
  • Electrical: A home inspection should have verified that your home’s wiring is safe. Know where your circuit breaker box is and write beside each one which section of the house it controls. If one is tripped, you’ll know where to look for a possible overload or problems with an appliance, light fixture or outlet. If something needs to be fixed, you’ll know where to turn off the power for repairs.
  • Lighting: Light fixtures, ballasts or switches might need to be replaced. Some small jobs are easy to do, but others could require the knowledge of an electrician. Be sure to turn off the power before making any changes to wiring, DIY or professional.
  • Plumbing: Check often for leaks under sinks, along the water line to a refrigerator’s ice maker, and around toilets. if it goes undetected, even a small drip or leak can cause big damage to flooring or cabinets. Small leaks often become bigger ones. Call a plumber if you’re unsure how to fix the problem. Turn off the water to that area before disconnecting any pipes or faucets.
  • Water heater: The smallest leak in the bottom of a water heater is cause for alarm. The only fix is a new one, so you’ll have to call a plumber to come ASAP. If your water heater has reached its life expectancy, check for leaks periodically.
  • HVAC: It’s good to have a professional do a bi-annual checkup and servicing on your HVAC system. Change filters every 2-3 months. If you have steam (forced hot water) heat, drain the boiler and check the valves or call a plumber to do it at least once a year.
  • Cracks in walls: If small cracks appear in your walls, don’t be too alarmed. All new homes settle a little, and that can cause small cracks. If they reappear or get bigger after being patched, you might need a structural engineer to look at your foundation. A problem like that is rare but it could happen.
  • Paint/wallpaper: You might not know how much you needed new paint until you have a fresh coat in a room that gets lots of use. Spackling nail holes and other damage to plaster done at the same time also makes a big improvement. Wallpaper is coming back into style. If any strips start to peel at the corners, use wallpaper paste to re-stick them. Any other kind of glue could damage your walls and make future removal difficult.
  • Stair railings: Railings that are attached to walls can become loose and screws pull out, creating the dangerous possibility of a fall. To be up to code, new railings must have the posts close enough together that a child’s head can’t go between them. Always consider safety wherever you have stairs.
  • Smoke alarms/carbon monoxide detectors: Check batteries or electrical connections on smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at least once a year. If you have a security system, include the detectors in the package so help will be on the way quickly, if one is triggered.
  • Dryer vent: Home fires can be caused by dry vents and tubes that are blocked by lint. Check yours periodically and vacuum out the inside of the tube and the vent where it exits the house.
  • Shower & bath caulking and grout: If water is allowed to get behind tile in a shower or tub, the wall or floor behind it could have serious damage. Remove moldy or loose caulk and replace before using again. Also be on the lookout for gaps in grout between tiles that could allow water in and/or mold to grow.


Although these lists may look long, they only amount to a couple of things to check on each month. Many of them will pass inspection and won’t require any action for years. The important thing is to be aware of the problems that could occur if maintenance is not performed as needed.


Cultural Differences to Consider when Buying a Home in another Region of the U.S.

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If you have a choice about where your profession takes you, learn everything you can about the city and its people before you make a final decision. Although moving to a different part of the country is a little bit like marriage – you won’t know exactly what you’re getting into before you take the plunge. Even if you’re assigned to work far away from “home,” learning all you can about the culture will help you to fit in and feel more comfortable in your new surroundings.


A Different Slant on Location

In our article on “Location, Location, Location,” we discuss common characteristics that make property values both higher and lower, but we don’t discuss the cultural “melting pot” that the U.S. is often known for. If you feel that you and your family can easily adapt to almost any situation and have made such a move before, then you may be ready for an educational adventure in another region of the country.


Some people resist the idea that the U.S. can be divided into regions with dominant cultural “flavors,” but others, like journalist Matthew Speiser and Mark Abidi  in a 2018 article in Business Insider, report that author Collin Woodward makes a strong argument that there are 11 different “sub-nations” in the country with entirely different cultures. In addition to describing the differences in the regions, the article includes links to 27 maps that show how Americans speak English differently across the US, and an article purporting that the US also can be split into more than a dozen “belts” defined by industry, weather, and even health.


What Really Matters to Your Family

Even though your first response might be that your family could thrive anywhere, it can take families up to two years to really begin to love a very different area of the country. Some turn around and go back to where they came from before giving a new area that much of a try.


As you consider a move, talk to your family and decide which of the following 9, or other cultural differences could be a “deal breaker or maker”:

  1. A political majority and related liberal or conservative positions important to your neighbors and you could cause clashes.
  2. Religion could be important if you want your children to have friends who share your ideals, or if to actively participate in your faith you have to travel long distances to a church or synagogue.
  3. Climate or weather can take an unexpected turn anywhere, but in some locations you can expect more rain, snow, sunshine, humidity, heat, cold, wind, or even hurricanes and tornadoes.
  4. Altitude can affect weather patterns as well health conditions, such as asthma or COPD. Clearer air and spectacular views can also depend on how far above sea level your home is.
  5. Recreation of certain types can only be found in certain regions. If you like to ski, hunt, camp, hike, surf, boat, or attend cultural activities like plays or the symphony, are opportunities nearby?
  6. Social customs may just take some getting used to. In some areas of the country, people are thought to be more welcoming and friendly, or more standoffish and suspicious of outsiders.
  7. Food in all varieties can now be found in most regions if the country, but your favorites—fresh seafood, Cajun, Italian, Mexican, Indian, southern fried, etc.—may taste better in certain regions.
  8. Agriculture or industry may be predominant in certain areas within a region. Will you feel more at home in the “wide open spaces,” or in a bustling metropolis with lots of people and traffic?
  9. Environmental regulations are increasing in some areas. Check to see if electric cars, solar power, bike paths, public transportation, clean water and air are a part of the culture there.


Expert Advice

Citywide Home Loans covers more than 37 states. Visit your local office for a referral to a loan officer who knows the area, the culture and the home-buying regulations in the region of the country that you are considering making your new home. Chances are good that he or she can connect you to a real estate agent in the area, as well.

Environmental Risks of Home Ownership

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In the midst of the Corona Virus, which is plaguing some areas of the country more than others, has also come news of so many wild fires in California and other parts of the drought-stricken Western U.S. that the smoke reaches from coast to coast. The South Eastern U.S. and Gulf Coast states are suffering through a hurricane season that began earlier than expected. Miami has been drowning, Louisiana shrinking, and North Carolina’s beaches disappearing. The Midwest has suffered heavy tornado and flood damage. Both California and Utah have also had at least one earthquake this year.


So much bad news has led many prospective home buyers and even current home owners to ask where in the U.S. they could buy a home and not have to live in fear of a natural disaster.


For many of us, our work dictates the approximate area where we can live and have a reasonable commute to work. Even if we can work from home, the location of that home might be subject to other whims of nature, such as heavy snow, or unbearable heat or cold. So……. if where we live can be our choice, within limits, how important should the consideration of environmental risks and extremes be to home ownership?


According to a 2017 report by Attom Data Solutions, an Irvine-based real estate research firm, Los Angeles ranks third among major cities at greatest risk of losing housing from natural disasters. It trails only Oklahoma City and San Jose on the list covering all natural disasters.


Attom found that homes are in high demand in many areas of potential danger. Sr. Vice President Daren Blomquist said that’s because many high-risk areas tend to be job centers located in picturesque locales. “Often when you have natural beauty, it does go hand-in-hand with higher natural disaster risk.”


Even though there seems to be a surge of people wanting to move from California’s “burned-over” areas, many people whose homes are destroyed keep returning to the beautiful and familiar areas they’ve called home and the jobs that are located nearby. Some don’t have a choice, but others seem determined to “beat the odds.” It seems almost all people are attracted to oceans. Globally, ”44% of all people on Earth live within 150 km (93 miles) of the shore, and eight of the 10 largest cities in the world are near the coast.” But rising sea levels could mean that buying a dream home right on the beach could amount to “throwing money into the sea.”


It’s probably impossible to buy property where your home is guaranteed to be free from environmental damage of some kind. So what is a potential homeowner to do in order to minimize the risk to their property, treasured possessions and even their lives? The following considerations might help to lower your risk of property damage and loss:


  1. Given your choices, research what has caused damage to homes in that area in the past, and what the weather extremes in the area are most likely to be. Assess the risks vs. the benefits of the area, and then learn what should have been or could be done to make your home safer, or at least make most of your losses recoverable. A good real estate agent loan agent will be able to help you make a safer choice.


  1. Home Owners’ Insurance may help you sleep better at night, but be sure you know what your policy actually covers. Your basic homeowners’ policy pays to repair or rebuild your home, if it is damaged or destroyed by fire, hurricane, hail, lightning or other disasters listed in your policy. A standard policy will notpay for damage caused by a flood, earthquake or routine wear and tear.  We have earthquake insurance on our brick home on the Wasatch Fault, but the brick isn’t covered. Unreinforced masonry isn’t built to survive an earthquake and the insurance companies know it. Flood insurance covers losses directly caused by flooding in an area that is normally dry. When purchasing coverage for the structure of your home, purchase enough coverage to rebuild your home and replace the contents.


  1. Local building codes and construction that counters the most common risks in the area are another consideration when buying a home. Even the construction of bridges and highways leading to your home might be a concern. Homeowners can protect their homes through seismic retrofitting, strengthened roofs and more secure connections between the building and its foundation. Check to see if those things are up-to-code before you move in, and if the previous owners have prepared for the local risks. If you’re building a new home, be sure you build it with durability and risk avoidance in mind from the start.


  1. Community preparedness efforts with the cooperation of you and your neighbors can be a big help in the event of any type of natural disaster. “Hope is not a strategy” is a great call to action. In my county, churches and city officials distribute preparedness information and conduct regular earthquake drills. In the Tornado Belt, media weather coverage and warning sirens alert people to go to their storm cellars or evacuate. Areas prone to hurricanes should have available sandbags and plywood for boarding up windows and doors in seasons and areas of predictable storm flooding, and seawalls and levees must be kept in good repair. Evacuation routes in the event of storms or fires should be clearly marked and safe shelters available at any time.


  1. Look to the future. How might future growth and development or climate change affect the area surrounding your new home? What are the predictions for the risk of future earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes? What is your city and state doing to protect its residents in the event of a natural disaster? For example, in Florida, decisions to relinquish some areas to the ocean, are preventing new construction in areas that are likely to be under water in the future.


In addition to the known risks in California and Florida, you might want to consider these other examples:

  • Alaska’s biggest vulnerability is its transportation infrastructure. Virtually everything and everyone that goes anywhere in the state passes through Anchorage.
  • Hawaii is well known for its volcanic hazard, but the islands are also susceptible to major earthquakes such as a magnitude 7.9 quake in 1868 that killed 77 people.
  • The core of Tornado Alley extents from northern Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. MinnesotaWisconsinIllinoisIndiana, and western Ohioare sometimes included.
  • When it comes to hurricanes, Florida has sustained 117 direct hits by hurricanes in recorded history — far more than any other US state, almost twice as many major storms as the runner-up, Texas. Louisiana is third in hurricane landfalls, followed by North Carolina and South Carolina.
  • Alaska and California have more strong earthquakes than any other U.S. states. John Anderson and Yuichiro Miyata at the U. of Nevada, Reno, investigated and created a list of the Top 10 States, based on the greatest magnitude achieved every year:
  1. Alaska, 6.70
  2. California, 6.02
  3. Nevada, 5.11
  4. Hawaii, 5.00
  5. Washington, 4.97
  6. Wyoming, 4.67
  7. Idaho, 4.57
  8. Montana, 4.47
  9. Utah, 4.29
  10. Oregon, 4.24


Today’s rapid communication makes us instantly aware of damage to homes and communities around the world. What we need for that good night’s sleep is a report on how many people have lived in their homes for 30 years or more, like we have, without having to file an insurance claim! Lower interest rates make this a great time to buy a home. Go ahead and take the risk—but with both eyes open.

What Homebuyers Should Look for Inside a House

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Location, curb appeal, square footage and number of rooms might get you in the front door of an available home, but what should be deal-breakers or deal-makers once your real estate agent is taking you “on the tour”?


These days, many sellers realize the advantage of “staging” their home so it will look appealing to almost any buyer. But be careful! That great furniture, those artfully placed knickknacks and the eye-catching bedding don’t come with the house, and you might not be able to duplicate “the look” with what comes out of your moving van. The same thing is true if you don’t like the flooring or the décor. Make the time to take a deeper look and think about how much redecorating or remodeling you can afford.


Room Arrangement

If the home has an open-concept floor plan, can you see the kitchen area from the front door? Because it is one of the most lived-in areas of your home, you might not want to feel the kitchen always has to be shipshape anytime the doorbell rings. Is it on your wish list to have a separate eating area or can you comfortably sit down to dinner in the same space where you just created a home-cooked meal?


The number of bedrooms can be important, especially if you have several children or will have frequent out-of-town guests. Be sure to consider the placement of the bedrooms and the bathrooms, especially if you want younger children to be close to the master bedroom, or older children to be where you can’t hear their late-night music. If you plan to be in your home as your children grow from toddlers to teens, consider the flexibility of the spaces over time.


Does the laundry room’s size and location meet your family’s needs? Will the location of that and other plumbing in the house make it easy to combine rooms in a future remodel?


Room Size

Many older homes have a lot of small rooms, while today’s trend is toward more open living, entertaining and sleeping areas. Are the bedrooms large enough for the beds and other furniture they will need to hold and is there enough closet space? A small bathroom with a combined shower and tub might be adequate for a family with a toddler, but when the toddler becomes a teen, you might wish you had a separate bathroom for you and the kids. If you want to stay in this location during your family’s growing years, think about where you could add another bathroom.


Your Wish List vs. What You Can Afford

See our article, “Your Dream Home Wish List: Consider What You Can and Can’t Do Without” for more ideas on what in the home you’re looking at would be a Deal Breaker, a Heart Breaker, a Really Want It, a Could Go Either Way or a First to Cut. After you’ve found the style of house you want with the number of rooms you need, be sure to consider whether you will want to and be able to afford upgrades to:

  • flooring: wood, carpet, tile
  • Kitchen cabinets & countertops
  • Windows
  • Fireplace: gas or wood-burning
  • Heating & cooling systems



The Value of a Home Inspection

Home inspections are not legally required in the sale of a home. They do come with a price, so is a home inspection necessary and worth the cost? What are the pros and cons? Check out our article on Home Inspections. You probably know enough to look for such things as the age and condition of the windows, the roof, and the HVAC system, but what surprises could be uncovered once you’re actually living in a house?


Inspectors will be looking for a few things such as: determining the functionality and efficiency of plumbing, electrical units, heating and cooling systems, appliances, structural stability, roofing, foundation, etc. Essentially, they serve to make sure that the basic foundation and construction of a home are appropriate, and everything is up to code.


Many people see the home inspection process as another component of a greater investment. Home inspections make it possible to potentially negotiate repairs and fixes with the home seller. Often times, home sellers can be convinced to fix certain issues in order to ensure the sale goes through. The biggest incentive for getting a home inspection is to guarantee that a property does not have any current, major problems. If you choose not to get an inspection, and are faced with a major issue after the sale, you will be responsible for the fix.


Talk to a Citywide Loan Officer about prequalifying for a loan on a home that fits your budget and includes most of the highest ranking wishes on your list. Then let us help you find a realtor who specializes in homes like the one you’re looking for. With these two experts and maybe a home inspector on your team, you’ll be set to find the home of your dreams for now and in the long-run.





How to Save for &/or Acquire a 20% Down Payment

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If you meet the qualifications for certain types of loans—e.g., VA, FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac—you may be able to put down as little as 10%, 5%, 3% or even 0% on a first home, but this article focuses on the benefits of and the how-to-come-up-with of the industry standard 20% down payment.



You are in an optimum position with the seller and the lender, when you’re able to provide 20% for a down payment. It indicates to lenders that you–the buyer—are serious, and that you have the ability to save money for a specific purpose. In a competitive market, your offer will be preferred by most mortgage lenders over those who cannot provide 20%. Your down payment also is a key part of the offer you present to the seller. It’s usually true that the larger the down payment, the stronger the offer.


You could get a better interest rate on your loan. “Jumbo loans,” or loans in excess of $417,000, may be considered a higher risk and require a higher interest rate. A homebuyer who puts enough money down to lower a home loan out of the jumbo loan category could save thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.


You can avoid Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) when you put down 20% or more, and your monthly payments will be lower. PMI, protects the lender if you were to abruptly stop making payments on your home. Typically, if your down payment is less than 20%, lenders will require you to carry PMI. With PMI, a higher risk client has the opportunity to receive financing, even if they are unable to put 20% down. PMI usually is only paid until the loan reaches an 80% loan-to-value (LTV) ratio.


Because, with a higher down payment, less of your monthly payment will be going toward interest, you will be able to build equity in your home more quickly.


How to Acquire Down Payment Money

Saving more of the money you already have coming in isn’t the only way to acquire money for a down payment. Here are 10 ways to acquire money without lowering your present lifestyle:

  1. Borrow from a family member and pay them interest.
  2. Financial gifts can be included in the down payment on some types of loans.Tax law allows gifts of several thousand dollars a year to be bestowed without tax consequences to either the giver or recipient. The gift does not have to be from a family member. Ask your Citywide Loan Agent if the down payment for your type of loan can include a gift.
  3. Get a second job. A part-time job could help you earn the extra money you need. Explore the many ways to make money from home.
  4. Add your tax returnto your down payment savings.
  5. Ask for a raise. Base your request on your accomplishments, not your need for a down payment.
  6. Look for lost money.Check the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators to see if you have any missing money.
  7. Borrow from your 401K. Just be aware that you have to pay back your 401k loans, with interest – typically at 2% above the prime rate.
  8. Withdraw from your IRA: Tax laws allow you to withdraw up to $10,000 in IRA funds to buy your first home. If you’re married and you both qualify, you could have a potential $20,000 down payment, and the penalty for early withdrawal is waived.
  9. Ask the seller for the money. Some sellers will be willing to do that, if you’re willing to pay their asking price. Some will give you the down payment as a credit, pay your closing costs, or both. You won’t know unless you ask. If the seller agrees to give you a credit for closing costs, that frees up money for the down payment. Check with your lender before asking.
  10. Apply for a DAP loan, also known as a second mortgage on your home. In most cases, the interest rate on a DAP loan will be the same as the interest rate on your first mortgage. Ask your Citywide loan agent about eligibility requirements.


How to Save Money for a Down Payment

  1. Make a budget that includes all your fixed expenses and an estimate of those that vary. Anytime the amount you spend in a month is lower, put the difference in your down-payment account.
  2. Use a budgeting app. Check this link for ways to save money on a tight budget.
  3. Save a certain amount by direct deposit from your paycheck every month.
  4. Save any tips, performance bonuses or profit sharing payments.
  5. Downsize your lifestyle:
    1. Move to a smaller apt. or a place with lower rent or utilities.
    2. Sell one of your cars and save the selling price. You will also save on car insurance and other car-related expenses.
    3. Eat out or get take-out less often. It’s less expensive to eat at home.
    4. Don’t buy pre-made coffee or lattes from a coffee shop. Make your own.
    5. Instead of paper towels or disposable diapers, use cloth/washable towels and diapers.
    6. Buy store/generic brand groceries and, where possible, prescriptions.
  6. Stop putting money into your retirement fund for a while. Put it in your down payment account until you savings goal is met.
  7. Save the money you get from cash-back credit cards.
  8. Round up purchases to the nearest dollar and save your change or the amount that’s not going on your credit card.
  9. Reduce credit card debt by paying off cardswith the highest interest rate first. For other tips, click here to see a Citywide article on paying down credit card debt.
  10. Invest the money you save in FDIC-insured instruments such as traditional savings accounts, certificates of deposits (CDs), and money market accounts, rather than the Stock Market.


While you’re building up your down-payment fund, don’t completely neglect your other savings goals, such as money to replace a car, necessary home improvements, unexpected expenses and your kids’ education. While most would not argue that a 20% down payment is ideal, for many it is simply not practical under their current circumstances. According to the National Association of Realtors, 71% of first-time homebuyers and 52% of all buyers put 10% or less down. Imagine the impact to our economy had those people been unable to buy a home. Delaying your home purchase until you have 20% may cost you in the long run. Call Citywide Home Loans for advice on what makes the most sense for you and your home-buying needs.










Location, Location, Location!

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You’ve all heard the real estate mantra “Location, Location, Location,” when talking about home values. The cost and desirability of approximately the same home can vary widely, based on where it is located. Location can refer to a specific part of the country, a state, a city or even a neighborhood.


Location, land and home value compared

Real Estate appraisers consider a home’s location when they determine property values. They compare the home and land to similar properties in the same area. The initial price is based on the value of the land at the time of purchase, the cost of construction of the home, and a percentage of markup for profit for the builder. The land and home value can rise and fall with the value of the properties around it and the commercial or recreational activities that develop in close proximity.


Obviously, different buyers appreciate different aspects of the location of a home. Many people would like our home, because it is only 15 – 30 minutes from several ski resorts, but we don’t ski. However, there are some considerations with regard to location that don’t change much, no matter who the buyer is.


Locations consistently more in demand than others:

  • Near the ocean, rivers, lakes, or parks and other outdoor recreation opportunities
  • A school district with high test scores and a good reputation: visit org
  • Panoramic views of cities, the ocean, mountains, or golf courses
  • Easy access to shopping, entertainment or recreation opportunities
  • Well-kept neighborhoods
  • Areas with bigger, better-shaped lots


Locations where demand and property value are lower:

  • Residential property close to commercial buildings
  • Noise, traffic, and other activities caused by a nearby business or school
  • Retail developments under construction
  • Proximity to railroad tracks, overpasses, airports, and busy intersections
  • Neighborhoods with higher crime rates: visit comand use a zip code to search
  • Hazardous conditions, such as poor air quality or a vacant building


Additional location factors that may affect property value:

  • ​New or planned construction nearby
  • Vacant land that could be developed
  • Changes in zoning laws
  • Weather and the probability of natural disasters
  • Property taxes



When you buy a home in a good location, it’s usually a wise long-term investment. Real estate agents often advise their clients to buy a house in need of some TLC on the best street in the neighborhood. Why? Because fixing up a home in a great neighborhood will give you the best return on your investment, when it comes time to sell.


“You can change the price of the house. You can change the shape the house is in. But you can’t change the location,” says Toni Spott, a top-selling realtor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Everything about the location can affect the value, affordability and livability of your home. The appraised value of your future home helps determine the size of the loan you can qualify for. Be sure to ask your Citywide loan agent how location figures into the value of the home you are about to buy.








How Home Ownership Can Affect Your Retirement

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My husband and I have been retired for more than 10 years. We’ve lived in our 4000 sq. ft., 6-bedroom home for almost 31 years. We feel fortunate that we haven’t had a mortgage payment for 20 years. However, we continue to receive lots of unsolicited advice about whether to keep the equity in our home, to downsize and invest the difference, or even to take out a home equity loan at the now historically low interest rates and invest in the Stock Market or real estate, where our gains might exceed our expenses.


The increase in value of our home over the past 30 years and the plunge in the Market since the advent of the Corona Virus make us feel happy, at least for now, that more than half of our retirement assets are in our home. However, our desire to stay put and be debt-free may not be the best strategy for everyone, or even for us going forward. We are living comfortably on Social Security, pensions and the required minimum distributions from our 401Ks. When age or other circumstances make a safer and more easily maintainable home seem like a good idea, the best choice might be to move to a smaller home. Or we may need sell the house and use the profits to pay for needed healthcare services or life in an assisted living facility. It feels good to have several options.


Mortgage-Free One of the Keys to a Comfortable Retirement

Owning a home is typically thought of as one of the keys to a comfortable retirement and financial stability in the future. But what about in these unsettling times? Is owning a home still a necessary part of a good retirement plan? A majority of pre-retirees expect to carry mortgage debt into retirement. If you’re among them, it’s a good idea to understand what the pros and cons are, and to consider your options.


If you would like to keep your home when you retire, are close to paying off your mortgage and won’t have to liquidate other investments to do it, it may be a good choice to stay put. You’ll get a drop in monthly expenses with the end of mortgage payments. If you can afford to pay taxes, insurance and all the upkeep that goes with owning a home, living mortgage-free can be less stressful. However, you might be missing out on the opportunity to put the equity in your home to use at a low interest rate.


A recent study from the Urban Institute looked at the home equity patterns of older Americans and found that homes still rank among their most valuable assets. “Not only does a house meet the basic needs of shelter, but it’s an asset that typically can be used to build wealth as homeowners pay down their mortgages,” the authors say. However, the report also warns that taking on more mortgage debt and financing it for longer periods is a trend that might make future generations less able to rely on home equity as a source of retirement income.


The Pros of Having a Mortgage in Retirement

Having a little debt may not be as risky as we have been led to believe. If you have the resources to rethink your mortgage-free retirement strategy, you have the potential for significant gains.


Investments: Using home equity to invest in rental property or other real estate assets can make a lot of sense for some retired home owners. Low rates mean they won’t be spending too much of their nest egg toward an extra mortgage payment, and they could benefit from a steady stream of rental income or the likely growth in value of other property. However, one has to be up to the responsibilities and uncertainties of being a landlord.


“I am a fan of living without debt,” said Ted Halpern, a Washington-area financial planner. “However, we’re looking at interest rates that are unbelievably low. I can understand why someone would want to borrow at those rates and invest that money elsewhere.”


Tax Benefits: State and local real estate taxes and the interest on your loan are deductible, if you meet other conditions. You need to be aware of how the 2018 tax law has affected those deductions. Now, state and local taxes (including property taxes) are limited to no more than a total deduction or combined limit of $10,000 on a federal return. The interest on new mortgages of up to $750,000 can be deducted, depending on your tax bracket. Interest on home equity loans is deductible only if the loan is used for the purpose of improving the residence, effective through the end of 2025.


The standard deduction for federal taxes has more than doubled. The new tax law means that fewer people will benefit from itemizing deductions. Home owners and buyers need to weigh the other pros of homeownership, like building wealth through equity and appreciation in value over time.


Cash in Your Pocket: One of the biggest arguments for not scrimping and saving to pay off your mortgage is you can have more cash available for things you want to do (travel, dine out, entertainment) and for things you might have to do (make repairs to your home or cover major health expenses). If you’re considering selling your home to pay off your mortgage before retirement and then renting, think about the potential threat of inflation. Each year, you will need to renew your lease, which will likely increase.


Cons of Having a Mortgage in Retirement

Having too much mortgage debt in retirement may be risky, especially if you are living on a fixed income of Social Security and perhaps a pension. You might not have the wiggle room for a big increase in expenses.


Lower Tax Deductions: The tax benefits from holding a mortgage may drop significantly when you retire. You may be paying much less interest on your loan, resulting in a much smaller interest deduction. It’s likely your income will be less than it was when you were working. Your tax bracket will be lower, so mortgage interest and real estate tax deductions may have less or no value.


Unexpected Major Expenses: Outright home ownership can be an important resource to cover unexpected expenses. You can take out a home equity loan or even a reverse mortgage. Remember there are costs involved in securing those, and they’re likely to come with higher interest rates than a primary home loan. It’s smart to consider how liquid your other assets are.


Investment Portfolio Risk: The chance that your investment portfolio will take a big hit during your retirement makes being mortgage-debt-free an important increase in financial stability. There can be a significant relationship between retirees’ comfort with their debt levels and financial satisfaction. Focus on your comfort with debt and the risk level of your other investments


Decide Now

One thing my husband and I have learned, and what experts advise, is that the more we can do with our possessions and our home while we can still make those decisions ourselves, the easier and more profitable it will be for our children. With the help of an attorney, we’ve made it easy for our children to sell our home. However, we are already being asked why we choose to stay in a home that is obviously larger than we need. We think we have lots of very good reasons, and so far our children aren’t pushing us one way or the other, but our situation could easily change.


When age or other circumstances make a safer and more easily maintainable home seem like a good idea, our best choice might be to move to a smaller home that is easier to care for. We might need to sell the big house and use the profits from the sale to supplement retirement income and pay for needed services or assisted living.


The best home-ownership approach for you could depend on how you feel about debt, your age, how much money you’ve put aside for retirement, where it’s invested, your retirement-living goals, and how disciplined you are about saving and spending.



Why, When and How to Refinance Your Home Mortgage

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Are you wondering whether or not now is a good time to refinance your home mortgage? The short answer is to contact a home mortgage professional for an answer tailored to your special circumstances. For example, the loan officers at Citywide Home Loans use software that, with some basic information from you, can calculate in just 15-20 minutes a cost analysis on the current interest rate and fees and how long you will have to stay in your home to make a refinance worthwhile financially. They can look up your current loan, the amortization schedule and payoff time, compare it with a new loan and tell you how much you can lower your monthly payment. Make sure that whoever you go to will conduct an analysis free of charge and with no obligation to refinance with them.


However, if you’d like to know more about your options before you call, this article might contain just the information you’re looking for.


Mortgage interest rates have plummeted to historic lows, the #1 reason that is making homeowners think about refinancing. You might be hoping that a refinance can help you:

  • lower your monthly payments,
  • shorten the term of your loan and pay it off faster, with less money going toward interest,
  • pull out cash for another purchase or a financial emergency,
  • consolidate debt, or
  • convert from an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM)to a fixed-rate mortgage, or vice versa.


How can I time refinancing so I get the lowest interest rate possible?

In the wake of the Coronavirus, rates are still fluctuating, but they are likely to even out and stay low through the rest of the year, once lenders catch up with the backlog from the initial wave of refi requests. Another consideration is, “Will lenders have the resources to let mortgage rates go any lower?” Banks could artificially hold rates up to “slow the flow” of refinances, in order to ensure the money is there to fund the demand. You don’t have to rush to refinance or get a mortgage, because at the time this article was written, banks were likely to be inundated with applications. A little later this year could be the opportune time to apply for or refinance a loan.


The best approach could be to determine a target rate that justifies your cost of refinancing, and then work with a professional who understands the factors that impact mortgage rates daily, and who will monitor that target rate for you and advise you when to lock it in. Generally, if refinancing will save you money, help you build equity and pay off your mortgage faster, it’s a good decision. And with rates this low, even people who have relatively new mortgages may be able to benefit from refinancing.


What are the benefits of refinancing to shorten the loan’s term?

When interest rates are low, you might be able to refinance your existing loan for another loan with a significantly shorter term, but without much change in the monthly payment. That could save a lot of money in interest payments. Do the math, or let a professional help you, and see what works.


Should I refinance to take equity out of my home?

Homeowners often access the equity in their homes to help pay for a large purchase or to cover major expenses, such as the costs of home remodeling or a child’s education. They justify the refinancing because remodeling may add value to the home or because the interest rate on the mortgage loan is less than the rate on money borrowed from another source.


Another reason to access equity can be a serious financial emergency, such as losing your job. At face value, replacing high-interest credit card debt with a low-interest mortgage may seem like a good idea. But you should carefully research all your options for raising funds before you take this step. If you do a cash-out refinance, you may be charged a higher interest rate on the new mortgage than for a rate-and-term refinance. A savvy homeowner is always looking for ways to reduce debt, build equity, save money, and eliminate their mortgage payment. Taking cash out of your equity when you refinance does not help to achieve any of those goals. This is another good time to consult with a professional.


When is it financially sound to convert from an ARM to a fixed-rate mortgage, or vice versa?

ARMs (Adjustable Rate Mortgages) often offer lower rates than fixed-rate mortgages. However, periodic rate adjustments can result in increases that are higher than the rate available through a fixed-rate mortgage. When this occurs, converting to a fixed-rate mortgage results in a lower interest rate and can eliminate concern over future interest rate hikes.


Converting from a fixed-rate loan to an ARM can be a sound financial strategy, if interest rates are falling and you don’t plan to stay in your home for more than a few years. Currently, rates may be at or near their lowest rates and the chances of them going up are greater than getting lower. When mortgage interest rates have a better chance of rising, this is not a wise strategy.


How long does it take to recoup the costs of refinancing?

The interest rate is not the only cost to weigh when you’re considering whether refinancing is worth it. Expect closing costs to total 2 to 5 percent of the principal amount of the loan. As with an original mortgage, refinancing requires an appraisal, title search, and application fees. Many lenders let you roll the closing costs into your principal balance and finance them as part of the loan. To determine an approximate break-even point, divide the total closing costs by the amount you will save each month.


When refinancing a mortgage, you’ll also have “pre-paids” or “escrows,” which are the money you are required put aside upfront to account for future property tax and homeowner’s insurance liabilities. Once your old loan is paid off, your existing lender will send you a refund of the balance in your old escrow account approximately 30 days after closing. You will also skip a mortgage payment in the month immediately following your settlement. It is advisable that you bring the money required to establish the escrow account on your new loan to settlement, if you can afford it.


When is private mortgage insurance (PMI) required? Can I avoid it?

Private mortgage insurance is generally required when less than a 20 percent down payment is made on a home purchase, or in the case of a refinance, when the homeowner has less than 20 percent equity in the home. On conventional loans, the monthly PMI drops off automatically when the loan balance equals 78 percent of the original value of the home at the time the mortgage was originated.


How long does it take to complete the mortgage refinance process?

The time it takes to refinance depends on your lender, as well as how long it takes to complete inspections, appraisals, credit checks and other requirements. Even though the internet has simplified the process, you should probably count on it taking at least 30 days.


The Bottom Line

Refinancing can be a great financial move if it reduces your mortgage payment, shortens the term of your loan, or helps you build equity more quickly. When used carefully, it can also be a valuable tool for bringing debt under control. Before you refinance, take a careful look at your financial situation, consider all of the information above and seek advice from a mortgage loan professional.




Say Hello to Fresno

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The lifestyles offered by Fresno, California are some of the biggest draws in California’s real estate investment market today. While California’s more populated and well-known cities, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, are both too expensive and overcrowded for the average family to seriously consider investing there, Fresno is smack-dab in the middle of the state—  granting the people who live there the broadest range of access to all the best that California has to offer. 


Citywide VA Loans in Utah

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What is a VA Loan?

The origins of the VA home loan program—a part of what is officially known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, or “G.I.” Bill—was written into law to aid WWII veterans. After it was enacted into law, the Bill allocated funds that established hospitals, granted stipends to cover college tuition, and also made low-interest home mortgages more available to servicemen and servicewomen who wanted to buy, build, or refinance a home. A “VA Loan,” as they’re most commonly known, is available to nearly every service member and veteran, and if you qualify for one, the loans can save you tens of thousands of dollars. VA Home Loans are provided by private lenders, such as banks and mortgage companies. VA guarantees a portion of the loan, enabling the lender to provide you with more favorable terms.