MONEY Utilities

Google Can Now Tell You How Much You’d Save Going Solar

Google's newly announced Project Sunroof is now available in only three cities.

Google has unveiled Project Sunroof, an effort the company says it has launched because it wants to make installing home solar panels “easy and understandable for anyone.”

Built on Google Maps, Project Sunroof uses that mapping information, along with other data, to calculate a “roof analysis” letting you know the size of the solar panels you might install to cover up to 100% of your energy usage, along with the money you’d save under different financing options.

Should you decide to install solar panels on the roof of your house, Google can also put you in touch with local solar providers.

At present, the service is available in only three cities: Fresno, Calif.; Boston; and, of course, San Francisco.

Read next: Why You Should Think Seriously About Going Solar

MONEY renting

Should Renters Change the Locks?

Door handle
Getty Images

Answers to 6 common move-in questions.

You’ve signed the lease and sorted out the major issues from pets to parking. But now that you’re moving in, you’re probably looking at your new digs even more closely, and certain move-in questions start to arise that you hadn’t thought of before. No worries — we’ve got you covered.

1. Should you change the locks?

It’s normal to be nervous at the thought of a previous renter having a copy of your keys. But can you change the locks — or did your landlord take care of it? Look over your lease carefully, and if you don’t see a specific mention, ask! Laws on this vary from state to state, but chances are, you’ll need to keep your landlord in the loop — they’ll probably request a copy of the key for emergencies.

2. Should you change the toilet seats?

Whether for cosmetic or hygienic reasons, replacing a toilet seat is one of the easiest, most budget-friendly upgrades you can make to your newly rented home (Lowe’s has four models under $10). But you might not have to pay at all.

In his column “Lessons From a Small Landlord,” landlord Craig Roche says he’s happy to pay out of pocket for this expense, filing it under “low-cost improvements that make tenants happy” along with shower bars and hotel-style clotheslines. So before you fork over the cash, ask your landlord if they’d be willing to make the swap for you.

3. Can you plant a garden if the lawn is your landlord’s responsibility?

Generally, tenants are not allowed to alter a rental property’s landscaping without the landlord’s permission. Even if you think it adds value to put in a raised-bed garden, your landlord might disagree.

If you can’t bribe them with your beautiful homegrown heirloom tomatoes, look for a middle ground, so to speak. Try a container garden or hanging garden, or find an area to plant within an existing flower bed. No matter what agreement you come to with your landlord, be sure it’s in sync with your city’s regulations.

4. Should you document pre-existing damage?

Yes, yes, and yes. Take move-in photos as documentation — even landscape shots if you’re responsible for lawn care. In addition to images, it’s a good idea to note any damage on the landlord’s move-in checklist. If there isn’t a checklist, make your own, sign it, and date it.

5. Can you be an Airbnb host?

While most leases clearly state whether long-term subleasing is permitted, there’s a little more gray area when it comes to the peer-to-peer renting of a room while the original tenant still inhabits the apartment. But whether or not it’s covered in your lease, many renters (i.e., your neighbors!) find this to be a security issue and do not want it in their buildings. Consider the potential ramifications before you list a room.

6. Can you get a new sconce for the hallway?

If your hallway light looks as though it belongs in a funeral parlor, you’re probably on your own if you’d like to replace it. (Your landlord deals only with electrical issues related to your safety.)

The good news: You don’t need anyone’s permission, and you can take your uber-chic industrial wire cage wall mount with you when you move out. Just be sure to store the original fixture somewhere safe so you can reinstall it before you leave.

More From Trulia:

MONEY buying a home

8 Sneaky Ways to Take Your New Home for a Test Drive

IP Galanternik D.U.—Getty Images

Make sure you know what it's like to live there before making an offer.

Sure, that newly rehabbed condo looks great in photos, but what’s really behind the rapturous real estate listing? When it comes to assessing a potential new home, the savvy buyer knows to go full True Detective (first season, at least) and relentlessly sleuth.

That waterfall showerhead is beautiful and all, but how’s the water pressure? If the laundry area is near the living room, will you still be able to hear the TV when the dryer is going? Do the neighbors frequently enjoy late-night ragers? How does the walkability score match up to the quality of the area’s amenities? Make like a bloodhound and take your new home for a test-drive — before you submit an offer.

1. Surreptitious visits

Before you even step foot in a potential new place, play the role of obsessed ex and drive by a few times. What’s the foot traffic like outside the home? Do the strolling neighbors look more like young professionals or marrieds with children? How much noise do the neighbors make? (Sneak in a Saturday night visit to get the full taste.) If you drive to work, role-play your morning or evening commute and time how long it takes you to get between locations.

2. Walking tour

Once you’ve stalked the place by vehicle, it’s time to do the same on foot. See how long it takes you to get to the nearest coffee shop or restaurant, and assess their quality once you arrive. (A walkability score considers only quantity, not quality, of amenities.) Suss out the nearest public transportation stations. And gauge the condition of the sidewalks and public plantings — a well-manicured neighborhood suggests stronger civic engagement.

3. Water world

Don’t get seduced by the stand-up shower with the exposed copper pipes and wraparound glass doors — take that sucker for a quick spin. (Really, it’s not that weird.) How hard is the pressure? How quickly does the water heat up? Test the bathroom and kitchen sinks while you’re at it. Water pressure shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but low pressure could indicate a damaging leak, and no one likes first-shower-in-a-new-home disappointment.

4. Windows test

Even if it’s chilly out, open a window or two, especially in the room that might serve as your master bedroom. Can you hear a lot of traffic? Neighborly noise? Does your window seem to bring in a lot of cross breezes, or is the airflow blocked by neighboring buildings? When the windows are closed, can you feel drafts around the edge of the frames that may increase heating and cooling costs?

5. Go into the light

If the open house happens on a cloudy stay, schedule a daytime follow-up visit when the sun is out. See how much natural light flows through each room, especially high-traffic areas. If a room seems especially dark, consider whether the paint color is exacerbating the effect. Conversely, you’ll want to see how dark the bedrooms can get. On that same sunny day, close all the shades in all the bedrooms and see how much light still filters through; you might want to throw room-darkening shades onto your punch list.

6. Listen up

This is a biggie — condo sounds in particular can become annoyances that drive homeowners insane. Make multiple visits to a unit to catch surrounding neighbors when they’re home and making noise. If there are multiple condos for sale in the building, bring a friend and have her walk around upstairs and/or in an adjacent unit to see how noise travels. And don’t be afraid to ask if little kids live in the building; the pitter-patter of little feet is far less charming to those who live below them.

Once you’ve assessed interunit noise levels, it’s time to determine how sound travels within the home. Turn on the dryer to hear how loud it is. Have your friend march around in the guest bedroom to determine how thick the walls are. If you’ll need to invest in sound insulation and throw rugs, it’s better to know now.

7. Scope out storage

Some sellers clear their homes of all clutter; many others don’t. But rather than turn up your nose at an overstuffed bedroom closet, take out the tape measure and record some dimensions. The space might be a lot larger than it seems; you can also take those measurements home and plan out a closet scheme online to see how much stuff it can really handle.

8. Don’t forget your marbles

Are those hardwood floors level? Bring a marble to find out. (Perfect excuse to hit up a toy store!) When you’re alone in a room, discreetly place the marble on the hardwood floors: Does it stay put or start rolling? If the slope is especially steep, there might be a structural problem at play, but even a slightly uneven floor can become a bargaining chip during the escrow period.

More From Trulia:

MONEY home financing

What’s a HELOC?

Find out if a home equity line of credit is right for you.

Chances are, if you’ve searched for a way to fund a major expenses, you’ve probably come across the word “HELOC.” But what is a HELOC and how can you know whether or not it’s right for you?

A HELOC, or home equity line of credit, is a type of home loan that allows borrowers to open a line of credit using their home as collateral. Unlike traditional home loans, which are set at a fixed dollar amount, HELOCs enable people to draw any amount up to a certain limit. It’s pretty similar to opening a credit card, except with a higher credit limit and higher stakes.

For example, let’s say you qualify for a home equity line of credit for up to $100,000. You can then use that credit to help pay for home improvements, cover the cost of an unexpected medical bill or any other expense. However, in the event that you are unable to pay back the money you borrowed and default on the loan, the lender can foreclose on your home.

The Pros of HELOCs

Two of the biggest advantages of HELOCs are their flexibility and affordability. Because they’re based on a line of credit and not a fixed amount, HELOCs are pretty versatile, so you can utilize as much or as little of it as you want. Additionally, because the loan is backed by the collateral of your home, interest rates tend to be lower than other alternatives. Plus, for a period of time, you’ll only have to pay interest on the amount of money you borrow. So if you’re confident that your financial situation will remain stable for the term of the loan, then a HELOC might be right for you.

The Cons of HELOCs

There are two major downsides when it comes to HELOCs. First, HELOC interest rates tend to be variable. So while the interest rate might initially be lower than other options, that is subject to change over time. Secondly, many HELOCs offer an option to make interest-only payments over the first couple years of the loan. While this might be nice in the short term, you may be shocked by significantly higher payments (and may even face a balloon payment) at the end of the term.

The Questions You Should Ask

In order to ensure you get the right HELOC for your particular needs, you’re going to want to make sure you know the specifics details of your arrangement. Here are some things you might want to ask:

  • What’s the HELOC’s interest rate and how long does the introductory period last? Many HELOCs come with a low introductory rate but will eventually become variable.
  • What is the margin? Your margin is used when determining your post-introductory interest rate. Your interest rate will be prime plus the margin.
  • Is there a minimum draw requirement? Some HELOCs require you to take out a minimum amount of money before closing. Not utilizing your HELOC to at least the minimum could result in penalty fees.
  • Is there a required average balance? It isn’t uncommon for HELOCs to require an average balance and therefore pay some interest.
  • Are there any fees associated with the account? Find out if there are any closing costs, annual fees or cancellation fees that come alongside your HELOC.

HELOC Alternatives

If you don’t think a HELOC is right for you, there are plenty of alternatives available to help you with your particular financial situation. If you’re looking to refinance your mortgage but want to avoid a varying interest rate, you might want to consider a home equity loan instead (yes, home equity loans are different than HELOCs). If you’re seeking a means to consolidate your debt, consider consulting a professional or developing your own debt repayment strategy (here is a guide to getting out of debt). If you’re worried about the possibility of major unexpected expenses, you may want to start building yourself an ample emergency fund. And is you need cash for home repairs or improvements, but don’t want to put your home up as collateral, a personal loan could do the trick.

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MONEY home improvement

13 Eyesores That Kill Your Home’s Curb Appeal

David Harriman—Getty Images

Don't sell your home short.

You only get a few minutes to make a first impression, so when selling your home, you have to make those minutes count – and that’s where curb appeal comes in. To lure would-be buyers, you have to make sure you’re not undermining your efforts. So step outside, take a good look at your home and watch out for these curb-appeal killers.

1. Lackluster Landscapes
Carpet-bombing the front yard with red roses sounds lovely, but too much of the same flower can look boring. As Houselogic explains, the yard will look great when the flowers are in bloom, then drab for the rest of the year. The better solution is to mix things up and opt for seasonal color. For instance, planting summer-blooming roses and autumn camellias can help keep your lawn colorful year-round.

2. Dying Shrubs
Refusing to bury the dead can scare away buyers faster than you say compost. As Houselogic notes, spent plants are ideal for a pile, as long as you grind them up first. Otherwise, bag them up and add them to the trash. And remove the dead or dying shrubs, pronto.

3. Unwanted Guests
Deer and rabbits are cute, but their constant nibbling can leave your landscape in disarray. They can also leave branches denuded. If an electric fence is too pricy an option, do as Houselogic suggests and spray critter repellent. After a hard rain, spray it again. No luck scaring away Bambi? Consider deer- and rabbit-resistant plants.

4. Monotonous Mowing
Yes, even a well-mowed lawn can scare away buyers. As AOL explains, mowing grass in the same direction, day in and day out, can “mat down the turf and inhibit growth.” Varying the pattern in which you mow encourages growth and reduces wear. You’ll also avoid missing or mowing over the same spots.

5. Barely-There Lawns
Speaking of mowing, only about one-third of the grass blade should be cut. Short clippings break down easily, and according to AOL, make natural nitrogen return to the soil—a bad thing for plants trying to grow. Cut too much at once and the grass can stress out, leaving it withered, drab-looking and flat.

6. Ugly Siding
Drab siding can put a dent in your home’s curb appeal. Take a peek and see if there’s well-preserved wood underneath, Time magazine suggests. You can remove the siding, repair the old wood, and/or try a new coat of paint. Replacing the siding with fiber cement siding, which can look like real wood, is also an option.

7. Old Garage Doors
If it’s a large slab of vinyl or lackluster steel, it’s probably time for an upgrade. Time magazine suggests choosing doors with “moldings, windows, or an old-fashioned carriage house look.” A coat of glaze can dress the door up, as can paint or power-washing the exterior.<

8. Missing or Torn Shingles
A roof in good repair will hardly go noticed, which is a good thing, says roofing expert Matthew Lopez. But if your roof is more than 10 or 15 years old, chances are the shingles will start coming apart and buyers will spot them a mile away. Check your roof regularly so you can repair any missing or torn shingles before buyers notice.

9. Bold colors
Bubblegum pink may be your thing, but chances are most buyers won’t dig it. In general, homeowners are drawn to neutral colors like blue, light brown, beige and gray. When selecting a new color, keep in mind what your neighbors have chosen and make sure it complements your home’s landscaping and hardscaping.

10. Clutter
If prospective buyers are mistaking your home for a junkyard, you’ve got a problem, says Neatness counts for a lot, especially when showcasing a home. Move the clutter out of the front lawn and consider giving away what you don’t need. The idea is to make your home shine, not have it pass as a backdrop for hoarders.

11. A Dingy Front Door
If your front door’s been around since Truman was president, it may need a facelift. “A front door should beckon buyers to come inside and make them think about what their future houseguest will see,” explains If buying a new door is out of your budget, consider switching the hardware (door knob, hinges and knocker) or tacking on a wreath for a nice pop of color.

12. Beaten-Up Hardscaping
Hardscaping refers to the use of brick, concrete and natural stone — and if it’s cracked, it can turn away buyers. Driveways are especially important to keep free of cracks, as are the walkway and other immediately visible areas. Make sure the hardscaping complements the landscaping and home siding, recommends, so the look feels consistent.

13. Bad Neighbors
Yes, even your neighbors can wreck your home’s curb appeal. If their yard is covered with weeds, lacks a fence, or any number of things, prospective buyers may question whether the neighborhood is worth it. If you decide to confront your neighbors, broach the topic with care, Zillow says. Not everyone wants to hear that they need to spruce up their home.

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MONEY home improvement

The Worst Home Remodel Projects for Your Money

Steve Cole—Getty Images

Time to rethink that sunroom.

When you consider which home remodeling projects to tackle and which ones to shelve, it is wise to think about the payback potential. Which projects will increase the value of your home enough to recoup your investment potentially? Remodeling Magazine may be able to help you decide. They recently completed their 2015 lists of remodeling values, broken down by the type of project and geographic market. Thirty-six projects were compared in over one hundred markets, making this the most comprehensive remodeling payback guide available.

People tend to associate remodeling with kitchen or bath makeovers, but neither project provides the greatest return on investment. Upscale kitchen and bathroom remodeling recouped in the 59-60% range of costs, rising to 67-70% for midrange projects.

In general, to recover your costs on a project, smaller is better. Four of the thirty-six projects were estimated at less than $5,000 (for professionals), and three of those were in the top five for return on investment. Those were entry door replacement with a steel door (101.8% return), and midrange and upscale garage door replacements at 88.4% and 82.5% return, respectively.

The other two high-return projects were in the next tier of expense ($5,000-$25,000). The addition of a manufactured stone veneer returned 92.2% on a $7,150 cost while an upscale fiber-cement siding replacement returned 84.3% on a $14,014 investment.

Conversely, the poorest returns came from the addition of a sunroom with a 48.5% return on a $75,726 investment and a home-office remodeling with a 48.7% return on a project cost of $29,066. No project that cost more than $25,000 finished in the top ten, with the attic bedroom coming in twelfth with a 77.2% return on a $51,696 investment.

Higher-return projects had another common thread — most were exterior projects. Curb appeal is incredibly important to a home sale, and many exterior projects cost less than interior ones, thus providing a double benefit in value.

Replacement projects (doors, windows, siding, etc.) tend to have a better payoff than full remodeling projects, and this report reinforced the trend. The gap extended to a 12.4% higher payoff for replacements compared to remodeling (73.2% compared to 60.8%).

Where you live also plays a large factor. If you live in the San Francisco Bay area, you cannot go wrong with remodeling. San Francisco tops the list with a 103% expected return on any project and a 147% expected return on the addition of a wood deck.

How do you maximize the value with your geographic location and housing needs? First, there is no reason to embark on any of these projects just because you are trying to increase the value of your property. Replace as you need to, and remodel as you want to. Renovations should fit your vision and needs.

Assuming you have identified a project, try to time it to when local contractors are in a slow period, typically early spring or the late fall/early winter depending on the climate you live in. You can gain a bit more leverage that way. Avoid trendy picks — backup home generators skyrocketed after Superstorm Sandy, but plummeted to one of the lowest return investments in 2015. Of course, if you do live in a storm-prone area, a backup generator might be a good idea regardless of resale value.

Details and general trends may be found at the Remodeling website. Look them over for advice on the types of remodeling that give you the best return on investment — and then go ahead and do what you want. It is your house, and you should enjoy it and modify it in your own way.

More From MoneyTips:

TIME real estate

Trader Joe’s vs. Whole Foods: Which Store Boosts Your Home Value The Most?

Analysis shows that living near one store boosts your home value more than living near the other

There’s no doubt Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods go head-to-head to compete for customers, but when it comes to which store could boost your home value the most, there’s a clear winner.

Housing data site RealtyTrac compared home values, appreciation, and property taxes of zip codes with a Trader Joe’s nearby to those with a Whole Foods in the area. The site found that residents with a nearby Trader Joe’s saw their home values increase 40% since their home purchase. Compare that to homeowners near a Whole Foods, who saw the value of their houses appreciate 34%, which matches the nationwide average for all zip codes. Homes near a Trader Joe’s also had a higher average value overall: $592,339—5% more than homes near a Whole Foods, which are valued at $561,840. Houses in close proximity to either store are worth quite a bit more than the average American home, valued at $262,068.

But it’s not all dark chocolate peanut butter cups and jumbo cinnamon rolls for Trader Joe’s devotees — there’s a downside to living near a TJ’s, too. Homeowners with a Trader Joe’s close by pay higher property taxes on average—$8,538 annually, a whopping 59% more than homeowners with a nearby Whole Foods, who fork over $5,382 per year.

TIME real estate

Why Renting in America Is More Expensive Than It’s Ever Been

Vacancy Rate For U.S. Apartments Reaches Highest Rate In 20 Years
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Folks on the West Coast have it especially bad

Strong demand for rental units has given landlords leeway to jack up apartment prices and they’ve certainly done so. Americans are now spending more on rent than they ever have before.

According to a new report from Zillow that tracked data going back to 1979, rents hit their least-affordable point to date in the second quarter of this year. U.S. renters can now expect to spend 30.2% of their income each month on rent payments.

Some renters on the West Coast have it even worse. People in Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Francisco can expect to dedicate more than 40% of their monthly income on rent, that’s 10 percentage points above historical norms. The same goes for renters in Miami.

The news is better for prospective home owners. Mortagages continue to remain relatively affordable. Homebuyers should expect to spend 15.1% of their income on a mortgage payment. That’s down from the 21.3% they paid prior to the real estate bubble and burst.

MONEY home financing

How to Get a USDA Home Mortgage

pamspix—Getty Images

The USDA has been offering mortgages to "rural" homebuyers since 1991.

Unless you are buying a home in a rural area, you may not have even considered a Department of Agriculture loan or realized that the USDA participated in the mortgage market. The USDA loan program was created in 1991 to increase homeownership in rural areas – however, the USDA has a very liberal definition of “rural”, so you may find that a suburban home still qualifies.

USDA loans have two major advantages over traditional loans.

Down Payment/Fees – USDA loans require no down payment, and since the 2% mortgage insurance fee can also be financed, it is possible to borrow up to 102% of the home price. The overall size of the insurance fee compares favorably to Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) applied to traditional loans with less than 20% down.

Easier Qualification – The requirements for overall income, debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, and minimum acceptable credit score are far more forgiving for USDA loans compared to conventional loans.

There are two varieties of USDA loan: the Guaranteed Loan, which is made through third-party lenders and backed by the USDA, and the Direct Loan, for even lower-income homebuyers, that is directly funded by the government. Qualifications for the direct loan will be stricter than for the guaranteed loan because of the higher risk involved.

There are a few other qualification issues, aside from the limitations of rural areas as defined by the USDA.

Primary Residences – USDA loans must be for primary residences only – no purchases of investment property. Farm loans are handled under different, non-residential programs.

Purchase Price – The home must be “modest in size, design, and cost.” Those vague qualifications keep the home price low relative to the area. The intent is to help those who are having difficulty buying homes, not to subsidize larger homes or wealthier homeowners.

Credit Score/DTI – The true limit on the price will be set by the traditional risk factors of credit score and debt-to-income (DTI) ratio since they will dictate the acceptable amount of risk. The lower qualification limits are usually a credit score of 640 or higher, and a DTI of 29% with mortgage costs or 41% including all debt. However, the USDA has been known to stretch these requirements to accommodate those in worse shape.

Income Limits – Guaranteed loans generally require that your income be less than 115% of the area median household income; direct loans require less than 80%. At less than 50%, you probably do not have sufficient income to qualify for a loan at all. You still have to convince a USDA lender, whether it is a third party or the government, that you are capable of paying back the loan.

Guaranteed USDA loans generally have 30-year fixed terms (15-year fixed loans may be available) and the lender sets the interest rate. Direct loans have even longer terms (33-38 years), with interest rates set by the government. Not all lenders handle USDA loans, so do some research to find a USDA-approved lender with whom you are comfortable.

The “rural” designations change from time to time, so be sure to check with the USDA to make sure that any property that you are interested in still qualifies.

If you are moving to an area that may be considered rural and you meet the USDA loan guidelines, check the status of properties in your new area and look over your USDA options. You may decide that a conventional or FHA loan is preferable to keep your debt load down – but if you cannot qualify any other way, a USDA home loan may be your ticket to homeownership.

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MONEY home financing

Why Latino Americans Are Denied Home Loans More Often Than White Applicants

Hero Images—Getty Images

Latinos have driven homeownership growth for the last decade, but get approved for mortgages at half the rate of non-Hispanic white applicants.

With the exception of 2009 and 2010, Latinos have driven homeownership growth in the U.S. for more than a decade, according to Census Bureau data. Still, they’re experiencing significant obstacles to homeownership, which is the subject of a recent report from the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals.

Hispanic mortgage applicants were denied loans at twice the rate of non-Hispanic white applicants in 2013 (22% vs. 11% denial rates), and in the same year, Latinos accounted for only 7.3% of purchase mortgages, even though they make up 17% of the U.S. population, according to the report. (The report uses Hispanic and Latino interchangeably.)

In the report, that disparity is largely attributed to the use of conventional credit scoring models and the lack of affordable home options. Despite these obstacles, Hispanics represent half of the U.S. homeownership growth since 2010, with 614,000 more Hispanics becoming homeowners in that time.

“While Hispanics remain poised to drive homeownership growth for the next several decades, with only a few exceptions there is little evidence that the industry as a whole has done much to address the unique nuances of many Hispanic homebuyers,” the report says.

For example, immigrants are more likely to repay their mortgages than their credit scores suggest, according to a Federal Reserve study cited in the report, and while not all Hispanic homeowners are immigrants, many are. Additionally, about half of Latino households are considered unbanked or underbanked, according to a study from the Center for American Progress, and unbanked consumers tend to be left out of traditional credit scoring models, which are used to underwrite mortgages.

“Traditional models generally do not capture transactions outside the conventional banking payment systems,” reads the NAHREP report. “This omission puts ‘unbanked’ borrowers at a disadvantage, since their good payment history using cash transactions are not considered in their credit score.”

This data paints a picture familiar to many aspiring homeowners, regardless of ethnicity: People want to buy homes and may even feel financially ready to do so, but their preparedness doesn’t allow for them to with a tight mortgage market and a short supply of affordable homes.

There’s not a lot consumers can do to change this, other than work on their credit scores and thoroughly research their options for buying a house. There are a few mortgage programs designed for first-time homebuyers, including those that require a low down payment (the NAHREP report notes that Hispanics are more likely than other consumers to make low down payments on homes). We explain how to figure out your down payment here.

On the credit side, you’ll need to regularly review your credit standing in the years and months leading up to the time when you buy a home — it’s a habit you should maintain throughout your life.

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