MONEY buying a home

5 Signs It’s Time to Break Up With Your Real Estate Agent

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Caroline von Tuempling—Getty Images

If your agent goes MIA, it's on to the next one.

Working with a real estate agent is similar to a romantic relationship: the introduction, a whirlwind courtship, followed by a commitment. My dear agent, “I do” promise to work with you to search for and buy my beloved new home.

That initial flurry of activity turns into hanging out on the weekends, exploring home after home. The rush of a new project as you work together toward a common goal can bond your partnership even further.

But what happens if the rosy glow disappears from your cheeks and there’s no longer a real estate skip in your step? How do you know when it’s time to think about changing real estate agents? Here are five signs that it might be time to say “it’s not you, it’s me” to your real estate agent.

Missing in action

Whether it’s a personal or business relationship, we all know when we’re getting the brushoff. Text messages aren’t returned quickly. Phone calls get sent to voicemail — and then returned by your agent’s assistant. Your emails seem to disappear down a dark hole, and your request to see a new home on the market is begrudgingly met three days later.

In a cold market, this behavior is simply unacceptable. But when it’s a scorching hot market? Forget it. You’re never going to land your dream home with an agent who treats your business relationship this way. You’ve been sidelined, and it’s time to move on.

High-pressure sales tactics

Rather than a new home, you begin to feel as though you’re shopping for a used car on a discount lot. Each conversation leaves you shaky with anxiety, fearing that every other decent house in the city (and in your price range) is currently under contract and this is your only shot to lock one down.

Regardless of how hot the market is, interactions with your agent should not leave you feeling anxious. Sure, it’s their job to convey accurate market information, but in an honest and straightforward manner.

They’re not listening

You’ve communicated your deal-breaker list to your agent and they consistently show you homes without several of your coveted features. You’re tired of explaining that a second bathroom is not a luxury — it’s essential for your sanity.

When you feel as if you’re wasting time spending Saturday and Sunday afternoons touring homes with an agent who is so clearly missing the mark, it might be time to move on. But before you break the news to your agent, consider asking if there aren’t any homes with your required features in your price range — a problem with an entirely different fix.

They stand you up

After leaving work early and rushing to your agent’s office to sign paperwork, you find their assistant armed with a calendar for an appointment reschedule. Having other clients and commitments is perfectly acceptable, but failing to communicate in advance is not. Their time is not more important than yours.

With that said, life does sometimes get in the way of a carefully planned schedule. If this is an isolated incident, treat it accordingly — if not, you may need to make some changes.

They make decisions for you

You’ve submitted an offer and your agent neglects to ask if you would agree to a longer closing date. Instead, they take it upon themselves to reply for you — and the sellers went with another offer. Regardless of previous conversations, your agent should discuss all contracts and offer details with you in a timely fashion. Full representation does not mean making decisions on your behalf.

As in a romantic relationship, it can be easy to convince yourself you’re overreacting to circumstances by sweeping things under the carpet. Remember, this is an important business relationship and should be given priority. If you’ve communicated openly with your agent and you’re not 100% satisfied, then move on and find an agent who not only meets your needs but also exceeds them.

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MONEY home financing

Buying a Home Just Got Easier for Cash-Strapped Families

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Hill Street Studios—Getty Images

Here's how Fannie Mae is helping low income families achieve the American Dream.

Government-sponsored mortgage giant Fannie Mae is starting a new home loan program for low-income borrowers called HomeReady, with the goal of improving creditworthy consumers’ access to affordable mortgages through low down-payment requirements, homeownership education and other specialized underwriting criteria.

The HomeReady program will be available to borrowers in areas designated by the U.S. Census Bureau as low-income, in addition to borrowers who make less than 100% of the area median income in high-minority census tracts and designated natural disaster areas, according to a news release from Fannie Mae.

Perhaps most notable is the new way HomeReady will determine applicants’ debt-to-income ratio: It will include non-borrower household members’ incomes, extending mortgage access to multi-generational households.

“Fannie Mae’s research indicates that these extended households tend to have incomes that are as stable or more stable than other households at similar income levels, positioning them well for homeownership,” the news release says.

Additionally, applicantions can include incomes from borrowers who will not be living in the homes, such as parents, as well as rental income the borrower may generate from something like renting out a basement apartment. HomeReady can help any qualified borrowers, whether they’re first-time homebuyers or not, to purchase a home with a down payment as low as 3% of the property value. As part of the program requirements, borrowers must complete an online education course that will prepare them for the homebuying process and the homeownership that follows.

The program is supposed to extend homeownership access to low-income consumers, but they still need to have decent credit to qualify (Fannie Mae did not define what it deems creditworthy). Someone with good credit generally makes loan and credit card payments on time, minimizes their debt and credit card balances and applies for new credit only when necessary. A good credit score means your past financial behaviors indicate you’re likely to repay your future loans on time, which makes you more appealing to a potential lender. Good credit also helps you get lower interest rates on loans, which can make a huge difference in what you pay for a mortgage, so regardless of what program you go through to get a mortgage, you want to start the process with as good a credit score as you can manage.

More from Credit.com:

MONEY buying a home

9 Things to Ignore at an Open House

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Pablo Scapinachis—Getty Images

Don't be put off by the weird wallpaper.

Don’t let signs of a home’s previous life deter you from making it your dream home. The sellers may not have had the time, money, or willpower to professionally stage or remodel their homes before their open house, but that isn’t always a bad thing.

While a turnkey home is ideal for people who want to move right in and make no changes, don’t ignore those “time warp” homes. They can be incredible gems that just need a little polishing. As you step into each home while you’re house hunting, try your best to ignore these nine buyer turnoffs that are actually pretty easy to adjust.

An older home

“Old” isn’t synonymous with bad. In fact, sometimes newer homes are more affordable simply because they were built with cheap materials — and that may cost you more money in upkeep than a home built decades ago with quality materials that have proven to stand the test of time.

Remember that there are many simple fixes to modernize a dated home, and many older homes are full of charm and character that you can’t find in a brand-new build.

Paint colors

Ignore the existing paint choices and focus on the structure of the room, the placement of the windows, etc. Paint is an incredibly easy, cheap fix and something you can change in just a few hours.

Wallpaper with roosters and chickens

It may feel as if you are walking into a barnyard, but remember that wallpaper (even when it’s covered with roosters and chickens) is easily replaced or covered over. So no matter how design-challenged the walls look, it’s an easy fix.

Kitchen appliances and accessories

The kitchen is the heart of the home, but sometimes the appliances just don’t live up to your dreams. As long as you have room in your budget or a timeline to replace the existing appliances, a seller’s ancient yellow fridge shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

Ugly carpet

Flooring options are getting more and more diverse, and there are now many low-cost options that look just like their higher-priced counterparts. Don’t walk away from a great house just because you’re not a fan of what you’re walking on.

Funky smells

Serious mold problems aside, there are few things a deep cleaning can’t fix. Plug your nose and focus on the home’s bones and the potential it has once you give it your own touch.

Curb appeal

If you’re not saying “wow” when you first drive up, that’s OK. Close your eyes and envision a different-colored front door and some new landscaping, and, presto — it might just transform into your dream home!

Popcorn ceilings

It’s great at the movies, but not at home. No worries! A ceiling specialist can come in and have all that popcorn texturing scraped off. Just make sure you have it done before you move in — it’s a messy job.

No privacy

The house feels too exposed and lacks privacy from next door? Easy fix. Remember, “Hedges make great neighbors.”

Read next: What Should I Do Before I Buy a Home?

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MONEY Financial Planning

5 Marriage Milestones That Will Forever Change How You Think About Money

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sturti—Getty Images

From buying your first house to planning for retirement.

First comes love, then comes marriage …

Then come all kinds of exciting-yet-stressful life events that can completely transform your finances.

Babies. Houses. Job changes. The list goes on and on.

And like any major shift, these events can stir up emotions that will not only affect your relationship, but also impact the financial decisions you make.

“Everyone tells you not to make big decisions from a place of worry or upheaval, but that’s exactly what big milestones create in our lives, making it impossible to feel like you’ve made choices from a place of peace,” says Megan Ford, LMFT, a licensed marriage therapist and president-elect of the Financial Therapy Association.

The solution?

You need to recognize (and prepare!) for the fact that these major life moments are likely to send you on an emotional roller-coaster—and spur a need for significant financial adjustments.

It’s precisely why Mary Beth Storjohann, a CFP and founder of Workable Wealth, tells all of her clients to set a monthly money “date” with a partner—a designated time to talk through the state of your finances and what emotions are coming up around them.

With regular financial check-ins, you’re more likely to discuss the big milestones before they come, Storjohann says, and be in a much better position to plan for them.

To help you navigate the ups and downs of life, we’ve asked marriage and money pros to offer their best advice for how to keep five common milestones from derailing your marriage—and finances.

Marriage Milestone #1: Buying Your First House

Purchasing a new pad is exciting—but once that first rush of adrenaline is over, the new day-to-day reality quickly kicks in, says Ford.

Aside from the increased money pressure, having to agree on every last paint color and fabric swatch can highlight your differences and drive home just how difficult compromise can be.

What You’re Both Likely to Feel … Excited, scared, proud, frustrated and overwhelmed. And while it may seem counterintuitive, buying a new home can also spark a sense of loss.

With such a big purchase comes big responsibility, and the number of unexpected expenses that often surface can lead to the realization that you’ve just lost a lot of your freedom.

“Your priorities around being able to do things—both financially and timewise—are going to shift once you’re a homeowner,” says Ford, adding that this can significantly impact the dynamic between you and your partner.

How to Keep Your Finances on Track … When a good chunk of your available funds go into your home, says Ford, you can end up house-rich and cash-poor—a recipe that’s likely to highlight financial friction between the two of you.

So before you even apply for that mortgage, have a frank conversation about how much home you can really afford—and how you’re going to finance it.

And if you find yourselves feeling maxed out once you’re in your new digs, you might want to look into refinancing your mortgage to reduce your monthly payment, says Storjohann, and even consider taking on a side gig.

And although it can be tempting to get your home pulled together quickly, you should also delay spending on other big-ticket items, like that fancy Viking range you’ve been coveting.

Read next: Buying a House Together Before Marriage? Read This First

Marriage Milestone #2: Bringing Home Your (Million Dollar) Baby

Few experiences in life can produce as much joy—as well as sleep deprivation, stress and money concerns—as a new addition to the family.

And when we say money concerns, we mean it: The average lifetime cost of raising a kid now exceeds $245,000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What You’re Both Likely to Feel … Happy, exhausted, thrilled, depressed … and very, very stressed.

With your bills at record highs, and your savings goals more ambitious than ever (college costs how much?!), it’s no wonder many new parents tend to feel overwhelmed when they take a closer look at their finances.

It’s also understandable that you’d want to make sure your new center of the universe has the best of everything—no matter the cost.

“So many new parents feel pressured to buy the most expensive items for a baby,” Storjohann says. “That pressure to spend more than what’s really needed—or what you can actually afford—can be intense.”

How to Keep Your Finances on Track … Before your baby is born, look into exactly what you’re entitled to when it comes to your company’s maternity and paternity leave policies, says Storjohann, as well as what less obvious expenses are covered by your company benefits—such as a gym membership and even help with child care.

Bottom line: You don’t want to miss out on any paid time off or covered costs.

Also, once your baby arrives and you have a clearer picture of how much things really cost, redo your baby budget. Factor in every detail you can think of, including things like birthday gifts for other kids.

Then run the numbers and have an honest conversation with your partner about what you can afford to spend—and where you should cut back.

“These things can add up to thousands of dollars a year,” Storjohann says. “Figuring out how you’re going to adjust can feel empowering and reduce your stress.”

Marriage Milestone #3: Your Combined Income Dips

Whether one of you intentionally leaves a job—perhaps to take care of children or start a new business—or you’re dealing with unexpected job loss, making less money as a couple can create a lot of strain.

What You’re Both Likely to Feel … Anxiety, pressure, fear and maybe even resentment.

“When one partner has to pick up all of the financial slack, it can be really tough on a marriage,” Ford says. “Not only does the working partner feel extra stress and responsibility, but the partner who’s not making money can feel shame.”

How to Keep Your Finances on Track … If a job loss is unexpected, you should discuss together just how much you’re going to tap into your emergency fund, as well as where you can cut back expenses for the short-term.

And regardless of whether you can or can’t plan for a loss of income, says Storjohann, you should be prepared for it by having a retooled household budget at the ready.

Another crucial move, says Ford, is for both partners to continuously identify and discuss their feelings, so they don’t fester.

“When you keep emotions locked up, they end up taking on a life of their own—and have the potential to cause you to make rash financial decisions,” she says.

Marriage Milestone #4: You Have to Care for an Elderly Parent

When a parent or loved one reaches the point of needing your help—both physically and financially—the situation can shift how you spend your time and finances.

There’s even a term for those who find themselves having to juggle the competing demands of caring for young kids and elderly parents at the same time—the sandwich generation.

What You’re Both Likely to Feel … Sadness, worry, guilt, anger and frustration. And those are just some of the emotions you may be experiencing.

Not only are you worried about your aging parent, but you’re also feeling the ripple effect on your own finances and commitments. All of this rearranging of time and money can be stressful—especially if you’re also taking care of your children.

And you may feel angry and frustrated because you’re the one having to carry the burden for everyone—which can lead to guilt, says Ford. And that guilt can create even bigger money worries if it causes you spend more money than you can afford.

“It can be very scary to pull money from your retirement accounts if you don’t have a system in place, and having a plan ensures what you’re taking out of savings is sustainable.”

How to Keep Your Finances on Track … Ideally, this is something you and your partner will talk about—and plan for—well before your loved ones need elder care, says Storjohann.

“This is actually part of the discussion when my husband and I have our monthly money dates,” she says. “It’s crucial to talk about who might need our help one day, and what we, as a couple, are willing to do to support those people.”

Her advice if you’re feeling guilty about not being able to do enough?

“I recommend saying to family, ‘This is what I have to help support you, but that’s all I can do at this time,’ ” she says. “The more parameters you’re able to set, the less obligated you’ll feel to go above and beyond.”

Marriage Milestone #5: You’re Ready to Retire

After years of being knee-deep in deadlines and conference calls, your time hasfinally come to clock in for the last time.

But while you thought you’d be celebrating that much-deserved retirement on your first European cruise, you haven’t even booked your tickets yet.

What You’re Both Likely to Feel … Elation, fear, relief, stress and more. Ford says that, in her practice, she’s seeing a lot of retired couples who should be rejoicing—but who are worried and unhappy instead.

“People are living longer and saving less—and that can create a stress storm that impacts marriages,” she explains.

And for those who have carefully saved, says Ford, they face a big adjustment when it comes to actually tapping into those accounts.

How to Keep Your Finances on Track … First, Storjohann suggests coming up with a list of all the things you want to do in retirement.

“This will put you in the best position to come up with a spending plan for those retirement goals,” she says. “It can be very scary to pull money from your retirement accounts if you don’t have a system in place, and having a plan ensures that what you’re taking out of your savings is sustainable.”

Plus, if after doing that plan, you find your retirement spending isn’t going to allow you to live your current lifestyle, it gives you time to reassess.

For example, you might want to scale back on spending in your golden years in certain areas, or consider taking on a part-time job in retirement, so that you can withdraw less.

Feeling particularly anxious that you haven’t saved enough? You may want to consider easing into retirement part-time—often referred to as semi-retirement.

“I think a lot of new retirees benefit from getting used to the retirement lifestyle in stages,” Storjohann says. “It can help you figure out what it is you really want to do—and how, exactly, you’ll pay for that.”

LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc., that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. Unless specifically identified as such, the individuals interviewed or quoted in this piece are neither clients, employees nor affiliates of LearnVest Planning Services, and the views expressed are their own. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed, linked to or otherwise appearing in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.

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MONEY buying a home

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

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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.

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MONEY student debt

Is Student Debt Really Keeping Millennials from Growing Up?

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Getty Images/Image Source—Getty Images/Image Source

Evidence is mixed, but a new survey indicates it's having greater impact now than on previous generations.

Young adults with student debt are postponing life events like buying a home or car, getting married, and having babies at higher rates than other age groups did, according to a new survey.

Overall, 45% of respondents who ever had student loan debt said they had put off life events because of it. For borrowers currently between 18 and 29, that number rises to 56%, according to the survey from Bankrate.com.

On the other hand, that means that about 55% of respondents (including about 44% of millennials) haven’t delayed life events because of student debt.

Economists, too, are studying the precise effects of student loan debt on the economy and consumer behavior. The familiar headline is that student debt is a significant strain on the economy, since it reduces borrowers’ ability to access other forms of credit. And there’s certainly some evidence to back that up.

Read next: College Textbooks Cost 1041% More Than in 1977

A recent working paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found that counties with higher levels of student loan debt had less small-business growth. A survey by the National Realtors Association found that 12% of all recent home buyers said they delayed their purchase because of debt, and among millennials who did so, half said it was specifically because of student loan debt. And the New York Fed also has studied home ownership trends and found that young adults with student debt were less likely to own homes than those without it.

Steve Pounds, a financial analyst with Bankrate, also points out that the number of student loan defaults and delinquencies shot up during the recession. While that involved a relatively small share of borrowers, it’s likely to affect their credit for the rest of their lives. “That has to be a drag on the auto, real estate, and stock industry,” he said. “How much of a drag? I don’t know. But it’s an side effect that has to be noted.”

At the same time, college graduates still enjoy more income and job stability. Bachelor’s degree holders had median earnings last year that were $23,000 higher than high school graduates, and their unemployment rate was almost half of the 6% rate among high school grads, according to the New York Fed.

And some studies have suggested that characterizing student loans as a crisis scenario may be a bit a melodramatic. For example, TransUnion tracked the borrowing behavior of milliennials and found that while they are buying cars and applying for mortgages at lower rates than previous generations, that’s true regardless of whether they’re paying off student debt.

Check out the new MONEY College Planner

In the Bankrate survey, two-thirds of younger borrowers said they didn’t receive enough information about the financial risks of loans. Millennials were more likely than older borrowers to say they were delaying money-related life events in four out of five categories. The odd exception? Retirement savings. Less than 20% of millennials have delayed saving for retirement, slightly below the quarter of baby boomers who said they had done the same.

Are you concerned about paying back your student loans? Read MONEY’s 8 Ways to Stop Student Loans From Ruining Your Life

You Might Also Like: The 25 Best Colleges for Merit Aid

MONEY buying a home

8 Ways to Convince Home Sellers to Accept Your Offer

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Jay Spooner—Getty Images

Sweeten your bid without raising it.

What happens when the seller of the house you really love won’t budge off asking price, and you simply cannot up your bid? Answer: You dig into your bag of buyer tricks and choose the right strategy.

Although it’s money that usually will motivate sellers, there’s more than one way to win this game. If you really want the house and your offer is at least within the ballpark of others on the table, don’t give up until you’ve tried some creative ways to motivate your seller.

1. Find out what your seller wants

This one is easier than you might think. There’s only one step: just ask.

Each seller’s situation is unique, points out Tali Raphaely, president of Armour Title Co. “Buyers just need to educate themselves on the goals and needs of the sellers to find out what other types of arrangements or contract clauses the sellers would find especially helpful.”

For example, some sellers want a short escrow period, and some want a longer one. If you know which your seller wants, you can accommodate those needs.

“I always suggest asking the listing agent what the perfect escrow period for the seller is,” says David Kean, a luxury home specialist with Teles Properties in Beverly Hills.

2. Offer cash

If you can offer a cash sale, you have a great chance of getting the seller to accept your below-asking-price offer.

“Nobody will turn away a cash buyer,” says Julie Pelle, a luxury property specialist in Scottsdale, AZ.

But if you’re like most people and will be taking out a mortgage, do the next best thing and secure a preapproval letter from your lender. Sellers often prefer a strong offer to a high one. It’s the difference between knowing the deal will close and worrying about the deal falling through.

“Submit a well-written, straightforward offer and include a loan preapproval as well as proof of down payment,” recommends David Kean.

3. Rent the house back to the seller

Your seller might not be ready to move just yet. To get the price down, you could “offer the seller the option to stay in the house after the closing date … for a specified period of time,” says Raphaely.

Rob Williams, a Washington, DC real estate agent, explains how: “Close within the traditional 30-day window so that the seller gets the proceeds from the sale, but let them remain in the property rent-free for a short, specific time period, typically one to four weeks.”

4. Waive contingencies

This tactic is controversial. It’s like buying a used car “as is” without first having a mechanic check it out. This might work out if the car is certified pre-owned from a dealer. Might not if it’s a lemon with no warranty from Sketchy’s Used Car Lot.

Some houses are riskier than others, and while some real estate agents recommend this move, most don’t.

“No contingencies and being flexible may be attractive to the seller,” says Katherine Salyi of Nest Seekers International, Team Ryan Serhant in New York.

But Andi Blackwell, a broker in Portland, OR, says waiving contingencies is a major don’t. “Giving up your right to walk away based on inspections or appraisal could cost you far more in the end.”

Confused? Your real estate agent can help guide you.

5. Offer to buy the furniture

Many sellers don’t want to bother moving all their stuff. If you like the furnishings, let the seller know you’re interested in buying them and make the furniture deal a separate transaction with a separate bill of sale.

6. Write a heartfelt letter

Although most agents will tell you that sellers usually care more about their net profit than about whoever moves into their home, writing a heartfelt letter could tip the scales.

Pelle has her clients include a letter that explains how “they look forward to enjoying the home just as much as the current owner has.” She’s found that sellers appreciate buyers who will respect the home, especially if it’s a unique or historic property.

7. Play hardball

Realistic sellers don’t expect buyers to pay more than the home’s value. If a seller’s price is overly optimistic, work with your agent to kindly point this out. Include comparable sales and neighborhood statistics.

But hardball has its limits. Some buyers try to get the price down by pointing out how much work the home needs.

“Trying to win through intimidation is soooo yesterday,” says Sissy Lappin, a Texas real estate agent. “Insulting someone’s home is like insulting their child.”

8. Think outside the box

In this case, it’s the pizza box. One Portland, OR buyer who owned a pizza restaurant offered the seller “free pizza every month for life.”

“If you have a special service or product, use your assets,” says Andi Blackwell.

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MONEY buying a home

21 Reasons Why Corner Lots Are For Suckers

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Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury—Getty Images

Less privacy, more dog poo.

From time to time we bring you posts from our partners that may not be new but contain advice that bears repeating. Look for these classics on the weekends.

For the six people left in America that are still looking to buy a home, I thought I’d pass on a little advice and save you a serious case of buyer’s remorse.

Don’t be fooled by real estate agents that try to tell you that a corner lot is highly desirable. They’re not.

Oh sure, you’ve got a bigger lot and neighbors on only two sides, but as a former corner lot owner, trust me when I say the cons far outweigh the pros.

In fact, besides often being more expensive to buy, here are 21 additional reasons why corner lots just aren’t worth it:

1. Noise, noise, noise. Double street and sidewalk frontage means double the noise from pedestrian and car traffic. Pull up a chair and crack open a cold one; I’m just gettin’ started.

2. Unconventional configurations. For example, the front yard of a home on a corner lot is usually bigger than the back, and the garage may be located around the corner.

3. Yard — lots of it. Larger lots mean more to mow. It’s even worse when the lawn is big but not so large that it justifies buying a riding mower – which is usually the case.

4. Yard — lots of it (Part II). All things being equal, larger lawns have higher landscape costs.

5. More trash to pick up. Cars stopping at a stop sign are more likely to dump their trash on your big front yard. You’re also liable to get more trash because…

6. Corners make great school bus stop locations. Hey, I have kids too. I’m just sayin.’

7. Less privacy. Yes, you have one less neighbor, but in exchange for that you get foot traffic on twosides of the house instead of only one. Trust me, if you’re worried about privacy you’d be better off with the extra neighbor. Speaking of foot traffic…

8. Kids and other pedestrians like to use corner lawns as a shortcut. When given the choice, most people will save 16 seconds of their life by cutting across the front lawn of a corner home. But before you get any bright ideas, just remember this…

9. Less privacy (Part II). Many jurisdictions severely restrict privacy fence heights or prohibit them all together for traffic safety. Even if there are no privacy fence restrictions, corner lot owners have to deal with…

10. Higher fence costs. Having one less neighbor to deal with is terrific! Well, unless you need to borrow a cup of sugar. Or you’re trying to get your neighbors to share the cost of a new fence.

11. Double tax assessments. Because corner lots border streets on two sides, you may get hit for twice as many sidewalk and street assessments.

12. Double set-back requirements. Owners of corner lots may be subject to city or other jurisdictional easements or set-back requirements on two sides of their property, rather than just one.

13. More dog poo. Although I haven’t taken the time to do a definitive scientific study, I’m quite certain the probability of an off-leash neighborhood dog pooping on a corner-lot front lawn is 100 percent. Prove me wrong.

14. Greater risk of a car crashing into your house. Okay, I admit it; the probability of this happening is about as likely as Christina Aguilera hiring Taylor Swift as a vocal coach, but it’s hard to argue that it ain’t true.

15. Bigger snow jobs. For those of you who live in colder climes, more sidewalk means more snow to shovel.

16. Less privacy (Part III). Corner lot backyards are exposed to the public. That can be a nuisance if you’re trying to have a private family barbecue — or sunbathe in the nude. (Not that I do that, but to each his own, right?)

17. More light pollution. Increased street lighting and headlights from cars turning corners can be a nuisance.

18. Yard — lots of it (Part III). Folks on corner lots have more leaves to rake — especially those who live downwind from adjacent parks.

19. More vulnerable to burglary. Because there are fewer neighbors surrounding the home and more escape routes – courtesy of streets on two sides – homes on corner lots are bigger burglary targets.

20. More pressure from neighbors and associations. Because corner homes are often considered gateways to streets or cul de sacs and neighborhoods, the appearance of these homes are often held to a higher standard by the community and neighborhood associations.

21. They are harder to sell. Most realtors will tell you that corner lots are tougher to sell. Gee, I wonder why.

More From Len Penzo dot Com:

TIME advice

How to Decide Whether to Rent or Buy a Home

toy-house
Getty Images

Thinking about how long you'll be in the property

When determining whether or not you’re ready to be a homeowner, there are a number of factors to consider — several of which are personal, and hinge on exactly where you want to live.

“Many property experts would say that there are parts of the country where renting outweighs the costs of ownership,” says Brian Sergi-Curfman, a Realtor in Pittsburgh. “Potential buyers or tenants may find themselves in markets that are depreciating or, conversely, in areas where values have priced them out of the housing market. The decision to rent or buy should be influenced not only by market trends but by the client’s long- and short-term goals.”

Sheryl Grider Whitehurst, regional vice president for the National Association of Realtors, says home ownership rates are declining, having reached a peak at 69.4 percent in 2004. In the first quarter of 2015, the home ownership rate was 63.8 percent, which is the lowest it’s been since 1994.

“Young people are delaying buying a home due to student debt,” Grider Whitehurst says. “They just aren’t earning enough to carry a mortgage and the debt. Another factor is the economic crisis that occurred in 2007. People started losing their properties and have to get their finances in order to buy property again.”

And yet nationally, buying a home is 35 percent cheaper than renting, according to Trulia.com. With 30-year mortgage rates available below 4 percent, home ownership appears more affordable than many might think.

The economics of where you live certainly weigh heavily on the decision to buy or rent, but what other factors should you consider?

The pros and cons of renting

After 20 years of owning a three-bedroom, three-bath, two-story home on a steeply sloped lot, empty nesters Gay and Harry Stephens were ready to downsize. They now live in a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in a building that was once an all-girls Catholic school in Newport, Kentucky.

“We wanted to rent because it’s easier to take care of and we have the ability to turn the key and walk away when traveling,” she says. “There’s no yard work, and someone else is now responsible when there are maintenance issues.”

Gay Stephens says the couple also likes their location and accessibility to favorite restaurants and entertainment venues in Northern Kentucky and downtown Cincinnati.

“I was surprised how much I enjoy urban living,” she says, adding that there are some negatives to renting, such as slow response times for repairs and not building equity through their housing costs.

Other disadvantages to renting can include unanticipated rent increases, non-renewal of a lease, and not being able to customize the living space.

“On the other hand, you’re not tied to the property nor do you have to come up with a down payment and closing costs to live there,” says Realtor Josh Bushner in Austin, Texas. “If you’re new to a city or not sure you’ll be there for longer than three years, I usually recommend renting until you’re certain you’ll be staying longer. Also, make sure coming up with a down payment won’t put you in a cash-strapped position. Take time to get familiar with a city and find neighborhoods that will meet your lifestyle.”

Elizabeth Cales of Clarksville, Tennessee, says that despite being financially secure enough to purchase a home, she’s happy to rent.

“It’s a buyer’s market here,” she says. “You can get a mortgage for $650 a month, which is what we pay in rent, but with my husband’s work we’re not sure we’ll be here in three years. We don’t want to take a loss on a house we might not be able to sell.”

Cales says one of her favorite aspects of apartment living is the close-knit community, so much so that the Angie’s List member gave her complex a positive review. “The neighbors are all close and it’s just nice,” she says. “I feel more secure having people around.”

The pros and cons of owning a home

Home equity is one of the biggest assets to buying instead of renting. In addition, most buyers can obtain tax benefits by writing off real estate taxes, mortgage interest, and specific closing costs, whereas renters don’t typically get federal tax deductions. Although, some states will offer a tax break for renters.

In addition, house renters often don’t realize that they’re paying the principle, interest, taxes, and insurance (and usually some extra padding for landlord repairs) in their monthly payments, which could be put toward building equity in their own homes.

Newlywed Leslie Radigan-Yodice of Albuquerque, New Mexico, initially thought she and her expanded family would move from an apartment into a rental home, but after figuring out the finances, they decided in the summer of 2014 that it was a great time to buy.

“My monthly payment is about $300 more, but we have a four bedroom, two-bath house with a garage,” she says. “I love that we’re building equity while creating a true home. And I love that I don’t have to walk across the street to do my laundry.”

Sometimes, the decision to own a home comes down to certain intangibles.

“While there’s definitely a strict financial answer to whether it’s better to rent versus buy, don’t discount the emotional part of the process,” says Deb Agliano of Re/Max Andrew Realty in Medford, Massachusetts. “For some people, it’s not a matter of what makes more financial sense, emotionally they want to know that they own their own home.”

Mary and Garret Goetzinger of Portland, Oregon, say owning their four-bedroom Craftsman is a welcome change after 15 years of renting.

“Being able to create your own space and freedom to design it however you want is a positive,” the couple agree, noting that they did have to move a little farther out than they anticipated to get the house they wanted. “Owning a home isn’t cheap, and we’re on the hook if something goes wrong.”

Handling the maintenance, upkeep and repairs is one of the biggest differences for Janice Pare and her husband Gordon Wichern, who recently purchased a three-bedroom Cape Cod in Arlington, Massachusetts.

“One other negative is the lack of flexibility to move whenever and wherever we want with just 30 days notice,” Pare says. “But we feel that being homeowners makes us more invested in our community, and we plan to get more involved in our new part of town.”

Deciding to buy a house is a big responsibility, and potential homeowners need to answer some serious questions before taking that leap, says real estate agent Dianne Hansen in Fairfax, Virginia.

“Will it give you a sense of pride?” she asks. “Are repairs stressful or something you’re willing to learn to do? How long will you be in the house? If it’s less than two years, it might not be worth buying. If you’ll be there five or more years, it’s a good bet.”

So … rent or buy?

After weighing all the factors, it might come down to what will make you happy.

“If you’re not sure if you want to buy or rent, think about the enjoyment you will get out of owning your own home,” Hansen says. “If there isn’t any, you might want to rent for a few more years.”
Sergi-Curfman agrees, and says no one should frown upon the idea of renting.

“The American dream has always included the white picket fence surrounding a house in the suburbs, but for many people, this dream is really a myth,” he says. “Renting should never be looked at as inferior to owning a home. You and only you know your goals best, and it is incumbent upon any potential buyer or renter to seek out professional advice from people that they trust to give them a fuller financial picture of their current and future goals.”

Yet, Grider Whitehurst says despite the potential attractiveness of renting, most people want to own a home at some point in their lives.

“Overwhelmingly, Americans see home ownership as a good investment,” she says. “You have to pay to live somewhere — whether you rent or own. You just have to know when is the right time for you.”

This article originally appeared on Angie’s List

More from Angie’s List:

MONEY buying a home

Why Millennials Are Better Off Waiting 10 Years to Buy a Home

Millennial in front of house for rent
Daniel Grill—Getty Images

A new Fed study finds most young adults require years of saving before they can afford home ownership.

In a report sure to make the real estate industry cringe, researchers at the St. Louis Federal Reserve suggest most young adults postpone home ownership for years, if not a decade or longer. This comes as the housing market is beginning to boom again and older Millennials, a group that generally has eschewed homeownership, shows signs of wanting to take the plunge.

Can this be sound advice? Home ownership has been a reliable long-term wealth builder for generations. Often home equity is retirees’ largest asset and, along with Social Security, enough for them to live out their days financially secure.

The housing bust changed the calculus. Flipping and other short-term strategies, and risky nothing-down and no-documentation mortgages, contributed mightily to the bust. Yet short-term moves have always been dicey. Properly considered, a home is less an investment than a forced savings plan and place to live. Over time, real estate keeps pace with inflation and a stable, affordable mortgage provides a valuable tax deduction.

The Fed study does not dispute that. It is an examination of age and wealth, and finds that younger families are on track for a lower net worth than all previous living generations. Adjusted for inflation, the median wealth of families headed by someone at least age 62 rose 40% between 1989 and 2013—to $210,000 from $150,000. Meanwhile, median wealth of households headed by someone age 40 to 61 fell 31% to $106,000 and median wealth for younger families fell 28% to $14,000.

Researchers conclude that younger families would be better served by maintaining a personal asset mix that more closely resembles the asset mix of older families—less debt and less real estate relative to their other assets. In other words, stretching for that first home when you have no other savings and little ability to save going forward is a huge mistake.

This “mistake,” by the way, is one plenty of families in previous generations made—and for many it paid off well. What seems to have changed is a greater degree of speculation that leads to a boom-bust pattern in the housing market, one that can wipe you out in the short term if your timing stinks. The Fed researchers write that young people should “delay purchase of a home with its attendant debt burden until it was possible to buy a house that did not make the family’s balance sheet dangerously undiversified and highly leveraged.”

John Bucsek, managing partner of MetLife Solutions Group, finds merit in the Fed’s argument, saying that young families should rent for years for less money than a mortgage would cost. That preserves career flexibility and cuts monthly costs. They should begin saving in a Roth IRA to build long-term wealth through a diversified portfolio. They should also pay down student loans and other debts. Later, when they have more assets, if need be they may withdraw their original Roth IRA investment plus up to $10,000 penalty free for a first-time home purchase.

That is sound strategy, and would have been especially valuable advice before the housing collapse. Today the housing market is on firmer footing. Banks remain careful about extending credit, and in June the median price for an existing home rose 6.5% to a record $236,400, at last topping the previous high of $230,400 set in July 2006—before the bust. The pace of homes being sold is the strongest since 2007. All this suggests the market is in full recovery, though the prominent economist Robert Shiller, as ever, is raising red flags about a bubble.

At the same time, Millennials, a generation that pioneered the sharing economy and many of whom have claimed to never want to own anything, are poised to enter the housing market. A Digital Risk survey found that 70% of 18-to-34 year olds are interested in purchasing a home in the next five years. If they act on that interest, it will further boost the housing recovery—and if they commit to staying their house and saving a bit on the side, they will begin to build long-term wealth much like their parents and grandparents.

Read next: These States Offer the Most Help for Buying a Home

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