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14 Top Tips for first-time home buyers
The challenge of buying for the first time can seem so daunting that it's tempting to either just go with the first house that falls in your price range or continue to rent. To help you demystify the process and get the most out of the purchase, we'll examine...

Top Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

The challenge of buying a home for the first time can seem so daunting that it's tempting to either just go with the first house that falls in your price range or continue to rent. To help you demystify the process and get the most out of the purchase, we'll examine what you'll need to consider before you buy, what you can expect from the buying process itself, and some handy tips to make life easier after you purchase your first home.

Considerations before you buy:

The first thing you'll need to determine is what your long-term goals are and then how home ownership fits in with those plans. It could be that you're simply looking to transform all those "wasted" rent payments into mortgage payments that actually give you something tangible. Others see home ownership as a sign of their independence and enjoy the idea of being their own landlord. Narrowing down your big-picture homeownership goals will point you in the right direction. Here are five questions to ask yourself:
  1. What type of home best suits your needs? You have several options when purchasing a residential property: a traditional single-family home, a townhouse, a condo, or a multi-family building with two to four units. Each option has its pros and cons, depending on your homeownership goals, so you need to decide which type of property will help you reach those goals. You can also save on the purchase price in any category by choosing a fixer-upper, although the amount of time, sweat equity and money involved to turn a fixer-upper into your dream home might be much more than you bargained for.

  2. What specific features will your ideal home have?
    While it's good to retain some flexibility in this list, you're making perhaps the biggest purchase of your life, and you deserve to have that purchase fit both your needs and wants as closely as possible. Your list should include basic desires, like neighborhood and size, all the way down to smaller details like bathroom layout and a kitchen that comes with trust-worthy appliances.

  3. How much mortgage do you qualify for?
    Before you start shopping, it's important to get an idea of how much a lender will actually be willing to give you to purchase your first home. You may think you can afford a $300,000 home, but lenders may think you're only good for $200,000 depending on factors like how much other debt you have, your monthly income and how long you've been at your current job. (For an introduction to the terminology and structure of a mortgage, read our tutorial Mortgage Basics.)

  4. How much home can you actually afford?
    On the other hand, sometimes a bank will give you a loan for more house than you really want to pay for. Just like with the purchase of a new car, you'll want to look at the house's total cost, not just the monthly payment. Of course, looking at the monthly payment is also important, along with how much down payment you can afford, how high the property taxes are in your chosen neighborhood, how much insurance will cost, how much you anticipate spending to maintain or improve the house, and how much your closing costs will be. (For help deciding what mortgage type is best for you, read Shopping For A Mortgage and Make A Risk-Based Mortgage Decision.)

  5. Who will help you find a home and guide you through the purchase?
    A real estate agent will help you locate homes that meet your needs and are in your price range, then meet with you to view those homes. Once you've chosen a home to buy, these professionals can assist you in negotiating the entire purchase process, including making an offer, getting a loan, and completing paperwork. A good real estate agent's expertise can protect you from any pitfalls you might encounter during the process. (Keep reading about this in Finding A Listing Agent and The Benefits Of Using A Real Estate Attorney.)

The Buying Process

Now that you've decided to take the plunge, let's explore what you can expect from the home buying process itself. This is a chaotic time with offers and counter-offers flying furiously, but if you are prepared for the hassle (and the paperwork), you can get through the process with your sanity more-or-less intact. Here is the basic progression you can expect:
  1. Find a home.
    Make sure to take advantage of all the available options for finding homes on the market, including using your real estate agent, searching for listings online and driving around the neighborhoods that interest you in search of for-sale signs. Also put some feelers out there with your friends, family and business contacts. You never know where a good reference or lead on a home might come from.

  2. Consider your financing options and secure financing.
    First-time homebuyers have a wide variety of options to help them get into a home, including federally-backed loans and loans for homebuyers who don't have the standard 20% minimum down payment. Your state may also have its own programs for first-time homebuyers. Your mortgage interest rate will also have a major impact on the total price you pay for your home, so shop around. It will really pay off. (To learn more, read Understanding The Mortgage Payment Structure.)

  3. Make an offer.
    Your real estate agent will help you decide how much money you want to offer for the house along with any conditions you want to ask for, like having the buyer pay for your closing costs. Your agent will then present the offer to the seller's agent; the seller will either accept your offer or issue a counter-offer. You can then accept, or continue to go back and forth until you either reach a deal or decide to call it quits. If you reach an agreement, you'll make a good-faith deposit and the process then transitions into escrow. Escrow is a short period of time (often about 30 days) where the seller takes the house off the market with the contractual expectation that you will buy the house - provided you don't find any serious problems with it when you inspect it. (For more on the escrow process, read 10 Hurdles To Closing On A New Home.)

  4. Obtain a home inspection.
    Even if the home you plan to purchase appears to be flawless, there's no substitute for having a trained professional inspect the property for the quality, safety and overall condition of your potential new home. If the home inspection reveals serious defects that the seller did not disclose, you'll generally be able to rescind your offer and get your deposit back. Negotiating to have the seller make the repairs or discount the selling price are other options if you find yourself in this situation. (For tips on coming out ahead in any negotiation, read Getting What You Want.)

  5. Close or move on.
    If you're able to work out a deal with the seller, or better yet, if the inspection didn't reveal any significant problems, you should be ready to close. Closing basically involves signing a ton of paperwork in a very short time period, while praying that nothing falls through at the last minute.

    Things you'll be dealing with and paying for in the final stages of your purchase may include having the home appraised (mortgage companies require this to protect their interest in the house), doing a title search to make sure that no one other than the seller has a claim to the property, obtaining private mortgage insurance or a piggyback loan if your down payment is less than 20%, and completing mortgage paperwork. (For more on the pitfalls of private mortgage insurance, check out Six Reasons To Avoid Private Mortgage Insurance)

Congratulations New Homeowner ... Now What?

You've signed the papers, paid the movers and the new place is starting to feel like home. Game over right? Not quite. Let's now examine some final tips to make life as a new homeowner more fun and secure.
  1. Keep saving.
    With homeownership comes major unexpected expenses, like replacing the roof or getting a new water heater. Start an emergency fund for your home so that you won't be caught off-guard when these costs inevitably arise. (To make saving for your emergency fund a breeze, read Build Yourself An Emergency Fund.)

  2. Perform regular maintenance.
    With the large amount of money you're putting into your home, you'll want to make sure to take excellent care of it. Regular maintenance can decrease your repair costs by allowing problems to be fixed when they are small and manageable.

  3. Ignore the housing market.
    It doesn't matter what your home is worth at any given moment except the moment when you sell it. Being able to choose when you sell your home, rather than being forced to sell it due to job relocation or financial distress, will be the biggest determinant of whether you will see a solid profit from your investment.

  4. Don't rely on making a killing on your home to fund your retirement.
    Even though you own a home, you should still continue to save the maximum in your retirement savings accounts each and every year. Although it may seem hard to believe for anyone who has observed the fortunes some people made during the housing bubble, you won't necessarily make a killing when you sell your house. If you want to look at your home as a source of wealth in retirement, consider that once you've paid off your mortgage, the money that you were spending on monthly payments can be used to fund some of your living and medical expenses in retirement. (To learn how to get the most for your house when it is time to sell, check out Fix It And Flip It: The Value Of Remodeling.)


This brief overview should help put you on the path towards filling in any gaps in your home-buying knowledge. Remember that the more you educate yourself about the process beforehand, the less stressful it will be, and the more likely you will be to get the house you want for a price you can afford - and with a smile on your face.

Article courtesy of

Smart ideas to change the way we use (and waste) the water.
After oxygen, water is the second most essential thing we need to stay alive. Our body can't survive more than a week without water. Yes, only 7 days! Don't you think that could be a good reason to modify our consumer habits and start to care for water conservation? Here several simple tips to apply in your daily life....

Why change our small consumer habits if those in power continue behaving the same old way?   Never underestimate the power of ONE.
If we demand other products and other options, the government and companies will have to adapt their attitudes. These are only small changes but if we all make them, they will represent a big change. The changes asked of us are not difficult, we are not even asked to give up our comforts…just make small and feasible adjustments.

In this series dedicated to the planet we will review, water, energy, garbage and Co2 amongst other important issues. This first issue will address something very vital: Water conservation.

Water everywhere?
As young children we were repeatedly taught that ¾ of the planet is covered by water and this seemed like an enormous number.  However, once we grew up a little, we realized that we cannot drink the ocean’s water as is and … that only 3% of the water in the planet is fresh water.  When we now realize that the world population’s rapid increase in the last 15 years has led to 3x the previous demand, it becomes clear that conflicts about this vital element are inevitable.  
Everyone can do “something” and if we all do it at the same time, we can do “plenty”.
In the bathroom:
- Close the faucet while shaving or brushing your teeth.

- Do not open the faucet all the way; open it only as much as needed.  Regulating the water coming into the house is the best way to control your usage. ( If you already have a weak water flow at your house, you have even more reason to watch your usage!)

- Instead of taking a bath, take showers which use 10 times less water (this saves up to 20,000 liters of water a year).

- Shampoo and detergents are contaminants.  They must be used in moderation and as much as possible opt for biodegradable products.

- Keep the shower water running only when you are using it, turning it off while using soaps and other prodcuts.  Do not soap up under the running shower, you will be using more soap which will contaminate that water even more.
In the kitchen:
- Do not wash food under a running faucet.  Use a container.  Upon finishing, this water can be reused to water the plants.

- Never dump oil in the sink.  It floats over the water and is very difficult to eliminate, preventing bacterial decomposition.

- When washing dishes, first wet the dishes and then close the faucet while you soap them.

- Think carefully whether it’s really worth it to buy bottled water instead of using tap water.  It increases the energy expense in its production and creates future residuals (plastic bottles).  Refill bottles with tap water, close and shake them, then open them again to allow the chlorine gas from the movement to escape from the bottle. Keep these bottles in the refrigerator.

In the garden:
- Always water the plants early in the morning or after dusk to prevent the loss of water through evaporation.

- Place mulch around your plants to cover the soil and reduce evaporation, this also prevents unwanted plants from growing and it keeps the soil healthier.

- Water hoses can lie around spilling water.  Use a regulator with automatic shut off.

- Drop irrigation is the most efficient method and yields better savings.

- Inspect the water meter at your house when you are not using water, to see if you may have any leakages. Repair the leaks without delay.  A toilet that is not functioning properly can waste up to 200 gallons of water per day.  10 drops of water per minute represents 530 gallons of water wasted per year
In other activities:

When doing laundry, use the water/energy saving setting on your washing machine.  Try to use just the minimum amount of water and detergent necessary to get your clothes clean.

To wash your car, use a bucket with soap and water and only use a hose to do your final rinse.

Anywhere in the world:
Do not throw any kind of trash into the ocean, rivers or lakes.  Actually, don’t throw trash anywhere other than into trash cans, the wind and the rain will carry it to the water.

Be very careful with motor oil.  Just a few drops can contaminate a large water supply.

Article courtesy of Utopia Magazine

Gadgets of 2013: The future is upon us
From Apple iTV to augmented reality glasses, these are the gizmos heading our way this year. Have a look...

From Apple iTV to augmented reality glasses, these are the gizmos heading our way this year.

Check a few already confirmed...


iPhone 5S

As per usual, it is expected that Apple will release an "S" update before moving up an integer.

Possible features? Respected tech industry analyst Peter Misek is predicting it will come with a new "super HD camera/screen, a better battery and NFC [near field communication - used in such things as contactless payment systems]". He also claims that, like the Nano, the phone will be available in six to eight colours.

When can I buy one? Misek suggests that Apple will be speeding up its cycle of launches, so we should expect it in June.


Apple iTV

There has been speculation for some years that Apple would make a land grab for the TV market. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently remarked that turning on a TV is like going "backwards in time by 20 or 30 years". That is, like the music and phone industry previously, it's in need of an Apple update.

Possible features? Cult of Mac reported that the TV would feature both Siri and iSight to enable voice and face recognition – iPhones and iPads could also be used to control it.

When can I buy one? Gene Munster (industry analyst) has predicted that the Apple iTV will be launched in October 2013: "It should cost $1,500-$2,000 and come in sizes from 42 inches to 55 inches." It is likely a UK version would only be released when licensing deals with British TV channels are finalised.


Xbox 720

Microsoft's long-awaited follow-up to the Xbox 360, rumoured to be called the Infinity.

Possible features? Like the Kinect, the console will use motion detection technology and T3 recently revealed that Microsoft had filed a patent concerning projecting augmented reality 3D images on walls, which would require you to wear Wi-Fi-enabled 3D glasses. May also include a Blu-ray drive.

When can I buy one? A Microsoft executive did talk about a "new Xbox" but this statement was quickly withdrawn by the company; however, the company has placed job ads which mention the new console. A Bloomberg report says the XBox 720 is likely to be available from autumn 2013.


Amazon phone

The internet giant is said to be adding a phone to its range of Kindle readers.

Possible features? Don't expect any revolutionary hardware, but the software will allow seamless integration between Amazon's Appstore, Amazon MP3, Amazon Cloud Player and Kindle books. In short, it will be more of an multipurpose Amazon revenue-generating device than a phone. As PC Magazine has suggested, it's likely to be cheap. This is because Amazon is expected to subsidise the cost of the handset and the monthly price plan using the revenue from the vast amount of Amazon media, electronics and whatnot you are inevitably going to purchase with it. It is also likely to come pre-loaded with a bar code scanner, which will point out how much cheaper everything is on Amazon. Yes, it does sound pretty Faustian.

When can I buy one? Your pact could start in mid-2013.

Augmented reality glasses

Google and a company called Vuzix are lining up futuristic specs for people who can't bear not to be connected.

Possible features? More of a headset than a pair of spectacles, the Vuzix projects a small colour image in front of your eye, runs the Android operating system and connects via Bluetooth to your phone. The screen could show you text messages, emails or map directions.

What this device's killer app will turn out to be is anyone's guess. It could, for instance, use face recognition to remind you of fellow partygoers' names, their CVs and their latest Facebook status updates and tweets – never be stuck for small talk again! A scary Charlie Brooker-scripted future is heading our way, basically.

When can I buy one? Google Glass isn't expected until 2014.


Google Glass

Models parade in Google Glass augmented reality eyewear at a New York fashion show. Photograph: Edward Le Poulin/Corbis



A "learning thermostat" designed by two former Apple employees, it has already been described as the "iPhone of thermostats" by Wired.

Possible features? Via Wi-Fi, it connects with your smartphone, allowing you to control your heating whether you're at home or not. Over time it learns your schedule and designs a heating or air-conditioning programme around it. It can detect when you're not at home. And it looks pretty: it glows orange for heating, blue for cooling.

When can I buy one? They're already available in the US for $250 – the manufacturer claims you will claw that back in utility bill savings in two years.

How to throw an unforgetable costume party
Costume parties were frequent on Renaissance era but they become especially popular in the England of 18th century. These parties at that time represented the high life of entertainment. In present times are also extremely popular and always a great idea for a party that will be long-time remembered and commented by your guests.

Even though the theme could change a lot, they all shared one thing: Costumes. Throwing a costume party offer a fun opportunity for guests to dress up in elaborate costumes and 'hide' their identities. Anyway, it's fun but not as easy as a regular party. Organizing will take time, creativity efforts and a greater deal of planning. Here some ideas to help you surprise everybody!


Determine the size of the party. If you are planning a huge affair, you need to begin planning at least six to nine months in advance. If you are hosting a small masquerade ball, give yourself at least four months to get everything organized. Put together a guest list immediately.


Organize your budget, breaking down the elements for your party. It should include big costs such as venue, food, entertainment and decorations. Be realistic as your organize your finances. If you are throwing the party with friends, include them in the budgeting process and the planning.


Examine your budget sheet. Do price comparisons by calling venues, caterers, musicians and local stores. Adjust your budget according to the price evaluations. If you want to save costs, enlist your friends and family to help out with decorating, cooking or other tasks. Consider a pot luck. If you have five friends and they all bring two platters of appetizers, you don't need a caterer. The party can be at a friend's house or backyard, sparing you the expense of renting a venue.


Pick a theme. Common themes include Mardi Gras, gothic, Halloween, Carnival, Vampires and the Renaissance. Once you select the theme, incorporate it into other elements of the party. For example, if you are doing a Mardi Gras theme, serve Cajun food. Offer appetizers and champagne for a Renaissance party.


Book a venue and caterer immediately. You'll need to lock in these elements six months in advance of a big party, four months in advance for a smaller function. Provide the caterer with the number of guests you are expecting so he can give you a cost estimate and finalize menu ideas.


Send out invitations two months in advance. You can purchase them, make them yourself or send them by email. Tell your guests what kinds of costumes to wear. Do not send the invites at the last minute. Guests need time to put together costumes and find masks.


Research local bands and DJs in your area. If you are looking to save money, contact your local high school and speak to the band teacher. Ask if she knows any talented student musicians willing to work at a lower cost. Make sure you hear the students play before hiring them.


Write up a contract for the band or DJ. The contract will protect both of you in case there's a time conflict or money issue.

Note: Planning these types of parties can be stressful. If you have a large, dependable group of friends designate groups to take care of elements such as decorating, food and music. Just make sure that everyone understand the vision and the budget.


Article by Tina Cisneros, Courtesy of eHow




















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