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Earth Day: Time to Go Green While Saving Some Green

It’s Earth Day, and it’s never been a better time to start looking for ways to go green while saving yourself some green. At Lamar Smith Signature Homes, our homes include energy efficiencies that promise to cut your energy consumption and save you money. Our homes are better for the environment and better for you!

Among the Energy Efficiencies incorporated into a Lamar Smith Signature Home are:

— ENERGY STAR certified new homes are designed and built to standards well above most other homes on the market today, delivering energy efficiency savings of up to 30 percent when compared to typical new homes. An ENERGY STAR home has undergone inspections, testing, and verification to meet strict requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

— At Lamar Smith Signature Homes, we only use Low-E windows which are made with a special coating to reflect radiant infrared energy. Infrared heat radiating from the sun during the summer is reflected away, keeping it cooler inside, while radiant heat originating from indoors in winter is reflected back inside.

Throughout our models you’ll find the best house logo displayed. We encourage you to stop by one of models in any of our communities throughout the area and look for the BEST house logo with the highlighted E. Each time you see this logo you’ll know these are features that represent an Energy Efficient feature.

Happy Golfer's Day!

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April 10th is Golfer’s Day! This annual “holiday” is dedicated to those who love the sport of golf.

Regardless of how young or old you happen to be or whether you consider yourself a novice or pro, today is the perfect day to get out on the course, play a round or two and take your best swing! And Lamar Smith Signature Homes has the perfect community for golf lovers called Lost Plantation.

Located in Rincon, Ga., just minutes from Savannah, Lost Plantation is truly a masterpiece community with its mature 18-hole golf course, clubhouse and grill, two lighted tennis courts, two swimming pools, cabana, sidewalks, fishing pond, and pocket parks with playgrounds throughout. This intertwined community is a return to what communities used to be. Your neighbors are a mixture of young couples, families with children, and empty-nesters enjoying active lifestyles and beautiful outdoor settings.

Lost Plantation offers a little of everything, including the exceptional Effingham County Public School System. The mature golf course offers a scenic backdrop to the many fairway homes, and, if you do not play golf, you do not pay anything for enjoying the setting that a golf course provides. You only pay if you play.

Visit the HOA website for more information:  www.LostPlantation.com

Each exclusively selected homebuilder at Lost Plantation creates a unique neighborhood within a specific price niche and style of 3 to 5 bedroom homes. No matter what taste, price point, or preference a homeowner might have, Lost Plantation probably has the perfect home or home site.

Prices Reduced AGAIN in Rice Creek!

We have further reduced the prices of ALL of the Move-In Ready homes in Rice Creek, located in Port Wentworth, GA on Highway 21 just west of Rice Hope.

The Retreat at Rice Creek exudes a sense of place. It brings back memories of close-knit neighborhoods, community parks, and inviting homes – all serving as gathering spots for neighbors and friends. Rice Creek’s clubhouse hosts events and gatherings and includes a resort-style pool and kiddie pool, a playground surrounded by plenty of green space, a jogging/walking trail, and scenic lagoons. It is located in Port Wentworth, GA, on Highway 21 just west of Rice Hope.

Custom touches and classic style describe the homes in The Retreat at Rice Creek. Whether you favor smaller spaces or need lots of room for a growing family, the charming designs in our Plan Library offer home plans designed for affordability with style. From abundant storage to flexible spaces, the path to better home design leads you to Lamar Smith Signature Homes in Rice Creek.

If location in real estate is everything, Rice Creek has it all! Just 20 minutes from either the Historic Downtown Savannah or the popular shopping venues on Southside Savannah; or 15 minutes from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport; or 10 minutes from Gulfstream; or a leisurely 30-minute drive to Hilton Head Island and a quick 50 minutes from Georgia Southern University. Within 2 hours, you can be in Charleston, SC, or Jacksonville, FL

Budgeting for your first home purchase

So, you’ve gotten your financial situation in order and are ready to buy a house. Do you know how much house your monthly budget can handle?

Budgeting for your first home purchase
You’ve probably used a mortgage calculator to get an idea of the price range in which you should be looking. While that might give you a very rough idea of the homes you should consider, it shouldn’t be the only budgeting you do.

In addition to your down payment, there are other expenses to consider, both at closing and after your moving truck pulls up, including:

— The upfront cost of a home inspection ($300 to $400).
— Closing costs, including appraisal, loan, title and lender fees. The average closing cost on a $200,000 mortgage is $3,754, according to Bankrate’s annual survey of closing costs.
— Monthly homeowners-association fees.
— Moving costs.
— Maintenance costs; credit counselors suggest putting aside 1% of your home’s value annually to make needed repairs.
— Higher utility costs.

The bigger gas, electric or water bills that come with a home often take new homeowners by surprise. Call your local utility company before you buy to get an idea of what the average bill is in your area.

Credit counselors also suggest that before you purchase, you practice making mortgage payments, transferring the difference between your current rent and the expected mortgage bill into savings.

Grand Opening Celebration at Teal Lake!

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You’re Invited to Our Grand Opening Celebration!

7 Litchfield Drive Savannah, GA 31419

Saturday March 9 10am – 6pm
Sunday March 10 1pm – 5pm

All are invited to our Grand Opening Celebration at Teal Lake to see our brand new model home! The Savannah is our premier “Mini Mansion” with a master suite that boasts almost 1000 square feet of luxurious space all to itself! This home features a double staircase complete with gorgeous wrought-iron spindles, A large, open kitchen with Corian and granite countertops, and the latest in color and design.

We're Hosting a Realtor Appreciation Event!

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We are hosting a Realtor Appreciation Event at Teal Lake
on Thursday, March 7th, from 6-8 pm
7 Litchfield Drive Savannah, GA 31419

 All Savannah area REALTORS and real estate sales agents are invited! 

This is a drop-in event and no RSVP is needed.

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JOIN US FOR:

– Heavy hors d’oeuvres, wine, beer, and soft drinks
– Over $500.00 in cash & door prizes to be given away!
– Great incentives and offers on new homes for your buyers

 

You have to see our brand new model home! The Savannah is our premier “Mini Mansion” with a master suite that boasts almost 1000 square feet of luxurious space all to itself! This home features a double staircase complete with gorgeous wrought-iron spindles, A large, open kitchen with Corian and granite countertops, and the latest in color and design.

The new model home is just finished and decorated and open for tours!

Prices Reduced in Rice Creek!

We have recently reduced the prices of ALL of the Move-In Ready homes in Rice Creek, located in Port Wentworth, GA on Highway 21 just west of Rice Hope.

The Retreat at Rice Creek exudes a sense of place. It brings back memories of close-knit neighborhoods, community parks, and inviting homes – all serving as gathering spots for neighbors and friends. Rice Creek’s clubhouse hosts events and gatherings and includes a resort-style pool and kiddie pool, a playground surrounded by plenty of green space, a jogging/walking trail, and scenic lagoons. It is located in Port Wentworth, GA, on Highway 21 just west of Rice Hope.

Custom touches and classic style describe the homes in The Retreat at Rice Creek. Whether you favor smaller spaces or need lots of room for a growing family, the charming designs in our Plan Library offer home plans designed for affordability with style. From abundant storage to flexible spaces, the path to better home design leads you to Lamar Smith Signature Homes in Rice Creek.

If location in real estate is everything, Rice Creek has it all! Just 20 minutes from either the Historic Downtown Savannah or the popular shopping venues on Southside Savannah; or 15 minutes from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport; or 10 minutes from Gulfstream; or a leisurely 30-minute drive to Hilton Head Island and a quick 50 minutes from Georgia Southern University. Within 2 hours, you can be in Charleston, SC, or Jacksonville, FL

Tax Time Tips for Home Owners

Taxes are due April 15, which means it’s time to start gathering your W2s, 1099s and bank statements.

But before you sit down with your accountant, it’s important for you to know that merely owning a home could mean you qualify for tax breaks. In most cases, you need to itemize your taxes in order to take advantage of these deductions.

Here are a few of the tax breaks you’ll want to investigate:

Mortgage interest paid at settlement

Take a look at your closing statement; one item that’s generally listed there is home mortgage interest. On a mortgage of up to $1 million, you can deduct the interest that you pay at settlement if you itemize your deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040). This amount should be included in the mortgage interest statement provided by your lender.

Points

Did you pay points in order to obtain your home mortgage? These fees are included on the income tax deductions list and can be deducted as long as they are associated with the purchase of a home. 

Property taxes

As long as they are based on the assessed value of the real property, you can deduct your state and local property taxes. However, if your money is being held in escrow for the purpose of paying property taxes, you cannot claim this deduction until the money is actually taken out of escrow and paid. If you do this, check your Form 1098 for the amount you may deduct. Be aware that if you receive a partial refund of your property tax, the amount of the deduction you can claim will be reduced.

Selling costs

If you sold a home in the past year, you may be able to reduce your income tax by the amount of your selling costs. These costs can include things such as repairs, title insurance, advertising expenses and broker’s fees. The IRS only allows the deduction of repair costs associated with selling if the repairs were made within 90 days of the sale. It’s also crucial that the repairs were made with the intent of improving your home’s marketability. Selling costs are deducted from your gain on the sale.

Home office

If you use a portion of your home exclusively for the purpose of an office for your small business, you may be able to claim a deduction on your taxes for costs related to insurance, repairs and depreciation. You may only claim this deduction if the space within your home is used exclusively and regularly as either your principal place of business or a place where you meet and deal with customers or patients. You may also be able to take advantage of this deduction if a portion of your home routinely is used for storing items (product samples, inventory, etc.) used in your business. In tax year 2010 (the most recent year for which figures are available) nearly 3.4 million taxpayers claimed the home office deduction.

Mortgage insurance premiums

You may be able to deduct the premiums paid for private mortgage insurance for your principal residence and for a non-rental second home. The deduction begins to phase out once your adjusted gross income reaches $100,000 ($50,000 for married filing separately). In general, you can deduct the premiums paid for the current tax year only. A qualified tax adviser can provide information about rules for mortgage insurance provided by the Federal Housing Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and Rural Housing Service.

Construction loan interest

If you take out a construction loan to build a home, you may qualify to deduct the interest. The IRS only allows a deduction for mortgage interest if the loan relates to a “qualified” home, which means it must either be your principal residence or a vacation home that you will use for personal purposes.

Tax codes can be confusing. You may want to consult the IRS website for information concerning deductions and credits. Additionally, consider meeting with a professional to ensure you’re not missing any deductions for which you’re eligible.

Introducing BEST house!

We introduced BEST house: A New Standard of Excellence this past Sunday in our new commercial that aired just before the Super Bowl kickoff show. If you missed it, don’t worry! You can watch the commercial right here, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about BEST house in the weeks and months to come. To find our more about this new standard of benchmarks you can visit the BEST house page on our website.

We're Ready for Kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday!

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We’re kicking off BEST house: A New Standard of Excellence
just before the Super Bowl kickoff this Sunday! Our new commercial will air
during the last commercial break before kickoff on WTOC-TV.

At Lamar Smith Signature Homes, we’ve created a new standard of excellence in the homebuilding industry. This new standard employs a system of benchmarks and quality features which make our homes second to none! We call it BEST house and it was created exclusively by Lamar Smith Signature Homes.

The word BEST is an acronym that outlines our standard features:

 

The B in BEST HOUSE represents Building Standards.

Our building standards ensure that your home is far-superior to any other on the market!

Several examples of our many Building Standards include:

— Our homes come standard with 16” stud spacing for all walls, load-bearing and non load-bearing. 16” stud spacing is structurally superior to the 24” spacing used by some builders. This ensures straighter walls and higher quality.

— In the Coastal Empire, we’re no stranger to high winds and hurricanes. In fact, the state building code requires that all homes built here include some kind of “hurricane-proofing”. We employ a system that far exceeds the old standard still used by most area builders. The Quick-Tie Hurricane system secures the roof of your home to the foundation using a intricate system of steel cables and plates. This system is standard in all of our homes.

 

The E in BEST HOUSE stands for Energy Efficiencies.

Our homes include energy efficiencies that promise to cut your energy consumption and save you money. Our homes are better for the environment and better for you!

Among the Energy Efficiencies incorporated into a Lamar Smith Signature Home are:

— ENERGY STAR certified new homes are designed and built to standards well above most other homes on the market today, delivering energy efficiency savings of up to 30 percent when compared to typical new homes. An ENERGY STAR home has undergone inspections, testing, and verification to meet strict requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

— At Lamar Smith Signature Homes, we only use Low-E windows which are made with a special coating to reflect radiant infrared energy. Infrared heat radiating from the sun during the summer is reflected away, keeping it cooler inside, while radiant heat originating from indoors in winter is reflected back inside.

 

The S in BEST HOUSE denotes our Selections.

We offer hundreds of selections and options which allow you to personalize your new home. We make your dream home a reality!

The following are two of our Selections Standards:

— During the selection process you are invited to our state-of-the-art design center. Featuring hundreds of hand selected options for you to choose from, our design center allows you to personalize your new home. You can be assured that your home is built exclusively for you.

— Space and comfort in your home are high priorities. Featuring 9’ ceilings on the main floor of all two story homes, as well as open living areas, we have integrated maximum living space and extravagant design. To ensure you find a home that suits your needs, we have developed numerous floor plans. High volume ceilings, rounded corners, and innovative designs set our homes apart from the rest.

 

The T in BEST HOUSE stands for Total Value.

We include a 10-year warranty, money for closing costs, top-quality construction at a competitive price, and a team of dedicated professionals with decades of experience in the home-building industry.

Some of the Total Value Standards include:

— It’s imperative that you are assured that your home will last and is protected. At Lamar Smith Signature Homes, we include a 10 year warranty giving you peace of mind. This warranty keeps you from paying for costly repairs on appliances, plumbing, and electrical problems. We’re committed through this warranty, to save you time and money.

— We understand just how valuable your time is, that’s why we have integrated both the financial assistance and an agent who will guide you through the home buying process. We will connect you with one of our preferred lenders, who will work with you throughout the process. When using one of our preferred lenders, we will pay $5,000 of your closing cost, saving you more money.

 

Throughout our models you’ll find the best house logo displayed. Each time you see the logo you’ll know these are features that represent a BEST house quality.

Home Ownership: Good or Bad for Your Credit?

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When it comes to debt, we each tend to think of different types of debt in different ways. For example, you may feel “normal” for having an auto loan but ashamed of having credit card debt. So what about real estate? People buy homes either as a home to live in or as a way to earn extra income. Either way, I think it’s safe to say that most look at it as “good” debt — either out of necessity (the cost of a home makes it nearly impossible for anyone to purchase one in cash) or simply because it’s so common.

Since the housing bubble burst, it may be time to rethink whether real estate can always be considered “good” debt. Like anything else, the answer to this depends on where you are financially and what you can afford to take on. Below are a few points to help you make a decision that’s right for you.

First off, let’s go through a few questions:

How Will You Pay?

This is more important than you may realize. The way you choose to pay will have a direct and large impact on everything to follow. To start off, if there’s any way at all you can pay for the property in cash, then you may want to do that. Any time you can avoid losing money to interest, that’s something to take very seriously. Of course, you may not have enough money to pay in cash, or you may not want to drain your savings account if you do. If either is the case, consider your down payment. The larger your down payment (20 percent is considered very good), the lower your monthly mortgage payment will be (as well as the lower principle balance). And while someone may offer you credit for little to no down payment, this will cost you more in interest in the long run. Higher mortgage payments leave you less income to save and to meet basic needs.

What’s Your Score?

Do you know your credit score? Now’s the time to find out what it is and do everything in your power to raise it before you obtain a new mortgage. This includes disputing any errors and paying off whatever debt you can. The score you have when you apply will determine exactly how much you can borrow and at what interest rate. If your score needs a lot of work, then you are probably better off spending your time and resources building that first. Remember, if you’re going to take out a 30-year loan on a property, it’s worth waiting a year or two to get a lower interest rate. A change in interest rate can cost — or save — you thousands of dollars during the life of your loan. First, you have to understand your credit report. As you work on building your credit, you can check your progress by obtaining your credit score every month. There are many free options, among them is Credit.com’s Credit Report Card.

How Will This Affect Your Debt-to-Income Ratio?

How much money do you earn and how much money do you owe? This is very important to consider both when applying for new loans and when simply evaluating your financial health. It’s best to stay at or under 30 percent, so take a look at what your new payments will be and compare them to what you take home. If the number hovers at 50 percent or above, you may not be in the best financial health to purchase a new home. Remember that real estate comes with many other costs like taxes, eventual repairs, maintenance and so on. So if there’s little to no extra room in your budget for these costs, purchasing a home could really put you in hot water later.

If you’ve answered these questions and decided to move forward with purchasing real estate as an investment, let’s just take one more look at how it can affect your credit score.

How It Can Hurt

There are many ways a mortgage can hurt your credit score. Making late payments is the No. 1 way to damage your score. If you have a high debt-to-income ratio, that may also translate to a dependency on credit cards that leaves you with high revolving balances. This also has a negative impact on your score. The No. 1 thing to consider isn’t just the amount of money you’re making now, but the likelihood that your job is secure and that the income is reliable — and also make sure you understand the difference between a fixed rate and a variable rate. The variable rate may seem low now, but if you budget your mortgage based on that, you’re at a high risk of not being able to make your payments if and when the rate goes up. No matter what, determine your risk of not being able to make payments before taking the plunge.

How It Can Help

There are ways that a mortgage can help your credit score — especially if you make timely payments. Having a history with a financial institution does have a positive effect on your credit score, but only if you make payments on time, every time. Want to pay off this debt even faster? You could sign up for biweekly payments rather than make one monthly payment. This splits your monthly payment in two and equals one extra payment each year while having little effect on your monthly budget. In other words, you’ll save money on interest payments, lower the life of your loan, and ensure that you don’t have late payments on your credit report.

It comes down to this: There’s no such thing as a good debt or bad debt. It all depends on the timing in your life. Are you ready for the payments, will you be able to afford the payments in the years to come, and do you have contingency plans set up to prevent potential financial disaster? Explore everything that can go wrong and what you’re prepared for so you can make a decision that you won’t come to regret. And remember, a “no” doesn’t last forever — it could mean “not now”! If you determine you’re not ready, then take the steps to get yourself there so you can accomplish your dream of homeownership.

How Much Home Can You Afford?

For anyone thinking about purchasing a home, it’s the most fundamental question: How much can you really afford? 

Here’s an overview of what matters to lenders and how you can more accurately predict whether you’ll qualify for a given loan amount or not.

Mortgage Secret #1: Ratios are hugely important.

 

Every mortgage lender uses debt-to-income (DTI) ratios to arrive at a baseline judgment about your financial capacity to repay a loan. The idea is to measure your gross monthly household income and compare it to two types of debt:

—  The money you spend each month on core housing-related expenses combines;
—  And the amount you spend on non-housing debts, such as credit cards, auto loans, student loans, etc.

If you need to devote too high a percentage of your monthly income to pay off debts, then you may not have enough left over for food, clothing, transportation and other essentials. To a mortgage lender, that means (statistically, at least) that a buyer will likely fall behind on mortgage payments.

For example, say your monthly gross income before taxes and other deductions is $6,000. If your monthly payments for housing-related and other debt total $3,000 — an overall DTI ratio of 50 percent — most lenders will tell you that you need to lower that ratio significantly. To calculate your debt to income, lenders typically focus on these two specific ratios:

Your Housing Ratio:

How much will your key housing-related expenses total per month and what percentage of your income will they represent?

Your key housing costs include:

1. Principal, interest, property taxes and hazard insurance on the loan you’re applying for;
2. Homeowners association, condominium or cooperative fees that you are required to pay;
3. Any additional fees required for your mortgage or property, such as flood insurance or mortgage insurance premiums.

Say your housing costs are projected to come to about $1,800 a month and you and your spouse, partner or co-owner earn a combined gross income of $6,000 a month. That’s a housing ratio of 30 percent ($1,800/$6,000). Most lenders will consider that (and even slightly higher) as acceptable, provided your total debts are not too high.

Your Total Debt Ratio:

Of the two ratios, this is the more important. A lender will take your total housing expense and add all other recurring debt payments that you have, including credit cards, auto loans or leases, personal installment loans, student loans, child support and alimony payments.

Take the $6,000 gross income example above. If your total debt payments come to $2,460 a month, your DTI is 41 percent. That should be acceptable to most lenders. Debt payments of $2,700 would take your total debt ration to 45 percent and probably make you borderline for many lenders. At 50 percent or higher, most buyers would be turned down for a conventional Fannie-Freddie loan, but some might qualify for an FHA insured-backed mortgage.

Mortgage Secret #2: Loan types matter a lot.

For most new buyers, the type of mortgage they choose will greatly affect what they can afford. Keep in mind that there are four major types of mortgages:

1. Conventional: loans intended to be sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the giant mortgage investment companies. These loans generally require higher down payments and stricter underwriting standards than government agency-backed loans.
2. FHA: Federal Housing Administration-insured loans are designed for first-time buyers and those with less-than-perfect credit histories.
3. VA: Provided by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, these guaranteed mortgages are reserved for active duty and retired military personnel.
4. USDA: Also called a Rural Development Loan, these mortgages are intended to serve buyers in rural and small towns, where credit availability can be tight.

FHA loans require a minimum down payment of just 3.5 percent for applicants with FICO credit scores above 580. (Below that, 10 percent down is mandatory.) FHA underwriting guidelines also are more generous than conventional Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rules and will often allow 50 percent DTIs or even slightly higher if you’ve got strong “compensating factors,” like a lengthy stable employment history, high credit score, savings accounts and other assets. However, FHA has recently raised its mortgage insurance fees significantly and may be more expensive on a monthly basis than conventional options if you’ve got plenty of cash to apply towards a down payment.

For those who qualify, VA and USDA loans can get you into the biggest loan for the least. Down payments can be as low as zero, and underwriting guidelines can be super-generous, especially if you qualify for a VA loan.

The Biggest Mortgage Secret: Automated Underwriting 
Though most home buyers are unaware, the success of their mortgage applications — and thus their ability to buy a home — rests with two national online computer models that flash tens of thousands of “yes,” “no” or “maybe” responses to lender inquiries every day. One model is called Loan Prospector (LP) and is owned and operated by Freddie Mac; the other is Desktop Underwriter (DU) and is run by Fannie Mae.

Combined, these two giant agencies supply the bulk of mortgage money in the U.S. And their online underwriting programs are used by virtually all banks and loan officers to make initial assessments of the viability of mortgage applications, even if the loans are intended for insurance backing by FHA, VA or USDA.

This is how it works: Loan officers feed your basic information into an LP or DU. The underwriting engines use complex statistical algorithms to determine whether the total package — borrower credit reports, scores, income, assets, reserves, the amount of the proposed loan compared with the property valuation, debt ratios, types of debt the borrower has used in the past and the type of mortgage now being sought — deserves an approval for funding or not.

Automated underwriting can also increase your ability to buy a home because it searches for bright spots in your application that could counteract or outweigh negatives. It makes underwriting more flexible than a set of rigid set of rules. It’s the reason why a 45 or 50 percent DTI can get approved, even though the standard “rule” in Fannie Mae’s guidelines says 41 percent is the max.

Skilled loan officers can get your application approved through the DU or LP by adjusting the application “mix,” such as raising your credit score by having you move balances on certain debts or finding ways to raise your eligible income. One note of caution: Don’t allow yourself to commit to a loan amount that will strain your monthly budget. That was what got so many borrowers into trouble during the housing bust of 2007-2009.

Other key points

Income: Your eligible “income” may be more than what you think. It’s not just what’s on your W-2s. Say you make a little extra money from a side business or receive additional income via rents, royalties, regular investment income or capital gains, alimony or child support payments, an automobile allowance from your employer, rent from boarders. These types of additional revenue are all potentially includable to boost your loan amount, provided that you can document them and they are stable and continuing. For older applicants, Fannie and Freddie both allow the use of Social Security income, regular income from IRAs, 401(k) plans, SEPs and Keogh retirement accounts under certain circumstances.

Credit Scores: Credit scores can be killers. Some lenders won’t approve applicants whose credit scores are below 640, 660 or even 680. If they do accept such scores, some lenders may hit homebuyers with heavy extra fees, even though they know the LP and DU will accept lower credit scores with compensating factors. Remember: there are dozens of credit score products on the market, but the only one that counts in automated underwriting is FICO. If your credit report was produced by any source other than FICO — even if it carried heavily promoted names like Experian, Trans Union, Equifax or FreeCreditScore.com — it’s not a FICO unless it says so and therefore won’t count.

Closing Costs: Don’t forget to factor closing costs into any calculations you make. Depending on where the property is located, it can account for anywhere from 2 to 5 percent of the total home purchase transaction. The good news is that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac allow your builder or seller to pay up to 3 percent of the house price to lower your closing costs. FHA allows anywhere from 3 to 6 percent.

Summary: Now you know how much home a mortgage lender thinks you can afford. While that number is useful, and you should not try to exceed it, it also makes sense for yout apply your own standards. Just because a bank says you can qualify for a given amount does not mean you should automatically borrow that full amount.

As the owner of both your income and debt, you can and should factor in your own thoughts. For example, perhaps you have a college education or a wedding to fund in the future for a child. While the underwriting processes described above won’t reflect such future expenses, you can and should consider them, as well.

With the advice above in mind, you should be better equipped to research and ultimately to decide what mortgage payment that you — and you lender — feel you can afford each month.

Floor Plans: Designed for Your Lifestyle

As you plan your new home, one of the most important decisions is selecting the floor plan. The arrangement of rooms, the flow from one room to another and the use of space help determine the feel of your new home. Lamar Smith Signature Homes has long recognized the vital role that floor plans play in determining your opinion of a home. That’s why we create furnished model homes that home buyers can walk through, to better experience a new home before purchase. However, you may be considering a version of one of our floor plans that’s not available for tour as a model home. If so, there are several simple tips that will have you reading a two-dimensional floor plan like a pro.

Sight Lines
As you shop for a new home, you may find two homes that have similar square footage — but one plan seems significantly larger than the other. How can that be? It’s not just the size of the home, it’s the way the square footage is divided into rooms, and the way those rooms and spaces flow. A key driver of all of this can often be sight lines. In architectural parlance, sight lines are what you see from any given point in the home, whether you’re standing in a doorway or sitting in a room. When sight lines are blocked by a wall or a closed door, a home can feel smaller. The reverse is also true: Open things up a bit, show a hint of what lies beyond a given room, and a home will often look and live larger.

The Athens Floor Plan features a private Master Bedroom and an open Living/Kitchen Area

The Elimination of the Hallway
While sight lines are important, the feel of a home isn’t based solely by what you can see from a given location in a home. In many ways, the true measure of a floor plan is the feeling you get as you move through the home. Many builders these days have reduced or even eliminated hallways. It’s becoming rare to use a hallway to move from one space to another — they can be a waste of space.

Balance Privacy and Togetherness
The relative placement of rooms can play a major role in how a home lives. Do you really want your children’s bedrooms directly above (or adjacent to) the master bedroom? We all love our children, but even the closest of families need their privacy.

Not all room adjacency issues deal with privacy. Sometimes it’s about togetherness. For example, kitchens should not isolate the person preparing the meal. Eat-in kitchens are great places to bring families and friends together. By combining food preparation and dining, you can create wonderful opportunities for conversation and closeness.

Household Facts for National Trivia Day

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Housewarming Party

Did you know that the original housewarming party was literally a housewarming? Guests brought firewood as gifts and lit fires in all the fireplaces in the home. Obviously this warmed up the place for the family, but it was also believed to ward off evil spirits. Uninhabited homes were thought to attract roaming ghosts, so a new home would have to be rid of that bad energy before it could become a happy abode.

 

Red Doors

Do you know what it means when you see a red door?

Throughout history, a red front door has symbolized many things — the ancient Hebrews believed it would protect firstborn children from the angel of death; in the early days of America, it meant the home was a safe place for travelers to stop for the night. In Scotland, home owners paint their front door red when they pay off their mortgage. And according to Feng Shui, a red front door invites positive energy into a home.

 

The Savannah Master Suite

Did you know that the Master Suite of our Savannah Floor Plan is over 900 sq. ft.? The in-suite sitting area is over 11 by 13 feet, and two walk-in closets offer a combined storage space of nearly 200 sq. ft. The spa-sized master bath includes a garden tub, step-in shower, dual vanities, and separate water closet. There’s a reason we call it a Mini Mansion!

Top 10 Reasons Home Buyers Prefer New Homes vs. Used

Today’s new homes offer more benefits than ever before. Here’s a quick list of the Top 10 reasons why so many home buyers prefer new homes to used houses:

1) Design Your Dream Home Your Way: Why settle for someone else’s choices when you can select your favorite cabinets, countertops, appliances, carpets and flooring? Your new Lamar Smith Signature Home will reflect your style, not someone else’s taste. You will choose your exterior and interior finishes, including the colors for your siding, brick or stone (if applicable), cabinets, countertops, carpet, hard surface flooring (e.g., tile, hardwood or laminate), lighting, kitchen and bath fixtures, and any optional features you chose for your home. Visit our Design Center for more details.

2) Choose a Floorplan and Room Layout that Meets Your Needs: Need more room in the master bedroom? It’s yours. How about a bonus room? Done! Need a larger garage? It’s easy, when you build your new home your way.

3) All New, Under Warranty: A used home likely has tired products that may soon need replacing. Your new home — and the products that comprise it — are brand-new and under warranty. What’s the cost to replace a roof, appliances, countertops or a water heater on a used home? Those components of your new home feature the latest designs and building materials and should offer you years of comfort and enjoyment before needing replacement. Click here to read more about the Warranty Program offered by Lamar Smith Signature Homes.

4) Energy and Cost Savings: Today’s new homes are far more energy efficient than homes built just five years ago. Versus homes built ten or 20 years ago, it’s game over, advantage new. Why settle for drafty, energy-wasting single-pane windows in a used home? Many new homes offer double or even triple-pane windows. Special window coatings and inert gases between the layers of glass are often available, saving you even more energy and money in both heating and cooling season.

5) Comfort and Indoor Air Quality: Today’s new homes meet stringent energy standards and codes not in place in the past. They combine high-performance energy efficiency with state-of-the-art ventilation and air filtration. The result is year-round, draft-free comfort and higher indoor air quality.

6) Low Maintenance: New cars today are computer-designed and computer-equipped. That’s why they perform much more reliably than a car that’s 15 or 20 years old. Homes are the same. Today’s new homes have open floorplans and high ceilings that reflect the way we live today. They’re also made of cutting-edge building products that require less care and maintenance. Another plus? The latest building systems and components are designed and engineered to work together.

7) Community Amenities: Lamar Smith Signature Homes are built in master-planned communities with community centers, pools and clubhouses. New home communities also feature parks, playgrounds, walking/jogging trails, scenic surroundings and some of the best new schools and shopping near your new home community.

8) Advanced Technology and Design: It’s possible to replace all of the single-pane windows in a resale home with today’s high-performance windows. It’s also possible to add insulation to a used home. However, it’s very expensive to replace dated appliances, cabinets and countertops in a used home — and you still won’t have the high ceilings you dream of on the first floor of an older two-story home. All are reasons to build your new home your way, to reflect the way you live today.

9) Safety: State-of-the-art circuit breakers. Electric garage door openers with infrared beams that stop if a tricycle or child is too near. High-efficiency furnaces and air conditioners that use the latest environmentally-friendly coolants. Cabinets, carpets and paints that use fewer volatile organic compounds, so that you and your family can breathe easier.

10) That New Home Feel: A used home was someone else’s dream, not yours. It reflects their choices and family memories. You may learn to love avocado-green appliances (and you may be willing to scrub stained countertops or grease-encrusted ovens and cooktops) but more and more people prefer that never lived-in feel.

After all, when was the last time you went to a department store and selected used clothes? Or visited a car dealer and paid more for a used car than a new car? New homes offer the latest designs, style, comfort and quality. They provide a care-free lifestyle so that you can enjoy your home, not work on it.

Lower Operating Costs Mean New-Home Buyers Can Afford More House

According to a new report by HousingEconomics.com,  the average operating cost of a new home is less than an older home. The annual operation costs associated with owning a home include utilities, maintenance, property taxes, and insurance. Recent studies using data from the 2011 the American Housing Survey (AHS), sponsored by HUD and conducted by the Census Bureau investigate these operating expenses and looks at how these costs vary depending on the age of the structure. Findings include the following:

—  The largest components of operating costs are fuels and property taxes, at a little under $2,500 each.
—  Maintenance costs average $547 a year but decline as the structure becomes newer—from $564 a year for homes built before 1960 to only $241 for homes built after 2008.
—  Operating costs per square foot decline regularly as the structure becomes newer, from $4.26 per square foot for homes built before 1960 to $2.92 for homes built after 2008.
—  Operating costs as a fraction of value also decline regularly as the structure becomes newer, from nearly 5 percent of the home’s value for structures built before 1960 to just under 3 percent for homes built after 2008.

The difference in operating costs imply that buyers can purchase a higher-priced home and achieve the same annual operating costs if the home is newer. The report provides an example that takes mortgage payments and income tax savings for a typical buyer of a $200,000 new home into account. The example shows that, if annual costs during the first year of ownership are the constraint, this buyer can afford to pay $37,655—or 23 percent—more for a new house than for one built before 1960. The difference is a little more than enough to cover the price of an extra full bathroom.

Operating Costs in the AHS

As noted above, the cost data for this article come from the AHS, which is conducted in odd-numbered years by the Census Bureau for HUD. In the years when it’s conducted, the AHS collects extensive data on each home in the survey, including considerable detail on different categories of housing costs. This article is based on data from the most recent (2011) AHS, which was released to the public in October of 2012.

The 2012 AHS data show that, across all owner-occupied single-family detached homes, total operating costs average a little over $6,900 per year. This includes property taxes, insurance and utilities, but not mortgage payments. Defined this way, the largest components of operating costs are property taxes and fuel expenses, accounting for just under $2,500 each, followed by property insurance ($820), other utilities ($604) and maintenance.

In newer homes, lower cost per dollar of value for fuels is relatively easy to explain as the result of factors like more efficient appliances and HVAC equipment in the homes, and increased insulation due to both buyer preferences and changes in building codes. Lower cost per dollar of value for maintenance in newer homes is also intuitively plausible.

Enjoy Your Outdoor Living Space All Year

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When people talk about outdoor living space, all thoughts seem to head towards summer cookouts. Once the autumn weather slips in, however, you have plenty of time and activities to enjoy outside on your patio, deck, balcony, and yard.

Seasonal outdoor decorating is as festive outside as it is inside your home. Add autumn colors and décor, like pumpkins, gourds, corn stalks, and wreaths. Place easy-to-tend container gardens with hardy plants like kale, asters, mums, and sedum, which can tolerate the chill but keep your outdoors colorful and alive!

Change your outdoor color scheme by swapping out the cushions on your patio furniture. It’s a good time to clean and stash the summer cushions. Have some warm lap throws available for use outdoors, too. Lay down an outdoor rug to cozy up an area for fall.

When winter rolls around, turn your outdoor living space into a winter wonderland, with twinkling white lights around the area. Add splashes of blue decorations—hanging from the trees, perched on walls, or nesting in the snow—to accent the winter white.

A cozy fire is a welcome spot in fall and winter. Use your fire pit for warmth and cooking—or add an outdoor fireplace. Roast marshmallows for s’mores or try your hand at outdoor cooking. Check out some campfire recipes here.

Do you have a pergola? If not, consider adding one. It’s a fairly simple task. In any season, this minimal enclosure can define an area while still being outdoors. When the fall sets in, you can cover the pergola with a canopy for a bit more shelter.

Even when the temperature drops a bit, you can still go outdoors and play, no matter your age. In the fall, lawn games like croquet, bocce, badminton, and cornhole will keep you active enough to stay warm.

Even if you decide to stay indoors during the winter months, invest some time in decorating your outdoor living space so you can enjoy the view. Birdfeeders, solar lights, and a stack of colorful pots will perk up a barren landscape and stave off the winter doldrums.

Throwing a Labor-Day Party

For as hard as Americans work, it’s a good thing there’s a national holiday to commemorate the contributions the workforce has made to the welfare of the country. For more than 100 years, Americans have been celebrating Labor Day. From street parades to in-home gatherings, we sure know how to observe this holiday the right way. If you’re one of the millions of people who will be hosting a Labor Day party at your home, pay attention: There are ways to take the labor out of planning, while keeping your home in tip-top shape. Here are some tips to help you throw a labor-free soiree to honor that little thing we call work.

Throw an Outdoor-Only Party

Nothing typifies a Labor Day party quite like a backyard gathering. Plus, it’s a simple way to stick to your labor-free regimen, as an outdoor party requires little-to-no effort decorating. You can let the natural scenery do most of the work. An added bonus is that you won’t have to worry about cleaning indoors. Of course, you’ll need to keep the path to the restroom clean, but that’s miniscule compared to having to clean your entire home.

Spruce Up Your Backyard

If your backyard needs some grooming, you could always spend a day prior to Labor Day tidying up the outdoor digs yourself … or you could hire some help. We know: Labor Day is all about not working, right? Luckily, Labor Day falls near the beginning of a new school year — the perfect time to solicit the help of high school teenagers or college-aged students looking to make a little extra cash.

Outfit Your Backyard

While the natural setting of your backyard should suffice as decoration, as with any party, it’s important to have ample seating for your guests. You don’t necessarily need a seat for everyone, but you should at least have enough seats for the majority of your guests. If possible, create several different seating areas to give guests a feeling of coziness. An effortless way to create multiple seating areas is to bring any indoor seating you feel can safely translate to your outdoor space. When arranging your furniture, it is also important to leave a clear pathway between furniture so guests can easily navigate around the yard.

Formulate a Food Plan

There’s no law that says you have to provide all of the food if you’re hosting a party. To keep the food options straightforward and hassle-free, you can always have a potluck. If that’s not your style, other undemanding options include assigning a specific dish or specific course to each person, while you handle the entrée or main course. Some food assignments to consider are salads, chips and dip, finger foods, barbecue and desserts.

Make the Entrée Beforehand

While Labor Day parties often encompass traditional barbecues, who wants to spend the entire party manning a hot grill? An alternative and labor-free option is to prepare an entrée ahead of time that can easily be cooked in the oven, such as lasagna or enchiladas. You can also take advantage of a slow cooker, which literally does all the work for you. Ribs and pulled pork are great options that will come out tender and flavorful.

Keep the Bar Simple

There’s no reason you need to provide enough beer, wine, liquor and mixers to appease everybody’s drink of choice. In the spirit of keeping it laid-back and labor-free, choose a signature drink, such as mojitos, hard lemonade or spiked punch, and make a large batch of it ahead of time. You can also skip the mixed drinks altogether and simply serve a variety of beer and wine. Remember to keep the non-drinkers in mind by having non-alcoholic beverages available.

Basic Home Construction Vocabulary

The “language” of architecture — especially when we’re talking about home design — doesn’t have to be difficult to understand.

There are some things that can’t be simplified, however. The pieces and parts of a building have names, and we’ll all communicate better if we use the same terms to refer to them.

Some are a little arcane to be sure, but at the other end of the scale, you and the builder will both be confused when you say you don’t like that “thingy” on the roof.

Let’s cover a few “outside parts” here, and tackle “inside parts” in a future blog.

 

Roof Shapes and Parts

Roofs are either flat or not flat. Flat roofs are called — flat roofs. Non–flat roofs are called pitched roofs.  See how easy this is?

Describing pitched roofs gets a little more complicated, but there are two basic kinds: gable and hip. Gabled roofs have a “triangle” at the ends; hipped roofs look more like a pyramid.

There are hybrids and combinations of these two basic types, but they’re less common, so I’m not going to bother you with them here.

You know what the peak of a roof is — it’s the very top. When the roof peak is a level, horizontal line, it’s also called a ridge.

 

A hipped roof may have a ridge at the top, or may come to a point. But at the corners, there are more ridges, running at an angle, up to the ridge at the top. Those “angled ridges” are called hips. Go figure.

All roofs have some sort of edge at the bottom; when that edge is level, it’s called an eave. When the edge is the end of a gable, it’s called a rake.

Learn to identify a gable roof, a hip roof and a few roof parts, and your builder or new home consultant will be impressed.

Window Styles and Parts

Most American homes have one of two basic windows styles:   “double-hung” or “casement.”

Double-hung windows are the ones that slide up and down; there’s a top half and a bottom half, and both are moveable (if only the bottom half moves, it’s a “single-hung” window). Double-hung windows are most often found on houses with an American colonial heritage.

Casement windows are hinged on one side like a door and are usually operated by a hand crank. They’re more appropriately used on homes based on European styles.

Other common residential window styles include awning (hinged at the top), sliding and fixed, but no matter the style, all windows have a few basic parts in common.

The moveable part of any window is called the sash; this is separate from the frame, which is attached to the house. It’s possible to repair a window by replacing the sash and leaving the frame intact.

A pair of casement windows, mulled together

The top of the frame is called the head; the bottom, the sill; and the sides are called jambs.

And those bars in the middle of the window, what you probably call grids (that’s OK, by the way), those are also called muntins. Muntins are often confused with mullions, which are pieces that join two separate window units together.

 

Got it?  Casually drop a few of those terms next time you meet with your builder; he’ll think you’re pretty cool for speaking a little of his language.

And maybe that will convince him to work a little harder to speak yours.

What Buyers Want in a Floor Plan

If you are looking at new homes and studying floor plans to find that Dream Home for your family, you undoubtedly have made “the list!”

We’ve all done it. We make two columns. Gotta haves! Want to have!

Often those two columns are rarely found in just one home – and there’s the rub. Compromise. Oh, how we hate to do it, but we know it’s usually inevitable.

The answer to your dilemma is finding a floor plan that has “good bones” as they say. You’ll surprise yourself at your ingenuity once you move in — but it can’t happen unless you choose wisely when it comes to the home’s floor plan.

So let’s take a look at what’s important in a home with GREAT BONES!

1.  Kitchens top the list. You spend so much time in them, and family and friends always seem to congregate in your kitchen.

First Floor of the GRAYSON

Does it have the 3-point triangle layout of sink, stove, and refrigerator? Trace your steps in one day, and you’ll see that all important triangle form.

A window over the sink or with a view to the Great Room is a spirit lift – whether you’re doing dishes by hand or peeling potatoes. You watch the kids playing or your husband at the grill or just enjoy the view. Takes your mind off of the task at hand.

Does it have a breakfast bar or room for an island? Everyone gathers at either of these places to chat while you prepare things. Again, it’s a great way to feel part of what’s going on and to serve quick snacks and drinks.

Don’t get hung up on the countertops and flooring – both of which can be changed easily later on. The big deal is your cabinets. Those are hard to change out and cost a lot of money. Do you like standard height or 42″ upper cabinets? Do you like that crown trim along the top?

2.  Master Suites are the best stress-reducers of all. Getting away from it all and pampering yourself with some quiet reading time or soaking time in a large tub will float away any stress from work or the kids.

Do you want your master suite on the main level or upstairs with the kids? For resale purposes, the master-on-the-main wins hands-down. I know that young families may want to be upstairs with the children, but children grow up fast. It’s purely a personal decision, but master-on-the-main is rated very high on many homebuyers’ lists.

A true master suite must have a sitting area where you can read, watch TV, or have those quiet talks with your partner or children.

The double sink vanity or double vanities is almost a requirement if you share your master and for resale value.

large walk-in closet sends most women into a swoon. Room for all those accessories and shoes is not just a luxury anymore – it’s a must-have!

3.  The Open Great Room with lots of natural light and high ceilings. Why do we love this? We’re a social bunch, we humans.

An open layout allows us to be part of everything, and to join in conversations going on around us.

Natural light is a natural mood-lifter. The windows let nature be part of our indoor world.

Tall ceilings make even a smaller Great Room seem spacious.

So there you have it – the “must-haves” for today’s homebuyer. These 3 things will give your home those good bones.

I didn’t mention dining because that is so personal. Some of us love to have sit-down formal meals, while some of us like the homey feel of a dining nook in the kitchen.

One level or two? That is critical, but again it’s a personal choice whether you want to live all on one level or you prefer the privacy of two floors?

If you agree with our Top 3 list, then check out these floor plans from our wide-ranging library of plans:

The One-Level Ashburn Plan

 

One Level Plans

The Ashburn (formal dining)

The Athens (casual dining)

The Camelia (4 bedrooms)

Two Level Plans – Master on Main

The Burlington

The Clayton

The Grayson