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Build a Home

Build A Home

Home Builder Spotlight

G.J. Gardner G.J. Gardner


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Things To Consider When Building a Home

Getting started

Getting started

Unless you have extensive experience in home building and a lot of cash, you’ll be hiring a builder to construct your new home and you’ll need to obtain a construction loan. Identify a professional contractor and a reputable construction lender, both agreeing to your project details, your time line and all home specifications and you’ll have the home of your dreams.

Formulate a plan and execute it

Formulate a plan and execute it

If you’ve never contracted with a builder before, the prospect of working through the process can be very intimidating. Custom homes require you to work through many details and make many decisions. If you’ve done your homework, building your custom home is very satisfying. From landscaping to rooftop, the work of art and labor of love will be yours.

Pulling your team together

Pulling your team together

Make sure your home builder and lender are reputable. Ask for references, check to make sure they are properly licensed and review their ratings online with sites like the BBB and state division of professional registration. A good rule of thumb is ensuring your builder and lender have been in business for a minimum of 5 years. Better Business Bureau: www.bbb.org

Verify proper insurance and bonding

Verify proper insurance and bonding

Make sure your builder has sufficient worker’s compensation and general liability insurance. If not, you may be liable for any construction-related accidents on your premises. Most builders are bonded. Before work commences on your site, verify their coverage, or get permission to obtain verification of coverage directly from the builder’s insurance agent.

Review your contract and warranty and seek advice

Review your contract and warranty and seek advice

Make sure your builder provides a complete and clearly written contract. The contract will benefit both of you. Ask in advance to review your home warranty to verify all warranty coverage you’ll have upon completion. Consider hiring a real estate attorney to review your contract, and an engineer/project manager to oversee your construction project. An experienced representative can spot and deal with problems as the home is built.

Require a final walk-through prior to final disbursement of funds

Schedule a final walk-through before final payment

Make sure your builder and lender agree that the final disbursement to the builder will occur when the home is 100% complete, is move-in ready and you’ve conducted a satisfactory walk-thru. All components of the home must be working correctly. A “punch-list” to correct deficiencies must be in writing. Work should be completed within 30 days of the walk-thru.


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Emerging Products:
The New Kitchen Counter: Looks Like Marble but Acts Like Porcelain

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by Michele Lerner

Anyone who spends time perusing "shelter" magazines like House Beautiful or Architectural Digest or who drools over glamorous house photos on Houzz or Pinterest has probably daydreamed about marble. Marble kitchen counters, marble backsplashes, marble bathrooms… while marble has been the ultimate luxury material for centuries, a moment of practical thought sometimes brings those daydreams to a screeching halt. This is particularly true if you’re thinking of using marble for a kitchen counter where your guests could splash a bit of red wine, a hot pot could leave a burn mark, your husband’s belt buckle could scratch the edge and simply slicing a lemon could do lasting damage.

Thankfully, stone and tile companies like Walker Zanger are using technology to develop porcelain slabs that replicate the look of marble – or cement or wood if you prefer – while providing the resilience of porcelain.

"Porcelain has significant advantages over quartz countertops, such as being nonporous and stain-proof, making it impervious to red wine, lemon juice and other acids that are common culprits of staining natural stone," said Jared Becker, Walker Zanger’s Vice President of Design and Marketing. "Additionally, porcelain has the strength and durability for a home chef to cut food directly on the surface or even place hot cookware on the counter without damaging the material."

If you’re renovating your kitchen or building a new home, it’s always a good idea to compare the pros and cons of various kitchen materials in the context of how you cook. If your kitchen gets light use, marble could be just fine. But for those who cook and entertain regularly, a different surface could be preferable.

New technology mimics marble

Walker Zanger recently introduced their Secolo Porcelain Slabs, which replicate authentic marble veining with Italian glazing technology. Porcelain is thinner than natural stone and has traditionally been offered in slabs between three and six millimeters thick, which can be too fragile to use for counters. The company now is able to increase the thickness up to 12 millimeters, allowing them to fabricate counter slabs as large as 126 inches by 36 inches.

The slabs can be used for all interior surfaces including flooring and fireplace surrounds and backsplashes as well as for exterior walls and water features such as in swimming pools and fountains. The porcelain slabs come in 12 color schemes such as Calacata Classic, Calacata Gold, Calacata Premio, Calacata Regent, Marron Glace (a beige and brown marble replica), Statuary Pieta (a white marble replica), Basque Black (a polished black marble replica) and Petit Bleu (a grey marble replica with a velvet finish).

For more information, visit www.walkerzanger.com


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Opportunities in Home Finance

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Renovation & Construction Loans, Among Options from
Finance of America Mortgage

by Michele Lerner

While the majority of mortgage loans today are standard 30-year fixed-rate loans, there are still plenty of financing choices that buyers and homeowners can make to custom-design a mortgage for their specific needs.

YourHome1Source recently talked with Steven Reich, senior vice president of production and branch support at Finance of America Mortgage, to find out what this fast-growing lender is seeing in the loan landscape, particularly for first-time buyers.

"One of the biggest misconceptions that consumers have is that they need to come up with a down payment of 20 percent before they can become homeowners," says Reich. "Some consumers just give up on applying for a loan without trying because even on an average $250,000 house, you would need a down payment of $50,000 if you are following that 20 percent rule."

Mortgage loans are available with zero percent down payment for veterans who qualify for VA loans, and for borrowers seeking homes in areas eligible for USDA Rural Development Loans. Loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) are available with down payments as low as 3.5 percent and conventional loan programs are available with down payments of three, five and 10 percent. In addition, numerous programs are available through local and state government programs that offer down payment assistance.

Reich points out that FHA loans allow the entire down payment to come from a gift, a big benefit for first-time buyers.

Finance of America Mortgage, which is licensed in all 50 states, has 390 physical offices with more than 1,700 mortgage advisors available to consult with homebuyers, or people seeking to finance a new home renovation or construction project.

"Although we’re a national company we have local advisors in brick-and-mortar offices who are knowledgeable about local programs that provide down payment assistance," says Reich. "Many of those programs are not well-publicized, so having these local resources in place is a big benefit to borrowers."

Student loans and homebuying

Many lenders and financial experts are looking for ways to resolve the conundrum of how consumers with student loan debt can become homeowners.

"One way we work with consumers tackling student loan debt while saving for homeownership is to talk to them about approaching student loan servicers about consolidating their loans to reduce the size of their payments. We’ve been educating our mortgage advisors about this, too, as a potential benefit to discuss with their borrowers."

Renovation and construction financing

After the damage inflicted by recent hurricanes, Reich says it’s more important than ever for borrowers to realize they can finance home renovation projects and build a home with the help of several loan programs. Finance of America Mortgage offers construction loans in nearly every state, a loan product that not every lender provides to borrowers.

"The best loan program for people who have damaged homes or want to buy a home that needs repairs is the FHA 203(k) loan, which allows you to wrap renovation and remodeling costs into your 30-year fixed-rate mortgage," says Reich.

The FHA 203(k) program offers low down payment options for purchasers and can be used to refinance and renovate your existing home.

Investor financing

Whether you’re a fan of HGTV shows about home flipping or just want to tackle a fixer-upper for profit, the right mortgage loan can help realize your investment strategy. During the second quarter of 2017, nearly six percent of all home sales were flips – meaning they had been purchased and sold within a year, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.

"Despite rising home prices, home flipping remains a popular real estate investment strategy and our Commercial channel’s fix-and-flip product has been very popular among investors," says Reich. "We require the home flipper to have experience, having renovated at least one house and have some down payment money. They may qualify for a larger line of credit if they have more experience and a higher net worth."

Whether you’re a first-time buyer, a homeowner who needs to renovate a property, or someone with a strategy of real estate investing, consult a FAM mortgage advisor to discuss your options. You may be surprised at the number of financial solutions that match your needs.

©2017 Finance of America Mortgage LLC is licensed nationwide | Equal Housing Lender | NMLS ID # 1071 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org) | 300 Welsh Road, Building 5, Horsham, PA 19044 | (800) 355-5626 | AZ Mortgage Banker License #0910184 | Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Residential Mortgage Lending Act | Georgia Residential Mortgage Licensee #15499 | Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee | Kansas Licensed Mortgage Company | Licensed by the N.J. Department of Banking and Insurance | Licensed Mortgage Banker -- NYS Banking Department | Rhode Island Licensed Lender. This is not a commitment to lend. Prices and guidelines are subject to change without notice. Some products may not be available in all states. Subject to review of credit and/or collateral; not all applicants will qualify for financing. It is important to make an informed decision when selecting and using a loan product; make sure to compare loan types when making a financing decision.


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Emerging Trends:
Landscaping Tips for New Homeowners

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by Michele Lerner

Whether you purchased a newly built home with minimal landscaping or you’re ready to put your stamp on the existing home you just moved into, it can be daunting to decide where to begin to design your outdoor space. You can hire a landscape designer or work with a local nursery to get advice, but you should always start with an assessment of what you want and what you need, just like you did when you were house-hunting.

Planning your outdoor space

Start by assessing where you think you’ll want to spend the most time: in the front of your house, the side or the back yard. Think about what’s there now that you’d like to keep as is and what areas are problems or just need some enhancing. For instance, if you want to increase your privacy or reduce noise from a nearby street, you can decide if you want a tall screen of plants or perhaps to add a water feature.

Homeowners today are taking their outdoor spaces to new levels with fire pits and fireplaces, outdoor kitchens and covered living areas that can be used most of the year. While some of those items can be costly, you can also purchase a simple fire pit inexpensively and upgrade to something more elaborate in the future. If you plan to expand your patio or deck in the future, be sure to incorporate that plan into your initial design.

Besides developing your wish list for how you’ll use your outdoor space, you need to evaluate the lighting and wind impact of various areas. While planting sun-loving or shade-loving species seems pretty obvious, sometimes you have to really watch your sunlight to determine how much sun an area gets and for how long. You may also want to purchase an umbrella or awning to provide shade to you and your guests so you can enjoy your space even on a hot summer days. Wind can be trickier to assess, but you need to consider areas around your home that are often subject to wind that could disperse sparks from your fire pit or damage your plants.

Planting with patience

Before you head to the nursery and spend a fortune on plants, think about how much you really like gardening. If it’s not your passion, be sure to ask about low-maintenance plants and about other solutions such as ground covers, decorative stones and even mulch to provide a clean look without daily weeding. Nurseries often suggest purchasing native plants for your area since they’re easier to grow.

While you may have a vision of your future garden in mind, it can be costly to buy dozens or hundreds of full-grown plants. Anticipate that your yard will change over time and fill in bare spots with less expensive annuals while you wait for your trees, shrubs and perennial plants to get bigger. Be conscious of the future, too, when purchasing expensive trees and shrubs. Remember that some of them could grow to overpower your yard or provide more shade than you want.

Don’t forget the lights and accessories

Part of your planning should also include lighting for safety as well as the ability to use your outdoor space as much as possible. Solar-powered lighting along the ground level can be used to illuminate paths and to highlight plants. Be careful when choosing lighting that it won’t be too bright but offer enough visibility for evening entertaining.

Part of your landscape planning should also include the type of seating you want so that you can fit your hardscape and landscape around lounge chairs, a loveseat, a dining table or a hammock. Outdoor heaters can be a fun addition that lets you use your space even in cooler months.

Above all, plan for flexibility. Your preferences may change over the years.


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Expert Advice

Building a Home

by Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

Expert Advice

Plan smartly from the ground up

What better way to satisfy the American dream than to build your own home. And in doing so you can meet the criteria for today’s fast-changing lifestyles, new definitions of family that fuel the desire for different floor plans, technological advancements that require special features, and a wish to save the planet by using new, more efficient energy sources and sustainable materials and systems.

Besides picking the best builder, developer, architect, or contractor, take time to be sure you cover these 3 steps that will help guarantee your top-notch results:

#1. Get a detailed contract that is specific to your needs, rather than a boiler-plate document culled from the internet. Many professional groups such as The American Institute of Architects have established contract forms that can be enhanced, says Chicago architect Allan J. Grant.

What belongs in most agreements? Everything (including the kitchen sink) from starting to estimated completion dates, materials, best practices such as daily time of arrival and departure, frequency of trash removal, a method to resolve problems, and payment schedule.

In fact, David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law in New York, says, "One of the most important contract provisions is the one that links your payments to the completion of different stages of the work: demolition; open wall work (plumbing, wiring. etc.); closed wall work (drywall, cabinetry, etc.); and finish work (painting, flooring, etc.)." You may be wise to have an attorney eyeball the contract before you sign.

#2. Learn to read a floor plan. Before the project gets too far underway, learn to read symbols on blueprint and elevation drawings that indicate what will be built. You can also check out a tutorial on YouTube. Many architectural glossaries online will also help you become better educated. "I don't expect clients to know how to read drawings, but it's a bonus if they show interest in learning," Grant says. "It's easier and less expensive to make changes in the drawing stage than during building--or rebuilding."

#3. Familiarize yourself with materials, appliances, and other options. So many choices abound. A builder may favor custom cabinets because of more detailed workmanship and better materials, but stock items may better fit your budget. An appliance salesman may recommend an induction cooktop when you've been happy with gas. And your friends may tell you that granite is so passé, and you must consider quartzite. "What's that?" you wonder. Understand differences in style, price, durability, and greenness. Grant likes to accompany clients to showrooms to weigh choices. "Appliance selections impact the layout; if we go with a 27" or 48" refrigerator, for example," he says.

Building a house means becoming part of a team. Put in your time, due diligence, and you'll reap the best results.

Share your building ideas with us.

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a professional writer, author, blogger and speaker who has long focused on real estate, design, and personal finance. She has co-authored many books, including Successful Homebuilding and Remodeling, The Kitchen Bible: Designing the perfect culinary space, and The Garden Bible: Designing the perfect outdoor space. She regularly contributes to the National Association of Realtors® Website and magazine.

Margaret Crane

Margaret Crane is a nationally known freelance writer, blogger and journalist who has co-authored with Barbara Ballinger several books and articles on real estate, design and family business. Her byline has appeared in Realtor® magazine. With more than a half-dozen titles to her credit, Margaret’s latest design book is The Kitchen Bible: Designing the perfect culinary space.

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