7 Places in America That Will Pay You to Move There

If you’re willing to move and if you meet the qualifications, many rural American towns are offering incentives aimed at attracting new residents and reviving their communities.

At the beginning of the 20th century, rural America housed more than half the country’s entire population. While the number of Americans living in rural areas has been roughly stable over the past century – as urban and suburban America have boomed – its share of the total population has declined, falling from 54 percent in 1910 to just 19 percent in 2010.

This is due, in part, to migration to urban cores, especially by younger generations and the middle class.

This decline in population – and the accompanying social and economic challenges – is forcing rural America to come up with incentives to attract new residents back to rural communities.

Tribune, Kansas, offers such a program. “If you move here, we will pay down your student debt,” explains Christy Hopkins, community development director for Kansas’ least populated county, Greeley (in which Tribune sits).

This program, called the Rural Opportunity Zone (ROZ) program, offers perks to grads from big cities for moving to underpopulated towns in one of 77 participating Kansas counties. One of the incentives? They’ll help you pay off your student loans – up to $15,000 over the course of five years.

And it seems to be working – for both the town and its new residents.

“We’re the least populated county – we’re 105th in population for counties in Kansas, and now we’re eighth in college degrees per capita. There’s a correlation to draw,” says Hopkins.

Here are five towns and three states that offer a robust set of loans, programs and/or assistance for those seeking to become homeowners:

Curtis, Nebraska

Population: 891
Median home value: $79,000

Dream of building your own home from the ground up? Curtis, Nebraska, has a sweet deal for you. If you construct a single-family home within a specified time period,  you’ll receive the lot of land it sits on for free.

Marne, Iowa

Population: 115
Median home value: $75,300

Just 45 minutes east of Omaha, Marne will give you a lot of land for free – all you have to do is build the house (conventional construction or modular) and meet program requirements. Houses must be a minimum of 1,200 square feet, and the average lot size is approximately 80 feet by 120 feet.  

Harmony, Minnesota

Population: 999
Median home value: $93,900

Dreaming of a a newly built home in the Land of 10,000 Lakes? Good news: Your dream comes with a cash rebate.

The Harmony Economic Development Authority offers a cash rebate program to incentivize new home construction. Based on the final estimated market value of the new home, rebates range from $5,000 to $12,000, and there are no restrictions on the applicant’s age, income level or current residency.

Baltimore, Maryland

Population: 616,958
Median home value: $116,300

Definitively not a rural town, Baltimore offers homeowners incentives that are too appealing to leave off this list.

Baltimore has two programs offering robust incentives for buying a home in the city. Buying Into Baltimore offers a $5,000 forgivable loan (forgiven by 20 percent each year so that by the end of five years, you no longer have a balance) if you meet certain qualifications.

The city’s second solution is a brilliant one. The Vacants to Value Booster program offers $10,000 toward down payment and closing costs when you buy one of the program’s distressed or formerly distressed properties.

New Haven, Connecticut

Population: 131,014
Median home value: $168,400

Also not a rural area, but offering an incredibly generous package of homeowner incentives, New Haven offers a suite of programs totaling up to $80,000 for new homeowners, including a $10,000 forgivable five-year loan to first-time home buyers, $30,000 renovation assistance and/or up to $40,000 for college tuition.   

Alaska

Population: 739,795
Median home value: $310,200

Alaska offers incentives for veterans and live-in caretakers of physically or mentally disabled residents. They even have a manufactured home program and a rural owner-occupied loan program. See the full list of programs here.

Colorado

Population: 5.6 million
Median home value: $368,100

Colorado offers traditional programs that assist with down payments and low interest rates, but it also has a disability program that helps first-time buyers who have a permanent disability finance their home.

The state also has a down payment assistance grant that provides recipients with up to 4 percent of their first mortgage, which doesn’t require repayment.

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Related:

Originally published October 2017. Information updated October 2018.

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/7-places-america-will-pay-move-222241/

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5 Reasons to Buy a Home This Fall

Real estate markets ebb and flow, just like the seasons. The spring market blooms right along with the flowers, but the fall market often dwindles with the leaves – and this slower pace could be good for buyers.

If you’re in the market for a home, here are five reasons why fall can be a great time to buy.

1. Old inventory may mean deals

Sellers tend to put their homes on the market in the spring, often listing their homes too high right out of the gate. This could result in price reductions throughout the spring and summer months.

These sellers have fewer chances to capture buyers after Labor Day. By October, you are likely to find desperate sellers and prices below a home’s market value.

2. Fewer buyers are competing

Families who want to be in a new home by the beginning of the school season are no longer shopping at this point. That translates into less competition and more opportunities for buyers.

You’ll likely notice fewer buyers at open houses, which could signal a great opportunity to make an offer.

3. Sellers want to close by the end of the year

While a home is where an owner lives and makes memories, it is also an investment – one with tax consequences.

A home seller may want to take advantage of a gain or loss during this tax year, so you might find homeowners looking to make deals so they can close before December 31.

Ask why the seller is selling, and look for listings that offer incentives to close before the end of the year.

4. The holidays motivate sellers

As the holidays approach, sellers are eager to close so they can move on to planning their parties and events.

If a home has not sold by November, the seller is likely motivated to be done with the disruptions caused by listing a home for sale.

5. Harsher weather shows more flaws

The dreary fall and winter months tend to reveal flaws, making them a great time to see a home’s true colors.

It’s better to see the home’s flaws before making the offer, instead of being surprised months after you close. In fact, the best time to do a property inspection is in the rain and snow, because any major issues are more likely to be exposed.

Top photo from Shutterstock.

Related:

Originally published October 19, 2015.

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/fall-a-great-time-to-buy-185456/

5 Expenses Homeowners Pay That Renters Don’t

Homeownership may be a goal for some, but it’s not the right fit for many.

Renters account for 37 percent of all households in America – or just over 43.7 million homes, up more than 6.9 million since 2005. Even still, more than half of millennial and Gen Z renters consider buying, with 18 percent seriously considering it.

Both lifestyles afford their fair share of pros and cons. So before you meet with a real estate agent, consider these five costs homeowners pay that renters don’t – they could make you reconsider buying altogether.

1. Property taxes

As long as you own a home, you’ll pay property taxes. The typical U.S. homeowner pays $2,110 per year in property taxes, meaning they’re a significant – and ongoing – chunk of your budget.

Factor this expense into the equation from the get-go to avoid surprises down the road. The property tax rates vary among states, so try a mortgage calculator to estimate costs in your area.

2. Homeowners insurance

Homeowners insurance protects you against losses and damage to your home caused by perils such as fires, storms or burglary. It also covers legal costs if someone is injured in your home or on your property.

Homeowners insurance is almost always required in order to get a home loan. It costs an average of $35 per month for every $100,000 of your home’s value.

If you intend to purchase a condo, you’ll need a condo insurance policy – separate from traditional homeowner’s insurance – which costs an average of $100 to $400 a year.

3. Maintenance and repairs

Don’t forget about those small repairs that you won’t be calling your landlord about anymore. Notice a tear in your window screen? Can’t get your toilet to stop running? What about those burned out light bulbs in your hallway? You get the idea.

Maintenance costs can add an additional $3,021 to the typical U.S. homeowner’s annual bill. Of course, this amount increases as your home ages.

And don’t forget about repairs. Conventional water heaters last about a decade, with a new one costing you between $500 to $1,500 on average. Air conditioning units don’t typically last much longer than 15 years, and an asphalt shingle roof won’t serve you too well after 20 years.

4. HOA fees

Sure, that monthly mortgage payment seems affordable, but don’t forget to take homeowners association (HOA) fees into account.

On average, HOA fees cost anywhere from $200 to $400 per month. They usually fund perks like your fitness center, neighborhood landscaping, community pool and other common areas.

Such amenities are usually covered as a renter, but when you own your home, you’re paying for these luxuries on top of your mortgage payment.

5. Utilities

When you’re renting, it’s common for your apartment or landlord to cover some costs. When you own your home, you’re in charge of covering it all – water, electric, gas, internet and cable.

While many factors determine how much you’ll pay for utilities – like the size of your home and the climate you live in – the typical U.S. homeowner pays $2,953 in utility costs every year.

Ultimately, renting might be more cost-effective in the end, depending on your lifestyle, location and financial situation. As long as you crunch the numbers and factor in these costs, you’ll make the right choice for your needs.

Related:

Originally published August 18, 2015. Statistics updated July 2018.

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/homeowners-pay-renters-dont-181888/

HARP Now Extended Through 2016

Since it first launched in 2009, the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) has helped 3.2 million borrowers across the country lower their monthly payments by refinancing at historically low interest rates. Friday, FHFA Director Melvin Watt announced this relief won’t be ending any time soon.

HARP will continue through the end of 2016, allowing homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth and regularly make mortgage payments to refinance. To help eligible borrowers take advantage of this program, Zillow remains the only marketplace supporting HARP and FHA Streamline refinances.

The FHFA has started a 10-day Twitter campaign using the hashtag #HARPfacts to help spread the word. They’re targeting Chicago first, where nearly 40,000 Chicago-area homeowners could save an average $189 per month or $2,300 a year with HARP.

Get answers to your HARP questions here.

Related:

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/harp-now-extended-through-2016-175787/

What You Need to Know About the Fair Housing Act

If you’ve searched for a new place to live recently, you’ve likely seen the Equal Housing Opportunity logo (an equal sign inside a house) on a landlord’s, real estate agent’s or lender’s paperwork.

But the Fair Housing Act is more than just a logo. It’s a federal law designed to protect renters and buyers from discrimination.

Here are some key points to know about the Fair Housing Act when you’re searching for a place to live.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

Also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who had championed the cause for many years.

The act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status (sex was added in 1974, and disability and familial status were added in 1988).

At the time the act was signed, overt housing discrimination was a huge problem throughout the country, including the attempted segregation of whole neighborhoods and the outright rejection of qualified renters based on race and other factors.

Today, much of the discrimination in the housing market is less obvious, but it’s still an unfortunate reality.

According to the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), over 25,000 housing discrimination complaints were filed with the federal government and local and national fair housing agencies in 2017. Over half of the complaints were based on disability, followed by race at 20 percent.

But these numbers reflect only reported incidents. The NFHA estimates that over 4 million instances of housing discrimination occur annually, but many people don’t realize they’ve been discriminated against – or know what steps to take when it happens.

What does housing discrimination look like?

Most of the people you encounter in your home search, including real estate agents, sellers, landlords, property management companies and lenders, are bound to Fair Housing Act regulations and additional state and local laws, based on where you live or are looking to live.

Fair Housing Act violations can occur in all phases of buying and renting, including in advertising, while you search, throughout the application process, in financing or credit checks, and during eviction proceedings.

Here are a few examples of discrimination people in protected classes have encountered:

  • A real estate agent tries to “steer” a buyer away from a certain neighborhood
  • A landlord tries to avoid renting to someone by saying the unit advertised has been rented when it hasn’t
  • A property management company refuses to rent to a family with children or requires a higher deposit
  • A landlord evicts a person of color for a reason they wouldn’t evict a white tenant for
  • A mortgage broker asks questions or requests excessive documentation from an immigrant couple that they wouldn’t request from another buyer
  • A lender charges a single woman a higher interest rate than what her credit score should dictate
  • A landlord refuses to make reasonable accommodations for a tenant who is disabled

What do I do if I’ve been discriminated against?

If you’ve been discriminated against in any of the ways above, or if you suspect that other actions taken by a property manager, landlord, real estate agent, broker or lender may be discriminatory, there are many resources at your disposal.

  1. File a report: File a complaint with your regional Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office – find yours at HUD.gov. You can also file a complaint on the national HUD website or with local housing resources found through the NFHA.
  2. Get more info from local housing agencies: You can find a list of local housing counselors at HUD.gov. Besides answering questions about discrimination claims, these agencies provide home buyer education workshops, pre-purchase counseling and rental housing assistance.
  3. Talk to an attorney: Like any other legal issue, when pursuing a complaint under the Fair Housing Act, it’s smart to consult a lawyer.
  4. Find people you can trust: If you experienced housing discrimination from your real estate agent, mortgage broker or lender, it’s time to find a new professional to help you in your home search. Ask friends, family members and colleagues for referrals they know, like and trust. Remember – these real estate professionals are working for you, so their only concern should be finding you the home that’s right for you.

Related:

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-fair-housing-act-227310/

The Do’s and Don’ts of Home Equity Loans

Home equity is a valued resource, and if you have it, you might be tempted to tap that wealth for other purposes. A home equity loan, which allows you to use your home’s equity as collateral, is a great way to do this. But depending on your personal situation, it may not be the right thing to do.

Here’s when a home equity loan makes sense – and when it doesn’t.

DON’T: Fund a lifestyle

Remember when homeowners yanked cash out of their homes to fund affluent lifestyles they couldn’t really afford? These reckless borrowers, with their boats, fancy cars, lavish vacations and other luxury items, paid the price when the housing bubble burst. Property values plunged, and they lost their homes.

Lesson learned: Don’t squander your equity! Look at a home equity loan as an investment – not as extra cash when making spending decisions.

DO: Make home improvements

The safest use of home equity funds is for home improvements that will add to the home’s value. If you have a one-time project (e.g., a new roof), then a home equity loan might make sense.

If you need money over time to fund ongoing home improvement projects, then a home equity line of credit (HELOC) would make more sense. HELOCs let you pay as you go and usually have a variable rate that’s tied to the prime rate, plus or minus some percentage.

DON’T: Pay for basic expenses or bills

This is a no-brainer, but it’s always worth reiterating: Basic expenses like groceries, clothing, utilities and phone bills should be a part of your household budget.

If your budget doesn’t cover these and you’re thinking of borrowing money to afford them, it’s time to rework your budget and cut some of the excess.

DO: Consolidate debt

Consolidating multiple balances, including your high-interest credit card debts, will make perfect sense when you run the numbers. Who doesn’t want to save potentially thousands of dollars in interest?

Debt consolidation will simplify your life, too, but beware: It only works if you have discipline. If you don’t, you’ll likely run all your balances back up again and end up in even worse shape.

DON’T: Finance college

If you have college-age children, this may seem like a great use of home equity. However, the potential consequences down the road could be significant. And risky.

Remember, tapping into your home equity may mean it takes longer to pay off the loan. It also may delay your retirement or put you even deeper in debt. And as you get older, it will likely be more difficult to earn the money to pay back the loan, so don’t jeopardize your financial security.

Related:

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Originally published February 23, 2016.

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/dos-donts-of-home-equity-loans-192836/

‘You’re Throwing Money Away’ and Other Myths About Renting

Renting often gets a bad rap.

It’s true that some aspects of being a renter are less than glamorous, but it’s not all bad. In fact, the number of renters is on the rise, and the traditional mindset about renting is changing.

Let’s debunk three of the most common myths about renting.

1. You’re throwing money away

Many people say that paying rent is like taking your money and throwing it away. While you may not be gaining equity in a home, you are paying for somewhere to call home, which is not the same thing as throwing your money in a trash can.

And let’s not understate the value of avoiding household maintenance costs. Most rentals include upkeep and repair services, and some even include the cost of utilities.

Additionally, buying a home may not be a wise financial decision for you right now. Maybe you live in an expensive housing market or you don’t have quite enough saved for a down payment. Simply put, renting may be in your best financial interest.

To find out whether renting or buying is more financially viable for you, there are several tools available to help you make an informed decision.

2. You have no negotiating power

A common myth surrounding the landlord-tenant relationship assumes the landlord has all the power.

Contrary to popular belief, renters have a lot of negotiating power when they sign a lease, says Tracy Atkinson, director of global marketing and relations for Goodman Real Estate in Seattle.

“If you think you may be buying a house soon ask, ‘Do you have a mortgage clause?’ You can also ask about a job relocation clause. Simply ask, ‘Can you work with me?’ Each resident has the power to do that,” she advises.

The most important thing is to read the lease in its entirety to ensure you understand what you’re signing. If you see terms you want adjusted, don’t be afraid to ask.

3. It’s difficult to get out of a lease

Another common misconception about renting is that it’s hard to get out of a lease.

Though it’s not advisable to sign a long-term lease when you know life changes are ahead, sometimes life throws us a curve ball. Whether you relocate for a job or your roommate moves out, sometimes it’s necessary to break your lease.

One option is to sublet your place. Check with your landlord or property management company to ensure that subletting is allowed, and get everything from both your landlord and the new tenant in writing.

If you’re relocating, another option is to work with your property management company to find available units at a sister property or even in another state.

Talking with your property manager and explaining your situation will always help you find the right solution for you, Atkinson says.

Of course, there may be fees associated with breaking your lease no matter how you go about it, so be prepared for that expense.

Looking for more information about renting? Check out our Renters Guide

Related:

Originally published August 5, 2016.

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/3-myths-renting-201963/