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You’ve got winter prep down pat. But what happens when you move to a climate with 70-degree February days? Here’s what you should know.

So you’ve finally fled the cold to somewhere where it’s warm year-round, and you’ve packed your garden trowel — lucky you.

Chances are you’ve also packed some northern notions about how to handle your new lawn and garden during your winter stay in the South or Southwest. Beware: Those carpet-bagging misconceptions could prove frustrating — and costly.

“People are generally pretty stupid when it comes to something new — and I was, too,” says Chase Landre, author of “Snowbird Gardening: A Guide for South Florida’s Winter Residents,” of when she started gardening in Florida. “It’s a completely different microcosm” in warm-weather areas.

Landre and other horticultural experts in snowbird hot spots have identified some of the top mistakes that new arrivals make so that you don’t repeat them.

Mistake No. 1: Importing your northern garden
When many snowbirds move to Florida, “They want the same stuff they were growing in Pennsylvania or in New York — which is kind of strange, because Florida offers so many other opportunities,” says Hank Bruce, a columnist, horticultural therapist and co-author of “Yankee’s Guide to Florida Gardening,” among many books. “You will try to grow lilacs, bearded iris, forsythia, lily of the valley and all those delightful spring-flowering bulbs, like daffodils and tulips — even when the neighbor tells you [they] ain’t gonna grow.”

What you should do: “Make friends with Mama Nature,” Bruce says. “You will be far more successful if you cooperate rather than compete with her. She’s gonna win regardless of what you do.”

In other words, plant what will grow in your warm-weather home, not in your cold-weather one.

Bruce suggests buying plants from independent garden centers. The stock at big-box stores may come from hothouse growers, Landre says, so the plants may not be right for the area or ready for a life in the blazing sun.

For Florida snowbirds, Bruce suggests visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando and taking pictures. “Nobody does it better than the Disney horticulture people,” he says. After all, they have to keep the park looking great every day of the year.

Mistake No. 2: Watering poorly
Snowbirds migrate south thinking about swimming pools and assuming that their plants want lots of water, too, says Peter Warren, urban-horticulture extension agent for Pima County in Tucson, Ariz. Driving to work in January, Warren will see puddles on the ground from people watering their gardens.

What you should do: Adjust. “Irrigation is … the No. 1 reason plants don’t do well — either under- or overwatering,” Warren says.

Plants need more water in the hotter, drier months in the desert — especially in May and June, before Arizona’s monsoon rains arrive. “In the winter, it’s the opposite,” he says. With higher humidity and lower temperatures, plants don’t grow much and don’t need much water. Overwatering is costly and can kill plants, he says.

In Florida, Landre suggests watering plants and lawns just once a week or once every 10 days in winter. Adjust the irrigation again for summer watering, if you leave in the spring, she says. Leaving the water off then can invite plant stress and insect infestation — and nothing for you to return to the next winter but disaster.

What you should do: “If your soil has no nutrients, you have to learn about amending the soil,” she says. That means giving your plants food. In a sandy place such as Florida, add organic peat moss to the soil before planting to “give the root ball a drink,” Landre says. Add composted cow manure, which enriches the soil. Fertilize the soil periodically, she says.

In the desert, the soil is more alkaline, with less organic material and higher salinity than in the North or East, Warren says.

“If you’re desperate to have hydrangeas or blueberries or something from back East, plant them in a container, where you can control the environment,” he says. “In other words, don’t force them into inhospitable soil. Even amending the soil in the desert isn’t successful in the long run. “It won’t work, and it will eventually kill them.”

Mistake  No. 4: Forgetting that things grow year-round
Snowbirds might reasonably come south in a northern frame of mind, thinking that their lawn and garden won’t grow much in the winter. They buy plants without much attention to how much things grow — and grow. (Bing: Find drought-tolerant plants)

What you should do: Plan for the growth cycle. Plants can grow larger and faster, but that may mean more work for you.

Not interested in more maintenance? Buy slow-growing or low-maintenance dwarf plants, Landre says. In central Florida, that might include evergreens such as Indian hawthorn, low-spreading junipers, giant evergreen liriope and dwarf nandina, according to Polk County’s master-gardener program’s tip sheet for snowbirds.

Mistake No. 5: Just watching the grass grow
Many snowbirds envision a lush, close-clipped green carpet of the kind of grass to which they’re accustomed. Reality is a bit more complicated.

“The grass is shy and retiring down here,” Bruce says. “Beautiful Florida lawns grow on sweat — your sweat.”

What you should do: Get ready for some hard work, or plant grass that’s easier to maintain. For Floridians, Bruce suggests annual rye.

“It grows fast, it’s dark green, it’s tough, it gives you something to mow for the winter months and then it’s going to die out in the spring,” he says.

Good year-round grasses include St. Augustine, a rugged grass that looks like crabgrass, grows well in the sand, handles pests well and can stay green. It must be laid as sod, however. Two other grass options, which can be seeded and need less water, are Argentine and Pensacola Bahia, Bruce says.

Homeowners in the Southwest desert usually choose a hybrid Bermuda grass, says Paul Ellis, a master gardener with the Pima County Master Gardener Program.

“That’s a grass here that in the winter is going to be dormant,” or brown, he says. Its growing season is the summer. Expect to water it a lot, he says.

Most experienced snowbirds, however choose xeriscaping — or low-water, natural landscaping — instead of grass. It’s less expensive and less of a hassle.

Mistake No. 6: Forgetting about the vegetable garden
For Northerners, winter is a time to leave the vegetable garden alone and let it rest and recuperate before planting again in the spring.

What you should do: Take advantage of winter weather that’s warm enough for plants, too cold for insects and just right for working in the garden. In Florida, for instance, fruits, potatoes and collard greens can grow in the winter, Bruce says.

Mistake No. 7: Thinking the sun sits still
You’ve planted local plants. You’ve watered them correctly. You have a timer set so they’re irrigated when you leave town. You’ve thought of everything — or have you?

Have you forgotten to account for the reason you came here in the first place: the sun?

What you should do: Know that the sun moves a lot throughout the year. “The sun moves more to the south in the winter and more to the north in the summer. And people don’t think about that when they are planting,” Landre says. “They don’t plant plants in the right spot, and the [plants] will cook in other times of year.”

Before you plant, ask yourself: Where will the sun and light be later in the summer? What’s shady now may not be in a few months.

“The solution to this is to find plants that like … both sun and shade,” says Landre, citing croton, arboricola and pygmy date palms, among others.

Mistake  No. 8: Ignoring microclimates
People come to the desert to warm their bones, and they naturally think that heat-loving plants will thrive everywhere. But microclimates, especially in the desert, can create extreme cold spots that must be considered. Without much cloud cover, winter nights can be chilly, with huge temperature fluctuations over 24 hours. (Bing: Find lawn-care services)

What you should do: “Consider the topography of your house and garden before you plant,” Warren says. For example, perhaps don’t stick that citrus tree down at the base of a hill. Cold travels downhill easily and pools in the low places. So if you’ve got a low point on your property, such as a dry riverbed, that place can be much colder there than elsewhere.

“Use mostly low-maintenance, slow growing, non-fussy shrubs and trees,” Landre says. “For lots of color, plant annuals, have year-round irrigation and become a patron of a good local plant nursery.”

 

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original article by: Christopher Solomon of MSN Real Estate

Click here to view original article

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Here are the alternative routes to approval.

For many homebuyers, establishing credit came naturally once they began working, applied for a credit card, took out a car loan or paid back student loans. But what about potential homebuyers who don’t have a credit score, either because they are averse to credit cards or have yet to build up a substantive credit history? Can they still apply for a mortgage?

The answer is yes, but “it’s exceedingly difficult to obtain a mortgage without a credit score,” says Tim Ross, president and CEO of Ross Mortgage Corp. in Royal Oak, Mich. “Lenders use automated underwriting systems that base a loan decision on certain criteria, including a credit score. But there are some nontraditional sources that can be used for credit verification.”

Mortgage lenders typically require a credit score of at least 620 or 640 to even consider an applicant for a loan.

Whether you prefer not to use credit cards, are new to this country or are simply a younger borrower who hasn’t built up enough credit history, there are some alternative sources that mortgage lenders can use to determine your credit risk.

While most lenders require three or more sources of credit, Clint Madison, a senior mortgage banker with Envoy Mortgage in Walnut Creek, Calif., says, “I’ve worked with borrowers who have a slim credit file and been able to get them approved for a loan. The first thing we look for would be 12 to 24 months of canceled checks or verification from a landlord of on-time rent payments.”

Alternative sources of credit
Here are several other items that can be used for nontraditional credit verification, Ross says:

  • Utility bills for gas, electricity or water, as long as they are paid separately from your monthly rent.
  • Phone and cable bills.
  • Car insurance, renters insurance, life insurance or medical insurance payments, if they are not paid by payroll deduction.
  • Child care or school tuition payments.

The more evidence you can provide that indicates a history of on-time payments, the greater your chances of qualifying.

“You need at least 12 months and sometimes as many as 24 months of payments to prove your creditworthiness,” Ross says. “A bigger down payment offsets your credit risk, and so does your job stability, your cash reserves and a high income in relation to your debts.”

Credit history matters
The reason for your lack of credit history will also affect your ability to qualify for a loan.

“If you’re living with your parents and have yet to establish any credit, it’s pretty much impossible to get a loan unless your parents are willing to co-sign for you,” Madison says. “The parents will need a credit score at a minimum of 660, and you’ll need to have at least two months, or maybe as much as six months, of principal, interest, taxes and insurance payments in cash reserves in the bank.”

Borrowers who are new to the United States may have a credit report from another country. Ross says those credit reports can be used to create a record of bill payments for a loan application.

You may not know your true credit score
Even consumers who have a credit history long enough to produce a score still need alternative sources of credit when applying for a loan. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently released a study that showed there are often discrepancies between the credit score given to a consumer and one reported to a lender.

“This study highlights the complexities consumers face in the credit-scoring market,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a news release. “When consumers buy a credit score, they should be aware that a lender may be using a very different score in making a credit decision.”

The problem, Madison says, is that borrowers are set up for false expectations.

“They may either be expecting to qualify for a better rate than they do, or they may lose out on opportunities for which they don’t believe they will qualify, when in reality they can,” he says. This is why having alternative sources of credit, which can help prove your ability to repay a loan, is important.

Establishing credit
Ross says it takes just six months of credit-card usage to generate a credit score, but lenders would also need other sources of credit in addition to your six-month-old score.

“Using alternative credit doesn’t change someone’s credit score, so if your score is low, all you can do is let time pass while you do the right thing over and over again,” Madison says.

It’s especially important that prospective buyers with thin credit consult with a mortgage lender, Ross says. A lender can provide them with a plan to follow to improve their chances of qualifying for a mortgage.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original article by: Michele Lerner of HSH.com

Click here to view original article

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Renting and thinking about buying? Start with a solid budget plan that includes strong credit and savings.

Living from one paycheck to the next may be the norm for many people. But homebuyers need a better strategy.

“If buying a home is your goal, then it needs to be your priority,” says Tim Kirchner, vice president of MetLife Bank in Irving, Texas. “Most people need to sacrifice a little and stick to a budget in order to save for a home.”

A good budget plan begins one or two years before a buyer makes an offer. Here are four tips for renters who plan to become homeowners.

1. Build strong credit
When it comes to securing a loan at the best mortgage rate, credit is king.

“The most important focus for all potential buyers should be improving their credit score,” says Jean Badciong, chief operating officer of Inlanta Mortgage in Waukesha, Wis. “A low score can prevent someone from buying a home or at least from qualifying for an affordable mortgage rate.”

Greg Holmes is national director of sales and marketing for Credit Plus, a company in Salisbury, Md., that provides credit reports to mortgage lenders. He says potential buyers should request their free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.

“Some people who think they have good credit don’t, while people who think their credit is bad may be surprised that it is actually OK,” Holmes says. “Everyone should check their report for accuracy and fix any mistakes. It can take months to correct errors.”

To improve their credit scores, buyers should pay off past-due bills, pay every bill on time and reduce their balances on every account to less than 30% of the credit limit, Holmes says. Also, it is best to have three to five credit accounts, such as a car loan, student loan or credit card, for one year or longer.

Holmes says he does not recommend switching credit cards frequently to get the best rate, though.

“Lenders do not want to see a lot of credit inquiries or too many new accounts because this could indicate someone who is about to take on a lot of extra debt,” Holmes says.

Kirchner says people often do not realize the consequences of paying bills late or missing a payment, which can affect your credit report for a long time.

Some young people assume they can improve their credit scores as an authorized user on a parent’s card. But Badciong says this will have no impact on their score.

2. Save cash
Christine Howard, a senior loan officer with Inlanta Mortgage, says future homebuyers should make “virtual” mortgage payments today to build up savings and learn to budget for actual mortgage payments down the road.

“Renters can estimate a mortgage payment and set aside the difference between that payment and their rent each month,” Howard says. “If they are paying $800 in rent and estimate their mortgage will be $1,100, they can put $300 per month in a special savings account.

“Not only does this help them save for a down payment, but it demonstrates to a lender their ability to afford that higher housing payment.”

Kirchner says he recommends that future buyers create a simple budget and set a savings goal.

“If they find they can save $300 a month, then they will have $3,600 at the end of the year,” Kirchner says. “Lenders want to see that pattern of savings, and buyers will need at least 3.5% for a down payment on a (Federal Housing Administration) loan or at least 10% for a conventional loan.”

Kirchner recommends setting up an automatic transfer of funds into a savings account through your employer or your bank.

3. Reduce debt
While buyers increase their savings, they should also reduce their debt.

“Paying off debt tops saving in terms of priorities because of the interest payments on the debt, which exceeds the amount of interest they can earn on their savings,” Kirchner says. “Lenders want to see that you are managing your debt and keeping your credit-card balances low.”

Howard says debt-to-income ratios are an important element in a loan approval. This ratio compares minimum monthly debt payments to gross monthly income.

“If your debt-to-income ratio is over 50%, you need to pay off your debt before even thinking of buying a home,” Howard says. “Some companies will relax their standards for borrowers with a strong credit score or substantial cash reserves, but in general, FHA will only go up to 43% and conventional lenders will only go to 41% for the overall debt-to-income ratio.”

4. Get educated
Although it might be premature to visit a lender two years before a home purchase, it can be valuable for consumers to know if they qualify for a mortgage, Kirchner says. He also recommends visiting open houses.

“A lot of people have no idea what $100,000 or $200,000 will buy,” he says, “so the more they look at places and neighborhoods, the better understanding they will have of the value in a home.”

 

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Michele Lerner of Bankrate.com

Click here to view original article

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