Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More home buying advice from a friend

At the beginning of March I also emailed a friend of mine to ask for some thoughts/comments/advice on buying a home. He purchased a home this past summer, so I figured he would have some good insights. I was right. Here are a few of the things that he shared.
  • Trust your instincts as to the layout of the home you want. For example, if you know your family lives in the kitchen, don't sacrifice the kitchen size for other things.
  • When you are looking at houses, picture where you would put all you things. Do the closets make sense? Is there a place for coats? Is there enough room in the master bedroom?
  • Make a scenario to work from for collecting good faith estimates (GFEs). That way you can present the same information to various people and banks and get comparisons. Be honest, and they will hedge offers because they haven't done the actual research yet, but this can be useful.
He also pointed out a couple of excellent sites. First he suggested I listen to a bit of an NPR podcast about the current state of the economy: Bad Bank. Next, he mentioned how he had found his lender through Lending Tree (more on that later, as I use it).

Monday, March 30, 2009

Small loan or small down payment increase?

A while back I posted a question to Yahoo Questions:
How do I handle a small outstanding loan (payable in full immediately) while preparing to purchase first home?

I have a few thousand dollars of outstanding college loans and am looking into purchasing my first home this summer. I could easily pay off the loan with savings, but that would eat into my fairly pathetic down payment. I just read that paying off debts helps your credit score, which is why I am asking. Until now I was trying to maximize my down payment.

The response was mixed, although slightly leaning toward using the money toward the down payment.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

How much house can I really afford?

One thing that Home Buying for Dummies stresses is that mortgage companies can only tell you how much they are willing to lend you, not how much you can actually afford. However, it was unclear to me how to figure that actual number out.

Then I remembered that my Personal Finance class has provided tools for calculating these sorts of things. Here are two useful ones for my situation:
  • Maximum Mortgage Payments for LDS - this one is nice because it is relatively simple and it takes into account tithes, offerings, and other donations. Just thirteen fields, all of which seem like something close to normal English (not Financese).
  • Home Loan Comparison with Prepayments Refinancing - I haven't really looked at this one yet, but it seems more complicated. It uses macros. However, I expect it to be useful when comparing mortgage offers.
  • Sunday, March 15, 2009

    March Madness

    I love March Madness! This year I am trying something different in addition to all the challenge groups I regularly enter. I have created a group which, although still private (i.e., needs a password), I am opening to whomever. So please sign up:

    1. Go to the ESPN Tournament Challenge site
    2. Sign up with a new Id or sign in if you already have one
    3. Join my group:

      • Group name: "Nelson's Madness"
      • Group password: "toothfighter"

    4. Create your entry

    Invite whomever you want. I'm curious to see if the group will be just me, or if it will get out of control crazy, or if it will get somewhere in between.

    Saturday, March 14, 2009

    The importance of play

    An old roommate of mine recommended the Ted talks. I have not been listening to all of them, but the one I listened to this morning seemed particularly interesting to me. You can find it at this link. It is Stuart Brown talking about why play is vital, no matter what your age. He leads the National Institute for Play and makes some interesting and (I believe) profound points.

    Friday, March 13, 2009

    Navy Federal Credit Union

    A friend has mentioned Navy Federal Credit Union many times with regards to how good they are for mortgages. He tends to be very enthusiastic about Navy things, so I normally regarded his promotion of NFCU as more of that. However, as actually getting a mortgage became much more real to me and as PMI became something I might be paying in a year, NFCU's mortgages with no PMI suddenly looked really attractive.

    Here is what my friend says about NFCU:
    The reason is they require far less up front than anyone else I know AND they are amazing to work with. Our realtor (we used the same one twice) bragged about these people who worked really hard for us in a tight squeeze. The example I'm thinking of was with our last purchase. We were pre-approved with a certain rate that expired after a certain time period. The rates would have gone up after the period expired. We found our current house with a little less than a month left in the period and the whole process usually takes at least a month or more. BUT, they worked with us and kept our loan process moving quickly and we finished with 2 days to spare. That kind of service was apparently unheard of.

    So, if you have an in to NFCU, I would also suggest adding them to your list of potential lenders. Probably towards the top.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    Maybe we can buy a house?

    A few weeks ago my wife and I were talking about future housing plans. Our current apartment is fine, but in several ways it is less than ideal. Our lease ends at the end of the summer, so there is an opportunity to move there. As we talked, we thought that if it is going to be a couple more years before we buy a house then it might make sense to move into a rental home. We also decided to get some real information about what home ownership takes.

    Up until this point we were going off our own vague understandings. Most of this was based on the fact that the economy is collapsing and my personal finance class. In other words, we were pretty sure home ownership in New England just wasn't going to happen in our near future, if ever.

    We knew this was an assumption based on poor information, so we resolved to learn a little bit more. I emailed my father to get some advice. He suggested four things:

  • Check out some books from the library. This was an idea that had slipped my mind. I ended up requesting three books through my library. One of them ended up not being what I was looking for. I am currently reading the Geek's Guide to Home Buying and it seems to be a good introductory text. I am still waiting to get Home Buying for Dummies.
  • Check out on-line resources. He specifically mentioned http://www.realestateabc.com, but there are a whole slew of them. I'll probably talk about some of the other useful sites I have found in later posts.
  • Check out government help for buying a home. The stimulus bill gives an $8000 tax credit to first-time home buyers before July 1st. A bill from last year had offered a $7500 interest free loan through taxes. I doubt you can add the two together, but I do not actually know yet. The dates do seem to overlap.
  • Check out areas where you actually want to live. I had pretty much set my sites on one area because I knew schools were good. That community has houses $100,000 more than those in other neighborhoods my wife was looking at. Unfortunately, we don't really know much yet about the areas we are looking. This is something we are investigating further.

    That was the first step, taken a few weeks ago. We are going somewhat slow through the process and learning a lot along the way. I'll try to get caught up with the information.
  • Friday, March 06, 2009

    Nice quote from Cory Doctorow

    From TWIT 183 -

    Cory Doctorow: Using programmer tools to do other stuff is like using chef knives to cook, all right?

    Leo Laporte: Yeah.

    Cory Doctorow: It’s dangerous. You can really hurt yourself but they really work.

    Wednesday, March 04, 2009

    There's always a market for quality content

    One of the first TWITs I listened to also happened to be the best one I have heard yet. TWIT 133 consisted of a panel discussion with and about Jonathan Coulton. I had never heard of him before, but the discussion about niche markets was fascinating and informative.

    He quit his job as a software engineer to be a singer/songwriter instead, and now he makes more money doing that than he did as a software engineer. The "crazy" part about this is that he offers a lot of his content for free from his web page. He allows people to use most of it in derivative, non-commercial work (license). This is counter-intuitive to most people. What is also counter-intuitive is that people buy banana, robot, and monkey gifs on his site as a way of donating money. The point is that if you create quality content, somebody will pay for it. The trick is finding your niche. Coulton's niche is the tech nerd (Code Monkey is one of his more famous songs). I am having a hard time explaining. Check out his site and listen to TWIT 133.

    Also, I think I saw him in Atlanta when I was flying back to Utah from my job interview at BAE a year ago. The airport was pretty messed up due to some ice (I was delayed for a number of hours) otherwise I think I would have got an autograph or something. It would have been a little awkward, since at the time my only exposure to him was TWIT 133. Don'y worry, I now have the whole year of Thing a Week.

    Let me be clear: this is not a get rich quick scheme. At first I thought this was a new dot-com bubble. Maybe it was, to some extent. However, the bubble burst in October. Producing quality content that someone will pay for takes a lot of hard work, talent, and time. I do not have the time to put in the work, so my blog remains cluttered and not updated. However, many people I know have the time or have talents that are more easily shared over the internet (e.g. writing).

    Speaking of writers, TWIT 184 talks about the death of print media. It is just not cost effective, especially with devices like the Kindle 2 coming out. One journalist I know had his local branch shut down this past year, and another newspaper employee I know was laid-off this week. If you have relied on printed media to publish your work in the past, I would highly recommend listening to TWIT 133 and TWIT 184. Then start self publishing on the web as much as you can. Create your own brand. It is worth something to the right people, and the right people are out there.