You want to buy a home, but you’ll need money for a down payment, moving and other costs. How can you do it? Here are three ways that work together as nicely as compound interest.
1. Spend less.
Like counting calories, tracking your spending will open your eyes to “spending leaks” that can be easily plugged. Eat out less often and stick to your shopping list at the grocery store. Small changes make a big difference.
2. Save more.
Look at your monthly expenses and determine how much you can save, then have that money debited from your checking account and put into a savings account, a short-term CD or other vehicle with every paycheck. This account should be considered separate from your retirement savings.
3. Pay off revolving debts.
If you can’t pay cash (or debit) for something, don’t buy it. Reduce credit card balances. Pay off high interest cards first, make payments on time, and pay much more than the minimum payment. As you eliminate each debt, double down on the remaining cards.
Keep your goal to buy a home top of mind always, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you can make your dream happen.

Just Listed!! Ventura Keys dockside home

Amazing Location, Ventura Keys home
Amazing Location, Ventura Keys home

Rare opportunity to live in a spectacular location in the Ventura Keys! This custom built 3,200 sq ft home has breathtaking views throughout. There are 3 bedrooms plus an office, an indoor workshop, laundry area and an elevator! The spacious kitchen has plenty of counter space and a breakfast bar. An amazing master suite with fireplace, walk-in closet and a separate sitting room. This home is perfect for entertaining. Boasting a large, bright living and dining area with fireplace; open up your sliding glass doors leading to the expansive back patio overlooking the Harbor! There are also 2 docks!

How We Found the Best Moving Companies

Our Picks for Best Moving Companies

Best Overall

Atlas Van LinesAtlas is our top pick for its no-fuss scheduling and excellent claims service — it was the only company to offer “delay” claims.

Of all the moving companies we looked at, Atlas felt the most inviting. It only took about 90 seconds to navigate its phone tree and get a human on the line. Right off the bat, the operator was ready to schedule an in-home estimate. The first available appointment was only three days away and they were able to offer a flexible schedule — from early morning to early evening. We shared a story about a friend whose belongings were lost during a cross-country move and our operator assured us that wouldn’t happen with Atlas. The operator has no control over that, but it was still nice to hear.

Its website isn’t the flashiest, but it gets the job done. Its claims section is thorough and leaves no stone unturned: Atlas even allows for “delay” claims in the event a shipment arrives late. It is the only company we evaluated to offer this. It might be one of the reasons Atlas customers are so happy; a hearty 69 percent of former customers had a positive experience.


Bekins Moving and StorageBekins is one of the most well-known and reputable companies on our list.

The customer service from Bekins Moving and Storage was more transactional than Atlas', but Bekins sure was quick: It walked through all the basic questions about our moving situation, then booked us an in-home estimate in only eight minutes. It was an overall painless experience, but the all-business attitude of the operator made us miss the friendlier agent we talked to at Atlas. Bekins was also slower to respond when we tried for an online quote. Past customers we surveyed were happy with their moves though: 62 percent had a positive experience, and half of those were full-on 5 stars.

The Old Standbys

United Van LinesDespite its longevity, United Van Lines earned middle-of-the-road rankings in customer service.

United Van Lines and Mayflower are two of the oldest moving companies in the US. They’ve each been around for at least 90 years. Both companies are active competitors, but since a 1995 buyout, they’ve been owned by the same parent company, UniGroup.

They don’t just share an owner; they share their process too. When we called United, we spoke with Josh, who was pretty cheerful — in the way you would be when you see somebody at a party, but don’t remember their name. He wasn’t coming on strong. Our call with United’s Josh lasted only 7 minutes 30 seconds, with a minute and a half of waiting before we were connected.

The Old Standbys

MayflowerMayflower fared the same as United Van Lines — but that’s probably because it’s owned by the same company.

Our call with Mayflower was basically the same. The same on-hold muzak kept us company for the same minute and a half that we remained on the line. This time Joanie picked up. (It wouldn’t be a surprise to us if Joanie and Josh were in the same room.) There was little small talk with Joanie — she asked us the standard procedural questions; we booked an in-home estimate; and then we went about our business in less than five minutes.

United and Mayflower had the most middle-of-the-road responses to our customer survey, and in typical United-Mayflower fashion, they had matching results: exactly 29 percent of customers for each said the experience was smack dab in-between excellent and terrible.

Other Moving Companies to (Maybe) Consider

Wheaton Van Lines - Never Picked Up the Phone

If only we could have gotten a hold of somebody from Wheaton, it might have soared to the top of our list. But accessibility matters, and Wheaton’s phones kept ringing and ringing.

Wheaton’s website conveyed total care about its customers. It acknowledged how stressful moving can be. It offered extensive resources, including how-to guides, FAQs, video-packing demonstrations, and an incredibly helpful blog that explains how to pack like a pro (although it encourages the actual pros do the work for you).

Wheaton was fast and responsive online. We put in a request for an online quote and got a confirmation response almost immediately. Within 24 hours, we received an email with a ballpark estimate for a two-bedroom apartment move across the country.

Unfortunately, our user experience survey showed that moves with Wheaton turned out to be more like the phone experience and less like the web experience — 59 percent of respondents said they had a negative go. Bummer.

Arpin Van Lines - Least Satisfied Customers

Arpin had the most customers slap it with a 1-star rating, which we’d labeled straight-up “Terrible.” In fact, the majority of its votes (35 percent) were for that score, and a paltry 43 percent had a mix of either neutral or positive experiences.

The user reviews for Arpin on are equally as bad. Arpin has responded to every comment (usually asking the customer to send an email to a customer service address), but its tone seems downtrodden even when thanking happy customers: “We're happy that you were satisfied and would be willing to use us again. We wish all the best with your new home!”

One more to considerStevens Worldwide Van Lines squeaked by in all our evaluations, but just barely. If you can’t get the quote you want from one of our top picks, it might be worth a call.

Though Arpin did not respond to our online request for an estimate, there was no wait time when we called. The phone rang twice, Mary picked up, and we launched into it. Mary bantered with us about a band she enjoyed from the Austin area (where we said we were headed) before she assessed the size of the move, whether or not we needed the movers to pack for us (Oh yes we do!), and we scheduled the estimate six days away — a weekday afternoon, even though Mary offered some Saturday morning times too. It was a perfectly pleasant experience, but with so many people giving Arpin such low marks, we’re steering clear.

Did You Know?

In-person quotes will leave you with the fewest surprises.

All our top companies offer to give moving quotes over email and the phone, but scheduling a person to come out to your home and doing a walk-through is the only way to get a truly accurate estimate of how much you’re going to spend. Michael Danzig, marketing manager at 123movers, agrees: “An in-home estimate is the best way for a mover to give you the most accurate price quote. Also, never use a mover who does not give you a contract with a stated price.” In fact, the FMCSA requires all its interstate moving companies to do an in-person quote if your home is within 50 miles of the mover’s place of business unless you sign a waiver.

Basic quotes take into account two main things: how far you’re going and how much all your stuff weighs. The latter is where the numbers can get loosey-goosey. Remember Joe and Rich from Long Distance Van Lines who wanted to know how many vacuums we had? That question isn’t all that uncommon (even the little stuff can add up), and an agent walking with you through your possessions will be able to spot the difference between particle-board IKEA shelves and the solid-wood bedroom set passed down from your grandma.

If you’re looking for a moving company for more than just moving — say packing and unpacking — that in-person quote is all the more important. How else will they be able to tell how long it might take to break down your bed?

Not all quotes are created equal.

Non-binding estimates are more like ballpark figures, not a bid or a contract. These are most common when you aren’t quite sure of everything you’ll be moving, and they’re what you’ll get in a phone or online quote. What you pay depends on the actual weight of your belongings, as well as your mover’s tariffs (aka the rates it charges for certain services). Even though movers that give non-binding estimates are required to give a reasonably accurate dollar amount, always assume you’ll be paying more — and always ask for your mover’s tariffs up front.

Binding estimates (also called not-to-exceed estimates) require customers to pay the originally estimated amount regardless of their actual weight. If your mover underestimates that weight, you won’t have to pay for their mistake. (Granted, that binding estimate is only for what you and your mover agree upon. If the garage sale you planned didn’t go as well as you’d hoped and you have a lot left over, that will increase your costs.)

What happens if it overestimated the weight? It depends on the company. Some will still make you pay for the agreed-upon estimate; others will lower the costs. Your moving company should be up front about its policy and give it to you in writing.

If you have to file a claim, expect your payout to take weeks.

At the beginning of a move, movers will take a full inventory of your belongings, marking their condition. You should be there for that process so you are in complete agreement with everything they note.

Upon delivery, you or they will go through the inventory to make sure nothing was damaged in transit. If something was, it’s up to you to file the claim (most moving companies give you up to nine months to do this, but the sooner the better). You can file claims online for some companies; others have dedicated phone lines. Regardless of how you submit your claim, the moving company will have to send a claims adjuster — either its own or one from a third party — to inspect the damaged property. It usually takes at least a week to have an adjuster sent out (or even to receive confirmation of the filed claim) and then additional time to process your payout.

The Bottom Line

Let’s not sugarcoat it: Moving is a pain, and even if you hire the best moving company, it’s no guarantee that it will be any less so. But a great service will be friendly and efficient online, on the phone, and in person — and if it has a good track record of getting from point A to point B without a mishap, all the better.

Take Action

Best Overall

Atlas Van LinesMoving is rarely fun, but our top pick makes the process as painless as possible.

Get started early. It’s best to start getting quotes at least five weeks before you plan on moving so you can find a company you like and it can fit you (and your in-person quote) on the calendar.

Get everything in writing. The contract you sign is called a Bill of Lading and it should detail out every little part of your move, from estimates to services provided, as line items. This can (and should!) include everything from how much you’ll be charged for the move itself to whether or not the moving company will provide its own bubble wrap.

No matter what, have enough to cover 110 percent on delivery. Even with a binding estimate, costs can accrue. All those costs, and how and when they apply, should of course be detailed in your Bill of Lading. But, for example, if you forgot to tell someone about your hardbound encyclopedia collection and the costs increase, most movers will expect the original estimate plus 10 percent of the extra upon delivery — and the rest within 30 days.

this post was originally featured on:

Dreaming about Vacation Homes?

Imagine sitting on the lanai of your Hawaiian vacation home, overlooking the ocean while the sea breeze kisses your face as you pour yourself and your loved one another margarita. You’ve escaped the daily grind and aren’t checking any work e-mails until you return to the mainland a couple weeks later. If you’ve got a couple million dollars to spare, what a life!

Owning a primary home is a part of the American dream. But having enough money to own a vacation home might very well be an American fantasy. Who actually has a vacation home? And what questions did they address before taking the leap? We discuss these issues and more in this post.

According to a 2014 National Association of Realtor’s Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey, vacation-home sales accounted for 13% of all transactions in 2013. NAR’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data also shows there are 8.0 million vacation homes and 43.7 million investment units in the U.S., compared with 74.7 million owner-occupied homes. In other words, roughly 11% of primary home occupiers also have vacation homes.

The typical vacation-home buyer is 43 years old, has a median household income of $85,600 and purchased a property that is a median distance of 180 miles from his or her primary residence, according to the NAR. For those of you who live in New York City, perhaps a vacation home in The Hamptons or The Jersey Shore are desirable locations to choose from. For others who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Napa Valley, Santa Cruz, and Lake Tahoe are popular destinations. Only 34% of vacation homes in the survey were over 500 miles away.

Let’s focus on some things to think about before you consider buying another piece of property.

Related Post: What You Need To Know Before Buying Rental Property

Vacation Property Considerations

Here are a few questions you should consider before purchasing a vacation home:

1) What are the alternatives? Before buying a vacation property, compare what other properties you could rent for the same cost of owning your property. Owning property will include property taxes, maintenance costs, time, effort, insurance, and a mortgage if you do not pay cash. You’ll also have to pay homeowner’s dues if you purchase a time share or condo. Make a realistic assessment of the number of days of planned usage and divide by the annual cost of ownership to come up with a rental cost per night. Now look on online at various sites like VRBO, AirBnb, and Expedia to see what else is out there in the same price range.

2) How often do you truly plan to use the property? Most American workers average 3-6 weeks of vacation a year, excluding those who are able to work from home. Do you really want to spend all your vacation days at one place? Or would you like to visit different parts of the world instead? It could be difficult to spend as much time as you’d like at one specific vacation property depending on your schedule and interests.

3) Does your vacation property have rental income potential? Rental income is a great way to support the ongoing cost of owning a vacation property during the 40+ weeks a year that you will likely not be there. There are services such as VRBO and vacation management companies that can help you earn income. The IRS tax laws even allows you to rent out your vacation home for up to 14 days a year without paying taxes on the rental income generated from those days. You might be able to deduct any uninsured casualty losses too, within limits, though you can’t write off rental-related expenses. If the home is rented for more than 14 days, however, you must claim the income.

4) Are you maxed out on your mortgage indebtedness? The IRS says you can write off a maximum of $1 million in mortgage indebtedness between your primary and qualified secondary home. If you are already capped out with a $1 million or greater mortgage on your primary home, then you can no longer write off your vacation property mortgage to your income. But if you rent out your vacation property, you are able to deduct the interest as an expense off of your rental income. Use Schedule A to make the deductions. See the IRS for more details.

5) Do you need to finance it? Getting a mortgage for a vacation property can be a tough ordeal. Banks are still quite strict on limiting borrowers to a 42% debt/income ratio. Meanwhile, the average credit score for rejected mortgage applications was around 729 according to FICO back in 2012.

(PART 1)

Buying a Vacation Home

What to Know Before Buying a Home at Your Favorite Vacation Spot

If you're planning to take on a second home, decide whether you'll rent it out and calculate all the costs first.

Woman relaxing on vacation home porch with coffee, smiling

You need to visit your vacation home often to make the purchase worth it, so ensure you truly love the location and won't grow tired of it.

By + More

As you schlep your ski gear to your favorite resort for the umpteenth time or search for lodging near your favorite beach on a holiday weekend, you may think how much easier life would be if you had your own vacation home.

An estimated 1.13 million vacation homes were sold in the U.S. last year, the highest number since the National Association of Realtors began collecting the data in 2003. And vacation home sales made up 21 percent of residential transactions in 2014.

While owning a vacation home can make logistical and financial sense, it's not a decision to be entered into lightly.

"For some people, it's not a matter of dollars and cents," says Marian Schaffer, president and founder of, which publishes information on retirement and vacation home communities in the Southeast. "It's a matter of experience."

For most people, money will play a big role in the decision. Baby boomers who have sold their family homes for cash may choose to invest some of that cash in a winter home in a warm climate or other future retirement destination, says Valerie Dolenga, a spokeswoman for Del Webb, which builds active-adult communities throughout the U.S. In those cases, homeowners don't rent out their properties but move from one home to another, perhaps spending winters in a second home in Florida or Arizona and summers up North near family.

Others may buy a vacation home with the idea of renting it out when they're not using it to defray at least some of the costs. Some may only be able to afford a vacation home if they rent it out when they're not using it.

Rob Stephens and his family bought a three-bedroom condo in Vail, Colorado, in 1999 with rental income in mind. "Having a getaway place in the mountains was a motivator," Stephens says. "When I started, I really needed that rent to make my mortgage payment."

"To us, owning real estate in Vail long term is a good investment," says Stephens, general manager of Avalara MyLodgeTax, which helps owners comply with local lodging tax laws.

If you want the rental income, it's important to choose a home that can be rented at the frequency you need to cover expenses. That means both choosing a community that allows vacation rentals and then making sure you're set up to take advantage of the rental potential, from furnishing the unit to having a plan for advertising and handling tenants. You need to know before you buy whether you will rent the home when you're not using it.

Here are 10 things to consider when looking at vacation homes:

Can you afford it? Real estate is not a liquid investment, and you can't count on being able to sell a home for a profit, or even break even, especially in your first few years of ownership. During the recession, homes lost more than half their value in Florida, Arizona and Nevada, among other places.

Know all the rules. Not all homes can be used as rental property. Homeowner or condo associations may set rules for rentals, as may cities. Some resorts may require you to use their programs, which set standards for interior furnishings and amenities, but the property handles the logistics for a percentage of the rent. If you plan to rent out your property, it's especially important to research all these rules before you buy.

Calculate all the costs. The actual purchase price is only part of what you will need to spend. You will also have to pay utilities, HOA or condo fees, property taxes, insurance and the cost of furnishing a new home down to the spoons and forks. If you're in a resort area, you may also need or want skis, snowboards, kayaks, water toys or other gear.

Be realistic in your expectations of rental income. Renting out a vacation home comes with expenses. You will need to pay for cleaning between tenants, advertising and perhaps property management. If you're part of a resort rental program, it will take a percentage.

Know how often you will really visit. If you don't rent out your unit, you want to make sure you will visit enough to make the purchase worthwhile. Pick a place you love and want to return to often, advises Dolenga. You don't want your home to sit unoccupied for long periods.

Guide to Buying a Second Home or Vacation Home

One out of three homes sold in 2007 was a vacation home or investment property, showing that demand for second homes remains healthy despite a slow housing market. Reasons for buying a second home vary, from recreation and vacation enjoyment to investment and development to retirement planning.

With homebuyers enjoying an advantage in many markets, now may be the time to buy that second home. Whether you're dreaming of paradise or profit, follow these five steps for a smart investment:

  • Step 1: Decide if it’s the right time to buy
  • Step 2: Know what to look for in a second home
  • Step 3: Explore financing options and negotiate with the seller
  • Step 4: Learn the tax ins and outs
  • Step 5: Research alternative ownership options

Second Home Factoids:

Median age of buyer: 46 (baby boomers own 57 percent of all second homes)
Median household income: $99,100
Median price of second home/nonprimary residence: $211,000
No. 1 reason for buying: Family retreat
No. 2 reason: Future primary residence
No. 1 location to buy: The South
No. 2 location: The West
Most popular type: detached single-family homes, followed by townhomes and condominiums
Most popular area: suburbs, followed by small towns, urban areas, resort and vacation areas

Source: National Association of Realtors

Step 1: Decide if it’s the right time to buy.

Think through your plans for a second property before you leap, advise experts.

  • Assess your goals. It may come down to investment reasons, vacation enjoyment or a combination of both. Want a place within driving distance for a retreat? Looking for a family vacation spot? A jump on a retirement home?
  • Consider the market conditions, your personal finances and the affordability of the property. Given the downturn in housing prices with many U.S. regions taking hits, there are deals to be had, says Melanie Greenstein, principal of Rise Network in Minneapolis, a real estate brokerage specializing in second homes. “Use the right agent in the right city and if you do your homework, you can find some phenomenal buys. Don’t plan to flip or sell the property within the next 12 to 24 months.”
  • Focus on areas with steady appreciation rates. Don’t bank on renting out the home or having all your expenses covered, advises Lynda Traverso, GRI, Realtor with VIP Realty Group in Sanibel Island, Fla. “Do look at a second home as an investment and consider areas where homes are going to appreciate.”

Step 2: Know what to look for in a second home.

Once you have a good idea of your goals around a second home, it comes down to homework and scouting for the right property in the right location.

  • Try it out first.
    When assessing location, particularly for a vacation home in an area you’re not familiar with, renting for at least one stay is always a good first step. Carefully consider travel time and expenses against how often you plan to use the home, real estate broker Ruth Krinke says. “How accessible is the property? With the price of gas today and rising airfares, this is a big issue.”
  • Talk to the locals.
    Even if you’ve been vacationing in the same area for years, getting to know the place from a local perspective is important before buying a home there. Talk to residents and ask them what they like about the area, how it’s changing, what types of people are moving there and what it’s like off-season.
  • Act like a local.
    You should also visit the area yourself during each season to get a feel for what it’s like year round. While you’re there, scope out restaurants, grocery stores and entertainment. Does the area have enough of the things you like to keep you interested? Also check out the public school system; even if you never plan on your kids attending there, homes near great schools have more value.
  • Look at the comps.
    To help gauge whether the property is a good investment, review other home sales in the community to examine what the track record is on resale values of similar properties, Traverso says.
  • Know the rules of renting.
    If you plan to rent the property, expect to do additional research. For example, some communities ban weekly vacation rentals, allowing only for monthly rentals. “It depends on the homeowners association and the city law,” Traverso says. On the flip side, if you’re craving a quiet retreat, you may not want to vacation in a community with a lot of rental turnover.
  • Work with an experienced agent.
    A seasoned real estate agent can help you weigh your criteria and make all the difference in a second home purchase. Try these tips for finding an agent or broker:

    • Scout local listings, including free sales publications that list the type of property you want to buy.
    • Find an agent that knows the area and property values. “Select one with at least five years minimum experience in that marketplace, preferably more,” Greenstein says.
    • For extensive searches, scouting in resort communities or exploring alternatives like fractional ownership, consider an agent with the Resort & Second Home Property Specialist (RSPS) Certification by the National Association of Realtors.
    • Beyond the sale, a good agent will stay in contact and help you. This is particularly important for homeowners who may not live near the property.

Step 3: Explore financing options and negotiate with the seller.

In many ways, second home purchases are similar to the primary home purchase. Realtors say putting 20 percent down or more is common for second homes to avoid the expense of mortgage insurance and given today’s tightened lending practices. “It’s possible to buy a true second home with 5 or 10 percent down, but it’s tricky,” says Ruth Krinke, RSPS (Resort & Second Home Property Specialist), associate broker with Steamboat Real Estate in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

When it comes to negotiating, second home sellers may be more flexible than their primary-home counterparts. “Second home sellers are often more flexible in price and terms of sale. They may want out because they are overextended or their lifestyle has changed,” Greenstein says.

To move the sale along, buyers can request special terms of the seller. For example, as an incentive, sellers might be willing to carry a second mortgage for three to five years, Traverso says. “Sometimes banks will accept 10 percent from the seller when the buyer puts down 10 percent. The seller may take on a burden to get the deal done when banks will only loan 80 percent of the value of the home.”

Consider these tips when investigating your financing options:

  • For mortgage financing, use a local lender in the area you are buying, Traverso says, because its expertise and knowledge of the market can avoid problems later;
  • Stricter guidelines are involved in qualifying for a mortgage for an investment property. Typically, borrowers pay a higher interest rate;
  • If you do need the rental income to qualify for the loan, you may need a minimum of 25 percent down, Krinke says. Lenders tend to give credit for up to a 75 percent occupied rate;
  • Other forms of financing include tapping into your primary home’s equity line of credit, known as HELOCs.


What are H.O.A Fees?

HOA Basics

First, let's take a look at what HOAs are all about. HOA fees often range from $200 to $400 per month. The more upscale the building and the more amenities it has, the higher the homeowners' association fees are likely to be. In addition to monthly fees, if a major expense such as a new roof or a new elevator comes up and there aren't enough funds in the HOA's reserves to pay for it, the association may charge an extra assessment that can run into thousands of dollars.

Because multiple parties live in the same building or complex, all residents of condominiums and townhomes must be equally responsible for maintaining the common areas such as landscaping, elevators, swimming pools, clubhouses, parking garages, fitness rooms, sidewalks, security gates, roofing and building exteriors. Many of these types of common areas, such as pools and tennis courts, also exist in subdivisions of single family homes. Regardless of whether the HOA governs a building, such as a condo or townhome structure, or a neighborhood of individual houses, HOA fees help maintain the quality of life for the community's residents and protect property values for all owners.

In addition to maintaining common areas, HOAs also set out certain rules that all residents must follow called covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs). In a common building, rules may include what color front door you may have, whether you are allowed to line dry your laundry outside, whether you can have a satellite dish, the size and type of pets permitted, and so on. In many ways, these rules are similar to the types of rules apartment dwellers must follow.

In a subdivision with individual homes, regulations may include what color you can paint your home, the exterior landscaping you can do, the types of vehicles you can park on the street or in your driveway (no RVs, for example), permissible type and height of fences, and restrictions on window coverings for windows facing the street. If you want to do anything that differs from these rules, you will have to convince the HOA to grant you a variance, which is probably unlikely. No matter where you live, you are likely to be subject to city ordinances and restrictions related to the use of your property. HOAs add yet another layer of restrictions and because their members are more likely to know what you're up to, the HOA is more likely to enforce the rules. So, let's take a look at some of the rules and regulations you need to know about before you decide to join one of these communities.

What You Need To Know

While there are laws governing the behavior of HOAs, these associations can still have a powerful impact on your rights as a homeowner. Before buying a property in a community that has an HOA you should:

1. Learn the HOA's rules.
You may be able to find an HOA's CC&Rs online as well as information about what happens if you violate a rule. Make sure any online information is current. If you cannot find this information online, ask your real estate agent to acquire these documents for you or contact the HOA yourself. Pay particular attention to rules regarding fines and whether the HOA can foreclose on your property for nonpayment of HOA dues or fines resulting from CC&R violations. Also, learn about the process for changing or adding rules and whether HOA meetings are held at a time you will be able to attend, if you wish to do so. If the rules are too restrictive, consider buying elsewhere.

2. Make sure the home you want to buy is not already out of compliance with HOA rules.
Buying into an existing problem can be a headache, so find out what the rules are and whether you would have to make changes to the home to comply.

3. Assess environmental practices.
If environmentally friendly living is important to you, be aware that some HOAs may dictate that you use fertilizers, pesticides, sprinkler systems and whatever else it takes to keep your lawn picture-perfect. They may not allow xeriscaping (an environmentally friendly form of landscaping) and may limit the size of gardens, ban compost piles and prevent you from installing solar panels. If these things are important to you, make sure you check the fine print first.

4. Consider your temperament.
Are you the type of person who hates being told what to do? If so, living in a community with an HOA may be a very frustrating experience for you. One of the major benefits of homeownership is the ability to customize and alter the property to suit your needs, but HOA rules can really interfere with this.

5. Find out about fees.
Fees will differ for each community. Because of this you should make sure to ask your HOA the following questions:

  • How are HOA fee increases set?
  • How often do increases occur, and by how much have they historically been raised?
  • Can you get a printed history of HOA dues by year for the last 10 years?
  • How large is the HOA's reserve fund?
  • Also, ask for a record of special assessments that have been made in the past and ask if any special assessments are planned for the near future. Note that economies of scale can mean that special assessments are higher in smaller HOAs.
  • Find out what the monthly dues coverWill you still have to pay extra for garbage pickup? Is cable included?

Compare dues for the complex or neighborhood you are considering to the average dues in the area. Keep in mind that you will have to pay for recreational facilities whether you use them or not. Find out the hours for amenities like pools and tennis courts. Will you be around during those hours, or will you be paying for facilities you'll never be able to use? Be aware that the HOA may have rules about how many guests can use common facilities. If guest restrictions are severe, forget about that housewarming pool party you envisioned.

6. Try to get a copy of minutes from the last meeting or sit in on an HOA meeting before you buy.
The meeting minutes can be very telling about the policies of the HOA. Some questions to ask are:

  • What are current and past conflicts?
  • What is the process for resolving any conflicts?
  • Has the HOA sued anyone? How was that resolved?

Be alert for potential drama. Power trips and petty politics can be an issue in some HOAs. Talk to some of the building's current owners, if possible – preferably ones who are not on the HOA board and who have lived in the building for several years. Talk to the HOA president and get a sense for whether you want this person making decisions about what you can do with your property. If a private company manages the HOA, investigate it before you buy. Some HOAs are professionally managed, but it is common for associations to be managed by building residents who fill the position as volunteers. Even if you like the current HOA board or management company, it can change after you move in and you may end up getting something totally different than what you expected.

7. Watch for under-management.
Not all HOAs are over-managed. The opposite problem may be an HOA where no one really cares and where no one is interested in maintaining the building, making repairs, hearing resident grievances or being on the board. Residents may simply take turns serving as HOA president or randomly appoint someone, so be prepared to serve in this role whether you want to or not if that is the case with your community's HOA.

This would also be a good time to check into any restrictions preventing you from renting out your property or that make it difficult for you to do so. If your property is being under-managed you might not have an issue, but if you've got a hyperactive manager it could be a totally different story.

8. Find out what kind of catastrophe insurance the HOA has on the building.
This is particularly important if you're considering a condo or townhouse purchase and you live in an area that is prone to floods, earthquakes, blizzards, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes or any other type of potential natural disaster – and that is virtually anywhere.

9. Consider the impact of HOA fees on your short- and long-term finances.
A condo with high HOA fees might end up costing you as much as the house you don't think you can afford.

The Bottom Line

Homeowners' associations can be your best friend when they prevent your neighbor from painting her house neon pink, but your worst enemy when they expect you to perform expensive maintenance on your home that you don't think is necessary or impose rules that you find too restrictive. Before you purchase a property subject to HOA rules and fees, make sure you know exactly what you are getting into.

Read more: 9 Things You Need To Know About Homeowners' Associations | Investopedia

Create the Best House Design by Using the Right Process

There are four basic ways people approach the task of creating a house design:

1. Search through books of House Floor Plans.

2. Design it themselves on paper or with Home Design Software.

3. Work with a builder in a Design-Build arrangement.

4. Hire an Architect.

Searching through hundreds of House Floor Plans hoping to find the perfect dream home can be a frustrating process.  You would think with so many house designs to choose from, one should be perfect. But it never really seems to work that way. Most plans are just plain bad. In others, you might find some features that you like, but none of the designs meets all your needs. House Plan Books are a good place to start, but even the best plan will need modifications to really come close to being Your Perfect House.

The do-it-yourselfers take out the graph paper, pencil, and Architect Scale, or buy some Home Design Software, and start sketching in hopes of getting a great plan. Usually this produces a plan, but not a great plan. The design often ends up with many compromises and things that just are not worked out very well. To make this effort work as well as possible, you need to write out a Program and get your objectives clearly defined from the beginning. Then, as you work through the design, you will be able to gauge your progress and know if you have achieved your goals. 

To avoid frustration, many people go to a builder who offers Design-Buildservices. The builder may design the house himself, or he may retain a draftsman, house designer, or maybe even an architect create the house design. This arrangement can work well, if you take the proper steps along the way and if the person doing the design is talented and responsive to you. But if you aren’t lucky enough to get a builder with an eye for design, you might end up with a well-built house, but a design that is less than perfect.

The best approach to house design involves Hiring an Architect or residential designer and then working through a proper Custom Home Design process. Obviously, since I’m an architect myself, I am biased toward this approach. But setting aside my bias, I can confidently say that this method will give you the best house designed specifically for you and your family. And, believe it or not, it just might be the most economical way to go since a good design can be a more efficient use of space, save you from expensive mistakes, and produce a house that holds its value well over the years.

Add to that the joy of living in a house that fits you comfortably and makes you truly happy, and you have a valuable combination that is worthy of the effort and expense.

Make sure you're prepared. Do your homework

But be forewarned, all of these house design methods will fail if you are not prepared and have not done enough homework to guide the entire process in the right direction. The goal of this website is to give you good information about house design, increase your awareness of the possibilities you have, give you good answers, and arm you with knowledge.

Every good house design starts with some solid House Planning. You might call this Pre-Planning. We architects call this step “Programming.” I like to say that if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never know when you get there. Programming tells you where you are going. This is when you set your goals. How would you like your house to live? How big should it be? What is your budget?

If you do a thorough job of programming, you’ll have a yardstick by which to measure any design. Even if you are simply choosing a stock plan, good House Planning will help you evaluate how well each plan fulfills your program requirements. If you are designing from scratch, your program is your roadmap to the perfect house design.

You probably have heard Home Construction Costs expressed in terms of Cost per Square Foot. This term is an industry standard, but there different ways square footage is calculated. One builder might include the unheated spaces, such as the garage. Another builder might only count the heated space. Naturally, these differences will cause the dollar amounts quoted for the cost per square foot to vary. Be sure you know How to Calculate Square Footage correctly so you understand the reality of your Home Construction Costs.

Don't delude yourself into thinking that by some miracle your house will be less expensive than the rest of the houses in your community with the same level of quality and detail. It's a fool's game. Reality will eventually prevail, leading you to the disappointing prospect of abandoning your home you've worked so hard to design perfectly.

An important factor in controlling costs and avoiding building useless square footage is by understanding proper Room Design and setting target room sizes that are not too large or too small. If you add everything up before drawing yourHouse Floor Plans, making the size adjustments when everything is merely a list of target sizes, you will then be free to Design Your Own Home or even pick a plan with the confidence you will be able to afford it.

When people don’t start out with realistic House Planning, they usually end up feeling like they’ve compromised. Your dream home should not be a compromise.

Take Advantage of What Your Site Has to Offer

I believe every house should “respond” to the Building Site. It should sit comfortably on the slope of the land and take advantage of all the site has to offer. There is nothing worse than seeing a house that is inappropriate to a piece of property and was plopped down willy-nilly. Usually this results in lost opportunities.

Often the best views are ignored, the house does not look as good as it could, the solar orientation is wrong and the house is less energy efficient than it might have been, the rooms are dark, or a host of other problems.

After, your House Planning is done, the Building Site should be analyzed to delineate sun angles, prevailing winds, topography, site features, significant trees, neighboring buildings, property lines, building setbacks, easements, and other characteristics that will influence the design of your house.

Topography is the slope of the land. This information usually comes from a land surveyor. Too many times people avoid the cost of a survey only to find out too late that there was not enough slope for the walk-out Basement they wanted or there is a drainage problem they did not foresee.

Your house design starts from the ground up. Knowing about the ground your house sits upon will give you the best start for your design. When I'm working on a house design, I like to start with the written program and then create a bubble diagram showing the rooms and spaces, but with no indication of the shape of the rooms.

My bubble diagram will show how rooms interact. I’ll draw lines to show which rooms must be adjacent to which other rooms. Then I gradually manipulate the rooms to find the optimal arrangement that yields the right interconnections based on the program.

Once I have a feel for the diagrammatic house layout, I try placing the diagram on the

Building Site and then alter it to capture the site opportunities, such as views, sun angles, etc. From this new, modified diagram, I can easily develop a floor plan that fulfills the program and responds to the site. I explain this in detail in my book, Designing Your Perfect House: Lessons from an Architect.

Not every floor plan can work with everyExterior Home Design. The interior and the exterior need to be compatible. You might find yourself attracted to one style of house only to learn later it is appropriate for two-story houses and doesn’t match up well with the one-story plan you want. Don’t fret. It’s a normal part of the house design process to take the diagrammatic floor plan and modify it while you’re developing the exterior design.

One aspect of the house will always influence other aspects. The trick is to maximize all aspects without letting anything suffer severely at the hands of another. House design is one big balancing act. If you can ultimately get 90% of everything, you’ll have a great design.

The Roof Design is the Crowning Touch

Roof Designs have a large impact on the look of your home. It’s a good idea to become familiar with the names of each roof shape and style and the impact each one can have on the house. If you’re interested in maximum energy efficiency, you’ll probably want a roof designed with large overhangs to shade your windows in summer.

If you live in a snowy climate, you might want to consider steeper sloping roofs and avoid valleys where snow and ice can build up. Flat roofs can suit arid climates. Roofs with the proper pitch and orientation can hold solar panels. Not every roof is appropriate for every climate.

Every good house design needs an organizing concept. The best houses give you the sense that everything is in the right place. And good house design tends to look like it was easy to create, even if it wasn’t. It’s like watching a great athlete. You know what they are doing is hard, but they make it look effortless. If you plan your house out well, analyze the site, work with an organizing concept, and keep referring to your program to be sure you are designing a house that fulfills it, success is a near certainty.

House design covers a lot of territory. It includes Kitchen Design and Bathroom Design, design of special rooms like Home TheatersHome Offices, and Garages. Your new house must comply with the Residential Building Code.

There are issues of scale and proportion, energy efficiency, and special details. It can’t be summed up in a few pages.

I cover much of this in Designing Your Perfect House and elsewhere on this website. So take the time to explore. There’s lots of information here and more is added frequently. Check back to see what’s new. You’ll probably find a few more Home Design Tips every time.