Should You Buy A Bigger House?

Should You Buy A Bigger House?

Even though many people are buying less expensive housing these days, you might be very tempted to buy a bigger house. I can understand that. Interest rates are ridiculously low and real estate prices seem to be just bottoming out. I recently wrote a post explaining that most people are far better off buying real estate rather than renting. I believe that with every cell of my body. If that is true, wouldn’t it also be true that owning more real estate (in the form of a larger house) is better than owning less? The argument has merit.

But before you whip out your check book and call Moshe’s Movers, chill out. Even ifyou can af ford the new house, I suggest you pause. While there are a few good reasons to move into larger digs, there are plenty of reasons why you should maintain as small a footprint as possible.

Reasons to Move to a Larger Home

There are only three good reasons to move into a larger home:

1. Current Home Way too Small

One of the worst decisions I ever made was to buy a house that was really affordable but way too small for our family. My wife tried to tell me this before we bought the house. But of course the financial advisor expert in me took over and prevailed. Within a year we all agreed that we better move before one of us ends up on the 5 o’clock news.

That was very expensive because real estate prices had increased over that year and of course we had to pay the commissions and the movers and all that fun stuff. Drag. If you are in a house that doesn’t fit your family and you can afford a bigger house, I suggest you do it. Now is a great time for you to upgrade.

2. Current Home Way too Far

Just like living in a cramped space, living in a bad location can be a downer. If you are moving anyway, why not trade up a little? Again, assuming you can afford the upgrade, go for it. No reason why you shouldn’t.

3. Extra Costs of New Home Are Irrelevant

If you want a bigger home because you want a bigger home and you can easily pay the higher freight, it might be OK to go for it. This can be really tricky however.

One of my friends bought a huge house overlooking the valley when he was at the peak of his career. He spent a ton of money on a huge mansion and was very happy there – for a while.

Eventually he decided that he wanted to change his lifestyle. He realized that if he downsized, he could actually retire early and live very comfortably. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to realize his dream. The house is worth much less now than when he bought it. As a result, he’s stuck with the larger house, the very high upkeep and a lifestyle he’s dying to change.

To summarize, there are only 3 reasons you should buy a bigger home. Notice that I didn’t include buying a larger estate as a way to increase your real estate investments. While I do think it’s generally a good time to invest in property, the best way to do this is by owning rentals in the right market. Rentals provide income. Your residence doesn’t. Buying a bigger house as an investment might work out for you but it’s far riskier than buying good rentals.

Why You Should Not Buy a Bigger Home

1. You Can’t Afford It

Never buy a house you can’t easily afford. With the uncertain financial times we live in, it’s not unheard of to suffer big financial reversals. If heaven forbid you encounter such a situation (such as losing your job), the last thing you want to do is to lose your house too. People underestimate what it really costs to own a home. When you upgrade to a larger house all of the following bills go up substantially:

a. Mortgage Payments (duh)
b. Insurance
c. Taxes
d. Utilities
e. Upkeep
f. Décor and Furnishings (You’ll probably have to buy all new furniture when you move. At the very least, you’ll have to buy more furniture to fill up that castle you just bought).
g. Landscaping and grounds

Even if you think you can afford the new house please confirm it. Take a few minutes and crunch the numbers to be sure.

2. Risk

As I mentioned above, once you commit to real estate – especially if it’s your residence – it’s difficult and expensive to make a change. Consider how your circumstances might change over the years ahead.

Think of my friend who wanted to reinvent his life but couldn’t because he was trapped by the large home he owned and couldn’t sell.

My wife and I bought a pretty nice house in LA when our kids were younger. Before we knew it, 2 of them were in college and out of the house. We really don’t need that big house any more. I’m not saying it was a mistake to buy the house originally (12 years ago) but it would be a mistake for us to buy a bigger house now.

This is true even though it would be easier for us to afford a larger home now that two of the kids are almost done with college. There is no reason for us to buy a larger home so we aren’t doing so. Having a very affordable home gives us lots of freedom and peace of mind.

3. Opportunity Cost

If you tie up lots of money in your residence you incur an opportunity cost. The money you put in as a down payment is money you can’t invest elsewhere. Maybe there are better alternatives that you can’t take advantage of because you haven’t got the scratch. And remember that more of your monthly income goes towards the house payment. That’s money you can’t invest for your retirement. It’s also money you can’t use to travel or have fun doing other things with.

Real estate presents a wonderful opportunity right now. I’m a big fan. If you are thinking of taking advantage of the present circumstances to buy a larger home, it could be a really smart move. Just make sure you do this with your eyes wide open and do it for the right reasons.

Are you thinking of buying a larger home now? Why or why not?

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How to Maintain a Healthy Credit Score

When you're in the market to buy a home, your credit score is very important. Most lenders use this three-digit number (which is created by evaluating factors like how much debt you have, your payment history for things like credit cards and car loans, and the length of your credit history) to determine your credit risk. This number helps lenders predict whether you'll pay back your loans and if you'll pay them on time.

Mortgage borrowers with the best credit ratings generally get lower interest rates. Their monthly mortgage payments are also lower, according to myfico.com, the website for the Fair Issac Corp., which created the most-used credit rating, the FICO score. (Your FICO score can range from 300 to 850; the higher your score, the better. Credit scores tend to be better for people who have credit -- e.g., have credit card accounts -- and pay off their credit

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on time.)

Generally, consumers with ratings in the mid 700s or higher get the best interest rates. (But this depends on the economic climate -- 680 was once considered a good score.)

For example, when we last checked data made available on myfico.com, a person with a better FICO score (760-850) was able to get a monthly mortgage payment for a 30-year fixed mortgage that was about $41 lower than someone who had a credit score of 700-759, according to the website's calculations. That person with the better FICO score would spend $492 less on mortgage payments

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over a year's period than the person with a lower score.

So, if you can increase your credit rating, you could save money over the length of your mortgage. (We all like to save money!) But raising your credit score isn't easy and takes time. (Like getting into shape, or sticking to a diet.) But if you keep to it and are diligent about it, you can increase your credit rating. Here's how:

  • Check your credit report

    Keep tabs on your credit report by getting a free report once a year with freecreditreport.com (be careful of other scam sites). Go over it carefully, and make sure there aren't any errors, such as a payment that was reported late that wasn't, and mentions of accounts that don't belong to you. Report any errors on the provided form.

  • Pay bills on time

    Lenders don't like to see late payments -- even paying bills just a few days after the due date can negatively impact your score. Not paying your bills on time will lower your credit rating. Also, the longer you keep paying your bills on time, the better your credit score will be.

  • Reduce credit card debt

    Work to keep the balances low on your credit cards -- try to keep them well below your credit limits. Pay off as much credit card debt as you can, paying off the cards that are closest to their credit limits first. (Lenders like to see credit activity, but it doesn't look good if it appears that you are stretched to your credit limits.)

  • Don't open/close accounts

    Also, don't open new cards while trying to increase your rating, but don't close old accounts, either. (Both could negatively affect your score.) If you are new to credit, rapidly opening new credit accounts could make you look risky and will also lower your credit age. (Lenders prefer people with stable and lengthy credit histories.)

  • Use your old cards

    If you have any credit cards you haven't used in a while, try using them again. By making charges on the cards that you took out a long time ago, you're improving the age of your credit history and will look like a more reliable borrower.

    Source: trulia.com

10 Big Home Buying Mistakes

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Buying a home is a big step and a tricky process, with lots of obstacles to trip you up. Avoid these classic home-buying mistakes when purchasing your next place, so hopefully your buying experience will be a trouble-free one.

  1. Moving too fast

    Purchasing a home can be an exciting experience, but many home buyers rush into it. A home is something you're likely to have for several years, but all too often, people only look at a few places, and fall in love with -- and buy -- one of the very first properties they've seen.
    That's a mistake. Rushing through things, you'll miss out on other homes that may suit your needs -- or your pocketbook -- better. Worse, you could end up with a house that's a bad fit for you.
    If the circumstances allow, take your time and visit as many homes for sale as you can. Keep a list, noting each home you've seen and what you liked and didn't like about each. Take the time to revisit homes high on your list, so you have a clear picture about each home's pluses and minuses. You'll find that moving more slowly and deliberately will help you make a smarter purchase.

  2. Not researching

    Too often, house hunters simply search the local real estate listings, find a home they like and buy it, knowing very little about local market conditions, the history of the home they're

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    buying and the surrounding community.
    That's unfortunate, because such information can help you find the right home, know how much to offer when bidding for a home, and even avoid purchasing the wrong house.
    Trulia offers lots of real estate information, so use it. Trulia's Stats and Trends allows you to see how much homes are selling for in your area, how many properties are on the market, where prices are rising or falling, and even community information like the quality of the local schools and a neighborhood's safety. (Check out Stats & Trends for San Francisco, to see an example.) Trulia's Advice & Opinions allows you to see what other people are saying about the community and reach out to others for real estate advice.
    You can also look up individual homes for sale that interest you and find out information like when a home was last sold and for how much, its size and when it was built. The more you know about a particular property and its surrounding community, the more likely you'll make a smart purchase when it comes time to buy.

  3. Skipping a home inspection

    Having a home inspected before buying seems like another step in a long and sometimes confusing process, but getting a home inspection is well worth it. A good home inspector can alert you to major home defects -- like a leaky roof, termite infestations and a shoddy foundation -- that could cause many a headache and financial hurt should the property become yours. Getting a quality inspection done can alert you to homes that are a great buy, may need a little work, or are money pits that should be avoided all together.

  4. Choosing the wrong house

    It's possible to fall in love with a home that looks perfect, but in actuality, is not the right property for you. Say, that home with the grand foyer and imposing stairs looks impressive, but once you move in with your 2-year-old, you discover that those stairs give you a fright whenever he climbs them. Or, that open floor plan looked so inviting when you toured the home, but once you move in, you can't figure out where to put the furniture in the home's non-defined spaces.
    You get a view of how the owner lives in the home when house-hunting, but take the time to consider how you'd occupy the space, and whether it'd truly work for you.

  5. Ignoring your surroundings

    When you buy a home, you're not only getting the walls around you -- you're gaining neighbors and a community as well. It's a mistake to fall in love with a home without thinking about where it's situated and who your neighbors might be -- because even if the home suits you well, it could turn out that its environment doesn't.

  6. Buying too much house

    When looking to buy a home, many of us aim for the biggest house we can afford. But is biggest always better? Think about whether you really need all that space, and whether you can truly afford it in terms of the mortgage payments and the cost to maintain a home. A home might not be truly enjoyable when you're struggling to keep up with it financially.
    Take a look at your monthly costs (food, debt, utilities, etc.), and try not to have your monthly debts (including your mortgage) be more than 36 percent of your income before taxes. Don't assume your income will go up and your expenses will remain steady -- you want some leeway in case your income goes down and your daily living expenses increase.

  7. Getting the priciest home on the block

    Another temptation is to buy the most expensive house on the block. If you can afford it, and you never have to re-sell it, then why not? But most of us change homes at least once or twice in our lifetimes. That's when buying the best house on the block isn't a good idea. When it comes time to resell the house, you may find that your asking price far exceeds the price range of other homes in your area and that buyer interest in it will be limited.

  8. Not getting pre-qualified/approved

    Getting pre-qualified for a loan gives you an idea of how much you can afford to borrow. If you start house hunting without this pre-approval, you may waste time and energy on homes you can't afford.
    The next step is getting pre-approved for a loan -- this gives you an edge once you find that house you want to purchase. A pre-approval letter from a lender shows a seller that a lender has agreed to lend you a specified amount. Without this approval, you will be at a disadvantage when bidding on a home -- buyers with financing in place are more attractive to sellers than those without financing. Also, by having pre-approval, you'll avoid being beat out by another buyer who gets his financing together

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  9. Making an unconditional offer

    Putting in an offer without any contingencies may seem like a hassle-free way to purchase a house (and a way to win over a seller who has multiple offers), but it's actually not a very smart move. A contingency protects you should you have to back out of an offer. Without a contingency, you may be penalized should you have to break a contract and not follow through with the purchase. Among the contingencies you should think of adding to your contract are:

    • Make your offer contingent on your ability to get mortgage financing. That is, if you don't get financing, your contract is null and void.
    • Ask for the right to conduct a home inspection. Make your offer contingent on your acceptance of the home inspection's findings. This gives you the opportunity to ask the seller for fixes, or to back out of the contract should the home be in need of severe repair.
    • If you have a house you need to sell before your next home purchase, make the purchase of your next home contingent upon being able to sell the first. That way, if you can't find a buyer for your home, you're not roped into going through the purchase of a new one.
  10. Not getting everything in writing

    You may think that the stainless-steel fridge comes with your new house, but the home's seller may have other ideas. So it's best to put into writing everything that will and won't

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    be included with the sale of the home, just so you won't have any surprises when you move in.

 

Source: trulia.com

How to Buy and Sell a Home at the Same Time

Now that the real estate market is picking up again, many people are looking to sell their homes at last. But when you sell, you have to move somewhere — which usually means buying another home. Buying and selling at the same time brings up a whole new set of challenges, but those who plan well in advance can make it happen smoothly.

 

Here are five ways to successfully buy and sell a home at the same time.

1. Prepare to be stressed

Buying a home is stressful. Selling a home is stressful. When you do both at the same time, the experience is super stressful, not to mention emotional and difficult on many levels. You’re potentially carrying two mortgages or trying to time the purchase with the sale. There will be a lot of sleepless nights, worrying over finances and pressure to make a decision. It’s enough to ignite a family war.

 

Accepting upfront that this process will be extremely stressful will help in the long run. Know that most homeowners go through this, and there is success at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Plan everything as much as possible in advance. Do your homework. And take care of yourself. You’re going to be busier than usual.

2. Meet with your agent early on

Owners often believe their home is worth less than what the current market will bear. That’s why it’s important to meet with your real estate agent early on, even months before you plan to buy or sell.

 

Researching online valuation tools or doing basic research will help to guide you. But a local agent will help you understand your home’s true current market value and marketability. A good agent is in the trenches daily and knows your neighborhood and market inside and out.

3. Learn the market where you want to purchase

After getting some hard numbers for your home’s sale you need to do the same on the purchase side. What’s on your wish list? What are your priorities? Determine your needs and understand what you will get for your money on the purchase side. You need to know this to factor in how

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Also, understand that market. Is it more or less competitive than where you live now? How long can you expect to search for a home? This will factor into your sale timing. If you’re moving within the city or town where you

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live, your listing agent will likely serve as your buying agent. If you’re moving just outside your area, you may need to ask your agent to refer you to an agent knowledgeable about that area.

4. Know your numbers

Once you understand the numbers on both the purchase and the sale, you need to know your financing options. Many people today don’t have a strong-enough financial foundation to purchase another home before selling their own, so knowing this upfront can help you plan more appropriately.

 

Engage a local mortgage broker or lender and understand what kind of down payment you’ll need to make a purchase, given the price point and type of home you seek to buy. How much equity do you have in your current home, and is the equity available? Do you have enough of a down payment liquid and would a lender allow you to make the purchase before selling the home? Find out by going through the loan pre-approval process. A good, local mortgage professional is as valuable as a good real estate agent.

5. Make a plan

Now that you know your numbers, it’s time to come up with a plan and execute. The plan can vary greatly, depending upon any number of conditions. Some examples:

  • Buying in a competitive market? Adding a contingency that your current home must sell before you buy probably won’t work.
  • Selling in a competitive market? You may be able to negotiate with the buyer for a longer escrow or even a rent back. This would buy you time on the purchase side.
  • Selling in a slow market and buying in a competitive market? Need the sales proceeds in order to do the purchase? Unfortunately, you’re in the worst-case scenario. Consider the option of selling your home first and moving into temporary housing. While not the most physically convenient, it could be less stressful.
  • Need temporary housing? Start researching those options now well in advance

Understanding the variables

There are so many variables that can come into play when buying or selling. Each one may affect your decision-making process. Identifying and planning for the variables as much as possible early on will help you avoid sleepless nights, stressful days, or fights with your spouse or partner.

 

Source: zillowblog.com

10 Tips to Find the Perfect Home

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Now that you're ready to purchase a place, you want to make sure it's the right one for you. Follow these tips to find a home that's a perfect fit for you:

  1. Go for the long haul

    When looking for a home, search for one that you could see yourself living in for several years -- at least five to seven years is ideal. Buying -- and moving -- to a new home takes a lot of time and effort, and can add up significantly in closing and moving costs, etc. Staying in place longer will help you avoid those added expenses. Plus, the extra time spent in your home could be just enough to help you ride out a downturn in the real estate market.

  2. Leave room to grow

    Aim for a home that can adapt to your needs as your life changes, say, if you have a new baby, or Junior moves back in after college. If you can't afford a place that's large enough to meet your anticipated future needs now, look for one that will allow you to build on later on.

  3. Be flexible

    Consider a place with rooms that can serve multiple functions, so the home remains highly functional for you through the years. For example, an open-floor-plan-style home is very adaptable. A kitchen that overlooks a family room is helpful when one's children are young (you can cook while watching the kids), while such a kitchen is also great for entertaining your friends once the kids leave the roost.

  4. Go for your type

    Think about what style of home fits you best -- house, condo, townhome, etc. -- they're not one size fits all. For example, a single-family home -- which sits on its own lot and must be maintained by the homeowner -- may be great for a person seeking privacy, but not so wonderful for somebody who doesn't want to worry about mowing the lawn, fixing the plumbing, etc. Meanwhile, a condo might be perfect for somebody who wants a "lock 'n' leave" lifestyle, but not for somebody who doesn't like sharing a wall with his neighbors.

  5. Check the surroundings

    When you purchase a home, you not only get a house, you also buy into a neighborhood. Think about whether that neighborhood will suit you. Sure, you might love the house itself, but will the loud neighbors next door or the school across the street become too bothersome for you? Also, do you like the feel of the neighborhood and does it offer everything you need? It's best to find a place in a community that you'll enjoy.

  6. Buy what you can afford

    It's easy to shoot for the sky and overspend when buying a home -- you understandably want the best your money can buy. Examine your finances, keeping in mind current and future expenses, and don't exceed your means. It's smarter to buy a home you can easily afford than one you have to stretch to get into.

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    Stay down to earth, and you'll be better prepared should unexpected financial commitments and problems arise later down the road.

  7. Think "home" first

    When purchasing a home, don't imagine the dollar signs you'll see the day you sell it. A home is just that -- primarily a "home," and not an investment. So, buy a place that'd be great to live in first and think about its resale value second. Predicting real estate cycles and home appreciation is tough enough for the experts -- and much more for the average home buyer. Plus, while home renovations tend to add value to a residence, they rarely recoup more than what was spent on them.

  8. Look at both old and new

    It's nice to move into a place that's brand-new. But, new isn't always better. Consider both old and new. While you might not like a previous homeowner's decorating decisions, you might like the owner-installed upgrades -- like a finished basement and a backyard deck -- that a new home might not have.

  9. Location, location

    You've heard this tip before, but a home's location does matter. A house that's located on a busy, noisy street may be less enjoyable to you as a homeowner than one situated on a quiet, secluded cul-de-sac. Plus, a home on a cul-de-sac is likely to be worth more than a poorly located one when it comes time to resell. So consider a home's location before you're smitten by a spectacular interior.

  10. When it comes time to sell

    While you want to think of your place as a home first and not an investment, it doesn't make sense to purchase a white elephant, either. You should put at least some thought into how easy -- or difficult -- it'll be to resell the home one day. If a home is so unlike other nearby homes in terms of size, style, price, etc., you might want to skip it and look elsewhere -- it could become a burden should you want to someday move on.

    Source: trulia.com

What Do You Do If You Get Behind on Mortgage Payments?

When times are tough, we often have to think about where to cut back. If you are in the uncomfortable position of needing to select which bills to prioritize, you might wonder what happens if you skip your mortgage payment for just one month.

The consequences vary depending on how late you are. If you are simply a little late, perhaps a week or two, your credit will not be affected, as long as your lender gets your payment before the 30-day mark. If your payment is due on the 1st and you pay it after the 15th, you will need to pay a penalty, but the credit bureaus will not be informed.

If you are more than 30 days late, it’s important to talk to your

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lender. If you miss a payment or are more than 30 days late, your credit score may be impacted. Be honest with your lender about the situation and whether it was a temporary lapse or you are experiencing financial trouble that

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could lead to more missed payments. Life changes such as job loss or divorce can leave home owners overextended. Be sure to keep notes of your conversation with your lender and note down when you called.

Once you are facing mortgage trouble, you have a few different options, including deciding to put the home on the market. If you have enough equity in your home, you may be able to refinance to obtain a lower monthly payment. Another option is a home equity loan or HELOC (home-equity line of credit), but this may make the home harder to sell. For these options, you can’t wait until you have missed a payment.

If you decide to sell but want to avoid foreclosure, the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) program may be able to help. HAFA provides two options for transitioning out of your mortgage: a short sale or a Deed-in-Lieu (DIL) of foreclosure. In a short sale, the mortgage company lets you sell your house for

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an amount that falls “short” of the amount you still owe. In a DIL, the mortgage company lets you give the title back, transferring ownership back to it. HAFA provides free advice from HUD-approved housing counselors and licensed real estate professionals. A HAFA short sale completely releases you from your mortgage debt after selling the property. This means you will no longer be responsible for the amount that falls “short” of the amount you still owe. HAFA has a less negative effect on your credit score than foreclosure or conventional short sales. Your lender can advise you about your eligibility for this program.

You may also attempt a loan modification. A loan modification changes the terms of your existing mortgage and can include lowering the interest rate, reducing the principal amount or extending the amortization period. Loan modifications are generally done only if the home owner can prove a hardship such as job loss, divorce, illness, relocation or other life-changing event. The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) may help lower your payments through a variety of programs with different eligibility requirements. If you are unemployed, the Home Affordable Unemployment Program (UP) may reduce your mortgage payments to 31 percent of your income or suspend them altogether for 12 months or more.

Although it can be tempting to just hope things will work themselves out, it’s vital to face the situation head on. By connecting with your lender early, you can resolve problems so that you get the outcome you desire and you can preserve your credit score and be better prepared for your future.

Source: realtor.com

Home Contractor Scams a Growing Concern

home contractor scams

This is the season when the lawn mowers begin roaring, the mulch is spread and homeowners, if they haven't already, begin thinking about getting that roof fixed or finally putting up a privacy fence. But it isn't just the sun that comes out. There are also the pests--the ticks, the mosquitoes and the con artists.

As plenty of homeowners are aware, there are ample anecdotes in the media of home-contractor scams. These often con the elderly into either giving up money for no work done, or having work done but at an exorbitant price that wasn't agreed to. In the last few weeks alone, a 77-year-old man in the Philadelphia area paid for his roof to be repaired only to end up paying to have a useless, tar-like substance splattered across it; in Norfolk, Va., an 83-year-old woman gave a home contractor $4,300 and never saw him again; in San Diego, a con artist has been offering to fix driveways, collecting down payments as high as $2,500 and giving nothing in return.

The anecdotes go on and on. So what should you do if you want a project completed but don't want to see your name in the local paper, where you're quoted warning your neighbors not to fall for a scam?

Research your contractor. Everyone thinks they're doing that, but it isn't as straightforward as one might think to vet a home contractor.

"In many cases, we see a

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person posing as a licensed or reputable contractor, and all checks out until the first payment is made to begin the job, and then the subject disappears. We see fake business cards and websites being used, and criminals can assume the identity of a real contractor, register a company or use an alias. The goal is always the first payment," says Tom Burnett, a spokesman for Wymoo International, a worldwide detective agency headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla. Burnett is also a former private eye.

home contractor scams

Despite all the tricks a con artist can play, you can vet a contractor, says Burnett. Obviously, there's the tried-and-true method of using a contractor that a friend or family member swears by, but if you don't have that avenue, Burnett suggests:

-- Contact the Better Business Bureau where the company or contractor operates and check for complaints.

-- Ask for references and make sure you actually contact, say, two of them.

-- Check to see if the company is registered with its state or your state's division of corporations.

-- You can ask for the contractor's license number to verify with your state's Department of Professional Regulation, or your contractor's state license board or similar office.

-- And, of course, search the Internet for whatever you can find on the company.

Be wary of paying upfront. This is tricky, too, because even honest home contractors ask for money upfront, for good reasons. "Let's say you want your front door put in, and if the contractor makes the order, and you back out, they essentially own that front door," says Amy Matthews, a home contractor who has hosted numerous DIY Network and HGTV series and is a spokesperson for Home Advisor, an online portal that matches, for free, homeowners with licensed home contractors (homeadvisor.com).

So it isn't weird for a home contractor to ask for money upfront, but it shouldn't be astronomical numbers, says Matthews. "It's very common for home contractors to ask for a percentage, say, 30 percent at the start, 30 percent in the middle and the rest at the end, and you should never pay at the completion until you've really looked it over."

She adds that every state is different, and that in California, home contractors aren't allowed to ask for more than 10 percent of the job upfront. Meanwhile, some states have no regulations regarding home contracting projects.

It is also wise to pay a home contractor with a credit card instead of forking over a wad of cash or paying with a check. This will give you a record of the payment for the authorities and improve the odds of getting your money back if you are swindled, since credit card companies may refund your money in such situations.

If the proposal isn't very detailed, that might be a red flag. A home contractor who plans on putting a fence around your yard or fixing your roof isn't likely to offer up lengthy, detailed plans, but if you want to hire a contractor for a fairly elaborate project, such as a room addition, you'll want to see some detailed blueprints.

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gray areas there are, the better off homeowners will be," says Nicholas Iarocci, who owns a home contracting company, Source Development, Inc, which services the New York City area. He says detailed plans can "make the homeowner aware of possible additional expenses," which can help you if the contractor is ethical and if the contractor isn't. After all, some unethical contractors deliver when it comes to work, but they overcharge. Or they might not plan to destroy your finances but do because of the shoddy way they run their business.

"If an insured contractor brings a day laborer or an employee that's not on the books, and they get injured, the property owner is directly affected," says Iarocci. "I collect certificates of insurance from my subcontractors."

Don't let yourself be rushed into a project. Some perfectly honest home contractors will come to your house unsolicited, says Matthews. "They're called storm chasers," she says, "and there are some very credible contracting companies that look for homes that have been hit after a windstorm or heavy rain, but you still have to do that background check to make sure."

So if the contractor can't wait for you to think about their offer, or for you to summon your inner Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew and check them out, stay away. And you should always keep an eye out for that classic red flag waving in the warm, friendly breeze. Sadly, just as there is no free lunch, there is also rarely an extremely cheap lunch.

Says Matthews: "If someone offers to do a really quick job on your house for a really low price, and it sounds too sound to be true, it probably is."

Source: US News and World Reports