Are you looking to spruce up your garden or create more impactful curb appeal? New flowers and shrubs may seem like the obvious answer, but hardscaping is an underrated way to improve the look of your yard.

What is Hardscaping?

Most people are familiar with the softscape aspect of landscaping, which involves using plant life, but hardscaping is the use of non-living material to enhance an outdoor area. Stone elements, wood, and metal are common hardscaping materials, and there’s a surprising amount of variety in how they can be used in your yard. Gravel pathways, boulder accents, retaining walls, and even wood patios are all examples of hardscaping—your garden may have some of these features already! Incorporating hardscaping details into your yard adds definition, contrast, and structure your garden which will go a long way to boosting your home’s curb appeal.

Getting Started

Hardscaping can tie the other elements in your garden together, and it’s possible to DIY some projects. Like any gardening project, hardscaping can be as simple or elaborate as you want. Depending on the complexity of the project and your skill level, some projects are best left to the professionals. For your safety and sanity, it’s better to overestimate the difficulty of a project than to underestimate it. If you’re up to the challenge of doing some hardscaping yourself, make sure you plan out your project before picking up a shovel. It helps to sketch a rough blueprint of your yard and draw where your hardscaping features will go. Use string and some long nails to mark the area, and then measure again to ensure the path or shape matches your vision. If you don’t want the hardscape feature to be easily moved, you can use sand, gravel, or cement to stabilize the pieces.

Simple Hardscaping Ideas

Stepping Stone Pathway

To create bring idyllic charm to your home, you can use stone slabs to create a stepping stone walkway. First, plan out the path and the size and quantity of the stones. When you have the slabs, place them on the ground and check they’re in a good spot. You should be able to place one foot on the next stone with your regular stride. Then, use a shovel to dig around the edges of the stone. A good rule of thumb is to remove the stone’s depth of soil plus one and a half inches. Tamp down the area with a flat piece of wood. Spread an even layer of landscaping sand in the hole. Place the paving stones in the depression and use a rubber mallet to strike the stone from the center outwards. Repeat with the rest of your stones.

Boulder Accents

Use one or several decorative boulders to add visual interest to your garden. Single boulders can be placed along a flower bed or at the end of a path, and multiple rocks of different sizes can be clustered together for a zen-inspired look. You can find landscaping boulders at most hardware stores. Wear heavy-duty gloves when transporting the stones, and always use a safe method to carry them.

You don’t need to be a stone mason to use hardscaping in your backyard! With preparation and the proper tools, hardscaping can help your garden make a lasting impression for your family and all who visit your home.

If you have questions about becoming a homeowner, contact one of our licensed Mortgage Loan Originators. If you’re ready to begin the home buying process, click here to get started!

There really is a loan product for just about every situation, and renovation loans are ideal to help you create the home of your dreams. Let’s see how renovation loans can help you finance your dream home and how to make the most of your renovation loan.

The Benefits of a Renovation Loan

A renovation loan allows you to finance the purchase of a home and property repairs in one loan package. They’re a great option if you fall in love with a home that would benefit from restoration or could use some remodeling to fit your vision. Even if you already own and want to make improvements, you can use a reno loan, too. Some of the most common renovation loan types include FHA 203(k), FannieMae HomeStyle, VA Renovation, home equity line of credit (HELOC), and cash-out refinance. Rehab loans are extremely flexible in that they can be used to fund necessary renovations (like a roof replacement or HVAC repairs) or optional modifications (think a kitchen upgrade or new deck). Depending on the program you choose and what renovations you complete, you could claim a tax deduction or credit; be sure to consult a tax advisor to discuss your options. The most significant benefit of renovation loans is that, unlike a HELOC or a cash out refinance, the loan is based on the After Improved value.  There’s no need for buyers or sellers to be apprehensive of reno loans—home renovation loans give you extra freedom and opportunity that doesn’t exist in a move-in-ready property.

What You Should Know

Renovation loans offer a fixed rate, ONE loan to borrowers with one closing. Simply put, it’s one payment, one interest rate. This is much simpler for a homeowner as opposed to a HELOC that would add a 2nd payment to the borrower’s budget and typically would have a fluctuating rate (and thereby payment) with the Prime Rate. 

Another bonus the renovation loan offers new homebuyers is that they can finance up to the first 6 months of mortgage payments into their loan. While this is not to be construed as a “vacation” from your mortgage payment, financing mortgage payments alleviates the borrower from paying rent on an apartment and a new mortgage payment while work is being completed.

A renovation loan may not be for everyone, though. If a homeowner would like to do the work themselves for instance, this isn’t allowed with these programs. Renovation loans do require the work be completed by a licensed contractor. I see this as a good thing, though. Home renovation on your own is a huge undertaking and can lead to costly mistakes down the road if work is not properly permitted or not professionally done. 

Another key point is some programs limit what types of repairs can be included in the loan. For instance, if you are looking to build a pool or an outdoor kitchen, FHA and VA won’t allow it, but the HomeStyle loan does. It’s important to review your renovation list with your loan originator at time of pre-approval.

The rates on Renovation loans are different than those offered on standard purchases. They typically run ¼% to 3/8% higher. However, if the borrower can elect to buy down the rate with points, oftentimes bringing the rate within the range of a standard loan. The buyer can even finance a portion of that point into their loan!

Things to Keep in Mind for a Successful Renovation

Have a third-party consultant conduct a feasibility study to estimate needed and desired renovations. The results will allow you determine how realistic your plan is, how much you can expect the restoration to cost, and whether it complies with local zoning laws. Bring your “champagne dreams” to the appointment with the consultant and be prepared to pare down your list based on the loan amount for which you are qualified. The consultant also serves as a bid reviewer to ensure the borrower’s final contractor bid isn’t over or underestimated.  This gives a borrower peace of mind that the contractor is being realistic in their bid. 

Only use a licensed contractor to work on your home. It may be tempting to cut costs by using amateur handyman friends or completing your own projects, but you will be limited in how much financing you can use to fund DIY endeavors. Your contractor should be licensed in your state and be lead paint certified if the house was built before 1978. With a professional contractor, you can be more confident the reno will be done properly and have high-quality results. Remember, renovation loans are based on the After Improvement Value (AIV).

Be realistic with your budget. A good rule of thumb is that for every $10,000 you want to make in repairs, it will add $45-55 to your monthly payment. Identify what can stay or be removed but keep the big picture in mind. Don’t underestimate how much repairs will cost, either. Always consult with a loan originator to review the budget and project estimate.


If you have any questions about renovation loans, contact one of our licensed Mortgage Loan Originators. If you are ready to begin t­­he home buying process, click here to get started!

The pre-approval may be issued before or after a home is found. A pre-approval is an initial verification that the buyer has the income and assets to afford a home up to a certain amount. This means we have pulled credit, collected documents, verified assets, submitted the file to processing and underwriting, ordered verification of rent and employment, completed an analysis of credit, debt ratio and assets, and issued the pre-approval. The pre-approval is contingent upon no changes to financials and property approval/appraisal.

If you’ve spent the past several months binging home makeover shows and getting kitchen envy, you’re not alone. You might think that you need to rip out everything in your kitchen and buy all-new everything to get the same effect, but that’s not necessarily true. Get ready to be inspired with these five simple ways to upgrade your kitchen.

Walls

Repainting your walls is one of the simplest and most affordable ways to alter the appearance of your kitchen. It can dramatically change how the area looks even if you don’t change anything else. You can have all the walls be the same color or make one panel an accent wall in a different shade. If you prefer patterns on your wall, opt for removeable wallpaper to customize your kitchen. Unlike traditional wallpaper, removeable wallpaper won’t ruin your walls and gives you the flexibility to change your décor style easily. To give your kitchen a sense of whimsy, try painting a section of your walls with chalkboard paint to create a to-do board or a kid’s drawing area. Another easy way to add visual interest to your kitchen is to install a backsplash. You don’t have to limit yourself to using ceramic tile—you can use vinyl peel and stick tiles, metal ceiling tiles, wallpaper stickers, or even faux wood paneling.

Flooring

The kitchen is one of the busiest places in your home, so wear and tear can be more noticeable. When your floor is looking dull and worn out, it may be time to get it replaced or restored. When it comes to replacing your kitchen floors, don’t overlook linoleum or vinyl. Both come in a variety of styles, are low maintenance, and tend to be more affordable option. Hardwood floors are always a classic look, but they can be more expensive to replace than other flooring types. Instead of going full a full replacement, get your floors refinished instead. Refinishing involves sanding down, re-staining, and varnishing the floor, making it appear like new. You can hire a contractor to do the work, but it can be a DIY project, too.

Cabinets

The first thing you might notice when walking into a kitchen are the cabinets. While you could replace all the cabinetry, revamping it can be more cost effective. Use paint to instantly transform your kitchen to fit your style. Should you choose to paint your wood cabinets, be sure to sand, and prime the area before applying paint. Much like the concept of refurbishing hardwood floors, you could choose to have your cabinets refinished if you don’t want to paint over them. This process is more of an investment than simply adding a coat of paint, but it may be cheaper than getting new cabinets and preserves the natural wood grain. If you’re tired of dealing with cabinet doors altogether, you might just want to remove them! Open shelving can give your kitchen a more modern aesthetic and provides the perfect way to showcase a dishware collection. You can even remove one door panel if you don’t want to commit to completely open shelves. Another way to revamp your kitchen in a subtle way is to replace the fixtures on your cabinets and sink. Choosing the right hardware can really elevate your kitchen and is the perfect finishing touch for your well-loved space.   

Counter

With all the activity that goes on in the kitchen, your counters can take a beating. Luckily, you can breathe life back into them without a full replacement! Countertop transformation kits are an affordable and viable option no matter what your counters are made of. Using the special paint, stone chips, and varnish that come with the kit, you can create a top layer on your counter that mimics the appearance of quartz or granite. If you’d rather have an actual stone surface for your counter, look into counter overlays. Stone overlays are thin slabs of quartz that cover your existing counters. As long as your counters are in good shape and can support additional weight, you can put an overlay on them. Counter overlays can provide the luxe look and durability of stone without the hefty price tag.

Lighting

When you’re decorating a room, you might not give much thought to how lighting can affect the mood. Instead of treating it as an afterthought, use the power of lighting give your kitchen center stage. If you want the lighting to be a focal point in your kitchen, use a pendant lamp (or several small ones) to highlight your counter. Track lighting is another great option that allows you to move and angle smaller lights to focus illumination where it’s needed. Keep in mind that the color temperature of the lightbulbs will also affect the mood of your kitchen. In addition to standard overhead lighting, consider adding brightness to under your cabinets for a sleek aesthetic. You can use LED strip or puck lighting that mount onto the cabinet with minimal installation.

The kitchen is often called “the heart of the home”, and for good reason. It’s not just a place to cook meals—it’s a place to gather and make memories. Beautifying your kitchen will take some elbow grease and plenty of creativity, but by no means does it have to be difficult or overly pricey.

If you have any questions about the home buying process, contact one of our licensed Mortgage Loan Originators. If you are ready to begin t­­he home buying process, click here to get started!

When you live in a smaller home, every bit of space is valuable. Even though limited spaces often make for more intimate environments, it can be a challenge to store all your things without feeling confined. Don’t worry if your home isn’t exactly sprawling—here are some small space storage solutions to make organizing your home easier.                

1. Clean and Declutter

Before you go to a Swedish furniture store and go crazy in the storage container section, start by decluttering your home. Gradually go through each area of your house and identify what you don’t need anymore. You can donate, repurpose, or discard your items. Clutter is the enemy when you have a small home because it will only make everything feel more cramped. Once you’ve removed any unnecessary items, you can finally focus on how to organize what you’re keeping.

2. In the Zone

One way you can make more use of your home’s floor space is by creating multiuse or flex zones. Instead of limiting a room’s purpose to one function, make the area work for you by incorporating other activities into it. If you don’t have a separate room for a dining area, add a table and some chairs to a portion of your living room for an easy fix. You could also add barstools to one side of your kitchen counter for a casual meal spot. Add a work from home space by taking over a small section of your living room, bedroom, or even a hall closet! If you have kids or pets who leave their toys all over the floor, dedicate a corner of a room to keep their things when not in use. Use a cute basket to hide everything away and make clean up less of a hassle. You can even turn your laundry room into a dual-purpose mudroom—don’t let limited square footage limit you!

4. Creative Spaces

When you’re dealing with minimal space in your home, you need to get creative with how you store your belongings. To free up your floor, try leveraging your walls! A simple and stylish way to expand your storage space is to add floating shelves. Floating shelves are ideal for displaying items and books without taking up room on the floor. You can add them to virtually any room, and they look especially attractive when installed in the corners of a room or near the ceiling. Doors are an underutilized way to pack more of your home goods into a tiny space. Simply add an over-the-door rack to the door of your choice, and magically get more storage capacity! Though you should be selective about how you use the floor space when you have a smaller home, keeping some stuff on the ground isn’t off-limits. Take advantage of the area underneath your bed or sofa to hide sheets and blankets. If you need more altitude, use risers to increase your vertical space. Consider placing removable hooks in your bathroom, closet, bedroom, or kitchen to hang things. Tension rods are another inexpensive way to increase storage space in your home; use them inside cabinets and closets to make an elevated shelving system.

5. Investing in Organization

Investing in new organizational gadgets can certainly help you optimize the space in your home, but doing so should be one of the last steps you take as you reorganize everything. Being thoughtful about what storage products you use will help you maintain a less cluttered lifestyle and save money in the long run. Some of the better investments to consider include furniture with built-in storage, divided drawer inserts, over-the-door racks, and raised counter shelving. You should assess how you think the new item would fit in your home and your organizational flow.         

Now that you’ve found more room in your home, you’ll need to keep it from accumulating more useless items. The build-up of junk is more noticeable in a smaller home, so it’s even more important to maintain the line between cozy and cluttered. Clean out your home at least once or twice a year to keep your belongings in check. Once you eliminate the unnecessary and get clever with how you use every inch of your home, you’ll be able to enjoy living in a small space like never before!

If you have any questions about the home buying process, contact one of our licensed Mortgage Loan Originators. If you are ready to begin t­­he home buying process, click here to get started!

If you’ve owned your home for a while, daily life may not be as magical as when you first moved in. If your home has lost some of its luster, you might be thinking it’s time to look for something new. Before you decide to buy a new house, consider giving your current home some TLC. Here are 4 reasons to renovate, not relocate.

1. Can Be Cheaper

Between hiring movers, rental vehicles, storage spaces, and packing materials, moving can be an expensive process. These costs are in addition to buying a new home and the fees associated with that. Plus, once you move-in to a new house, you’ll probably want to make a few changes. Instead of spending more money to personalize a new home, you can customize the home you already have. Depending on the projects you want completed on your current home, renovating could be more economical than buying a new house. To get a sense of how much renovating versus relocating could cost you, compare a contractor’s quote with an assessment of your home’s value and how much similar homes in your area are selling for. Though they’re just estimates, it can be helpful to get a ballpark number of what you could expect with your decision.

2. Your Home, Your Way

Don’t underestimate how much a renovation or even a simple paint job can affect how you feel about your home. Changing the design of your home can immensely impact your psychology. Have you always wanted a home with a certain feature, such as built-ins, a kitchen island, or a patio? This is a great opportunity to add that “something” to revive your home! If faded paint and drab flooring are making your life seem drab, too, why not switch it up so you feel happier when you enter a room? Replacing worn furniture and light fixtures can also refresh your home in a simple way. The beauty of owning your own home is that you have the freedom to tailor it to the way you want it.

3. Can Add Home Value

Besides the benefit of upgrading your house, home improvement projects are one way you can build equity in your home. While you can do a full-scale remodel if you have the budget, you don’t always need to tear a room apart to get a significant return on investment. Even a minor kitchen remodel could recoup around 77% of its value. Keep in mind that not all home improvement projects are created equal. The approximate value added depends on factors like the project itself, your home’s current value, and similar homes in your area. If you’re concerned with how an upgrade could affect your home value, contact a real estate agent for more information. Making renovations now could be beneficial when you’re ready to sell your home.

4. Location, Community, and Memories

When you relocate, you’re not just trading in for a new house, you’re also adopting a new neighborhood, social network, or even culture. The connections you have with your community shouldn’t be minimized. From your neighbors, friends, and local hangouts, these elements truly make you feel at home. Depending on how far away you’re thinking of moving, ask yourself how you’d feel not being as close to those familiar places and people. Additionally, there’s no putting a price on all the memories you’ve made in your home. From the joyous to the painful moments, every area of your home tells a story about your life. If you feel like there are still many years of great memories to be made in your home, you don’t have to move on just yet.

Before deciding whether to renovate or relocate, you should always assess your home needs and your budget. If you decide to make improvements, consider renovation loan to help finance them.

Owning a home can be like a relationship; you need to maintain and nurture it to get the most out of it. Every relationship has its ups and downs, and sometimes you realize the relationship has run its course. When it comes to how you feel about your home, it may be worth it to work things out rather than to say goodbye. After devoting some resources to making improvements, you may find that you’ve fallen in love with your home all over again! 

If you have any questions about how to finance a home renovation or remodel, contact one of our licensed Mortgage Loan Originators. If you are ready to begin the home buying process, click here to get started!