Understanding Your Homebuying Budget

Posted: August 18, 2017 at 8:50 am by: NewHomesGuide

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Financial planning is an essential element of the homebuying process, one that ideally takes place even before you begin shopping for your new home.

Whether you are a first-time homebuyer or are buying a newly constructed home for the first time, you should develop a personal budget so you can make a smart and sustainable decision about your purchase.

While a mortgage lender should be your ally and consultant during the process of buying a new home, keep in mind that your lender won’t know every detail of your finances outside of what appears on your credit report and bank statements. If you want to maintain retirement savings or invest in college savings, make sure you have room in your budget for those expenses.

Lender Budget Requirements

Lenders prefer to approve loans for buyers whose “front-end ratio,” which refers to the monthly housing portion of your expenses compared to your monthly gross household income, is 28 percent or less. For example, if your annual household income is $150,000, your maximum housing payment including principal, interest, taxes and insurance should be $3,500.

Your “back-end ratio,” which compares the minimum payment on all recurring debt and your housing payment with your gross monthly income, should be a maximum of 42 percent. However, if you have excellent credit or significant assets in the bank, your lender may approve a loan with a higher debt-to-income ratio. If your annual household income is $150,000, your housing payments and minimum payments on things like a car loan, a student loan and credit card debt should be a maximum of $5,250. (more…)

5 Ways You Can Save Money When Buying a New Home

Posted: August 9, 2017 at 9:27 am by: NewHomesGuide

Money-Saving Tips

Worried about being able to afford the new home you’ve always wanted? Here are five simple yet powerful tips that can help you save money on your new home now and well into the future.

Set a Budget and Stick to It

You won’t know where to aim if you don’t have a target. That’s why, first and foremost, you should establish your budget. By going into your new home shopping experience with a clear understanding of your personal financial status and goals, you’re less likely to overspend.

Decide How Much Space You Really Need

How big your home needs to be varies greatly based on the size of your family and how you plan to use the space.

Do you need an extra guest room if you don’t plan to have guests stay often? Or a large, formal dining room if you’d rather just share meals in an open kitchen? Weigh the options and consider that just about every homebuilder will work with you to find the perfect design and can adjust the floorplan to meet your needs.

By choosing a stylish, flexible home design that gives you everything you want, you’re well on your way to getting your home at the price you need.

Consider Energy-Efficient Options Carefully

One of the biggest benefits of buying a new home instead of a resale home is the fact that many energy- and money-saving features come built in.

Low-e windows, efficient furnaces and programmable thermostats are included standard in many new homes, but most homebuilders will offer additional efficiency options such as solar panels, high-efficiency water heaters, etc. Although these options will likely add to the total price of the home, the monthly savings incurred can offset the upfront costs and even pay for themselves in the long run.

Have a builder sales agent walk you through the savings and potential tax benefits of each energy-efficient option available and determine which ones fit best in your short- and long-term budgets.

Shop Around for the Right Mortgage

Choose between a fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgage and decide the length of your loan term. Once you do that, you can start shopping around for rates from lenders.

Different lenders will offer different prices, so you’ll want to talk to a variety of them to understand what sort of rates, fees and down payment you can expect. Be ready to negotiate and don’t be afraid to walk away from a lender if the mortgage they offer doesn’t fit within your budget.

Already in the market for a mortgage? Here are some other great tips provided by the Federal Trade Commission.

Shop Around for the Right Builder, Too

You probably have an idea of where you want to live, so do some research to find out which homebuilders offer homes/communities in that area. Each builder is different, and their prices, offers and incentives will often vary greatly throughout the year.

Our online search tools make it easy for you to find all the builders in a given area — just enter your price range, options and desired location to get started!

Why Schools Should Play a Part In Your New Home Search

Posted: July 26, 2017 at 10:16 am by: NewHomesGuide

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Decisions about where to purchase a home are driven by numerous considerations such as your commute and preferred community amenities, but among parents with children under age 18, the school district is typically among the highest priorities. In fact, a recent study by Trulia found that for 19 percent of all homebuyers, their dream home would be located in a “great” school district. For parents of school-age children, that number jumped to 35 percent.*

Schools matter whether you have kids or not, because numerous studies have found that homes located in a good school district tend to sell for more money than those with less desirable schools. Homes in good school districts also tend to hold onto their value in every market cycle.

Some analysts say the schools-and-housing values phenomenon is similar to the chicken-or-the-egg question: are schools better because the homes are larger and more expensive and therefore owned by wealthier parents who have the resources to ensure their children get a high quality education? Or are the homes more expensive because the schools are so good?

According to a 2013 study by Redfin brokerage, people pay an average of $50 more per square foot for a home located in a top-ranked school district compared to an average-ranked school district. This debunks the idea that all the houses in that top-ranked district are bigger or sit on a larger lot, but it also proves something most people already know: schools matter. *

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What It’s Like to Live in Fairfax County

Posted: July 21, 2017 at 8:59 am by: NewHomesGuide

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Fairfax County is a diverse and thriving urban county. The population exceeds that of eight states and the District of Columbia. The median household income is one of the highest in the nation and over half of its adult residents have four-year college degrees or more educational attainment.

Fairfax County is celebrating its 275th birthday this year. The county was officially given its name in 1742, but the land in this county was under the control of Lord Fairfax and the Fairfax family of England as early as 1690. William Fairfax built the Belvoir Mansion, now part of the U.S. Army’s Fort Belvoir, in 1741. The county has an abundance of historic sites, including perhaps the most famous house in America: Mount Vernon, where George Washington first moved to live with his brother in 1748. The county was primarily agricultural until the early twentieth century, when the railroad and electric trolley lines connected the county to Alexandria and to Washington, D.C. The county underwent a growth spurt during World War II along with rest of the D.C. region and continues to be an employment center for government contractors and tech companies as well as a desirable suburb of the capitol.

Today, more than 1,139,000 people live in Fairfax County, which has a reputation for having one of the most highly educated populations in the country. More than 31 percent of adult residents of the county over age 25 have a bachelor’s degree and more than 29 percent have an advanced degree such as a master’s degree, a PhD, a law degree or a medical degree. That highly educated population is also highly compensated: Fairfax County is among the counties with the highest median household income in the country, estimated at $113,208 in 2016.

While many residents drive or take buses or Metrorail into Washington, D.C., 55 percent of Fairfax County residents work in the county in business locations such as Tysons Corner and Reston. Major employers in the county include Inova Health Systems, Booz Allen Hamilton, Freddie Mac, General Dynamics, Capitol One, Hilton Worldwide, Northrop Grumman and SAIC, all of which have their headquarters in the county.

Fairfax County offers diverse neighborhoods and attractions from the Mosaic District in Merrifield, which has a mix of interesting shops and restaurants, to the Eden Center in Falls Church, which offers an array of Vietnamese shops and restaurants, to quaint historic towns like Herndon and Clifton. Reston is one of the country’s first planned communities and includes a range of housing, myriad recreational amenities and a vibrant town center with shops and restaurants and summer concerts. Some of the most expensive homes in the D.C. region can be found in McLean and Great Falls, both areas within a relatively short commuting distance to the city that are popular with politicians, lobbyists, broadcast journalists and lawyers.

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Tysons Corner Center is home to over 300 specialty and department stores, restaurants, eateries and entertainment options.

Tysons Corner, known mostly as a central commercial area for businesses and shops, is undergoing redevelopment into a walkable community for residents as well as employees in the area. A recent expansion of the Metrorail system’s Silver Line added stops in Tysons Corner and currently extends to Reston. Construction is underway to link the system to Dulles International Airport.

A wide range of homes can be found in Fairfax County, from condos and townhouses in urban-style walkable neighborhoods to single family homes of all sizes on small lots to acres of land. The median sales price of homes in April 2017 was $505,000, an increase of 5.4 percent over April 2016.

Fairfax County is known for its highly rated school system and its abundance of cultural and recreational facilities. The county owns 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land, eight public golf courses, multiple lakes and nine indoor recreation centers with numerous classes and activities. Sports leagues are available for children and adults and public tennis courts and skate parks are also readily available.

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Great Falls Park has many opportunities to explore history and nature, only 15 miles from the nation’s capital.

The Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts features well-known performers all summer. The Barns at Wolf Trap and George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, as well as numerous community theaters throughout the county keep active performance schedules all year. Festivals are held on most spring and fall weekends in a variety of locations in the county and include performances, rides and art shows.

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Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is a performing arts center located on 117 acres of national park land in Fairfax County.

The abundance of activities in this county make living here attractive to people who work locally and those who commute into Washington, D.C.

Written by Michele Lerner, this story originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of New Homes Guide. Reserve your free copy of New Homes Guide todayfor additional stories, area highlights and more.

The Latest Interior Design Trends Can Be Right at Your Fingertips

Posted: July 11, 2017 at 11:32 am by: NewHomesGuide

Interiors CoverFind inspiration for all of your new home’s spaces and create something distinct and beautiful.

That’s the idea behind our Interiors supplement, which is available with your complimentary copy of the July/August issue of New Homes Guide.

Unlike a resale home, which includes features and finishes that someone else chose, your new home is a blank slate and an ideal opportunity for you to use your imagination. And with just a little bit of inspiration, you’ll be well on your way to furnishing and decorating all the rooms and spaces in your home the way you’ve always wanted.

Flip through the pages of Interiors and see a collection of the area’s most beautifully decorated model homes and community clubhouses. You’ll get inspired by the professionally photographed spaces you’ll see, and you’ll even get a better idea of which homebuilders have an eye for style that matches your own.

If you’re ready to be inspired, reserving your free copy of Interiors is easy! Just place your order for the latest issue of New Homes Guide (also free!) and include the Interiors supplement in your order.

Design Encyclopedia: Know Your Home’s Windows

Posted: June 29, 2017 at 2:53 pm by: NewHomesGuide

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Photo Credit: Hoachlander Davis Photography

The commercial market, functional considerations, and aesthetic basis for your home’s windows can all be totally overwhelming. The countless number of choices available to buyers is a double-edged sword with unlimited capability to customize your selection, but a potential pitfall in making decisions relative to one another. To help you navigate this realm, we’ve compiled this guide to understand what’s what and what should matter to you in choosing windows for your home.

Anatomy

A brief vocabulary lesson is worthwhile to help orient you within the technical terms used in window production. Every window has four conventional parts: jamb, sill, head, and sash. Think of the former three terms as the edges, or frame, that hold the main part of the overall assembly (the sash) in place and provide the mechanisms for operating the window. Sashes can be further sub-divided into their own individual elements, including: stiles, rails, muntins (or mullions), and lites. These each describe the pieces of the assembly that hold and separate the glass.

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Image Credit: W.C. Ralston Architects LLC

Operation

Windows are typically classified by how they open and close, each serving a specific function relative to their location and size. When you’re digesting the diagrams below, note that the dotted “arrow” over the window indicates the location of the hinge or direction it moves. Here’s a summary of the conventional types used in most homes:

Double-hung and single-hung

These are the most common models used in residential construction. They contain two individual sashes “hung” in the frame. The double and single labels refer to the number of sashes that are operable. For example, both sashes in a double-hung window can be slid up and down. For this reason, the screen is located on the outside face of the assembly to allow the sashes to move independently.

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Image Credit: W.C. Ralston Architects LLC

These are best suited for traditional styles of architecture. Their historical association and complexity of individual pieces in the assembly tend to exude a more formal appearance. Different patterns of muntins and lites also contribute to the character of the home. As a basic rule of convention – the more divisions there are in the glass, the more traditional the window will look. These patterns are often given a label relative to the number of lites/muntins they have. The window above can be called a “6 over 6” because there are six individual “cells” in each sash.

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Photo Credit: Allan Kennedy Photography

Casement

Casement windows have a single sash attached to the frame on side. They have a vertical hinge (or set of hinges) that allows the window to swing open just like a door. The screen is located on the inside face of the assembly to enable this movement.

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Image Credit: W.C. Ralston Architects LLC

These can employed to convey both a traditional and contemporary aesthetic on a home. The same rule regarding the muntin pattern on individual windows applies with these as well, but you will find that they tend to be grouped in multiples of two or three to create larger spans of uninterrupted glass. This treatment errs on the more contemporary end of the spectrum. The crank hardware will be a distinctive element of the window, so be sure to consider the style and finish relative to the look you desire.

Sliding

Sliding windows are the horizontal counterparts to double- and single-hung assemblies. With operable tracks on the head and sill, the sashes can move side-to-side within the frame. These are best suited for narrow height clearances such as basements and high-mounted locations like bathrooms.

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Image Credit: W.C. Ralston Architects LLC

Awning and hopper

You can think of awning and hopper windows as the horizontal equivalents of casement windows. These also open in a single direction and have a hinge on the top or bottom of the frame. Awnings are top-hinged, making them an ideal application for rainy locations where you can block out falling water from above while still facilitating ventilation. Hoppers tend to be used most in contemporary applications as the bottom sash of a larger assembly – this allows fresh air from the outside to gently travel up and into the space.

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Image Credit: W.C. Ralston Architects LLC

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Photo Credit: Thomas H. Fields Photography

Fixed (inoperable)

Also called picture windows, these do not open or close and are used primarily to maximize the amount of light and view for a space. For this reason, they are typically manufactured in the largest dimensions of the conventional window types.

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Image Credit: W.C. Ralston Architects LLC

Performance

Windows serve the primary function of bringing light and air into a home. As penetrations in the shell of the building, they also make it susceptible to the unwelcomed gain and loss of heat. This affects both your level of comfort and the operational costs to maintain that comfort. For these reasons, it is worthwhile to understand how windows derive their efficiency.

There are two measures to consider when determining the energy performance of a window: thermal insulation and visual transmittance. As a rule of thumb, more panes (number of layers of glass) provide more insulation and more efficiency. The small gaps of air between panes allow for a tighter seal, keeping the heat where you want it relative to your specific climate and comfort preferences. The transmittance is a factor of how much heat is allowed to penetrate the glass due to the intensity of light shining through it. Modern coatings applied to or manufactured within the glass can provide the ideal balance between maximum brightness and minimum heat transfer.

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Photo Credit: TruPlace & Maxine Schnitzer Photography

Do you have questions about making the right window choice? If so, leave us a comment to get tips specific to your home!

Guest blog courtesy of W.C. Ralston Architects, an architecture and planning firm that has built an enduring reputation for design excellence in homes, neighborhoods and communities across the Mid-Atlantic region. Learn more at www.wcralston.com.

3 Ways New Homes Guide Can Help You Find Your New Home This Summer

Posted: June 20, 2017 at 3:39 pm by: NewHomesGuide

New Homes Guide

The sun is shining and we’re ready for months of warm weather ahead, which means it’s a great time to be shopping for a new home.

We’ve been helping new home shoppers find their dream homes in the Mid-Atlantic region for decades, and we know we can help you, too. So if you’re ready to get out, catch some rays and choose a beautiful new home that you and your family will absolutely love, here are the three ways we can help.

The Region’s Most Comprehensive Guide

Available in print and online, New Homes Guide is the Mid-Atlantic region’s only complete guide to every new home community in the area. Featuring listings for condos, townhomes and single-family homes, this free guide makes it easier for you to find a great community to call home, no matter where you want to live.

Powerful Online Search Tools

Know exactly what home style, features, options and community amenities you absolutely need? Use our website’s powerful search tools to pinpoint the communities and homes you want to tour in a matter of seconds. With more than 30 search filters to choose from, you’ll have no problem finding exactly what you’re looking for, faster than you ever thought possible.

Free Supplements

Our insight and expertise extends beyond the pages of New Homes Guide and our website. Whether you’re trying to find the perfect floorplan or need some advice about relocating, we have the right supplemental resources for you. And best of all, they’re completely free, too!

We know how exciting it is to shop for a new home, and we hope that you have a great time exploring all of the great communities and homes in our area. Just remember, there’s no one way to shop for homes, but the most informed home shoppers are usually the best home shoppers. Happy house hunting!

From Floorplan to Lot Options: How to Make Smart Choices

Posted: June 16, 2017 at 9:41 am by: NewHomesGuide

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If you’re buying a new home for the first time, you’re probably most excited to get to the fun stuff of personalizing your home. Before you jump into the design center and start studying your kitchen counter options, it’s good to understand how the process works.

For many buyers who have not purchased a newly built home before, determining which features are standard and which features are optional can be a little confusing. Model homes often include upgrades and additions that cost extra money, so as you tour homes be sure you ask the sales professional about included features.

Match Your Floorplan with Your Lot and Your Budget

By the time you’re ready to make a final decision and have narrowed your choice to a specific community and builder, you should have a solid understanding of your budget including the cash you need for a down payment and closing costs and the amount you plan to finance with a mortgage.

As you visit model homes and study floorplans, you’ve probably identified the style of home you prefer and the layout, such as one with an open floorplan with a central kitchen or one with the kitchen at the back or front of the house.

At the same time, you should look at the site plan and discuss which lots are available and which you might prefer. You should ask about future development plans so you know whether a swimming pool, park or child care center will be located nearby. Some buyers would love to have those amenities next door, while others may want to live a little farther away from potential noise. Consider your entrance and exit from the community, too, particularly if it’s a large development. If you opt to be far from the main road, that could add a little to your commute time on busy mornings, but it may also be a more peaceful location.

It’s best to narrow down your choices to one or two floorplans and consult the sales professional about whether these particular models are available on the lot you want. Not every floorplan can be built on every lot. In some cases, there are issues with the size or configuration of the lot, so perhaps there won’t be space for a three-car garage or a sunroom. In addition, builders often commit to diversifying the look of a neighborhood with a variety of exterior styles so you may not be able to build the model you want if the adjacent lots are already under contract to have the same model built.

In some cases, lot premiums are charged for the most desirable lots, so you’ll need to decide if you want to spend the money to get your preferred view. A sales professional can help you match the floorplan you want with your lot preferences and your budget. (more…)

Getting Financially Ready to Buy a New Home

Posted: June 8, 2017 at 8:45 am by: NewHomesGuide

imageThe excitement of choosing a floorplan, envisioning your rooms and selecting options is undeniable, but before you get to that fun part of purchasing a new home, you need to be financially ready.

In fact, your financial preparation should begin before you start looking at new homes so you can visit models with confidence about your budget and your ability to pay for your new home.

 

Start with Your Credit

If, like most people, you haven’t reviewed your credit reports, start by requesting your free credit reports from all three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can also pay a small fee to receive your credit score. Check for inaccuracies: it’s estimated that one in four credit reports has a mistake. Correcting those mistakes can take time.

CreditScoreImageYou should aim for a credit score of 740 or higher in order to pay the lowest interest rates. If your credit score is less than 640, you may have trouble qualifying for a conventional loan. If you’re making a down payment of less than 20 percent, you’ll need to pay private mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance companies base their rates on several factors, including your credit score. Even if you qualify for a loan, you could be paying a higher interest rate and higher private mortgage insurance premiums if you have a low credit score. An FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loan, insured by the government, is an option, but these loans also require you to pay mortgage insurance.

Improving your credit score can take months or longer depending on your individual issues, but if you’re having a home built you can use that time to boost your score. (more…)

The Great Outdoors: Tips to Make the Most of Your Exterior Living Spaces

Posted: May 12, 2017 at 1:58 pm by: NewHomesGuide

The indoor-outdoor connection is one of the most vital and potentially unique aspects of your home’s design. As we’ve written about previously, your home’s relationship to its surroundings is shaped by the elements that bridge the gap, with the spaces outside often considered as an extension of those inside. Whether it’s for entertaining or relaxation, and regardless of scale, climate and location — there ways to harness the most of your home’s potential for outdoor living. Here are few ideas we’ve compiled for inspiration:

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Photo Credit: Maxine Schnitzer Photography

Your view is a primary consideration for the design of your exterior space. Orienting openings and sightlines will ensure you’re looking at something pleasing or have the privacy you desire from views into the space. This home is nestled inside an opening within a dense collection of trees, giving a stellar backdrop to the extensive amounts of glazing on the rear side of the home. With no visible neighbors, this design works to capitalize on the views and natural light without making its owners feel exposed.

Image Credit: Maxine Schnitzer Photography & W.C. Ralston Architects LLC

Image Credit: Maxine Schnitzer Photography & W.C. Ralston Architects LLC

When your home is situated on a small lot or you have other adjacent homes in close proximity, the design calls for a different approach. A small recess is carved out of the home’s footprint to create this terrace. Although it’s not inside, surrounding this space with the walls of the home on three sides, this space feels like a true “room.” It also allows for views between distant, otherwise disconnected, corners of the house — making it feel larger and more open.
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