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Filed under: Home Improvement, How To, Lifestyle Getty We all have too much stuff and too little room. So our things must work harder for us. Here are surprising uses for 12 household items you already have. Click through the slideshow to learn creative ways to get more out of the things you already have. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Buying, Lifestyle ZillowThe Alaska town of Whittier features mountain views and spectacular wildlife. Condos are listed for $50,000 and less. How would you like to live in a small seaside town with snow-capped mountain views, away from the hustle and bustle of the big city? The mayor is your neighbor, and so is the police chief. The people are friendly -- and when you live there, just about everybody knows your name. In the Alaska town of Whittier, population 218, some are living such a "dream." And for a mere $49,500 for a two-bedroom condo, you could buy in to this life. A three-bedroom unit is $55,000. The catch? Well, there's winter. Plus, most of the town's residents live under the same roof in a 14-story former military housing facility known as Begich Towers, reports NPR. The city government is housed on the main floor. So is the post office and a small grocery store, the Kozy Korner. There's a church in the basement. You rarely have to leave home if you don't want to. The school, serving elementary and secondary students, is even conveniently accessed through a pedestrian tunnel so the children can roll out of bed and get to school -- in short sleeves -- without ever having to go outside. That's especially convenient in the winter, when winds can get up to 60 mph and 250 inches of snow fall annually. The town's only playground is even indoors, reports the California Sunday Magazine. If you do venture out, Anchorage is only an hour away. Get your fill on some finer dining or catch the latest flick, but don't stay out too late. The 2.5-mile, one-lane Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel you have to drive through to get back home to the west side of Prince William Sound closes at 10:30 p.m. for those entering Whittier, according to Alaska.org. If you're late, you just might have to sleep in your car or head back to the big city for a hotel stay. The tunnel doesn't open again for incoming traffic until 5:30 a.m. The single lane, supported above a working railroad track, is shared with outgoing traffic, alternating at 30-minute intervals. If this serene life documented in a PBS video is not for you after all, maybe you'd still consider investing in a condo as rental property. Whittier is a major tourist attraction in the summer. With its 22 hours of daylight, more than 700,000 visitors come each year. "If you are a birder, come enjoy our world-class collection of raptors such as the bald eagle, the great gray owl and the elusive peregrine falcon," boasts Mayor Daniel Blair on the city's website. "During our glorious summer, we are often visited by humpback and orca whales [as well as] sea otters along with seals and sea lions." Interested? The out-of-state owner of the three-bedroom unit already has a renter, according to the property listing by Keller Williams Realty Alaska Group. But the tenant gets a 30-day notice to vacate if you want the place just for yourself. Sheree R. Curry is an award-winning, 20-year veteran journalist who has been writing for AOL Real Estate since 2009. Send her your tips & ideas. Follow her on Twitter at shereecurry. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Design, Home Improvement, House of the Day Courtesy of The Pure HouseEnergy efficient homes can cost about 10% more to build, but can pay off dramatically in savings over time. An optimistic view of housing in the future is that all homes will be built to require minimal energy to operate and to be healthy living environments. One example is the Pure House in Westport, Connecticut. Built using a prefabricated, high-efficiency panel system, it meets the criteria. Although the builders opted not to have the house certified, it follows the concepts and engineering requirements of the rigid Passive House standards, first developed in Germany. The house is equipped with four zoned high-efficiency heat pumps, the main source of heating and cooling. People sometimes are skeptical that these heat pumps are sufficient for cold New England climates, but because the house was built with such a tight thermal envelope, a more elaborate heating and cooling system was not required. All insulation in the house is thicker than required by Connecticut building codes. To minimize the need for electricity, the house is equipped with LED lights, which use far less energy, and Energy Star-rated appliances. The house even has a charging station for an electric car. American-made products were used throughout the construction, including high-performance, triple-pane windows and doors, as well as sustainable materials such as EcoTimber, a type of engineered wood flooring. The materials sourced for the construction and interior design were chosen for their healthy, non-toxic composition. As an example, the kitchen and bathroom fixtures by Grohe are all lead-free. All the paint, stains, glues and other materials used in the construction are as non-toxic as possible, to maintain a healthy environment inside the house. A heat recovery ventilator exchanges the stale interior air with the outside fresh air continuously through the day and night. The landscape is designed for zero runoff and the native planting requires no irrigation system or fertilization. "What I like most about building Pure Houses is the incredible air quality. Breathing fresh air all the time, that is what it's about" says Doug Mcdonald, founder of the Pure House. Although, Mcdonald admits there is a small up-charge (approximately 10%) for building such an efficient house, he also conveys the long-term savings in energy costs. He says his houses use about 90% less energy than the conventional houses in the area. Mcdonald says the Pure House "is born from the same model that brought you restaurants that serve 'farm-to-table' food and the reason why you shop at your local farmers market. You want to know that the ingredients are pure and natural and good for you." Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Buying, Financing, Refinancing ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals. By Lauren Braun Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans rose this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.58 percent, up 3 basis points from this time last week. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate rose throughout the week before dipping to the current rate on Tuesday. "Rates inched up last week as new data suggested the U.S. economy is on increasingly stable ground despite March's weak jobs report," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "Mortgage markets remain extremely sensitive to the ups and downs of economic news, but overall we expect the trend of gradually rising rates to continue this week." Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate this morning was 2.87 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.83 percent. Check Zillow Mortgages for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates. Permalink | Email this | Comments
Filed under: Buying, Financing, Selling Shutterstock Conventional loans are the foundation of the mortgage industry. In a recent week, only about one in four prospective borrowers applied for a government-backed loan, according to survey data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs basically insure home loans made by participating lenders. These loans tend to have more lenient credit and underwriting requirements compared to conventional loans, which carry no government backing. FHA and VA loans feature benefits that can be the right fit for the right buyer at the right time. To be sure, they also come with their own drawbacks. But there are misconceptions surrounding government-backed loans that can cloud the home-buying process and hurt both buyers and sellers. Let's take a quick look at three benefits of government-backed loans that tend to fly under the radar. They Have Lower Average Interest Rates Many buyers assume they can get the best interest rate with a conventional mortgage. Depending on your credit, the size of your down payment and other factors, that might be exactly the case. But every buyer's credit and asset picture is different. More important -- and perhaps surprisingly -- average interest rates actually tend to be lower on government-backed loans. In February, the average note rate on a 30-year fixed conventional loan was 4.08 percent, according to mortgage technology firm Ellie Mae. That was the lowest average rate since June 2013. In comparison, the average rate for a fixed 30-year FHA loan was 3.94 percent, while the average for VA loans was even lower, at 3.77 percent. Monthly averages are just that -- averages. The rate you are quoted will depend on the lender, your credit and finances and more. But don't automatically rule out a government-backed loan when you're shopping for the best deal. In fact, government-backed borrowers with fair or so-so credit might be able to tap into the same or similar interest rates as a conventional buyer. They Don't Take Forever to Close Another common misconception about government-backed loans is that they take forever to close. This one is probably rooted in some old truths, mostly because of the paperwork and bureaucracy that can accompany these loan types. But automation, online systems and a greater focus on efficiency has helped the government loan programs catch up. For buyers, the "time to close" clock starts once you're under contract on a home. At that point, on average, there's really no difference between a conventional mortgage and a government-backed one. The average conventional purchase loan closed in 39 days in February, according to Ellie Mae. For VA and FHA loans, it was a day longer. On the refinance side, FHA refinances closed in 33 days on average, surpassing both conventional loans (36 days) and VA loans (37 days). They're More Likely to Close Sellers and lenders want to see prospective buyers make it to closing day. Veterans, service members and the historic VA home loan program all stand above the rest when it comes to closing success. A full 73 percent of the VA purchase loan applications made over the previous 90 days went on to close, according to the February data from Ellie Mae. That's compared to 68.8 percent of conventional purchase applications and just 62.8 percent of FHA applications. Government-backed loans aren't the solution for every buyer. In fact, only a relatively small percentage of the population is even eligible for a VA home loan. But getting a better understanding of all your mortgage options is key to getting the best deal. Don't let stereotypes or misconceptions keep you from making the strongest home loan comparison possible. Permalink | Email this | Comments
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