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The Benchmark Promise to Veterans

Announcing “The Veterans Homefront by Benchmark”

The Benchmark Promise to Veterans

NO MORE

These are the words that Benchmark has adopted when it comes to Veteran lending. Benchmark is proud to kick off The Veterans Home Front initiative which aims to do right by our Military men and women. The veteran lending space has long been a marketplace in which Veterans have been taken advantage of, have not been given proper service, or have been subject to predatory lending. Benchmark believes that our heroes who choose to serve this nation deserve the outstanding service that Benchmark has been providing since 1991. We are dedicated to doing right by the veteran, and have created an educational course that will certify our Loan Officers to be VA Certified. This certification will ensure that we not only get the veteran in the best loan product for them, but also are able to assist our veterans with maximizing their VA benefits.

 

The Veterans Home Front by Benchmark logo
Visit The Veterans Homefront
https://theveteranshomefront.com

Veterans Home Front Website Announcement

 

Benchmark is the proud founder and title sponsor of Boot’n & Shoot’n (bootshoot.com), a veteran giveback event that has been called “The most patriotic day in Texas” by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. To date, Boot’n & Shoot’n has raised over $4 Million and has been able to provide over 30 scholarships to veterans so they can receive state of the art treatment for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress from The Brain Treatment Foundation. We are excited to kick off this initiative that will allow Benchmark to welcome our veteran heroes home.

Learn more about Boot’n & Shoot’n at bootshoot.com.

April 17th is fast approaching

Homeownership and Your 2017 Tax Return

April 17th is fast approaching

The deadline to file your 2017 tax returns is approaching on April 17th. If you have not filed your taxes yet, you can take this opportunity to talk to your tax professional about how homeownership may impact your tax return this year. Here are a few reasons why you may want to.

Mortgage Interest may be tax deductible

According to the IRS, taxpayers may deduct interest on up to $1,000,000 of their qualified home loan on 2017 tax returns. If you are married filing separately, you can deduct up to $500,000.

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, for home purchases after December 15th, 2017, interest may only be deducted on qualifying mortgage debt up to $750,000 when filing 2018 tax returns.

 

Property Taxes may be tax deductible

Homeowners who itemize deductions on their tax return may be able to deduct property taxes on their primary residence, as well as other real estate they own. Take advantage of this deduction now, because when you file your 2018 tax return next tax season, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, homeowners will be limited to deducting up to $10,000 in personal state and local property taxes.

 

Talk to your tax professional

Your trusted tax professional can help you determine how homeownership impacts you as a taxpayer. Be sure to ask about state exemptions, as they vary. The good news is that  most changes to the tax code will not affect 2017 taxes if filed before the April 17th deadline. Although several changes that affect homeowners will go into effect next tax season in 2018. While the new law will lower the caps for itemized deductions, the standard deduction will nearly double. So unless you have enough itemized deductions to exceed the increased standard deduction, many of the changes discussed will not affect your return.

 

Ark-La-Tex Financial Services, LLC NMLS ID #2143 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org) is not a law firm, accounting firm, tax firm, or financial planning firm. This advertisement is for general information purposes only. Anyone relying on particular details contained herein does so at his or her own risk and should independently use and verify their applicability to a given situation. (https://benchmark.us)

Bright living room with hardwood floors

Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval: What’s the difference?

Bright living room with hardwood floors
Looking at homes without knowing how much you can afford can be a waste of time for you and your realtor.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

unknown

The same wise sentiment can apply to purchasing a home – why start house hunting without putting in the time to get pre-approved so you can know your budget?

Armed with misconceptions, many home buyers mistakenly think that pre-qualification and pre-approval for a mortgage are the same thing. In reality, there is a big difference between these two terms. Understanding the distinction could be the difference between having your offer on a house accepted or rejected.

PRE-QUALIFICATION

During a pre-qualification, you provide your lender with your overall financial picture (including your income, asset, and debt information). After evaluating this information, your loan officer can give you a good estimate of what you qualify for. A pre-qualification does not include verifying the information you provide, nor an analysis of your credit report. Because of this, a pre-qualified buyer does not carry the same weight as a pre-approved buyer when making an offer on home.

PRE-APPROVAL

Pre-Approval is when you complete an official loan application and provide your loan officer with the necessary information to document and verify your income, assets, and debts. Your lender will pull your credit report and look over documents such as bank statements and W-2s. From this analysis, the loan officer can tell you the specific amount for which you are approved, and which loan programs might be the best fit for your unique financial situation.

 

Pre-Qualification Pre-Approval
Based on Estimates
Based on documented information  
Income, Assets, and Verified Credit  
Written conditional commitment  
Shows serious intentions to buy  
Gives strongest negotiating power  

Bottom Line?

A pre-approval carries a stronger weight with sellers and puts you in the best negotiating position possible.

Want to get pre-approved before looking at homes? Start by Contacting Me, or Apply Now.

Want to get pre-approved before looking at homes? Find you loan officer to get started, or Apply Now.

Want to get pre-approved before looking at homes? Drop us a line, or Apply Now with our branch manager or your loan originator.

Room to roam is improved with when you buy, which can often result in more square footage of indoor space. Photograph of puppy on a tile floor.

Winter, Pets, and Homeownership

There are a TON of benefits homeownership brings for you and your pets. 68% of American households have a pet, according to the most recent APPA Pet Ownership Survey. The most popular pet being dogs in 48% of households, followed by cats in 38% of households. With our furry friends being such a big part of our lives, there are some real perks to buying a home with your current or future pets in mind!

No More Middle of the Night Walks

When nature calls, nature is closer to your pets when you own your own home. Photograph of small white dog in the snow.Picture this: (If you currently rent with a pet, it doesn’t take much imagination) It’s freezing outside, you live in a second story apartment, and your dog wakes you up at 4am crying to go to the bathroom. You have to get out of bed, bundle up, begrudgingly grab the leash, and walk your pup downstairs, outside to do his/her business.

For renters with dogs, especially in apartments, this scenario is a daily reality. How great would it be to just be able to open the door and let your pup out? Or better yet, what if you could install a doggy door, and they were able to go out on their own? When you’re ready to buy, choosing a home with a fenced in yard can be life-changing for you and your beloved pet.

 

Give Your Pets the Space They Deserve

The reality is most renters settle for way less square footage than they would find in a house. This makes a huge difference when the temperatures outside are not suitable for taking a stroll. Not to mention, having the bonus of a yard can add a ton of additional space for your dog to run and play without being cooped up inside, and a fenced backyard means access to nature is a whole lot easier when nature calls. Perhaps your puppy has outgrown your current living space, or maybe you want to adopt another dog, but you just don’t have enough space. Buying a home with more square footage can have a positive impact on your pet’s, and your own quality of life!

 

Your life as a pet parent in the winter is harder when you live in an apartment. Up close photograph of black dog in the snow.

Be Your Own Landlord and Make Your Own Rules

Many landlords restrict by weight or breed, or simply do not allow for pets of any kind. For families with pets, this can limit your options when looking for housing. For those who are locked into a lease with pet restrictions, it can be heartbreaking not being able to add a new companion to your family when you are ready. When you own a home, you are in complete control.

 

Your pet will love having space to run and play. Just one more reason why buying a house is worth it. Photograph of dog in the snow in a backyard with wood privacy fence.

Say Goodbye to the Pet Deposit

Pet deposits can be a major financial burden for renters with pets. With nonrefundable pet deposits averaging between $200-$500, often per each pet, renting is a big expense for pet lovers on top of the normal expenses for caring for your beloved four-legged family member. At with the recent trend of many landlords charging pet rent, a monthly fee for having a pet, on top of your rent and pet deposit, the costs of renting with pets can really add up. ­

Ready to get into the perfect home for you and your pet? Call me or contact me to get started today!When to get into the perfect home for you and your pet? Find your Benchmark Branch to get started today!Ready to get into the perfect home for you and your pet? Contact us today to get started!

house at dusk

Mortgage Applications Rise 4.1% According to Most Recent Data

The Mortgage Bankers Association reported a 4.1% increase in mortgage applications from the prior week.

Steve Remington, Benchmark’s Chief Operations Officer, noted that the increase in applications could be a consumer response to the recent trend in the market, indicating a shift from the prolonged period of low interest rates.

“Mortgage Bankers Association Data indicates a slight uptick in refinances for people who might be trying to take advantage of these lower interest rates. We don’t foresee doom and gloom with rates skyrocketing, but we do see an upward pressure of interest rates in the short term,” says Mr. Remington.

He also suggests that people in the process of building a home, or looking to build a home, may wish to consider looking at options to lock in their interest rates early. “If you are building a house and it takes 6-12 months to build, you might consider seeking a long-term lock option that Benchmark may be able to offer.”

You can read the full report from the Mortgage Bankers Association here.

How To Prepare Your Home For Winter

It’s That Time Of Year Again

Winter officially begins on Thursday, and if you haven’t already winterized your home, it’s time to take action. Follow these steps to keep the comfort in, keep the cold out, and ensure your family’s safety. The energy cost savings doesn’t hurt, either, so get to it!

 

Seal Drafty Windows and Doors

Exterior door and window leaks are the biggest source of energy loss when (baby) it’s cold outside. You can help prevent the heat sneaking its way out, and the cold creeping its way into your cozy home by sealing the gaps. For gaps at the edge of windows, you can simply caulk the gaps. (Be sure to cut out old caulk for best results.) For gaps between panes on newer windows, a little bit of weather stripping can go along way in keeping winter out. On older windows, short of reglazing, you can use weatherstripping or caulk to seal gaps. 

For doors, check the weather stripping where the door seals. At dusk, you can check from outside for light getting through cracks. For all window and door leaks, you can light a candle, and hold it near potential gaps in windows and doors to check for a flicker caused by escaping warm air, or entering cold air. 

 

 

little girl sitting by window in winter

Don’t Heat Vacant Rooms

room hvac vent

If you have any spare rooms, or rooms that are rarely used, keep the doors to them closed, and close the vents in them. This will prevent your central heat from working to heat unused space. Unless someone decided to start using the vacant room, no one would notice the sweet savings on your energy bill. 

A bonus tip, if your home has more than a single story, you can partially close the vents on the top floor, and keep the doors to frequently used rooms open. Be careful, though. If your air handler is oversized for your house, this could put unnecessary stress on it, causing it to die prematurely. 

Blow the Warm Air Down

Ceiling fans are fantastic for cutting cooling costs in the summer. The breeze effectively reduces the perceived temperature, meaning you can turn the thermostat up a couple of degrees to lighten the load on your air conditioner unit. What about in winter? 

Most ceiling fans have a switch to reverse the rotation direction that the blades spin. While you don’t want to feel the breeze when you’re trying to stay warm, you do want to generate circulation of the air in the room to even out the temperature between the top of the room and the bottom. Switching your ceiling fans on in reverse direction accomplishes this. No longer will the risen warm air stagnate against the ceiling, leaving the heat from your furnace under-appreciated. You can set your thermostat a couple of degrees lower, to lighten the load on your furnace, while staying comfortably warm when it’s cold outside. 

ceiling fan

Check Safety Systems

testing a smoke alarm

Test your fire and smoke alarms, your carbon monoxide sensors, and your security system components to make sure the batteries are good, connections are secure, and CO sensors  have not yet expired. Fires and carbon monoxide are both more common during cooler months, and holidays are also a time when thieves may be after the presents under your tree, unfortunately. Don’t forget to check mounting brackets and wiring for external security cameras and motion sensing lights. Being safe is essential to feeling cozy at home.

Stock Up and Be Prepared

Start with keeping a backup stock of food in case you are stuck inside due to snow or ice. It also makes sense to check your first aid kit to see if anything needs to be replenished, or buy one if you do not already have one. Keep extra stock of prescription medications, just in case you are unable to get a refill when running low. Make sure you have a means of opening cans in the event that power is lost. Keep firewood on hand, or another means of keeping warm. Keep emergency numbers handy, and keep your cell phones and any supplemental power banks for them charged. Stock up on batteries, test your flashlights, check your fire extinguisher(s), and keep several gallons of potable water on hand. In the event that you need these resources, your future self will thank you later. So do something nice for yourself and your family: be prepared.

 

HUD Announces New FHA Loan Limits

Yesterday, December 7, 2017, the Federal Housing Administration announced that for 2018, 3,011 out of 3,141 counties in the U.S. (~96% of all counties in the nation) will see an increase in FHA loan limits.

Ceilings and Floors

In high-cost areas, the FHA’s loan limit ceiling will increase this year to $679,650, up from $636,150, providing a $43,500 increase. In addition, the floor will rise from $275,665 to $294,515, an $18,850 increase.

Reverse Mortgages

The National Mortgage Limit for FHA-insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgages, or reverse mortgages, will also rise with the loan limit ceiling from $636,150 to $679,650, for an $18,850 increase.

Next Year

FHA case numbers assigned on Jan. 1, 2018 or later will be subject to the new loan limits.

HUD’s Press  Release: https://www.hud.gov/press/press_releases_media_advisories/2017/HUDNo_17-110

How To Maintain Your Sanity When Hosting For The Holidays

Welcoming your friends and family into your home can be one of the most anticipated events of the holidays. Whether you have family visiting from out of town, or if you’re hosting Christmas dinner this year, the fact that your home is the gathering place for your loved ones is a special privilege.

However, all the stress from cooking, cleaning, and social duties of hosting may get in the way of enjoying the moments and memories with your guests. Following these tips may help you achieve balance and celebrate the joy of your holiday gathering.

Prepare in Advance

Get ahead so you don’t feel like you are falling behind. Do you wait until the last minute to do your shopping, or prepare your home for guests? Of course, doing anything last-minute is a tried and true recipe for anxiety or stress. By making a list of what you need from the store early, you may be able to beat the holiday crowd — if you wait until the day before Christmas, you are giving yourself the gift of a stress filled shopping trip. The best cure for situational stress is preparation. You can do it!

Don’t Overcommit

Promising more than you are able to deliver will run you ragged. While it is sometimes easier to say ‘Yes’ than to risk confrontation, Remember, it is okay to say ‘No.’ If you lack space or patience to host guests from out of town, or if you are uncomfortable cooking a complicated meal, it’s okay to say ‘No.’ Your family most likely loves you as much as you love them, and will understand. Ultimately, you will be more relaxed, leading to happier holidays.

Delegate Tasks

Once you have prepared and decided that you can handle hosting your loved ones, it’s time to distribute the work to those willing to help out. Relying only on yourself to get everything done will make it difficult to enjoy the experience. Ahead of time, take down a list of everything you need to accomplish, and try to delegate at least 50% of the tasks to family members or outside sources. If you have limited help, or limited space, this is where prioritization and balance really come to the rescue.

Consider Catering

If you normally find yourself trapped in the kitchen during your holiday hosting, consider catering a meal for your guests to enjoy. Sure, your grandmother’s family pie recipe is better, but is a ready-to-bake pie from the store good enough? Is the catered green bean casserole better than your old standard? Even outsourcing a portion of the kitchen tasks can give you room to breathe, and even enjoy the tasks you’ve reserved for yourself to brag about. Everyone will likely appreciate mixing up your typical holiday cuisine, and you will gain quality time spent with your friends and family instead of stressing in the kitchen. Joy to the host!

What Are Your Tips?

If you have tried these, or if you have your own tips that we should know about, please leave it in a comment below! We would love to hear from you.