For renters planning to buy a home, preliminary steps like creating a budget and saving for a down payment are obvious. Here are five more advanced steps toward moving out of your rental and into a dream home of your own.
Understand the full cost of homeownership
As a renter, a single rental fee covers your monthly housing payment. But as a homeowner, four main factors go into your monthly housing payment: principal, interest, taxes and insurance (P.I.T.I.). Understanding these costs will help you determine how much house you can afford.
Together, principal and interest comprise your monthly mortgage payment, with the principal paying down your loan balance each month, and the interest paying your fee for borrowing the money. Use a mortgage calculator to determine how much of your payment goes toward principal versus interest each month.
Taxes refer to property taxes, which are assessed by the county you live in. They average 1.2 percent of your home’s value each year.
Insurance — paid to a homeowner’s insurance company of your choice — is required when you have a mortgage. Lenders require that your insurance cover the cost of rebuilding the home if it is ruined by fire or other disaster. This “replacement cost” is determined by your insurer, and must be agreed to by your lender. Insurance will typically cost $700 to $1,200 per year for a single family home.
For condo owners, there’s a fifth monthly cost category: homeowners association (HOA) dues. These fees cover common area amenities, landscaping, ongoing upkeep and reserves for future maintenance like roof replacement or exterior painting. These monthly dues range from $100 for cheaper condos to $1,000 or more for luxury condos.
Single family home buyers can take a useful cue from HOA budgets, which generally require that at least 10 percent of dues go toward reserves. Even if you’re not buying a condo, it’s a good idea to set up a similar savings plan for future maintenance like replacing a roof or major appliances.
Know your homeowner tax benefits
Mortgage interest and property taxes are deductible when you file your annual tax returns, and reduce taxable income.
These deductions significantly lower your cost of homeownership. For example, for a $300,000 home with 20 percent down and a 30-year fixed mortgage at 4 percent, monthly P.I.T.I. is about $1,545. Tax deductions reduce this total housing cost to about $1,215.
Study rent-vs.-buy math
Often, people judge the cost of renting vs. buying by comparing P.I.T.I. to a rental payment. But to get an apples-to-apples comparison, you actually have to look at after-tax-benefit homeownership costs and rent costs.
Using the example above of a $300,000 home that costs $1,215 per month after taxes, you could compare this residence to a home that rents for about $1,200. If the $300,000 home was more spacious or in a more desirable area, the math would seem to favor buying — but don’t forget this example requires a $60,000 down payment.
Identify mortgages that fit your budget and timeline
If you don’t have 20 percent to put down, you can still get a mortgage with as little as 3 percent down. However, if your down payment is less than 20 percent, you’ll have to pay mortgage insurance, which is about .85 percent of your loan amount, and isn’t tax deductible.
Your monthly P.I.T.I. (which includes mortgage insurance) is about $1,995 on a $300,000 home with 3 percent down and a 30-year fixed mortgage at 4 percent. After tax deductions, this total housing cost drops to about $1,614. And you’d only need $9,000 for the down payment.
You can also lower your rate and P.I.T.I. with a shorter-term loan like a 5-year ARM, but rates on these loans will adjust in 5 years, so you risk having a much higher payment if you plan to stay in the home longer than that.
Start preparing your credit score now
Credit scores are critical for getting the best mortgages with the lowest rates. Lenders want reliable on-time payment history as well as credit depth.
More credit accounts are better, so renters with only one credit card should consider obtaining more credit. Just note that your credit score can drop 5 to 15 points when you first open a new account, then will come back up when you’ve established a good payment history.
A good neighborhood can be hard to define, because “good” means different things to different people. Some might prefer peace and quiet, while others are looking for easy access to outdoor activities. However, as Trulia’s Live Well neighborhoods study shows, there’s a neighborhood for every taste. We ranked neighborhoods for universally loved features like quiet streets, great places to play, and proximity to care and essential amenities, and found the best of the best no matter what you’re looking for.
To make it easier to see yourself in one of these top-ranked neighborhoods, we did the math for you. First, we found a property for sale near the median sale price for each area, then we used Trulia’s mortgage calculator to determine the median mortgage costs. We used these figures to calculate the estimated salary needed to live in each neighborhood. You might be surprised that some of the best-ranked locals are surprisingly affordable, while the living wage for others is simply jaw-dropping.
What do you have to earn to live in these 7 desirable neighborhoods
The neighborhood: Sunset Hill, Seattle, WA
Annual salary needed to live here comfortably: $217,880
Living in Sunset Hill is a dream for Seattleites seeking peace and quiet and open space –and one of the more affordable dream neighborhoods in large city. A mainly residential area, the neighborhood has a bit of a small-town pace. There are sweeping views of Shilshole Bay from every block. Social life revolves around the many marinas along the shore, along with the picturesque Golden Gardens Park, where you can connect with neighbors over a drum circle (yes, really) or at the off-leash dog area. It’s all just blocks from this adorable traditional-style home at 3106 NW 75th St. Seattle, WA 98117. This three-bedroom charmer was built in 1939 and offers newly refinished hardwood floors. And believe it or not $749,000 is a bargain, considering the neighborhood’s median price of $850,000.
The neighborhood: Rogers Park, Chicago, IL
Annual salary needed to live here comfortably: $47,760
All the perks of city life are within reach in Rogers Park, where the median price for a home is an affordable $154,500. This neighborhood isn’t notable just for its low cost of living or its convenient location to both the Red and Green train lines (which take you into downtown) but also because of its thriving cultural scene. Whether you stroll up North Glenwood Avenue to catch a show at the Lifeline Theatre or over to North Sheridan Road to see an indie flick at The New 400 Theater, you can practically feel your horizons expanding. Even better? This one-bedroom condo at 1337 W. Albion Ave. #3E, Chicago, IL 60626 is a quick walk to either district, as well as the lake beaches bordering the neighborhood. At only $149,000, you’ll have spending money to enjoy everything the area has to offer.
The neighborhood: Central West End, St. Louis, MO
Annual salary needed to live here comfortably: $97,400
With its tree-lined streets and proximity to great shopping, it’s obvious why the Central West End neighborhood made our list. However, it’s a little tricky to put a price on the neighborhood, so for this one we drew upon citywide data for St. Louis, where the median price is $372,304. At $335,000, this one-bedroom condo at 9 N. Euclid Ave. #516, St. Louis, MO 63108 lets you take in the picturesque city streets through a wall of windows in the living room (which also features a marble gas fireplace). But the real benefit to this condo is its location one block from the beloved Forest Park, which houses the St. Louis Zoo, Saint Louis Art Museum, and the Municipal Theatre Association. You’ll definitely want to mark your calendar for September 15–16 for the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, when hundreds of balloons take to the sky for an Instagram-worthy sight.
The neighborhood: Manayunk, Philadelphia, PA
Annual salary needed to live here comfortably: $58,080
Philadelphia is often associated with history (found everywhere, but especially the Old City neighborhood) or the indelible image of Rocky running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But the less name-checked neighborhoods have personalities too — like Manayunk, which used to be a relatively sleepy higher-end commuter haven. In recent years, creative types have flocked here, perhaps attracted to a relatively affordable median price of $206,500 for a place to call their own. Interesting bars and restaurants followed, such as local favorite Deke’s Bar-B-Que, a retro-cool eatery with down-home cooking. It’s a mere half-block from this one-bedroom condo in the historic Feltworks building (374 Shurs Lane #301, Philadelphia, PA 19128), which comes in at $224,600. Like the building’s exterior, the interior boasts a rustic-refined style. It’s the kind of place where you can entertain with ease thanks to the open concept and loft. But when you want to hit the town, you’re a mere 10-minute walk to countless bars on Main Street, like the laid-back Manayunk Brewing Company.
The neighborhood: Nonantum, Newton, MA
Annual salary needed to live here comfortably: $226,866
Nonantum is the picture-perfect New England suburb, where gracious Colonial-style homes and great old trees dot the quiet streets. Since it’s a smaller neighborhood, we had to draw on citywide data for Newton, where the median price is a not-too-modest $867,000. Such a price is based on its proximity to Boston, MA, just 10 miles away via I-90. Although your commute takes only 30 minutes, the location (33 Jasset St., Newton, MA 02458) feels worlds away from the city. Nonantum offers parks galore, like peaceful Stearns Park right across the street. You could spend an afternoon playing Frisbee or roll out your bike and explore the Charles River Greenway (a half-mile away). You’ll also get the real perk of suburban life: a bit more for your $869,000 purchase, like high-end finishes, a gas fireplace, and a gourmet kitchen with granite countertops. It might just make climbing that corporate ladder worth it.
The neighborhood: Coral Gables, Miami, FL
Annual salary needed to live here comfortably: $193,466
A magnet for those seeking the luxurious life since its founding in 1925, Coral Gables has more than earned its nickname of “The City Beautiful.” The Mediterranean Revival architecture is accented by lush trees and beautiful gardens nearly everywhere you look. In a city where even the public pool (Venetian Pool) is a picturesque spot with waterfalls and lavish details, it’s hard to pick the crown jewel. However, it might be the historic Biltmore Hotel, situated on the renowned Biltmore golf course, which was once the place for Old Hollywood. Such a glamorous sight is a mere eight blocks from this secluded three-bedroom home at 1128 Castile Ave., Coral Gables, FL 33134. Fittingly, the Mediterranean-style home is priced for the luxe market at $785,000 (and a few steps up from the area’s median price of $735,000), but you do get a boast-worthy location near the Granada Golf Course, not to mention a backyard that rivals a stunning public garden. And though the price is high, making it here might be easier thanks to the surprisingly strong hold Coral Gables has on businesses (there are over 140 multinational corporations here).
The neighborhood: Deer Park, Houston, TX
Annual salary needed to live here comfortably: $72,840
Although Houston’s a half-hour drive away, you might not have to commute far for a great job in Deer Park. This suburb beat out other Texas cities as the best place to start a small business in the state. While opportunity is big, so is the real estate you’ll find here. The median price of $239,954 gets you quite a bit, as seen in this gracious three-bedroom home at 4113 Graceland Drive, Deer Park, TX 77536. For $247,900, you’ll have features that would cost much more elsewhere, like custom kitchen cabinetry and a bay window in the master bedroom. From a trip to the historic Battleship Texas to the Dive-In Movies this summer at the nearby Dow Park Pool (a 5-minute drive away), you’d be hard-pressed to find a better spot for summer fun.
What neighborhood amenities would you pay more for? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Methodology: To find out where the best Live Well neighborhoods are in America, Trulia analyzed the neighborhood amenities data on its site and created a ranking based on four metrics in three categories: quiet streets on Trulia (low-volume street segments), great places to play (open-street map trails and Yelp play-centric amenities), and care and essentials (health-care-related Yelp amenities). Our quiet streets data are generated from a proprietary algorithm that estimates traffic volumes on a given road segment based on how “central” that segment is relative to other roads in that neighborhood, and is classified into five levels of estimated traffic volume. We classify a quiet street as one that falls within the bottom quintile. Second, we use data from the “Active” and “Health Care” Yelp categories to find the location of play-centric and health-centric amenities, which include places and services such as playgrounds, golf courses, hospitals, and pediatricians. Last, we combine these to create a weighted average of each neighborhood’s ranking in each category. The weighting scheme is as follows: quiet streets (33%), great places to play (16.5% trails and 16.5% play-centric), and care and essentials (33%). The index ranges from 0 to 100, with 100 being the best scoring and 0 being the worst. This is a selection of top neighborhoods from the list; median sales price, average listing price, and mortgage data were compiled May 9, 2017.
Size does matter when it comes to the place you call home. We’ve rounded up seven affordable apartments, all over 800 square feet, all located in some of the nation’s most popular neighborhoods, all with impressive on-site amenities (you really do need multiple pools), and all with monthly rents well below the area’s median. You might want to start packing.
Kid-friendly fun near Disney World: $1,029/month, Bellagio Apartments in Orlando, FL
Just 7 miles from downtown and 20 miles from Walt Disney World Resort, the complex has resort-like swimming pools, a children’s playground, and a tennis court. At $1,029 per month, your 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment rents for well below the ZIP code’s median rate of $1,250. Blocks away, you’ll find a lively food scene along South Semoran Boulevard, where you can eat beef empanadas at Pio Pio Cuisine or tom yum soup at Thai Island.
A Carolina apartment worthy of a staycation: $1,045/month, Cascades at Northlake in Charlotte, NC
Thanks to the two pools, two fitness centers, and an outdoor gathering area with fireplaces, every day will feel like a staycation when you live at Cascades at Northlake. Your two-bedroom, 1,019-square-foot apartment (which rents for $105 less than the median monthly rental price of $1,150) is within walking distance of restaurants and shopping at Northcrest Shopping Center and Northlake Mall. The community is close to major interstates that will take you straight into Charlotte’s bustling downtown.
Space to spare in Texas: $1,491/month, AMLI Covered Bridge in Austin, TX
Austin is the Southwestern answer to the city that never sleeps thanks to its embrace of live music and a rocking food scene. When you aren’t enjoying the resort-style swimming pools, coffee bar, and access to hiking and biking trails at AMLI Covered Bridge, take in concerts at the 1,500-seat LifeAustin Amphitheater or seek out the city’s furriest residents at the Austin Zoo. Your two-bedroom, 1,154-square-foot apartment rents for almost $1,000 less than the ZIP code’s median rental price of $2,400. That means extra change to spend at nearby vintage shops (try Off the Wall and Uncommon Objects) and restaurants (like Jo’s Hot Coffee) in the South Congress neighborhood.
Not so little in Littleton, CO: $1,404/month, Terra Vista at the Park in Littleton, CO
Littleton is Denver, CO’s more affordable little sister. The town is just 11 miles from downtown Denver, so you can easily bop into town for restaurants and breweries in the big city. Enjoy coming home to your 944-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment while knowing that you’re paying about $500 per month less than the area’s median price of $1,985. Terra Vista at the Park also offers an on-site pool, outdoor grilling area, gym, and dog park.
Your own space in Music City, TN: $1,381/month, Whetstone Flats in Nashville, TN
Two-step through Nashville’s legendary music halls like The Bluebird Cafe and The Station Inn and dine on its famous hot chicken (try Hattie B’s in Midtown, just 13 miles from home). When you need a break from Nashville’s famous nightlife, hit the pool at Whetstone Flats or make dinner in your two-bedroom, 1,129-square-foot apartment with hardwood floors and granite countertops — all for well below the median monthly rate of $1,700 per month.
Outdoor-lover’s apartment in the desert: $1,200/month, Seven in Phoenix, AZ
When you aren’t using Seven’s on-site pool, gym, or cafe, immerse yourself in Phoenix’s natural beauty, from the Adobe Mountains and Hedgpeth Hills to Skunk Creek. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Wildflower Bread Company for pillowy pancakes or something meatier at Burger Mania. After a day outdoors, retire to your two-bedroom, 1,152-square-foot apartment (renting for $400 less than the median monthly rate of $1,600) nestled among rust-hued hills. Bonus: You’ll find travel in and around Phoenix’s Deer Valley easy, thanks to Seven’s proximity to Route 101 and its location just two minutes from the regional airport.
A good night’s sleep in Seattle, WA: $2,512/month, Annaliese in Seattle, WA
You can rest easy knowing you’re spending almost $1,500 less than the area’s median monthly rent of $3,874 for this pet-friendly, one-bedroom, 937-square-foot apartment. When you aren’t admiring the building’s views of the iconic Space Needle, head to nearby Myrtle Edwards Park and Southwest Queen Anne Greenbelt for a walk or jog. The toughest decision you’ll have to make is whether to get java from Street Bean Coffee Roasters, Seattle Grind, or Seattle’s own, Starbucks. Get dinner at Collections Café, located inside the stunning Chihuly Garden and Glass. Then head to a show at Mural Amphitheatre or a Seattle Shakespeare Company production. Or cheer on a new sport by watching an Ultimate Disc League game at Memorial Stadium.
These apartments have space and amenities. What do you look for in the perfect apartment? Let us know in the comments below.
Just like home interiors, landscape design evolves with our lifestyles and the times. Here’s a look at eight trends that will be shaping your lawn, garden, and outdoor spaces this year.
Estate style scales down
Who says you need to have rolling acres to deck out your landscape with soaring hedges and climbing vines? Compact and dwarf versions of popular estate-style plants make this look accessible to container gardeners and condo-dwellers.
“Once upon a time, it was not unusual to see large properties defined by imposing stands of impressive shrubs and towering trees,” states a trend report from commercial nursery Monrovia. “As lot sizes shrink but the desire for this luxurious look grows, this classic estate style is being replicated for a smaller outdoor footprint, thanks to more scaled-down versions of beloved plants hitting the market in 2017.”
Gardens go glam
“After a decade of loading up on bulletproof, always-on Knock Out roses, succulents, and new varieties of hydrangeas with thicker, more heat-and-sun-tolerant leaves and flop-resistant stems, gardeners are adding glamorous plants to the mix, such as Itoh peonies and wisteria – even though they take work to maintain, have a short period of bloom and can be expensive,” notes the Monrovia report. “Even in places like California, where native plants and xeriscaping are buzzy, people are finding ways to slip in a few of these beauties, if only in a pot or two.”
“For those with small properties and neighbors nearby, they can create a pleasant noise that drowns out the neighbors’ activity,” explains Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.
Seating spaces, too, are looking cozier lately. Many prefer “a little place to curl up with a book,” Henriksen says – or a seating area for two, where conversations can take place.
“If you look at flowers that are having an Instagram moment, you’d have to put hydrangeas right at the top of the list,” Monrovia’s blog reports. “Not only are they perfect for filling foundations and dressing up front yard picket fences, they make colorful low borders in front of tall garden beds and look just as pretty planted in a large pot.”
Yards go greener
For years, yards were defined by their vibrant pops of color, but homeowners are moving away from that, says Henriksen. Today, layering a variety of plants in shades of green for visual impact is more in vogue.
“I think it’s a different way to enjoy landscaping, not to suggest that color isn’t so important,” she says. “Before, people may have really been drawn immediately to color.”
Now homeowners enjoy bringing different green plants together. “Some have heavy leaf structures, some are more delicate”- even the planting of fillers looks dramatic, Henriksen adds.
Gardens reach for the sky
“We’re really seeing people begin to take their landscapes up,” says Henriksen, noting the recent popularity of vertical gardens or green living walls. A natural conversation starter, they can work on any scale, indoors or out.
Before putting up the walls, be sure to consider your irrigation options. And remember there’s no set rule for designing your wall: Plants can be homogenous or arranged in patterns, Henriksen says.
Natural is in
“Meadow-filled, slightly wilder gardens are losing popularity, as are landscapes dominated by hard textures, right angles, Cor-Ten steel edging, and sheared-to-a-knife-point formal garden borders and hedges,” states the Monrovia trend report. “In their place, use of natural elements such as rocks, boulders, and beautifully untouched hedges impose a more integrated sense of structure are on the rise.”
Sustainability is key
A beautiful yard isn’t just for homeowners’ enjoyment, but also the environment’s benefit. Flowers that are attractive to pollinators like birds and bees are becoming more popular, and landscape designers are encouraging homeowners to use native plants, which pollinators naturally seek.
Smart irrigation systems, which shift homeowners away from a watering schedule to when plants really need it, are also on trend. “Smart systems can really take the guesswork out of whether it’s time to water,” says Henriksen.
Looking for more landscape design ideas? Check out Zillow Digs for inspiration.
After listing the home two years ago, actor Jeff Bridges has finally sold his 5-bedroom, 5.5 bath house for just under $16 million.
Bridges — best known for his roles in “The Big Lebowski,” “Crazy Heart,” and “Hell or High Water” — bought the property in 1994 from “Footloose” musician Kenny Loggins. Bridges originally listed the property for $29.5 million in 2015.
The home resembles an Italian villa with ivy-covered walls, a terra-cotta roof, and a massive, hand-carved door. The property, dubbed Villa Santa Lucia, is set on 19 wooded acres, and offers views of the Pacific Ocean.
The sunken living room boasts an antique stone fireplace and wood-beamed ceilings. Nearby chandeliers are adorned with Murano glass, and the master bedroom features its own intimate sitting area next to a fireplace.
There are musical artifacts — including a stash of guitars — throughout the home (Bridges won an Oscar for his role as a singer in “Crazy Heart,” and has released several albums). And, in case you’re looking for a place to stash that “nice marmot,” there’s a 770-square-foot guest cottage with skylight and galley kitchen.
French doors open from the living room to a terrace overlooking the ocean in the distance. The backyard’s turquoise pool features a small waterfall. For chillier nights, the patio also offers an outdoor fireplace.
The new owners will have a selection of A-list celebrities as neighbors, including Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, and even Al Gore.
Susan Perkins of Sotheby’s International Realty carried the listing.