The Definitive Guide to First Time Home Buying [eBook]


First time home buyer? You’ve come to the right place. Check out our FREE eBook “The Definitive Guide to First Time Home Buying.” From finding the right neighborhood and Realtor to getting preapproved for a loan and writing an offer on a home, this eBook will guide you through the 8 crucial steps to purchasing your first home!

Click here to download the eBook

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Why You Should Check Your Credit Score Annually

By  of PrimeLending

credit score 300x248 Why You Should Check Your Credit Score Annually

When applying for a home loan, one of the key factors that will determine the amount you can afford to borrow will be your credit. Your FICO® score (Fair Isaac Corporation Score) represents your credit history in one number. Credit scores range from 300 to 850. Your credit score impacts the loan terms for which you qualify as well as the interest rates you receive.

There are multiple factors that make up a credit score. Payment history makes up around 35% of a credit score; making payments on time versus making late payments can have a great impact on your credit score. Outstanding balances on credit cards and loans will make up close to 30% of a credit score. Keeping balances low and not over-extending yourself will potentially help raise your credit score.

Mortgage lenders will also consider your length of credit history. This shows how long you have established credit and the history of when it was opened. There are generally two types of credit – installment and revolving. Installment refers to loans that have a beginning and an end, such as a mortgage loan, auto loan and student loan. Revolving credit is a line of credit that does not have an end date and remains open, such as a credit card.

Keeping up with your credit score is more important now than ever. Maintaining good credit will help you get better interest rates, not just for a home loan but also for credit cards, car loans and personal loans. The best way to keep good credit is to be knowledgeable about your credit and know your credit score. It’s a good idea to check your credit score at least once a year.

Check for errors and duplications, and ensure your personal information is correct and accurate. Paying bills on time is also very important; making on-time payments, even if it is the minimum payment, will help keep your credit score high. Try to keep balances on credit cards below 70% of the maximum credit line; this will potentially help raise your credit score.

Your credit scores are reported by the three credit bureaus – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Each of the bureaus receives credit reporting information from furnishers to generate a score. You can order a free credit report every year from each of the three bureaus from the website or call 877-322-8228.

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All loans subject to credit approval. Rates and fees subject to change. Mortgage financing provided by PrimeLending, a PlainsCapital Company (NMLS: 13649). Equal Housing Lender. © 2014 PrimeLending, a PlainsCapital Company. For full licensing and disclosure information, visit

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Inexpensive Curb Appeal Ideas


They say you never get a second chance at a first impression. Maybe this is why curb appeal is widely considered among real estate professionals to be one of the most important factors in determining the value of your home.

Curb appeal projects are the easiest maintenance you can do around the house, and it generally increases the value of your home by over 5%. They are usually projects you can knock out in a day, don’t require any paperwork or professionals, and the budget is extremely flexible.

To increase curb appeal with any budget, here are a couple easy projects to consider, as well as their cheaper alternatives. If one task is too big an endeavor, use the other option to get similar results at a fraction of the cost. Just decide what’s right for your needs, and go be a weekend warrior!

Here’s a look at some inexpensive curb appeal ideas:

Garden Inexpensive Curb Appeal Ideas

Get Yourself a Garden

Nothing will make your yard stand out like an all natural splash of color. Get back to your “roots” by exercising that green thumb! Just bear in mind this isn’t the only weekend you’ll be working on this project. Any garden worth having is worth maintaining.

Budget: The cost can vary greatly depending on the route you intend to go. A flat of annuals will cost you less than $20. If you use your garden to grow your own produce, the National Gardening Association says your profits won’t just be on resale value, but also lower grocery bills! They estimate up to a $530 return for every $70 invested.


Work What You Got

You can make your lot look brand new without introducing any new plants. Start by laying fresh mulch over the existing flowerbeds in your front lawn. Trim back the bushes and tree branches to make the house behind them look pristine.

Budget: A bag of mulch will cost you less than your morning latte. Trimming back the shrubbery is free as long as you can borrow someone’s shears. If you need to go out and purchase some, it still shouldn’t cost you any more than $40.

side paneling Inexpensive Curb Appeal Ideas

Swap the Side Panels

The audacity of the project is dependent on how much paneling is on your house. But if you have a brick-front home or just need to spruce up one section, this is a perfectly reasonable project.

Budget:  A good rule of thumb is that you’ll spend a little over one dollar per square foot for your standard vinyl paneling. A little more depending on the various materials you choose.


Power Wash the Paneling

If you’re not ready to commit to such an undertaking, a simple wash could still make your paneling look brand new. Power-washing the sides of your house will undo years of dirt buildup you didn’t even know was there. While you’re at it, get the sidewalks and driveway. An annual cleaning like this will make your house pop no matter your neighborhood.

Budget: You can rent a pressure washer for about $50 a day. But if this is a project you intend to revisit annually, you can buy your own power washer for less than a couple hundred dollars.


What other curb appeal projects do you do on a dime? Let us know in the comments below!

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Walking Communities Grow in Popularity [Infographic]


Recent surveys indicate that walking communities are becoming very important to home-buyers.

Perhaps buyers are seeking to be more environmentally friendly, they want to be more physically active, or perhaps they just feel they spend too much on gas. Either way, buyers now want a neighborhood where they can take the dog for a walk, send the kids outside to play, or even go grab a meal – all without getting in the car.

What do you think? Do the statistics below ring true for you, or are you the type that wants to be away from it all? Let us know in the comments below.

Take a Walk Walking Communities Grow in Popularity [Infographic]

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The Historic Homes of The Great Gatsby


Baz Luhrmann’s movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby was a big box office draw, bringing in almost $145 million. The sets were dazzling and the homes were spectacular, which is why we decided to investigate what inspired Baz Luhrmann’s set designer wife, Catherine Martin, who took home two Oscars for the film.

New Money: Jay Gatsby’s Castle

Jay Gatsby Castle 300x224 The Historic Homes of The Great Gatsby


Mr. Gatsby’s monstrous abode was inspired by Oheka Castle, La Selva, and Beacon Towers, so let’s take a look at all three.

Oheka Castle

oheka castle 300x120 The Historic Homes of The Great Gatsby


Oheka Castle was built from 1917 to 1919 on 443 acres of land in Cold Spring Harbor on the North Shore of Long Island, New York. OHEKA is an acronym for Otto Hermann Kahn, the German investment banker, collector and philanthropist who built the estate. The mansion was built on the highest point on Long Island for $11 million, $110 million in today’s currency. Oheka is the second-largest private residence ever built in America, ringing in at 109,000 square feet and 127 rooms.

La Selva

La Selva 300x209 The Historic Homes of The Great Gatsby

via Google Earth

La Selva was another 20th century estate located on Long Island’s North Shore in Upper Brookville. Owned by investor and electric light executive Henry Sanderson, the Italian Renaissance-style mansion was built in 1915. The grand estate was designed by Hunt & Hunt, the same architects who designed the homes of the Vanderbilt family as well as the base of the Statue of Liberty. Additionally, the gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same man who designed Central Park in New York City. This home boasts 40 rooms, including seven bedrooms, seven full and four half baths, and sits on 24.32 acres.

Beacon Towers

Beacon Towers 300x237 The Historic Homes of The Great Gatsby


Beacon Towers was yet another Gilded Age mansion, this one located on Sands Point on the North Shore of Long Island. Built from 1917 to 1918 for Alva Belmont, the ex-wife of William K. Vanderbilt, this home was also designed by Hunt & Hunt and was the last Long Island home designed by the firm. The architectural style has been dubbed Gothic fantasy, and the castle-like home features 140 rooms. In 1927 Beacon Towers was sold to William Randolph Hearst who renovated the estate, including the roof, dormers, windows and the entryway. Scholars believe this home inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s imagining of Jay Gatsby’s mansion while writing The Great Gatsby.

Similarly, the movie’s production designer Catherine Martin suggested that Beacon Towers influenced the depiction of Gatsby’s home in the 2013 film. She told Architectural Digest, “Looking at images of Beacon Towers, there’s something that gives it the feel of the Disneyland Castle, and Baz [Luhrmann] referenced that—the idea that Gatsby was building a fantasy.”

Unfortunately, Beacon Towers was demolished in 1945. Since Luhrmann and Martin couldn’t use their original source of inspiration for the shoot, they filmed at the now-closed St. Patrick’s Seminary in Sydney, Australia. They applied faux ivy to the first two floors of the Gothic Revival building and constructed a temporary fountain in the courtyard, adding other elements of the mansion digitally.

Lastly, during an extensive location scout, Luhrmann and Martin stumbled upon the inspiration for Gatsby’s plot-crucial pool at Eagle’s Nest, William K. Vanderbilt’s Spanish Revival-style mansion built in 1910. In fact, Luhrmann had his assistant and music supervisor spontaneously act out the final scene of the film on the spot when they came across the location.

Old Money: Tom & Daisy’s Mansion

Tom and Daisy Buchanan mansion 300x225 The Historic Homes of The Great Gatsby


Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s red brick Georgian estate in the film was inspired by the Westbury House of Old Westbury Gardens as well as the estate at Land’s End.

Westbury House

old westbury gardens 300x180 The Historic Homes of The Great Gatsby


The Westbury House, part of Old Westbury Gardens, is an estate in Old Westbury, Long Island, New York. The mansion was built in 1906 by English designer George A. Crawley for John Shaffer Phipps, a lawyer, businessman, and heir to the Phipps family fortune. The Charles II-style mansion is nestled amidst 200 acres of landscaped grounds, formal gardens, woodlands, lakes and ponds.

Land’s End

lands end 300x221 The Historic Homes of The Great Gatsby


It is rumored that Land’s End also served as inspiration for Daisy Buchanan’s estate. Land’s End, built in 1902, was a white house overlooking the Long Island Sound, also on the North Shore of Long Island in Sands Point. The 25-room Colonial mansion played host to many a party in the 1920’s and 1930’s and was owned by Pulitzer Prize winner Herbert Bayard Swope, journalist and publisher of The New York World. Sadly, the home was demolished in 2011 because the owners couldn’t keep up with the necessary costs to maintain the estate.

The historic estates that served as inspiration for the homes in The Great Gatsby truly give us a glimpse into the glitz and glamour of The Gilded Age. That many of these homes are still standing speaks to the ingenuity and timelessness of their architectural integrity and opulence.

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