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The Art (and the Importance) of Pricing Your Home to Sell

pricing your home to sell

Though we’re currently in a seller’s market, it’s still important to set the right price for your home if you want it to sell profitably — and quickly. Pricing to sell is one of the best things you can do before listing.

The U.S. Economic Outlook from the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) shows that existing home prices in the U.S. are anticipated to rise by 4.5 percent in 2021. Experts project that home values will continue to increase throughout the year.

Realtor.com’s Chief Economist Danielle Hale confirms:

“We expect price gains to ease somewhat in 2021 and end 5.7 percent above 2020 levels, decelerating steadily through the spring and summer, and then gradually reaccelerating toward the end of the year.”

Why’s it so important to price your house right?

The goal of pricing your home to sell is to enhance visibility and attract more buyers. Rather than getting locked into a negotiation with a single homebuyer, you can price your home to maximize demand so that more buyers are looking.

The good news about housing inventory recently hitting an all-time low is that this puts sellers in the driver’s seat. Whenever there’s a supply shortage coupled with strong demand, you have a good opportunity to negotiate. This may give you more say-so over requested repairs, move-in date, and especially price.

In this seller’s market (seen below), you may be able to ask more from a potential buyer, especially if you receive multiple offers:

pricing your home to sell

Since inventory is currently low and buyer demand is high, it may be tempting to list your home at the upper end of your price range. But keep in mind: A higher price doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to rake in more cash. It may actually repel potential buyers.

Ready to sell? Here’s a local loan officer who can help.

Even with such limited inventory, it’s likely your home will sit on the market or eventually need a price reduction (a red flag for buyers) if you don’t price it right from the start.

This chart paints a clearer picture:

pricing your home to sell

How can you make sure your home is priced to sell? Work with a skilled real estate agent. Pricing your home to sell from the beginning makes it less likely that you’ll find yourself negotiating with just one buyer. Multiple buyers may bid on your home instead — potentially driving up its sale price.

Every realtor’s strategy is unique, but your agent may use some or all of these home-pricing tactics:

  • Determine your home’s proposed value via a complimentary CMA, or Comparative Market Analysis, provided in your listing presentation. This may be software-generated and can vary by agent.
  • Compare the CMA collected from nearby properties (comps) to the value projected from an online valuation tool and adjust the listing price as needed.
  • Ensure that all minor repairs and necessary updates have been made and that your home is clean and in showing-ready condition.
  • Take into account the season, whether it’s a buyer’s or seller’s market (as it is now), and how quickly homes are selling to again adjust listing price.
  • Set a final number that makes your listing stand out. Some agents steer clear of ending a home’s price with a zero (i.e., the $.99 discount appeal). Others say that including zeros (i.e., $300,000) helps to straddle two pricing brackets and optimize exposure.

The key? Make sure your home is priced to sell immediately (PTSI). This will help your home’s listing to be seen by the largest number of prospective buyers. Having more than one buyer interested in your home ensures that it’ll be sold at a more competitive price.

With a home priced right in today’s hot market, sellers can look forward to smooth sailing. Showings are up 63.5 percent compared to just a year ago. Meanwhile, housing inventory has dropped 43 percent from the year before. This makes bidding wars probable. If you sell right now, you can expect to receive three or more offers on your house.

How to close on your next dream home faster

It’s a great idea to prequalify now before you prepare to sell, and this is why. It gets you ready to buy. Once you sell your current house — which is bound to be quick, in today’s market — you’ll be likely to close even sooner on your new place. Visit LoanFly.com for details.

For educational purposes only. Please contact a qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

8 Must-know Homeowners Tax Breaks for 2021 (Including a COVID Rebate)

Your tax return might be a high point in your year, especially if you recently became a homeowner. Last year’s average refund, filed mid-year in July because of the pandemic, was $2,741.* This number could increase if you own a home and have dependents or children.

Your homeowner’s tax guide for 2021: 5 big breaks and 3 more benefits

This year, the IRS started accepting 2020 tax returns a little later — beginning February 12, 2021, with the traditional filing deadline of April 15. Tax season may be more complicated for some, depending on how you were affected by the pandemic.

Accounting for annual inflation, tax brackets, as well as the standard deduction, rose for taxes filed in 2020:

2021 tax deductions

As you’ve probably experienced, the reformed tax law lets consumers keep more money. Lower tax rates and a higher standard deduction make this possible. (Looking ahead, here’s where you can find the new standard deduction/brackets for the taxable year of 2021.)

With a higher standard deduction, there may be fewer taxpayers who itemize (list out expenses that can be subtracted from annual taxes). If you don’t have much to itemize, taking the standard deduction exempts two times as much of your earnings.

But if you own a home, itemizing some or all of these tax breaks could potentially bring more savings:

1. Home equity loan/HELOC interest.

  • Now you can only deduct home equity interest that’s been used for renovations — a significant change from years past. But for those planning to renovate, this change to the 2018 tax law offers bigger benefits.
  • If you’re eligible to deduct interest for renovations, that amount will go toward your total deduction limit of $750,000 in mortgage interest. (See below.)
  • This kind of loan may be labeled as a home equity line of credit (HELOC), home equity loan, or second mortgage.

2. Mortgage interest.

  • The max for mortgage interest deductions lowered in 2018, dropping from $1,000,000 to $750,000. This deduction can include a secondary residence. Your secondary home can also be a condo, mobile home, or boat, though it’s a good idea to contact your CPA for details.
  • For homes financed before December 15, 2017, the former deduction amount still applies.
  • You’ll find all deductible mortgage interest on your Mortgage Interest Statement, or your lender-provided IRS Form 1098. States in which you have to file a state income tax return may allow you to write off your mortgage interest, even if you don’t itemize on your federal form.

3. Mortgage points.

  • If you paid mortgage points — charged by your lender to decrease your interest rate — you can include them in your deductions. Point deductions may be limited for homes that cost over $750,000.
  • You could deduct all your points at one time for the tax year they were paid. (If you bought a house in 2020, for example.)
  • Or, you could deduct gradually, writing off a percentage of your points for every year you have your mortgage. Each point is equal to 1 percent of your total loan amount.

With mortgage rates still at record lows, now’s a prime time to sell and relocate. Connect with a local loan officer to learn how to leverage your refund.

4. Some home improvements.

  • Home renovations considered a medical expense, including equipment costs and fees for installation, could be fully deducted. (On a related note, you may be able to deduct unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your AGI, or Adjusted Gross Income.)
  • Examples of medically needed home renos include ramps, stairway and doorway modifications, support bars, new outlets or fixtures, and warning systems, as long as they don’t increase your home’s value.
  • You could also get a credit for up to 26 percent of the cost of installing solar panels, solar water heaters, and other forms of solar energy.

5. State/local taxes.

  • Tax reform also restricted deductions for state and local taxes (SALT), but the good news is that this write-off wasn’t eliminated.
  • For taxes paid in 2020, the total deductible amount per taxpayer for property, sales, and income taxes is capped at $10,000. If you bought and sold a home last year, you could deduct a portion of your former property’s taxes.
  • You should see a tax benefit in most parts of the U.S., except in higher-tax areas. But since a SALT deduction can only be used for a combo of state/local property taxes and either state/local sales or income taxes, itemizing can get complicated. This is another good time to consult your CPA.

While tax deductions help offset your taxable income, you may also be eligible for some tax credits, which help decrease how much you pay in taxes:

6. Child tax credit.

  • If you’re a homeowner with children or other dependents, you may appreciate that the max Child Tax Credit doubled following the reform in 2017.
  • The credit increased to up to $2,000 for each child who qualifies and maxes out at $400,000 in income for joint-filing married couples. A $500 Credit for Other Dependents may be available for any additional dependents a taxpayer can’t claim.
  • With higher income limits, more families are eligible and could get more back. And, up to $1,400 of the Child Tax Credit may be refundable as the Additional Child Tax Credit, making it possible to get a refund even if you don’t owe tax. The 2020 Adoption Credit also sits at $14,300 per child.

7. Recovery rebate credit.

  • If you received an Economic Impact Payment in 2020 for COVID relief, you’ll need the accompanying Notice 1444 for your tax records.
  • You could be eligible to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit when filing your 2020 taxes if your Economic Impact Payment was under $1,200 ($2,400 for married filing jointly), plus $500 for qualifying children. You might also qualify if you didn’t receive an Economic Impact Payment.
  • To file, you’ll need to fill out the Recovery Rebate Credit Worksheet on 2020 Form 1040 or 1040-SR, used to tally the amount of credit you may be able to claim.

8. Retirement contributions.

  • Like the Child Tax Credit, deductions for retirement account contributions may not technically be homeowner-specific but are probably going to apply. A new tax change in 2019 gave anyone putting money toward retirement a bigger break.
  • Limits on IRA contributions increased up to $6,000, while max contributions for 401(k)s also have risen to $19,500.
  • For taxpayers age 50 and older, you can add $1,000 extra to your IRA contribution or $6,500 extra to your 401(k). You typically can’t contribute more than you make. There’s also a retirement Saver’s Credit of $1,000 ($2,000 for married filing jointly), as long as you meet income qualifications.

Still, there are a few home-related expenses you can’t deduct for 2020: homeowner’s association (HOA) dues, home appraisal fees, homeowner’s insurance, and the cost of any home renovations that aren’t required for medical purposes. Most of these tax changes are enacted through 2025. And if you’ve started working freelance as a result of the pandemic, this may be the year to look into the home office deduction.

Can you cash in your tax return for a brand-new place?

As a homeowner, you may be getting more money back, and you could use these funds toward a new down payment. A bigger house. More outdoor space. Even a move to a more affordable zip code, if you’re working remotely. Prequalify and find out what’s possible.

*”Filing Season Statistics for Week Ending July 24, 2020.” IRS, 2020.

For educational purposes only. Cornerstone Home Lending, Inc. and its affiliates do not provide tax advice. Please consult your professional tax advisor for specific guidance.

Sources deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

6 Ways to Get a Better Rate and Make Your Mortgage Cheaper

Tracking mortgage rates can be a headache. But for the 87 percent of homebuyers who finance, keeping an eye on home loan rates could be enough to lower your monthly payment.* There are also six ways to help decrease your rate, no matter what the market’s doing.

Save money with 6 rate-dropping strategies

Mortgage rates hit historic lows in 2020, related to economic changes caused by our global health crisis. Housing authorities like Fannie Mae and the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) expect rates to stay the same or rise slightly in 2021. This uptick in affordability, made possible by rates hovering around record lows, is the reason more homebuyers have decided to purchase.

You can use six tips to help lower your mortgage rate and make homebuying even cheaper:

1. Get a rate quote.

Comparing mortgage rates is a must:

  • As a 2020 Haus study showed, lender and location matter.
  • Shopping around could save you thousands of dollars and count for more than your credit score or down payment.
  • Haus found that, even with the same financial profiles, a buyer with a lower rate could save over $75,000 over the life of their mortgage. (Note that individual factors will vary.)

When you do shop around, don’t rely on sites that spit out boilerplate quotes. Connect with a local lender who can provide an individualized rate quote instead. This quote should include numbers that reflect your personal financing needs and a lender’s specific loan fees so you know exactly what you’re getting into.

Remember, a rate quote is based on your unique profile and financial situation. Rates reported in the media are just source material. Those rates may also expire by the time you read them.

Always insist on getting a full written term sheet that shows the interest rate, loan term, total monthly payment (including insurance and taxes), total cash-to-close, and line item list of closing costs before you lock your rate with a lender.

We make buying a house affordable and easy: Ask us how.

2. Improve your credit score.

myFICO has a handy little tool that can tell you how much your credit score could earn you in a mortgage rate. These numbers are set at the national average, with plenty of variables that can change based on location, personal finances, loan type, down payment, and more.

But, a healthy credit score might nab you a mortgage rate that’s over 1.5 percent lower, potentially saving you $261 a month on your mortgage.

Many loans have flexible credit requirements and are friendly to first-time buyers, but putting the extra effort into cleaning up your credit may save you $3,132 a year. The Haus study also noted that you’re likely to see the biggest savings when you move from the Bad/Fair (below 650) to the Good (700 to 749) credit score range.

3. Increase your down payment.

There’s no longer a hard-and-fast rule that says you have to put 20 percent down. The 2020 Downpayment Expectations & Hurdles to Homeownership report from the National Association of REALTORS® confirmed the median down payment amount for all buyers to be 12 percent. This dropped to just 6 percent for first-time buyers.

But:

  • If you have the funds, consider using them.
  • A larger down payment can lower the mortgage rate you qualify for.
  • A higher down payment comes with a lower loan-to-value (LTV) ratio that decreases your risk to a lender. And, a lower LTV may come with a lower rate.

To give an example: A first-time buyer purchasing a median-priced home at $310,600 doesn’t necessarily have to pay $62,600 down, or 20 percent; a 6 percent down payment adds up to $18,636.**

4. Decrease your DTI (Debt-to-Income Ratio).

Your DTI, or Debt-to-Income Ratio, is how much monthly income you pay toward debt, calculated as a percentage. This number also includes your estimated monthly mortgage payment for the future.

Too much debt, as you may gather, increases your risk to a lender. A favorable DTI sits below 36 percent, though Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have increased their debt-to-income limits from 45 to 50 percent to make borrowing easier. A DTI below 30 percent and LTV below 80 percent could further decrease your rate, according to the Haus study.

Increasing income, paying down debt, and postponing large purchases are all ways to keep your DTI on the low end and potentially reduce your mortgage rate.

5. Use a rate lock.

Another way to leverage a lower rate? Get a guaranteed rate lock:

  • Consider locking your mortgage rate for up to 270 days if you’re buying a new build or moving from one home to the next.
  • If the Federal Reserve raises its benchmark rate from near zero this year, as some economists have predicted, this will impact mortgage rates indirectly.
  • With the potential for mortgage rates to increase, even slightly, in the months ahead, locking a low rate now can be a smart move.

For instance, you might save $67 a month by locking in a $250,000 loan with a $1,033 monthly payment at a 30-year fixed rate of 2.84 percent/3.02 Annual Percentage Rate and with an estimated $15,000 down payment. Compare this to the same loan scenario with a 3.53 Annual Percentage Rate, a $1,100 monthly payment, and just a half-point projected interest rate increase.***

6. Don’t wait.

Today’s historically low mortgage rates are still great news for buyers. They’re sitting at around 2.73 percent, a far cry from the peaks of over 18 percent seen in the 1980s.

Just a year ago, right before the pandemic, rates were at 3.72 percent. The MBA predicts that rates may reach an average of 3.3 percent this year and 3.6 percent in 2022. Purchasing when rates are rock-bottom, as we’re seeing now, may make your monthly mortgage payment that much cheaper.

The lower the rate, the more house you can buy

Using any of these tips to lock in a low rate could move you up to a higher price range. With a lower rate comes more buying power, so you might be able to purchase more than you first thought — without having to change your housing budget. Find out how much house you can afford at today’s low rate when you prequalify.

*”Highlights From the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.” NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, 2020.

**30-year fixed rate of 2.84 percent/3.02 Annual Percentage Rate (as of 11/2020); MBS Highway estimate. For illustrative purposes only, based on the average national down payment amount and today’s median home price.

***MBS Highway payment estimate, 2021. Rates listed are for illustrative purposes only.

For educational purposes only. Please contact a qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

4 Reasons You’re Better off Selling Your House this Winter [INFOGRAPHIC]

selling your house in the winter

 FEBRUARY 2, 2021 HOMEOWNERS SELLINGShare this post:FacebookTwitterPinterestLinkedInReading Time: 2 minutesselling your house in the winter

DOWNLOAD THE INFOGRAPHIC HERE.

Look forward to a lot less competition

Here’s an overview of why selling this winter may be smarter:

  • Even after the buyer boom seen in 2020, it continues: Buyer demand is outpacing the supply of available homes for sale, so homebuyers frequently compete to snatch up limited listings.
  • Housing inventory is at an all-time low, sitting far below the 6-month supply required to support a healthy market.
  • With rates also at all-time lows, this may be the ideal time for you and your family to get the extra space you need for remote work and schooling or to start your next chapter in a new location.

Prequalify in minutes and find out why now’s a great time to sell.

Another perk to keep in mind if you’re selling this winter: The buying and selling process is likely to move faster.

Because of the competitive market conditions mentioned above, homebuyers have to do whatever they can to stand out — including getting prequalified for a mortgage before they start shopping. This speeds up selling significantly. It can also make selling simpler. Buyers may know how much they can afford before they start attending showings and submitting offers on your house.

Many sellers are seeing homes “fly off the shelves.” That is to say, homes are selling quickly – almost two weeks faster (13 days) than they were just a year ago. Notably, homes are selling much sooner right now than they typically do in the winter.

CoreLogic’s latest Homeowner Equity Insights Report also shows that appreciating home prices have contributed to rising home values. As a result, the average homeowner has gained $17,000 in home equity, the biggest equity gain since 2014. So, you’re likely to see a greater return on your investment when you sell – turning a profit that can be put into savings or used for a new down payment.

Does your next dream home await?

As you’re prepping to sell and move up or even downsize, you probably have questions. How much down payment will I need for a new house? Should I sell my home before I buy another one? Will I make more money if I become a landlord? Prequalify and connect with a local loan officer who can get you answers — and get you into your new home — fast.

For educational purposes only. Please contact your qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

15 Plants That Will Practically Clean Your House for You

best indoor plants

DOWNLOAD THE INFOGRAPHIC HERE.

Sure, plants can’t do the dishes or vacuum the carpet. But some plants are natural purifiers. Certain plants actually help clean the air in your home by filtering out contaminants that could put you and your family at risk.

Chemicals like benzeneformaldehyde, and trichloroethylene have been linked to cancer and other health problems. These toxins come from everyday items that we all use to make improvements to our home, so it’s helpful to consider substitutes and to keep purifying plant life around.

Plants to spruce up your space: 15 clean-air options

Many of our top picks come from NASA’s Clean Air Study, though newer studies have challenged these findings. Still, it can’t hurt to cultivate potentially protective plants, for aesthetics and until researchers agree on a conclusion. Air-cleaning plants also promote good feng shui as an added bonus.

To improve your indoor environment, get yourself some super-powered plants:

1. Aloe vera

This healing plant (Aloe barbadensis) does more than treat tiny cuts and burns. It’s great for clearing out the formaldehyde and benzene that come from your house cleaners and paints. Your aloe has your back: It’s also said to be an effective dust-absorber.

Best location: This dramatic plant would look nice next to a big, sunny window in your living room.

2. Azalea

An azalea (Rhododendron) can help you get rid of the formaldehyde that’s in your foam insulation or plywood. They’re at their prime at around 60 to 65 degrees, so make sure they’re not in direct sunlight.

Best location: These flowers would love to brighten up your entryway or chill in your basement.

3. Bamboo palm

You’ll love your bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii) more than any panda could once it starts filtering out the benzene and trichloroethylene in your carpeting and furniture. Give it some time, and it might also produce small (but inedible) berries and flowers.

Best location: Place your bamboo in your bedroom, next to your new dresser.

4. Chrysanthemum

These flowers (Chrysanthemum morifolium) are so beautiful, they’re often used for weddings. They can help you add color to your living space while they clear out the benzene that’s in plastic, paint, and glue.

Best location: Set this plant on a small table near a big window so it can soak up some sun.

5. English ivy

Amazingly, your English ivy (Hedera helix) can actually get rid of small particles of fecal matter in the air. Maybe this plant is so cute and cheerful-looking so it can distract you from what it’s really doing. In any case, it’s a lovely plant requiring little care. And it’s especially helpful if you have pets.

Best location: Put this plant on your toilet tank, next to a scented candle, and keep the soil moist.

6. Flamingo lily

Not only can it jazz up a room with its vibrant colors — flowering light and dark red, green, pink, and more — but it’s a low maintenance pick. Place your flamingo lily (Anthurium andraeanum) in indirect sunlight and water it a few times a week to potentially lower levels of airborne ammonia, formaldehyde, and toluene.

Best location: Lilies love humidity, so leave it on a windowsill in the bathroom or kitchen.

7. Gerber daisy

A Gerber daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) isn’t just bright and colorful. Its superpower is that it can filter out the trichloroethylene that floats off your dry cleaning. It can also get rid of the benzene that comes off your printer ink.

Best location: These cheerful flowers would look great on your dining or bedside table.

Save money when you clean up your mortgage. Our free calculator can tell you when refinancing pays.

8. Golden pothos

This hanging plant (Epipremnum aureum) stays bright green even in the darkest places. That’s probably why it’s nicknamed the “devil’s ivy.” Use it to filter formaldehyde sitting in your garage due to car exhaust. (Fun fact: Scientists genetically modified this houseplant in 2019, enabling it to better remove carcinogens.)

Best location: This guy is most comfortable in your garage.

9. Peace lily

Your peace lily (Spathiphyllum) is so easygoing. All it wants is for you to water it once a week and give peace a chance. What will your peace lily do for you in return? It’ll block out so many mega-toxins: formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, benzene, toluene, and xylene.

Best location: Place your peace lily in your bedroom so it can get shade and guide you in your most stressful moments.

10. Pineapple plant

It enhances air quality by producing plenty of oxygen, but could it also prevent snoring? NASA was rumored to endorse the tropical pineapple plant (Ananas comosus) as an anti-snoring solution in 2017, though actual reports are hard to find. Either way, the oxygen boost could help remove trace volatile organic chemicals, according to NASA’s earlier research.

Best location: Position this plant on your sunniest ‘sill, ideally south-facing, and remember to rotate it regularly.

11. Red-edged dracaena

What a complicated name for an uncomplicated plant. This reddish plant (Dracaena marginata) doesn’t need much watering or direct sunlight. It can powerfully filter out the xylene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde in household lacquers and varnishes.

Best location: Place your dracaena next to your freshly painted wall or refurbished vintage coffee table.

12. Rubber tree

It’s known for absorbing airborne chemicals and was originally cultivated in India. A rubber tree (Ficus elastica) can thrive in a small pot, as long as it’s near a source of light. It can be a great remover of trichloroethylene and formaldehyde, emitted from furniture and cleaning products.

Best location: Set this plant up in a spot with strong — but not too hot – sunlight; sheer curtains on a windowsill could help turn down the heat.

13. Snake plant

The snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata) has a hilarious nickname: “the mother-in-law’s tongue.” Maybe it’s named that because it’s so formidable. It filters out the formaldehyde in your harsh household cleaners. Did you know the toxin is also on your tissues, toilet paper, and personal care products? Easy to grow, even with some neglect, a snake plant is a keeper.

Best location: Your snake plant loves humidity and low lighting, so it’ll vibe in your bathroom.

14. Spider plant

If you want a houseplant that you really can’t kill, try a spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum). This guy is tough. It can filter out benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and the xylene that’s used to make leather and rubber products. A spider plant is also pet-safe, for those who own a curious critter.

Best location: Your living room or your bedroom would be a great place to keep it.

15. Weeping fig

It only weeps because it gets sad when pollutants are in the air. Luckily, a weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) perks up when it starts filtering out formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and benzene. These toxins are often in carpeting and furniture.

Best location: This plant will be happiest — with lots to consume — if your house is mostly carpeted.

Your mortgage could be due for a cleanup

With this diverse collection of indoor plants, your house is going to look a lot lusher and its air a lot cleaner. Why not do the same for your mortgage? Rates are still hovering around historic lows. It only takes a few minutes to prequalify and find out if refinancing could make your monthly payment cheaper.

While refinancing could make a significant difference in the amount you pay each month, there are other costs you should consider. Plus, your finance charges may be higher over the life of the loan.

For educational purposes only. Please contact your qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

bento box ideas

7 super-simple Bento box ideas + 8 more out-of-the-box kids’ lunches

 JANUARY 15, 2021 DIY FAMILY FUN FOOD LIFESTYLE ORGANIZINGShare this post:FacebookTwitterPinterestLinkedInReading Time: 5 minutes

The first rule about lunch prep is that there are no rules. Bento boxes are a popular pick for school lunch, or you can stick with reusable lunch bags, an old favorite. Pack them full of kid-friendly snacks to take to the park. Don’t forget to bring a healthy meal to keep the hangries away on a road trip or an afternoon of errands.

Lunch prep not only saves time and money — it cuts down on unnecessary waste. Depending on the lunch you pick, it could even be entertaining.

Plan ahead: 15 fun ways to make tomorrow’s lunch a treat

Let’s start with the Bento.

Bento boxes are trending in our Western world, but they’ve been around for thousands of years in Japan. For lovers of Bento, the appeal of the compartmentalized lunch box isn’t just creativity (though as you’ll see in our “best of” Bentos below, there’s plenty of that too).

For most parents and office workers, Bento boxes offer convenient, nutritionally-balanced, good-looking portions that are easy to transport. Compared to ziplock and paper bags traditionally used in sack lunches, taking a Bento box also helps to reduce needless waste.

Feast your eyes on seven of our favorites:

1. Breakfast on-the-run.

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You’ll thank your past self for packing this breakfast Bento the night before when you’re racing with your kids to the bus.

2. Classic and healthy.

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Set up some timeless treats with all your kiddo’s favorite food groups. Bonus points for using a cookie-cutter to decorate a wrap or sandwich.

3. Character pizza.

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It’s a proven fact: Kids are more likely to eat adorable food that makes them smile.

4. Cute quesadillas.

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Before Bento, you may not have known how many funny faces you could make with the food your family eats.

5. Deconstructed sushi.

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Sushi makes for a tasty traditional Bento. But deconstructed sushi keeps you guessing.

6. Mini sandwiches.

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For those mornings when you feel like you’re in the running for Parent of the Year.

Dang, it feels good to fly into your mortgage. Click here to download LoanFly for free.

7. Rainbow.

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Healthy and vegan, this rainbow Bento box is (almost) too pretty to eat.

There are also financial benefits, whether you’re prepping a Bento or packing a lunch in a reusable container. Packing a waste-free lunch for your child could save you over $300 per school year.

Here are another eight trending lunch prep ideas to get stomachs growling:

8. Bread-less sandwiches.

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Forgo the bread or bun and roll cheese, lettuce, and your condiments of choice into a slice of deli meat. Now you have yourself a rollup.

9. DIY Lunchables.

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To please the Lunchables lover in your life: Serve up crackers and sliced or cubed cheese and meat, along with goodies like fresh berries, mini muffins, trail mix, or fruit snacks.

10. Deconstructed nachos.

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Tortilla chips plus portions of shredded cheese, chicken, and lettuce; diced tomatoes; sliced avocados; and beans equals a satisfying nacho knock-off your kids will beg for.

11. Eggs n’ waffles.

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Hardboil 3 to 4 eggs and make the same amount of waffles. Pack the eggs whole and slice the waffles length-wise into easy-to-eat sticks. (Or use a waffle stick pan to make it easy.)

12. Hummus plate.

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With the vast amount of hummuses (hummi?) that are now available, you’re sure to find something to please even the pickiest eater. Pack with carrots, pita triangles, or whole-grain crackers.

13. Kitchen sink wraps.

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Here’s what to do when you need to prep a lunch last-minute: Wrap up everything but the kitchen sink — a handy way to use up leftovers like roast chicken and rice.

14. Pigs in a blanket.

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Make ’em the old fashioned way, or use baby carrots as pigs to squeeze in some extra veggies.

15. Smoothie bowl.

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Load up a plastic cup (with a lid) with everything you’d find inside a kid-friendly smoothie — like sliced bananas and strawberries, greek yogurt, a dollop of peanut or almond butter, honey, and a handful of chocolate chips.

While you’re at it, why not cut down on mortgage waste?

You’re already doing your part to reduce the 67 pounds of annual waste produced by every child who brings a brown bag lunch to school.* How about doing the same for your mortgage? Download LoanFly to eliminate time waste and unnecessary paperwork. Plug in your numbers and prequalify for a new home in minutes.

*“Ten Ways to Unpackage Your Life.” EPA, 2020.

For educational purposes only. Please contact a qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

Here’s Your Housing Forecast for 2021 [INFOGRAPHIC]

mortgage rates 2021
mortgage rates 2021
Download the infographic here.

These are the highlights:

  • The expert outlook on the 2021 housing market is optimistic.
  • Mortgage rates are expected to stay low, and increased buyer demand is anticipated to spur more home sales and keep driving up housing prices.
  • With such a competitive market, it’s smart to reach out to a local loan officer, prequalify early, and prepare to buy.

Is there a Cornerstone office near you? We’re lending in 41 states.

What will the 2021 housing market look like? 4 experts weigh in

The recovery of the 2020 housing market was unanticipated, helping to power economic growth nationwide. Looking at the year ahead, can such a real estate boom continue?

This is what four industry professionals have to say:

1. Lawrence Yun, National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Chief Economist.

For 2021, Yun expects rates to be similar or slightly higher, potentially ticking up to 3 percent. “So, mortgage rates will continue to be historically favorable,” he says.

2. Danielle Hale, Realtor.com Chief Economist.

As for home sales, Hale predicts they will increase by 7 percent. She adds that home prices may “rise another 5.7 percent on top of 2020’s already high levels.”

3. Robert Dietz, National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Senior VP and Chief Economist.

Because home builder confidence has reached record highs, Dietz projects that single-family construction gains will continue — though a lower growth rate than 2019 is expected. A slowdown in new home sales growth is also possible as an increasing number of sales have come from new build homes that haven’t begun construction.

“Nonetheless, buyer traffic will remain strong given favorable demographics, a shifting geography of housing demand to lower-density markets, and historically low interest rates,” Dietz says.

4. Mark Fleming, First American Chief Economist.

Mortgage rates are likely to “remain low for the foreseeable future,” Fleming says. “Millennials will continue forming households, keeping demand robust, even if income growth moderates.”

And though homebuilders have been working hard to construct more houses, the big housing supply shortage should continue through the year, potentially causing home price appreciation to stay high.

Unbelievably, mortgage rates dropped to all-time lows 16 times in 2020. This makes the average home significantly cheaper — possibly costing you tens of thousands of dollars less over the lifetime of your mortgage.

Whether you plan to buy or sell your home this year, it’s a good time to take advantage. Moving right now, in particular, when mortgage rates are at record lows could provide you with more opportunities — expanding your price range and your options even while inventory is limited.

I love waiting to close on my dream house (said no homebuyer ever)

We hear you. That’s why we’re working hard behind the scenes to process mortgages quickly and efficiently so you don’t have to wait. You’re this close to owning your new place.

For educational purposes only. Please contact your qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

The Budgeter’s Guide to Turning Your Home Smart in 9 Steps (or less)

how to make your house smart

Houses are getting smarter. As many as 63 million homes in the U.S. are expected to be smart by 2022, with the average cost of installing a smart home system ranging up to $3,000.* The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities for savings: You can knock out most of these projects yourself.

How to make your house smart — and make your dollars stretch

Benefits of making smart upgrades include reducing energy costs, improving convenience, and tightening your home security.

Because of more time spent at home this year, today’s homebuyers aren’t just seeking out extra space — they’re looking for updated tech features. If you’re a homeowner, making a few simple improvements can typically improve your property value.

Consider some of these low-cost smart projects to get started:

1. Change your lighting.

Lighting is typically the first step in the home automation process since it’s fairly easy — and inexpensive — to upgrade. As a note, smart outlets can also be used to improve and control “dumb” lighting, usually connecting to an app to turn lights on and off or even dim them.

With most brands of automatic lights, you can:

  • Set up motion sensor lighting indoors for guest and nighttime use. Motion lights can work well in guest and great rooms and bathrooms, along with the pantry, triggering a light to automatically turn on when you walk in. Lights automatically turn off too, if there’s no motion.
  • Place a solar-powered motion-sensing floodlight by the garage or back entryway. This is helpful not only for night entry but to help potentially prevent theft.

Philips Hue smart lights are known for their simplified setups; lights connect to a hub and then plug into sockets, with a variety of features and integrations that include voice control, customized brightening/dimming, and simultaneous room control. A Phillips Hue lighting starter kit runs about $180, while an Amazon Alexa smart lighting starter kit costs $50.

2. Connect to a hub.

Selecting a hub is a decision you’re likely to make when you’re dipping your toes in the waters of automated lighting. A smart home hub can integrate all your devices and may start as low as $30.

Light switches and dimmers, blinds, vents, fans, door locks, leak detectors, a security system, smoke/carbon monoxide alarms, a thermostat, speakers, outlets, and a voice assistant are examples of what you can connect to your hub. Once connected, personalized routines — like turning off home office lights and turning on music in the kitchen at the end of the workday — can be created.

Sometimes, your phone may be enough to manage your home’s smartness. But as you build out and integrate more devices, establishing a single hub is recommended. A smart hub with a touchscreen also provides a few added perks, like options for watching movies, making FaceTime calls, or setting kitchen timers and cooking along with a video.

3. Increase your internet speed.

It’s a simple upgrade that’s especially important at a time when more of us are working or going to school remotely. High-speed internet costs vary by location, starting at around $50 a month for 100 Mbps.

If you’re looking for more, consider the $379.00 UniFi Dream Machine as an investment. UniFi provides you with a high-speed (3.5 Gbps) managed switch to power security cameras, a mesh network, and multiple devices on a single system.

For those working or learning at home, using a scalable system like UniFi to supply higher-speed internet throughout the house makes it possible to work in different rooms without sacrificing connection.

4. Install battery-operated cameras.

Forego the wire-in security cameras if you’d like to cut costs (and don’t want to mess with cables in the attic). Battery-operated cameras are user-friendly and easy enough to mount, with one charge lasting several months to a year. A wired security system setup could cost up to $1,600 in comparison.

A wireless security camera — like the ever-popular Ring Doorbell, costing around $100 — is a great starting point for a DIY smart upgrade.

Just cut the doorbell power, remove the old doorbell, connect the new one, power on, and test your new security feature. Other wireless doorbell cameras may cost as little as $50.

5. Replace your appliances.

Appliance improvements can be done little-by-little to fit within your budget. A few upgrades will go a long way. A smart trashcan may cost less than $100; most use a sensor to open, with some models featuring a built-in odor control system and handy take-out-the-trash reminders.

If you haven’t incorporated automation into your cleaning routine yet, it can be a game-changer. Robot vacuums range in price from over $100 to $500. Connect a smart vacuum to your hub to do your dirty work and control it with your smartphone or schedule it for daily cleaning.

And while ENERGY STAR appliances cost slightly more than the non-energy-savers, they’re worth budgeting for. You’ll quickly recoup with what you save on monthly energy. Operating an older refrigerator could cost you $623 more (plus 1,774 pounds of carbon pollution) over five years, depending on the size and model.

6. Upgrade your thermostat.

Exchanging your old thermostat for a smarter version is surprisingly easy to do and can yield big savings. How much you’ll gain by using a programmable thermostat — like the Nest, running about $250 — varies based on the size of your home and your local climate.

But by controlling your temps when you’re out of the house, it’s possible to reduce your energy bills by over $100 a year.

Google provides helpful instructions for Nest installation and setup. If you get stuck, you can visit sites like JustAnswer.com to get a licensed HVAC technician to walk you through it.

Talk about smart. Use our all-in-one mortgage app to make refinancing a breeze.

7. Power with solar.

Solar is another highly-in-demand smart upgrade that can require an initial investment — though it’s not as pricey as most people assume. Read our complete solar panel installation guide for pros, cons, and details.

To save on solar, you can:

  • Improve your household energy use at the same time, with help from a smart thermostat and lighting. When solar panels are paired with an energy-efficient home, you’ll see more noticeable savings.
  • Consider DIY solar panels only if you feel equipped to fully plan your installation and perform the labor. If you’re up to the job, you could lower total installation costs by over $12,000.

Concerned about solar being an eyesore? Many installation companies now hide panels so they aren’t the first thing you see on your house. For homeowners with an HOA, check your handbook. Some rules may explain how to better blend solar panels into your home so they won’t annoy your neighbors.

8. Switch to a mesh network.

Along with increasing internet speed, you can support your smart hub and its wireless devices by using a mesh network. A mesh network — a group of devices that function as one — can create a Wi-Fi “blanket” around your house to keep your smart home covered with a reliable connection.

When starting new service at your home, plan out your mesh setup in advance so the technician can connect your modem in a place that feeds to the network. Also, make sure your mesh setup supports dual-band for smart devices that require 2.4GHZ.

Otherwise, your internet provider may offer a low-cost self-install pod pack, supporting as many as four bedrooms. Follow the manufacturer’s directions or use this simple tutorial to say goodbye to spotty signal.

9. Try a faucet timer.

Like a programmable thermostat, a watering timer can save you time and money. Prices range from around $50 for an Alexa-compatible Wi-Fi smart hose hub, up to over $200 for a larger sprinkler control system.

A simple smart faucet timer attaches to a hose, allowing you to create a watering schedule using weather-monitoring software. You’ll not only save money by avoiding watering when it’s raining outside, but you’ll support the environment by conserving water with a built-in flow meter.

Smaller smart faucets are easy to install and typically connect to an app that you can use to program your timer.

It’s a smart move to lower your rate and save money on your mortgage

Mortgage rates have hit new lows. A lower rate means lower payments, instantly freeing up extra cash for your home improvement budget while growing your wealth, or your equity. Reach out right now to find out what refinancing at a lower rate could do for your monthly payment. Download LoanFly and get started.

*“Smart Homes and Home Automation.” Berg Insight, 2019; HomeAdvisor, 2020.

While refinancing could make a significant difference in the amount you pay each month, there are other costs you should consider. Plus, your finance charges may be higher over the life of the loan.

For educational purposes only. Please contact a qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

Here’s How to Feng Shui Your Workstation for the Ultimate Zen: 14 Easy Ways

home staging ideas

More of us are working at home than ever. Some of us have slowly returned to the workplace, while others are adjusting to a hybrid — alternating days spent working at home with days at the office. Suffice it to say, solutions for sanity are needed.

If we’ve learned anything from working in a pandemic, it’s to take it one day at a time and control what we can. Using feng shui in your office is a clever way to better manage your work environment, while also promoting focus, productivity, and peace.

14 office feng shui ideas that reduce stress and boost creative energy

A few fun facts about feng shui for starters:

  • Also called Chinese geomancy, feng shui is an ancient Chinese art that focuses on harmonizing qi energy in our environment.
  • The desired outcome of feng shui — or one of its primary principles — is cultivating happiness.
  • Happiness or harmony may be achieved by organizing spaces and reducing clutter, inviting the flow of productive or positive energy.
  • While it may sound similar to the KonMari Method created by anti-clutter queen Marie Kondo, feng shui is a different practice, though Kondo integrates some of its techniques.

In the modern-day world, it checks out. Not only does the cleanliness of your office affect how people perceive you — potentially as neurotic and disagreeable if you have an excessively messy workspace — but reducing clutter has been directly linked to a drop in procrastination and a boost in productivity.

To improve the flow of energy in your home or work office, here’s where to begin:

1. Get rid of obvious clutter.

Aim to have your desk or workspace at least 50-percent clutter-free. Reduce your use of paper wherever possible; it’s good for the environment, and it also eliminates one of the main causes of lost productivity.

2. Face your desk toward the door.

It’s considered a power position, promoting success, to have your eyes on your office’s entry. When your back faces the door, it signifies vulnerability. If you share an office space, at the very least try not to sit back-to-back or facing the other person. Or, put up a barrier.

3. Hang a mirror.

If you’re in a cubicle or another type of work environment where you can’t face the door directly, hang a convex mirror behind your computer for a quick fix. Facing the mirror can expand your view, especially when you angle it toward your doorway.

4. Arrange your desk with a bagua map.

A bagua map, or a feng shui energy map, can be used to organize in a way that brings in more beneficial energy. Bagua translates into “eight areas” that include creativity, health, career, money, and spirituality. Bagua mapping your desk may look like using different objects for distinct purposes, like black decor to inspire career opportunities.

5. Steer clear of sharp furniture.

Pick curved chairs, desks, and tables instead. Softer edges signify success and prosperity, while sharp corners promote “poison arrows” or bad Sha (energy). Even in cities like Hong Kong, architects avoid designing modern buildings with pointed external corners.

6. Decorate with harmonizing colors.

Colors are critical for feng shui and can influence your output and productivity. Color choices may vary by career; a financial professional might need different stimulation compared to a counselor. Earth tones can be calming to promote stability, while lavender, representing the fire element, can encourage insight.

Dear Diary, I found my happy place! Browse our job openings.

7. Choose the right desk.

The area where you spend the most time deserves attention. A desk made of wood, versus metal or glass, is preferred to nourish and restore energy. A rectangular desk can be grounding, as long as its front is open; a curved desk may free up the flow of energy. A brown desk can provide comfort, while a black desk might strengthen concentration.

8. Leave extra room.

When reorganizing your office, take care to allow for extra space. This, too, will open the natural flow of energy. Remove any non-essentials you no longer need, like bookshelves and file cabinets filled with old papers. Distribute the remaining furnishings evenly with enough area for movement. It’s a bad sign when you have to squeeze around furniture.

9. Consider the elements.

When you’re redecorating, aim to keep the main elements — earth, wood, metal, water, and fire – in balance. Take a look at how each element may be under- or over-represented in your workspace. Metal filing cabinets and equipment, linked to power, can be offset with potted plants or pictures of nature that spur creativity.

10. Bring in a water fixture.

Moving water represents a healthy flow of energy, stimulating abundance and prosperity. A small fountain can help get energy moving, as can a vase of fresh flowers or a photo of a waterfall or ocean. Whatever you choose, just make sure your water is moving toward you and not away, i.e., out the door or window.

11. Add mementos of memories.

A simple way to uplift yourself and elevate your energy? Bring in personal items, like a picture your child drew for you or a kitschy souvenir from your honeymoon that’ll be sure to infuse your office with feel-good memories. Hanging inspiring art or motivational quotes can also support productive energy.

12. Use natural lighting.

If you’ve been blessed with a window in your workspace, open the blinds and turn off the indoor lights when it’s sunny outside. Artificial, florescent lighting can cause fatigue — the last thing you need before a meeting. But don’t leave the lights too low; a dimly lit office could also drain your energy.

13. Create a sacred space.

It’s no secret meditation zaps stress. It can also amp up productivity by thickening your prefrontal cortex. Setting aside an area in your office — whether it’s a comfy chair or a cushion in a corner — can give you a peaceful place to practice. Feel free to include mementos that have spiritual meaning, like candles, beads, or religious objects.

14. Put on the finishing touch with plants.

Potted plants help purify the air, also serving as a powerful source of protective energy. It’s suggested to place a plant in the wealth area of your desk (see the bagua map above) to encourage growth and prosperity. The feng shui money plant — a type of tropical bonsai tree — is most commonly used for this purpose, placed indoors and in a southeast direction.

If you’re happy and you know it, you must be at Cornerstone

Ninety-three percent of team members say Cornerstone’s a great place to work.* Compare that to only 59 percent of employees at a typical U.S.-based company. Join Cornerstone. Get happy.

*Great Place to Work®, 2020.

For educational purposes only. Please contact your qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

7 safe home-selling tips you can use right now [INFOGRAPHIC]

should i sell my house right now
should i sell my house right now
Download the infographic here.

Here are the highlights:

  • Your loan officer and real estate agent now have more than six months’ experience selling homes in a pandemic; today, they’re equipped to make the homebuying process safer and easier for you.
  • COVID-19 policies and technology recommendations provided by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) are enabling homeowners to continue to sell their houses, as agents and lenders also continue to adhere to local and state guidelines.
  • Get in touch with a local loan officer to learn how to sell your home safely in today’s competitive market and to discuss affordable loan options.

Should I sell my house right now? Experts say ‘yes’

The real estate market has boomed in the second half of 2020. As housing experts consider the upcoming winter season, their forecast is far from chilly.

NAR’s Chief Economist Lawrence Yun says:

“It will be one of the [hottest] winter sales years ever.”

The historically low mortgage rates seen this year are projected to stay low. But they’re not going to remain as low as they are right now. This may be homebuyers’ last opportunity to lock in record-low rates — and today’s buyers are ready to act.

Take this step to sell your home faster. Prequalify remotely for your new mortgage now.

As Bankrate explains:

“If you’re looking to buy a home… Expect mortgage rates to remain low into 2021. However, the possibility of rates falling to 2.5 percent or lower has faded as the U.S. economy has rebounded.”

So long as there are low rates, there will be motivated buyers hunting for dream houses.

Yun continues:

“The demand for home buying remains super strong… And we’re still likely to end the year with more homes sold overall in 2020 than in 2019… With persistent low mortgage rates and some degree of a continuing jobs recovery, more contract signings are expected in the near future.”

There’s only one problem. Currently, there aren’t enough homes for sale. Housing inventory is tight. The experts’ sights are set on homeowners, waiting to see if they’ll list this winter or hold off until spring.

Realtor.com’s Chief Economist Danielle Hale asserts that it’s better for sellers to seize the moment — selling soon and not later. Fall buyers lingered in the market much longer than they typically do. Should this trend continue, Hale anticipates seeing more wintertime buyers too. “So, this winter is likely to be a good time to sell,” she says.

With homebuyers expected to be this active in the months ahead, sellers seeking stronger offers shouldn’t wait to list until spring. Housing experts conclude that this winter’s market may be bigger than ever. Prequalifying for your new mortgage now, before putting your home on the market, could help expedite the process and may make it possible for you to move into your dream home before the new year.

Waiting for a sign to sell? This is it.

Rates have trended down, and home prices are still appreciating – making right now the right time to sell. The lower your rate, the less you’ll pay every month for your new mortgage. Low mortgage rates are also attracting more buyers, so your home is likely to sell sooner. Prequalify now.

*Some text has been adjusted for compliance purposes.

For educational purposes only. Please contact your qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

 

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For educational prusposes only. Please contact a qualified professional for specific guidance. Sources are deemed reliable but not gauaranteed.