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There is a word predatory lenders use for consumers who borrow mortgage money from them - smuck, sucker, or  just damned stupid. That is because they will agree to almost anything to obtain a house. One can't blame the borrower who after all wants part of the American Dream - to own one's home - we all do. The problem is being talked into high interest rates on the principle, or variable interest or balloon payments  or any variable of the above will eventually turn the consumer into a renter who in the end will have nothing to show for their investment but negative cash flow. The end result, the homeowner gets evicted and the company gets to re-sell the house to another sucker...and on, and on and on. Another tactic is companies willing to buy your "distressed" home for pennies on the dollar. First, these are tradesmen who realize that replacing a few pipes, electrical outlets, a roof or a few plaster boards bought at contractor discounts can then turn around and sell it for a substantial profit - nothing really wrong with that if the owner is too lazy and/or cheap or lacks even rudimentary skills. But the result remains the same - the owner loses all his or her equity in the process. They lose the roof over their heads!

House & Cottage recommends two things - don't get into a house via "creative" financing, and don't take on a "fixer-upper" unless you are a "fixer-upper handyperson" to begin with. There are other ways to get a better home with a little study, experience and sweat equity! Again, as mentioned above, walking into a home built before the 1980's means in most cases, roof repairs, plumbing repairs and some electrical and HVAC upgrades. The home at this point is less of a bargain than first thought. Another concern is cost of utilities continue to rise - especially heating and cooling. Even homes built as late as the early 1990's don't have proper insulation to keep down costs. On the other side of the coin, houses built in the 1950's forward are usually built to code, and can be successfully upgraded. Its a mixed bag. But you as the potential owner need to weigh advantages against the negatives. For an older home you'll pay more as market values rise and incur the costs of upgrades, however, you'll be able to move in once paperwork gets approval - longer, if there are certain repairs to be made before permit of occupancy is granted. In most cases, if you decide to build a home, its going to take anywhere from three months to a year from start of actual construction to physically occupy a home. The advantages are you (with lots of thought and preparation) will end up with a state-of-the-art structure built to your needs now and into the future - and be very economical to live in.

So what does House & Cottage recommend as a bottom line. If you are at or below the poverty line;

  • Don't borrow from predatory lenders with hard to believe ways to finance a house. Remember, they don't love you, they only see you as a walking dollar bill. Stay away from things like variable interest rates, balloon payment schemes and any variable in-between.  In the end, you are still going to lose. Go for fixed-rate interest - remember, you can always renegotiate a fixed interest rate for a lower interest rate when it makes sense.

Ascertain your housing needs - now and into your future, including old age such as making a house accessible for wheelchairs and such - the longer you can live in a home, the more you get for your dollar.                                                                                                   

  • Take a hard look at the area you wish to live - how are the schools, what are the crime rates, quality of city services, reputation of area - you really want to live in an area that looks comfortable throughout all the time you'll live there - which is really important.

  • Do your homework, spend time in home centers, lumber yards and hardware stores - learn about the building materials out there - the more you know, the better the end result.

  • Obtain books on Home Building, we highly recommend "Ortho's BASIC HOME BUILDING - An Illustrated Guide" (ISBN 0-89721-235-5 / Library Of Congress 90-86167)! Its out of print, but there are many used copies online at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Alibris Books and Abe's Books to name a few. Look for copies listed "Like New", "Excellent" or "Very Good" condition - chances are, you'll thank us for the advice. Oh yes, best to deal with established book stores through these sites. Go to the library and look for a copy to sample - however, we'd really advise buying one.  We've not seen any books written since with the quality of writing of this one!

  • As to how to spend your money - buy the tools you'll need to use in home construction - the book mentioned above will make it easy to select the most useful. And the tools are an excellent long run investment if used and cared for properly.

Buy good house design software - we recommend Punch brand and Chief Architects Better Homes & Gardens Home Design software which offer a "materials list" calculator. Realize that you will still have to run your designs through an architects for approval of the housing department in the area you plan to live. You might even ask the building department if they can recommend an architect as a consultant once the plans are final.

  • Plan to buy building materials for CASH rather than a credit card or loan, and a place to store the materials before and during construction - we don't advise storing them on an "empty" vacant lot where they can disappear overnight in the wink of an eye. Instead, seek out a trusted friend or co-worker to store materials in their garage or large shed or basement. If they have a fairly large lot, ask permission to build a 12'x12' locked storage shed in the back yard at YOUR cost with the idea that the friend gets to keep the shed for free after the house is completed as a thank-you gesture. Do realize however, sheds even in back yards can be broken into and material looted - don't ruin a good friendship through anger if this does happen - its a chance you take. Best advice, don't advertise where you are storing materials and tell your friends not to advertise as well. "Loose Lips Sink Ships"
  • If you are seriously considering a particular lot, run it by both the municipality and county building inspectors if the lot is build able! Do this whether the land is bought from an owner, through a realtor or from a sheriff's sale! VERY IMPORTANT! And make sure the property has direct egress to a dedicated street - ALSO VERY IMPORTANT!
  • After reading the house building book and while collecting materials and designing housing plans, get involved in building at least three Habitat For Humanity houses. The "hands-on" experience is highly valuable when it comes time to build your own - you'll know what to expect - including the unexpected and how to deal with it. Its also a great place to network with other volunteers who may offer labor on your own construction project, as well you should also (keep your word) offer to help them on theirs.

We won't kid you, its a lot of work - however the benefits are many over your lifetime. Knowing how something is put together makes it easier to do DIY repairs that will save you a ton of money over your lifetime - we're not kidding!

Finally, through the design and building stage, "THINK GREEN", the cost for being "on the grid" is going to continue going up as fossil fuels get more expensive and it becomes more rare. Find ways to reduce or eliminate operating costs through more efficient materials and trying to incorporate solar and wind power along with high insulation values in your building plans - read up on it!

House & Cottage wishes you the best of luck in your endeavors...





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