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Lifestyle

Many people strive to own their own home. Homeownership is a pillar in the American dream, and owning a home is often considered a sign of success and accomplishment.

There are many things that come into play when buying a home, though. If you’re looking to make 2020 the year you own your own place, here’s a quick guide to get you on the right track.

Step 1: Find Out What You Qualify For

The first thing to do in the homebuying process is to get pre-approved for a home loan. Once you do this, you’ll know what price range to look within when looking at homes.

There are multiple factors that influence what kind of home loan you can get. Lenders look at factors like your debt-to-income ratio and credit score to determine what kind of loan you qualify for and the value of that loan.

It’s important to check your credit score before applying for a mortgage. According to NerdWallet.com, the lowest credit score needed to purchase a home is 620. If you have a credit score below 620, you greatly lower your chances of getting pre-approved for a home loan.

If you need to work on your credit score, strive to get it to the national average. On average, the typical American has a FICO credit score of 700. The closer your score is to the national average, the better your chances of getting pre-approved for a loan are.

This stage of the homebuying process is extremely important. It’s here that you’ll honestly assess your financial health and how a mortgage could impact it. As of January 2019, American households owed $9.12 trillion in mortgage debt. It’s crucial to honestly assess if you can handle this kind of financial responsibility.

Step 2: Decide What Kind Of Home You Want To Buy

Once you are pre-approved for a home loan, the next thing to do is decide what kind of home you want to buy. The type of home you buy is partially dependent on what kind of loan you get. For example, there are certain requirements that must be met if a home is to be bought with an FHA loan instead of a traditional home loan.

There are multiple kinds of homes you can choose to pursue. These include traditional houses, townhouses, and condominiums. Each kind of home has its pros and cons. For example, if you buy a home, you are responsible for all its maintenance. If you buy a place that’s part of an HOA, such as a townhouse or condo, that maintenance is done for you but you pay for it through HOA fees. Although Americans have a one in five chance of purchasing a home that’s a part of an HOA, it’s truly up to you to decide what kind of home works for you.

Step 3: Hire The Right Real Estate Agent

Once you know what kind of home you’re looking for and how much you can afford, it’s time to hire a real estate agent. Real estate agents are professionals who help you find your ideal home.

There are a couple of key characteristics you should look for in a real estate agent. First, you should look for someone who knows the market inside and out. They should be able to tell you if it’s really the best time to buy a home and what the pros and cons are of buying now.

Second, a real estate agent should be a master negotiator. They will act as the bridge between you and the seller. You’ll want your bridge to be as strong as possible, like the 3D-printed bridge with the record for holding about 250 pounds, the most weight any bridge created by LulzBot 3D Printers has been able to hold. You need your real estate agent to hold firm on deals when they need to. Negotiating with sellers is a part of almost every real estate transaction, so it’s important that your real estate agent knows how to create the best deal possible for you.

Third, it’s important that your real estate agent truly looks out for you and your housing needs. They should be looking for homes that will make you happy and are within your budget. If a real estate agent only sees you as a commission check, then it’s time to move on from them.

Step 4: Search For The Right Home

Now that you have a real estate agent in your corner, it’s time to house hunt.

House hunting involves a lot of time, organization, and patience. You will most likely have to move your schedule around to fit in showings. Once you go to these showings, it’s important to get as much information about the house as possible. If you’re looking at a home that needs to be fixed up, ask if there’s any lead paint in the house. The government banned lead as a paint ingredient because of its health risks back in 1978, but most homes built before then — about 57 million of them — still contain some traces of lead paint. This is crucial information to know, as it will impact whether or not you make an offer.

If you’re looking to buy a home associated with an HOA, do some research on how current residents feel about living there. The area may be nice, but does the association do what it says it will do? How are the neighbors? Do people get loud at night?

For what it’s worth, Americans living in homeowners associations and condominiums have told pollsters they are very satisfied in their communities for the seventh time in 13 years. While this is a promising statistic, it’s important to get a full understanding of the specific place you’re looking to buy.

Step 5: Close The Deal

You found the perfect home. Now, it’s time to close.

There are many moving parts in closing on a home. These include your down payment, closing costs, the date you’re looking to move, and who takes care of repairs between the buyer and seller. It’s important that you work with your real estate agent closely during the closing process, as they’ll help you negotiate deals with the sellers.

This may seem like a stressful part of the home buying process, but it’ll all be worth it once you sign the papers and officially own your own space.

More Americans are traveling abroad–a record-breaking 80 million in 2016–and with scientifically proven health benefits, too! According to the U.S. Travel Association, women are less likely to have heart attacks if they travel a minimum of twice per year. Men who vacation more suffer a 30% fewer heart troubles. NBC News adds that traveling boosts creativity, promotes happiness and overall satisfaction levels, and keeps the symptoms of depression at bay. With blatant health benefits and good times to be had, what is holding would-be travelers back?

Planning a trip overseas may seem daunting at first, even if the benefits are obvious and plentiful. Follow the below guidelines for a simple and straightforward trip.

How Soon Do You Need To Start Planning Your Trip Abroad?

You made up your mind. You are going to go for it. Great. Now, you need to start planning, and doing it well in advance. For most abroad trips, it is wise to begin planning no later than six months before your trip. Some travelers plan nearly three years ahead of time, while others work well under pressure, putting it all together in just three months.

The specifics of when you plan your travel can depend on other factors, too. For example, if you plan to visit a given destination during its high season, it is best to solidify plans eight to 12 months prior to travel. A quick Google search is all it takes to determine the high season for your favorite destination. Weigh the pros and cons. Remember high season may entail more tourists and higher prices. It may also be the most popular time to visit for a reason. Are there any seasonal events taking place during that time? Do resorts and attractions close seasonally when they expect fewer tourists?

For example, Holland’s tulips are world-famous, thanks to their short lifespan — three to seven days — and perceived value. In the 1600s, Western Europe entered a “Tulip Frenzy” and tulips became more valuable than gold, leaving a lasting impression to this day. To see Holland’s tulips at their best, visit in mid-April. The flowers, symbolizing life, love, and immortality, can also be viewed from the end of March to the middle of May. Tourists can travel to the Garden of Europe, or the Keukenhof, to see 7 million of the world-famous tulips bloom. As previously mentioned, travelers hoping to view the tulips in mid-April should start planning a full year ahead of time, or a minimum of eight months before their departure date.

What Do You Need To Know Before Your Trip?

Before making any final plans, it is important to create an itinerary. Plan the things you would most like to see on your trip. Make a list of museums, landmarks, natural wonders, and historical sights you must see. Keep in mind that hours may be limited. For example, if you are planning a trip to Italy and want to visit the Vatican Museum, visiting hours are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday only. The last entry is several hours before it closes at 4 p.m. Knowing this can help you draft a plan and fit it into the week, weeks, or extended weekend you have planned for your trip.

Similarly, get familiar with the local culture. If you only speak English and the few words and phrases you learned in a different language are not that strong, stick to particularly touristy destinations. The more tourists that come through, the more likely you are to be able to order meals and enjoy attractions even if you do not speak the native language.

On the other hand, if you would like to reconnect with your Hispanic or Latino roots and you speak decent Spanish, it is still in your best interest to do some research ahead of time. Famous museums do not display a lot of Hispanic and Latino art. These artworks compromise just 2.8% of art displayed in museums. If you are on a mission to learn more about Hispanic culture, unfortunately, the art museum may not be the optimal place to do it. Local shops and restaurants may be a good alternative.

What Do I Need To Do To Prepare For Travel?

With your timeline and itinerary down, you may be wondering what you need to personally do before booking your trip abroad. There are a few things to consider when it comes to your health and documentation. First, vaccines.gov recommends getting any vaccines four to six weeks before your trip. The flu and complications from the flu are increasingly common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 710,000 people have been hospitalized after contracting the flu since 2010. Thankfully, flu shots are widely available (sometimes even at your local pharmacy) and covered by most insurance plans.

Before you join the 2.7 million passengers who fly in and out of U.S. airports every day, you’ll also need your passport. Make sure to begin the process of getting your passport several months ahead of time. To be safe, apply for your passport six to eight months before your trip. You can print forms on the Internet and mail them in order to apply for a new passport, renew an expired one, or change the name on your passport. Processing can take weeks or months, so get your necessary materials in well before your trip.

Where Should You Go?

With general know-how about passports, vaccinations, and drawing up an itinerary underway, you may be left with your final decision: where to go. The Earth is 71% water, and the rest is all land you can potentially visit–more than that statistic suggests! Italy is one of the top destinations in the world, with Rome and Florence being among the most popular cities to visit. Both boast famous architecture, and Florence adds its world-famous canals and gardens into the mix. Paris is another top destination with divine cuisine, breath-taking views, and a variety of historic sites and landmarks to visit.

Traveling abroad can be the experience of a lifetime, and it can make you considerably happier, too! Know the best time to plan your trip, draw up an itinerary, gather your necessary documents and get necessary vaccines, pick out your favorite destination and enjoy.