Learn how to navigate the deals and come out on top.
Why pay full price for something if you can get what you want, plus another item, at a discount? This is called bundling, and researchers have been studying the pros and cons of it for decades.
Although many consumers think of bundling as a modern concept — it’s often used to combine TV, internet, and phone services, for example — the practice has been around for years in a variety of forms.
As a homeowner or renter, navigating the benefits and pitfalls of bundling household services means using a little common sense and a bit of economic reasoning. It also requires being aware of when and how products are bundled.
What is bundling?
Everything from fast-food combo meals to items in a two-for-one deal could be considered bundled, especially if sold at a lower price than the separate parts.
For households, bundling might mean purchasing home and car insurance together at a slightly lower rate — the average American, for example, saves 16 percent when bundling the two policies, according to the latest data from InsuranceQuotes.com.
The possibilities for bundling household services abound, according to Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance: “You might find someone on Craigslist who can help with electrical, plumbing, and air-conditioning/heating needs. You’ll likely get a discount, because you’ll be bringing that person more work.”
Mixed versus pure bundling
There are several types of bundling, each with varying levels of consumer benefit, according to George John, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. As a homeowner, you’ll most likely encounter these two types:
In such a scenario, consumers are worse off, because the seller increases its profit by requiring such a deal. The company can get away with it “because they have a very strong market position,” John says.
Understanding your needs is key
Why are so many services offered in bundles? “This is somewhat controversial, but it turns out that companies make more money when they offer you discounts on those bundles, because consumers get tempted into buying it,” John says.
To win at the bundling game, keep your needs in mind, and stay strong in the face of alluring deals. Bundles are a true victory for consumers only if they genuinely need all parts included in it.
When consumers fail to shop around for the other items in the bundle and go for the packaged deal instead, they often walk away with products they don’t want or need — and sometimes pick up lesser-quality goods along the way.
Finally, the touted time-saving advantage of combining bills, which service providers sometimes use as a selling point, may not economize that much time, especially if a consumer would be signing up for automatic bill payments anyway.
Service providers “want to take your attention away from the fact that it’s actually a price move. They want to tell you that you’re getting a better experience if you bundle,” John says.
Consumers triumph when they control what’s in the bundle. Have a nanny who you pay a little extra to make dinner each night? That’s a bundle. “It’s totally a good deal, because you know the benefit that comes from having the same person watch your child and cook for you. You’ve made the judgment,” John says.
At the end of the day, discipline is key. Saying no to unnecessary items, looking for other options instead of pure bundling, and refusing to be duped by false benefits will ensure you win the bundling game.
On Point Homevestments
Everything you need to know about buying a home — on one index card.
A home is often the biggest financial investment you’ll make in your lifetime. In fact, a recent Zillow analysis reports that the typical American homeowner has 40 percent of their wealth tied up in their home.
1. Buy for the long run
A home is a significant investment, not to mention a linchpin of stability. According to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2017, the majority of Americans who sold their homes last year had lived in their home for at least a decade before selling.
Some are even staying for the long haul. Almost half (46 percent) of all homeowners are living in the first home ever purchased. In short: Buy a home you want to live in for at least five years — one equipped (or ready to be equipped) with the features and space you need, both now and in the future.
2. Buy to improve your life, not speculate with money
Your home is more than a financial investment; it’s where you sleep, eat, host friends, raise your children — it’s where your life happens.
The housing market is too unpredictable to buy a (primary) home purely because you think it will net a big short-term financial return. You will most likely be living in this home for several years, regardless of how it appreciates, so your first priority should be finding a home that will meet your needs and help you build the life you want.
3. Focus on what’s important to you
Today’s housing market is short on inventory, with 10 percent fewer homes on the market in November 2017 than November 2016.
So, focus on finding a home you can afford that meets your needs — but don’t get distracted by shiny features that might break your budget. Nice-to-have features often drive up the price tag for things you don’t particularly value once the initial enjoyment wears off.
Make a list of your basic needs, both for your desired home and for your desired neighborhood. Stick to finding a home that meets these needs, without buying extra stuff that adds up.
4. Set a budget and stick to it
It’s important to set a budget early — ideally before you even start looking at homes. In today’s market, especially in the more competitive markets, it’s incredibly easy to go over budget — 29 percent of buyers who purchased last year did.
The most common culprit? Location. Zillow’s data indicates that urban buyers are significantly more likely to go over budget (42 percent) than suburban (25 percent) or rural (20 percent) buyers.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Local schools matter, and psychologists tell us that a short commute improves your life. But be realistic about your local market and about yourself. Know what you’re willing to compromise on — be it less square footage, home repairs or a different neighborhood.
5. Aim for a 20 percent down payment
If you can afford it, a 20 percent down payment is ideal for three reasons:
6. Keep a six-month strategic reserve
While a down payment is a significant expense, it’s also important to build up a strategic reserve and keep it separate from your normal bank account.
This reserve should cover six months of living expenses in case you get sick, face an unexpected expense or lose your job. A strategic reserve will not only save you from financial hardship in an emergency but also provide peace of mind.
When we accumulated a strategic reserve, my wife and I finally felt ready to build for our future. Without it, we were living from paycheck to paycheck, anxiously managing our cash flow rather than saving or budgeting.
7. Get pre-approved, and stick with a fixed-rate mortgage
The pre-approval process requires organizing all your paperwork; documenting your income, debt and credit; and understanding all the loan options available to you. It’s a bit of a pain, but it saves time later. Getting pre-approved also shows sellers that you’re a reliable buyer with a strong financial footing. Most importantly, it helps you understand what you can afford.
There are a variety of mortgage types, and it’s important to evaluate all of them to see which is best for your family and financial situation. Those boring 30- and 15-year mortgages offer big advantages.
The biggest is locking in your mortgage rate. In short: A 30-year fixed mortgage has a specific fixed rate of interest that doesn’t change for 30 years. A 15-year fixed mortgage does the same.
These typically have lower rates but higher monthly payments, since you must pay it off in half the time. Conventional fixed-rate mortgages help you manage your household budgeting because you know precisely how much you’ll be paying every month for many years. They’re simple to understand, and current rates are low.
One final advantage is that they don’t tempt you with a low initial payment to buy more house than you can afford.
8. Comparison shop to get the best mortgage
Though a home is the biggest purchase many of us will ever make, most home buyers don’t shop around for a mortgage (52 percent consider only a single lender).
The difference of half a percentage point in your mortgage rate can add up to thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the loan. It’s important to evaluate all the available options to make sure you’re going with the lender who meets your needs — not just the first one you contact.
The three most important factors are that the lender offers a loan program that caters to their specific needs (76 percent), has the most competitive rates (74 percent) and has a history of closing on time (63 percent).
9. Spend no more than a third of your after-tax income
It’s better to regret spending too little on your home than spending too much. One-third of your after-tax income is a manageable amount. This isn’t always possible if you live in a place like San Francisco or New York, but it’s still a good yardstick for where to be.
10. Be willing to walk away
Buying a home is a time-consuming, stressful but ultimately rewarding endeavor — if you end up closing on a home that meets your needs. But it’s important to manage your expectations in case you don’t immediately find a home you can afford with the features you need.
Always be prepared to walk away if the sellers don’t accept your offer, the home doesn’t pass a rigorous inspection or the timing isn’t right. Hold fast to your list of must-haves, stick to what you can afford and don’t overreach or settle.
It’s no tragedy to miss out on any particular house. Remember that you’re playing the long game. You want to be happy 10 years from now.
On Point Homevestments
When you've got to buy a house from across the country, start with a winning strategy
Searching for a house locally is not without its difficulties. Add hundreds or even thousands of miles to the equation, and it becomes infinitely more complicated.
Though long-distance house hunting has its unique challenges, it’s not impossible. In fact, with the right agent and the convenience of modern technology, it’s never been easier to buy a house remotely.
Here are a few critical factors to keep in mind when you find yourself in a home search from afar.
Do your homework
When it comes to long-distance home shopping, “the Internet is your friend,” remarks Meghann Shike of Synergy Realty in Nashville. “You know the neighborhoods you live around, but you know nothing about your new one. You don’t know where the mall is, the [grocery store], or the schools.”
Though nothing can substitute checking out the neighborhood in person, Shike recommends looking up commute times to work, crime rates in the area, and, most importantly, how the schools rank. Even if you don’t have children or don’t plan to have children, it’s still good to know the quality of the schools for resale purposes.
One of the biggest pieces of the long-distance house-hunting puzzle, however, is to make sure you’re researching who the best local real estate agents are. It’s always crucial to hire an agent you trust, but with a long-distance search the agent can make or break the experience.
“You’re going to want someone local on the ground — someone who is very familiar with the city, neighborhood, and prices,” Shike says. “You need to get a feel for how that person operates. Are they available to talk to you? You’re going to have more questions than you realize, and your agent is going to need to be there to answer them.”
Have a travel budget
When Kyle and Samantha Steele found out they were going to be moving from Oklahoma City to Columbus, OH for Kyle’s new job, the couple looked at listings online, got in touch with real estate agents, and picked an upcoming weekend to house hunt in person.
The Steeles’ agent showed them multiple houses, but nothing was quite right. Then they found out that many of the older neighborhoods in the area didn’t have great access to high-speed Internet. That’s when they decided to build.
Their agent was instrumental in guiding them on their short house-hunting weekend, and in finding a builder. “[Our agent] basically helped us with everything, every step of the way,” Kyle states. “When we couldn’t find anything, she helped us find model homes in the area we’re building in, and showed us three different model homes. She answered questions, and helped us find the building company. She even helped us find a hotel for the weekend.”
Inevitably, unexpected appointments came up during the building process that required one of the Steeles to be present. “We had to make an appointment to meet with the design studio to pick out the floors and the carpet,” Samantha remarks. “So far, I’ve been to Ohio twice.”
The couple advises long-distance house hunters to prepare and plan ahead, especially for last-minute travel. “Be flexible,” Kyle says. “Make sure you have a few thousand dollars in reserve that you can spend on plane tickets and a hotel — because you will have to go back and forth.”
From the agent perspective, Shike recommends planning a house-hunting trip that’s at least four to five days long, so you’re not cramming in tons of showings that you won’t remember at the end of the day.
Know what you want
When you’re in the market for a home, you should always have a running list of features you want, but it’s especially crucial when you’re buying from a distance.
“I like to tell my clients to do a ‘top five.'” Shike says. “What’s your non-negotiable? Is it being able to step out the front door to walk your dogs? Do you want to walk your kids to school?”
Knowing exactly what you want out of a house and location allows your agent to help you narrow down neighborhoods and homes more easily, and assist you in making an offer quickly, which is especially important in a fast-moving market.
“Buyers need to get over the fear of writing an offer when they haven’t seen the house in person,” remarks Shike. “I can video chat our way through the house, but I can’t get you on a plane [to get here] in the same time the local people can who are shopping.”
Overcome remote home-buyer jitters
For those buyers who are nervous about making an offer sight unseen, Shike says there is the possibility of adding a clause in the contract that the sale is contingent on the buyer seeing it.
Of course, there is also always the option of renting first before you take the plunge. “You could rent for the short term or get a six-month lease, which is enough time to get settled in your job or routine,” recommends Shike. “That can be nice for buyers who are a little more anxious about the process — to relieve that anxiety.”
Overall, buying a house from a distance shouldn’t necessarily be looked at as a negative experience. In fact, Shike believes it can give many shoppers new opportunities, and buyers are often more excited when purchasing long distance.
“It can be a nice change of pace for people,” Shike adds. “Another benefit to moving long distance is a fresh start: a new neighborhood, new culture, new people, and new experiences everywhere.”
On Point Homevestments
Save some room in your budget for expenses after move-in
By the time you get the keys to your new construction home, you might feel stretched thin in the finance department. From earnest money and design center upgrades, to closing costs and moving expenses, buying a brand-new home is never cheap.
As you take a look at the costs on the horizon, it’s wise to look a little past your closing date. There are a few post-closing costs that are unique to brand-new homes and some that are familiar to all new homeowners.
Set aside a little money for these expenses now, and it’ll be smooth sailing once the “sold” sign is out front.
Unless you’ve negotiated a washer and dryer into the price of the home with your builder, your new laundry room will likely be a big empty space when you move in — no washer and dryer to be found.
Many builders don’t include a refrigerator either, opting instead to let homeowners choose a style that suits their needs.
Here’s a tip to ease your wallet woes: Start shopping appliance sales once you know your approximate close date. Many appliance stores will let you purchase ahead of time to take advantage of a good price, then delay your delivery until you move in.
If you’re upgrading to a larger home, your utilities will likely increase, especially heating and cooling. And if you’re moving to a new city or a location with a different utility company, you may have to pay a deposit to start service.
If you’re interested in services like cable, satellite TV, or Internet, you may have to install some equipment that would already be installed if you were buying a pre-owned home.
Look at all those big, beautiful windows in your new home! And then notice that they’re bare — no blinds or curtains in sight.
Most new homes do not come with window coverings, and they’re definitely something you’ll want to quickly look into when you move in. There are better ways to introduce yourselves to the neighborhood than through wide-open windows — or bed sheets pinned up for privacy.
There’s nothing more exciting than picking up some great new furnishings and decor for a brand-new space. You may have pieces that worked well in your old space but don’t fit your new home’s layout.
Or maybe you have a new guestroom to furnish, a deck that is begging for patio furniture, or beautiful hardwood floors that need area rugs. Set aside some money now so you can start decorating right after move-in day.
Did you know that some builders only landscape the front yard, leaving the backyard unfinished and unfenced? And, if your new neighborhood has a homeowner’s association, the rules may require you to finish your yard within a certain time period.
That means you foot the bill for landscaping your new home’s yard, and whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, it’s still an expense you shouldn’t overlook.
Setting foot in your brand-new, just-finished home is an exhilarating experience, and something you won’t soon forget. With just a little planning and saving in advance, you can spend more time making your new house a home, and less time stressing over how you’re going to pay for it all.
On Point Homevestments
Staging, curb appeal updates, and closing costs add up.
Selling a home not only takes time, but also costs money. To help with budgeting, Zillow and Thumbtack identified several common — but often overlooked — seller expenses.
From closing costs to home prep projects like carpet cleaning, U.S. homeowners can expect to spend more than $15,000 on these extra or hidden costs to sell the median home, according to Zillow and Thumbtack’s Hidden Costs of Selling Analysis.
The two largest closing costs are agent commissions and, in most states, sales or transfer taxes.
Nationally, sellers spend $12,532 for both closing costs on the median home. Sellers should also prepare for a variety of other smaller closing costs, including title insurance and escrow fees.
Home prep costs
Most sellers will complete at least one home improvement project before listing.
While some sellers prefer to complete these projects themselves, those who outsource can expect to spend more than $2,650 nationally to cover staging, carpet cleaning, interior painting, lawn care and house cleaning — five of the most popular seller home prep projects.
Location, location, location
As with all things real estate, these extra costs can vary significantly by region.
In San Francisco, homeowners can pay more than $55,000 on the median home to cover these combined closing costs and maintenance expenses — the highest among the markets analyzed.
Compare that to Cleveland, OH where home sellers pay just over $10,000 for the same costs.
Even though selling a home costs money, most (73 percent) of sellers are still satisfied with the transaction, according to the Zillow Group Report on Consumer Housing Trends.
To estimate potential profit, sellers who have claimed their home on Zillow can use Zillow’s Sale Proceeds Calculator. It factors in the home’s sale price, mortgage balance and agent commissions, along with other common seller fees.
On Point Homevestments