There have been lots of recent cases of identity theft, so Yasmin Young talks with Kawanza Humphrey, VP of KeyBank about how to protect yourself!

  • Protecting yourself from identity theft

    Understanding Cybersecurity Protection and the Signs of ID Theft
    • ID Theft is a serious crime, but increased awareness of cybersecurity protection can help you avoid or mitigate this type of loss. According to the FBI, in addition to what's known as "smash and grab" burglaries or theft of credit cards and ID cards, criminals are now stealing personal data through email phishing scams and computer intrusions. If you believe your identity might have been stolen, there are many resources available to help you recover from this type of crime.

    • Signs of ID Fraud
    o Catching ID fraud early is the best chance you have to limit your losses. When reviewing bank and credit card statements, question anything that appears out of the ordinary. Receiving mail or phone calls about accounts you did not open can also alert you to the possibility of ID theft. The Federal Trade Commission states that you may be a victim of identity theft if you notice unexplained withdrawals from a bank account or incorrect charges to your credit card account. You should review your credit report every six months and follow up on any credit card or account that you don't remember opening. Closing inactive accounts will also limit the number of accounts you need to manage and check on each year.

    • Action Steps to Stop ID Theft
    o ID theft is a serious crime and should be treated as such. If you think someone is misusing your personal information, your first step should be to report suspicious activity. You can reach out to law enforcement or report it online at IdentityTheft.gov. You should also contact all financial institutions where you maintain accounts as well as creditors including credit card companies. A fraud alert can be added to your credit report informing potential creditors that you are the victim of identity fraud. This will help to avoid additional accounts opened under your name.

    • How Your Bank Can Help
    o If you are a victim of identity theft, your bank can help. Most financial institutions have dedicated fraud and ID theft representatives who can help you determine if you'll need to temporarily freeze an account or close it and open a new one. Or, if your debit card was compromised, you can work with your bank to replace it. Banks can also place passwords on your accounts as additional verification before granting access to your funds. If you've signed up for online banking access, you can quickly review your recent transactions and withdrawals in order to flag unknown activity.

    o As more financial transactions move online, increased awareness of cybersecurity protection allows you to pick up on discrepancies quickly. Banks and credit card companies are working to prevent ID theft with increased security measures to ensure their customers' transactions are completed as safely as possible.

    Additional online resources from KeyBank:

    What is Identity Theft?

    Key Conversations: Combatting Identity Theft

    Top Tips to Reduce Identity Theft

    ID Theft Prevention & Wealth Protection Checklist

    (This material is presented for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individual tax or financial advice. Please consult with legal, tax and/or financial advisors. KeyBank does not provide legal advice. KeyCorp 2017. KeyBank member FDIC.)

  • Checking vs. savings account

    Checking vs. Savings Account: Why Not Understanding the Difference Can Cost You Money
    • When considering where to put your money, have you weighed the benefits of using a checking vs. savings account? Both accounts can be used for many different purposes and not understanding those differences can literally cost you hundreds — even thousands — of dollars.

    • Knowing when to use one over the other starts with understanding the purpose intended for each account.

    • What Is the Purpose of a Savings Account?
    o The purpose of a savings account is to give you a safe location to place your money for a long period of time. It also provides an opportunity to help your money grow so that you can more quickly meet your savings goals and build up a safety net.
    o It's important to have a safety net for all of those unexpected expenses such as a burst hot water tank, a flat tire, a leaky roof, your phone dying...you get the idea. Without this cushion, you might need to turn to loans or credit cards as a way to cover these "unexpected" costs, which could set you way back on your financial goals. Having some extra dollars saved up also gives you some peace of mind that you can cover any of those emergency expenses and actually contributes to a happier and healthier you, since you won't have that nagging 'what if' feeling.
    o For that reason, a savings account is a place where you should feel encouraged to save. As a way to help you reach your goals faster — as well as a way to reinforce saving instead of spending — banks pay you an interest rate on the money you keep in this account, allowing the balance to grow over time.

    • What Is the Purpose of a Checking Account?
    o The purpose of a checking account is to have a place to hold your money before it's spent in the near future, as well as to facilitate the spending of that money.
    o When you deposit your money into a checking account, as soon as the deposit "clears" and the actual money makes it to your bank, you can start using that money for whatever you may need. This comes in handy when paying your bills, writing checks to a parent who spotted you $50 last month and getting cash out from an ATM for a fun Friday night.

    • When Does It Make Sense to Use One Over the Other?
    o When deciding whether to put your money in a checking vs. a savings account, it's best to think about what you are using the money for. Do you intend to spend it on bills? Or do you intend to hold onto it for longer?

    • Here's some guidance for when to use which type of account.
    o Use a checking account when you need to spend the money on bills or other expenses in this month or even the next. You won't want to park money in a checking account for longer periods of time though, as it typically doesn't earn as much interest as a savings account. A checking account gives you easy access to that money, which means the ability to spend it via checks, cash withdrawals or debit card purchases in the most convenient way, usually without restrictions on the number of transactions you can make.
    o Use a savings account, like Key Active Saver, when you're saving up for a specific goal and you want to get to your goal even faster by growing that money through interest. Put money into savings that you don't plan on spending for at least a month into the future (and ideally much longer than that). Think of it as a safe place to park your money until you need it.
    o Of course, it's a sound money strategy to have both a checking account and a savings account, as these two accounts will cover several of the different purposes you have for your money. While having a savings account without a checking account would be quite inconvenient for everyday money needs, having a checking account without a savings account means you're not thinking about building your financial future. Finding a balance between short- and long-term funds is a great start to Financial Wellness. So if you haven't already, open a savings account and start saving today.

    Additional online resources from KeyBank:

    Checking Accounts

    Key Advantage Checking Account 

    Key Student Checking Account

    Savings Account Comparison

    KEY4KIDS® Savings Account 

    (This material is presented for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individual tax or financial advice. Please consult with legal, tax and/or financial advisors. KeyBank does not provide legal advice. KeyCorp 2017. KeyBank member FDIC.)

  • Mortgage Options

    Key Community Mortgage and Other Options for Buying a Home

    • Many homeowners believe that they should put down 20 percent of a home's value in order to purchase. However, there are many options available when it comes to purchasing a home with little to no down payment, including options from KeyBank.
    • If you're a first-time homebuyer, putting down 20 percent can be challenging. Sometimes buyers assume that Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is required, adding to monthly costs. However, these requirements are not necessary for all mortgage products — there are options available to everyone.
    • Here are some options that may work for your situation.
    • Key Community Mortgage® Exclusively from KeyBank
      • The Key Community Mortgage® is an affordable mortgage product offered specifically by KeyBank to match various lending needs. Here are some of the criteria to qualify:
    • Up to 100 percent financing available
    • No Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)
    • Conventional financing
    • No income limitations on qualifying properties
    • Accepts alternative credit
    • FHA Loan
    • The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is part of HUD.gov, and they've been providing loans since 1934. With an FHA loan, you still go through a lender but the FHA insures the loan. Some of the advantages of an FHA loan include:
    • Low down payments
    • Low closing costs
    • Easy credit qualifying
    • For first-time homebuyers, your down payment can be as low as 3.5 percent.

     

    • VA Loan
    • Veterans Affairs mortgages, also called VA Loans, are for active and retired service members, and eligible surviving spouses. Keep in mind that length of service determines eligibility.
    • Unlike FHA loans, VA Loans do not require a down payment or PMI. But interest rates may be competitive. VA Loans go through private lenders so you aren't applying directly to the VA. However, the VA does guarantee the loan.

     

    • Here are some of the benefits of a VA Loan:
    • No down payment as long as the sales price doesn't exceed the appraised value
    • No PMI requirement
    • VA rules limit the amount you can be charged for closing costs
    • Closing costs may be paid by the seller
    • The lender can't charge you a penalty fee if you pay the loan off early
    • VA may be able to provide you some assistance if you run into difficulty making payments

     

    • Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac Low Down Payment Loan Programs
    • Fannie Mae's HomeReady program requires only a 3 percent down payment. You must meet the following to qualify:
    • Have low to moderate income
    • Be a first-time or repeat homebuyer
    • Have limited cash for down payment
    • As part of its Home Possible Mortgages program, Freddie Mac requires down payments that range from 3 to 5 percent. Eligibility varies, depending on location.

     

    • Which Option Is Best for You?
    • As you can see, there are a number of ways to purchase a home without putting down the standard 20 percent. The option that is best for you will likely require a few conversations with your lender. Be sure to speak with your financial advisor before making any final decisions.

    Additional online resources from KeyBank:

    Which Mortgage is Right for You?

    Federal Housing Authority (FHA) Home Loans

    How to Qualify for an FHA Loan

    Buying a Home

    (This material is presented for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individual tax or financial advice. Please consult with legal, tax and/or financial advisors. KeyBank does not provide legal advice. KeyCorp 2017. KeyBank member FDIC.)

  • How to Buy a Fixer Upper That's Not a Money Pit

    How to Buy a Fixer Upper That's Not a Money Pit
    • Have you dreamed of what it would be like to buy a fixer-upper and return it to its former glory? In an effort to save money, perhaps you're checking out some homes that are not quite move-in ready. Or maybe you've been itching to put your power tools and DIY knowledge to good use. But does it make financial sense to buy a fixer-upper?

    • Here's how to tell the difference between a home that needs a little financially manageable TLC and one that could end up costing you more in the long run.

    • First, Get a Home Inspection
    o If you enjoy watching home buying shows, you might be under the false impression that home inspections happen after you purchase a home. They shouldn't — you should always get an inspection before purchasing a home.

    o Sometimes the best diamond-in-the-rough deals come as-is, meaning that the sellers may not pay for cosmetic or structural fixes. With the exception of a hot seller’s market, as-is home prices should reflect the amount of work they need. A home inspection may be more crucial in as-is purchases; it can allow you, the buyer, to walk away from some potentially huge and costly headaches. Get separate inspections for any issues where you expect to pay a hefty price to fix, such as a roof or fireplace.

    • Consider the Home's Age
    o Older homes are like older cars — it's tough to find the parts for an authentic restoration. The TV shows make restorations look easy, but remember, they have a production crew to hunt down those vintage door knobs and it's their full-time job.

    o The older the home, the more potential there is for financial headaches, such as lead paint and asbestos, both of which require professional abatement. The inner workings, such as knob-and-tube wiring or outdated/nonexistent heating and ventilation systems, may require substantial upgrading.

    • Focus on the Structure
    o REALTORMag lists the 10 most common problems found during a home inspection. When it comes to a money pit, fixing foundation and structural issues will hit your home improvement budget the hardest. Structural problems aren't a DIY project. According to Home Advisor, the national average for fixing foundation problems is $3,995.

    o Time and the ever-changing elements can also ravage a structure from the bottom up and the top down. Water can often cause some of the worst damage. Inspections might miss a costly byproduct lurking behind walls — such as black mold, which must be removed by a professional. Sellers also have to disclose known flooding, but this isn't always foolproof. To be on the safe side, for past and future flooding issues, check the home's location on FEMA's Flood Map.

    • Do the Right ROI Analysis
    o Calculating a return on investment means more than the cost of the home plus renovations subtracted from other homes in the neighborhood. In fact, it may be difficult to recoup the full value of your renovation, especially for work that requires a contractor, which will increase your cost. Keep in mind, the Family Handyman could also help you tackle renovations yourself and save money in the process.

    o For a better ROI analysis, check out Remodeling's Cost vs. Value Report. Of course, the most important calculation is whether you can really afford that mortgage after all.

    • Factor in the Odds and Ends
    o Before you buy a home crammed with stuff, factor in the cost and time to remove it and haul it away. Planning on a gut job? Factor in getting rid of all of that construction debris. Demolition day looks so effortless on the TV shows, but according to Realtor.com that's not always the case.

    • And, lastly, as with any real estate purchase — location, location, location. Make sure you buy a fixer-upper in a neighborhood with stable or increasing home values. A diamond-in-the-rough in an abandoned mine is fool's gold.

    Additional online resources from KeyBank:

    How to Buy a Fixer Upper That's Not a Money Pit

    (This material is presented for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individual tax or financial advice. Please consult with legal, tax and/or financial advisors. KeyBank does not provide legal advice. KeyCorp 2017. KeyBank member FDIC.)

  • Which documents to keep and which to shred

    Important Financial Documents: How Long Should You Keep Them?
    • When you receive financial documents, what do you typically do? Some collect everything in an ever-growing pile of paperwork while others may elect to toss them in the trash or send them through the shredder.
    • However, neither is ideal as there are some important financial documents you should hold onto in a safe and secure place.

    • Pay Stubs
    o It's safe to say that the majority of people are paid every two weeks. That means that throughout the year, you're likely to accumulate a lot of pay stubs. If the money hits your account, do you really need to keep your pay stubs? The answer is yes, for at least a year. Keep your pay stub records for the calendar year and make sure that it syncs with what's on your W-2. If everything lines up, you can shred your pay stubs after a year.
    o Alternatively, you might be able to opt for electronic delivery through your work. That way your pay stubs will be stored securely by your company and will be easily accessible when you need them.

    • Bank Statements
    o You should keep your monthly bank statements for at least a year as well. Bank statements are a good way to prove your income for things like applying for a new apartment. It's also good to have for tax time, just in case you need to comb through your records.

    • Credit Card Statements
    o Keep your credit card statements for one month or until the next one arrives, this can be helpful in case you need to go back through and make sure everything is correct. If there are no errors and everything looks good, you can shred it when your next statement arrives.

    • Utility Bills
    o You might have various utility bills throughout the month. You can stash those away for at least one month until the next statement arrives. Again, make sure that everything looks good and there are no mistakes. When your next statement comes in, you can shred your old utility bills.

    • Receipts
    o Do you really need to keep receipts? Some crumple receipts up and toss them in the trash. But if you want to be especially diligent, it can be a good idea to keep them for a month. This way you can match them to your credit or debit card transactions and ensure everything is correct. If you're making a big purchase or purchasing something you might need to return, keep the receipt indefinitely.

    • Tax Return
    o Tax time can produce a lot of paperwork. While you might want to be done with all of that paperwork once you've filed, you'll want to keep your tax returns and all relevant paperwork for seven years. The IRS typically uses a window of three years for any audits, so having your previous paperwork is a must.

    • Confirmations
    o If you get a confirmation about any debt paid in full, consider keeping them. You should also keep all documents related to purchasing your house.

    Additional online resources from KeyBank:

    Important Financial Documents: How Long Should You Keep Them?

    Five Easy Ways to Securely Store Documents with Key Wealth Direction® Vault

    Declutter Your Mind by Decluttering Your Home

    (This material is presented for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individual tax or financial advice. Please consult with legal, tax and/or financial advisors. KeyBank does not provide legal advice. KeyCorp 2017. KeyBank member FDIC.)

  • Getting Out of Credit Card Debt

    Getting out of credit card debt
    • The average New York resident carried a $3,710 credit card balance in 2017, about $600 more than the national average, according to a report from the state Comptroller's Office. Here are some tips to help get you out from under your debt.

    • If you have existing high-interest credit card debt, it's in your best interest to open a balance transfer credit card with a low- or no-interest teaser rate, transfer the high-interest balance, and pay it down over the course of several months. As long as you pay off the balance before the regular rate kicks in, you'll greatly reduce the cost of carrying the debt.

    • Consider Setting a Monthly Spending Limit
    o This is a more specific approach that takes the "pay your balance in full each month" strategy one step further. Setting a strict monthly spending limit that's well within your budget increases the chances that you'll actually be able to zero out your monthly balance and avoid interest charges.

    • Set up Spending and Security Alerts
    o KeyBank’s HelloWallet tool can help with this. If you're worried about controlling your credit card spending, set up customized spending alerts that let you know when you've made an abnormally large payment or exceed a certain balance threshold. Pair these informational alerts with security alerts designed to flag potentially fraudulent spending patterns.

    Additional online resources from KeyBank:

    Pay Off Credit Card Debt Calculator

    5 Tips to Manage Credit Card Spending

    How to Raise Your Credit Score by Paying Off Debt 

    Take Control with Debt Consolidation

    (This material is presented for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individual tax or financial advice. Please consult with legal, tax and/or financial advisors. KeyBank does not provide legal advice. KeyCorp 2017. KeyBank member FDIC.)

  • How to Apply for an FHA Home Loan

    How to Qualify for an FHA Loan
    • The federal government created the FHA loan program to improve housing standards, stabilize the mortgage market, and to help make mortgages more affordable and accessible. If you want to purchase a home but aren't sure if you have the means to do so, here's what you need to know in order to qualify for an FHA loan.

    • When an FHA Loan Makes Sense
    o An FHA loan is a good option for anyone who may be worried their credit score or funds for a down payment won't be enough for a traditional loan. However, your rate may differ depending on your exact credit history.
    o Borrowers who have low incomes may also want to consider an FHA loan because there may be more flexibility in terms of debt to income ratios compared to traditional mortgages. Interest rates for an FHA tend to be lower than traditional mortgages, helping you lower your monthly payment and overall loan costs.
    o Even if you have great credit, an FHA loan may make sense if you can't afford to put much toward your down payment. While some traditional mortgages may require as much as a 20 percent down payment, FHA allows for as little as 3.5 percent for down payment. For first time home buyers, this could work in your favor by allowing you to redirect cash to other housing expenses.

    • Qualifying for an FHA Loan
    o To qualify for an FHA loan, you may need a certain credit score as well as a steady employment history, which you can prove through tax returns and pay stubs. A lender will use this to look at what percentage of your pay will go toward housing-related expenses.
    o As for the property itself, you can only take out a loan if you're the primary occupant. You'll need to have the property appraised by someone who has been approved by the HUD. The appraiser will check to see if the house meets certain standards. If not, the seller needs to agree to the required repairs, or you'll need to take care of them prior to closing.
    o To find a list of updated requirements, check with the Federal Housing Authority or a mortgage lender, such as KeyBank, that offers FHA loans.

    • How It Compares
    o An FHA loan is great because you don't need a large down payment or a perfect credit score; however, you will be required to pay for mortgage insurance. Mortgage Insurance Premiums (MIP) help protect the loan investor against loss in the event that the borrower defaults on their mortgage. You'll have to make multiple payments: one that you pay upfront during closing as well as an annual premium within your periodic mortgage payment. Unlike traditional mortgages, you may not be able to terminate this mortgage insurance, depending on various factors including your down payment.
    o While this will give you a better understanding of what an FHA loan entails, you'll still want to do your research and calculate the costs before diving head-first into a purchase financed by an FHA loan.

    Additional online resources from KeyBank:

    Federal Housing Authority (FHA) Home Loans

    How to Qualify for an FHA Loan

    (This material is presented for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individual tax or financial advice. Please consult with legal, tax and/or financial advisors. KeyBank does not provide legal advice. KeyCorp 2017. KeyBank member FDIC.)

  • Small Business Workshop

    Small Business Seminar
    • The African American KeyBank Business Impact and Networking Group will host a free Small Business Seminar as part of Juneteenth’s 2018 Sankofa Days Celebration.
    • The seminar will take place on Tuesday June 12th at 5:30 p.m. at the Main Street Gallery located at 515 Main Street in Buffalo
    • Panelists will provide information and resources to current and aspiring minority and women business owners.

    • Panelists include:
    o KeyBank
    o Pathstone Business Enterprise Center
    o Excelsior Growth Fund
    o JumpStart
    o Minority and Women Business Enterprise
    o Food and beverages will be provided

    • For more information, email AAKBING_Buffalo@keybank.com

  • Budgeting for Summer Childcare

    Budgeting for Summer Childcare

    • Before you know it, the kids will burst through their school's doors for the last time — ready to start their summer vacation. Take the time to start thinking about your kid's summer childcare now, so you're not caught off guard.
    • But don't fret — with a little help, you can wade through the childcare options and figure out how to budget for the one that best fits your family's needs.
    • Choosing the Right Kind of Care
    • Rather than thinking about what your budget can handle and starting there, let's focus first on what kind of childcare you're looking for.
    • Factors to keep in mind when searching for your perfect childcare solution include the location of the facility, the schedule of care and whether or not it fits your working schedule needs, the reputation of care and the right ratio of caretaker to kids that you're looking for.
    • Different kinds of summer childcare include:
      • Family Help: Oftentimes your best, and first, childcare option can be a loving relative.
      • Babysitting Co-op: Luckily, you're not the only family looking for the right kind of summer childcare. Seek out other families and join babysitting co-ops near you where each family is responsible for providing part of the care and the system runs for free.
      • Nanny Share: A nanny share allows you and a few other moms to create a summer camp-like experience by hiring one nanny across several families.
      • Summer Day/Night Camps: Summer camps can offer deeper learning in your child's particular subject of interest. Use the American Camp Associations' (ACA) camp finder to help with your search.
      • Full-on Help/Daycare: You could look into hiring a full-time nanny through the summer. This would give your child one-on-one attention.
      • Hybrid Approach: Perhaps you want to sign up for two to three weeklong summer camps, but then your parents can pitch in to help with the rest. Or maybe you just need to pay for a nanny during the time in between the camps you've signed up for, and then you and your partner can stagger vacation weeks to get you through the summer.
    • Here's how to budget:
      • Research the Price: First and foremost, you need to know how much money your childcare option will cost, including tax discount on the overall cost. Do you qualify for state-funded help with paying for your childcare?
      • Figure out How Much You'll Need to Save up: Now that you know the remaining total amount of money you'll need to save up for, you need to figure out how much money per month you have to save. Find this by dividing the total amount left that you need to save by the number of months left until payments are due.
    • After going through these steps, perhaps you've found that you are coming up a little short. In this case, you'll want to check out alternative ways to still afford the summer childcare you want and need. Using the tools and resources above, you've got the power to make this year's summer vacation the best ever!

    Additional online resources from KeyBank:

    Budgeting for Summer Childcare

    (This material is presented for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individual tax or financial advice. Please consult with legal, tax and/or financial advisors. KeyBank does not provide legal advice. KeyCorp 2017. KeyBank member FDIC.)

  • Inside Tips for Buying a Home

    Insider Tips for Buying a New Home
    • It’s homebuying season! Buying a new home can be the experience of a lifetime, and nothing compares to the thrill of finding your perfect house. But people often let their emotions lead, and sometimes impulsiveness can make buying a home a little difficult. Here are some tips to help you score your ideal new home.

    • Manage Your Credit Score
    Avoid opening new credit cards or taking out loans for three to six months before you apply for a mortgage. That includes co-signing loans for someone else. All can affect your credit score, and you don't want to raise any red flags when trying to finance your house. Request copies of your credit report to verify that there are no errors and work on paying the full balance or, at least, more than the minimum each month to help improve your credit score.

    • Know the Difference Between Pre-qualified and Pre-approved
    Pre-qualification is often the first official step in buying a new home and can sometimes be a requirement to complete before a real estate agent will agree to work with you. However, the pre-qualification number isn't a formal commitment to lend a certain amount, especially if there's no formal application. It's more of a snapshot of your finances that gives you a better idea of what kind of mortgage is within your reach. Keep in mind that the information in the pre-qualification letter will only include the information that you've shared with your lender; nonetheless, it is an important factor. It's often beneficial to use a calculator to help plan your budget and finances for your pending pre-qualification.
    Preapprovals involve a more complex than pre-qualification and are based on verified information. The lender will run a full credit and financial analysis, including work history, tax returns, debt repayment history, savings, and other assets.
    • Review Your Property Survey and Inspection
    Property surveys reveal important information about exactly how much of the yard you'll own, any improvements or changes that have been made, and potential obstacles you'll face as the owner. For instance, if you plan to build a workshop in your backyard or make other significant additions, you want to be certain where your property ends and what your rights include. Make sure that you know who owns the fencing, whether driveways are shared, and where the flood hazards are.

    When it comes to property inspections, sellers often have their homes pre-inspected in order to mitigate the risk of buyers from walking away from a deal because of an undisclosed or unknown issue, like foundation or outdated electrical. However, even when an inspection has been done by the sellers, buyers should consider hiring their own inspector to get an unbiased report. And, if you're buying new construction, getting an inspection is still important to avoid any surprises.
    Another thing to keep in mind is that with these surveys, it's common to find property encroachments. When this happens, you are aware of the encroachment and willing to assume any risk associated with it. Keep in mind that buying a home from a house flipper would almost definitely require a survey be done.
    • Visit the Home Several Times Before You Buy
    Make a point of visiting the home on several different days at varying times, so long as time allows. When it rains, look for leaks in the basement. If it's chilly, find out if there's a draft coming through the windows and walls. Stopping by in the evening may reveal that a neon sign nearby will make it impossible to sleep or that the noise from a local community center is louder than you can tolerate.

    • Meet Your Prospective Neighbors
    Chat with the folks across the street and get their take on the neighborhood. What do they like about the area? What are their gripes? Even a perfect house can become unlivable if the surrounding environment isn't very friendly.

    • Personalize Your Offer
    Buyers who include personal notes in their offers often motivate sellers to choose their bids over others. When you visit the house, look for clues about who the owners are. Then find ways to connect through shared circumstances or common interests. Perhaps you both have children or grandchildren, graduated from the same alma mater, or share a love of bird watching. Tell them what drew you to the property. Be sincere – people want to know that a buyer will love their house as much as they did, so don't be afraid to open up.
    .
    • Come Prepared With a Counteroffer
    Negotiation is par for the course when buying a new home. First, there's the initial bid and then there's the number that the seller will come back with. From here, you need to decide what your counteroffer will be. Ideally, you'll have an idea of what your counteroffer will be when you make your initial offer. That way, you can respond quickly and efficiently, something that's especially important if you're caught in a bidding war. Planning ahead is also a great way to ensure you stick to your budget.
    Be sure to work with a mortgage loan officer to build a strategy. In a hot market, you'll need to make your best offer and be prepared to keep looking if it's at the top of your budget. However, there's more negotiation in slower markets.
    In addition to the price of your counteroffer, you should also consider splitting closing costs. When you split the closing costs or take them on entirely, you may be using more money out of pocket, but you won't have to adjust your financing, and the seller will receive the price they're looking for.

    • Buy Off-season
    Housing prices are lower during winter than they are in summer, so hold off on buying until then if you can. Listings tend to be more plentiful in the warmer months – patience and diligence are key when house-hunting in winter. But you may get a better price by not competing with everyone else.

    Additional online resources from KeyBank:

    Insider Tips for Buying a New Home 

    Avoid First Time Home Buying Mistakes

    7 House Buying Tips for Saving Money

    (This material is presented for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individual tax or financial advice. Please consult with legal, tax and/or financial advisors. KeyBank does not provide legal advice. KeyCorp 2017. KeyBank member FDIC.)