What This Military Family Faced—and Fought—To Buy Its First House

first time home buyerNatalie Johnson

First-time home buyers today face a tough road, shopping for homes during a pandemic, high housing prices, and deep economic uncertainty. For military families deployed overseas, it’s all even trickier to figure out.

In this second story in our new series “First-Time Home Buyer Confessions,” we talked with husband and wife Kyle LaVallee and Natalie Johnson. They were renting an apartment in Fayetteville, NC, when they decided to start shopping for their own home in the area in April.

At the time, LaVallee was stationed in the Middle East as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. Yet even though he was thousands of miles away, he managed to attend every home tour with Johnson via FaceTime. In July, they closed on a brick, ranch-style three-bedroom that LaVallee would not see in person until a long-awaited trip home in October.

Here’s the couple’s home-buying story, the hardest challenges they faced, and what LaVallee thought of his new house once he home managed to lay eyes on it for the first time.

Location: Fayetteville, NC

House specs: 1,166 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
List price: $111,900
Price paid: $115,000

A pandemic plus deployment seems like a tough time to buy your first house. What convinced you to forge ahead?

Johnson: Kyle was deployed in October 2019 while we were renting a one-bedroom apartment in Fayetteville. Kyle wasn’t fond of renewing the apartment lease—we had been there for two years and were running out of space. We wanted to get a dog; we wanted a yard, and our own property where we can do anything we wanted.

We started educating ourselves on the process. We knew a mortgage was going to be significantly less than what we were paying in rent. Kyle thought it would be smart to buy because [nearby] Fort Bragg is one of the biggest military bases in the world. If we ever leave or get stationed somewhere else, we’re not going to have a problem finding anyone to rent it. And we could always come back.

Kyle LaVallee and Natalie Johnson at one of their favorite hangouts in Fayetteville, where they’ve decided to put down roots

Natalie Johnson

LaVallee: I was interested in gaining equity and ownership, rather than just paying to rent something I’d never own in the end.

Johnson: We started looking at houses back in January. In April, we kept seeing information about lowering interest rates. That’s why we got serious about the process in the middle of the pandemic, and when we connected with our real estate agent, Justin Kirk with Century 21.

How much did you put down on the house—and how’d you save for it?

Johnson: We put 20% down.

LaVallee: I was making a lot of money while I was deployed, and I had no expenses really. I was just saving everything I had, knowing I wanted to invest it in a house.

Johnson: I cut spending. I didn’t buy things I wanted, just what I needed. The pandemic helped a lot, honestly because we obviously couldn’t go out.

LaVallee: We qualified for a VA loan, but we just wound up using a conventional loan. Most people in the military will use a VA loan where you don’t put any money down, but [since we had enough saved] we wanted the lowest monthly mortgage payments.

first time home buyer
LaVallee and Johnson on LaVallee’s first morning in the new house after coming home from deployment

Natalie Johnson

What were you looking for in a house?

LaVallee: We knew we might [eventually] be moving, so it wasn’t like it had to be a house we would stay in forever, more of an investment property.

Johnson: We were looking for things that would be attractive to future renters. We had a military family in mind because Fayetteville’s got more than 50,000 active-duty. We looked for a location close to a Fort Bragg entrance. We thought three bedrooms was perfect for us because our families are close with each other, so they’ll all come down at the same time so we’ll have two extra bedrooms for them. Kyle really wanted a garage, so that was a huge thing.

LaVallee: Garages aren’t very common down here, so that limited a lot of options for us. A lot of houses have carports, or they finish the garage and turn it into a bonus room.

Johnson: We wanted something that needed a bit of fixing up, because we like to be handy and put our personal touch on everything, and we ultimately knew that would be a lower-cost house.

Johnson and LaVallee’s new kitchen

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How many homes did you see in person, and how did Kyle participate from overseas?

Johnson: It was 10 or 12 homes. We were out three to four times a week looking at places with our real estate agent. We wore our masks for the tours, and I used hand sanitizer since I was opening and closing drawers and closets. Most were vacant, but we did tour one house that still had people living in it, although they were gone during the tour, so we avoided touching a lot of things.

During tours we FaceTimed Kyle in. We figured that was probably the most convenient way to do it since he could see every single house and room in detail.

The large living room in Johnson and LaVallee’s new house

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LaVallee: Well, I couldn’t really see all the details.

Johnson: He got to know our real estate agent really well via FaceTime. Our agent would say, “Let me know if you need me to hold Kyle while you go look in this room.” I felt so bad, though, because I work full time, so I’d tour homes around 5:30 in the evening, which for Kyle was 2:30 in the morning. But he stayed up for every single tour.

LaVallee: I was sometimes frustrated not being able to be there. I left it all up to her. I had to trust the feelings and vibes she got from each house.

The big backyard where Johnson and LaVallee hope a dog will someday run around

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How many offers did you make before you had one accepted?

Johnson: We put three earlier offers in.

LaVallee: They would be listed and the next day would be sold. The first three offers we put in were asking price, and I’m pretty sure everybody else offered more, and ours were never even considered.

Johnson: It was ridiculous. It was definitely a seller’s market, so you had to act really fast and you had to be really competitive. On our fourth offer, we ended up at $3,100 over asking. I felt like we had to fight for this house.

Johnson had to move into the new home without LaVallee’s help.

Natalie Johnson

Were you competing with other offers for the house you bought?

LaVallee: There were multiple offers.

Johnson: Our real estate agent told us, “You should definitely write a letter and talk about how Kyle’s gone right now and you’re first-time home buyers and this one really clicked with you,” which it did. The second I walked in, it’s this adorable brick house, it’s super homey, it has a great yard. In the letter, we just talked about how all of that was so attractive to us as first-time home buyers, and we were really excited and could see ourselves in this home.

Our real estate agent suggested going in higher than asking, so we just rounded up to $115,000. He also suggested doing a higher due diligence payment—we usually did $200, but this time around we did $500. And the earnest fee we put in was $500 or $600.

After our offer was accepted, we knew it was going to be kind of difficult with the home inspection. They were already redoing the roof, which was a huge cost on their part, so asking for more was definitely going to be a challenge. So we didn’t ask for much.

LaVallee and Johnson are happy they stuck it out in a competitive seller’s market and landed this home.

Natalie Johnson

What surprised you about the home-buying process?

Johnson: How fast it went, for me at least. Our first home tour was in April and then by June, we had found our house and the contracts were written up. I guess I was expecting it maybe to be double the time that it actually was, but houses were just turning over so fast, we had to act fast.

LaVallee: From my side, I thought it happened very slowly! I felt like so much was happening in between each step in the process. I had to be patient because I had so little control of the situation, other than just trying to stay involved and be a part of it.

Johnson: You never really think that when you’re married, you’re going to buy your first house while your husband is on the other side of the world. But we got through it.

Johnson and LaVallee (pictured on the right) on the day LaVallee returned from deployment

Natalie Johnson

So Natalie, you were living in the house for a few months before Kyle returned from deployment in October to see it. What was that homecoming like?

Johnson: He came home a few days shy of the 365-day mark. We were anxious and excited. Several other families and I waited outside of a hangar on base, and soon after hearing their plane landing, we saw the group walking toward us and everyone start cheering and crying.

Because it was dark when we got home, Kyle couldn’t see the outside of the house much, or the “Welcome Home” decorations I hung up! But the moment he set foot in the front door, he just stood there and looked around with the biggest smile on his face.

I gave him the grand tour the next morning. He said it looked much bigger than what he saw on FaceTime. We celebrated with a home-cooked meal and the wine our agent gave us when we closed. It was really special.

LaVallee: I came home to a nice house. Natalie was worried I would come back to culture shock. But I’ve felt at home ever since I’ve been here.

Johnson decorated the house for LaVallee’s return from deployment.

Natalie Johnson

first time home buyer
After LaVallee came home, the two finally got to toast their first home with a bottle of wine, courtesy of their real estate agent.

Natalie Johnson

What’s your advice for aspiring first-time home buyers?

Johnson: I would say to go with your gut. Some of the houses you’ll tour are really logical to buy, but if they have a bad vibe or they’re just not really welcoming, then look at others. A healthy balance between logic and feeling is important.

LaVallee: We didn’t even know what we wanted until we saw five or six houses, so it’s definitely important to shop around and see what’s out there.

Johnson: We really didn’t know much. I told our real estate agent, “Hey, listen, we’re really going to need some guidance. We don’t know what things mean, we need you to break it down for us. You have to be patient with us.” I reached out to three different real estate agents, and Justin was the one who not only answered all my questions but was giving a ton of positive feedback. It was nice to have that encouragement, and it definitely made us more confident. You learn a lot by looking at houses, you learn a ton about yourself.

Johnson and LaVallee met in elementary school.

Natalie Johnson

The post What This Military Family Faced—and Fought—To Buy Its First House appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

How to Change the Executor of a Will

A last will and testamentDrafting a last will and testament can help to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. You can also use your will to name a legal guardian for minor children or choose an executor for your estate. It’s possible to make changes to your will after it’s written, including removing or adding an executor if necessary. If you’re wondering how to change the executor of a will after the fact, the process is easier than you might think. As you go about the process, it may behoove you to find a trusted financial advisor in your area for hands-on guidance.

Executor of a Will, Explained

The executor of a will is the person responsible for carrying out the terms of a will. When you name someone as executor, you’re giving him or her authority to handle certain tasks related to the distribution of your estate.

Generally, an executor can be any person you name. For example, that might include siblings, your spouse, adult children or your estate planning attorney. Minor children can’t serve as executors and some states prohibit convicted felons from doing so as well.

There’s no rule preventing a beneficiary of a will from also serving as executor. While beneficiaries can’t witness a will in which they have a direct interest, they can be charged with executing the terms of the will once you pass away.

What Does the Executor of a Will Do?

Being executor to a will means there are certain duties you’re obligated to carry out. Those include:

  • Obtaining death certificates after the will-maker passes away
  • Initiating the probate process
  • Creating an inventory of the will-maker’s assets
  • Notifying the will-maker’s creditors of the death
  • Paying off any outstanding debts owed by the will-maker
  • Closing bank accounts if necessary
  • Reading the will to the deceased person’s heirs
  • Distributing assets to the persons named in the will

Executors can’t change the terms of the will; they can only see that its terms are carried out. An executor can collect a fee for their services, which is typically a percentage of the value of the estate they’re finalizing.

Reasons to Change the Executor of a Will

While you may draft a will assuming that your choice of executor won’t change, there are different reasons why making a switch may be necessary. For example, you may need to choose a new executor if:

  • Your original executor passes away or becomes seriously ill and can’t fulfill his or her duties
  • You named your spouse as executor but you’ve since gotten a divorce
  • The person you originally named decides he or she no longer wants the responsibility
  • You’ve had a personal falling out with your executor
  • You believe that a different person is better equipped to execute your will

You don’t need to provide a specific reason to change the executor of a will. Once you’re ready to do so there are two options to choose from: add a codicil to an existing will or draft a brand-new will.

Using a Codicil 
to Change the Executor of a Will

Woman changes her will

A codicil is a written amendment that you can use to change the terms of your will without having to write a new one. Codicils can be used to change the executor of a will or revise any other terms as needed. If you want to change your will’s executor using a codicil, the first step is choosing a new executor. Remember, this can be almost anyone who’s an adult of sound mind, excluding felons.

Next, you’d write the codicil. In it, you’d specify the changes you’re making to your will (i.e. naming a new executor), the name of the person who should serve as executor going forward and the date the change should take effect. You’d also need to validate the codicil the same way you did your original will.

This means signing and dating the codicil in the presence of at least two witnesses. Witnesses must be legal adults of sound mind and they can’t have an interest in the will. So, a beneficiary to the will couldn’t witness your codicil but a neighbor or coworker could if they don’t stand to benefit from the will directly or indirectly.

Once the codicil is completed and signed by yourself and the witnesses, you can attach it to your existing will. It’s helpful to keep a copy of your will and the codicil in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box. You may also want to give a copy to your estate planning attorney if you have one.

Writing a New Will to 
Change the Executor of a Will

If you need to change more than just the executor of your will, you might consider drafting a new will document. The process for drafting a new will is similar to the one you followed for making your original one.

You’d need to specify who your beneficiaries will be, how you want your assets to be distributed and who should serve as executor. The new will would also need to be signed and properly witnessed.

But you’d have to take the added step of destroying all copies of the original will. This is necessary to avoid confusion and potential challenges to the terms of the will after you pass away. If you’re not sure how to draft a new will to replace an existing one, you may want to talk to an estate planning attorney to make sure you’re doing so legally.

What Happens If You Don’t Name an Executor?

Probate court hearing form

If, for any reason, you choose not to name an executor in your will the probate court can assign one. After you pass away, eligible persons can apply to become the executor of your estate. The person the court chooses would then be able to carry out the terms of your will. If you don’t have a will at all, then your assets would be distributed according to your state’s inheritance laws.

That’s why it’s important to take the time to at least write a simple will. This way, there’s no question of your estate being divided among your heirs the way that you want it to be.

The Bottom Line

Making a will can be a good starting point for shaping your estate plan. Naming an executor means you don’t have to rely on the probate court to do it. But if you need to change the executor of your will later, it’s possible to do so with minimal headaches.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about creating an estate plan and what you might need. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with an advisor in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized recommendations online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • A will is just one document you may need as part of your estate plan. You may also consider setting up a trust, for example, if you have extensive assets or own a business. Life insurance is something you may also need to have, along with an advance health care directive and/or power of attorney.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/eric1513, ©iStock.com/kate_sept2004, ©iStock.com/courtneyk

The post How to Change the Executor of a Will appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

Who Can and Cannot Witness a Will?

A will is notarized

A will is an important part of your financial plan. When you create a will and testament, you’re creating a legal document that determines how your assets will be distributed once you pass away. You can also use a will to name legal guardians for minor children. When making a will and testament, it’s important to follow the rules in your state to ensure the will is valid. One of those rules centers on the requirements for witnesses. For more guidance on the intricacies of wills and estate planning, consider enlisting the services of an expert financial advisor.

Why Wills Need to Be Witnessed

A will is a legal document but in order for it to be binding, there are certain requirements that need to be met. For instance, although state laws regarding wills vary, states generally require you to be of legal adult age to make a will. You must also have testamentary capacity, meaning you:

  • Must understand the extent and value of the property you’re including in the will
  • Are aware that you’re making a will to decide who will inherit your assets
  • Aren’t acting under duress in making the will

Having someone witness your will matters in case questions are raised over its validity later or there is a will contest. For example, if one of your heirs challenges the terms of your will a witness may be called upon in court to attest that they watched you sign the will and that you appeared to be of sound mind when you did so.

In other words, witnesses add another layer of validity to a will. If all the people who witnessed the signing of a will are in agreement about your intent and mental state when you made it, then it becomes harder for someone else to dispute its legality.

Who Can Witness a Will?

When drafting a will, it’s important to understand several requirements, including who can serve as a witness. Generally, anyone can witness a will as long as they meet two requirements:

  • They’re of legal adult age (i.e. 18 or 19 in certain states)
  • They don’t have a direct interest in the will

The kinds of people who could witness a will for you include:

  • Friends who are not set to receive anything from your estate
  • Neighbors
  • Coworkers
  • Relatives who are not included in your will, such as cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.
  • Your doctor

If you’ve hired an attorney to help you draft your will, they could also act as a witness as long as they’re not named as a beneficiary. An attorney who’s also acting as the executor of the will, meaning the person who oversees the process of distributing your assets and paying off any outstanding debts owed by your estate, can witness a will.

Who Cannot Witness a Will?

Two minors looking out a windowStates generally prohibit you from choosing people who stand to benefit from your will as witnesses. So for example, if you’re drafting a will that leaves assets to your spouse, children, siblings or parents, none of them would be able to witness the will’s signing since they all have an interest in the will’s terms. Will-making rules can also exclude relatives or spouses of any of your beneficiaries. For instance, say you plan to leave money in your will to your sister and her husband with the sister being the executor. Your sister can’t be a witness to the will since she’s a direct beneficiary. And since her husband has an indirect interest in the terms of the will through her, he wouldn’t qualify as a witness either.

But married couples can witness a will together, as long as they don’t have an interest in it. So, you could ask the couple that lives next door to you or a couple you know at work to act as witnesses to your will.

You may also run into challenges if you’re asking someone who has a mental impairment or a visual impairment to witness your will. State will laws generally require that the persons witnessing a will be able to see the document clearly and have the mental capacity to understand what their responsibilities are as a witness.

Note that the witnesses don’t need to read the entire will document to sign it. But they do need to be able to verify that the document exists, that you’ve signed it in their presence and that they’ve signed it in front of you.

How to Choose Witnesses for a Will

If you’re in the process of drafting a will, it’s important to give some thought to who you’ll ask to witness it. It may help to make two lists: one of the potential candidates who can witness a will and another of the people who cannot act as witnesses because they have an interest in the will.

You should have at least two people who are willing to witness your will signing. This is the minimum number of witnesses required by state will-making laws. Generally, the people you choose should be:

  • Responsible and trustworthy
  • Age 18 or older
  • Younger than you (to avoid challenges presented if a witness passes away)
  • Free of any interest in the will, either directly or indirectly
  • Willing to testify to the will’s validity if it’s ever challenged

When it’s time to sign the will, you’ll need to bring both of your witnesses together at the same time. You’ll need to sign, initial and date the will in ink, then have your witnesses do the same. You may also choose to attach a self-proving affidavit or have the will notarized in front of the witnesses.

A self-proving affidavit is a statement that attests to the validity of the will. If you include this statement, then you and your witnesses must sign and date it as well. Once the will is signed and deemed valid, store it in a secure place, such as a safe deposit box. You may also want to make a copy for your attorney to keep in case the original will is damaged or destroyed.

The Bottom Line

A last will and testamentMaking a will can be a fairly simple task if you don’t have a complicated estate; it can even be done online in some situations. If you have significant assets to distribute to your beneficiaries or you need to make arrangements for the care of minor children, talking with an estate planning attorney can help you shape your will accordingly. Choosing witnesses to your will is the final piece of the puzzle in ensuring that it’s signed and legally valid.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about will-making, trusts and how to create a financial legacy for your loved ones. If you don’t have a financial advisor, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with professional advisors in your local area in just a few minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • A will is just one document you can include in your estate plan. You may also opt to establish a living trust to manage assets on behalf of your beneficiaries, set up a durable power of attorney and create an advance healthcare directive. A trust can help you avoid probate while potentially minimizing estate taxes.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/djedzura, ©iStock.com/SanyaSM, ©iStock.com/Spanic

The post Who Can and Cannot Witness a Will? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

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