Are you ready to buy?

Sure, all your friends are doing it. Geez, even your parents did it! Why can’t you? You watch HGTV. You’ve browsed Zillow.com. It’s easy. You’re ready. Let’s do this! Let’s buy a house!

Not so fast, professor.

Just because you THINK you can doesn’t mean you should. Buying your first home can be an exciting time, and it’s likely the biggest purchase you’ll ever make. Don’t jump into it without being ready and doing your homework. So, you want to buy a house? What’s the FIRST thing you should do before you even start looking? Let’s examine the important topics and questions you should ask yourself to find out if you’re ready to take the plunge into home ownership.


Examine your money situation. The single most important factor with home ownership is your budget. Having a household budget is your top priority. You need to know where you are financially to know exactly how much you can afford to spend on a new home. It’s important to have ALL your financial ducks in a row. Lenders look at your debt-to-income ratio. Generally, they want to make sure your monthly housing costs — including principal, interest, taxes, and insurance — will consume no more than one-third of your monthly gross income.

 

When you’re applying for a mortgage, what do lenders care about most?

• Income
• Down payment
• Credit score

Income. Is Your Job Secure? Financial stability is one of the biggest motivating factors when it comes to purchasing your first home. If you’ve had a stable income for two or more years, have achieved success in your career and expect more growth in your future, purchasing a home is also a wise decision.

Evaluating how long you plan to live in the house to make it financially worthwhile is wise. In overheated markets, you may have been able to flip a house for profit in less time. But with the upfront costs you’ll have to pay to buy a home, it’s smarter to put stick to the 5-to-7-year rule of thumb, especially in uncertain times. Consider any imminent life changes — such as switching careers, going back to school, or getting married — that could throw a wrench into your plan.

Does your current city feel like home? Ask yourself if you love your hometown and have no desire to live anywhere else. If you’re uncertain whether you’ll be in the same city for more than a year or two it might not be in your best interest to buy something in that market. However, if you love your city, purchasing a home there is a great idea!

Down Payment. Do you have enough money for a down payment? What is generally considered a reasonable monthly payment for a house? Your housing costs shouldn’t eat up too large of a slice of your income.

The 20%-down-payment rule of thumb is outdated. Putting that much down is excessive and unnecessary. A 10% down payment is the minimum smart buyers should aim for, but 20% is even better — and not at all excessive. That will save you the $50 to $100 per month you would otherwise pay for private mortgage insurance. It’ll also help you get a lower interest rate on your mortgage. Plus, in a slow housing market, putting down 20% will give you some equity in case you have to move sooner than expected. That equity also serves as an extra cushion of cash in an emergency.

What about closing costs? You’ll need to budget an extra 3% to 6% of the purchase price to cover costs at settlement. We all like to get paid for our work. Real estate professionals are no different. The professionals who are involved with the home purchase transaction need to be paid. These usually include the loan origination fee, any loan discounts or “points,” title insurance, attorney’s fees, property taxes as well as survey, state recording and transfer taxes, and other costs.

Credit Score. Do you know your credit score? What’s the minimum FICO credit score you need to get the best rate on a mortgage? You should be able to snag the best rates with a score of 760 or higher. Making sure your score is in good shape will not only help you get a loan, but also it could save you a lot of money. There are specific things you can do right now to affect your score in a positive way. Talk to your lender or give me a call. I’d be glad to guide you.

Home Improvement Projects. Ahh, yes! A place of your own. Home ownership will make your life so much easier. Owning a home takes a lot of time and energy. If something breaks, you must fix it, or pay someone else to fix it. You’re also responsible for upkeep, including yard work and shoveling snow (unless, of course, you buy a condominium without a yard). Will you have emergency cash if something goes wrong? You’ll need that cushion available for home-related emergencies, such as hiring the occasional plumber.

Do you get excited at the prospect of home improvement projects? One of the best parts about being a homeowner is getting to take the blank canvas of an empty house and make it your home. If you have an abundance of ideas for your future space and the energy to bring them to fruition, then you should get excited about the opportunity to own your first home. After all, home improvement only exists when you have a home of your own!

Rent vs. Purchase. Are you tired of renting? Most people start renting because they don’t have any savings, don’t have a steady job, don’t know how long they’ll be in a city, or don’t know which area they want to live in. For whatever reason they haven’t had their “moment” yet, time goes on, months to turn to years and life just gets too busy to worry about purchasing a home. If you looked back and calculated the amount of rent you had spent and put it into a mortgage calculator you would soon realize you could be sitting on thousands of dollars in equity in a home instead of just handing money over to the landlord. Living under rental conditions can be exhausting and expensive or liberating and time-freeing. Which is it for you?


Even if you can afford a house, don’t buy simply because you can. You’ve got to be prepared to live the lifestyle. Talk to friends and family about your options. Get advice from professionals. Connect with me. I am happy to help you examine your situation to see if home ownership is a wise decision for you.

 

 

Evde Hissetmek

Emily Bettenga is a freelance Media Makeup Artist based out of Minneapolis. In November, Emily took the opportunity to travel overseas with a group from her church. Discover what she learned about living a life with radical love, faith, generosity, and encouragement. Read about her nine-day journey experiencing the “radical hospitality” of the people of Turkey and the sense of feeling at home in a foreign land.


If you were to ask me where it is that I feel the most at home, I don’t think that I can honestly say that “home” for me is one specific place. There are many people and places around the world, near and far away, where I have felt at home and felt close to God. I think at the end of the day that’s really what it is for me… home is where I feel Him the most. Travel always seems to bring a microphone to His voice and a heightened awareness of the senses He’s given me, so to say that I felt at home in Turkey should be no surprise to anyone.

 

I knew before I left that going there would be an incredible experience, but to land in Istanbul and feel instant peace is a pretty indescribable feeling. It wasn’t just me who felt this way either. It was a peace felt by my entire ten-person team. Ten friends who are now family. Evde hissetmek… “to feel at home” – it’s the best way I can describe my 9-day experience.

River Valley Church located in Minneapolis, MN, is where I have been serving  and attending for the last three years. Almost every week we are sending out teams to different locations, in and out of country, and on November 13, 2017, it was my turn to board a plane and see what God had for me to learn 5,500 miles away. We were heading directly into the zero zone, meaning that there are .1% of Christians in a total of 80 million people, so we could bet that pretty much everyone we were going to encounter had not met a Christian before, or heard the truth about who Jesus is. (We had a point of contact while we were there, but for the protection of the people and organization we are associated with, I am not allowed to give their information). Everything was so divinely put together from the beginning of this adventure. I couldn’t help but step through the airplane doors with a confidence that this was going to be amazing.

I wholeheartedly believe that global trips like this should be entered into with the mindset of, “Okay God, how do you want ME to change? Show me a new perspective. Teach me what I need to learn so that I can love others better, and know your heart better than I do right now.” Yes, we were there to make an impact in any way we could and to “plant seeds” (as we call it in Christianese). At the end of the day, this trip, just like any “mission trip”, was more about God refining our hearts and showing us a deeper glimpse of who he is through the incommunicable love that he has for every person created. The world is so much bigger and more beautiful than we can comprehend. When we choose to step out of our own worldview and see other ways of how people live, you can’t help but come back with a broader understanding of who God is. Get out and see the world, people!

Jesus’ ministry was all about people, so that’s what we wanted this trip to reflect. A global experience with the focus on building relationships with locals and immerse into the culture as much as we could. Just like anywhere you are, when you understand the culture that you are in, you can better relate to the people you are trying to connect with. Turkey is filled with rich culture, history, and hospitality!

 

We got to experience so much of what makes Turkey incredible – from the AMAZING food and the Grand Bizarre to the ferries that connect Asia to Europe. We experienced everything from progressive pockets of cities that buzzed with chai houses and college students to all of the cats and dogs that roam the street. (Side note – they are so kind to animals there. Dogs and cats are wandering everywhere and they’re all spayed, neutered and taken care of by people in the city.

As an animal lover, this was incredible to see! You can check out the cat’s of Turkey documentary, “Kedi” to see what I mean!) This place is something special and joy was the main emotion we experienced while being here! This trip was a blast!

We not only traveled to Istanbul but also to the cities of Izmir and Trabzon. Eight flights in 9 days, folks! We were on the go. Everywhere we went was an opportunity to connect with people, learn about their lives and build friendships. Thank goodness for Google Translate! From planes, trains and subway rides, we seized the moments to make connections, encourage people through any means we could, even if it was just a smile and played worship music in cafes, subways, and parks. People were so open to us not only as Americans but as people. I am constantly being reminded that the human connection, especially through the Holy Spirit, is stronger than any prejudices the media, terrorism and political walls try to force upon us. We have so much more in common than you could even realize!

Being home from my trip, a common question to me has been, “what’s been the biggest impact for you”? I can without any hesitation say that the radical hospitality that the people of Turkey and our new friends showed us was unlike anything I have experienced before. They gave their time, possessions, food and love to us. Just when you think they couldn’t be more generous, they throw a birthday party for a girl on our team, or show up to the airport and skip class just to send us off. That’s the kind of person I want to be. The incredible thing is that I don’t have to be in the middle east, or far away to experience this and live it out in my life. I can extend generosity to anyone and everyone I meet. Everyday we encounter someone who needs to feel seen and loved. How many times have I missed opportunities to encourage someone, listen to their story, or learn something from others because I’m choosing to be self-focused?

I’m forever grateful for my Time in Turkey and would encourage anyone to go visit this amazing country, filled with beautiful people. The media and political sides may be putting barriers up, but let’s break those down with love, compassion, and personal connection. My prayer is that I begin to live my life with radical love, faith, generosity, and encouragement. I pray that my mindset would be one that is for people before rather than myself. Jesus lived his life in this kind of way, loving people with no conditions. I understand His character a bit more now. I will forever have a home in Turkey because God is there.


River Valley Church – Minneapolis campus currently meets at Muse Event Center in Downtown Minneapolis (107 3rd Ave N., Minneapolis, MN). Inspiring worship and teaching is a core value at River Valley. They are a multi-site church with eight locations across the Twin Cities. Although their campuses meet in different places, They are all a part of the same church community. They say it this way— “one church, multiple locations.” Service times are Sunday – 9, 10:15, 11:30 am, & 5 pm.

www.rivervalley.org/location/minneapolis


Emily Bettenga is a freelance Media Makeup Artist based out of Minneapolis. She has been in the industry since 2012 and is extremely passionate about creativity and influencing the world through beauty. She has working experience with local and national fashion designers and photographers, commercial, film, runway, bridal and special events. Whatever the job is, she puts her whole heart into it. It is her desire that anyone who sits in her chair leaves feeling happier and more beautiful inside and out!

www.ekbbeauty.com

March Giveaway

Enter to Win a $50 Gift Card to Bite Squad!

Welcome to our monthly client appreciation program! Each month we give away free tickets, passes or gift cards!  This month, one lucky winner will receive a $50 gift card to Bite Squad! ENTER TO WIN below.


Who/What is Bite Squad?

Bite Squad is the (legitimate) lovechild of 2 friends with a passion for entrepreneurship and…food! They saw a need in our hometown community of Minneapolis for an easy, fast, and affordable way to order all the wonderful cuisine around here without shuffling through a mess of menus, making endless phone calls, or trying to navigate a great restaurant’s not-so-great website. So, with years of restaurant experience under their woefully well-fitting belts, they decided to do something about it and create Bite Squad.

Bite Squad is the last place you’ll ever have to go online to order delicious cuisine for delivery or take-out. They’ve partnered with local restaurants, hand-picked their food lovin’ customer support squad, and wrangled up a fleet of environmentally friendly vehicles to get fresh food from the restaurant straight to your door, quickly and hassle free!

Learn More About Bite Squad  >>>


One winner will randomly be selected by noon on Friday, March 30th and contacted via email.

Congrats to Mary M. of Edina who was our last winner of a $50 Target gift card.

Click below to enter. Good luck!

The Top Eleven Songs of the Season

One of the great delights of my life is finding and enjoying wide varieties of lyric and melody. However, in the midst of my unquenchable hunt of the latest and great music on the market there comes a moment for an annual and welcome interruption. It’s a pause, a rest, a moment of serious thought and consideration. Put away the normal pursuit and consumption of music, industry news, artist commentary, critical reviews, etc.

At least, …for now.

It’s the morning after Thanksgiving. The family bundles up – scarves and mittens in hand. We fuel up at a local eatery. We head out on our way to seek that imperfect “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree. The family rejoices as we spot the halo-like glow beaming off the perfectly imperfect tree ahead in the distance. We rush to capture it before others might beat us to it. We found it! The Speich family Christmas tree!

As we mount the tree atop the Jeep and begin our journey back home one tradition returns. Thanksgiving is over. It’s Christmas time! And, with that, it is officially Christmas music season! We get 30 days to redirect our musical affections toward Christmas songs that directly or indirectly honor and adore Emmanuel Jesus. Yes!

What is it about Christmas music that accelerates you into the Christmas spirit? Afterall, there are only about a dozen songs that are original. Most Christmas music is a variation, cover, or rendition of a handful of songs. That’s okay. I still get excited about this annual musical pause, sort of a musical “Selah.”

Selah is thought to come from the Hebrew word salah, “to pause.” From salah comes the belief that Selah is a musical notation signifying a rest to the singers and/or instrumentalists who performed the psalms. If this is true, then each time selah appears in a psalm, the musicians paused, perhaps to take a breath or to sing a cappella or let the instruments play alone. Perhaps they were pausing to praise the One about whom the song was speaking, perhaps even lifting their hands in worship. This theory would encompass all these meanings—“praise,” “lift up,” and “pause.” Christmas music inspires the listener to pause and praise God for His mercy, power, sustaining grace, and sufficiency. Ultimately, Christmas music inspires us to praise Him for sending His son Jesus. When we enjoy music this holiday season, we should pause to carefully weigh the meaning of what we have just heard, lifting up our hearts in praise to God.

Through the years, I have found my favorites. We all have our favorites…to be sure. And, I’m certain that we all don’t agree. I decided it’s time to compile my “go-to” list of all-time christmas songs.

How did I compile this list? As you can imagine, this is a difficult task. Narrowing down the list was painful. There is such an abundance of amazing recordings. There are many genres that can, and do, fall into the “holiday music” sector. And, I suppose many of you will have your own favorites and think mine are crazy. Plus, I think a person’s music taste is allowed to evolve over time. Some of us may have even dipped into years of the ridiculous…a sort of lapse away from reasonable thinking. Can you say, Wham! Last Christmas,” or Cheetah Girls “Cheetah-licious Christmas“? Each season of life brings new favorites. I tried to avoid including brand new releases. The true “best” need to marinate and endure the test of time. They also need to have wide appeal. There are so many songs I like that lean toward obscure – even bizarre (Mistletoe Mambo). I’ve excluded those selections.

Nevertheless, here we go, my top eleven, in no particular order…


Top Eleven Christmas Songs

Be sure to click on the song name to sample the song on YouTube.

Josh GarrelsHosanna

On his 2016 holiday album, The Light Came Down, Garrels marries both for a wide sonic expanse for both original and classic Christmas songs. “Gloria” is Light’s spirited centerpiece, bolstered by choirs and brass, destined to become a crowd favorite. Classics like “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night” are given new life through Garrels’ thoughtful, beautiful arrangements. Let’s face it, The Light Came Down is awesome. But, the winning cut off this album is “Hosanna.” The piece forces you to honor Jesus – making him the focus of our affection. Be sure you turn the volume up high and prepare to worship.


Michael Bublé Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

“Your voice is like chocolate,” said one. “This song makes me happy,” said another. The song is too “poppy.” Maybe. So what? No one can deny the pipes on Mr. Buble. He is in the Sinatra league of the best crooners of all time. From the 2011 release of Christmas, this is a must have in your holiday collection and this song takes the blue ribbon, or green & red ribbon, as it were.


Vince Guaraldi TrioChristmas Time is Here

Selecting a single song from this album was tough. All are fantastic. I love “Tannebaum.” However, the winner goes to “Christmas Time is Here.” This song has two versions. The instrumental version is superior. The vocal version leans too cartoonish. One of the most groundbreaking things about the first peanuts TV special is Vince Caroli‘s dazzling score. The San Francisco pianist was a key part of the west coast cool jazz scene, and his grace for piano trio arrangements sound as hip today as they did in 1965. Throughout the album, Guaraldi captures the mixed emotions at the heart of Charles Schultz’s characters.


Jars of ClayWonderful Christmastime

Yes, we are all familiar with Paul McCartney’s version of this song. I do like that version, but the raspy, almost pubescent vocals of Dan Haseltine are so endearing. From the Christmas Songs CD came out in 2007 and I immediately loved it. I haven’t always loved everything Jars of Clay has done, but this album is really different from your standard Christmas CD. They have put a “Jars” twist on the music, and then some. The whole album has a haunting, ethereal quality to it and puts me in a very specific mood as soon as the first few seconds play. Almost all of the songs are either originals or lesser-known Christmas songs. Standout tracks: “Wonderful Christmastime” (a cover of Paul McCartney’s classic song that is actually better than the original), ” Love Came Down at Christmas,” “Evergreen” (a haunting instrumental), and an interesting cover of the classic “Christmastime is Here.” Be sure to check out the live video version of this song here as they performed at the Gospel Music Channel’s Christmas at Union Station. 


George WinstonThanksgiving

Not all great Christmas recordings are by the old crooners. On the 1981 album December, Pianist George Winston captures the stillness of snowy nights with soulful chords and chilled-out melodies. The cut that quickly presses me into the Christmas mood is “Thanksgiving.” I offer one caution, save yourself some money, don’t go see him live. He is dreadful as a live performer. He is brilliant pianist, but has no stage presence whatsoever. In a similar genre, I give honorable mention to the album Majesty and Wonder by Phil Keaggy recorded back in 1999 with the London Festival Orchestra featuring Keaggy’s incredible guitar artistry.


Amy Grant – Breath of Heaven

Amy’s second Christmas album, Home for Christmas, came out around 1992 and somehow sounds incredibly timeless even today. What makes this album so good are the song choices and the arrangements, which are at times sort of orchestral, and other times stripped down.  Standout tracks: “Breath of Heaven,” “Grown Up Christmas List,” “The Night Before Christmas,” ” Emmanuel, God with Us.” The last song, an acoustic/celtic arrangement of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” is also fantastic. Most surprising are Grant’s two contributions (cowritten with Chris Eaton and Robert Marshal, respectively,) “Breath of Heaven/Mary’s Song” and the powerful and humbling “Emmanuel, God with Us.” Exquisitely produced and arranged, Home for Christmas is a highly rewarding mainstream Christmas masterpiece without flaw or pretense.


Michael W. Smith Christmastime

Backed by the American Boy Choir, this song is magical. Christmastime, the 1998 holiday album release, Michael W. Smith plays more the role of a classic orchestral arranger in a movie soundtrack than Christian pop artist. The release’s finest moments come in more contemporary style with the Chris Rice-penned “Welcome to Our World,” Smitty’s title track, and the Phil Keaggy-enriched instrumental duet “O Christmas Tree.”


Leon Redbone & Zooey DeschanelBaby It’s Cold Outside

This is probably one of the most painfully overdone holiday remakes of all time. However, Zooey Deschanel is great in this version. The song becomes a classic with the accompaniment of the gravelly baritone, neo-vaudeville crooner Leon Redbone. If you’ve seen the movie Elf you can’t help but giggle when Buddy (Will Farrell) surprises Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) while in the employee shower. The song has a close second place with Dean Martin and Martina McBride  appearing on the album White Christmas (1998). Any list that doesn’t have Dean Martin on it is an incomplete list.


Nat “King” Cole The Christmas Song

If Christmas were a country, “The Christmas Song” would be the national anthem. When his crooning lays out the song’s vivid yuletide imagery, the hardest heart will feel a sentimental twinge. The Magic of Christmas is a 1960 album by Nat King Cole, arranged and conducted by Ralph Carmichael. This was Cole’s only full album of Christmas songs, although he had recorded several holiday singles earlier in his career. One of these, “The Christmas Song”, written by Mel Torme and originally recorded in 1946, was re-recorded for the 1961 album The Nat King Cole Story. In 1963, The Magic of Christmas was reissued under the title The Christmas Song.


Justin Bieber Under the Mistletoe

Keep in mind, I live in a household of all females. Cut me some slack. At the peak of his success as one of the top teen pop stars, Justin Bieber released a Christmas album titled “Under the Mistletoe.” It debuted at #1 on the album chart and became a smash hit. The song peaked at #2 on the adult contemporary chart, and in a rare occurrence for Christmas music, climbed into the top 40 at mainstream pop radio. Think what you want about J-Biebs, this song is catchy and fun. I have only one thing to say to you…”shotty with you.”


PentatonixLittle Drummer Boy

The a cappella vocal group Pentatonix released their version of the classic Christmas tune “Little Drummer Boy” in 2013 and it become a smash hit.  It is safe to say that Pentatonix can sound good on anything they sing. This is one of the best versions of the Christmas classic “Little Drummer Boy” that I have heard. Their beat-box backed harmonies blend fluidly making this cover true artform. “That’s Christmas to Me” is also a solid contender.


Dawn breaks on day 26 of December…pack up the holiday CD’s, the Spotify playlists, and the iTunes curations…it’s time to resume our musical journey. Good night Christmas music. We’ll see you again next year.

December Giveaway

Enter to Win a $50 Gift Card to Blue Plate Restaurants!

Welcome to our monthly client appreciation program! Each month we give away free tickets, passes or gift cards!  This month, one lucky winner will receive a $50 gift card to Blue Plate Restaurants! ENTER TO WIN below.


Who/What is Blue Plate Restaurants?

Passionate hospitality and flavors fuel Blue Plate Restaurants. The company continues to provide the Twin Cities with community-inspired, guest-intimate concepts and continually invigorate their stores to enhance the guest experience. They serve from scratch, approachable food with a twist, and offer a wide range of local high-quality craft beers, wines, and creative cocktails. They create spaces for neighbors to gather and call their own while building and sustaining their raving local fan base.

Blue Plate was formed in 1993 by David Burley and Stephanie Shimp with the opening of Highland Grill. Over the years Blue Plate has grown to include the Freehouse, the Lowry, Scusi, 3 Squares Restaurant, Longfellow Grill, Edina Grill, Groveland Tap and Blue Barn during the MN State Fair. Blue Plate is privately owned.

Learn More About Blue Plate Restaurants  >>>


One winner will randomly be selected by noon on Friday, December 22nd and contacted via email.

Congrats to Kat G. of Eden Prairie who was November’s winner of a $50 gift card to Love That Olive in Maple Grove.

Click below to enter. Good luck!