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10 DIY Home Hacks Every 30-Something Should Know



In your 30s? It’s time to master these common at-home DIY tricks.

Dear 30-somethings: It’s time to bone up on some common DIY home hacks.

Whether you rent or own, these supersimple solutions to common at-home fixes will become your go-to cheat sheet to help you save time — and money.

(One more thing: Once your projects are done? Clean up the mess!)

1. Fill old picture holes

From dents and cracks to nail holes, most cosmetic wall imperfections (2 inches or smaller) can be tackled with spackle.

Use a fine-grit sandpaper or a sanding block to smooth out the edges of the imperfection. Brush away any dust or debris and then use a putty knife to spread the spackle paste into and over the imperfection in one clean swipe. Remove excess spackle from around the blemish using a damp cloth, then allow the spackle to dry completely. Afterward, go back in with your fine-grit sandpaper to lightly sand the area so that it’s level with its surroundings, then repaint as needed.

The (really) quick-fix route? If your walls are white, a squirt of toothpaste or a smear of Ivory bar soap can work for the short term.

2. Hang photos (and hooks) without damaging walls

Skip hammers and nails in favor of wall-mount strips that won’t leave your walls looking like Swiss cheese.

3M’s line of Command adhesives, for example, maintains the integrity of walls with sticky-backed strips that support posters and framed artwork, while the line’s handy hooks hold handbags, keys, kitchen utensils and towels, jewelry, holiday decorations — the sky’s the limit. Proper prep work pays off here; mind the instructions and weight limits on the packaging before you start sticking.

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The 6 Stages of Flipping a Home

 

How HGTV's Christina and Tarek El Moussa go from finding a diamond in the rough to rehab to sale.

When we look for a flip house for our real estate investing business, Tarek and Ibasically go through the same thought process that anyone goes through when they buy an investment property.
Even though we’re working on a shorter timeline than most homeowners, the journey is essentially the same.
Understanding our thoughts as we go through each step of the process might give you a clearer road map for your own fixer-upper journey, or it might inspire you to test the waters of real estate investing yourself.

Finding a great deal on a property

If you’re looking for a really great deal on a fixer-upper house, you’re going to be searching for a diamond in the rough, and that’s exactly what we do.
We drive around the neighborhoods where we’re most likely to find great flip houses. We search through the MLS. We take a look at listing sites like Zillow.
We basically search high and low, and as we find potential deals, we start doing research on them, just like you would with your home purchase.
There’s something really special about finding a truly great house-flipping opportunity, and it always gets me a bit excited and a touch nervous at the same time.
I don’t want to fall in love with a house before the seller accepts the offer. Yet, at the same time, I can’t help but think about how we’ll be helping someone get out from under a financial burden, and then benefiting the whole neighborhood with quality rehab work.

The rush when a seller accepts your offer

After we find a house that has the potential to be a really fabulous flip property, we make the offer and hold our breath.
When the seller accepts the offer, I get a real rush! I immediately start thinking about when we can get inside, look at what the house needs, and get to work.
Before long, I have visions of beautiful design work floating through my head. In some ways, this is my favorite part of flipping a house, because it seems like the sky is the limit.


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Focus On These 5 Features To Sell Your House Faster

 

From kitchen updates to backyard decks, these are the features to consider if you’re hoping to sell to a first-time homebuyer.

If you own a midsized home (especially in a hot suburban real estate market like Cary, NC, or Chesapeake, VA), you may be selling to a younger demographic. Millennials have begun entering the home-buying market and, according to a Trulia survey, are specifically interested in homes between 2,000 and 2,600 square feet. If your house already includes these five features, you’re in luck: Your house has the amenities this group will be looking for by 2018, when 72% of people between the ages of 18 and 34 plan to buy a home. Read on to learn which features will help you sell your home fast, and how you can renovate your home now to be ready to sell in a few short years.

From kitchen updates to backyard decks, these are the features to consider if you’re hoping to sell to a first-time homebuyer.

If you own a midsized home (especially in a hot suburban real estate market like Cary, NC, or Chesapeake, VA), you may be selling to a younger demographic. Millennials have begun entering the home-buying market and, according to a Trulia survey, are specifically interested in homes between 2,000 and 2,600 square feet. If your house already includes these five features, you’re in luck: Your house has the amenities this group will be looking for by 2018, when 72% of people between the ages of 18 and 34 plan to buy a home. Read on to learn which features will help you sell your home fast, and how you can renovate your home now to be ready to sell in a few short years.


Water Safety for Your Dog's Days of Summer

 

Just because we do the 'dog paddle' doesn't mean your furry friend can swim.

With record high temperatures all over the country this summer, people are trying everything to keep cool.

Whether your water activities are focused on backyard pool barbecues, picnics on the beach, or time spent on a boat, chances are that the family dog will be included in many of these activities. Needless to say, it’s really important to keep your canine companion safe around water.

There is a common misconception that because there is a swimming style called the ‘dog paddle,’ that all dogs are strong swimmers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sink or swim?

Your dog’s aquatic abilities will largely depend on its body structure. Breeds that are long-limbed, muscular, and strong — like golden retrievers, Labradors, Newfoundlands, standard poodles, water spaniels, English and Irish setters, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, and Portuguese water dogs — are good swimmers and also known to enjoy water.

On the other hand, short, stocky breeds, such as bulldogs and pugs, and pooches with short little legs, like dachshunds and basset hounds, are going to struggle to stay afloat.

Troubled waters

It’s equally important to remember that just like children, some dogs are scared of water. Know your dog’s level of comfort in water.

If she has never been in water before, it’s a good idea to slowly introduce her to a swimming pool and ensure that she knows where the steps are in the shallow end so she can learn to exit on her own. A ramp, such as the Scamper Ramp, placed permanently in a pool will give dogs a chance to get out themselves or stay safer until someone assists.

Dogs should never be left unattended poolside. This is particularly important around pools that are above ground and not easy for a dog to exit unassisted.

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7 Best Things About Buying A House In The Fall

fall real estate

The summertime real estate season is as hot as the weather, but you might want to postpone your purchase until fall.

For the first time in recent history, October surpassed June as the most popular month to get married. And these autumn-loving brides may be on to something: Although the spring months are notoriously the best time to buy real estate (as well as have a wedding), fall may be the new ideal season to buy a home.

Hear us out: One obvious reason is that it’s easier to get from open house to open house without questioning if you’ll need an AC repair ASAP upon moving into that home for sale in Phoenix, AZ. Also, families on a mission to move into a new home before school starts are out of the picture. Besides these two more obvious reasons, here are seven expert insights on why you should consider a fall real estate purchase.

1. There’s less competition

Competition for houses drops off in the fall, a time many people consider to be off-season in real estate. But there are still homes for sale — and in some cases, there’s just as much inventory as there was during the spring and summer. “[Fall] means new inventory and repositioned old inventory that did not sell in the prime season,” says Wesley Stanton, a New York, NY, agent with The Stanton Hoch Team.

This puts you in a great position to negotiate. “Fall homebuyers should consider [making] lowball offers, followed by more aggressive negotiation,” says Brian Davis, a real estate investor and director of education at Spark Rental. Davis points out that many sellers are very motivated to sell before the holidays. If possible, buyers should let these sellers know that they can close before Thanksgiving or before the school winter break.

2. Sellers are worn-out

Some sellers who put their homes on the market during the prime selling times of spring and summer might have been a tad overconfident by listing their homes for more than buyers were willing to spend. After months of no action, these sellers are often ready to make a deal. “Sellers who were unrealistic earlier in the year about price will now be more willing to reduce the price come fall,” says Thomas Miller, a Washington, DC, real estate agent. “Because there [are fewer buyers] and because the sellers are now eager to sell, they are more inclined to take the low offer than wait another six months for spring to come around.”

3. Sellers are serious

Not all homes on the market in fall are summer leftovers. Some people need to sell in the fall because the timing is right. Maybe they were having a home built, and it’s now ready. Maybe they need to move because of a job. “The sellers with houses on the market in the fall tend to be serious,” says Sam Heskel, president of Nadlan Valuation, an appraisal management company in Brooklyn, NY. “That means sellers could be more open to negotiating and accepting a lower offer.”

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Is It Too Late to Get In on the Summer 2016 Refi Boom?

 

Reports of job creation seem like good news for the U.S. economy, but they could be trouble for mortgage seekers.

Good economic news isn’t always good for mortgage rates. A stark reminder of this came Friday, August 5 when new data showed that the U.S. economy added 255,000 non-farm jobs in July, blowing out consensus forecasts of just 180,000, and immediately sending rates higher.

Does this mean your 2016 refi window has closed? Let’s take a closer look.

Rate Markets 101

Before we examine where rates may go from here, let’s recap how rate markets work.

Individual mortgages are packaged into mortgage bonds (also known as mortgage backed securities or MBS), and these bonds impact rates on a daily basis. Bonds offer a rate of return to investors each year — kind of like a stock that pays a dividend — and that rate moves inverse to a bond price as bonds trade daily.

So when bonds sell on positive economic news, bond prices drop and rates rise, and the opposite is also true: When bonds rally on negative economic news, bond prices rise and rates drop.

This is why rates rose after the blowout jobs report on August 5.

Rate outlook for fall 2016

But this doesn’t mean that your refinance opportunities are over. Rate markets are volatile, and throughout 2016, we’ve seen refinance opportunities rise during periods of economic uncertainty.

In January and February, U.S. mortgage rates dropped to their lowest level in three years because of persistent worries about economic instability outside the United States.

Then after rising slightly until late June, rates dropped again when the U.K. voted to exit the European Union, confirming worries about non-U.S. economic instability.

Rates stayed low until rising after the August 5 jobs report, and are now actually recovering slightly this week.

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8 Ways To Create A “Drop Zone” In A Small Space

A fully functional entryway is within reach; no moving trucks required.

For those of us who live in shoe box–like spaces, our routine upon coming home goes something like this: Drop all your stuff on the first available surface you happen upon. As a result, countertops are buried by heaps of mail, halls are littered with an obstacle course of shoes, chairs are hidden underneath jackets, and your keys … well, who knows where those are? The struggle is real when there is little space available in a studio apartment in Philadelphia, PA, or Washington, DC.

While dumping everything at the end of a long day is undoubtedly convenient, it makes your place feel (and look) smaller and can cause stress. “Clutter, as the result of badly managed storage, causes ‘visual chaos’ in smaller spaces and can upstage everything else,” says Heather Higgins, a 

New York, NY–based designer who specializes in small spaces. A mudroom would solve all your problems, but who has the space? Surprisingly, you do. Here are the expert-approved solutions to get organized and bring more storage to even the most cramped entryway.

Address your needs

Some of us are the type who can handle open storage, while others know they’d turn cubbies into a cluttered mess within days. Understanding your habits is key,” says Jaclyn Isaac, interior designer and the blogger behind Dog Lady Design Files. “Are you a hanger or a draper? Are you looking for a hook or somewhere to drop a purse and shoes?” Habits are hard to break, so don’t set yourself up for failure with organization systems that you won’t use.

Carve out a nook

For studios, wonky layouts, and tiny homes, a minimalist setup can make a surprisingly big difference. “All you really need are two things: hooks and a shelf! Anyone can carve this out of nearly any space available,” Isaac says. Use the hooks for hanging bags and coats, then add a few slim bins to the shelf to temporarily house mail. Bonus: Both of these solutions can be easily removed once your lease is up.

Fake a closet

Even if your place is closet-challenged, there are solutions for stowing away those extra coats and accessories. Isaac recommends the clever IKEA Trones system, a slim wall-mounted cabinet that opens up to fit everything from shoes to scarves. Got a little more space in the hall? Take a cue from Madeline Fraser, CMO and co-founder of the design app Homee, and add a hanging rack to display your favorite items. “In my last apartment, I created a gorgeous hanging rack out of galvanized pipe pieces. It was easy to make, took up minimal space, and gave the space a very cozy feeling.”

Bring out the baskets

A roomy basket or bin placed within fling-your-shoes distance from the door is the easiest way to keep an entryway clear. But while you’re using up that floor space with the basket, you might as well use the space above to double the function of this area. The easy, no-holes-in-the-walls solution? Tuck the bin under a slim console table like this one from CB2.

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3 Reasons to Live in a New Home Before Renovating

 

Ready to knock down walls ASAP? You might want to hold off until you've settled in.

In today’s market, many buyers forego fixer-uppers for move-in ready homes. As a result, significant opportunities abound in prime locations as homes that need work linger on the market.

In competitive markets, savvy consumers gravitate toward these homes that nobody else wants. Why? They can customize the home to their requirements, and build some equity along the way.

That said, I often recommend that buyers live in a new home for a while before undertaking any major remodeling or pricey home improvements. I’m not talking about lighting or plumbing repairs necessary to make the house habitable. Rather, I’m referring to discretionary remodeling, expansions, and other improvement projects.

Here are three good reasons to at least consider holding off on the big home improvement projects until you’ve had some time to settle in.

1. Living in the home can change your mind

You may have grand visions for what you’d like to do to a home, based on its condition and your priorities at the time you buy it. But until you’re actually living there, it’s difficult to know exactly how you’ll use the house, what will work for you and what won’t.

Ultimately, it’s this day-to-day experience that will inform your home improvement decisions, instead of early notions of how you want your everyday experience to be.

2. After buying a home, you deserve a break

Buying a home is a massive project, an enormous change in your life, and a shock to the system — if not your finances. I’ve seen buyers jump through hoops, spending months on end looking for a home. In some situations, it becomes a part-time job.

A home renovation can be yet another big and stressful project, what with all the decisions to make and contractors with whom you’ll deal.

My recommendation: Take a break from the stress of buying your new home.

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5 Ways A Hot Market Hurts Sellers



When homes are selling like hotcakes, there can still be some sticky real estate situations to wade through.

A hot real estate market can seem like the answer to your prayers if you’re ready to sell. And in many parts of the country, homes are selling at a faster rate in 2016 than in 2015, says Ralph McLaughlin, Trulia’s Housing Economist.

To prepare your home for sale in a competitive market, it’s important to understand the definition of a “hot market.” “We define a ‘hot market’ as one where most homes sell faster than two months,” says McLaughlin. Inventory is a major factor in creating hot markets: Where there are fewer homes on the market, the demand rises, and homes typically stay on the market for a shorter amount of time. For example, Colorado Springs, CO, has experienced a large drop in available homes for sale in 2016, coupled with a faster turnaround in homes for sale, making the market extremely competitive.

Yes, it’s great to own a home in a seller’s market, but don’t jump for joy just yet. There are also some potential downsides you’ll need to consider before listing your home for sale. Here are five scenarios in which a seller’s market can actually be problematic for sellers: Heed the following tips to help ease the burden.


1. From “For Sale” to “Sold”

In a hot market, it’s possible for your house to sell superfast — even while you’re still hunting for your new house. Unless you plan to become an RV enthusiast and roam the country, you’ll probably need to buy another house. Sure, some savvy sellers find the house they want before they list their current house for sale. But if you’re buying in a seller’s market, you’ll be competing with all those other buys when you’re hunting for your next home.

“I always advise my sellers-turned-buyers to have a backup plan, such as temporary housing,” says Christine Lutz, a Chicago, IL, real estate broker. “It’s better to move twice than to feel rushed into a purchase.” Another option is to consider a lease-back, says Gary Wheeler, a California real estate agent with Willis Allen. Your buyers will need to agree to this plan, but if they do, you can rent your house back from the new owners during the lease-back period while you continue to look for another home.

2. The appraisal falls short

Your hot market is so blazing hot that people are offering more than asking price. Ka-ching? Perhaps. But brace yourself: If the house appraises low, “The buyer may walk away,” says Kelly Hager, a Missouri real estate agent. In this case, you can try renegotiating the deal or pay for a second appraisal.

3. Bad offers all around

During a buying frenzy, some buyers make promises they can’t keep. “By not vetting offers, sellers may sit in a contract just to have it terminate three weeks later,” says Sarah Bowles, a Denver, CO, real estate agent. Then, when buyers see that your house has been sitting for several weeks in a hot market, they wonder what’s wrong with the house. Avoid this problem by ignoring all offers that don’t come with a mortgage preapproval.


3 Reasons Your New-Construction Home Should Come With A Warranty

 

New-construction homes could have plenty of problems, enough to make a home warranty worthwhile.

The first thing my real estate agent impressed on me regarding my new-construction home in Atlanta, GA, was to hire an inspector to come back at various stages of construction to review the progress. But just as important as those periodic inspections is getting a builder’s warranty for your new home. My builder offers five-year or 20-year warranties that cover workmanship, garage doors, heating and air, plumbing and electrical, light fixtures, roofing, structural elements, and more. That’s enough coverage for me. But if I decide I want more coverage, such as for appliances or the garbage disposal, I can buy my own additional warranty closer to move-in time — and I just might! Here are three reasons why all new-home construction should come with a warranty.


1. Home warranties protect against a variety of problems

Your new home passed inspection and was deemed fit to live in, but that doesn’t mean you won’t experience any problems. Shamanda Burston, a North Carolina agent, lists five typical problems that arise from new-home construction, all of which a warranty could cover: floor creaks due to structural components, cracks in fixtures, problems with pipes or septic and electrical systems, defective materials (such as the seals on windows), and landscaping issues. “Purchasing a home warranty for a new-home construction provides added financial protection and peace of mind,” Burston says.

2. Problems aren’t always visible when you first move in

When you’ve lived with something (or someone!) for a while, it’s natural to notice things that weren’t apparent at first glance. It’s only after driving a car over time that you notice those unsettling sounds when you brake, or that the love of your life regularly hits the grocery store express lane with more than 10 items. (How rude!) The same goes for new construction.

“Often, structural issues don’t become apparent until after the work has been completed and the house has been lived in for a while,” says Max Robinson of KBHomeSpecialists. And if you do notice later that something’s amiss, you’ll be hard-pressed to get the builder to do anything … unless you have a warranty. “If you have a home warranty, the builders would be required to return and finish their work or provide the homebuyer with a refund for the work that they carried out,” Robinson says.

Of course, you’ll need to read your warranty agreement to determine just what the builder’s obligations are, what your maintenance responsibilities entail, and what the warranty covers. Liane Jamason, a St. Petersburg, FL, agent, points out that a builder’s warranty might not cover everything (a pool is a common exception), so you may have to buy a separate warranty in addition to the builder’s warranty if you’re looking for complete coverage. Appliances, which may have their own one-year warranty, often aren’t covered either, Jamason adds.

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Getting and Staying Organized Through the Summer

 

Between vacations, BBQs, and pool parties, we can lose track of routines, projects and "stuff."

Sometime about now in mid-summer we begin asking ourselves, “Why do things seem to be out of control? I planned on organizing my photos, painting that cute dresser I picked up at the yard sale last fall, and waking up without an alarm clock on Fridays. None of it has happened!”

This scenario is all too common — and yet there is good news. It’s never too late to get and stay organized for the remainder of the summer.

People tend to get busy with outdoor activities and become distracted by vacations, plus household schedules and routines tend to be different than during the school year. The most common areas that seem to spiral out of control are:

  • Summer clutter
  • Project procrastination
  • Sleep routines

Here are my tips for getting and staying organized through the summer.

Summer clutter

We’re conditioned to create traditions and rituals. We buy new outdoor furniture and decorations for our backyard barbecue, and bring friends and family together for camping trips chock full of new-fangled gadgets and equipment. We have family reunions and summer vacations.

We’re used to buying, creating, and preparing for events — yet we don’t really have a method or system to deal with the aftermath.

It may be time to say goodbye to the stuff we buy “on the fly,” like walkie talkies for playful banter on road trips, floaties for the swimming pool,  collapsible picnic tables for the beach, croquet sets for the backyard, and rain ponchos for the fast-moving and sudden rainstorm.

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3 Reasons Your New-Construction Home Should Come With A Warranty

 

New-construction homes could have plenty of problems, enough to make a home warranty worthwhile.

The first thing my real estate agent impressed on me regarding my new-construction home in Atlanta, GA, was to hire an inspector to come back at various stages of construction to review the progress. But just as important as those periodic inspections is getting a builder’s warranty for your new home. My builder offers five-year or 20-year warranties that cover workmanship, garage doors, heating and air, plumbing and electrical, light fixtures, roofing, structural elements, and more. That’s enough coverage for me. But if I decide I want more coverage, such as for appliances or the garbage disposal, I can buy my own additional warranty closer to move-in time — and I just might! Here are three reasons why all new-home construction should come with a warranty.


1. Home warranties protect against a variety of problems

Your new home passed inspection and was deemed fit to live in, but that doesn’t mean you won’t experience any problems. Shamanda Burston, a North Carolina agent, lists five typical problems that arise from new-home construction, all of which a warranty could cover: floor creaks due to structural components, cracks in fixtures, problems with pipes or septic and electrical systems, defective materials (such as the seals on windows), and landscaping issues. “Purchasing a home warranty for a new-home construction provides added financial protection and peace of mind,” Burston says.

2. Problems aren’t always visible when you first move in

When you’ve lived with something (or someone!) for a while, it’s natural to notice things that weren’t apparent at first glance. It’s only after driving a car over time that you notice those unsettling sounds when you brake, or that the love of your life regularly hits the grocery store express lane with more than 10 items. (How rude!) The same goes for new construction.

“Often, structural issues don’t become apparent until after the work has been completed and the house has been lived in for a while,” says Max Robinson of KBHomeSpecialists. And if you do notice later that something’s amiss, you’ll be hard-pressed to get the builder to do anything … unless you have a warranty. “If you have a home warranty, the builders would be required to return and finish their work or provide the homebuyer with a refund for the work that they carried out,” Robinson says.

Of course, you’ll need to read your warranty agreement to determine just what the builder’s obligations are, what your maintenance responsibilities entail, and what the warranty covers. Liane Jamason, a St. Petersburg, FL, agent, points out that a builder’s warranty might not cover everything (a pool is a common exception), so you may have to buy a separate warranty in addition to the builder’s warranty if you’re looking for complete coverage. Appliances, which may have their own one-year warranty, often aren’t covered either, Jamason adds.

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How to Pack and Organize a Storage Unit

 

Expert tips to keep your precious possessions in tip-top shape while stashed away.

If you’ve rented a storage unit, there’s a good reason for it. Maybe you’re in the process of moving house or renovating your home and need a safe place to store your belongings for the time being.

Perhaps you’re going to a different state or country for a few years and need a suitable storage option for your things in the meantime.

Then again, you may need extra storage space simply because your current home cannot accommodate all your stuff.

Whatever the reason, if you’re willing to pay for a storage unit, then the items you intend to put in it most certainly have high practical, monetary, or sentimental value and you don’t want to lose them.

To make sure your stored belongings will remain in excellent condition, you need to pack them as safely and efficiently as possible.

How to pack items for storage

Here are some practical packing tips to consider when packing for storage:

  • Separate your items by category (such as old books, kids’ stuff, keepsakes, and items you may need to access soon), and try to pack them together.
  • Make a detailed inventory of all the items you’re going to put into storage to keep better track of your belongings. Your inventory will come in handy if you need to file an insurance claim due to a natural disaster or some other accident at your storage facility.
  • Use proper packing materials: clean and sturdy cardboard boxes, plastic containers, quality wrapping and cushioning materials, sealing tape and labels, and furniture blankets. Avoid packing your items in plastic bags, which increase the risk of mold developing.
  • Make sure the items you pack for storage are clean and dry.
  • Place heavy items at the bottom of a box and put lighter ones on top of them to avoid damage.
  • Pack heavy items in smaller boxes.
  • Provide sufficient padding to ensure the safety of your belongings. Use plenty of packing paper, bubble wrap, foam sheets, packing peanuts, towels or rags to wrap each individual piece and provide cushioning between the articles in one box. Be extra careful when packing fragile or delicate items.
  • Fill the cartons tightly, as half-full boxes tend to collapse when stacked.
  • Seal the boxes tightly to provide sufficient protection against dust, dirt, and pests.
  • Consider packing in plastic containers, which will prevent moisture from affecting your possessions.
  • Label every single box to indicate its specific contents. Use a permanent waterproof marker to write important notes (such as “FRAGILE”) or handling instructions (like “THIS SIDE UP”) directly on the boxes.
  • When packing furniture for storage, make sure you remove all detachable parts and protect small protruding elements with bubble wrap or rags. Keep all detached pieces together and put small parts (such as bolts and hinges) in sealable plastic bags that you can tape to the corresponding furniture. Cover your furniture with sheets and blankets and apply furniture spray (as well as leather conditioner, when applicable) for better protection.
  • Pack electronic devices in their original boxes (or ones of similar sizes, if you didn’t keep the original boxes).

What It's Like to Move to a High-Priced Rental Market

 

How one young couple dealt with the shock of relocating to a desirable (but pricey) locale.

When my husband told me he got a writing instructor job at the University of California in Santa Barbara, I immediately envisioned myself out on my California bungalowporch, watching the sunset from a front row seat: my hammock.

I was so excited about moving to California that about 10 minutes after he accepted the job, I was picking out mid-century modern furniture that would go nicely with the little built-ins I would undoubtedly have for book storage.

California dreaming

We had lived on a graduate student and copy editor budget for four years in Fort Worth, TX, and we were both craving some space in our lives.

Our one-bedroom apartment was charming, but I was growing weary of my desk being in the kitchen and holding conference calls while my husband tried to quietly prep his morning cup of coffee three feet away from me. We were looking forward to finally making more money and getting all the square footage that came with it.

After my husband accepted the job — and the major upgrade in pay from grad student to professor — we decided to casually browse some Santa Barbara rental listings to see what was available in the area. My eyes widened when I glanced over the listings. There were two-bedrooms listed for $3,000 per month, and studios for $1,500 per month.

Rent is how much?!

My husband and I are both from Oklahoma, where the average rent in our hometown of Norman is less than $1,000. My first apartment was just $300 per month with utilities included.

To say we had sticker shock is an understatement. When we found out how much we would potentially be paying per month, we were embarrassed to tell our parents because we thought they would try to talk us out of moving.

We also felt like we were behind schedule. Most of our friends back in Oklahoma had already started purchasing their first homes. We knew that a move to Santa Barbara could potentially set back a home purchase for several years, as the average home price in Santa Barbara is around $1 million.

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Home Staging Tips for Sellers with Pets

Get Rid of Pet Signs

Pets need their own toys, litter boxes, cages, and bowls. During showings, these items should be tucked away. Nothing turns off buyers like pet possessions strewn all over the floor. Even if pets are away during a showing, their belongings might put off buyers who are not fond of pets or are allergic to them. Tell homeowners to keep pet items out of sight. This includes photos of pets on shelves, desks, and refrigerator doors. They should also make sure the litter boxes are scrubbed clean. While some state laws dictate that homeowners must disclose if they live with pets, this doesn’t mean that they should publicize the fact. Removing pet signs or at least undesirable pet toys, sleeping quarters, and other elements is a must in home staging.

 

Clean and Deodorize

Many pets have strong body odor and can leave undesirable smells on furnishings and carpets. Home buyers will be quick to notice pet odors, fur, footprints, and even lick marks on windows before your sellers do. Dirt and odor are major turnoffs for buyers and are signs of poor maintenance and neglect. When staging their home, sellers should ensure their homes are immaculate and smell heavenly. They should hire professionals to clean their furnishings and carpets. Afterwards, they can request their friends to smell the space. It’s easy to get accustomed to the sights, sounds, and smells of a place no matter how bad they are and outsiders can give unbiased opinions. Tell home sellers to avoid using strong deodorizers and utilize natural ones which are more appealing.

Relocate the Pets

Relocating pets can be one of the hardest things for home sellers who are attached to their pets. However, it is the easiest way to maintain a home’s lovely staged condition. Homeowners should request their friends or extended family to accommodate their pets while their homes are on the market. Those who do not wish to move their pets must ensure they are not in the house during showings. They can take them for walks when buyers come or put them in pet daycare. Homeowners who decide to live with pets during the selling process must clean frequently.

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Are Invisible Money Leaks Draining Your Account?


Put these tips to work and get a healthier bank account — starting today.
f someone were to take a large amount from your bank account, you’d most likely notice when a transaction was declined or a payment bounced. But how quickly would you notice if a small amount were being deducted, say $5 or $10, every month?

Most of us have a general idea of how much money is in our accounts, but we pay little attention to each expenditure — especially if your bills for that apartment in Raleigh, NC, are set on autopay. So while the ship may still be afloat, small money leaks could end up wreaking havoc below the surface. Here are a few unexpected ways you might be siphoning cash — and how to manage your money and plug those leaks

Food waste
Ask the average American where they overspend, and chances are, they’ll mention food, both at restaurants and the grocery store. Yet while you may shovel a large portion of your budget toward this expense, you probably waste a large amount of it as well. A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that Americans waste 40% of their food purchases — which equates to an average of $2,000 per year, per household. Meal planning and resisting the urge to buy in bulk can do wonders when it comes to cutting down on waste and combating this socially prevalent money leak.


The Legal Benefits of Using a Licensed Real Estate Agent

 

Whether you're buying or selling, it's a good idea to have a pro on your side.

Are there legal benefits to using a licensed real estate agent?

The short answer is yes. Licensed real estate agents have legal obligations — formally called “fiduciary duties” — to their clients that are commonly referred to by the acronym OLDCAR.

O = Obedience

If you give an agent who is representing you an instruction with any financial implications (more about what constitutes “representation” below), they are obligated to follow it, even if they strongly disagree — as long as it’s legal and doesn’t contradict a contractual agreement.

L = Loyalty

Your agent is obliged to put your interests above those of anyone else involved in the deal — including themselves.

D = Disclosure

If your agent knows any fact that’s “material” to the sale, they are obligated to share that fact with you. And while they’re not obligated, they’re also motivated to find out as many of those material facts as possible.

C = Confidentiality

Your agent must protect your confidentiality. That means they can’t share any information about you or your situation (without your permission) with any other party to the deal.

A = Accounting

Your agent is responsible for keeping track of funds in play in the deal.

R = Reasonable care

This one is a bit sticky. An agent is obligated to use “reasonable” care and diligence while handling your affairs. Though exactly what reasonable care means in any specific transaction often ends up being decided by a judge in court.

Who is (and isn’t ) your agent

This is an important distinction. The fiduciary duties above only apply to a real estate agent who’s working for you. That means you either have a verbal or written agreement with them.

Often, you’ll run into a situation where you end up interacting, perhaps a lot, with an agent who is part of the deal, but who isn’t formally representing you. They’ll most likely be nice, professional, and helpful.

But if they’re the seller’s agent, they’re obligated to the seller, not you, and the legal obligations they have to the other party don’t apply to their interactions with you.

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The Greenwich House: Smart, Healthy, and Green

This Greenwich, CT home takes 'barn living' to a whole new level.

The term “high-tech homes” may bring to mind images of the Jetsons, but many builders believe residences equipped with automation and other gadgetry will soon be the new standard for houses.

The Greenwich House is an example of this new wave of residences — and it’s not only a smart house, but also a green and healthy one. Listed at $3.995 million, the home sits on .66 acres and has 5 bedrooms and 4.5 baths. It’s nestled among New England-stylecolonials in the New York City suburb of Greenwich, CT.

A standout that doesn’t stand out

But don’t expect the new 4,802-square-foot house to stick out like a sore thumb. The space-age home, built from the ground up in 13 months, is a rustic-looking white house that builder, designer, and real estate agent Sabine Schoenberg describes as “modern barn living.”

“I didn’t want it to look like a California contemporary,” she explains. “I wanted it to fit into the Connecticut landscape, and at the same time have all the smart features.”
 

A stone fireplace in the living room mimics the stone base of the house and rocky hillside in the backyard. The open floor plan spills all the way to the outside onto a large porch equipped with a TV and sound system.

Smartest house on the block

The house is equipped with futuristic technology, like an app-based home automation system by Crestron Pyng. It controls everything from lighting, window shades, temperature, security, and the entertainment system — right down to the music playing in each room.

A geothermal heating and cooling system works to keep the house at an even temperature without wracking up a gas or electric bills. Other innovative features include UV filters on the windows to prevent sunlight from heating up the house, and an exterior wrap that aids in reducing energy use and costs.

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Two Ways to Compare Renting vs. Owning a Home

 

When you're doing the math, make sure you've got all the data you need.

One of the hottest topics in housing is whether it’s better to rent or buy a home. The answer always changes based on market conditions, so it’s handy to use a rent vs. buy calculator to do comparisons on the fly.

But you should also know how rent vs. buy calculations actually work so you can feel confident in deciding what’s right for your budget and your family. Here are two easy ways to do this.

Checking the numbers

The first thing you need to understand is how rent vs. buy math works for you personally. You do this by calculating the monthly costs of home ownership, subtracting tax benefits, then comparing the final figure to the rental cost of a similar home in the same neighborhood.

Let’s assume you have a credit score of 750, and a $300,000 home purchase price with 10 percent down (that’s $30,000) for a 30-year fixed mortgage. Current rates are around 3.25 percent.

In this scenario, a mortgage calculator quickly tallies your total monthly housing costs as follows:

Mortgage payment of principal and interest $1,175
Property taxes $300
Private mortgage insurance (PMI) $133
Homeowners insurance $67
TOTAL monthly housing cost $1,675

 

Next you calculate your tax benefit. As a homeowner, you get to deduct your mortgage interest and property taxes.

To calculate annual mortgage interest, you multiply your $270,000 loan amount by your 3.25 percent rate to get $8,775. To calculate annual property tax, you multiply your $300,000 home price by a national average of 1.2 percent property tax to get $3,600.

The sum of $8,775 in mortgage interest and $3,600 in property tax is $12,375 in deductible costs. Based on the income needed to qualify for a $300,000 home, your tax bracket is likely around 28 percent.

To get a quick estimate of annual tax savings, we multiply $12,375 by 28 percent to get $3,465.

Next we divide $3,465 by 12 months to get a monthly estimated tax savings of $289.

Then we subtract $289 from your total monthly housing cost of $1,675 to get estimated after-tax cost of $1,386.

Finally, you compare this estimated after-tax housing cost of $1,386 to market rent for a comparable home in the same city. Be sure to compare properties of the same size, quality, and location to ensure your analysis is accurate.

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How to Build a Home Renovation Team You Can Trust

 

When you're updating your home, the last thing you need is a lousy contractor.

Whether you’re a professional real estate investor, like me and my husband Tarek, or you’re a homeowner with dreams of renovating to update and improve your house, having a quality home renovation team you can trust is absolutely essential.

After all, even if you’re planning on doing some stuff yourself, you’re not going to be able to do it all on your own. And you don’t want to end up paying top dollar for low-quality work.

So, how can you be sure that you find and hire the absolute best people for the job? If you follow a few simple steps, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve built a team that will take care of you and your home.

Do you have a plan?

Before you start Googling contractors, plumbers, and other renovation experts, you need to have a plan for your renovation. If you’re a design wiz, you might be able to create this plan on your own, but there’s nothing wrong with calling in a pro.

Getting an architect or interior designer involved in the process is a good idea, but you need to be very clear about what you want from them and how involved they’ll be.

If you don’t mind spending some extra money, you could have an architect design your entire remodeling project, hire all of your contractors, and oversee construction for you. Most of us don’t have the cash to do that, though, so we make a few compromises.

At this point, put together information on everything that you know you want included in your renovation. Then meet with a few different designers and/or architects to get an idea of what they can do for you.

You can follow the same guidelines to choose a designer, contractor, painter, plumber, or any other member of your team.

Create a list of candidates

To start your search, ask friends and family members who they’ve worked with on their home renovations. If you have any friends or colleagues in the real estate business, be sure to ask them which renovation experts they recommend. If you don’t get a lot of suggestions, go ahead and do a search online for the kind of work you want done.

Before you call anyone on the list, search for customer reviews of their services. Look at review sites to see what real customers have said about them; you want service providers with an overall positive review trend.

Don’t worry if you see one or two disgruntled reviews, but if you see more than that, you might want to cross that candidate off your list.

Call your best candidates

Once you’ve narrowed your list using friends’ recommendations and online reviews, it’s time to get on the phone. Call each of your candidates and ask them a few questions about their work and experience.

At the very least, you want to make sure they’re licensed and insured, how long they’ve been in business, and how much experience they have with the kinds of renovations you want. You should also ask for references and then follow up on them to make sure your candidates were being honest with you.

If a contractor, designer, or other renovation pro gives you a list of references and most of them don’t check out, then they’re either working with phone numbers so old that they don’t belong to their customers anymore, or they’re lying to you. Either way, move on.

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Insurance FAQs for First-Time Home Buyers

 

You've just made a huge investment. Make sure you protect it.

Buying home insurance for the first time is overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to go it alone.

Before shopping for coverage, review these common insurance questions to make sure you’re armed with the knowledge to find the best policy for your needs.

Do I need a policy before buying a home?

Technically, no.

Most states require drivers to possess auto insurance before taking the car off the dealer’s lot. But home insurance is different. You can legally own a home sans insurance.

However, if you need a loan to buy your home, your lender will likely require you to purchase home insurance as a way to protect its investment.

What coverages are included?

Standard home insurance policies typically include coverage for the structure of your home, its contents, liability, other structures (such as a toolshed), and additional living expenses. Let’s break these down.

Structure: If your home is damaged or destroyed by a covered peril and needs to be repaired or rebuilt, your insurance can help pay for these expenses. Structure coverage is not the same as the amount you paid for your home. You need to set your structure coverage for the amount it would take to rebuild your home from the ground up.

Contents: This coverage can kick in if your belongings are damaged or destroyed. It’s typically set between 50 and 70 percent of your home’s structural coverage. If you have high-value items, such as an extensive jewelry collection or rare pieces of art, there will likely be a cap on the repair/replacement value (between $1,000 and $2,000). To get more coverage for high-value items, you can add a rider policy to your home insurance.

Liability: If someone is injured on your property, the liability portion of your insurance policy can help pay for medical, rehabilitation, and/or funeral expenses, as well as legal fees in the event that the injured party sues you. Liability is typically set at $100,000 worth of protection. However, it’s wise to set your coverage between $300,000 and $500,000 — especially if your home includes attractive nuisances, such as a pool or trampoline — as medical and legal costs can add up rapidly.

Other structures: If your home has a detached garage or shed that is damaged or destroyed by a covered peril, your insurance can help pay to repair or rebuild it.

Additional living expenses: In the event that your home is destroyed and needs to be rebuilt, this coverage can help pay for living expenses, such as hotel and food bills for the duration of time that you’re displaced. Check with your insurer to see if this protection only covers you and your family for a specified amount of time.

What are covered perils?

Standard home insurance policies can cover damage caused by fire, windstorms, hail, lightning, theft, vandalism, explosions, and riots. Typically, water damage, such as that from freezing and bursting pipes, is also covered.

However, damage resulting from floods or earthquakes is not covered. Those types of natural disasters require separate policies and should be purchased if you live in a high-risk area, such as near a body of water or in California, where floods and earthquakes, respectively, are common.

How do I know how much coverage I need?

Complete a home inventory. This is a complete list of everything you own and each item’s value. Home inventories should include photos or video of all your possessions and the amount you paid for them — if you have the receipts, that’s even better.

Make multiple copies of the list and keep it in various safe locations, such as a safety deposit box. Having this inventory will allow your insurance agent to accurately recommend the amount of coverage you need, and will help get the ball rolling quickly if you need to file a claim.

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Easy, Breezy: 8 Ways To Create A Fan Strategy

There’s no need to suffer in the summer heat. Follow these fan-focused tips, and you’ll be resting easy in no time.

Even if you don’t live in Phoenix, AZ — the city where the temperature most often climbs to 100 degrees and higher — you’ll quite likely experience a heat wave this summer. When the temps and humidity soar so high that you want to stick your head in the freezer (not recommended), don’t fret. Take action!

Forget instituting a ban on cooking, hot showers, and hot coffee. Instead, rely on your good sense to create a chill environment. Here are eight tips on how to cool down a room (or an entire apartment) with fans and a little ingenuity.

1. Crack a window at night

It might sound counterintuitive to crack open a window after you’ve just spent a day dodging heat and humidity, but temperatures tend to cool off in the evenings, so take full advantage! Position a standing or window box fan in front of an open window to bring the cooler air into your space and create a sleep-inducing cross breeze. Ah, white noise.

2. Keep the blinds closed during the day

Much like how you don’t want your nosy neighbors peeking in, you don’t want sun creeping in and heating up your home either. Close your blinds and curtains to keep some of the daytime heat at bay, or invest in thermal fabric. Have a window box fan? During the day, point it outward to push out warm, still air. This works especially well if you can run a ceiling or standing fan at the same time to circulate the inside air.

3. Ice, ice baby

Fair warning: This may look silly, but it works. Position a table or standing fan behind a shallow bowl of ice, frozen water bottles, or ice packs. Aim the fan at you so you get the ultimate cool breeze — without the hefty air-conditioning bill. Brilliant, simple, and economical! Bonus: Add a small fan on your nightstand and keep a spray bottle of cold water to mimic this same technique.

4. Consider proper fan logistics

Ceiling fans can be a lifesaver in the summer. To get the most use out of them, make sure they rotate counterclockwise (if viewing from below) and set them to have a maximum downdraft. For a bedroom up to about 175 square feet, opt for a 42- to 48-inch six-blade ceiling fan, while a space up to about 365 square feet can benefit from a 56-inch blade. If your only ceiling fan is in the living room, camp out there to stay as cool as possible. Also, leave the fans on during the day to help speed up the cool-down process in the evenings.

5. Close off parts of your home

Even if you live in the coziest one-bedroom, close off spaces you aren’t currently using so your fan doesn’t have to work overtime. Kristen Van Dyk of Factory Paint & Decorating suggests leaving the bathroom fan on after a shower “to minimize the amount of warm steam and humidity in your rental unit.” Bonus: This has the dual effect on cutting down on mold and paint peeling issues, especially in bathrooms without windows.



How to Prepare Your Home for an Appraisal

 

What you need to know about the process, from a veteran certified appraiser.

Getting your home appraised can often be a nerve-wracking experience. Your home and your handy work will be on display to be judged and valued so that you can move forward with selling your home.

But it doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. With the right tools, tricks and savvy, the appraisal process can not only go smoothly, it can also help you make a giant financial leap toward a future in a new home.

Do your homework

“Just like anything else — for example, if you’re going to select a doctor, dentist, or lawyer — you do your homework to find out the appraiser’s market knowledge of the area,” says Rick Singh, a property appraiser in Orange County, FL.

Ideally, your appraiser will be a local who knows the area well and who has been around long enough to see changes in the market. It’s also crucial to hire an appraiser who is state certified.

Check your maintenance

Whether it’s a loose shingle, chipped paint or dirty carpet, be sure to take care of it before the appraiser comes. Anything obvious that needs work could potentially eat away at your home’s value.

Also, keep a list of maintenance work that has been done on the home. Have a running list of what you have fixed and upgraded in your home as well as the amount of money you have spent.

Maximize curb appeal

When you’re getting your home appraised, remember that your house should look like the nicest one on the block.

“Landscaping plays so much into making a good first impression,” Singh says. “And remember that a first impression is a lasting impression. Make sure [your yard] is tidy and up-to-date. Trim or replace dead plants, and make sure it’s nice and green.”

Ensure appliances work

Do you have a dishwasher that only works when you give it a little kick, or a refrigerator that doesn’t keep your food as cool as it used to? These malfunctioning big-ticket items in a home could be a huge disadvantage to your home’s appraisal value.

Show pride in ownership

Although your home isn’t necessarily valued on the interior decor, it doesn’t hurt to show that it’s well cared for.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to trade in your T.J.Maxx finds for a pricey interior makeover, but make sure your home is neat, tidy, and exhibits that you generally have an interest in keeping your home looking its best.


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9 Budget-Friendly Staycation Ideas for Families

 

Just because you're staying home doesn't mean you can't have an adventure.

Disneyland, the beach, camping, Grandma’s … just a few of the many places your kids would nominate as a vacation destination this summer. But staying home?

B-O-R-I-N-G.

So, how do you sell a staycation to your little rascals? Oh, and not spend a ton of money? Fill it with fun and adventure.

Look for activities that are simple to pull together and entertaining for all ages — bonus points for those with educational benefits.

Check out these nine kid- and budget-friendly ideas — and a few tips from a frugal mom — that will make your summer staycation just as lively and memorable as any trip.

Camp out in your backyard

Pitch a tent, pull out the camp chairs, and roll out those sleeping bags. It’s time to go camping – in your backyard! This just might be the quintessential summer staycation experience that every kid should have.

Study the local flora and fauna; practice wilderness skills; roast marshmallows over a fire pit, grill or in the microwave; tell scary stories; spot constellations in the night sky.

You’ll get all the fun of camping without the long drive or gross campsite bathrooms.

 

World culture day

Immerse yourself in a different culture for a day. Pick a city, country, or area of the world that fascinates you and your children.

Explore the culture by making decorations or outfits, following customs, and using typical language phrases. Make a meal from the country, play traditional games, and learn fun facts from library books or websites.

“If you live in a city or metropolitan area, you can recreate any number of cultures,” explains a Pittsburgh mom and budget blogger at Femme Frugality. Femme created a “Parisian experience” in Pittsburgh by visiting museums and cathedrals, checking out a bridge with love locks, and dining at an outdoor cafe and French restaurant — all within her hometown.

Get your chef on

Have a budding Jamie Oliver or Rachael Ray on your hands? Let your little chefs put their skills to the test with a fun “Top Chef” style competition. Introduce a mystery ingredient, work in teams, and see what you can come up with.

If competition isn’t your style, simply head to the farmer’s market or grocery store and pick out a unique ingredient and see what your family can come up with to use it in a dish.

Have a sweet tooth? Have a bake off and create your favorite cookies, cupcakes, or cake. Share the goodies with friends and neighbors, too.

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7 Ways To Compete With Cash Buyers In A Seller’s

If you really, really want the house, here’s how to play ball.

The old adage “money talks” rings true in real estate. After the stock market crash in 2008, homebuyers with all-cash offers quickly became sellers’ most sought-after suitors. All-cash, after all, means no mortgage, and no loan means no need to rely on lenders. So now that the market has heated up again, bidding wars are the new normal, from Alexandria, VA, real estate to homes for sale in San Angelo, TX. Unfortunately, it’s common for a seller to favor an all-cash offer over an offer from a buyer whose deal hinges on a mortgage approval.

“If you’re shopping for a home, there’s a good chance you’ll be competing with all-cash offers,” says John Lazenby, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor Association. “As of February 2014, 43% of all offers were all-cash! Couple that with the fact that it’s a seller’s market out there, and it can be very difficult — and competitive — to get the house you want.” So what’s a homebuyer to do? Here are seven ways to compete with all-cash buyers in a seller’s market.

1. Put your best foot forward

Don’t wait to submit your best offer. If you want a specific house and it’s a competitive market, you need to put in your very best offer first. “Assume that you will not have the opportunity to negotiate on price, so make your best offer upfront,” advises Lazenby. Adds Ross Anthony, a real estate agent with Willis Allen Real Estate in San Diego, CA: “If you are afraid of overpaying for the home, make sure you look at the current appreciation rate for the market. You may pay a little extra today, but if prices keep increasing and you keep getting outbid, you may find yourself priced out by the end of the year or paying significantly more for the same property anyway.”

2. Go a little higher

The highest offer doesn’t automatically mean a sale — but in many cases, it can’t hurt to inch your price up a bit, says Anthony. “It sounds obvious because it is, but this is often the most important thing to consider when offering on a home in a competitive seller’s market. More often than not, cash buyers are investors and investors want to increase their margins as much as possible by getting the property for as little as they can,” he explains, and that gives you a little negotiation power. “You must understand that in order to make your offer more attractive, you will most likely have to beat out the competition on price. Make sure your agent takes a close look at the comparable sales and can justify the purchase price, but also adjust your expectations of getting a home for less than it’s worth. Sometimes as little as an extra $1,000 on top of the list price can be the determining factor in the seller’s eyes.”

3. Find out the seller’s terms

“When telling agents that I might be coming forward with an offer, I first ask them what terms the seller is looking for,” explains Heather Witt, a real estate agent with Partners Trust in Los Angeles, CA. “Does the seller need extra time in the property to find a new home to live in? Are they looking for a quick close? Do they want to control who processes escrow and title? Do they already have those services picked out so that I might write an offer that won’t need to be countered?” Having a real estate agent who can handle this early negotiating on your behalf can mean the difference between landing a home and losing it.

4. Be flexible

“In any market, the buyer who is financing must be creative when up against all-cash buyers,” says David Dubin, a real estate broker with Douglas Elliman in New York, NY. One key to creating a winning offer? Emphasize your flexibility. If your agent can find out the sellers’ desired terms, you can sweeten the deal by letting the sellers drive the timeline and some of the specifics. “The more flexible and accommodating the buyer is, the more a buyer’s bid will pique the interest of the seller,” says Dubin. Simple things such as being accommodating with the closing date, offering to rent the house back to the sellers while they continue to hunt for their new home, or requesting minimal repairs can go a long way when competing with an all-cash offer.

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