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6 Reasons To Google An Address


Search-engine sleuthing is worth the effort to unearth the niceties — and perhaps negatives — about a prospective home.

There’s probably not a day that goes by that you don’t Google something — the weather, a foreign phrase, directions, or news, just to name a few. With all the intel Google can provide, it’s practically a crime not to Google your address, especially when you’re searching for a new home (whether you’re house-hunting for Fort Lauderdale, FL, real estate or a ranch in Houston, TX). Here’s what you could find. 

1. Scope the “street-view” situation

We can’t transport ourselves Star Trek–style to other places … yet, so the next best experience may be Google’s Street View, sort of a pre-virtual-reality experience. Simply type in an address, and if there’s an image of the property in the results, click on it. “This allows you to view up and down the street, see the homes next door, [or learn] whether the home is on a busy highway or next to a local convenience store,” says Liane Jamason, a St. Petersburg, FL, agent. Other factors to note while on your Google stroll? Dan Bagby, a current Texas house hunter, suggests scoping out yard size, proximity to neighbors, how many trees are on the property and the privacy provided by them, a view of the front of the home, a view of the neighbors’ homes (such as any nearby eyesores or hoarders), and the size of nearby roads. Don’t forget to use the aerial view while you’re at it, suggests Bryan Clayton of Nashville, TN. “While it’s not 100% accurate all the time, it can give [you] a quick sense of if a home is going to need a new roof soon.”

A caveat: Google Street View can be outdated, so it’s possible you could be looking at old news. The house you’re interested in might have been newly renovated, but you wouldn’t know that if the remodel happened after Google was there. “My house is an example of this,” says Ed Brancheau, a San Diego, CA, search-engine expert with Goozleology. “If you search for my address, you’ll see photos of a house with no landscaping instead of the beautiful house we renovated.”

2. Find out if the home is a “flip”

Unless you’re buying a new-construction house, the home you’re searching has probably acquired some history. And since the walls won’t talk, you’ll need to be a bit creative in your sleuthing to detect just who owned the place last. “From searching the address, I have found old photos to get an idea of what the home looked like before,” says Dan Bagby. “I take it a bit further to get to know the current owners. I look up their names from the property-tax records and Google their names.” Bagby wants to know whether the sellers are investors or folks who have lived in the house for 20 years. “I approach an investor’s home with more caution than a home someone has been taking care of and living in for a while,” he says.

3. Avoid health concerns

The last thing anyone wants is to find out their dream home is located near a former meth lab or directly under a busy flight path. These aren’t just concerns for comfort; in unfortunate (and rare) cases, homes can be health hazards. When house hunting, be sure to search for whether or not the home is in a safe area. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration maintains a database of homes that have been identified as drug labs, and some of these properties require intensive, expensive cleanup before they can be healthfully inhabited. Radon and industrial and airport zones are also pretty easily discoverable with a Google search and, in most states, via disclosures that most sellers will provide. (Some people find living near an airport or other noisy zone impacts their sleep, even if there is no chemical concern.)

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10 Essential Skills Every New Homeowner Should Have

Don’t let clogged gutters or a running toilet put a damper on your new-home high.

Ah, the joys of homeownership — you can paint the walls any color you choose, let Fido run free in your backyard, and finally leave your bike outside your side door, without getting a citation from your property-management company.

There are many perks of having a place to call your own, but the honeymoon can come to a sudden end as soon as something goes awry. Suddenly, there’s no one to call when your toilet just won’t stop running, a leak appears below your bedroom window, or your garbage disposal gets clogged. You’ve got to figure out how to fix the problem yourself — or hire someone to do it.

But with a little patience (and some smart internet research), it’s possible to take on many common home maintenance tasks yourself. Who knows: You may even start to take pride in your newfound handyman (or handywoman) skills! Whether you’re moving into a new home in San Diego, CA, or Wilmington, DE, these 10 skills are essential techniques that new homeowners across the country should know how to do.

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1. How to change your air filters

Chances are, if you’re moving from a rental, your landlord took care of this task for you. Changing your air filters regularly is important to maintain air quality. “We get calls from homeowners who can’t figure out why their homes are so dusty,” says Bailey Neal, CEO of Nestive, a Nashville, TN-based home maintenance, repair, and cleaning service. “Come to find out: They’ve never changed their air filters.”

Neal says for new construction, consider changing your filters every two to three weeks at first, because of the initial drywall dust. Every three to six months is recommended for people without pets or allergies; if you have pets or allergies, every 30 to 90 days is best. Once you determine the size of your filters (it will be printed on the old one, for example 10x20x1), such services as Amazon or EZFilter can automatically deliver new filters at a determined frequency.

2. How to shut off your water

Ask someone, whether it’s your home inspector, a friend with construction experience, or a plumber, to locate and show you where the main water valve is in your home. “Water is one of the leading causes of damage in homes,” says Neal. “If you can shut off your water quickly, you can prevent thousands in damage.” Neal notes that if you’re going to be away for longer than one or two days, you should turn off the water to your washing machine — it’s as simple as turning the water-valve handle behind the machine to the right. “If there’s a leak while you’re gone, that water is going to run continuously,” he says.

3. How to change the temperature on your water heater

Many manufacturers set water-heater thermostats to reach 140 degrees, but most houses need only a maximum of 120. Setting the thermostat to a lower temperature prevents the potential of scalding, slows mineral buildup and corrosion in your heater and pipes, and can save you $10 to $30 per each 10-degree reduction on your annual energy bill. Plus, it’s as easy as turning a dial.

4. How to turn off your gas

If you smell gas or suspect there’s a gas problem, your first step should be calling your gas company. But it’s important to know how to turn off the gas yourself just in case you need to. The shut-off valve is usually located outside at the meter and will require an adjustable pipe or crescent-type wrench to operate.

5. How to fix a running toilet

A running toilet might sound like the start of a joke, but it can be very annoying — not to mention become a waste of water that could amp up your next water bill. Toilets run for several reasons: problems with the flapper, chain, or float are the most common. A diagnosis and repair is quick and easy. And remember, the water inside the toilet tank is clean, so don’t worry about putting your hands in there.

6. How to turn off power to different parts of your house

“We had a customer who bought a new house, and the first week she was there, her hair blow-dryer suddenly stopped working,” says Neal. “Our electrician went in, hit the ‘reset’ button on the outlet, and the dryer started working again.” The lesson? Look to see if your outlet has a reset button (common for grounded outlets, which are typically located in kitchens and bathrooms, since they are close to water); and while you’re at it, familiarize yourself with the circuit-breaker box. Neal says it’s common for power to die in one room of the house and people then think there’s a power outage. “They don’t even think to go to the breaker box to see if it has tripped,” he says. “Especially if you have (an) older house, the wiring was not built to handle the same capacity of modern electrical systems. Older homes will get overloaded quicker.” When you move into your new home, take some time to flip your circuit-breaker switches and figure out what controls what room — and that the switches are properly marked.


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Balancing Home Improvements With Big Price Tags

HGTV's Christina El Moussa lays out how she chooses where to pinch and splurge on home renovations.

Whether you’re rehabbing an investment property, getting your house ready to sell, or just want to improve your home, renovating a house is expensive.

For our business, Tarek and I have to make a lot of hard decisions to stay within really strict budgets, but we can’t ever leave one of our flipped houses looking shabby or rundown. Because we absolutely have to do the best job possible for all of our properties, we’ve learned a lot about prioritizing our rehabs and balancing those big price tags.

I do all of the designs for our properties. As I’ve been going over floor plans, looking at attractive kitchen remodeling projects, and finding the best ways to please our buyers, I’ve been thinking a lot about the choices we make, and how they can help real estate investors and homeowners with their renovations and improvements.

Consider your options

You probably don’t have the budget to splurge on everything you really want in your home improvement project. And even if you do, it’s nice to come in under budget, especially if you plan on selling the property.

When I sit down to design our remodeling and renovation projects, the first thing I do is look at the house as a whole. I decide which rooms are most important, and where I’ll spend the most money.

For most properties, the kitchen and bathrooms are going to be your best investments, but they’re not always the rooms that need the most work. Look at the materials you have in your kitchen and bathrooms to see what you can salvage and what you need to update.

Look at the rest of the house to see which areas will be the most impressive to buyers after renovations are complete.

The places I almost always spend a little extra on include the front porch and outdoor entrance, as well as the front foyer. First impressions are crucial.

Balance splurges and savings

As you look at each room in the house, consider which elements and features will get the most attention, where you want to splurge, and where you can save.

For example, let’s say you’re renovating the kitchen. I recommend splurging on marble or quartz countertops, but you don’t have to do it for all of your counters.

You could go with that higher cost material for the counters lining your walls, but then save some cash by choosing a butcher block or stainless steel countertop for the island. It’ll still work with the rest of the design for your kitchen, but it won’t cost nearly as much.

Similarly, you don’t have to buy the most expensive tile on the market for the bathroom. In fact, you can save a surprising amount of money by going with a cost-effective, neutral tile for the floor and shower walls.

Then, to spruce it up and elevate the look of the room, you can add an accent strip of nicer tile that wraps around the shower stall and/or borders the floor. You’ll spend a fraction of the money, and you’ll get really beautiful results.

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8 Reasons Your House Isn’t Selling


If your home sits idle in a seller’s market, it’s time to get to the root of the problem.

It’s a seller’s market in many cities across the U.S. If your home is in one of those cities, say Charleston, SC, or Colorado Springs, CO, and isn’t getting offers, something could be wrong. The good news? Knowing there’s a problem is the first step toward resolving it. However, there could be many reasons your house isn’t selling. We’ve asked real estate professionals and agents from all over the country what those top reasons might be — and they’ve provided some sound advice on how to remedy each situation.

1. You’re overconfident

Being in a seller’s market might mean that your home will get snapped up for premium price, no matter its condition. But that isn’t always the best strategy to count on. “Sometimes homeowners and agents get overconfident in a seller’s market and get lazy about ‘Home Selling 101,’” says Sep Niakan, broker and owner of HB Roswell Realty in Miami, FL.

Solution: Be realistic from day one. Although you may love your house, brace yourself for it to potentially sit on the market for quite some time. And no matter the market, it’s still important to “What does that mean? Stagingstaging, and more staging.

2. The house is priced too high

Classic supply and demand conditions come into play in a seller’s market: There’s high demand, yet low supply. Therefore, you can usually expect to get more money for your home. But that doesn’t mean the sky’s the limit when it comes to your listing price. “In a seller’s market, a seller may feel comfortable pushing the asking price a bit higher, and this can be a huge mistake,” says Chase Michels of Brush Hill Realtors in Downers Grove, IL. “Determining the best asking price for a home is one of the most important aspects of selling a home. If your home is listed at a price that is above market value, you will miss out on prospective buyers.” 

Solution: Make sure that you and your agent are certain of the value of your home in your market and price it right. “Get an analysis of the local market with a professional agent, solid comparables, and specific market trend data,” says Jill Olivarez, a Miramar Beach, FL, real estate agent.

3. The home needs some TLC

It can be a bitter pill to swallow to pay for home improvements that you may not enjoy for long. But if you want to sell for full asking price, you might need to get your house in a condition that warrants it — and not base this number only on price per square foot. “Retail buyers understandably still want the most house for their money,” says Barbara Grassey, author of How to Sell Your House Fast in a Slow Market and founder of the West Florida Real Estate Investors Association.

Solution: “The seller should have amenities comparable to other properties for sale in that price range and should really upgrade certain amenities,” says Grassey. Some upgrade examples, she says, include a pull-down gooseneck faucet, an upgraded ceiling fan, a double-bar towel rack, or upgraded door handles. They sound simple, but a few small changes can make a big impact.

4. There’s a problem with the title

“Title” in this case doesn’t mean the cute name you might have given your place (“The Laurels,” “The Conners’ Corner Cottage,” etc.). Rather, it’s the document that shows ownership. “One reason a house won’t sell is because there is a problem with the title to the house that spooks buyers,” says David Reiss, law professor at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, NY. Here are some examples he gives of title problems:

  • ·         Conveyance without a recorded deed (can sometimes happen in transfers between family members).
  • ·         A paid-off mortgage that is still showing up as a valid lien on the house.
  • ·         A mechanic’s lien that was filed for work done on the house by a subcontractor.

Solution: “Some [title] problems just require a little time to resolve,” says Reiss. Contact the title company to find out what you need to do to prepare for selling — then do it.

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10 Affordable Ways To Fill A Large Blank Wall


Overwhelmed at the thought of filling large, empty wall space? Here’s what to do.

It’s big, it’s intimidating, and nearly every apartment for rent in Baltimore, MD, or Houston, TX, has it. No, we’re not talking about that pile of laundry that you swear you’ll get to soon — it’s that glaring, huge white wall. Even if your landlord lets you paint, an unadorned expanse can make your otherwise lovely home feel a bit spare. But just because you happen to have a lease doesn’t mean you can’t come up with a creative solution. Here are 10 renter-friendly, temporary solutions from design experts that will bring some style to a bare wall.

1. DIY a triptych

Large, affordable artwork can be difficult to find. (And when you do discover a piece that doesn’t cost a fortune, it usually has all the character of something you’d find in a hotel room.) For something a little more wallet-friendly, create a custom piece yourself. Not the artsy type? Don’t abandon this do-it-yourself idea so fast. Skip the paint and scout out a few lengths of gorgeous fabric. (You won’t need much, so feel free to splurge on the good stuff.) Simply wrap a piece around an inexpensive, prestretched canvas and staple in place for a superfast work of “art.” Better yet, wrap three rectangular panels or canvases in fabric and then hang them together to create a triptych.

2. Turn to textiles

Tapestries, vintage quilts, or even antique blankets can be too lovely to keep folded and hidden away. Instead, hang the textile from the wall to bring unique character and texture to your space. (The simplest way to do this is to hang a curtain rod from the wall, then use clip-style rings to secure the textile.) To keep the look cohesive with the rest of your decor, focus on hue, recommends Jaclyn Isaac, interior designer and the blogger behind Dog Lady Design Files. “Make sure the colors work well with your existing decor, or consider using (the wall) as a focal piece and pulling your (other) colors from that,” she says. Still not convinced? Consider this bonus of hanging a thin rug or other textile on the wall: It can help mute the sounds coming from your next-door neighbor’s apartment.

3. Curate a gallery wall

You can never have too much of a good thing — especially when it comes to art hung in groups. “Never underestimate the power of a well-designed gallery wall!” says Laurel & Wolf designer Abagail Leepin. “The colors, textures, and patterns eliminate negative space and enhance the finished feeling that you wish to achieve.” One idea that results in a perfectly balanced look is to hang two larger pieces diagonally from each other, then fill the empty space above or below each of those larger pieces with smaller pieces (sticking to similar colors or subjects will look extra pulled-together).

4. Consider wallpaper

If you think wallpaper is only for homeowners, this DIY proves you wrong. Simply frame remnants for a no-mess, no-messy-installation-needed way to enjoy a gorgeous new motif without a commitment. “Framing strips of wallpaper can make very effective and interesting statements,” says interior designer Heather Higgins of Higgins Design Studio. “They work best when they have a unifying theme like similar content, color, or pattern.” Select a thin white frame in the largest size possible to create the look of panel molding.

5. Shelve your art

If the idea of hanging multiple pieces makes you nervous, floating shelves like the ones above by Laurel & Wolf can be a great shortcut. “Rather than struggling to create the perfect gallery wall, get a long floating shelf and arrange your art in one great gallery line,” says Jaclyn Isaac. “You can switch out the art and objects as you please, change frames out when you’re updating your decor, and you don’t have to worry about spackling 18 holes in the wall.” If you’re also short on art, Isaac recommends repurposing calendars for ready-to-frame pieces. “You can get amazing photos that are guaranteed to look great together and large enough to take up an entire wall for less than $30,” she says.

6. Go bold, go mural

“A dramatic mural adds glamour to an enormous wall, especially when there are ultrahigh ceilings involved,” says Liza Nematnejad, a real estate agent with Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York, NY. A mural, she says, “can truly showcase an apartment if it’s done right, with an appropriate piece of art that fits the look and feel of the particular apartment.” Although a painted mural is out of the question for renters, there’s a clever way to capture this dramatic look: temporary murals. Much like removable wallpaper, these adhesive-backed murals install easily (just remove the backing and smooth on the wall), then peel off without a trace when it’s time to move. Tempaper’s Chinoiserie design mimics the look of a hand-painted mural, while Wallsome allows you to custom-print your favorite photos or graphics into a mural.

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7 Things Your Real Estate Agent Wants

You To Know (But Will Never Tell You)


Everything you’ve always wanted to know about buying and selling a home but were afraid to ask.

A home sale can feel like a one-sided process. Whether you’re the buyer or the seller, it’s hard to get feedback on what could be going wrong from the other side. (Do buyers really care about your bright yellow siding? Exactly how many other offers were on the table before yours was accepted?) If you’ve ever wished to be a fly on the wall during your own open house or listen in on the negotiation process, we have a treat for you.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at a few real estate truths, along with some actual real estate agent secrets. (Ready the popcorn, this is going to be good.)

1. The agent’s commission is negotiable

Many people believe that the real estate commission is always 6%, split 50/50 between the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent (with a cut going to the brokerages involved). Although this is the case in many deals, it would be a violation of antitrust laws for real estate commissions to be fixed across the board. Each broker should independently set a price. And the seller can always negotiate this price before signing the listing agreement.

Meanwhile, buyers don’t need to concern themselves with this figure, since buyers don’t pay real estate agents. Sellers pay agent commissions from the proceeds of the sale. So if you’re a buyer, unless you’ve fallen in love with a FSBO home with owners who don’t want to work with a buyer’s agent, there really is no reason to go it alone — it won’t cost you anything to engage the services of a real estate agent.

2. Your house smells bad

If you have pets, most real estate agents probably have no qualms about letting you know when animal scent is detectable. But if your house has an unmistakable musty odor, smells like the fish you cooked last night, reeks of stinky garbage, or houses a fridge that would make you want to back away quickly, it’s an awkward topic to bring up. Although an open box of baking soda can freshen up a smelly fridge, it’s never a bad idea to throw out moldy food and wipe away those meat juice spills (ew). When you toss rotten food into your garbage can, besides changing the bag before buyers come over, put a sachet or tea bag in the bottom (you can make an easy sachet from baking soda placed in a coffee filter and then tied up).

“Homeowners rarely notice their home’s distinct aroma, but guests do,” says David Kean, a Beverly Hills, CA, real estate agent. He suggests airing out your home every so often. And bonus for when you do: “It’s also an opportunity to make sure your windows aren’t sticking.”

3. Your house is messy

There’s nothing wrong with loving that your houses feels “lived in.” But potential buyers probably won’t think it’s charming that you drape your gym socks on the bed. Once they spot a messy room, they might head for the door before looking around. Instead of suggesting that their clients pick up, many real estate agents clean a home for sale themselves, and they often do so on the sly. “It is up to the agent to tidy up before showings — hiding musty towels, diaper pails, litter boxes, dirty dishes, and even used underwear and socks,” says Phyllis Pei, an agent with Douglas Elliman in New York, NY. Pei finds that because of the sensitivity of this issue, she often returns the property to its precleaned state after the showing.

4. The agent has little control

To get your listing, a real estate agent might tell you they can sell your house fast, and they might. But they can’t really predict or control how fast your house will sell. “While it is true that an agent has to get certain basics correct in order to sell a home, once they do those things, the result is largely out of their hands,” says Gary Lucido, president of Lucid Realty in Chicago, IL. What you can do before hiring an agent is ask how long it takes their listings on average to sell. Compare that with other area agents, and you’ll eventually find a winner.

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It Worked! 7 Surprising Real-Life Tactics To Sell A Home Fast


These real-life stories of unconventional sales tactics might unleash your creative side.

Why one home in a neighborhood sells in a matter of hours while the next one sits for more than a month is one of the great mysteries of real estate. Sometimes the reasons are obvious: The house that sits is overpriced, needs repairs, or is near something undesirable — like a detention pond, train tracks, or a boarded-up house next door. Maybe your house is in a down market, such as Houston, TX, real estate, where the economy has been stalled by lower oil prices.

But sometimes, there isn’t an obvious reason for a house that sits on the market week after week — people just aren’t interested. Times like these might call for drastic measures. Before you dramatically slash your home’s price or spend thousands on renovations or remodels, why not try an outside-the-box idea, like offering to pay for snowplow services in upstate New York?

Here are seven stories from homebuyers and sellers who successfully bought or sold their homes in a hurry — and with a healthy dose of ingenuity.

1. Include an animal or pet with the sale

Glenn S. Phillips of Birmingham, AL, is an experienced real estate agent, so when he wanted to buy his first house, he knew he could try asking for certain extras … but a dog? Asking a seller for their pet typically crosses the line, but Phillips’ case was different. “The dog was a recent stray that the owner was unsure she would take with her,” he says. “So it was actually in the dog’s best interest, and he was very loved.”

There are other ways to use animals to speed up your home sale. All states offer some sort of tax exemption for properties zoned as agricultural. So if you’re selling in a rural area, and if the zoning regulations allow you to operate a small farm, use that to your advantage. “[My client] wanted three of the seller’s mini cows included in the transaction,” says Pennie Arneson, a Miami, FL, agent. “[The seller] agreed to leave them on the property but wanted to maintain ownership.” That wasn’t all this creative buyer wanted — she wanted a horse thrown in too! The seller balked, saying, “Lady, I don’t even have a horse.” But Arneson solved the problem with a visit to a local horse rescue. And the story has a happy ending: “Property sold. Horse saved. Mini cows never knew anything changed,” says Arneson.

2. Be like a game show host and give away a car

Although the population is growing faster in suburbs than in cities, according to a Trulia survey, some people do move to city centers from the burbs. Case in point: Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal, who wanted to sell his house in the burbs — in Murfreesboro, TN, to be exact — and move to the city. “I really didn’t need my car, which at the time was a 2-year-old Nissan Maxima,” he says. “I parked the car in the front yard with a big sign, ‘Car Comes with House!’” The outcome? Caballero sold his house in fewer than three days.

The very wealthy typically enjoy giveaways too. Tracie Copeland, a South Florida agent, says she’s seen lots of crazy things in the Palm Beach County real estate market. One of the craziest? “I’ve seen a listing for a multimillion[-dollar] water estate in Hypoluxo Island that came with a brand-new Bentley Continental GT — a car that retails for around $300,000.”

3. Suggest your buyer work out, but do so tactfully

Everyone knows what receiving breath mints on your desk at work means: You have bad breath. But because a gift is involved, it’s usually an acceptable way for a co-worker to convey this information. Similarly, you might run the risk of offending people by offering a free gym membership with the home … unless you’re in Los Angeles, CA, where people work out as often as they sleep. Andrew Reeves, founder of Luxe Translation Services, promised to pay a year’s gym membership for anyone who bought his LA home. “I was ready and willing to pay their setup and monthly fees … as long as they bought my house,” he says.

4. Be neighborly

This story comes from across the pond, in London, England, but it could just as easily happen in Akron, OH, or Peoria, IL. Jamal Asskoumi, owner of an online estate agency, tells the story of a seller with a luxurious property who could not generate much interest in her home. When she did get someone to come by, she put out cookies, which the potential buyer complimented. “The seller took this [compliment] and ran with it,” says Asskoumi. “She hand-delivered a batch of cookies to the buyer’s current house every single day for an entire week.” Caution: This approach could gain you a restraining order. In this case, however, the tactic sweetened the deal — and worked. “The buyer bought the property,” says Asskoumi.

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How to Smarten Up Your Home, Room by Room


High-tech home automation products can also be penny-wise.

There’s a good chance you have already incorporated smart home elements into your home without even realizing it. From your Amazon Echo to the Nest thermostat, these products are actually home automation technologies.

Nowadays, there’s a home automation device for just about every room and everything in your home. Here are a few budget-friendly products to help make your home smarter.


Bluetooth thermometer: You’ll never overcook your steak again with a handy smart meat thermometer. A Bluetooth connection pairs your smartphone with the thermometer so you know exactly when your chicken, pork, or fish reaches the desired temperature.

Smart slow cooker: Start dinner from your office with this Wi-Fi enabled Crock-Pot. All it takes is a swipe of your finger to turn on the cooker, adjust the temperature, or turn it off so dinner doesn’t burn if you get stuck away from home longer than expected.

Slow cooker

Wi-Fi kettle: Remote boil with a little help from an app. The iKettle will get your water boiling, and hold it at temperature for 30 minutes, whenever you need it — morning, noon, or night.


Bluetooth shower speaker: The Aquatunes waterproof speaker is no old-school shower radio. This Bluetooth speaker allows you to stream music in the shower by connecting to your mobile device. Hook it onto your shower rod, press the sync button, and you’re ready for all of those in-shower concerts.

Heated toilet seat: The LumaWarm heated nightlight toilet seat is both heated and illuminated with a blue LED light. It comes with three temperature settings and warms up within a minute or two.


Wi-Fi lighting: Relax in your bedroom at the end of the day with perfectly personalized lighting that helps you transition to sleep with different color temperatures. There are a variety of smart lights available: some can be set on timers that you can access remotely through your smartphone, while others learn your daily routine or come equipped with motion sensors.

Smart window treatments: Motorized blinds or smart window film can both be operated remotely with a smartphone. Schedule your blinds and shades to open and close in response to the lighting levels outside or to your preference. There are literally no strings attached with these blinds, so no more tangled cords. Or you can forget about shades altogether, and go for tinting window film that can transitions from clear to opaque with a tap on a mobile app.

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Light It Up: 6 Ways To Boost Natural Light In Your Home

Call on these design tricks to create the illusion of a bright, spacious home, no matter its size.

Living the rental life has its benefits: the flexibility to move whenever your lease is up, access to neighborhoods you might not be able to afford to buy into (yet), and someone to fix anything that breaks. However, unless you’re living in a superluxury building, chances are good that at least one room in your place lacks that gorgeous natural sunlight that’s the difference between a “charmingly cozy apartment” and a cave.

But whether you’re moving into a new apartment for rent in New York, NY, or a bungalow in Atlanta, GA, an odd layout, a less-than-ideal wall color, a brick wall view, or even a lack of windows can make your new home feel dark and dreary. If your abode suffers from lack of natural light, there are a few solutions that can make it feel bright and welcoming. Here are some tips to help you lighten up.

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1. Hone in on lighter colors

Light colors are the hands-down favorite decor trick for creating an open and airy setting. White, of course, is the easiest choice. But some shades can look flat or dingy, depending on the undertones. “One of our favorite colors is Benjamin Moore’s Moonlight White. It has just enough depth to make an impact while still reading as very bright,” says Gale Sitomer of G Sitomer Designs.

We know what you’re thinking: Some landlords panic at the mere mention of paint. However, if you’re currently stuck with dark walls, Sitomer recommends opening up the conversation with your landlord — especially if you plan on staying awhile. Be sure to stress that you’ll be painting the apartment a neutral color. (Hint: Have samples of the new shade to share!) If they won’t budge, cover those dark indigo walls with temporary wallpaper in a light hue. And if that’s still a stretch, Sitomer suggests working in furniture or accessories in a light color.

2. Reflect a bigger space

Objects in a mirror can definitely look larger than they really are. This especially holds true in a room, according to Amy Fleischman of Drapes Decor. The key is mirror size and placement. “The bigger the better for mirrors to make a space look large — and they should also be simple, clean-cut, and placed in a space to reflect surrounding furniture,” she says. Best of all? Reflect a window. “We recently worked on an apartment on the water that made use of a large mirror on the wall to reflect the view and create the illusion that the water continued on,” adds Fleischman.

3. Clear the room

No, clear furniture doesn’t have to look like the ’80s. Glass, Lucite, and acrylic designs have made a huge comeback — and they can do wonders to maximize a feeling of spaciousness in a room. “The ability to see through the furniture allows one to see the rest of the space, which makes everything look less cluttered,” Fleischman says. Clear coffee tables, side tables, and even lamp bases can make a huge impact. Pro buying tip: If you can’t choose between glass, Lucite, and acrylic, she recommends going with acrylic: It’s thicker and stronger than glass yet (generally) more affordable than Lucite.
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5 Ways Home Buyers Make Their Agent's Job Harder



Not only do these behaviors ruin your agent's day, but they can ultimately work against you, too.

Buying a home can be a long and challenging process. It’s a big, expensive and infrequent transaction that can cause lots of stress and anxiety.

Some buyers take years to complete a purchase, and they require a lot of hand-holding and make lots of requests. Others are more self-sufficient, and only bring in the agent from time to time.

Good real estate agents can accommodate any buyer at any time — as they should. We’re in the service business, and I always say the customer is always right.

But let’s face it: All buyers (and all agents) are not created equal, and since buyers don’t pay for the agent’s time, there can sometimes be a disconnect.

Here are five buyer behaviors that can make life tough for agents.

Planning a (secret) price swap

It’s one thing for a buyer to ask a seller for a credit if the final home inspection uncovers a problem. But after you have a deal, planning to negotiate the price down without telling your agent is a big no-no. It adds stress and ill will among all parties involved, during what could already be a difficult transaction.

It’s better to be upfront about your intentions. If the deal is not meant to be, it’s better to not go down the path at all.

Making unjustified lowball offers

The seller’s property is on the market for $400,000, and it’s worth close to that, based on recent comparable sales. And yet, a potential buyer offers $300,000 and won’t budge on the price.

It’s not because the home is grossly overpriced or there’s something seriously wrong with it, but simply because the buyer wants a bargain.

Unjustified lowball offers can be a waste of time for everyone involved. The seller isn’t going to swallow $100,000 for no reason, even if the property has been on the market a while.

In fact, a lowball offer will likely just help the listing agent get a small price reduction, thus opening the window of opportunity to another buyer.

It’s certainly okay to offer less than the asking price, but be realistic.

Requiring too much during the showing

It’s typical for a potential buyer to view a property during an open house, then ask for a private showing — even two or three times. That’s par for the course.

However, it’s frustrating when a buyer arrives to a showing with a designer, architect, contractor or just some friends, then spends an hour or two at the home checking out and measuring each room. This is counterproductive, particularly if you do it at one home after another and never make an offer.

Some buyers have even been known to bring their psychic, who, after making a big splash with tarot cards and numerology charts, declares that the property has “negative energy” and isn’t a good fit, mainly based on the numbers in the property address. Did the psychic really need to see the property in person to figure that out?

Buyers typically give themselves an opportunity to gauge their own reactions to a property before bringing in friends, family or hired consultants. To go over a home inch-by-inch on the first or second visit is often a waste of everyone’s time.
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Down Payment Savings Tips for Renters


These clever ideas put homeownership within reach.

Ah, the perks of being a renter. No mortgage payments, no property taxes, no pesky maintenance work or repairs (leave that to your landlord to take care of!). Sounds like a good life, right?

Oh, wait, we almost forgot the big drawback: You’re not actually gaining equity in a home.

So what’s stopping you from buying a home? If you’re like most renters, it’s the lack of cash for a down payment.

Indeed, one in five Americans doesn’t even have a savings account — and one-third of those who do have a zero balance on their account, according to a recent survey by personal finance website Yikes!

The good news is, there are some simple ways to start saving money for a home purchase. Make these moves to build your down payment fund.

Set a target goal

Figuring out exactly how much house you can afford is key, because it allows you to determine how much you’ll need for a down payment.

Then put together a detailed savings plan, advises Andrea Blackwelder, Denver financial planner and founder of Wisdom Wealth Strategies.

Research shows people who set specific savings goals do a better job at putting money away than those who don’t.

“Just saving for a down payment isn’t enough,” Blackwelder says. “You need a hard dollar amount that you can work toward.”

Assess your spending habits

Look at your bank and credit card statements from the last three months to see where your money is going, then identify areas where you can cut back, says Brandy Wright, a certified financial planner at Cambridge Wealth Counsel in Atlanta.

Shrink your TV package

The average cable TV bill hit a record $99.10 last year, up 39 percent from 2010. Unless you’ve already cut the cord, downsizing your cable plan — and streaming shows instead — can help you save money.

Not willing to give up channels? Call you cable provider anyway, and try to negotiate a lower rate. If there’s another cable provider in your area, you’ve got leverage.

Drop the gym membership

It’s summer — get your exercise outdoors. “Jogging, hiking, and climbing outside is free,” Blackwelder points out.

Already locked into an annual gym membership? Your club might be willing to drop your rate if you get a friend to join.

Downsize to a smaller, cheaper apartment

Depending on where you live, going from a one-bedroom apartment to a studio can help you save thousands of dollars each year in rent.

“You need to live modestly if you’re serious about saving for a down payment,” says Wright.

Reducing your living space can also lower your heating and air-conditioning bills.

Get a side gig

It’s age-old advice, but it’s now easier than ever to pick up a side job, thanks to work opportunities such as Uber, Lyft, and Postmates, a food delivery service.

“Nowadays all you need to make some extra money is a car,” says Blackwelder.

You can also pick up freelance work through services like and

Open a high-yield savings account

Instead of keeping your cash in a checking account where it’s not earning interest, move the money to a high-yield savings account.

“You get complete access to the money and daily accrual of interest,” says Blackwelder.

Get a cash rewards credit card

Set aside your no-frills credit card and get a card with great cash-back rewards. Beverly Harzog, an independent credit card expert and consumer advocate, recommends the Blue Cash Preferred American Express Card, the Chase Freedom Credit Card, or the Citi Double Cash Card.

Caveat: Rewards credit cards typically have higher interest rates, so make sure you pay off your balance in full — and on time — each month.

Save your tax refund

While it’s tempting to spend what Uncle Sam gives you back each year, exert some willpower and put the money toward your down payment instead.


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8 Home Sale Secrets Only Real Estate Agents Know


Learn some special knowledge agents have that they might not always be able (or willing) to share with their sellers.


What do the formula for Coca-Cola, the subject of Carly Simon’s classic song “You’re So Vain,” and selling a home have in common? They all involve secrets. Although we don’t have the inside scoop on the first two, we did manage to find some real estate agents who are happy to share some trade-secret real estate tips. So read on — but shh, don’t tell!

1. Staging changes from season to season

The concept of staging was once a secret. That cat’s been out of the bag for a while now, but the practice of staging homes continues to evolve — and it can be much more complicated and elaborate than simply creating a cozy conversation area in a living room. For instance, did you know that it’s better to use shorter furniture during summer months? “It makes the room feel bigger, longer, and in the potential buyer’s mind, a better fit,” says Brian Pickler, president of Nadeau – Furniture with a Soul. Another staging secret is to play soft background music during showings to make a home seem cozier.

2. People love a healthy lawn

Who can resist the smell of freshly cut grass? Apparently, buyers can’t. Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal, knows one Nashville, TN, real estate agent’s secret: “She uses our platform to order last-minute lawn mowing before every showing. I’ve seen her get one home’s lawn mowed three times in one week.”

3. Pricing-strategy bands are important

Setting the right price so your home will sell is not a secret, but have you ever heard of pricing within “bands?” Don Tepper, a Virginia real estate agent, explains: “Buyers who want to spend $340,000 on a property may look between $325,000 and $350,000. If that’s the seller’s target market, then pricing a home at $351,000 will result in a lot of potential buyers missing the listing altogether.” So what’s the secret solution? Tepper says to price the home at $349,000. If you price it at $351,000, you’ll get people looking at the band between $350,000 and $375,000. “Those buyers probably want something fancier or nicer than a $351,000 house,” he says.


4. You can negotiate your agent’s commission … but should you?

It’s still a secret to many sellers that they can negotiate their agent’s commission. But it might be a mistake to do so just because you can. “Often it’s the bad [agents] who offer to discount their commissions. They are doing this to try and win the business,” says Thomas Miller, a Washington, DC, real estate agent. In other words, as with many things in life, you get what you pay for. “A truly excellent [agent] who executes the transaction quickly and flawlessly and sells the house at a good price is worth every penny,” says Miller.


5. Black holes exist in real estate listings

People can’t see black holes; no light gets out, making them invisible. If your listing falls into a real estate black hole, no one will see it either. “Most cities have listing black holes — times when listings get lost to weekends of sun, family vacations, and nonbusiness topics,” says Matt Parker, a Seattle, WA, real estate agent. If you list right before people go out of town, such as before Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, your listing may get buried before potential buyers see it.

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Big Savings Goal? Try A Spending Fast


Boost that savings account with this “cold-turkey” advice — it can help you break some spending habits that may have gone awry.

How do you feel about your savings goals right now? Are you making steady progress toward what you want to accomplish — or did you get a little sidetracked recently and spend your cash instead of saving it? Don’t beat yourself up about it. Whether you’re saving for short-term goals like a summer vacation or a long-term goal like a new car, getting off-track with goals happens to all of us from time to time. The key is to hit the reset button as soon as you can so you can keep moving forward.

When you experience a few weeks or months of overspending, it can be difficult to rein it in and cut back. But just like any bad habit, the best way to break it may be to go cold turkey. In terms of your finances, you can beat those spendy habits (and boost your savings!) by trying a spending freeze or “fast.”


What is a spending freeze anyway?

A spending freeze isn’t anything formal. It’s a determined period during which you don’t spend any money. You also can call it a spending fast or a no-spend week or weekend. The guidelines you set around your freeze are up to you, depending on how extreme you want to go with your efforts. You can cut your spending as much as possible, down to zero dollars going into others’ hands — or you can make exceptions for things you truly need.

The idea is that severely limiting your spending for a time can act as a hard reset on your financial habits. You’ll likely reduce your discretionary spending, which means more cash on hand to devote to your goals. But more importantly, this is an opportunity to make a mental shift. When you enact a spending freeze, you avoid the actual act of handing over money in exchange for something. You enforce a new habit of taking no action (by not spending). When you do spend again, you may be more mindful, because spending is now not as routine as it was before your spending-free period. You save money immediately, and you set yourself up to think twice before you spend in the future.


How to plan your own spending freeze

Set the rules ahead of time. Determine how long your fast will last and write down any exceptions before you start. This way, you’ll have guidelines as a reference when issues arise during your no-spend period. There won’t be any excuses for not sticking to the plan!

You can plan for your spending freeze to be in effect for a weekend, a week, or longer. One way to gamify your efforts is to start by choosing a day to avoid spending. If you get through the day without making any purchases, mark an X on the calendar. Your goal is to see how many of those X’s — or no-spend days — you can string together.

Next, set yourself up for success by taking care of any necessary spending before you start your financial fast. You can fill up your car with gas, make your monthly payment on that apartment for rent in Washington, DC, cover any utility bills that are due, or grab groceries before your week of no  spending begins. Yes, you’re still spending money on things you have to purchase for your everyday life. But again, you’re also creating a space of time where you don’t engage in the physical act of handing over cash multiple times every day. Creating a break in the spending pattern is a great way to hit a mental reset button to pull yourself out of mindless overspending.

8 Problems Home Inspections Frequently Miss

A standard home inspection is status quo in the home-buying process, but is it giving you the complete picture of a home’s health?

An inspection is standard operating procedure when it comes to buying a home. And while a home inspector’s final report on your sweet home for sale in San Francisco, CA, provides valuable information, does it give you a complete picture of your home’s health? Maybe. But there are some potential gaps in the typical home inspection, and some of them could prove costly if existing issues are overlooked.

Here are eight potential problem areas in a typical home inspection. Read on to find out how to get the additional information you’ll need to help spot issues before you close (which could protect you from costly repairs and replacements down the road).

1. Roof woes

Since home inspectors are not legally required to perform a physical inspection of the roof, their limited visual inspection could leave out substantial issues. Not surprisingly, according to the National Roof Certification and Inspection Association (NRCIA), roof problems are responsible for 39% of homeowners insurance claims.

If you read your home inspection report carefully, you might spot a disclaimer about the status of the roof and a recommendation for an additional inspection (which should be completed by a certified roof inspector). Inspectors who are licensed with the NRCIA may also issue a roof certification guaranteeing the life and quality of the roof. While this service may cost a few hundred dollars, requesting that the seller address any issues with the roof before closing could make it well worth the cost.

2. HVAC problems

Problems with a home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC) can also be easily overlooked during a home inspection. While an inspector should confirm the unit is functional at the time of inspection, they will make no guarantee that it will keep working once you purchase the home. An HVAC specialist, however, will not only give a status of the unit but also will certify the findings of their inspection. If the HVAC unit of the home you’re considering is old or the sellers can’t tell you when it was last serviced, an inspection or presale tuneup could pay off (and give you peace of mind).

3. Water damage

External water damage is pretty easy to spot with a visual inspection; it’s the damage hidden within a home’s walls that can be difficult to detect. Unless your inspector is using an infrared (IR) camera to locate and document any moisture intrusion, you may not know your dream home is waterlogged — and certified home inspectors aren’t required to use them.

For a more thorough inspection, seek out a home inspector who knows how to wield an IR camera. If they spot hidden problems, they can potentially save you thousands. That was the case for Brandon Fenton, who ran into a water damage issue at a home for sale in Bellingham, WA. “My wife and I were excited about the house, but there was what appeared to be an old water stain on the ceiling of the upstairs bedroom,” he says. “The damage looked old, but the inspector’s IR camera picked up a huge water spot, which had led to a substantial mold issue.” Luckily for the Fentons, their agent had insisted on using an inspector with an IR camera. Otherwise, the couple would’ve been the proud new owners of a moldy home — an issue that can cause health complications and also be expensive to remediate.

4. Flooring trouble

Inspectors check for obvious signs of wear and tear and any potential issues in plain sight. But what about flooring problems that are covered up with carpet, tile, or laminate? If floors and subfloors are warped or spongy, the home may have a moisture problem — and a costly one at that.

“The homes we purchase are typically in rough shape, but core issues such as a molded-out subfloor can make all the difference between a healthy profit and breaking even,” says James Dainard, co-founder of Heaton Dainard Real Estate in Seattle, WA, which represents buyers interested in acquiring investment properties. But how do you know if you should be concerned? Use your feet to detect an issue; soft spots where the wood is weak will give way as you walk across the floor. But you can also use your sense of smell: A weak subfloor will have a moldy, musty smell — a clear indication of wood rot. If you spot the signs of a potential problem — or just want to be sure — you can find local experts through the National Institute of Certified Floorcovering Inspectors.

5. Appliance performance

While a home inspector can verify that appliances are in good working order, they won’t be able to guarantee how long they will last. Understand the health of your big-ticket appliances by asking the owner for warranty manuals, original purchase receipts, and maintenance records. These items won’t provide a guarantee of performance, but they will give you the context you need to help make an informed decision.

6. Disturbed asbestos

Sellers are required to disclose any known presence of asbestos. However, the presence of asbestos-based building materials in a home isn’t necessarily a reason to call off your purchase: Asbestos is not dangerous unless the material is damaged and fibers are released and inhaled. However, while intact asbestos fibers are often obvious, it can be more difficult to know if there are disturbed asbestos fibers hiding underneath insulation or even under floorboards. If you’re considering a home built before 1980, it’s worth asking your home inspector if they have frequently worked with asbestos and can make a reasonable judgment about whether disturbed asbestos fibers are present based on a visual inspection. If the presence of disturbed fibers is confirmed, you should seek a remediation quote from a qualified contractor — or make sure the sellers have the problem fixed before you close.

7. Noxious gases

Found in homes in all 50 states, radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas you cannot see, smell, or taste — and it causes cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends all homes be tested for the presence of radon. Before your home inspection, ask the seller if they have already tested for radon. Sellers often test their homes before placing them up for sale, so recent test results may be available during the closing process. If not, radon tests are reasonably priced, around $40, and the test results can be processed in a matter of days. Some states offer free test kits: find your state’s radon contact on this radon map by the EPA.

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Predicting the 'Right Time' to Buy or Sell a Home


You can't see into the future, but you can make an informed decision.

Buying or selling a home at the ‘right time’ is tougher than it sounds. People usually take these actions because of a life event or financial issues. The economy and real estate forecasts tend to be secondary considerations. Yet both buyers and sellers often pose the question, “When is the best time to buy or sell?”

If you have the luxury of choosing when you enter the real estate market, here are some points to consider when timing a home purchase or sale.

Every market is different

There’s no longer one national real estate market or forecast like there was 20 years ago. And just because the 24×7 national news outlets tell stories of hot real estate markets with multiple offers and quickly rising prices doesn’t mean that’s happening in your neighborhood.

In fact, real estate activity can vary widely within the same county. One town can see record-breaking activity, while another 10 miles away has a glut of inventory.

If you want to purchase or sell, dig deeper, look around and get as much local information as possible. Meet with a good local agent early and often to stay informed about shifts in the market.

Interest rates fluctuate

Most people need a mortgage to purchase a home, and long-term interest rates are a major factor. For many years, we’ve been living with historically low mortgage rates. But while we might be living in a time of three- or four-percent rates today, remember that in the 1980s rates were 12 percent or higher.

It’s not uncommon for buyers to get off the sidelines and into the real estate market when they hear news of the Federal Reserve raising interest rates. It’s very likely that when rates do start to creep back up again (and they eventually will), would-be buyers will turn into active customers.

Seasons change

Traditionally, spring has been the big real estate selling season. Flowers bloom, the grass is green, pools are open and homes show in their best possible light. Parents with school-aged children also wanted to purchase in the spring or summer so the kids could start a new school in the fall.

While the spring is still a strong selling season, today’s buyers are looking online and searching on their phones every day, no matter the season, and transactions happen from New Year’s Day to Christmas Eve.

If you have a home to sell and aren’t in a rush, consider doing so at a traditionally “off” time. There will be fewer homes for sale, which means less competition.

Don’t try to time the market based on antiquated assumptions about seasons. It’s more important that you show your home in its best possible condition and choose the right list price. If it’s priced right and shows well, it will sell anytime.
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Avoiding Home Buyer's Remorse


Home shopping can be an intense, emotional process. Here’s how to make sure you don’t get caught up in it.

Ever bought something special and later realized you didn’t need it or like it after all? Usually, returning it is as simple as boxing it back up, locating the receipt, and taking it back to the store for a full refund.

But unlike store merchandise or even a car, you can’t return a home with a receipt, which makes the decision to buy even more stressful. You also don’t get a chance to “try before you buy” the home. You need to do as much homework ahead of time as possible, because in real estate “All Sales are Final.”

In a busier real estate market, with competitive bidding and limited inventory, you may feel compelled to go the extra mile to “win” a home. And then, it’s entirely possible that, within hours or days of getting the deal, you cool off and second guess yourself about any part of the home or the transaction. You decide you want to pull out of the contract.

Thinking it through

How do you avoid getting into this situation? To avoid buyer’s remorse, stay grounded by asking yourself the following questions throughout the home-buying process.

Must I ‘own’ this house or must I ‘win’ this house?

Often, in a competitive situation, a buyer just wants to win. If you’re competing and forced into a multiple-offer situation, step back and ask yourself: Is this the home I really want, or do I just want to beat out the other buyers?

Also, has the potential purchase price exceeded the list price? Putting an offer on a home at $475,000 is one thing. But a few rounds of counter offers may bring the price up over $500,000. A price $25,000 higher can create an entirely different set of circumstances, and the home may no longer be right for you.

Have I seen the home more than once?

There are hundreds of buyers who saw a house only once. Some international customers even purchase sight unseen. But this is the exception, not the norm.

No matter how much you think you love a home, if you’ve only seen it once, you could be heading for buyer’s remorse. Going back in the evening or a different time of day provides another perspective.

Also, you may see things differently the second time around. Often, you miss something in your first pass that stands out the second time around.

Have I seen the home from every angle and spent time in every room?

A quick tour of the home provides a basic understanding of the floor plan, condition, and size. But to really know a home, dig deep.

Walk to the end of the lot and look at the back of the home. Open every closet and go in the attic, basement, and garage (park your car in there, if you can). And look at the neighboring houses, too.

Have I seen a floor plan?

Reviewing an architectural floor plan provides an opportunity to see the home in a different context. It’s possible you’ll pick up on things you might have otherwise missed.

Have I reviewed the photos after seeing the home?

Going back to the listing photos helps jog your memory. Seeing the pictures, which are snapshots in time, will give you a different perspective.

Was the shade closed in the picture, and if so, why? Did you ever look out that window?

Does the photo remind you that the bedrooms are small because there are only twin or queen-sized beds without any nightstands?

These types of questions are a great way to evaluate if a home will work for you.

Have I toured the home privately?

Visiting a home with other buyers isn’t the best way to see it. You may feel cramped or rushed. You might want to sit in one of the rooms in silence for a few minutes, but it’s often not possible to do so at an open house. You may just want the time and attention of the listing agent, or maybe you don’t want anyone there but your agent.

If you’re serious about a home, go back for a private showing, because it reveals more when you have time alone there.

Have I done due diligence?

If you haven’t seen or heard about any disclosures before making an offer, it could be a red flag. In many markets, disclosure packages are available before making an offer. If not, a good listing agent will reveal the major disclosure items verbally.

Make sure the town sees the home as it is being presented to you, that all the rooms and renovations are legal and permitted. If you’re too busy to review the disclosures, you shouldn’t make an offer.

Also, find out if there have been previous contractor’s inspection, termite, or other reports you haven’t seen yet.

Is this home what I set out to look for in the first place?

Sometimes your path changes once you’re in the market. You realize that another area will give you more for your money. Or a home that’s in the school district you want needs a lot of renovation, which you hadn’t counted on doing. You may discover that with lower rates and being open to a new or emerging area, you can afford a better home.

When buyers are in the throes of a competitive home market, it’s easy to settle for a home that “kind of” works, or to lapse into autopilot mode. You may just be ready to buy and be done with it. You don’t think about things like the commute from the new neighborhood to your job, that you aren’t the renovating type, or that you never signed up for the lawn mowing and maintenance issues associated with homeownership.

A good agent will bring you back to your original plan before you sign a contract. You and your agent should review all the reasons why the home isn’t the right option. It’s better to flesh that out in advance than to ignore the warning signs and cancel. If your agent tries to talk you out of a house, that’s a sign of a good agent.

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6 Mistakes Buyers Make In A Seller’s Market



When you’re looking for a home, but the market favors sellers, you need a plan in place to avoid making mistakes.

The real estate market fluctuates often, making it tough to predict whether the market will favor buyers or sellers when it’s your turn to buy. Especially if you’re shopping for real estate in San Francisco, CA, or another market that currently favors sellers, you need to know some tricks of the trade to help ensure you don’t make any mistakes. Buyers in a seller’s market can get what they want, but they need to bring their “A” game — buying a house in a hot market isn’t for the indecisive. Here are six common mistakes many buyers make — mistakes that you can learn to avoid — when shopping in a seller’s market.


1. Not making your best offer

The drive to buy what we want for as little money as possible is practically in our DNA. So when most people see the listing price of a home, they naturally wonder what they can really get the house for. Offering lower than asking price is a perfectly reasonable strategy in some instances, such as if the house is overpriced compared with other similar homes in the area, or if it’s a buyer’s market with lots of available inventory. But trying to get a deal when you’re in a seller’s market might not be the best idea. “In a seller’s market, many buyers do not step up with a strong enough offer,” says David Dubin, a New York broker. “There is usually a shortage of inventory, and the competition is usually fierce. I always encourage a buyer to come in with a strong opening offer.”


2. Waiting too long to put in an offer

Just as impulse-buying a home is risky, analyzing a home purchase to death in a seller’s market is inadvisable too. When you wait too long, “You are at high risk of losing [the home] you have fallen in love with,” says Dubin. Once you’ve determined the type of home you want, the location you desire, and your price range, and finally find a home that meets your qualifications, make an offer. To give yourself more leverage, be prepared to make a quick offer by having your finances in order — get a preapproval if you can. “Know how much you can truly afford, repair any credit issues, have your down payment in hand, and delay [other] major purchases,” says John Lazenby, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor Association in Florida.


3. Not working with a seasoned agent

In a seller’s market, it benefits buyers to get all the help they can. If you have a seasoned agent on your side, you’ll probably have a better chance of getting the home you want. Plus, in most cases, buyers don’t pay real estate agents; sellers do. “When you are competing against other buyers in a fast-paced market, it is vital to be ‘offer-ready,’” says Michael Holt, a New York agent. “Working with a real estate professional saves tons of time and stress, as they know the ins and outs of the process and can provide tremendous insight regarding upcoming inventory.”


4. Not being prequalified (or better yet, preapproved) for a loan

You might know that you’ll be approved for a mortgage loan based on your steady income, your low debt-to-income ratio, and your high credit score — but the seller probably doesn’t know that. The only way to prove to the seller that you’re a qualified buyer is to be prequalified from a lender. “Prequalification is absolutely paramount,” says Teka Klopfenstein, a New York agent. “A buyer has zero advantage if they do not have the cash to purchase without a mortgage and haven’t taken the time to speak with a lender.” Not getting prequalified, she says, “sends a message to the seller that the buyer will lag on getting their ducks in order and aren’t taking their house hunting seriously.”

Preapproval is a step above prequalification (where you simply tell your lender your financial story). The preapproval process involves submitting a mortgage application, complete with supplying verifying documents. “Preapproval from a reputable lender is key,” says New York agent Ryan Stenta. “Presenting this shows the seller that the buyer has already set the wheels in motion and is serious about making [the deal] a reality.”


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How To Avoid HOA Drama And Red Tape


Homeowners’ associations can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Here’s how to assess if yours is a good one.

When it comes to homeowners’ associations (HOAs), some people are completely turned off, and others live by them. HOAs are in a delicate position, after all. On one hand, no one wants to be told exactly what shade of tan they must paint their house; however, no one wants to live next to a home that looks as if it has been abandoned for 20 years either. Luckily, HOAs are not out to ruin homeowners’ lives, and they’re certainly not looking to get tied up in legal battles. In fact, HOA rules were created to keep neighborhoods safe, clean, and friendly.

But how do you know if the neighborhood in which you’re about to buy a home (or the one in which you currently reside) has an upstanding HOA? Use these tips to assess if your HOA is a good one.


Do your homework

Buying a house you love is a lot like a first crush. You’re so smitten with your beloved that you could fail to see the potential negatives and, in the case of a home, a really poorly managed HOA. Such was the case when Gary Duell bought his Happy Valley, OR, condo. “There were no maintenance reserves,” says Duell, who currently serves on his neighborhood’s HOA. “Roofs were leaking; the grounds were a mess; staff were using and occupying vacant condos for personal and business use.” Because the property was still majority-owned by the developer, the developer was in charge of the HOA, which was poorly managed by his management company. But Duell and some neighbors were not about to let their homes go under. By doing a little homework and digging into their rights in the bylaws and under state law, “a small group of us took over the board long enough to fire the developer’s management company,” he says.

Don’t want to end up in a hostile takeover situation of your HOA? Do your homework on the HOA before you buy. Some states even require it. “In Pennsylvania, at or prior to closing, buyers get a certificate from the HOA, which states the deficit and surplus of the neighborhood’s budget,” says Jason Rabinovich, a real estate attorney in Philadelphia, PA. “Buyers should also demand that their real estate agents obtain the same as quickly as possible after signing the agreement of sale.”


Attend a board meeting


What better way to get a real feel for how a neighborhood’s HOA works than to simply attend an HOA meeting? (Check your state’s laws, though, as not all potential buyers are permitted to attend these meetings or have access to the board’s minutes, says Rabinovich.) Years ago, after Duell first realized how mismanaged his property’s HOA was, he wished he’d taken the time to attend one of the board meetings. “You really want to see how well the meeting is being conducted,” he says. “Is there a board representative for the homeowners if the developer still owns the property?” If there’s no homeowner representation or the meeting is conducted poorly, those are red flags that something is amiss.


Learn more about the previous owners


You don’t necessarily need to know everything about the people who once owned your home. But it does help to find out if they were up to date on their HOA fees, if there are any existing fines, and, of course, any outstanding HOA requests. Just a few months after Amanda Davis moved into her New Jersey home. she received a letter from the HOA stating they needed to power-wash the exterior of their home — or they’d be fined. “The old owners never power-washed it nor told us the HOA had contacted them about doing it, and we were never notified we were required,” says Davis. “It was the middle of January, freezing cold, and we called four or five companies to power-wash it, but none would do it. We asked the HOA to let us wait until spring, but they refused. So at nine months pregnant, I bought a power washer and did it myself in the cold.”


Be aware of site inspections

To keep a community safe and looking good, the HOA or its management company will often do site inspections. Some require an interior inspection of a home when you move in to ensure everything is up to date (which was not the case with Davis’ situation, above), while others will randomly inspect throughout the year, looking for neglected yards and landscaping or anything out of the ordinary (read: a massive boat permanently parked in the driveway). “Years ago, we cited a home in a community for a rake board that needed to be repaired,” says Tab Ratra, president of Community Inspection Services Inc. in Gaithersburg, MD, as well as co-host of HOA Talk Time Podcast. “The property owner was upset and wanted to know why they were being cited and was anyone else cited for the same thing. We responded to the property owner and explained that we inspected the entire community, not just her home. This eased her concerns. Furthermore, we provided a picture of the item and explained that these inspections improve the entire community and everyone’s property value.”

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3 Tips For Crafting Tempting Offers That Sellers Will Love

Writing an offer letter sellers will love might seem like a no-brainer, but don't underestimate this powerful tool.


It’s like striking gold: After hours of scouring homes for sale in Atlanta, GA, or Seattle, WA, you’ve found the house of your dreams. In fact, you went home last night and played a little game of Where Does the Sofa Go? But before you can say “home sweet home,” there’s an offer to be made (and accepted). While these three tips won’t guarantee that your offer will be chosen, they will help you be competitive, and you’ll be one step closer to landing your dream home.

1. Carefully consider your approach

If you think your dream home’s listing price is just a place to begin negotiations, think again. First, have a conversation with your real estate agent and look together for similar homes and recent sales in the area. You can do a little sleuthing on your own by searching Trulia for sold homes — just be sure to choose a time frame within the past three months for the most accurate results. Looking at comparable homes will give you a better idea of the seller’s asking price in relation to similar properties and can help you shape your offer based on property-specific amenities and location.

Next, you should decide how you’ll pay for your purchase: cash or financing. Cash offers can sometimes command a lower selling price since there aren’t mortgage details to sort through and the sale should close faster. If you’re using financing but can offer a quick close (less than 30 days), take that into consideration in your offer price — your real estate agent may be able to leverage a quick close to sweeten the deal.

If you’re thinking of submitting a lowball offer, engage in a candid conversation with your real estate agent. Agents know the market well and might even know a thing or two about the listing agent through previous sales. There are certain times when a lowball offer might start favorable negotiations, but there are many others when such an offer can derail the reality of landing your dream home. If you decide to submit an offer substantially below the listing price, be prepared for a negotiation process — or a flat-out “no.”

When you’re ready to make your offer, back it up with everything the seller needs to know. You want the seller to believe that yours is the one offer to look at twice. Be sure to include completed offer paperwork with signatures where they belong, and make sure you’re asking for seller concessions that make sense for the market.


2. Weigh the pros and cons of your requests for repairs

Maybe you’re looking to have some of your closing costs covered. Perhaps you just want the old, worn-out carpeting replaced. Asking for seller concessions is a normal part of the offer process, but you need to know what you can reasonably expect.

If you’re in a competitive bidding situation, odds are that the seller is going to choose the offer requiring the least amount of work on the seller’s part. Work with your real estate professional to make a list of “musts” and “would like” items for the sellers to tackle. You can put these concessions side by side with your offer price and see what makes for the most compelling deal. Bottom line: If you’re negotiating and something’s got to give, consider your requested concessions to stay competitive.


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10 Household Expenses You Can Eliminate Right Now


The key to saving money is knowing where to trim your budget.

Paying bills is never fun, but it’s even less exciting when those monthly expenses: a) keep you from enjoying the cultural events and great restaurants your city has to offer; or b) leave you eating noodles for the last few days before every payday. But you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice the lifestyle you want to live in an apartment or home you love. In fact, it’s probably easier than you think to eliminate some of those unnecessary household expenses.

So whether you’re fulfilling those big-city dreams in a studio apartment in San Francisco, CA, or moving into a family-friendly home for sale in Austin, TX, read on to find out how to eliminate or reduce monthly household expenses like grocery bills, insurance, and cellphone bills without disrupting your life.


1. Head to the grocery store

Sure, you can’t eliminate the price of food from your budget (people do have to eat). But do you really need to buy all of your groceries at Whole Foods and buy takeout for lunch every day? “Food is a huge monthly expense for many families,” says CPA Philip Taylor, founder of “To make a big impact, eliminate all takeout and dining-out meals. Food from the grocer is less expensive and likely healthier than restaurant options anyway. If you crave the occasional meal out, search for local one-time freebies or buy-one-get-one deals.” Eating in doesn’t have to mean daily trips to the grocery store either. Research local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and talk with your neighbors or co-workers about sharing the weekly offerings — buying into a CSA with a group still gives you a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables while easing the stress of having to figure out a way to use every piece of produce delivered.


2. Have a plan when you shop

Couponing is one simple way to cut expenses, but it’s not for everyone. One top alternative for cutting those grocery expenses, sans couponing, is to know the cost of the top 20 things you buy most often (think milk, eggs, and butter). That way, when you see the prices go up (or down!), you’ll know if you’re getting a good deal. These little changes in strategic shopping can help you cut down on expenses over time.


3. Quality entertainment

We’re not suggesting you ditch your TV altogether (although you could). But we are saying that if you want to save money, you might be surprised at all the options you have. “Consider internet streaming via Roku, Apple TV, or another device,” says Steven M. Hughes, chief financial mentor of Know Money. Many streaming services like Netflix and Amazon also allow multiple users under one account, so you can split the price with friends or family.

And as long as you’re willing to wait until the current season of your favorite show is out on DVD, Brad Kingsley, co-founder of Maximize Your Money financial coaching, gives a secret tip for watching your favorite shows for free. “When we order Prime items from Amazon that we don’t need in the standard two days, we choose the slower shipping option, which gives a $1 Amazon digital credit. These credits can be held for a couple of months and used to rent Amazon movies for free.”

You could even challenge yourself to pick up a book from your local library or an online borrowing service and avoid spending a dime. “Amazon’s Prime service allows a once-per-month free borrow of certain books,” explains Kingsley. “Many local libraries also work with Overdrive, which allows borrowing ‘from the library’ but straight to your e-reader. This gives a huge number of title options, and you don’t even have to visit the library!”


4. Rethink your cellphone plan

Competition is fierce when it comes to cellphone carriers, because the market is saturated with options for consumers. Take advantage of this and “evaluate your phone and data plans and call customer service to negotiate your plan,” advises Hughes. “There’s usually a new plan that fits your usage better than when you signed your contract. If not, don’t be afraid to look at prepaid plans. It cuts out the guesswork of what your phone bill may be month to month, and [the prepaid plans] operate on the same networks as the big carriers.”


5. Lay off the landline

Be honest: When is the last time you used your landline? If your phone has followed you from rental to rental, or remained unused in your home for years, it may be time to unplug it for good — and cut out that expense. However, if you work from home or still require a landline, it may be worth investing in a product like Ooma Telo, which hooks up to your router and allows you to make voice calls around the country for a flat $3.98 per month.


6. Renegotiate your insurance rates

Insurance for your home, rental, car, and health is negotiable — for all of them. Insurance rates fluctuate often, so you could be missing out on a lower rate if you don’t shop around for new insurance at least once per year. Plus, competition is high among insurance companies, and you may qualify for certain discounts based on your age or risk with a different plan. Says Taylor: “You may qualify for a new discount, or you may be able to raise your deductible and see some savings.”

7. Gym membership: Not necessary

No, this isn’t your excuse to stop working out. Rather, think of it as a challenge to find places to work out for free. Many cities offer free classes at downtown parks, and your bedroom might work in a pinch. Better yet? Take advantage of the gym in your apartment building or work out at lunch with a group of co-workers at the gym in your workplace. Finally, if you have a current gym membership that you use periodically, think about exactly which machines you use regularly and invest in free weights to use at home. You may be surprised that you can get a full-body workout with just one pair of dumbbells.


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6 Insiders Reveal Secrets Every House Hunter Should Know


Arm yourself with insider tips before you start the home search.

One of my favorite Disneyland experiences was the time I went with a neighbor who worked there. Although it was a crowded Fourth of July evening, my neighbor knew how to navigate around the park to avoid the crowds, and the best, secret spot for watching the fireworks. All because of his insider knowledge.

Insider advice can also be a huge plus when you’re house hunting. We asked a range of pros, from agents with experience selling homes in Austin, TX, to experts working in the Seattle, WA, real estate market, about their top real estate advice. Keep these tips in mind before you begin your search, and you’ll find yourself ahead of the game and in a great spot when it’s time to place an offer.

1. Look for flaws in the foundation

When I was recently looking for investment property, I lost count of how many houses I saw that had stunning kitchens with new appliances. But often, underfoot was a creaky, unleveled floor, cracks in the foundation walls, or backyards with water drainage issues. The kitchen remodel in these cases was, as the saying goes, “like putting lipstick on a pig.” Many sellers hope you’ll fall for this ploy by not looking past the shiny stuff. Be smart by hiring a home inspector to help you avoid possible costly repairs down the road. You can also do some screening on your own by looking for common problem areas. Structural engineer Adam Green, CEO of Crosstown Engineering, suggests looking for the following foundation flaws: cracks in the walls larger than 1/8 inch, doors and windows that stick, sloping or uneven floors, and noticeable damage to the exterior.

2. Think strategically to land a house in a hot market

Nothing can be more frustrating than looking for a house in a popular area during a seller’s market. But there are ways to gain an advantage over the competition. Austin, TX, has consistently been named one of the hottest markets in recent years, and according to Trulia’s market trends, the city is likely to hang on to that hot market status through 2016. Justine A. Smith, an Austin real estate agent, suggests two strategies to land your dream home. First, have your agent pull tax records of sellers to get information to use to write a personal note. And second, ask your agent to share your needs on social media and with other agents to get the scoop on properties that haven’t yet hit the market.

3. Get the inside scoop

It’s second nature for journalists and detectives to go below the surface to ferret out information. But even amateurs can discover some useful dirt. Kate Shields, a board member of MORe, a real estate organization in Illinois, says to go out in “stealth mode.” Look for a garage sale in your desired neighborhood and casually “ask the homeowner questions as you’re shopping.” No nearby garage sales to shop? Ryan J. Halset, aSeattle, WA, real estate agent, says you can often find “neighbors out watering their lawn just hoping you’ll come talk with them.” Halset has uncovered issues with a home just by starting a conversation with a neighbor.

4. Use pricing psychology

Pricing strategy becomes important when you’re making an offer to a seller in a competitive market. You’ve probably heard that people are more likely to buy something that ends in a “9” instead of a “0,” such as being more willing to shell out for an item that costs $59 instead of $60. That’s house numerology at work. Brian Horan, a Los Angeles, CA, real estate broker, says not to “leave a ‘5’ or a ‘0’ at the end of a price.” If the property is listed at $325,000 and you know there are already three offers, you might be tempted to go about 3% higher and offer $335,000. “Don’t do it,” says Horan, who recommends an offer of $336,000, or even better, $341,000, instead. The important thing is to go one number over “5” or “0” to be the highest bid by just a little bit more.

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Why Home Buyers and Agents Need to Have Each Other's Backs


Searching for a home and engaging with a real estate agent today is not the same as it was a generation ago. The space (both physical and virtual) between the buyer and the real estate agent was much larger, and coming together was slower and more methodical.

If a buyer saw a For Sale sign or an ad in the paper, they might call the real estate agency’s office, get some information, and move on. Or they could walk into an open house solo. They could be rather anonymous.

But today’s home buyers live online. They can click, text or email with agents, and seriously engage within hours. But does that mean they are active and serious buyers ready to transact? Not necessarily.


The real estate agent’s experience

Meanwhile, real estate agents, who are commission-only independent contractors, will sometimes drive around for hours showing homes. They may take these buyers around for days or weeks, thinking they have a live client they can help. They might make an offer or two on behalf of the customer, even be present at a two- to three-hour-long home inspection … all before the buyer decides to back out. They may buy a different house from the agent, or they may not.

Well-intentioned, hardworking agents can end up feeling like their time isn’t valued — particularly when they never hear from that buyer again.


Who’s responsible?

Is it incumbent on the agent to be better at time management and qualifying their potential buyer clients? Or should the buyer be clear with the agent early on if they aren’t serious just yet?

I think that the consumer comes first, and it’s up to the agent to better qualify — as best they can. But it’s also part of the business, and par for the course. Agents sign up for a sales job, and they can’t win every deal. They need to ask lots of questions of their new “client” before offering up their time and cashing a paycheck that doesn’t exist.

Some consumers relish the attention they receive from this new “friend” who will drive them places, show them around, and teach them something new about the world of real estate. If the buyer isn’t paying for the agent’s time, the reasoning often goes, why not take a few rides and see some great houses?

But soon-to-be homeowners should be mindful of their intentions, and considerate of the resources the agent is delivering.


So what’s a buyer to do?

Should everyone stop looking online or clicking the “Contact Agent” button? No way. Consumers should always feel free to click away, ask questions and gather information.

But they should be mindful of how things work once they start seriously engaging. Most buyers don’t realize that there is a process to buying a home, and that it rarely happens overnight. From the time they first click on the photo of the killer master bathroom until they get the keys, it might be one year and three dozen (or more) house tours.

And if things don’t feel right with the agent with whom you engage early on, move on. Keep researching independently, or get a referral for a good local agent. Or, better yet, just go with the flow and the right agent will come along organically.


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10 Tips for Organizing an Irresistible Yard Sale


At some point, nearly all of us will organize or assist with a yard sale, garage sale, or estate sale. Whether you’re planning your own yard sale, or are pitching in to help run one, the key to yard sale success is drawing a crowd.

Some people make “yard sale-ing” the main activity of their Saturday morning. What entices them to stop their car and jump out to cruise a collection of used stuff? Understanding this will help you get traffic to your sale so people will snap up your unwanted items.

The three keys to a yard sale people can’t help stopping for are:

  • Stellar signage
  • Personalized presentation
  • Interesting inventory

Over the years, the quality of yard sales has diminished. Many folks simply open the garage door, lay a sheet on the ground and drag out dusty, cobwebbed items stored in the corners of the garage and attic for way too long. They stick a sign marked “Yard Sale” in the ground and hope for the best.

While that approach can work, it won’t give you top dollar, says author and garage sale expert Ava Seavey.

As long as you’re taking time out of your life to sell your used furniture, nearly new kitchen appliances, and sports equipment, why not try to get as much as you can for those items? A little class and some effort will definitely make the difference.


Keys to success

Here are Ava’s 10 tips for a successful yard sale:

  1. Offer at least 100 items or more for sale. People tend to drive on by when they don’t see enough inventory.
  2. Present an array of goods. All clothes and shoes or just kids’ items won’t give you the kind of traffic you need to generate cash. Get more people by supplying an interesting inventory.
  3. Use tables and tablecloths to display your more expensive items. The easier it is for your customers to shop, the more you will sell — and the classier your wares look, the more you can charge.
  4. Create tags or labels to individually price all items. This allows your yard sale helpers to actually help you without having to turn around and ask you for the price on every item. This personalized presentation makes it easier for buyers to make decisions and add up the purchases in their heads as they shop.
  5. Choose your sale’s date wisely. The majority of yard sales and garage sales are held in the spring, and the best day of the week for a sale is Friday. Be sure, however, to avoid holidays and holiday weekends.

7 Ways To Determine A Home’s Architectural Style

We all have our own personal style. Your home does too!

Whether you’re headed to open houses or just cruising around town, you may begin to notice architectural details of the homes around you: round columns versus square on a front porch, stucco versus brick, and a gabled roof versus a saltbox roof. For the curious homebuyer, it opens up a slew of questions about architectural styles. Do those windows belong to a Colonial or a traditional home? How can you tell if the expansive front porch addition on your home matches the original architectural style of the rest of the house?

Knowing the basics of the most popular home styles — and being able to explain exactly what you like to your real estate agent — can be a big help when you’re starting a house hunt. “When looking for a home, knowing the architectural style you prefer will help your agent choose the right houses to show you,” says Amy Mizner, principal of Benoit Mizner Simon & Co. Real Estate in Wellesley, MA.

Here’s a quick guide to identifying some of the most popular residential architectural styles across the country.



Victorian: Large wraparound porches, bay windows, and scalloped wood siding

Who hasn’t dreamed of owning a fine architectural gem like this home for sale at 107 S. 20th Ave, Longport, NJ? “There are several telltale features that Victorian houses share, usually starting with a front porch with a pretty wood railing traditionally painted in vivid contrasting colors,” says Holly Mack-Ward, real estate agent with Holly Mack-Ward & Co. Coldwell Banker in Philadelphia, PA. “A large double-door entry into a vestibule, bay windows, turrets, and scalloped wood siding are all common exterior features,” she adds.

The interiors tend to match the facade in these detailed houses, where intricate millwork, plaster molding, and decorative fireplaces with elaborate mantels are common. “There’s something about an old house with fun shapes and pointy towers that make people feel like they own their own castle,” adds real estate agent Scott Fore of Berkshire Hathaway Verani in Portsmouth, NH.


Craftsman: Open porches, gabled roofs, and jutting eaves

“Craftsman-style homes can be charming, especially if you like the idea of a simple home with a cozy porch and a stone fireplace,” says Mizner. “These are great homes for first-time homebuyers or those ready to downsize.” Craftsman homes like this one at 8336 32nd Ave. NW, Seattle, WA 98117, first popularized during the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century, are also celebrated for the detailed woodwork and specialty built-ins (think shelving and window seats) often found inside.


Tudor: Pitched roofs, large chimneys, ornamental framing

You might feel as though you’re in a BBC miniseries in a classic Tudor like this home for sale at 2349 Middlesex Dr., Toledo, OH 43606, but lo and behold, Tudors are available (and popular) in America. Tudors typically feature pitched roofs and heavy chimneys (usually in stone or brick) that lend a medieval feeling to the architecture. This style of architecture was inspired by 16th-century English thatched-roof cottages and became popular in the 19th and 20th centuries in the U.S. Expect a mix of brick, half-timber, and stucco on the facade in natural color schemes, plus elaborate arched doorways.

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My Home Sale Fell Apart: How To Avoid These 5 Real-Life Scenarios

Don’t let a potential sale crumble — heed these tips.

A home sale can be a precarious thing. One minute, your real estate agent is sure the potential buyers — who just did a third walk-through of your home — will make an offer on your home for sale in Athens, GA, any day now. But the next minute, you could find out that those same buyers have made an offer on your neighbor’s home down the street instead. Beyond financing issues or a buyer’s sudden loss of employment (not to mention the eyesore next door or a low appraisal), there seem to be about a million and one reasons why a house sale falls through.

But there is good news: You can do several things to avoid many of the potential home-selling pitfalls before you put that for-sale sign in your front yard.

1. Get a pre-inspection

Most real estate agents suggest that buyers get their home inspected before they head to the closing table. But for a seller, it often doesn’t hurt to stay one step ahead — and have your home inspected before it ever hits the market. “Not many sellers take advantage of a prelisting inspection, partially because they aren’t aware it’s an option. But it is a way to uncover what is wrong with the home before it goes to market. It can speed up the sales process and determine if there are any major problems that are potential deal breakers,” explains Scott Brown of Brightside Home Inspections in Syracuse, NY.

Liane Jamason, a real estate agent with Jamason Realty Group and Smith & Associates Real Estate in the Tampa, FL, area, knows firsthand the value a prelisting home inspection can bring. “I had a home sale fall apart three times and then finally stuck on the fourth time!” she laughs. “The first time, we had an inspection and there were a few issues, but the buyer was willing to deal with them as it was an as-is sale, which is most common in our area. Seven days prior to closing, the buyer was laid off from her job and so she could not obtain a mortgage. Everyone was devastated, but we relisted the home. The next two times, two different inspectors found two different sets of issues, and the buyers canceled during their inspection periods, citing too much work to be done. The sellers were astounded that now three inspections had taken place, and all of them found different things. Finally, the fourth contract came in and it stuck! The sellers were exhausted but happy to finally be sold!”

2. Notify the neighbors

Sure, placing a for-sale sign in your yard should make it obvious to your neighbors that you’re hoping to move on. But don’t count on them to be on their best behavior when buyers come around just because your home is on the market. Such was the case for Mindy Jensen, whose Chicago, IL, home had been on the market for over a year before going under contract. “The buyer scheduled a home inspection, but after the inspection was over, they canceled the contract with no reason given,” she says. “Later, their agent shared with our agent that the home passed inspection just fine, but during the time they were there, the next-door neighbor came outside and started screaming at his children as they played in the yard. This neighbor screamed at his children every day, so I knew what they were talking about. He was pretty scary when he screamed if you weren’t used to it. It was easy to see why the deal fell through.” Avoid this potential deal killer by letting neighbors know that your home is for sale — and also letting them know when a potential buyer may be looking at the home. Such notice might not stop any embarrassing and potential home-sale fallout behavior from the Joneses next door … but it couldn’t hurt either.

3. Keep the appraisal in mind

Unless you’re selling to a cash buyer (and sometimes even when you are), appraisals are non-negotiable during a home sale. Lenders need to know that what the buyers are willing to pay for the home is on par with what the home is actually worth. Unfortunately, if an appraisal comes in low, a home sale that seemed like a sure thing can rapidly crumble. “We had a situation where the buyer gave us a preapproval letter from their lender, so both parties happily went ahead and signed the purchase and sale agreement,” says Wendell de Guzman, CEO of PCI LLC in Oak Brook, IL. “As part of the bank financing process, the buyer’s lender ordered an appraisal. This is where we encountered the biggest problem. The appraiser came back with an appraised value of only $132,000 — the home had gone for full [listing price] at $142,000.”

As the seller, de Guzman’s options were somewhat limited: lower the price or lose the sale. “I would have ordered another appraisal, but the [buyer’s] lender did not agree to this,” he says. Ultimately, de Guzman planned to relist the home, but after a week or two of back-and-forth negotiation, the buyer came back with a slightly lower offer of $135,000 — no closing costs included — that their lender had approved. “I said yes to this price,” he says.

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How To Hang A Picture Wall


Gallery walls are an excellent way to create a focal point in your home. But there is a science to choosing and displaying your favorite images.

In an age when so many of our photos are taken with a smartphone and stored in the cloud, the picture wall, a grouping of framed images, continues to be a popular, tangible way to showcase our most cherished memories. Gallery walls can be as eclectic or uniform as you like, and since they’re so flexible (and so easily removed!), they’re just as suited to that studio apartment for rent in Dallas, TX, as they are to a suburban home for sale in Atlanta, GA.

“Gallery walls allow you to display everything that you love in a way that feels tight and cozy,” says Tessa Wolf, creative director of, a digital custom-framing site. “They’re also a great way to fill awkward spaces in your home and make them feel really special.”

Here are six gallery wall ideas to get you started. No matter what template you choose, it’s important to think of your gallery as one unit, says Doris Brautigan, owner of Brownstone Modern, a furniture and decor appraisal site. “Add pops of the same color throughout and consider where your focal points are,” Brautigan advises. “You want the eye to travel.”

Grid Gallery Wall Ideas


The key to hanging this type of gallery is to space the frames exactly the same horizontally and vertically, says Wolf. A good rule of thumb: Don’t go wider than 3 inches between each frame in either direction. “Otherwise, it won’t look visually connected,” Wolf adds. Also, be sure to use frames of the same size, with a mat for this style — it’s a good way to unify photos that have different dimensions.

Staircase Gallery Wall Ideas


If you want to add onto to your gallery wall over time, a staircase style is ideal because “you can build out your wall in vertical waves on either side of it,” says Wolf. With this style, there are no rules — feel free to be bold! “Mix metallic frames together for a bright and sparkly effect,” she says.

Mirrored Gallery Wall Ideas


A more free-form style like this works best in a hallway or over a couch or a large bed, says Wolf. This grouping might look like the frames are all different sizes, but Wolf suggests incorporating three or four of the same, small square frames into the mix to unify the look of the gallery. “It’ll give the wall visual consistency and will also be handy if you ever want to pull those frames out and display them somewhere else,” she says.

Gallery Wall Ideas

Outer grid

Think about what you want the outer shape of this style to look like, says Wolf. If you’re going for a square, all the outer edges of the frame should line up, meaning that the space between frames will vary. If you want the outer shape to be more organic and free-flowing, hang the frames exactly the same distance apart in all directions. If possible, use frames with sawtooth hangers, which are easier to space evenly. Measure a half-inch down from where you want the top of the frame to lie and put your nail there, advises Wolf.

Squared Gallery Wall Ideas


A square-shaped gallery is perfect above a low bench in an entryway or in a more formal setting, such as a dining room, says Wolf. “Try to keep one consistent through-line, whether that be the color scheme in the art or photos, the style of the frame, or the style of art,” she suggests.

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Can You Really Afford To Buy A House Right Now?


Your decision to buy a home should be based on your financial well-being, not the housing market.

The scenario: Your landlord keeps hiking up your rent, and you’re tired of reworking your budget to accommodate the other areas of your life — or worse, searching for a new rental. You want to invest in a home for sale in Charleston, SC, or Seattle, WA, but you’re not sure if now is the right time.

There are two likely reasons for your hesitation: time and money. Deciding if you should rent or buy can be determined in part by your commitment to an area — you could have legitimate concerns about job relocation or you may wonder if the space you can afford now will be flexible enough that you won’t grow out of it just a few years down the road. And on an economic level, perhaps you’re not sure you can afford all the costs that a down payment, mortgage, and home maintenance entail.

The first step? Do some homework. Consider these questions to help you decide if the answer to “Can I afford a house?” is yes.

Should you buy before home prices climb higher?

In most parts of the U.S., home prices have been climbing steadily for the past few years. Does this mean you should rush to lock in the current prices before they rise even higher? The best answer: not necessarily. Do what’s right for you. If you’re planning to stay in one spot for a decade or more, short-term fluctuations in the house’s underlying value shouldn’t make a difference. After all, the primary purpose of a home is to provide a place to live, coupled with an opportunity to grow equity over time. Don’t overanalyze the market when deciding to buy a house. If the time is right for you, there’s no reason to wait.

Do you have a 20% down payment?

One of the major factors in determining if the time is right to buy a house: whether you have the finances to purchase one. Many lenders require a 20% down payment before they’ll grant you a mortgage. If you can’t come up with such a hefty down payment, it’s possible to secure a loan, but you’ll probably have to pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, to make up the difference.

PMI rates vary from lender to lender but generally cost 0.05% to 1% of the total loan amount. At 0.05%, you’ll pay $41.50 per month for every $100,000 worth of loan that you carry. If you’re holding an FHA-insured loan, you pay two different mortgage insurance premiums. The upfront premium is 1.75% of your loan size, and it will be added to your borrowed amount (thus increasing your monthly costs). You’ll also pay a second premium, which is assessed annually and billed monthly. This second fee, often known as monthly mortgage insurance, will cost 1.3% annually if you carry a 30-year mortgage and put down at least 5%.

The bottom line? Not having a 20% down payment on hand can be a very expensive proposition. If you borrow $200,000, for example, and you’re charged 1% PMI, you’ll hand over $166 per month — not an insignificant sum.

Can you budget for recurring monthly expenses?

Your mortgage payment is the heftiest of all monthly payments. It comprises four items: principal, interest, taxes, and insurance. (Together, these are known as PITI.) If you have a fixed-rate mortgage, your principal and interest will remain a flat monthly fee, regardless of what’s happening in the overall economy. However, your taxes and insurance may change, so even with a fixed-rate mortgage, your payment could fluctuate. Taxes are set by your county government and are based on its assessment of your property, so this expense is subject to increase at any point — either if your county reassesses your home at a higher value or if your local government decides to boost its tax rates.

Ask yourself: Do you have the space in your budget to accommodate that type of tax increase? If your budget is so tight that this will cause you to miss payments, you’re probably not in a strong enough position (right now) to buy a home. Likewise, you might decide to buy a home in a community that’s governed by a homeowners’ association, or HOA. This HOA can assess mandatory “dues” and put a lien on your house if you don’t pay the bill. And the HOA can decide to raise its dues at any point. Do you have enough wiggle room in your budget to accommodate a fee hike?

Do you have savings for maintenance and repairs?

Your mortgage isn’t the only housing expense you’ll need to meet in your budget. When you move from a rental to a home, you have new responsibilities (and the related costs), such as cleaning the gutters, replacing or repairing the roof, fixing and maintaining the HVAC, refinishing the floors, hiring a plumber, installing a new dishwasher, and repairing a broken garbage disposal.

As a very broad rule of thumb, you should budget 1% of the home’s purchase price annually for repairs and maintenance. For example: If your home is worth $300,000, set aside $3,000 per year, or $250 per month. You probably won’t spend this amount each month. Some months, you’ll spend zero. But another month, you may need to replace every window in your home — and could rack up a $7,500 bill.

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How To “Live Small” (Even If You Don’t Have A Tiny House)

Living large doesn't have to mean living with lots of stuff.

The tiny-home movement has become popular because it allows people to dream of a life of freedom — from expensive housing costs, clutter, and sometimes even neighbors. (After all, a noisy neighbor is much easier to deal with if your home is tiny and mobile so you can pick it up and tow it somewhere else.) But if you’re not ready to drastically downsize your square footage, you can still apply the ethos of a person who lives in a tiny house to make an impact in your own place, no matter its size. Case in point: Whether you rent a huge house in the suburbs or buy a three-level townhome, chances are you’ve been inspired to declutter and downsize your belongings, looking to tiny homes for inspiration — and a few tricks — on how to live that minimalist lifestyle. Here are several tips from renters and homeowners who have lived the tiny life firsthand that can be applied to any space, big or small.

Don’t rush to buy “organizing products“

At least not right away, says Felice Cohen, a professional organizer who briefly achieved internet fame after a video of her 90-square-foot New York, NY, apartment went viral. (She’s since upgraded to a spacious, 490-square-foot one-bedroom apartment.) “One mistake people do when they want to organize their space is that they go to The Container Store and first buy a lot of supplies,” she says. “But why organize or store stuff you don’t need? Look for supplies only after you’ve culled everything down.”

Downsize your wardrobe

Cohen says that the lone small closet in her old apartment worked well because it forced her to narrow down her wardrobe to what she truly loved. “When clients have trouble letting go, I will ask why,” she says. “‘It was expensive, it was a gift, what if I lose the weight’ … there’s always a reason. Yet clothes you do not wear take up valuable real estate. Plus, if you did spend good money on them, wouldn’t you feel better if someone was wearing (them)?” Think of clothing donations as an opportunity to help others — not give something up. If you end up decluttering your closet in the meantime, and shedding what can feel like a daily reminder of a goal you haven’t yet achieved? All the better.

Curb clutter, pronto

Francis Camosse of Tiny Household lives in a custom-built, 155-square-foot home that allows him to live the dream of traveling with ease. He did find one surprise — a tiny house isn’t synonymous with “low-maintenance” as far as chores go. “The biggest adjustment that I had to make was the constant upkeep of tiny living,” he says. “Your house can look so good or so bad very quickly. Yes, it is very easy to clean up, but it is also very easy to create a disaster area in such a small space. I had to develop the habit of putting everything away immediately after using it. Sweeping and vacuuming very often (keep) the limited floor space you do have nice and clean.” Clutter can increase stress levels, and getting rid of excess belongings is one of the big draws of the tiny home life — but decluttering can be freeing and relaxing no matter what size your home is.

Take advantage of outdoor space

In tight quarters, an airy escape just outside your doors can do wonders — especially for entertaining. “Having a space to entertain is practical,” Camosse says. “There are no illusions of hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house, but it does not mean I can’t have my friends and family over for a BBQ.” Study after study has proven that spending time in the great outdoors can help with better sleep, keeping stress levels down, and improves overall health. But there’s one more benefit, courtesy of those who live in tiny homes: the key to entertaining large parties is to take the party outside, says Camosse. Who doesn’t love a backyard cookout?

Have a kitchen storage strategy

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell, blogger and author of Living Large in Our Little House: Thriving in 480 Square Feet With Six Dogs, a Husband and One Remote, made sure her small kitchen fit her lifestyle. It has recessed upper cabinets and a pantry for maximum storage. “Our plan included as much counter space and cabinets as we could fit in, with a Lazy Susan in the corner so there is no wasted space,” she says. “There is also a special cookie-sheet cabinet for tall cookie sheets and small appliances (such as mixers and choppers). Built-ins are the key to a good design in a tiny house. Also, we did not put in a dishwasher. Really, there are two of us. We can handle washing dishes by hand, and it gave me even more cabinet space.” Sure, if you rent, you might not be able (or want) to invest in a kitchen remodel or adding built-ins. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put Fivecoat-Campbell’s idea of a storage strategy to work: There are many temporary ways to add storage in a utility space like a kitchen or laundry room, from investing in baskets and containers to taking advantage of wall space and putting up shelves. Unsurprisingly, organization and planning is especially important in these kinds of spaces, large or small.

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Can You Really Afford To Buy A House Right Now?

roller coaster

Your decision to buy a home should be based on your financial well-being, not the housing market.

The scenario: Your landlord keeps hiking up your rent, and you’re tired of reworking your budget to accommodate the other areas of your life — or worse, searching for a new rental. You want to invest in a home for sale in Charleston, SC, or Seattle, WA, but you’re not sure if now is the right time.

There are two likely reasons for your hesitation: time and money. Deciding if you should rent or buy can be determined in part by your commitment to an area — you could have legitimate concerns about job relocation or you may wonder if the space you can afford now will be flexible enough that you won’t grow out of it just a few years down the road. And on an economic level, perhaps you’re not sure you can afford all the costs that a down payment, mortgage, and home maintenance entail.


The first step? Do some homework. Consider these questions to help you decide if the answer to “Can I afford a house?” is yes.

Should you buy before home prices climb higher?

In most parts of the U.S., home prices have been climbing steadily for the past few years. Does this mean you should rush to lock in the current prices before they rise even higher? The best answer: not necessarily. Do what’s right for you. If you’re planning to stay in one spot for a decade or more, short-term fluctuations in the house’s underlying value shouldn’t make a difference. After all, the primary purpose of a home is to provide a place to live, coupled with an opportunity to grow equity over time. Don’t overanalyze the market when deciding to buy a house. If the time is right for you, there’s no reason to wait.

Do you have a 20% down payment?

One of the major factors in determining if the time is right to buy a house: whether you have the finances to purchase one. Many lenders require a 20% down payment before they’ll grant you a mortgage. If you can’t come up with such a hefty down payment, it’s possible to secure a loan, but you’ll probably have to pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, to make up the difference.

PMI rates vary from lender to lender but generally cost 0.05% to 1% of the total loan amount. At 0.05%, you’ll pay $41.50 per month for every $100,000 worth of loan that you carry. If you’re holding an FHA-insured loan, you pay two different mortgage insurance premiums. The upfront premium is 1.75% of your loan size, and it will be added to your borrowed amount (thus increasing your monthly costs). You’ll also pay a second premium, which is assessed annually and billed monthly. This second fee, often known as monthly mortgage insurance, will cost 1.3% annually if you carry a 30-year mortgage and put down at least 5%.

The bottom line? Not having a 20% down payment on hand can be a very expensive proposition. If you borrow $200,000, for example, and you’re charged 1% PMI, you’ll hand over $166 per month — not an insignificant sum.

Can you budget for recurring monthly expenses?

Your mortgage payment is the heftiest of all monthly payments. It comprises four items: principal, interest, taxes, and insurance. (Together, these are known as PITI.) If you have a fixed-rate mortgage, your principal and interest will remain a flat monthly fee, regardless of what’s happening in the overall economy. However, your taxes and insurance may change, so even with a fixed-rate mortgage, your payment could fluctuate. Taxes are set by your county government and are based on its assessment of your property, so this expense is subject to increase at any point — either if your county reassesses your home at a higher value or if your local government decides to boost its tax rates.

Ask yourself: Do you have the space in your budget to accommodate that type of tax increase? If your budget is so tight that this will cause you to miss payments, you’re probably not in a strong enough position (right now) to buy a home. Likewise, you might decide to buy a home in a community that’s governed by a homeowners’ association, or HOA. This HOA can assess mandatory “dues” and put a lien on your house if you don’t pay the bill. And the HOA can decide to raise its dues at any point. Do you have enough wiggle room in your budget to accommodate a fee hike?

Do you have savings for maintenance and repairs?

Your mortgage isn’t the only housing expense you’ll need to meet in your budget. When you move from a rental to a home, you have new responsibilities (and the related costs), such as cleaning the gutters, replacing or repairing the roof, fixing and maintaining the HVAC, refinishing the floors, hiring a plumber, installing a new dishwasher, and repairing a broken garbage disposal.

As a very broad rule of thumb, you should budget 1% of the home’s purchase price annually for repairs and maintenance. For example: If your home is worth $300,000, set aside $3,000 per year, or $250 per month. You probably won’t spend this amount each month. Some months, you’ll spend zero. But another month, you may need to replace every window in your home — and could rack up a $7,500 bill.

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Photo Fail: 12 Tips for Taking Better Listing Pictures

Think you have a "good side" for photography? So does your home.

A picture might be worth a thousand words, but in the case of your home’s listing photos, pictures can be worth thousands of dollars. It just makes sense: buyers often start their search by sifting through online listings, and if the listing photos are blurry or dark, it’s a lot easier to cross a home off your must-see-in-person list in favor of the homes in your price range that are more photogenic.

If you’re taking your own listing photos, a great camera is a good place to start. But you also need to know what potential buyers are looking for when they peruse homes online. “Taking photographs is one of the most serious steps in our listing process,” says Carmella Laurella, real estate agent and president of CL Properties of Boston, MA.

Here are real estate agents’ top recommendations for capturing your home’s best qualities in real estate photography.

real estate photography staging

1. Declutter and set a stage

Just as you wouldn’t want houseguests or friends to see your home in disarray, you definitely don’t want potential buyers to know what brand of cereal you buy or to spot an old stack of newspapers. This is where staging comes in. “Spend time on the details: Organize bookshelves, tidy up desks, and remove rugs or pieces of furniture that will block the view in your photos,” says Scott Curcio of Coldwell Banker in Chicago, IL. “Stand in the spot where you will photograph each room: What do you see that distracts you? Remove it to get the best shots of the space.”

2. Arrange your images to tell a story

When buyers come across your online listing, you have only a few seconds to capture their attention — haphazardly ordered photos can be confusing. Arrange your photos like a virtual tour of your home. First, welcome them through the front door and around the first floor before proceeding to other parts of the home. This will help the buyer get a better sense of the layout of the house. “Less is sometimes more,” says Patrick McLaughlin, a real estate agent with Douglas Elliman in Sag Harbor, NY. “Listing photos need to be an invitation to a listing. Don’t make the mistake of trying to completely sell it online.”

3. Focus on a few choice parts of your home

While you may love your three freshly painted bathrooms, make sure to photograph the spaces you think will hook a potential buyer — and leave out the rest. For instance, if you have an amazing spa bathroom, use an image of that to put viewers in a relaxed mindset, as opposed to overwhelming them with multiple shots of similar spaces.

real estate photography fisheye

4. Don’t take unrealistic photos of your home

Honesty is always the best policy, especially when it comes to listing photos. “I like the photos to be accurately representative of the house, so people come and they either see exactly what they thought they’d see or they comment that the house looks better in life than it does in the photos,” says Sheri Bienstock, real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty Larchmont in Los Angeles, CA. Save experimental new lenses for your next art project, and be sure to shoot rooms from the corner as opposed to straight on.

5. Show off architectural details

Now is the time to really brag about the crown molding, coffered ceiling, and large bay window you’ve always loved about your home. Potential buyers are drawn in by interesting architectural details that add to the value of the property (not to mention the home’s character), so show them off in the listing photos!

real estate photography road

6. Don’t include too much of the street in exterior images

Just as when you’re shooting indoors, you want to create the perfect vignette of the outside of your home. Showing too much street can make the image feel cold. “Preparation is the key element in achieving great listing photos,” says Carrie Wells, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Mason Morse in Aspen, CO. “Determine the right time of day or evening for each shot.” If you have beautiful outdoor lighting, don’t skip taking images at dusk. This can give potential buyers a better picture of the property and landscaping.

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Split Decision: Buying Real Estate After Your Divorce

One can be the loneliest number. Unless, of course, it’s the number of offers it takes to land that perfect new post-divorce bachelor/bachelorette pad. Few things are positive about the divorce experience, but coming out the other side with a freshperspective — and a new address — can be just what the doctor ordered.

However, if you’re a newly single person navigating the real estate market, a number of factors merit consideration before you make an offer, including whether downsizing or relocation will offer much-needed change amid your major life transition.

Of course, other factors may also be significant, depending on your unique circumstances. You’ll get a leg up by discussing the dynamics with real estate and/or legal professionals.

Here are a few factors well worth consideration for post-divorce home hunters.


It's a good plan to start your shopping by determining where you want to live, as location provides the real estate agent with a basic starting point for finding suitable properties. If your divorce is particularly acrimonious, you may be inclined to secure housing as far away from your ex-spouse as geographically possible.

However, relocating is not always the best option, particularly if children are involved. More specifically, custody and visitation orders may limit how far ex-spouses may live from one another, and will most certainly contain certain directives in the event either parent chooses to leave the jurisdiction.

Another reason not to move too far away is that relocating suddenly post-divorce may sever the divorcee from a much-needed support system of friends and loved ones. “Fleeing” the scene of the failed marriage can lead to isolation, which can be especially problematic for anyone suffering from depression or anxiety amid this major life transition.


Choosing an appropriately-sized new home is a difficult decision for some. On the one hand, downsizing from a large, single-family home to a smaller condominium or apartment can alleviate many of the housekeeping responsibilities that accompany owning a large house.

On the other hand, a drastic change can bring about an unexpected emotional response, particularly if the marital home was — at one time — the source of happy memories.

Your best bet in the immediate aftermath of a divorce: Consider a moderate rental property while weighing the options. Give yourself some time and, sooner or later, the perfect property will undoubtedly emerge.


Depending on which spouse was primarily responsible for indoor and outdoor upkeep, this could be a significant factor in deciding on a new post-divorce home.

For the spouse without a green thumb, it may be prudent to avoid properties with intricate, sprawling landscapes. Likewise, the spouse who didn’t contribute as much to the interior upkeep of a home may feel overwhelmed by the maintenance of a 3,000-square-foot space.

Other issues to consider when shopping for property as a single individual may include snow removal, general lawn maintenance, and the possible need for significant property repairs in the near future.

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7 Things Buyers Should Never Overlook At Open Houses

You don’t have to be a pro to know what to look for at an open house.

When you’re on the hunt for a new house, weekends spent touring open houses can quickly veer from fun to daunting by house number three. Keeping track of which home had that great kitchen (but terrible master bath) versus the home with a terrible backyard but a great floor plan can be tough. And while no house is likely to be perfect, when it comes to your budget, some updates are harder to swallow than others. Unfortunate paint colors, though hard to see past, shouldn’t sway your decision because they’re easily changed. But other issues should give you pause because they’ll require costly repairs, or they indicate larger, underlying problems that simply can’t be fixed.

Read on for a list of things you should pay close attention to during an open house. Here’s what to consider and what questions to ask when viewing a house.

1. How old is the roof?

“You really need to look beyond the new kitchen and bathroom and consider the bones of the home,” says Adam Waggoner of Generator Real Estate in Denver, CO. One of the biggest “bones” of a house? The roof. The typical life span of a roof is up to about 20 years, but the average cost to replace one runs into the five-figure range, averaging about $12,000 but going up as high as $25,000 or more. That’s why Omaha, NE, real estate agent Robert Jensen suggests paying close attention to the age and condition of the roof before making an offer.

2. Are there issues with the home’s foundation?

This is what everything is resting on — literally. While superficial blemishes might not matter enough to affect a sale, if there are wide cracks in the foundation, says Waggoner, it’s most likely not worth the time and anguish that can come with fixing it.

3. What is the state of the sewer system?

When it comes to sewer and septic systems, many people are in the dark on a few elements: first off, their level of responsibility. If something goes wrong, it’s the homeowner, not the city, who must cover damages (frequently through homeowners’ insurance). The condition of the sewer lines is also something that is not part of a regular home inspection, so a few hundred dollars for a dedicated sewer inspection could prove to be a worthy investment.

4. Have insurance claims been made on the house?

Jensen also recommends asking if insurance claims have been filed on the house, and for what — the answers may offer insight into any past issues that might not be immediately obvious at an open house. If the house is located near a pond, lake, or stream, he says, it’s important to ask whether flood insurance is required, because that can affect buyer financing or create difficulties than can delay closing.

5. Is there noticeable water damage?

“While it may not be easy for a buyer to spot a wet basement, there are some signs you can look for at an open house,” says Caroline Staudt, a real estate agent with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate in Boston, MA. “If all of the utility systems and basement storage is propped up a few inches or more off the ground, that may be an indication that the basement has had water issues.” This is one instance, Staudt says, where you should pay close attention to furnishings. If a basement has a nice, fresh carpet and furniture, and there’s no musty smell, that’s a likely sign the space has stayed dry.

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6 Reasons May Is The Best Month To List Your Home

Just as TV shows have a prime time, so does the real estate market. And that time is now.

Spring is busy ticking off the season’s milestones: We’re watching the cherry blossoms, celebrating Mother’s Day, and tossing graduation caps. Another item you may want to add to your list? Putting your home up for sale — specifically in May, when homes often sell faster, and for a bit more than the national average.

But why is May the best time to sell a house? We’ve asked real estate agents from several metro areas to chime in on why it’s such a magical month for home sales.

1. The timing aligns with the new school year

If they intend to move, families really want to close on a new home before the end of summer. Why? Changing school districts after the school year starts is no picnic for anyone. “If you take the month of May to search for a home, you can be closed in July or August, which gives you a little time to settle in before school,” says Ryan Gibbons, a New Jersey agent.

2. Buyers are getting serious

When the spring housing season begins, typically right after Presidents Day in mid-February, many buyers feel as if they have plenty of time to find their perfect home and perfectly time their summer move. So they might bid more aggressively and offer less than asking price. If no sellers bite, though, by the time May rolls around, these same buyers may relent to submitting more competitive offers in the hopes of finally sealing the deal.

Remember, though, that May is typically a seller’s market. When buyers are just starting to look at this point, “They are excited and have not experienced the agony of defeat by being outbid once, twice, or three times — at which point deal fatigue sets in,” says Bruce Ailion, an Atlanta, GA, agent. “After missing several deals, buyers begin to feel as if they are settling and then begin to think that it would be better to just wait. As we move into late June and early July, in addition to being weary of looking, buyers make house hunting less of a focus for this year and more of one for next year.”

3. The weather is beautiful

People normally discuss the weather for two reasons: When there’s a huge weather event or natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado, or when they have nothing else to talk about. But there’s actually a third reason: Weather plays an important role for home sellers and their open houses. “Here in New Jersey, we can have tough winters where people just don’t want to be going from home to home in the snow,” says Gibbons. But as temperatures get into the 60-degree range, “People want to get out.”

Lovely weather also means lovely homes. “Your home will look its best [in the spring] as flowers start blooming and the lawn is green,” says Gibbons. Even Miami, FL, real estate, which enjoys hot weather year-round, sees extra action in May because of international buyers. “Our clients from Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and Chile have their winter months during our summer months,” says Justin Rubin, a South Florida agent. “They tell us time and time again that they would rather be warm in Miami on the beach than cold in their city.”

4. People haven’t left yet for summer vacation

If you’re selling to a clientele that typically “summers” elsewhere (lucky ducks!), you need to catch them while they’re still around. Take New York, NY, for example, where the wealthier buyers are back in the city in May, according to Nicholas Palance, a New York agent. “But if you wait until July to list your home, you’ve lost [those buyers] to the Hamptons until after Labor Day.”

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Negotiate Like A Pro: 6 Tricks For Winning A Stalemate

Learn how you can not only play the negotiation game, but also win.

When my husband and I first started the hunt for Atlanta, GA, real estate, I cringed at the tough negotiating he was doing, as did our agent. “You sound like a fast-talking big-city businessman,” she said to him in her smooth drawl. But as cringe-worthy as it seemed at the time, he was just engaging in some tried-and-true horse-trading — trying to make a deal that both sides could feel good about.

You might be the type of person I was; the kind who never questions the price of an item. If that sounds like you, it can’t hurt to brush up on your negotiation skills, whether you’re buying or selling real estate. When selling your home, your first reaction might be a big “oh heck no” when you get a lowball offer, but take a deep breath and at least consider your options.

Here are six negotiation skills for doing more than just playing the game: for winning.

Price your house right
There’s a difference between the price you want to get (or what you think the house is worth) and what the market will bear. “Pricing is not based on how much a seller needs to net,” says Brian Horan, a broker who specializes in Los Angeles, CA, real estate. “Sellers always seem to need a certain amount, but that has nothing to do with the price of tea in China.” Look into neighborhood comps to give yourself a more realistic idea. A savvy real estate agent will also be able to provide a benchmark for asking prices that reflect market valuations.

Consider the first offer
“Really pay attention to your first offer,” says Chris Leavitt, star of Million Dollar Listing: Miami. “Because that will probably be your best one.” Leavitt, who once sold a Miami Beach, FL, condo for $34 million, the highest condo sale in Florida history at the time, knows a little something about negotiating. “Your best offers usually come at the beginning, so it would be a mistake to not listen to those offers, regardless of what they are,” he says.

Think like a salesperson
“All home sellers should establish their BATNA before listing their house for sale,” says Patrick Malone, senior partner at The PAR Group. (No, he isn’t telling you to become Batman.) “BATNA” stands for “best alternative to a negotiated agreement” and serves as a negotiator’s fallback option in case there’s no deal. Having a BATNA puts you in a stronger negotiation position. Maybe you’ve decided that if you don’t get your bottom line, you’ll rent the place and try again later, or maybe you’ll renovate and stay. Keeping your BATNA in the back of your mind can help prevent you from agreeing to a bad deal out of desperation.

Don’t be an emotional seller
It’s probably best not to listen to Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” before you enter negotiations with a potential buyer. Garratt Hasenstab, managing broker with the Verdigris Group, advises buyers to do their best to stay levelheaded throughout the process. “This is business, simple as that,” he says. “Rational thinking, business skill, and negotiation skill are what it’s all about.” Hasenstab also recommends that your real estate agent find out the buyer’s prequalification amount from the bank or what the buyer’s desired purchase price is. The more information you have about a buyer’s financial situation and needs, the better position you’ll be in when it comes time to negotiate.

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To-Dos: Your May Home Checklist

With Mother’s Day and Memorial Day coming up this month, there is plenty of incentive to get those outdoor spaces ready to entertain. Tick these 10 items off your to-do list so you can get to the good stuff: hanging out around the grill, kicking back on the porch and savoring the season.

Paint or stain your home’s exterior. Longer days and generally milder weather makes May a good month to schedule house painting. If your home has a wood-shingled exterior, replace any damaged shingles and have a fresh coat of stain applied if needed.

Check exterior lighting. Make sure all outdoor lights are in working order, including motion-sensing security lights. Replace bulbs or schedule repairs as needed.

Inspect kitchen and bath fixtures. Keeping an eye on these areas can help prevent costly water damage and repairs later on. Regrout or caulk around counters and tile as needed. If you come across any slow leaks, have these repaired as well.

Check safety devices. Test smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors; replace batteries as needed. Check the expiration date on your fire extinguisher and replace it if necessary.
Clean scuff marks and touch up paint. Use a product like Magic Eraser to remove scuff marks from walls and baseboards. Touch up paint as needed on interior walls and trim.

How To Refinance Everything In Your Life

Ever wished you could have a do-over on the terms of your auto or student loan? Guess what? The benefits of a refi aren’t just for homeowners.

Let’s play a little word-association game. What comes to mind when you hear the word “refinance”? If you answered “mortgages,” you’re not alone. A mortgage is the one type of loan that’s probably most frequently associated with refinancing. But refinancing goes beyond just helping people give their mortgages a makeover: Did you know that the concept of a refi can apply to just about any kind of loan, from your student loans to your auto loan?

Whether you’re renting a pricey studio apartment in San Francisco, CA, or a home in Richmond, VA, if you’re a renter with any type of loan, it’s worth understanding how the process works — and how it can help you.

How can renters take advantage of refinancing?
You can refinance almost any type of debt, not just mortgages. If you have car loans or student loans, for example, you may be able to refinance them. Refinancing simply means you’re taking one loan and replacing it with another, with the new loan having different (and preferably more favorable) terms than the old one. You may want to refinance a loan to get a better interest rate than your original debt carries or to reduce the monthly payment you make. You can also consolidate many loans into a single one. Any of these outcomes can make personal debts easier to manage — and therefore easier for you to repay.

If you have a variable-rate loan and long for a more stable monthly payment, you may want to refinance simply to secure terms that present a little less risk. For example, swapping that variable-rate loan for a loan with a fixed interest rate could help with budgeting. But if you’re thinking about refinancing a loan to enjoy one or more of these potential benefits, it’s important to understand that there are two kinds of refis to choose from: rate-and-term and cash-out.

What you need to know about rate-and-term refinancing
If you’re interested in refinancing something like an auto loan or student loans to get a better interest rate or change the loan term, consider rate-and-term refinancing. This type of refinancing can be beneficial to borrowers if you originally took out your loan when interests rates were much higher than what you can get today. It’s also helpful if you need to alter the amount of your monthly payment. A refi can update the loan term, and changing the length of that term will impact how much you owe each month.

What about cash-out refinancing?
Cash-out refinancing offers you an interesting option. Going with this type of refi means that your new loan is for more than your existing loan. You get the difference between the new loan and the old in cash. It’s great to have this extra money in hand, but keep in mind, this increases the debt that you carry. You’ll need to repay the entirety of the loan plus the cash you received, and you’ll have to pay interest on all of it.

Before refinancing everything, consider the downsides
While both these refinancing options can be helpful to borrowers, there are some downsides. Just because you carry some debts doesn’t mean a refi will help you manage your repayment or will save you money over time.

If you want to refinance student loans, for example, you need to remember that this process replaces your old debt with a new one — and that new loan will come with new terms and benefits. Some federal loans are eligible for benefits like payment programs or even loan forgiveness. If you refinance, you could be disqualified from accessing that repayment help.

And refinancing any loan comes with a cost. You’ll be originating a whole new loan, so expect to pay fees just like you did when you originally borrowed the money. This could eliminate any savings you’d accrue over time via a lower interest rate, so always do the math before making your decision. Refinancing could cost you more money in interest over time too. Changing the terms of your loan may lower your monthly payments, but it could also mean you make those payments for a longer time. Stretching out the life of your loan also means paying more in interest. It’s important to weigh the costs, because you might be surprised to find that continuing to pay down your current loans could remain the best option for you.

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