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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 PTMoney.com. “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.
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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 Framebridge.com, 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

Grid

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

Staircase

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

Mirrored

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

Squared

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.

Location

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.

Size

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.

Upkeep

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.

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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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The Pros and Cons of Month-to-Month Leases



Navigating the rental market isn’t easy. Between bait-and-switch listings on sites like Craigslist, deceptive landlords, and confusing legal language in lease agreements, finding the right apartment can be a time-consuming, mentally taxing process. But before you even begin your search, you’ll need to determine whether you’re looking for a short- or long-term lease.

Not sure where you stand? Consider these advantages and disadvantages to month-to-month leases — then decide what makes the most sense for your needs.

Pro: You get greater flexibility


If you’re thinking about buying a property in the near future, or moving to a new city, a short-term lease gives you more flexibility and can save you money in the long run. When you sign a 12-month (or longer) lease, you’re legally obligated to pay 12 months of rent even if you decide to move before the lease expires. (Read: breaking a long-term lease will cost you.)

Granted, “some landlords will let you terminate a 12-month lease early if you find a new renter to take your place,” says Joe DeFilippo, a real estate agent and rental specialist with City Chic Real Estate in Washington, D.C.

However, if you want to be able to move on short notice without paying a penalty, a month-to-month rental is your best option. Bear in mind you’ll still need to give the landlord at least 30 days’ notice (or more, depending on the lease agreement).


Con: You pay more in rent


Owners want rental property occupied at all times so they can continually collect rent. But when a tenant moves, finding a replacement can be a hassle — and there’s a chance the unit will be vacant for a while. Therefore, month-to-month renters pay a premium, says Rae Wayne, an agent with The Bizzy Blondes Real Estate Team in Los Angeles.

How much more you’ll pay depends on the market. In Washington, D.C., month-to-month leases cost on average 50 percent more than 12-month leases, says DeFilippo. In Manhattan, landlords usually charge 15 percent to 20 percent more — and rent is high in New York, points out Marin King, an attorney and real estate agent at Keller Williams NYC.


Pro: You can (usually) switch to a long-term lease


In general, if you’re a good tenant, the landlord will be open to you converting to a 12-month lease, but there are some circumstances where that’s not the case. For example, if the owner is planning to make the property their primary residence in the near future, you’ll eventually need a new place to live. Find out what the landlord’s motivation is before signing a lease.

Con: Your rent isn’t fixed


Arguably the biggest benefit of signing a 12-month lease is that you get to lock in your rental rate, which makes it easier to manage your budget.

Meanwhile, when you’re on a month-to-month lease, the landlord could decide to raise your rent on a whim and — depending on where you live — may only need to give you 30 days’ notice.

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You Can Do WHAT On My Property? Know Your Easement Rights


If you’ve got an easement, your potential new neighbor might have a legal right to a portion of your land.


Picture this: You’ve fallen in love with a gorgeous home on a corner lot in Fort Lauderdale, FL, but on the day of your home inspection, you’re shocked when your new neighbor drives right through your property on their way to work. A chat with the home inspector and an investigation of property records reveals something concerning: There’s an easement on your potential new property. Your neighbor needs to drive on your land to access theirs — and is fully within their rights to do so.


What’s a homebuyer to do? Start by learning the good, the bad, and the ugly about property rights and easements.

What are property easements?

An easement gives a person or entity a legal right to use someone else’s land. But that doesn’t mean your neighbor can just start growing tomatoes in your yard. An easement is “not a right to possess the property, but rather to use it for a stated purpose,” says Bob Tankel, a Pinellas, FL, attorney who specializes in community association law. For example, a utility company might have the right to dig up a section of your lawn to install or maintain phone, power, and cable (maybe even fiber-optic) lines.


What should you know about easements before you buy?

Start with the basics: It’s important to know whether there are any easements on a property before you close, where they are, and what type of easements they are. Some easements, for example, remain after you buy the house, but others can be canceled. This depends on whether the easement is an appurtenant easement or an easement in gross.

“Appurtenant” means belonging to someone else. So an appurtenant easement is one in which the neighbor sought and now owns the easement, such as in the case of that driveway access. An appurtenant easement stays with the house if you buy it.

With an easement in gross, you have more say. If, for example, the property has a path that leads to a fishing pond, the original owner might have granted a neighbor access to the property to get to the fishing spot. That’s considered an easement in gross, and it does not remain once the property changes hands. So if you wish to put up a fence (or just don’t want your neighbor traipsing across your property), you have the right to end the agreement — just be prepared for an awkward first introduction with that new neighbor.

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The 6 Most Common Rental Scams (And How To Avoid Them)

Here’s what to do when finding an apartment goes from annoying to criminal.

There’s almost no way around it: Finding an apartment can be stressful. The search, the competition, the upfront money … they’re all reasons most of us try to move as infrequently as possible. (The additional expense and frustrations of moving all of your stuff probably also play a role.) But sometimes the rental process goes from merely aggravating to actually illegal. While the vast majority of rental listings are legitimate, rental scams are out there, and they’re not always easy to spot. “Recently, we’ve been encountering a lot of fraud that doesn’t fit the historical norm,” says David Peters, director of engineering at HotPads, a Zillow Group company that powers Trulia rental listings.

Here are six of the most common rental scams out there, along with suggestions for how to avoid them.


1. Fake credit requests

One common rental scam involves a request for a credit report. Here’s how it works: The scam artist posts a fake apartment listing online and asks to check the credit reports of potential renters using a link they provide. The link redirects to a credit report company that uses a referral program; the scammer can earn up to $18 per credit report request.

The credit report itself may be legit, but the need to obtain it in the first place isn’t, since the apartment listing is bogus. To avoid this scam, don’t release your credit report through a link from a potential landlord; instead, when you’re satisfied a landlord is legit, get your credit report through one of the three credit-reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) and have a hard copy available for the landlord when you meet them.


2. Sketchy real estate agent services

Another common rental scam: fake real estate agent services. These services offer to generate a list of preforeclosure or rent-to-own rental properties for clients — appealing because of their lower price points — and then request either a sign-up fee or a monthly fee of up to $200. The list the client receives is usually full of sham real estate listings, either fake or expired, and it’s impossible to get a refund on the sign-up fee. Skip this one by searching rental listings for free on Trulia!


3. Asking for money before you see the apartment

“The most common type of scam we encounter involves convincing a renter to send a deposit, first month’s rent, or application fee before allowing them to see inside a unit or without meeting in person,” says Peters. Imagine: You find a terrific online listing that seems as if it’ll be snatched up immediately, so the request for money upfront may not seem entirely unreasonable. And unlike some scam listings of the past, which might include misspellings or photos stolen from another site, these write-ups seem completely aboveboard. “Fraudsters are constantly adapting to improve their odds of successfully stealing money from renters, so they’re making their fake listings look increasingly legit,” says Peters. Still, there shouldn’t be a cost for admission, so if you’re asked for cash upfront, walk away. “There is never a reason to send money without viewing an apartment or meeting in person,” Peters adds, especially if the request is for a money transfer. This is because it’s basically impossible to stop payment on a wire transfer, unlike a check or credit card payment.


4. A copy-and-pasted ad

Say a legitimate landlord writes up a compelling listing for their newly vacant apartment and posts it online. A scammer can very easily copy and paste the listing but significantly lower the price, which will generate furious interest. Otherwise known as the “clone scam,” this maneuver is especially aimed at someone who’s busy or renting from out of town and is willing to put down money sight unseen.

Another clue will be a request for an unusually high security deposit, since the scammer is seeking to take off with as much money as possible, as fast as possible. “We try hard to make sure you never come across fraudulent listings, but if you come across a scam listing on Trulia, report it to us so we can get better at preventing them,” Peters says. “Click ‘Report this Listing’ on the listing page, and we will review the listing, remove it, and block other related scams. If you’ve been scammed, also contact your local law enforcement and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).”

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Read Before You Refi: 5 Tips For A Higher Home Appraisal

If you’re refinancing, these home appraisal tips can help.


If you’re hoping to refinance the mortgage on your home, there’s one big roadblock between you and that lower rate: the home appraisal. If your appraisal is low, you might not be able to refinance at all, or you might be facing less-than-optimal loan terms, including potentially paying for private mortgage insurance. If your appraisal results in a higher assessment, you’ll quite likely have more loan options available to you — often with lower interest and better payments.

To start your appraisal prep, make sure your home is clean (inside and out). Appraisers are human, after all, and can be swayed by how pristine (read: well-cared-for) a home looks.
Here are five more home appraisal tips to ensure your home appraises as high as possible.


1. Make those small repairs you’ve been postponing


Your house isn’t going to morph into a mega-mansion overnight, so some of the considerations for an appraisal (such as the number of rooms, square footage, and location) aren’t negotiable. But you can make the most of your home’s features. “Make sure that all the major systems have been serviced and that everything in the home appears to be maintained and functional,” says Ingrid Vincent, a Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts real estate agent. For appraisers, the condition of a home often matters more than the year it was built. Tackle any DIY home projects that you’ve put off.


2. Enhance your home’s curb appeal

You might not pay much attention to your home’s exterior, especially if you typically enter and exit through the garage or a side door. But curb appeal matters to potential buyers, and it matters to appraisers too. The Appraisal Institute states that properly maintained landscaping can enhance a home’s value. If you’re wondering what else you can do (besides mowing the lawn) to boost curb appeal, Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping in California, gives these tips for a quick landscaping fix:
  •     Strategically place container gardens
  •     Mulch flower beds
  •     Wipe down existing foliage and outdoor lights
  •     Stage patios or porches with seating and pillows

3. Create a file of all recent improvements, upgrades, and tax documents

If you spend any money on your home, save all your receipts and keep them in a filing cabinet. (Or digitize the documents and store them on your computer.) It’s also a good idea to take before-and-after photographs of any improvements and upgrades. By staying organized, you can easily prove to the appraiser what you did to improve and upgrade your home, and how much you spent. Also be sure to include documentation for any permits that were pulled as part of home improvement projects.


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Pros And Cons Of Buying During Real Estate’s Hottest Season


 

Data suggest spring is the best time to buy a home, but buying during peak season has its disadvantages.


Whether it’s the warmer weather, the pending summer break from school, or simply a seasonal mental shift, spring is hot for real estate. (In some markets, the spring home sales season even gets an early start.) “Statistically, spring has been the busiest season to purchase a property,” says Maria Babaev of Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Roslyn, NY.

But is spring really the best time to buy a house? While there are certainly some advantages to buying during the coming months, there are also plenty of disadvantages. If you’re focused on optimal timing, consider these variables.


Pro: There’s more inventory
It really is like clockwork: When April rolls around, property listings multiply like crocuses. One reason is that homes simply show better in the spring, with all the blooming flowers and the lack of snow. Sellers also feel more motivated once the warmer weather rolls around. And then, of course, success begets success. Potential sellers hear about all the bidding wars that result from springtime listings and figure it’s best to wait out the winter chill, then get a piece of the April action.

Con: There’s more competition
There are many more homes to choose from, yes, but there are also more buyers looking at those homes. Many, many more. Spring produces a rush of potential bidders who, like many sellers, have sat out the previous season in hopes of having more options now. And more buyers, alas, means bidding wars and higher prices, says Babaev. Plus, anticipating this higher demand, sellers may have priced their homes a bit higher than they would in winter.

Pro: It’s the perfect time for families to shop
Choosing to move your family is stressful no matter the time of year, but at least in the summer you won’t have to balance packing up your house with school pickup and moving dates with graduation dates. To execute the ideal summer move, you have to start house hunting … now. “Many families that are purchasing homes would like to be settled in their new residences prior to the start of the school year,” says Babaev. “With a standard transaction taking 60 to 90 days to close, they must be in contract by mid-June, which means they should really get serious about looking and making decisions in April/May.”

Con: The stress of relocating your family can lead to bad decision making
With all the pressure to buy a home before the school calendar starts anew, it’s a lot easier to start compromising … and compromising … and compromising. If you’re looking to change school districts before fall, the desire to purchase anything could start to override common sense. Just remember that it’s possible you’ll be in your new home for a long time, so don’t make a hasty decision.

10 Ways to Dazzle Homebuyers This Spring

Spring is a key time in the property market and, thankfully, it’s easier to make your home look sparkling and inviting when the sun’s shining. Use the warmer weather and longer days to prepare your home for sale by following these tips, which don’t cost much but make a world of difference. The sooner you sell, the sooner you can be moving into your new home.

1. Remember first impressions count.

Set the tone for buyers with a beautiful front yard and exterior. Whether you have a driveway, a small garden or a large landscaped frontage, make it look the absolute best it can. In spring, add bedding plants in hanging baskets or tubs and make sure the lawn and shrubs are well-trimmed.

Fix that squeaky gate, loose fence board and ivy in the gutters too.

2. Pep up your porch and hallway.

Once buyers cross the threshold, they need to see that your home is clean and tidy and has plenty of space. Store your coats, shoes, strollers and bikes out of sight. A console table with a pair of lamps and a large mirror in the entry is a classic way to present your home as spacious and attractive.

Be wary of any unpleasant odors from pets, shoes or cooking. Don’t try to mask smells with a spray air freshener. Instead, remove the source of the problem, clean thoroughly, air out the space and use a room diffuser or scented candle to create a luxurious and welcoming scent for visitors.

3. Deal with the little jobs.

Tend to any little defects and unfinished projects. Your buyers will notice these subtle visual hints at damage or neglect, even if it’s subconsciously.

You might not be seeing the chips in the paintwork or scuffs on the woodwork, so before you have the real estate agents over, take lots of photos from different angles and really scrutinize them. List everything that needs to be done, then either tackle the odd jobs yourself or hire a handyman or decorator.

Remember, buyers may be put off by signs of neglect or poor maintenance and either walk away or make a low offer.


4. Cull the clutter.

Bathrooms should be neat and tidy. There should be plenty of storage to stash everyday toiletries, leaving space to display fluffy towels, scented candles and pretty jars and soaps.

The better you make your house look for the photos, open house or viewings, the quicker it will sell, so stash your odds and ends out of sight — and always put the toilet seat down!

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How To Hack Your Electric Bill


Want to know how to save electricity? These hacks can help save you cash too.


You turn off the lights when you leave a room. You unplug small appliances when they aren’t in use. You think you’re being pretty smart about your energy consumption, yet every month your electric bill keeps creeping up. You shudder to think how high it could go in the summer months — especially if you’re cooling off an apartment or home in Phoenix, AZ, during mid-July. You’re not alone. On average, American households spend $110 a month on their electric bill.

Before you start plotting a move to cooler climes, find out how to save electricity with these hacks and then start focusing on more fun tasks — like what to do with all of the money you’re saving!


1. Identify the “energy vampires” in your home


“Appliances that use a remote control, have a continuous display, or have an external power supply all continue to use energy, even when they’re turned off,” says Gene Wang, CEO and co-founder of People Power, a company that provides apps, cloud, and mobile service.

Translation: Simply remembering to turn off your plasma TV isn’t enough. According to Wang, even when it’s turned off, a TV still sucks up 1,400 kilowatt-hours annually, which could mean an extra $150 per year added to your bill. Invest in a smart power strip and plug like-used devices such as TVs, game consoles, and cable boxes into the same one, advises Wang. Not only will the device cut off phantom power, but it can also be set to turn on and off automatically.

2. Invest in a power monitor to optimize energy usage times


“You want to use power when the energy rates are lower and there’s less demand on the power grid,” says Joel Worthington, president of Mr. Electric LLC, an international electrical installation and repair company. A power monitor can help you figure out how much energy you’re using throughout the day so that you can make changes accordingly. For example, you may find it’s more economical to run the dishwasher just before bedtime.


3. Wash clothes in cold water and line-dry


According to Project Laundry List, if you dry four loads of laundry in an electric dryer per week, it’ll cost you an extra $110 per year (that’s basically a membership to Hulu). Wash your clothes in cold water whenever possible and then hang them to dry on your own DIY version of an indoor clothesline (if DIY isn’t your thing, check out laundrylist.org for ready-made products for line-drying inside).

4. Use small appliances for small meals


Eating alone? Heat up your food in a toaster oven, which can use up to half as much energy as an electric oven. In the mood for a cup of tea? Heat the water in an electric kettle rather than turning on a stove burner. And when you do use your stove-top, be sure to use the burner closest to the size of your pot. According to SmarterHouse.org, “a 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner wastes over 40% of the heat produced by the burner.”

5. Install motion-activated power outlets


Can’t remember whether you unplugged your curling iron before you left the house? Use a motion-activated outlet adapter. It will automatically turn off a gadget or appliance that’s plugged into the adapter when it senses no one is in the room using it, says Worthington. If you’re a renter, mention this option to your landlord, who will probably be only too happy to reduce wasted energy use (and potentially prevent fires too).


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Are You Ready for a Hot Seller Season?


April 1st isn’t just April Fools’ Day, it’s also the start of seller season in the real estate business. Take a tip from a house flipper: If you’re thinking of selling your house, now is the time to get it ready and get it listed. Homes show better in the spring — and you’re more likely to sell your house quickly and at a good market value.

Now, you might be thinking that selling your house during such a competitive season isn’t the best idea. But I’m here to tell you that there’s really no time like the present. You can sell a house in any season; my husband and I have sold in all kinds of markets.

However, even with a lot of competition, spring is just a great time to show off your house’s best assets and really get people to envision themselves living there. All you have to do is follow a few simple but effective tips so you can position your house correctly on the market, save yourself stress and disappointment, retain negotiating power, and not feel backed into a corner.


Pay attention to first impressions


You might be tempted to just pull some weeds and put down new mulch in your yard, but take a look at it and ask yourself if you could do more for your curb appeal. That doesn’t mean that you have to do a ton of landscaping that’ll require a lot of upkeep and watering.

Remember, your buyers are going to be looking at your property with an eye toward maintenance. Here in California, where Tarek and I live, we’ve been having ongoing issues with water restrictions. El Nino is doing its best to refill our reservoirs now, but adding landscaping that’ll require a lot of watering could still be a bad idea for sellers here. A better idea would be to go with low-water grass and drought-tolerant plants.

Think of the climate in your area, and go with low-maintenance plants for your yard. Visit your local garden center and explore using native plants. Then work on sprucing up your front and back patio to show your potential buyers how they can spend their time outside relaxing and/or entertaining friends on a lovely spring afternoon or evening.

If you’re planning on spending money to improve your home to get it ready to go on the market, make sure that you focus on projects like this that’ll really go the distance for you. Take the time to clean up and make your porch and entryway really attractive, because you know your buyers are going to stop there while the real estate agent gets into the lockbox to let them in.

You may not need to replace the front door or buy all new furniture for the porch and patio, but pay attention to all the entry points to the house. Some homeowners are in the habit of entering the house through the garage, so it’s a good idea if the area where home buyers enter the house says “welcome home,” too.

Make it look like a model home

As real estate investors we buy houses that have “lost their pretty,” were badly neglected, or have been abandoned altogether. The houses are empty. So, typically we are not dealing with sellers. However, as real estate agents we have dealt with many sellers. Tarek and I know that the emotional connection to a house can be very strong.

An appropriate mindset is important. It can be difficult, but at some point it’s a good idea to stop thinking of the house as your home, and focus on the business transaction. Getting the house to sell fast is, by definition, the objective of house-flipping. You can take the same tack and do everything you can to get the house ready.

Make a real effort to de-personalize the space. It will be easier for a buyer to see themselves living in the house if it looks like a model home. Do more than just clear clutter. Remove family photos and children’s artwork. Edit your collections, books, closets, cabinets, pantry, and end tables. Try to make the house look as big as possible by making it look as though there is room to spare.

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13 Surprising Extras That Add Value To Homes





These bonus features are 13 good reasons to love what you’ve got.


Most people who watch home renovation shows on TV can quickly spout off the home improvement projects that bring added value in the eyes of potential buyers. The first projects most people mention: kitchen and bathroom remodels. But sometimes you just don’t have the time, patience, or budget to do a full overhaul, especially if you’re looking to sell in the near future. But if you don’t have a new kitchen or master bathroom, don’t fret. What if we told you that your home could already have the features that can ultimately increase your home’s price tag? It’s possible!

Whether you’re looking for how to increase home value in a new, cost-effective way or want to focus on upkeep and helping these spaces look their best, here are a few everyday “extras” that buyers love right now.


1. Fences


Fences make good neighbors, but they’re also a pretty good investment — especially when you consider that homes without fences are typically priced significantly lower than their fenced-in neighbors. The style of fence matters, though: A chain-link fence is generally passed over by buyers, and some towns have even offered to pay homeowners to get rid of them. Instead, opt for natural materials like cedar, which bring privacy while adding plenty of curb appeal. We’re particularly in love with this craftsman-inspired number for sale at 502 Brinkerhoff Ave., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

2. Stainless steel appliances


Although trends come and go, the desire for stainless steel appliances seems here to stay. Quality always counts, but even homes listed in more affordable price ranges can benefit from including these in the sale — or quickly adding them before listing the property. “If the seller were to spend about $2,000 on stainless steel appliances, their home would sell much faster, and they’d probably double what they spent,” Ellis says. “Most first-time homebuyers don’t have cash to make these improvements themselves.”

3. Walk-in closets


Let’s face it: We all have too much clutter, making a roomy closet a highly sought-after feature in homes for sale. This popular extra might not increase your home’s sale price — but it just might help you sell faster in a competitive market, ultimately saving you from making extra mortgage payments. “I showed a great townhome in Tribeca,” says Laura Cao, a New York, NY–based associate real estate broker with Douglas Elliman. “It had everything but a master walk-in closet. Deal killer.”

This reaction from buyers isn’t limited to New York either: Jeff Lowen, real estate agent with The Real Estate Expert Advisor, says that walk-ins or large closets “have gone from a desired amenity to an expectation these days.” He suggests the addition of cedar accents or custom storage accessories like in this home for sale at 2313 Warfield Ln., Nashville, TN 37215, to make yours stand out. 
 

4. Pool


“This feature can add a great deal of value to a home — depending on the location,” says Than Merrill, former host of A&E’s Flip This House and CEO of FortuneBuilders. According to Merrill, here are the top five cities where owning a pool pays off:

    Cape Coral, FL: A pool here can increase your asking price by $46,130 on average, 22.5% above the average asking price.
    La Quinta, CA: A pool can increase your asking price by a whopping $109,250 on average, 21.1% above the average asking price.
    Naples, FL: Look for a bump of about $73,870 on average, 18.7% above the average asking price.
    Windermere, FL: Pools here can increase your asking price by $72,500 on average, 14.2% above the average asking price.
    Palm Harbor, FL: A pool can boost your asking price by $35,100 on average, 14.1% above the average asking price.

 


Homes with 'Subway Tiles' or 'Barn Doors' Sell Faster and For More Money

Ever wonder why some homes sell for a premium and others don’t? While timing definitely plays a part, turns out mentioning certain home features in your listing description can yield quite the premium– both in how fast the home sells for, and for how much.

According to a new Zillow Digs analysis, for-sale listings touting features like “subway tiles” or “barn doors” can sell for as much as 13 percent more than expected, and nearly 60 days faster than homes without those features.

“When it comes to real estate listing descriptions, words matter,” says Svenja Gudell, Zillow chief economist. “Your listing description is an opportunity to highlight specific details and finishes that might not be visible in photos. Craftsman-style homes and amenities resonate incredibly well with today’s buyers — so if you’ve got them, flaunt them!”

Zillow Digs analyzed listing descriptions from over 2 million homes sold nationwide to see how certain keywords referring to home features, amenities and design styles impacted their sale price. This report stems from an analysis in the New York Times best-seller, “Zillow Talk: Rewriting the Rules of Real Estate,” which looks at how certain listing descriptors like ‘unique’ or ‘captivating’ can impact final sale prices.

Curious what other home features made the list? See below for the top 5 keywords. You can find the full analysis with all 15 words here.

Barn doors


 

Homes mentioning “barn door” in their listing description sold for a hefty premium — 13.4 percent more than expected and 57 days faster. These rustic sliding doors are often found in modern craftsman-style homes, and are used on bedroom closets and kitchen pantries, among others.

Shaker cabinets


 
Listings touting “Shaker cabinets” sold for 9.6 percent above expected and 45 days faster.

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Questions To Expect To Be Asked When Buying A Home



What Are Some Of The Common Questions You Should Expect To Be Asked When Buying A Home?


If you’re going to be buying a home in the near future there are certain questions to expect to be asked.  It doesn’t matter if it will be the first home you’re purchasing or the twentieth home.

It’s important that you understand that the questions you’ll be asked are not asked for the purpose of snooping.  The questions to expect are asked to help better serve you and make sure the home buying process is an enjoyable and successful one.

Below are the most common questions to expect to be asked by both a lender and a real estate agent when buying a home.  The mortgage consultant and a real estate agent are two of the most important professionals you will need during the home buying process.  Having an understanding why these professionals ask the questions that they do can truly make the home buying process much easier.

Questions To Expect To Be Asked By A Lender When Buying A Home

One of the most important pieces to the home buying puzzle relates to the financing.  It’s important when buying a home you understand what the top mortgage FAQs are but also what questions to expect to be asked by a lender.  Below are some of the most common questions to expect to be asked by a lender when buying a home.



 

Where Do You Work & For How Long?

One of the first questions to expect to be asked by a mortgage consultant relates to where you work and for how long you’ve worked at your current employer.  One of the primary reasons this question is asked is to help the mortgage consultant understand your employment history.

Depending on the type of financing a buyer is attempting to obtain, the length and type of employment factors into whether a buyer will be accepted for the mortgage or not.  One of the most common reasons a mortgage is denied after approval is due to changes in employment.

If a buyer has frequent job changes over the past couple years, it will be more challenging to obtain financing for a home purchase.  It can also be challenging if a buyer changes their field of work.

For example, recently while attempting to help a buyer purchase a home in Rochester, NY, the buyer changed their career field from a salaried employee for a company to self-employed in the past year.  This ultimately led to them not being able to purchase a home at the current moment due to their short work history in their new field of work.


How Much Money Do You Make?


Another question to expect to be asked when buying a home will relate to your income.  A mortgage consultant does not ask how much money you make because they are curious.  Knowing how much a buyer makes is critical in order to successfully get them approved for a mortgage.

The amount of money a buyer makes plays a huge role in how much of a home a buyer can purchase.  The more money a buyer makes generally means the more expensive of a home they can purchase.


How Is Your Income Paid (Hourly, Salary, Commission)?


Not only is the amount of money a buyer makes important when buying a home but how the income is paid is very important as well.  A question to expect to be asked when buying a home is how your income is paid.  Are you an hourly employee?  Do you have a yearly salary?  Are you straight commission?

Lots of buyers don’t understand why they are asked how their income is paid.  The primary reason it’s important for the lender to understand how income is paid is so they know whether their income will be a stable and guaranteed amount after the loan is funded.

If a buyer is self-employed the lender is going to require more documentation, primarily their tax returns for the previous 2-3 years, prior to issuing a pre-approval.  The reason a lender will ask for additional documentation from a self-employed applicant is to ensure they’ve earned a stable income over the past several years.  Generally a lender will average the past 2 years of net income, which is their income after any deductions, from a buyers tax returns to use for qualifying purposes.

Lenders will request similar documentation from buyers who have commission based incomes.

What Debts Do You Have?


The debt that a buyer has can sometimes make or break whether they can get approved for a mortgage or not.  Another question to expect to be asked by a mortgage consultant when buying a home is about your current debts.

A buyer who has a solid employment history and good income but has lots of debts can have trouble obtaining a mortgage.  A term that you will hear being used in the mortgage industry is debt to income ratio.  Depending on the type of financing a buyer is obtaining, there are different maximum ratio levels.

Debt to income ratios play a big part in whether a buyer can get a mortgage or not.  Debt to income ratios have become a common reason why millennial buyers are not able to get a mortgage due to their student loan debts.

Again, don’t be offended when a mortgage consultant asks you about the debts that you have, they are just doing their job and making sure your home buying experience is successful.


How Much Money Do You Have Saved In The Bank?


Some buyers are uncomfortable talking about the money they have saved in their bank accounts.  It’s important to realize that the amount of money you have saved is a question to expect to be asked.

While there are ways to buy a home with very little money, it is still important for a mortgage consultant to know exactly how much money a buyer has to work with.  Some mortgage products require a buyer to contribute a certain amount of money towards the purchase of a home.

For example, an FHA mortgage requires a down payment minimum of 3.5%.  While there are ways to successfully negotiate a seller concession, it cannot be relied on that it is a guarantee a seller will be willing to help with a buyers closing expenses.


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How To Appeal A Property Tax Assessment


 

Learn how to review your property taxes, and you may find some errors that could allow you to appeal and pay a lower tax rate.

Income taxes aren’t the only taxes raising eyebrows this time of year. Property tax bills are also hitting mailboxes across the country. And while real estate prices remain relatively steady nationwide, many local tax bills are on their way up — and it’s not easy to predict when your condo in Orlando, FL, or real estate in Chicago, IL, will be subject to higher taxes.

While it’s easy to simply grumble and pay up, you might see a significant tax reduction by learning how to review your property taxes (and, potentially, how to appeal your property tax assessment).


1. Take a closer look at your property tax bill.
The amount due is usually what grabs your attention, but that’s not necessarily the most important number on your bill. Pay attention to the rate of taxation and the assessed value of your home (which may be determined by a formula). These are the numbers that determine your total tax bill. Triple-check the rate of taxation and assessed value to make sure they are correct — both can be confirmed by calling your city or county assessor’s office.

2. Confirm that your tax assessment is up to date
.
Tax assessments don’t necessarily keep up with market value. In some cases, property tax assessments may be updated only every few years. If property values have dipped significantly in your area and assessments haven’t changed, you may want to request a reassessment.

3. Check for errors.
Criteria for assessments vary according to locality but are generally tied to fair market value. That fair market value is based not on a walk-through of your home, as a real estate agent might do, but on a list of attributes plugged into an automated valuation formula. Make sure that information is correct for your property: You can ask your assessor’s office for a detailed checklist if it’s not readily available. Particulars you’ll want to check include square footage (for both your house and your land) as well as the number of rooms and outbuildings, like a garage or in-law suite. You’ll also want to confirm your property type (commercial, residential, or mixed).
 
4. Find out how your local government assesses property.
Understanding how assessments work in your area is key. This includes not only how often assessments are performed but also how values are determined. Some properties are assessed based on recent sales, while others may be assessed based on replacement value (the property’s worth as determined by an insurance company for coverage purposes). Understand what the process for valuation is so that you can make your argument accordingly.

5. Compare similar properties.
It’s helpful to investigate the assessed value of similar properties. This is easily accomplished by checking local records and sales of homes in your area (start your research on Trulia!). Look for patterns, talk to your neighbors, and consistently follow up on home sales in your neighborhood. If you find that your assessed value is considerably higher than that of at least three to five comparable homes in your area, an appeal might make sense.

6. Check eligible tax exemptions or credits.
As you do your research, be sure to check out whether you might qualify for a homestead exemption or other tax credit. These tax breaks might lower your tax bill — even if your assessment accurately valued your home.

7. Look for available freezes and discounts.
Even if your home isn’t eligible for an exemption or credit based on its value, you may be eligible for a tax break. Many localities offer property tax freezes or discounts for seniors, veterans, and disabled individuals, no matter the value of your home.


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1. Take a closer look at your property tax bill. The amount due is usually what grabs your attention, but that’s not necessarily the most important number on your bill. Pay attention to the rate of taxation and the assessed value of your home (which may be determined by a formula). These are the numbers that determine your total tax bill. Triple-check the rate of taxation and assessed value to make sure they are correct — both can be confirmed by calling your city or county assessor’s office.

2. Confirm that your tax assessment is up to date. Tax assessments don’t necessarily keep up with market value. In some cases, property tax assessments may be updated only every few years. If property values have dipped significantly in your area and assessments haven’t changed, you may want to request a reassessment.

3. Check for errors. Criteria for assessments vary according to locality but are generally tied to fair market value. That fair market value is based not on a walk-through of your home, as a real estate agent might do, but on a list of attributes plugged into an automated valuation formula. Make sure that information is correct for your property: You can ask your assessor’s office for a detailed checklist if it’s not readily available. Particulars you’ll want to check include square footage (for both your house and your land) as well as the number of rooms and outbuildings, like a garage or in-law suite. You’ll also want to confirm your property type (commercial, residential, or mixed).

4. Find out how your local government assesses property. Understanding how assessments work in your area is key. This includes not only how often assessments are performed but also how values are determined. Some properties are assessed based on recent sales, while others may be assessed based on replacement value (the property’s worth as determined by an insurance company for coverage purposes). Understand what the process for valuation is so that you can make your argument accordingly.

5. Compare similar properties. It’s helpful to investigate the assessed value of similar properties. This is easily accomplished by checking local records and sales of homes in your area (start your research on Trulia!). Look for patterns, talk to your neighbors, and consistently follow up on home sales in your neighborhood. If you find that your assessed value is considerably higher than that of at least three to five comparable homes in your area, an appeal might make sense.

6. Check eligible tax exemptions or credits. As you do your research, be sure to check out whether you might qualify for a homestead exemption or other tax credit. These tax breaks might lower your tax bill — even if your assessment accurately valued your home.

7. Look for available freezes and discounts. Even if your home isn’t eligible for an exemption or credit based on its value, you may be eligible for a tax break. Many localities offer property tax freezes or discounts for seniors, veterans, and disabled individuals, no matter the value of your home.

- See more at: http://www.trulia.com/blog/much-property-tax-try-solution/#sthash.dzVReLyt.dpuf

 Simple Pleasures: Relaxed Weekend at Home

 

To really recharge your batteries, think about what you want to do, not what you have to do, during your precious respite

 

So often we look forward to the weekend, but once it arrives, it gets swallowed up by errands and chores — and before we know it, it’s over. That hardly seems fair! If you’re ready to reclaim your weekend, begin by shifting your thinking and consider your weekend a “mini retreat” — a well-deserved opportunity to rest and recharge. And while not every weekend lends itself to this relaxed approach, even when life throws you a super-packed weekend, pulling even a few ideas from the list that follows can help slow things down enough that you can catch your breath and savor the abundance around you.


 

Morning Ideas
Start your weekend off right by savoring your first cup of coffee (take it outdoors if the weather is agreeable) and using this moment to simply breathe and relax, without feeling the need to check your phone or fire up the laptop. Instead, pick up an old school pencil and paper and make a list of things you would love to do and (equally important) things you don’t want to do over the weekend. Really dreading the weekly cleanup session? Consider calling in a cleaning service, even if these chores are something you usually do yourself. If you must clean, plan to set a timer and get it out of the way as quickly as possible.

 

Scoop up armfuls of blooms.

What could be more cheerful than flowers all around the house? If spring is blossoming where you live, all you may need to do is walk out to your garden and start snipping away. If it’s still cold (or you don’t have a garden) stop by a market, farmstead or flower shop and treat yourself to some beautiful blooms. Once you get home, trim the stems a bit (a fresh cut makes it easier for the flowers to drink water) and place them in vases of fresh water immediately. But don’t stop there — even if you bought just one bouquet, you can get more out of it by pulling out a few blooms to fill bud vases. Place a bud vase beside your bed, on the bathroom sink and in the kitchen to spread good cheer throughout your home.

 

Take a neighborhood stroll or bike ride.

How much have you really explored your neighborhood? Take a walk (bundle up if you need to) or bike ride if it’s a lovely day, and set out to discover something new. Your eventual destination could be your local farmer’s market or a favorite neighborhood cafe or shop, or you could simply wander and explore, taking inspiration from the houses and gardens you pass.


Set up your own spa-like accoutrements.

When you come in from your walk or bike ride, refresh yourself by making a pitcher of fancy water with slices of lemon, orange or cucumber and sprigs of a fresh herb like mint. Pour yourself a tall glass and sip it while paging through your favorite coffee table book.

 

Refresh your living space.

If decorating is your cup of tea, put on some music and spend some time restyling your living room. There’s no need to buy a thing — just challenge yourself to be creative and work with what you have. Sometimes moving things from room to room, putting up some new art (you can always pull from your stack of family photos) or pulling a few textiles out of hiding are all that’s needed to give a space a fresh look. Of course, if shopping is on your agenda, it’s your weekend to do what you like — but consider checking out a small, local shop or flea market instead of hitting the big stores, as you never know what treasures you’ll come across (and it’s surprisingly satisfying to stay close to home).

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