What Lenders Should Know About Americans’ Appetite for Remodeling Homes By Susanna Kim

remodelingRising home prices and the aging population are fueling Americans’ appetite for remodeling. As the Baby Boomers enter their retirement years, the desire to grow older in your own home is rising as a reason to remodel, according to a survey from the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB).

“Remodeling market conditions are positive, and business is growing,” says Robert Dietz, NAHB chief economist.

The quarterly National Association of Homebuilders’ Remodeling Market Index, a measure of remodeler market confidence, stood at a level of 53 for the second quarter of 2016. Although it slipped one point from the first quarter, any score above a level of 50 indicates that more remodelers view market conditions as positive rather than poor. The index has been in positive territory for 13 straight quarters.

The National Association of Homebuilders asked remodelers to rate the reasons customers want to remodel on a scale of 1 (“never/almost never”) to 5 (“very often”). In the NAHB’s survey from the first quarter, the top two reasons cited were, unsurprisingly, a desire for new or better amenities and a need to repair or replace old components. However, there have been some notable changes in reasons to remodel from 2012 to 2016, Dietz says.

Aging in Place, Sharing Homes

The NAHB survey notes customers citing “desire to be able to age in place” “often” or “very often” as a reason for remodeling, according to homebuilders surveyed, has increased to 39 percent in 2016 from 32 percent in 2012.

The desire for new amenities and the need for additional living space have been rising in importance too. Dietz says this is a consequence of higher rates of multigenerational households. The NAHB’s analysis indicates that as of 2014, more than 20 percent of young adults ages 25 to 34, or 8.8 million, live with their parents or in-laws. In 2000, this share was less than 11 percent.

What Renovators Want 

remodelWith the hope to age in place rising as the Baby Boomers enter their retirement years, those choosing to retire in their existing home will likely seek to make changes, both in terms of function and style, Dietz says.

Energy-efficiency, for example, is a priority for many homeowners, given the nation’s aging housing stock, Dietz says. The median age of a home was 37 years in 2013, compared to 27 in 1993, according to the latest American Housing Survey published by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

For borrowers — whether buying or refinancing a home — who want to finance water and energy efficiency improvement projects, there are options to roll those costs into a new mortgage. Fannie Mae’s HomeStyle® Energymortgage lets borrowers finance up to 15 percent of the as-completed appraised value of the home.

Fannie Mae’s HomeStyle® Renovation mortgage similarly helps borrowers make improvement projects totaling up to 50 percent of the as-completed appraised value of the property with a first mortgage.

The Future of the Remodeling Market

NAHB is forecasting growth of just below 3 percent for aggregate improvement spending for 2016, as market conditions remain positive, and additional growth in 2017, according to Dietz.

While demographics and rising home equity — a consequence of rising home prices — are pluses, there are some potential drawbacks for remodelers and those financing renovation projects. Dietz says expansion in this market will be limited due to flat inventory conditions in the home resale market, which will hold back existing home sales.

On the supply side of the renovation market, remodelers, like builders, are facing challenges accessing labor, Dietz says. In late 2015, a survey by NAHB indicated that 80 percent of remodelers reported a shortage of finished carpenters.

“This is an issue for the entire construction sector,” Dietz says.

There’s another group of homebuyers who will unlock additional demand for remodeling services and provide additional demand for new home construction, he says.

“Looking forward, as Generation Y increases its participation in the for-sale housing market, these prospective buyers will enable existing owners of entry levels homes to sell their current residence,” Dietz says.

7 Simple Home Remodeling Strategies for the Easily Overwhelmed

home-renovation-stress-standard_1x1_8591003424ec45637e53f2720ccec6bc_165x165_q85A remodel should be joyful — not stressful.

Which stresses you out more? The mere thought of adding a bathroom (so many contractors, so many unknowns, and you’re too busy already!) or fighting for Monday-morning mirror time for all eternity?

If it feels like a toss-up, you’re not alone. Remodeling can be overwhelming. With so much going on in your life already, it just feels easier to deal with a home that’s not quite right than to get swamped with one more gargantuan thing, right?

Wrong! A remodel doesn’t haveto be so all-consuming. With a few stress-sparing strategies, it’s totally doable — and totally worth it. Use these tips, and you’ll never have to step on your toddler’s rubber duckies while showering again.

1. Start By Making Sure Your Contractor Isn’t Overwhelmed

Most homeowners choose summer to do a major remodel because they know freezing temps won’t be a problem. But that also means contractors are super swamped and stressed to the max during summer. Not a good combo for a remodel to come in on time and on budget (not to mention what it’ll do to your blood pressure).

“Working in the summer is a complete nightmare,” says Atlanta-based interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn.”It’s so hot that sometimes there are only certain times of the day people can work.”

Try to schedule your remodel during a less hectic time for contractors. You’d be surprised how much can get done in an off-season. You could also save on costs — a great stress reliever. Woo hoo!

2. Discover Any Quirks That Will Drive You Nuts

We get it. With all the plates you’re currently spinning, skimming online contractor reviews is way more appealing than interviewing references. But this person is going to be inside your house. For days. Maybe weeks! What if his working style is dramatically different than yours? What if the crew drives you nuts? Talk about added stress.

“There might be a thing that’s a huge pet peeve of yours that means you’re not going to work well with that person,” says Flynn.

Ask contractors for references, and chat up the former customers about timeliness, personality, and working style. Does the crew listen to death metal at full volume? Are they all business, or will they pepper you with awkward chitchat? Finding a pro who does great work and is a good fit will take much of the crazy out of your remodel.

3. Look Beyond the Bottom Line of Bids

Just like reading online reviews, accepting your first decent bid may seem like a savvy shortcut, but there’s a reason you’ve heard about getting at least three. The key is to look beyond the bids’ bottom line. A higher estimate can cover solutions to worrisome construction problems like clean up, insurance to cover dented walls, or working at night to fit your schedule. Picking these amenities over a bargain can eliminate some big headaches.

Speaking of headaches, skimping on bid details can cause your temples to throb in another way. Sometimes they don’t include everything. Seriously. Flynn says hidden costs like drop cloths or the installation and removal of scaffolding can make projects go up to 20% or 30% over budget. Be sure to ask if you’ll be responsible for any costs not documented in your bid.

4. Opt for the Pampered Approach

Really want to treat yo’ self? Or need to, considering your schedule? Get an expert to be the boss instead of you. Overseeing the idiosyncrasies of a renovation can be maddening. Do you have time to educate yourself on the certifications and tests required by projects in rooms with plumbing? When your contractor has a question about a thermostatic valve issue, do you want her calling you for your advice?

“It’s smart to spend extra money to have a true professional project manager,” says Flynn. “If you just pay someone that extra money every week, you don’t have to worry about things you don’t understand.” (Median hourly wage is $46.)

Flynn recommends seeking out and vetting a project manager with experience in your type of project. A good one will save you guesswork that can hold up construction and make you want to pull your hair out.

5. Let the Contractor Handle Permits

Keeping tabs on permit deadlines and booking appointments with historical review boards can feel like a second job for even the most organized homeowner. In fact, it is a job; it just doesn’t have to be yours.

Chip Wade, a home improvement expert and consultant with Liberty Mutual Insurance, suggests skipping the homeowner self-work affidavit (which puts you, the homeowner, responsible for all the liability on the job) and letting your general contractor handle approvals and permits. The small added cost of your contractor’s time will literally take things off of your to-do list.

6. Stay on Schedule by Setting Benchmark Deadlines

Nothing makes for a low-stress remodel like staying on schedule. Your contractor should be willing to create benchmarks at the beginning of the project. Sticking to them? You’re going to want to keep an eye on that.

Typical benchmarks include demolition, framing, electrical, inspections and the like. Share a calendar with your contractor (a digital one like Google calendar is super convenient, but an old-fashioned paper one will work too) and check in as benchmarks creep up.

Why bother? Wade recommends intervening once two of these benchmarks are missed. One missed benchmark still allows contractors to make up time. Two is when the timetable (and budget) could derail — creating that sinking feeling you’ve worked so hard to avoid.

7. Control the Money

The more motivated your contractors are, the less harried you will be. Paying in small installments as work is done can discourage a strong finish and result in sloppy work.

The typical recommendation is to pay no more than 10% up front. But Wade recommends a 50/50 split with the contractor, assuming you’ve done your homework and your contractor is a reputable one — and it’s legal to do in your state (California, for example, has a law saying you can’t put down more than 10%). Fifty percent is more than a contractor typically gets for a down payment, which is a benefit to him. But have the contract specify that the remaining 50% will be paid upon completion, which is the benefit to you because it motivates him to finish the job to collect the rest of his money.

If that option isn’t open to you, another way is to offer bonuses, which is what Flynn’s project managers do. On tight schedules, pros who hit benchmarks before their due dates receive a bonus (the amount varies depending on scope and difficulty).

“They see an opportunity to make an extra few bucks, and it always works,” says Flynn. This can be the push your pros need when your guest bath needs to be ready before your in-laws arrive for a lengthy Thanksgiving weekend — without you spending your valuable time begging and pleading (and stressing) to make it happen.

99-Cent Store Solution #2: Torn Window Screen

blog-99cent-screen-fix-istock_3x2_d07947d97e4d45a925aa9e17e9cab27a_540x360_q85

Get rid of one of life’s greatest annoyances for less than a buck.

Among the things that make us nuts:

  • An empty carton of milk in the fridge
  • A flat tire

No need for a handyman or a replacement screen. You’ll find the right bug deterrent at the 99-cent store, if it’s not already on hand in your bathroom cabinet. But going to the dollar store is fun — you never know what you’ll find. Like cheap soda.

Supplies:

  • Clear nail polish, 99 cents
  • Two slightly dented cans of soda, 99 cents
  • Total: $1.98

What you do:

  • Apply the clear nail polish on both sides of the torn area. Slather it on so it builds up a nice barrier.
  • Watch it dry transparently.
  • Enjoy your soda.

Is a Tankless Water Heater Right for You?

tankless-water-heater-takagi_1x1_23205fb3136e1af43c4b42479f263510_165x165_q85If you’re debating replacing your hot water heater with a tankless version, also known as an on-demand water heater, here’s what you need to know to make the right decision.

What’s the Advantage of Going Tankless?

Traditional hot water heaters typically live in your basement and provide gallons of hot water at one time: an 80-gallon tank heats enough water to shower, run a dishwasher, and do a load of laundry simultaneously. But standby energy loss is significant with traditional hot water heaters, and once you’ve exhausted the hot water supply, you’ll wait 20 to 60 minutes for the heater to cook up more.

A tankless water heater produces hot water only when you need it. When you turn on the faucet, water is heated on the spot as it flows through capillary-like pipes heated by either a powerful gas burner or electric coils. (There are no oil-fired on-demand water heaters on the market.)

By bringing hot water close to where it’s needed, you reduce energy loss and increase efficiency by 50% over a conventional hot water tank system, about $165 in annual savings for an average household.

What’s the Downside?

Although a tankless water heater can pump hot water all day, it can’t produce a large amount all at once. And it can snap you out of a hot-shower bliss with the “cold water sandwich effect,” a sudden splash of cold water that results from turning the hot water faucet on and off repeatedly.

A traditional tank heater puts out 7.5 to 9.5 gallons of water per minute (GPM), enough to shower, run the dishwasher, and do a load of laundry all at the same time. The typical tankless water heater, however, puts out only 2.5 to 5 GPM, enough to handle only two uses at a time.

Be warned: Not all flow rates are calculated the same. Energy Star measures GPM based on a 77-degree increase in water temperature needed to heat water, while some companies list their GPM flows at 35- and 45-degree rises. The more heat the water requires, the slower the flow rate.

Possible solution to the “cold water sandwich”: Install multiple on-demand units. Because it’s small — about the size of a carry-on suitcase — you can place a tankless water heater along any stretch of pipe: In the attic, basement, closet, or crawlspace. You can install two or three units to serve different parts of the house, or even dedicate a unit for a particular use — say, a washing machine. Multiple on-demand units increase overall energy efficiency.

How Much Do They Cost?

Gas-fired tankless water heater: This system costs $1,500 to buy and install, nearly double the price of a conventional gas water heater, and $575 more than a high-efficiency tank model. In addition, while a conventional water heater typically uses a half-inch gas line, a tankless water heater requires three-quarter-inch pipe. That plumbing change costs from $25 to $40 per foot, potentially adding many hundreds to initial costs. On the bright side, your new energy-efficient unit may qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $300 on purchase and installation through 2013.

Electric tankless water heater: Much cheaper. It can cost as little as $400 installed. But it doesn’t qualify for a tax credit because it is less efficient than gas and is better suited for point-of-use applications, such as instant kitchen hot water, rather than a whole-house system.

Kaboom! Kebobs: Sweet and Spicy Skewers

kaboomkebobs_headerSweet and spicy is an irresistible combination—and that’s especially true with one of summertime’s most popular grilling foods, kebobs. Now you can pack even more flavor into these finger foods by making kaboom! kebobs, an appetizer that features spicy chicken with pineapple and just screams summer!


Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground mustard
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 can pineapple chunks

Instructions:

  1. Cut chicken breasts into bite-size cubes. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine black pepper, garlic salt, chili powder, onion powder, ground mustard, and cayenne pepper. Mix together thoroughly. Add vegetable oil and water to the seasoning, and stir to combine.
  3. Transfer seasoning marinade and the chicken chunks to a ziplock bag, adding more water if necessary to completely cover the chicken. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight to allow the flavors to soak into the chicken.
  4. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Empty the marinated chicken into a baking dish, spreading the meat evenly to create a single layer. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes.
  5. Pair the chicken bites with pineapple chunks, and assemble onto toothpicks or skewers. Arrange on a serving platter, and serve warm.

Is It OK to Use the Bathroom When You’re Touring a House? (and 4 Other Questions You’re Afraid to Ask)

open-house-etiquette-bathroom_7ef25b4354276b85ee072df481a830ecIt’s a marathon house-hunting day. As you check out listing No. 5’s brand new windows, it suddenly hits you: “Oh man, I have to go to the bathroom.”

Should you, or shouldn’t you?

Navigating do’s and don’ts can be totally awkward, so we asked the pros everything most buyers secretly want to know.

Well, Can I Use the Bathroom?

If you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go — but don’t just wander off and take care of business. It might not work in every house. Literally.

“Ask permission,” says Pat Vredevoogd Combs, past president of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF  REALTORS® who works and lives inGrand Rapids, Mich. Vacant houses, especially in winter, may have the water shut off, so there’s no way to flush. That’s something you really want to know before you go.

And if you’re at a busy open house, being in the loo for more than a minute means other potential buyers can’t check out the facilities — and may not want to after you’ve, um, done your business.

To be safe, schedule in a few pit stops at restaurants or gas stations along the way, suggests Vredevoogd Combs.

Is It OK to Bring in My Coffee?

We’re pretty sure ordering house hunters to forgo coffee qualifies as “cruel and unusual punishment” in some states. But if you’re carrying a drink, be careful — unless you’re prepared to go mano a mano with the floor.

“So many first-time home buyers are millennials, and I almost never see them without a cup of Starbucks in their hand,” Vredevoogd Combs says. “I had one guy spill his coffee on white carpeting and we had to get down on our hands and knees to clean it up.”

Food, on the other hand, is no bueno, unless the seller has left out cookies. By all means, take one, but eat it in the kitchen. Preferably over a napkin.

Can I Peek in the Closet?

“Absolutely,” says Tg Glazer, 2016 president of the New Jersey Association of REALTORS®. “Buying a home is probably the biggest purchase you’re ever going to make, and you need to check out everything.”

Basically, look all you want, but don’t rifle around. You’re shopping for closet space, not a new wardrobe.

How About a Quick Selfie With This Awesome, Lemon-Colored Range?

With smartphones being practically an appendage for many buyers, snapping pics to share with friends and family is so easy. But hold your trigger finger, especially if you’re planning to share the images online.

Whether you can take photos and videos “seems to be a regional custom,” Vredevoogd Combs says. “In some cases, sellers have valuable things and don’t even want their homes promoted online. Ask permission first.”

Can I Plop Down on That Chaise Lounge?

Vredevoogd Combs says she’s not a fan. “Feeling comfortable enough to want to sit on the furniture might be a good intent to buy, but it isn’t your furniture and you’re not buying it.” Plus, that cozy looking couch or comfy bed might be staged — air beds or cardboard boxes wearing fancy clothes — so you might take a spill.

If you need to sit, for health reasons or that sprained ankle from your last marathon, just ask. That’s not unreasonable.

The bottom line is the old-fashioned Golden Rule: Do unto others’ homes as you’d have them do unto yours.

“Be on your best behavior,” says Vredevoogd Combs. Pretend the seller is there — and sometimes they are, even if you can’t see them. They might be waiting next door at a neighbor’s house and wander back at any minute. So it’s also a good idea to keep comments to yourself. You wouldn’t want them to overhear how much you love the master suite — that could mess up your negotiating power if you decide to buy.

Bathroom Renovations a Germophobe Would Love

easy-to-clean-bathroom-large-floor-tiles_7c5613232dc068514679bad7ea6ed0fb_3x2_jpg_518x345_q85Banish germs, dirt, and grime with a smart bathroom remodel that makes it harder for the nasty stuff to set up house.

No matter if you keep your home sealed tight, leave the windows open, have a steady stream of visitors stopping by, or prefer to be alone, microbes will worm their way into your pad. Check out these five bathroom upgrades that’ll give you a fighting chance against germs, dirt, and bacteria. Game. On.

Get Rid of the Grout

Who says a bathroom has to have tile? Dirt and grime love to cling to the gritty grout between tiles. To banish it from your bathroom for good, try glass or waterproofed real-stone veneer. They come in large sheets — hardly any grout needed. Maybe some at the joints, but that’s better than the entire wall and floor.

If you want to go completely groutless, there’s an ancient Moroccan technique called tadelakt that uses lime-based plaster, which is waterproof, resists mold and mildew, and, best of all, is sealed with a soap solution to keep grime away. It’s worked for centuries, so it should work in your bath, too. It’s pricey, though, because it requires trained artisans to apply.easy-to-clean-bathroom-tadelakt_9b21a7018080da4e7c0a04bb92b68c02

An affordable alternative, suggests Stephanie Horowitz, managing director of ZeroEnergy Design in Boston, is to opt for large tiles with narrower grout lines. “It’s a fresh, modern look that requires minimal upkeep,” she says.

No-Touch Faucets

Sensor-operated faucets aren’t just for crowded airport and mall restrooms. They’re growing in popularity in homes, too. If germs are your No. 1 enemy, a sensor faucet is a good choice because without touch, it’s tough for germs to find a foothold. Some models also light up when you approach the sink — a cool, futuristic bonus for when you’re stumbling around in the middle of the night.

But because sensor faucets require a battery or electrical connection, users have complained that they break down more. Funny thing, though. Many say they would buy it again because they love the touchless feature.

easy-to-clean-bathroom-no-touch-faucet_0a7fbdd2b66a89954cbfd7859e40acd3Just don’t expect them to save you water. The last official study by the Alliance for Water Efficiency (in 2009) found they actually used more water.

Copper Fixtures

If hospitals have recognized the anti-germ properties of good-old copper in battling hospital-acquired infections, it seems like a good bet for our bathrooms, too. A South Carolina Medical University study found that copper placed on surfaces, like bed rails, helped reduce hospital-acquired infections by 58%.

Another study throws a little cold water on this theory, though. Research from the University of Leicester in England suggests that human sweat left on copper could counteract the germ-fighting benefits. Still, routine cleaning can help deal with sweat.

By the way, there are copper alloys in brass, so how about installing brass doorknobs on your bathroom door — or throughout your whole house, germophobes?

easy-to-clean-bathroom-one-piece-toilet_7b488c5444e2369b37e4dd8d376eb335Easy-Clean Toilets

If you’ve ever transformed into a contortionist while reaching to clean every last yucky crevice in your toilet, the one-piece model was made for you. Because traditional two-piece toilets have a separate bowl and tank, they have lots of tiny crevices that are hard to really get clean. You may spend a bit more for a one-piece model, which is molded from a single piece of porcelain, but the amount of scrubbing time you save may make it worthwhile. Plus, you don’t have to get up close and personal with the nasty parts.

Today’s pressure-assisted toilets not only reduce cleaning time, but virtually eliminate backups, thanks to a forceful jet of water that scrubs the entire bowl and removes everything in its path. On this one, you’ll actually save water. Because of their eco-smart designs, these high-efficiency toilets can save a family of four up to 16,500 gallons of water annually.

easy-to-clean-bathroom-exhaust-fan_3a35a7a786af651ce7b0e1ec528d3f6fInstall a Good Exhaust Fan

This is probably the least-sexy upgrade, but did you know it’s the No. 1 feature buyers want in a bathroom? That’s probably because it’s so effective at fighting bad micro-organisms. Not only does a good exhaust fan fight mold, mildew, and other nasty micro-orgasms, it protects your walls, paint, and trim. If left unchecked, excess moisture can cause your wallboard, paint, and trim to deteriorate. So spending a few hundred dollars on a fan and pro install could save you thousands down the road.

That’s a low-cost, no-brainer upgrade. Even if you already have an exhaust fan, take a look at the newer ones. Today’s models are much more efficient than the old buzz saw you might currently own. They’re quieter, more powerful, and use less energy. If you forget to turn it on before you step into the shower, some models even come with a humidity-sensing feature that automatically turns the fan on when humidity is detected, then shuts off when the air is clear.

Pet Odor Can Chase Away Buyers

pet-odor-can-chase-away-buyers-standard_1x1_1166e57c266dbaa1d46fdc72efb53a9b_165x165_q85Don’t let pet odors derail your home sale.

Having pet odors inside your home can turn off potential home buyers and keep your home from selling. Ask your real estate agent for an honest opinion about whether your home has a pet smell.

If your agent holds her nose, here’s how to get rid of the smell:

Air your house out. While you’re cleaning, throw open all the windows in your home to allow fresh air to circulate and sweep out unpleasant scents.

Once your house is free of pet odors, do what you can to keep the smells from returning. Crate your dog when you’re out or keep it outdoors. Limit the cat to one floor or room, if possible. Remove or replace pet bedding.

Scrub thoroughly. Scrub bare floors and walls soiled by pets with vinegar, wood floor cleaner, or an odor-neutralizing product, which you can purchase at a pet supply store for $10 to $25.

Try a 1:9 bleach-to-water solution on surfaces it won’t damage, like cement floors or walls.

Got a stubborn pet odors covering a large area? You may have to spend several hundred dollars to hire a service that specializes in hard-to-clean stains.

Wash your drapes and upholstery. Pet odors seep into fabrics. Launder, steam clean, or dry clean all your fabric window coverings. Steam clean upholstered furniture.

Either buy a steam cleaner designed to remove pet hair for around $200 and do the job yourself, or pay a pro. You’ll spend about $40 for an upholstered chair, $100 for a sofa, and $7 for each dining room chair if a pro does your cleaning.

Clean your carpets. Shampoo your carpets and rugs, or have professionals do the job for $25 to $50 per room, depending on their size and the level of filth embedded in them. The cleaner will try to sell you deodorizing treatments. You’ll know if you need to spend the extra money on those after the carpet dries and you have a friend perform a sniff test.

If deodorizing doesn’t remove the pet odor from your home, the carpets and padding will have to go. Once you tear them out, scrub the subfloor with vinegar or an odor-removing product, and install new padding and carpeting. Unless the smell is in the subfloor, in which case that goes next.

Paint, replace, or seal walls. When heavy-duty cleaners haven’t eradicated smells in drywall, plaster, or woodwork, add a fresh coat of paint or stain, or replace the drywall or wood altogether.

On brick and cement, apply a sealant appropriate for the surface for $25 to $100. That may smother and seal in the odor, keeping it from reemerging.

Place potpourri or scented candles in strategic locations. Put a bow on your deep clean with potpourri and scented candles. Don’t go overboard and turn off buyers sensitive to perfumes. Simply place a bowl of mild potpourri in your foyer to create a warm first impression, and add other mild scents to the kitchen and bathrooms.

Control ongoing urine smells. If your dog uses indoor pee pads, put down a new pad each time the dog goes. Throw them away outside in a trash can with a tight lid. Remove even clean pads from view before each showing.

Replace kitty litter daily, rather than scooping used litter clumps, and sweep up around the litter box. Hide the litter box before each showing.

Relocate pets. If your dog or cat has a best friend it can stay with while you’re selling your home (and you can stand to be separated from your pet), consider sending your pet on a temporary vacation. If pets have to stay, remove them from the house for showings and put away their dishes, towels, and toys.

6 Materials to Never Use in Your Kitchen

kitchen-materials-standard_1x1_438d271a1b5a327068a858ea0c29d0cd_165x165_q85Here’s what to avoid, what to choose for your kitchen remodel.

About to remodel that old kitchen? Unless you’re cool with treating the hardest working room in your house like a museum exhibit, resist the temptation to buy the cheapest or shiniest materials available and go for durable options that can stand up to regular abuse. Trust us: Although it may be tough to leave that raised, tempered glass bar top (ooo!) in the showroom, repairing its first (and second, and third) chip will get old. Very fast.

Picking the right materials is easy if you do your homework. “There are amazing products out there,” says Jeffrey Holloway, a certified kitchen designer and owner of Holloway Home Improvement Center in Marmora, N.J. “You’re looking at price point, sanitation, how easy it is to clean the product, its durability and maintenance.”

Keeping those all-important features in mind, here are some materials to avoidduring your next kitchen project.

1. Plastic Laminate Counters

First off, there’s plenty of great laminate out there. It’s the entry-level,plastic laminate to stay away from, Holloway says. These are the ones that look thin and dull, as opposed to richly textured. They scratch easily, and if the product underneath the laminate gets wet (say, from steam rising from your dishwasher), it can delaminate the countertop, which means the edges will chip pretty easily. Also, one misplaced hot pan on the plastic will result in a melted disaster zone you’ll remember forever.

But if you’re watching your budget, plastic laminate at the next level up is a good choice. “It’s got good color consistency, and there are a lot of retro and trendy patterns available,” says Dani Polidor, an interior designer and owner of Suite Artistry, and a REALTOR® in Pittsford, N.Y.

New laminate counter technology offers scratch resistance, textured surfaces, and patterns that mimic real wood and stone. “There are even self-repairing nano-technologies embedded in some laminates,” says Polidor, “and others have antimicrobial properties.”

For an average 10-by-20-foot kitchen, the next-level-up laminate will cost about $3,000, Polidor estimates, and those super cool technology options add another $200 to $300. For durability and longer life, the investment is well worth it.

2. Inexpensive Sheet Vinyl Flooring

You spend all day stepping on your floor, so quality really matters. At the lower price point, about $2.50 per square foot, the cheapest sheet vinyl floorings tend to be thin. “If your vinyl floor is glued down and the underlayment gets delaminated, say, by water seeping from your dishwasher or refrigerator, you’ll get bubbles in your floor,” Holloway warns.

Compare that with luxury vinyl tile (LVT) that costs about $5 per square foot. It’s still usually glued down, but it’s a little more forgiving than its less classy cousin — and it can come in tiles, which you can grout so they mimic the look of higher-end stone, Polidor says.

3. Some Laminated Cabinet Fronts

Holloway suggests staying away from lower-end thermofoil cabinet fronts. What is thermofoil? Contrary to its name, there’s no foil or any metal-type material in it. It’s actually vinyl, which is heated and molded around fiberboard. If the cabinet is white and the price is waaaaay affordable compared with other cabinets, think twice. Cheaper thermofoil has three critical issues:

1. It’s not heat resistant. If near a dishwasher or oven, it could delaminate.

2. It can warp and yellow with age, revealing its cheapness.

3. The “wood” underneath the thermofoil is also poor quality and won’t hold up over time.

But just like with plastic laminate, science has made great strides, and now there are a host of new cabinets that are remaking thermofoil’s reputation. “New European laminates have become all the rage for the clean-lined, flat-panel look,” Polidor says. “It’s budget-friendly and can look like wood or high gloss. It’s not your grandmother’s thermofoil.”

And it doesn’t come at grandma’s prices, either. But still, the new thermofoil is much more affordable than custom cabinets, and still satisfies with its rich look and durability.

4. High-Gloss Lacquered Cabinets

A nice shine can be eye-catching. And spendy. About 20 layers of lacquer go on a cabinet for the high-gloss look. Ding it or scratch it, and it’s costly to repair.

“It’s a multi-step process for repairing them,” Polidor says. A better option for the same look is high-end thermofoil (see? We said there were good thermofoil options!). Thermofoil has a finish that’s fused to the cabinet and baked on for a more durable exterior. And it’s way more budget-friendly, too. High-gloss can be in the thousands of dollars, whereas thermofoil can be in the hundreds or dollars.

5. Flat Paint

Flat paint has that sophisticated, velvety, rich look we all love. But keep it in the bedroom. It’s not KF (kitchen-friendly). Flat paint, also known as matte paint, has durability issues. It’s unstable. Try to wipe off one splatter of chili sauce, and you’ve ruined the paint job. About the only place to use flat paint in your kitchen is on the ceiling (unless, of course, you have a reputation for blender or pressure-cooker accidents that reach to the ceiling, then we suggest takeout).

Instead, you want to use high-gloss or semi-gloss paint on your walls. They can stand up to multiple scrubbings before breaking down.

Related: Avoid a Do-Over When You Paint Your Kitchen: Pick the Right Paint

6. Trendy Backsplash Materials

Tastes change. So avoid super trendy colors and materials when it comes to permanently adhering something to your kitchen walls. Backsplashes come in glass, metal, iridescent, and high-relief decor tiles, which are undoubtedly fun and tempting. They can also be expensive, ranging from $5 to $220 a square foot, and difficult to install. And after all that work and expense, if (er … when) your tastes change in a few years, it’ll be mighty tough to justify a re-do.

Stick with a classic subway tile at $2 to $3 square foot. Or, even more budget friendly, choose an integrated backsplash that matches your countertop material. “If you want pops of color, do it with accessories,” Polidor suggests.

In the eye of the storm: tornado hot dogs

Tornado DogsTake cover! There’s a tornado coming through the kitchen! No need to worry. This is one tornado that leaves everything in its path safe and sound. And did we mention it’s also delicious?

You will need:

  • 5 hot dogs
  • 1 sheet pizza dough
  • 10 skewers

Here’s how:

  1. Cut the hot dogs in half and spear each half onto a skewer.
  2. Now it gets a bit tricky: Place a knife at an angle and cut into the hot dog until the knife meets the skewer. Now turn the skewer, keeping the knife in place. This forms a spiral which, once complete, you pull apart carefully.
  3. Roll out the pizza dough and cut it into thin strips. Roll each strip to form ropes.
  4. Press the rope into the spiral gap of each hot dog. Press the end of the rope firmly to the skewer so that it stays in place.
  5. Now place your hot dog skewers on a pan lined with baking paper, and bake for 15 minutes at 350°F.

Ta-da! Your tornado hot dogs are finished! We have a feeling this storm might be sweeping through your kitchen more often. Enjoy!

Why Spending Money on Fancy Bath Salts Can Help Sell Your House

home-staging-tips-bath-salts-standard_1x1_5c8e50a08817ddb7b0361ce06d2b9ce0_620x620_q85You’re not just selling a home, you’re selling a lifestyle.

We get it. You’re pragmatic. You’ll buy that deep cleaning and decluttering your house are important steps in a comprehensive home staging process that could help your home receive higher offers and sell faster. But what’s up with those staging recommendations like making your bathroom feel like a spa and your kitchen smell like Rachael Ray just stopped by? Is that froufrou stuff really worth your time?

It is. Actually, the fact that you’re a pragmatist is the reason you’re going to want to shell out for some luxury staging items. The science is in: You’re not just selling your home, you’re selling a lifestyle, and those fancy final touches make a powerful sales pitch.

That’s right. Although the $11,000 you spent on a sturdy new roof might help seal the deal after the inspection, a gorgeous $30 jar of bath salts could be what prompts the offer in the first place.

The Psychology of Emotional Selling

There are plenty of rational reasons for a buyer to want to purchase your house — that new roof is just one of the many. But according to Peter Noel Murray, Ph.D., in “Psychology Today,” decision making and emotions are inescapably intertwined. So much so that people with brain damage affecting the connection between emotions and rational thought are unable to make decisions, even with a clear set of pros and cons before them.

What’s more, functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, results have confirmed the active role emotions play in consumer decisions about brands. How else can the overwhelming success of brand names over generic products be explained when generics are often the exact same thing?

People want to be associated with the brand that feels more upscale, or as Terrylynn Fisher, a REALTOR® with Dudum Real Estate in Walnut Creek, Calif., says, “Everyone aspires to have more than they have.” In a 2007 study, researchers found that people’s enjoyment of wine increased in tune with the wine’s perceived price — even when it wasn’t actually expensive.

home-staging-tips-orchid-bathroom-standard_9efaa303ca148d00529de2a974f508f5_860x575_q85Think of your home as the luxury, brand-name product, and all of the other houses on a buyer’s list as the generic version. Those homes might have a new roof as well, but when it comes to falling in love with a house, it’s that fancy label — aka, the chic bath salts or fancy wine decanter on display — that could make all the difference.

When a home appears luxurious, it promises aspirational home buyers the lifestyle they have worked so hard to earn. They deserve to live in a house with fancy wine decanters and an orchid in the bathroom. They’ve earned it.

 

3 Ideas That Optimize Closet Space

organize-your-closet-diy-projects-b_3x2_12c970a88cd3122be1ced47a32cb392e_540x360_q85If you’re ready to make that black hole you call a closet more efficient, these DIY closet systems will inspire.

1. A Well-Organized Utility

Many of us stash brooms, batteries, and tools separately. Not Missy of Lookie What I Did. She converted a coat closet that was a catchall for useless stuff into a central location for home maintenance items.

organize-your-closet-tool-standard_1ac77ec823d909ea0caeba29dbd7794b_860x562_q85

Optimizing Space

She went vertical by adding a rolling drawer unit, a pegboard, and storage baskets. She also kept sweepers and mops off the floor using adhesive wall hooks.

To make it a cinch to find stuff, every item in the closet has its place:

  • Heavily used items hang on the pegboard.
  • Cleaning products live together in a basket.
  • Hardware, adhesives, and batteries are stowed and labeled in the rolling drawer unit.
  • Bulky, less-frequently needed items are kept in labeled baskets on the shelf.

Tip: When deciding what to store in your closets, ask yourself what has more value, a particular item or the space you will gain.

2. A Masterful Walk-In

This closet will appeal to your inner Carrie Bradshaw. Sandra, aka Sawdust Girl, ripped out her old walk-in and created her dream closet over four months.

Optimizing Space

Sure this closet is huge, but it’s the special features that make it efficient:

  • Convenience: Connects to the bedroom, bathroom, and laundry room.
  • Quality: Oversized, self-closing drawers quietly glide shut.
  • Lighting: Colors render beautifully with daylight CFL bulbs.
  • Power: Extra outlets, extra flexibility.
  • Add-ons: A built-in ironing board, rolling ladder, and nine-by-six-foot shoe cabinet came later.

organize-your-closet-mudroom_084e25815fe0ec0acce6324303eb5f813. An Un-Muddled Mud Closet

Jaime the DIY mama behind the blog That’s My Letter came up with a cheery entryway mud room-style cubbie and bench system for a friend.

Optimizing Space

Originally, the closet had piles of stuff on the shelf and floor. To eliminate clutter, she evaluated what to keep and came up with a plan to make those items more accessible:

  • 12 solid-wood shoe cubbies wrangle Dad’s shoes, which had been spilling out of a hanging organizer.
  • The bench performs triple duty: It provides a place to sit, room for handbags and knapsacks, and a spot for more shoes.
  • Baskets on top of the cubbies stow gloves, hats, and scarves.

Tip: When it comes to keeping closet clutter at bay, out of sight means out of mind. So opt for a closet system that allows you to see everything that’s stored.

Fun Facts About Animals-Did you Know???

happycoupleInterested to learn more about the fascinating world of animals? Read below to find some fun facts about animals.

  1.  Dogs only sweat through the pads on their feet. They pant to help keep cool instead.
  2. Studies have shown that people who own pets live longer, have fewer heart attacks and have less stress.
  3. Cats meow only to humans, not to communicate with other cats.
  4. A goldfish can live up to 40 years.
  5. Cats spend 2/3 of their day sleeping.
  6. In Arizona, you are not allowed to feed pigs garbage unless you obtain a permit, which must be renewed each year.
  7. A cat can jump as high as 7 times his height.
  8. In Colorado, since a horse is considered a vehicle, you are not allowed to drink an alcoholic beverage while riding horseback.
  9. Larger Parrots, such as Macaw’s and Cockatoo’s, can live more than 75 years.
  10. Giving fish alcohol is strictly prohibited in Ohio.
  11. Be careful at the next frog jumping event in California. If one of those frogs dies during the contest, it must not be eaten. You’ll have to get your fresh frog legs elsewhere.

Not Sure How to Price Your Home? Avoid Mistakes With These Tips

how-much-home-worth-standard_1x1_cacf8c63189c0e0e1c54afb7f26dd1ec_620x620_q85Pricing based on data, not emotion, can mean a swift sale.

You don’t need to be Bob Barker to know when the price just isn’t right. Just ask Candace Talmadge. She originally listed her Lancaster, Texas, home for $129,000, but “eventually had to accept the market reality” and chop $4,000 off the price.

The home’s location proved challenging: Buyers were either turned off by the area — a lower-income neighborhood south of Dallas — or unable to afford the home.

“Sellers have to keep in mind the location,” says Talmadge. “Who are going to be the likely buyers?”

Home pricing is more of a science than an art, but many homeowners price with their heartstrings instead of cold, hard data. Here’s why crunching the numbers is always the better route to an accurate home price — as well as what can happen when home sellers overlook those all important data points.

The Pitfalls of Overpricing

Homeowners often think that it’s OK to overprice at first, because — who knows? — maybe you’ll just get what you’re asking for. Although you can certainly lower an inflated price later, you’ll sacrifice a lot in the process. The most obvious damage: A house that remains on the market for months can prevent you from moving into your dream home. Already purchased that next home? You might saddle yourself with two mortgages.

“You lose a lot of time and money if you don’t price it right,” says Norma Newgent, an agent with Area Pro Realty in Tampa, Fla.

And worse: Continually lowering the price could turn off potential buyers who might start wondering just what is wrong with your home.

“Buyers are smart and educated,” says Lisa Hjorten of Marketplace Sotheby’s International Realty in Redmond, Wash. “You’re probably going to lose them.”

The Pricing Traps

It’s easy for homeowners to stumble into two common traps:

  1. Conflating actual value with sentimental value — how much they assume their home’s worth because they lived there and loved the time they spent there.
  2. Assuming renovations should result in a dollar-for-dollar increase in the selling price — or more.

“Many homeowners think, ‘Of course my home is worth a bazillion dollars,’” says Newgent. If they put in a few thousand dollars worth of new flooring, for example, they might overestimate the upgrade’s impact on the home’s value into the tens of thousands.

Talmadge’s Texas home came with a built-in renovation trap: It was already the nicest home in the area, making it harder to sell. Major additions had inflated the square footage — and the price, according to one appraiser — without accounting for the surrounding neighborhood. That created a disconnect for buyers: Wealthier ones who might be interested in the upgraded home disliked the neighborhood, and less affluent buyers couldn’t afford the asking price.

“Don’t buy the nicest home on the block” is common real estate advice for this reason.

That’s not to say that renovations aren’t worth it. You want to enjoy your home while you’re in it, right? Smart renovations make your home more comfortable and functional but should typically reflect the neighborhood. A REALTOR® can help you understand what certain upgrades can recoup when you sell and which appeal to buyers.

Another culprit for many a mispriced home is online tools, like Zillow’s “Zestimate,” that prescribe an estimated market value based on local data.

The estimate is often wildly inaccurate. A Virginia-area real estate company, McEnearney & Associates, has compared actual sold prices with predicted online estimates for several hundred homes in the area for the past few years and concluded the predictions failed half of the time.

The Right Stats for the Right Price

The best pricing strategy? Consult a real estate agent, who will use something called comps (also known as “comparable sales”) to determine the appropriate listing price. They’re not just looking at your neighbors; they’re seeking out near-identical homes with similar floor plans, square footage, and amenities that sold in the last few months.

Once they’ve assembled a list of similar homes (and the real prices buyers paid), they can make an accurate estimate of what you can expect to receive for your home. If a three-bedroom bungalow with granite countertops and a walk-out basement down the block sold for $359,000, expecting more from your own three-bedroom bungalow with granite countertops and a walk-out basement is a pipe dream.

After crunching the data, they’ll work with you to determine a fair price that’ll entice buyers. The number might be less than you hope and expect, but listing your home correctly — not idealistically — is a sure way to avoid the aches and pains of a long, drawn-out listing that just won’t sell.

Knowing When the Price is Too High

Once your home is on the market, you’ll start accumulating another set of data that will serve as the ultimate price test: how buyers react.

Agent Hjorten says there’s an easy way to tell if you’ve priced too high: “If we have no showings, it’s way too high. Lots of showings and no offer means you’ve marketed well — but it’s overpriced once people get inside.”

Talmadge didn’t struggle with showings. She says a number of people were interested in the home, but not enough at the price. In the end, Talmadge sold her home for $125,000, with a $5,000 seller’s assist, a discount on the cost of the home applied directly to closing costs.

“It all boils down to location, location, location. In [another] neighborhood, our house might well have sold for well over $130,000,” Talmadge says.

When it comes to finding a buyer, pricing your home according to data — and the right data, at that — is crucial to making the sale.

Need more answers to your questions? Click here!

Cherry pie, French style

maxresdefaultAs a painless alternative to traditional ear piercing, why not hang a pair of fresh cherries from your ear? No? Well luckily, this sweet fruit tastes as wonderful as it looks. After you buy your next batch of cherries – or pick them from a tree! – why not try making this classic French dessert: cherry clafoutis.

You will need:

  • 21 oz cherries
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 and 1/4 cup flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/8 cup melted butter

Here’s how:

  1. First comes the annoying part: pitting the cherries. If you have a cherry pitter, it’s easier and quicker to do this by hand, but you can also use this trick: Remove the stems, and then place the cherry on the opening of a bottle (the opening must be smaller than the cherry so that the cherry does not fall through). Using a chopstick, press through the cherry and watch the pit fall into the bottle! Now the cherries can be eaten safely.
  2. Use the butter to grease a quiche pan, or any round baking dish. Don’t forget the edges!
  3. Sprinkle a generous tablespoon of your sugar into the greased pan, and carefully shake so that the sugar is distributed evenly, even on the edges. Now add your pitted cherries.
  4. In a separate bowl, add the eggs, the remaining sugar, and the salt. Mix well.
  5. Add the flour, vanilla extract, almond extract, melted butter, and milk to the egg mixture. Beat until smooth.
  6. Pour the mixture evenly over the cherries and bake for 45 minutes at 350°F until golden brown. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve!

Is it a cake? Is it a pie? No matter! It’s wonderfully sweet and brings the taste of summer directly to your plate. Try the recipe using other fruits, depending on what’s in season. Enjoy!

The Mistakes Renters and Buyers Make That Could Cost Them Big by Cathie Ericson

1607014hackerKyle Alfriend, a real estate agent in Dublin, OH, was with his contractor at a vacant home he had for sale, changing the locks after someone had broken in.

Imagine his surprise when a couple walked in, thinking they were meeting someone who was going to rent it to them. Turns out the trespasser had taken photos and posted an ad seeking renters on Craigslist.

The couple had brought along two months’ rent, plus their security deposit – a total of $5,700 in cash. Had Alfriend not intercepted them, they would likely have met with the fraudulent advertiser and lost their money.

“Renters and buyers can never be too vigilant in today’s marketplace where REO fraud can be prevalent,” notes Kimberly Ellison, manager of mortgage fraud investigation for Fannie Mae’s Mortgage Fraud Program.

Here are some current scams Fannie Mae has been seeing:

No Legal Title

The Scam – People trying to rent or sell a home to which they have no legal title. Often it’s a foreclosed property where someone gained possession through squatting and then tries to profit by renting out the place, says Shaolaine Loving, an attorney in Las Vegas.

The Fix – Avoid REO fraud by searching online for the name of the property owner and other information related to the property’s history, and be particularly vigilant if the property has recently gone through foreclosure.

Short Sale

The Scam – People trying to sell a short sale home they have obtained fraudulently. In this twist, individuals will ask the owner to deed the property over to them, claiming they have a buyer. In this title/deed fraud scheme, the criminals will keep the money the “buyer” gave them. And, if you’re the seller who was deceived, they also have the title to your house, and you still have responsibility on the loan, says Cory Turner, manager of Fannie Mae’s Single-Family Business Anti-Fraud Team. “The house is in limbo with multiple parties facing financial loss.”

The Fix – Buyer beware: If someone guarantees you foreclosure assistance, be cautious. “Only a servicer has the discretion to grant a loan modification,” Turner says. And as a homeowner, you should never sign over paperwork before reviewing thoroughly. In addition, use your resources (aka, servicer, real estate professional, attorney, lender) to understand any and all questions that you might have.

Hacking

The Scam – Stealing transaction funds by hacking into emails. A criminal will hack into or spoof the emails of various parties to a real estate transaction, such as the buyer, seller, agent, and/or escrow officer. Then, at some point before the close of escrow, the criminal will send the buyer an email supposedly from one of the other parties and include instructions for wiring funds, such as a deposit or closing costs. “Of course, the wiring instructions lead to the criminal’s bank account, rather than to the escrow company,” says Sam Kraemer, general counsel at the John Aaroe Group, a Los Angeles real estate brokerage.

The Fix – Never send any personal information, including Social Security or bank account numbers, electronically, without encryption and always examine the full email address for evidence of spoofing. Kraemer advises clients to hand deliver or call with the information instead. “Before wiring any money, call to confirm the instructions,” he says, adding that most trustworthy escrow companies only send wiring information through encrypted emails.

6 Red Flags

Although those are some common REO fraud scams, the list can be endless. That’s why savvy renters and buyers should watch out for these six red flags to minimize their chances of being defrauded.

  1. The deal is too good to be true. You know the rest of this adage: “And it probably is.” Turner says to watch out for online postings that have rents that are obviously below market rate.
  2. The seller is not familiar with the neighborhood. “They should be able to answer questions about shopping or schools,” says Becky Walzak, president and CEO of rjbWalzak Consulting, in Deerfield Beach, FL, who holds workshops on REO fraud in the housing and lending market.
  3. Something about the house seems off. Walzak suggests you be wary of new locks or a property that is in obvious need of repair or is missing appliances or features you would expect.
  4. Something about the seller seems off. “Watch out for overly accommodating landlords willing to forego their own due diligence,” says Than Merrill, CEO of FortuneBuilders and CT Homes LLC and a real estate investor. Other signs may be owners who want to settle quickly or who can’t meet in person because they are out of the country. “If you can’t meet face to face, see the apartment in person, or sign a lease before your first payment, continue your search,” Merrill advises.
  5. The paperwork is already done. Watch out if sellers have their own title policy they offer to the buyer or already have an appraisal done, cautions Walzak.
  6. The seller requests an immediate wire transfer of funds. “There’s never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, first month’s rent, or vacation rental fee without knowing who it’s going to,” Merrill says.

Due Diligence Pays Off

“Scam artists are typically after one of two things: your money or your identity, so don’t make yourself an easy target,” Merrill says.

The best way to avoid these scams? Do your due diligence.

Turner advises knocking on neighbors’ doors to ask about the property. They might tell you it’s not a rental house or that the bank just foreclosed. They might describe the owner, and you’ll realize it’s not who you’ve been dealing with.

Even a simple online search can yield the name of the property owner and other historical property-transfer information.

“You can find a lot of information on a county’s assessment and taxation website,” says Turner. “The resources are out there, but people aren’t utilizing them. They see a good deal and want to jump on it, but it’s worth it to perform due diligence for the biggest purchase of your life.”

Ready to get started with an experienced, reliable Real Estate Broker? Click here.

What Do Real Estate Pros Look for When It’s Their Turn to Buy?

new homeWhat you really need to know about buying — from the people who house hunt for a living.

One house you’re looking at has the wraparound porch you’ve fantasized about, but it’s on a high-traffic street. The condo you like has a doorman in the lobby (finally you can become an Amazon Prime member!), but it has no dedicated parking. What to choose?

It’s not every day that you buy a home and make decisions about the next three, five, or 10 years of your life. Since you can’t exactly take a home on a test drive, how do you decide? That got us to thinking about real estate pros. When they’ve seen practically everything on the market, how do they choose?

Four pros who’ve seen it all share their advice and their stories of hunting for just the right home.

Be Willing to Compromise for Your Priorities

Veteran real estate agent Nancy Farkas knew exactly what she wanted in her home: ranch style, three bedrooms, high ceilings. But you know what she bought? A two-story Colonial.

Huh?

For Farkas, an associate partner with Coldwell Banker Heritage REALTORS®, in Dayton, Ohio, the home’s location and price trumped style. “I had a dog I had to go home and walk at noon, and the house was close [to work] and the right price,” she says.

Her advice: Make sure your practical and functional priorities don’t get lost in all the home buying hoo-ha (sparkling granite counters, new hardwood floors, a steam shower!). Remember, you can always add the hoo-ha, but you can’t make a home fit all priorities, such as location and price.

homerepairsDig Into the Details

When Grigory Pekarsky, co-owner and managing broker with Vesta Preferred Real Estate in Chicago, was looking for his first home, one of his priorities was to minimize his maintenance costs. He made sure to find out if the house had a newer roof, good siding, and a newer furnace. But he recommends you go even deeper to uncover a home’s not-so-obvious maintenance costs:

  • Scope out the sewer line — especially if you’re interested in an older home — to make sure there aren’t any tree branches or other debris clogging up the works. Otherwise, you might find some nasty sludge in the basement.
  • Look at the trees. How mature are they? Roots from older trees can invade the sewer line; untrimmed branches can pummel your gutters during storms.
  • Know what’s not covered by homeowners insurance. “I learned seepage isn’t covered. Shame on me,” he says.
  • Ask how old the appliances are. You might need to budget for something new in a few years. Sellers are only required to fix what the inspector finds is broken; they’re not going to upgrade working appliances for you.

Focus on Lifestyle

Minority FamilyHaving lived the high-rise apartment life as a renter, Pekarsky knew a single-family home was just what he wanted. He was tired of living in a relatively small space with no yard. He wanted a house he could “grow into in the next three to five years.” That meant multiple bedrooms and bathrooms for the family he plans on having. So what he bought — a three-story, single-family with a finished attic bedroom (shown below) on Chicago’s North Side — suits his lifestyle perfectly.

In addition, “you get the biggest value from owning the land,” he says. “In a single-family [home], people aren’t telling you what to do with the investment.”

On the other hand, Matt Difanis wished he’d bought a condo when he bought his first home, a small bungalow ranch in a charming, historic neighborhood in Champaign, Ill. It was first-home love — until it rained.

“If I didn’t clean out the gutters before every rainstorm, the basement would leak,” says the broker-owner of RE/MAX Realty Associates in Champaign. He didn’t realize that taking care of a single-family home wouldn’t be his cup of tea. “I should have opted for a condo without gutters to clean and a lawn to mow,” he says.

Agent Amy Smythe Harris of Urban Provision REALTORS®, in Woodland, Texas, bought a home with a sizable downstairs suite her parents could use now (and she could use years from now). She says her millennial clients aren’t forward-thinking about their lifestyles. Some are childless and say they don’t care about schools, pools, and tennis courts. Then they become parents a few years later and have to move.

“Once they have kids, the first question [they] ask is about school districts, and the second is about where the parks and pools are,” she says.

The pros’ bottom-line advice: Think of your lifestyle preferences and how those might change in the next few years. After all, the typical homeowner lives in a house for a median of 10 years before selling, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® data shows.

Money and HouseFilter Your Choices Through the Lens of Resale

All the real estate pros we talked to — no surprise here — emphasized resale. Take appraiser Michelle C. Bradley of Czekalski Real Estate Inc. in Natrona Heights, Pa. When she built her current home — a 2,200-square-foot ranch — she included a full, unfinished basement, even though she has no use for one and rarely ventures into it.

Why would she do that? Because basements are standard in her southwest Pennsylvania market. But Bradley’s not going to finish the basement until she’s ready to sell. That way, she avoids having to clean it and ensures she’ll install the most fashionable bathroom fixtures at sell time.

Her advice: “Don’t buy or build something unique that you can’t resell. If you’re not in an area with log homes, don’t choose a log home. If you’re not in an area with dome homes, don’t choose a dome home.”

Likewise, don’t buy a home that’s not in line with the neighborhood’s average price. When you go to resell, you’ll find yourself in an uphill battle to maintain your higher price.

Other advice from the pros: Watch out for unfixable flaws that could affect resale, like:

  • What’s next to the home, such as vacant land that could be developed, high-traffic businesses, noisy power generation stations, a cell tower, etc.
  • Lot issues, such as a steep driveway that could double as a ski slope in winter, or a sloped yard that sends water special delivery to your foundation.

Of course, a home isn’t just about resale. It’s just one factor to consider. Remember the first point: Be willing to compromise for your priorities. If the home meets your priorities and you’re going to stay there awhile, then resale might be where you compromise.

Ready to get started? Click here.

Wildlife Pest Control for Your Community

wildlife-pest-control-coyote-fishwildlifesvc_1x1_f35054c648466ef6ecf03e6eb972e08b_165x165_q85Uncontrolled wildlife can wreak havoc in your community. Here’s what you can do to improve local pest control.

Are droppings from a multitude of Canada geese covering the patios in your neighborhood, while uncontrolled deer populations strip gardens bare, and skunks roll up your turf to get at the grubs below? Before reaching for your shotgun, try these simple steps for dealing with nuisance wildlife.

Nuisance or health and safety issue?

First, consider whether your wildlife issue is an immediate health and safety issue or a less serious nuisance problem that doesn’t immediately threaten community members, suggests Paul Curtis, an associate professor and extension wildlife specialist at Cornell University.

“If a coyote is in the area and killing small dogs—as happened recently in New York State—you should call the local police or animal-control officer to deal with the situation,” he says. But if you have a non-urgent problem, like an urban crow roost, you have more time to get local officials to tackle the issue.

Work with local officials

Bring local officials into your wildlife pest-control problem from the very beginning. Start with the lowest level of government and work your way up. For example, if you have rats and you live in a condominium or neighborhood with a homeowners association, contact the board of directors to see what they are willing to do.

If a pest problem is community-wide, the best way to solve it will involve tactics that target the entire community. Some communities contract with private vendors supplying wildlife control services. The Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management lists U.S. wildlife-control professionals, along with tips for finding the right contractor.

Don’t assume that you can simply kill an animal that’s bothering you—it may be a federally protected species. Ask town, county, or other local officials whether the animal you’re trying to control falls under the jurisdiction of the local, state, or federal government.

If the animals causing trouble in your neighborhood are federally protected, then your local officials will have to consult with their federal counterparts at the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to create animal control plans.

If the animals are not protected, the local government can decide how to deal with them.

Whether or not the animal is federally protected, local officials are in the best position to bring together all interested parties in a community, reducing conflict as animal-control planning progresses.

“People have very strong feelings about wildlife control—especially related to deer and geese. So it’s important to try to work out differences from the beginning,” Curtis says. “In the end, we all have the same goals: to find the best way to coexist with the wildlife around us.”

17 Simple Tips for a Successful Move

Shot of a young man and woman sealing boxes in their apartment

From planning to unpacking, there are a lot of moving parts when relocating yourself or your family. Even if you’re moving on up, the process can still lead to some stressful situations. Minimize the hassle—and save time and money in the process—with these moving tips.

Planning for Your Move
• Collect free boxes. Call your local grocery stores for extra boxes, and ask wine/package stores for wine cases, which are great for packing glassware.
• Invest in custom boxes. Wardrobe boxes and custom containers are worth the money for keeping items like artwork and flatscreens safe.
• Calculate moving costs. Include supplies (boxes, tape, etc.), on-the-road expenses, storage, and moving trucks or movers. Check out unpackt.com for a comprehensive guide on calculating moving costs.
• Keep, sell, donate, or toss. Having trouble letting go? Keep in mind that sold items make you money, donated items equal tax deductions, and tossed items lessen the amount you have to move.
• Organize a moving folder. Include moving quotes, contracts, and all receipts (as many moving expenses are tax deductible).
• Organize and draft a floor plan. Start planning the layout of your new home, and assign functions to rooms in advance.
• Color code. Assign a color to every key area of your home. Print colored labels to tape onto boxes with clear tape, and add a splash of the color to all sides with colored duct tape or markers.
• Create a number system for boxes. This will help you prioritize boxes you should unpack first and ones that can wait.
• Create a moving key to follow. Include your color code and number system, and then print multiple copies to place in every room.

Smart Packing Solutions
• Take photos of cords. A quick snapshot of the cords on the back of complex electronics is a small action that you’ll be thankful for later.
• Keep hardware organized. Tape screws, bolts, and nuts directly to furniture, appliances, and picture frames. Use a ziplock bag for larger hardware, label it, and attach the bag to the item.
• Pack heavy items in rolling luggage. Books, for example, are nice to store together, but their weight adds up quickly. Avoid heavy lifting by wheeling them in your luggage.
• Contain with plastic wrap. Use plastic wrap around drawers and other storage items, like a silverware tray. It’s cheap, doesn’t leave sticky residue, and saves time by allowing you to avoid emptying every container.
• Protect mattresses. Put your extra fitted sheets to good use by doubling them up around mattresses to keep them clean.
• Pack small kitchen items in larger ones. Try putting spices in the Crock-Pot and measuring cups in a mixing bowl. Get creative!
• Use towels for cushioning. Wrap delicate items in towels for an extra layer of protection that costs nothing.
• Clean as you go. As you pack, quickly clean off items to avoid carrying excess dirt into your new digs.

To help make the process as organized as possible, plan out your big event with this moving time-frame worksheet. And don’t forget to let your cable company know. Use this change of address checklist to make sure all of your accounts are notified of your change in residence.

 

Tomato Pie

tomato-pie-headerThe colorful palette of tomatoes makes this dish a double threat of being both delectable to taste and dazzling to the eye.It’s bursting with creative flair and can be presented as an amped-up BLT wrapped up in the charm of a pie.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium-size tomatoes in various colors
  • ½ teaspoon fine kosher salt
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 (9-inch) piecrust, store-bought or homemade
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 to 6 slices thick-cut bacon, fried crisp and broken into small pieces
  • 10 basil leaves
  • Handful of cherry tomatoes in various colors
  • 4 thyme sprigs

Step 1:

Slice the large tomatoes into rounds ¼-inch thick, and place them on paper towels. Let them sit for about 10 minutes, then flip them over onto fresh paper towels, and sprinkle them with the salt. Let them sit about 10 minutes more. You don’t want them to be too juicy before baking, because that could make your pie soupy.

Step 2:

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Step 3:

Prepare the filling by combining the mayonnaise, cheddar, and Parmesan. Arrange a layer of tomatoes in the bottom of the piecrust. Sprinkle on the pepper and half of the bacon, then layer on five of the basil leaves, and spread half of the mayonnaise mixture over the basil. Repeat, ending with a final layer of sliced tomatoes, placed so that you can fit the cherry tomatoes on top as well.

Step 4:

Scatter the thyme sprigs across the top of the pie. Bake the pie for about 30 minutes, then fold strips of aluminum foil around the rim of the pie to keep the edges from turning too brown, and continue baking for another 15 minutes. Allow the pie to cool before serving.