Small Kitchen Updates That Make A Big Impact

Does walking into your kitchen make you want to walk right back out? A kitchen that’s outdated or just plain drab can be depressing, but so can the realization of how much it will cost to renovate it. The good news is that you don’t need to do a complete overhaul to get happy in your space again. Little changes can actually make a big impact, and many of them can be done inexpensively, easily, and without having to hire someone.

New faucet

It’s amazing how a little thing like a new faucet can change how you feel about doing dishes. Especially if your existing faucet doesn’t have a modern design or is lacking features like a sprayer, a new version will be much appreciated. Go crazy and get a touchless faucet for some cool technology the whole family will love.

Backsplash

A new backsplash can make your whole kitchen look fresh, and it’s generally an inexpensive update (unless you pick some kind of super-fancy, limited edition, hand-forged, imported tiles). With a little instruction – check out this step-by-step guide from Home Depot – you may be able to do it yourself in a few hours.

Paint

Anyone who’s even painted their own kitchen cabinets will tell you it’s not an easy or pleasant job. But, in the end, it’s worth it to have a kitchen that looks brand new – not to mention the savings. Opt for a professional paint job, and you can be looking at spending several thousand dollars!

If you’re going for it, make sure you do your research, and your prep work. You don’t want to spend all that time only to end up with a splotchy, streaky, or uneven finish.

Hardware

“Think of hardware as kitchen jewelry – add new metal or glass knobs for an easy kitchen cabinet update,” said Better Homes and Gardens. If you’re using metal hardware, choose one finish for the scheme. Be sure to count the number of doorknobs, handles, or drawer pulls before heading out to stores, garage sales, or flea markets. And if the new hardware doesn’t fit the old holes, simply buy some backplates to cover the gaps and then drill new holes

Get new lighting

If you have an island or breakfast bar, consider hanging pendant lighting. A series of three pendants gives you sufficient lighting and is also in line with today’s trends.

Chalkboard paint

Modern kitchens are a place for family to gather, and designating a space for young kids to have some fun is an easy way to foster that togetherness. “Chalkboard paint inexpensively turns a ho-hum kitchen into a hip family-friendly hangout,” said HGTV. “Simply paint a wall or section of smooth cabinet doors, then tell your family they can write on the walls.” We love the fact that chalkboard paint comes in all sorts of colors now, and you can also get whiteboard paint and magnetized paint.

Glass panels

New cabinets are expensive! You can lighten up the look of your cabinets without changing them out completely by popping out the panels and replacing them with glass; this will give you a more updated look and also bring more light into the space. “Replacing existing doors with glass-paneled ones looks like a major upgrade,” HGTV’s Scott McGillivray told Good Housekeeping. “Opt for frosted glass, if you feel like your shelves aren’t display-worthy.”

Create your own unique open shelving

You’ve seen it all over TV. Open shelving is a kitchen trend, and it’s one you can easily create without much fuss by completely removing a cabinet or two from the walls. Or, you can create this unique look that’s even easier to accomplish. “Create the look of a built-in china cabinet by simply removing a set of cabinet doors and filling the space with shelves displaying your favorite dishes,” said HGTV. “For added pop, line the back of the cabinet with wallpaper or paint it in a complementary color.”

 

Spring Cleaning The No Muss, No fuss, Get It Done Quick Way

Let’s face it. Spring cleaning is a drag. Regular cleaning is a drag, but the kind that requires a real commitment beyond your basic vacuuming and dusting on Saturday morning? Ugh.

But here’s the thing: It’s gotta get done. You don’t want to look up one day and realize it’s July and you still haven’t tackled those tasks, however unpleasant they might be. These tips will make it easy.

Enlist help

And when we say, “Enlist help,” we mean, “Get the kids involved.”

And when we say, “Get the kids involved,” we mean, “Break out the bribes and/or threats.”

Spring cleaning should be a family affair, and kids of any age can help. There’s a pretty good overview of age-appropriate chores here, but you know your children, so feel free to go off book.

Dance it out

Because everything is better with music. This mix is a pretty good sampling of current Top 40 hits, but POPSUGAR’s Cleaning Playlist, filled with Rihanna, the Black Eyed Peas, and even Queen, is our current go-to.

“Some great music can help pass the time and even make cleaning fun,” they said. “Blast these upbeat ditties in the background of your next tidying task, and it’ll be over before you know it!”

Do the twist

Your dancing feet also come in handy when it comes to cleaning the floor. Two words: Mop. Slippers. How will anyone in the family be able to say no to cleaning the floors with these on their feet?

Set a timer

Ten minutes of whirlwind activity doesn’t sound so bad, right? If you just can’t fathom an entire day – or weekend – of cleaning, build short bursts into your day and GO HARD until the timer sounds. You’ll be surprised how productive you can be in such a short time.

Make a Schedule

Staying focused is a challenge when you’re not enjoying your activity. Whether you write it on a white board, print out calendar pages, or make shirts for everyone in the family with their specific tasks written on them (We’re totally doing this!), making a plan and a schedule is a great first step. “Scope out your home: What areas need the most work? Where do you skip during routine cleaning? Those are the best places to start,” said Sylvane. “Regardless of where you start, having a plan for when you’re tackling each room will keep you focused on the task at hand.”

Get rid of your stuff a little at a time

Getting everything in your house spic ‘n span is great, but the real challenge is going beyond the cleaning to achieve clean-out status. Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially for those of us who have an attachment to our things.

Do a sweep of the house for things in plain sight that can be trashed, given away, or sold. If you love EVERY SINGLE THING IN YOUR HOME, think about it this way: Decluttering can actually lower your stress level. Science proves it!

Now get into those closets. If you can only get rid of a few items or one bag at a time, give yourself credit for whatever progress you’ve made and then make a plan to go at it again next week or even next month. Spring lasts an entire season, after all!

Protect your family

When is the last time you had your dryer vent checked? If the answer is, “Not sure,” or “Never,” it’s probably a good time to make that call. You could also DIY this, BTW, but that’s not very no fuss.

 

No Perfect Home Exists: What You Should Know About Home Inspections

No Perfect Home Exists: What You Should Know About Home Inspections

For many first-time buyers, buying a home can be a scary experience. They know they’ll be maintaining or improving a home with little to no maintenance experience, so the solution is to buy a home in perfect condition. So they hire a home inspector to point out all the flaws.

The problem is — no perfect home exists. Air conditioners break, plumbing pipes leak, and roof tiles blow off in the wind.

If you’re buying a home, start with a reasonable expectation of what home inspectors can do. Their job is to inform you about the integrity and condition of what you’re buying, good and bad.

A home inspection should take several hours, long enough to cover all built-in appliances, all mechanical, electrical, gas and plumbing systems, the roof, foundation, gutters, exterior skins, windows and doors.

An inspector doesn’t test for pests or sample the septic tank. For those, you need industry-specific inspectors.

Here’s what else you need to do.

1. Make sure the inspector you hire is licensed. The responsibilities of home inspectors vary according to state law and their areas of expertise.

2. Ask what the inspection covers. Some inspection companies have extensive divisions that can provide environmental for radon and lead paint. Be prepared to hire and schedule several inspectors according to your lender’s requirements and to pay several hundred dollars for each type of inspection.

3. Some inspection reports only cover the main house, not other buildings on the property. For specialty inspections such as termites, make sure the inspection covers all buildings on the property including guest houses, detached garages, storage buildings, etc.

4. Attend the inspection and follow along with the inspectors. Seeing problems for yourself will help you understand what’s serious, what needs replacement now or later, and what’s not important.

5. Don’t expect the seller to repair or replace every negative found on the report. If you’re getting a VA or FHA-guaranteed loan, some items aren’t negotiable. The seller must address them, but otherwise, pick your battles with the seller carefully.

A home inspection points out problems, they also point out what’s working well. It can help you make your final decision about the home – to ask the seller to make repairs or to offer a little less, to buy as is or not to buy at all.

Tips To Keep Your Home Show-Ready At All Times

Once your home goes on the market, real estate agents may call to show your home anytime, day or evening. Keeping your home “showtime” ready can be challenging, especially if you have children and pets.

What you need to stay organized is a handy checklist so you can be ready to show at any time. When you get the call that buyers are on their way, give everyone in the household a basket and assign them each to a room to pick up clutter quickly. Set a timer and tell everyone to grab up any toys on the floor, clear tabletops and countertops of junk, and quickly Swiffer-sweep the floors. Check for hazards like dog chews on the floor.

Turn on all the lights, and get ready to skedaddle. You have to let buyers have privacy so they can assess your home honestly. Take the kids for an outing. Put pets in daycare, sleep cages or take them with you:

Keep your home show-ready with these nine tips:

Eliminate clutter: Not only is clutter unattractive, it’s time-consuming to sort through and expensive for you to move. If you have a lot of stuff, collections, and family mementoes, you would be better off renting a small storage unit for a few months.

Keep, donate, throw away: Go through your belongings and put them into one of these three baskets. You’ll receive more in tax benefits for your donations than pennies on the dollar at a garage sale. It’s faster, more efficient and you’ll help more people.

Remove temptations: Take valuable jewelry and collectibles to a safety deposit box, a safe, or store them in a secure location.

Remove breakables: Figurines, china, crystal and other breakables should be packed and put away in the garage or storage.

Be hospitable: You want your home to look like a home. Stage it to show the possibilities, perhaps set the table, or put a throw on the chair by the fireplace with a bookmarked book on the table.

Have a family plan of action: Sometimes showings aren’t convenient. You can always refuse a showing, but do you really want to? If you have a showing with little notice, get the family engaged. Everyone has a basket and picks up glasses, plates, newspapers, or anything left lying about.

Remove prescription medicines: Despite qualifying by the buyer’s agent, some buyers have other intentions than buying your home. It’s also a good idea to lock your personal papers such as checkbooks away. Do not leave mail out on your desk.

Get in the habit: Wash dishes immediately after meals. Clean off countertops. Make beds in the morning. Keep pet toys and beds washed and smelling fresh.

Clean out the garage and attic: Buyers want to see what kind of storage there is.

5 Tips To Refresh Your Home For Spring Time

It may still be snowing in some parts of the country, but spring is almost here. Before the flowers start budding outside, refresh the inside of your home to give your interior spaces that springtime glow.

Bring the outdoors inside

Adding fresh plants or flowers to an otherwise ho-hum space can spice things up in the blink of an eye. Even if you don’t have a garden full of fresh flowers to choose from, greens make a lovely addition to your living room, or even an eye-catching centerpiece for your dining room table. Better Homes and Gardens suggests gathering a few fresh fern fronds for dramatic texture and rich color.

Don’t be afraid to add color

One of the easiest ways to perk up your space is to invest in a gallon of paint, call in reinforcements to help you out, and go to town with brushes and rollers. If you’re not incredibly adventurous when it comes to color choices but still want a pick-me-up, try going with a warmer, creamier version of the neutrals you already have; a creamy barely-yellow adds so much more warmth and interest than stark white.

You could even paint an accent wall a bold, fun color and use that space to showcase some of your favorite art or family portraits for your own personal art gallery. ForRent.com suggests incorporating bright colors in a breakfast nook or one of the smaller spaces of your home or apartment. It’s less of a risk than painting your entire kitchen or living room, but still packs a punch.

Reorganize your bookshelves

If you’ve got a fantastic library, now is a great time to take everything off the shelves, blow the dust off the covers, and reorganize. You might even consider artfully stacking books in different directions, some horizontal and some upright. Apartment Therapy reports some pretty impressive results simply by arranging books by color for a uniquely eye-catching display.


Photo by Craig Conley via Wikimedia Commons
Update window treatments

Spring is a great time to trade in your richly-textured drapes for lighter, breezier, more summery colors. If privacy isn’t a huge issue in a space, try adding light, breezy sheer curtains on a thin, minimalist rod. You’ll love how much the change automatically brightens your space. You might also consider substituting your ordinary blinds with Roman Shades. They’re a classier way to control light and privacy, and to update your style.

Make your entryway welcoming

Upgrade (or thoroughly clean) your front-door mats and add a wreath to your front door. This could be a fun DIY project for the entire family. Make sure you have an efficient landing spot just inside your front door — a place to drop keys and hang up a coat or jacket before coming inside. This is also a great place for a fun mirror and a flower arrangement. Your home’s entryway often gives guests their very first impression of your home, so make it shine with your family’s personality and a touch of style.

8 Ways To Up Your Chances Of Buying Your First Home

Between rising prices, tough loan limits, and massive competition among other eager would-be buyers, it can seem like an impossible feat to purchase your first home. Homes in first-time buyer ranges are highly coveted and stories abound of buyers having made offers on numerous homes, only to be shut out time and again by multiple offers that drive prices up and out of their budget. But, there are ways you can put yourself ahead, even if the situation seems desperate.

Work with a good REALTOR®

Everyone has a real estate agent in their neighborhood or in their family or friend group (or all three!). And, while you would undoubtedly love to give business to someone you know and care for, you have to balance your sense of loyalty against your goal. This may not be the time to entrust your financial future to a brand-new agent or one who simply dabbles in the industry in his or her spare time. You’ll likely need a seasoned agent to buy your first home, especially if you’re looking in an area where the market is highly competitive. An agent with extensive experience and good industry relationships can help find you homes that may not be listed yet and then negotiate a winning offer.

Get that preapproval

It goes without saying today that you need a preapproval to buy a house. Many real estate agents won’t even take clients out to tour homes unless they have received their preapproval amount from a lender. Even if you are just casually looking, make sure you talk to a lender before you head out on a househunt. You don’t want to fall in love with something and lose out on owning it because someone else was already preapproved and you first had to start pulling your paperwork together. Nor do you want to fall in love with a house that’s out of your budget because you didn’t know what your purchasing power was.

Talk to landlords

If there are rental homes in your target area (and there probably are!), you might have an opportunity to buy a home that isn’t even on the market yet—and might not be listed for sale anytime soon. Your real estate agent should be able to locate some homes and initiate a conversation about the potential of purchasing. Some rental home owners may want to sell but be reluctant to take the steps to update the home and get it on the market. You may be able to slide right in there, which would be a win-win!

Consider a home that needs work

You might have better luck buying a home that isn’t updated and/or staged because they can tend to stay on the market longer. But, a home that’s a real fixer-upper can be a great buy thanks to the 203(k) loan, which packages the home loan and money for needed repairs.

“An FHA 203k loan allows you to borrow money, using only one loan, for both home improvement and a home purchase,” said The Balance. “203k loans are guaranteed by the FHA, which means lenders take less risk when offering this loan. As a result, it’s easier to get approved (especially with a lower interest rate).”

There are a number of improvements that can be made with a 203(k) loan, including bathroom and kitchen remodels, additions, HVAC, plumbing, and flooring, but if you’re looking to add a pool, you’ll have to do that on your own dime. “Luxury improvements” are not allowed under the terms of the loan.

Look just outside your target neighborhood

In the city of Frisco, TX, a suburb of Dallas and one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, home prices have climbed to levels that can put even the smallest and oldest homes out of reach for many first-time buyers. In the adjacent city of Little Elm, however, home prices are lower – even though it’s also a desirable, growing city—and many of the neighborhoods feed into the preferred Frisco ISD schools. For young families that are looking to get their foot in the door and make sure their kids have access to great schools, looking just outside your target neighborhood can be a great way to go.

Consider a transitioning neighborhood

Buying in a neighborhood that is transitioning can be tricky…you’ll have to depend a lot on your real estate agent’s knowledge and your own gut to make sure you’re buying in an area that is going to appreciate—and is also going to meet your needs now. The current state of the the neighborhood might not fit that dream home idea you’ve had in your head, but, if you’re in it for the long haul, you could be making a smart move by looking in an area that isn’t exactly top of your list in its current state. The obvious draws of buying a home in a transitioning neighborhood are: more affordability or more home for the money, and the possibility to make some money as the neighborhood changes.

“Getting a lot of bang for your buck is one of the benefits of buying in a so-called transitional neighborhood,” said LearnVest. “Keys to finding such a place: “The area’s proximity to public transportation is one of the most revealing factors. Pinpoint your favorite trendy neighborhood – and then take the local train or subway one or two stops past it. That’s how you’re most likely to spot emerging areas because they’re already linked to established routes of transit.” Also, a neighborhood “that’s adjacent to a much-desired one is much more likely to gentrify than one that’s surrounded by less prime areas.” Paying attention to decreasing local crime and DOM (days on market) for real estate listings in the area, and noting whether there is a vibrant art scene in the area, are additional tips to locating an up-and-coming neighborhood.

Raise your budget

Some people get a number in their head and decide that’s the most they’re comfortable with spending. Say you’ve decided you can’t spend more than $300,000 on a home, but you’re not having any luck finding anything in your target neighborhoods and you’re not willing to look elsewhere. Consider this: Is your preapproval from your lender higher than that magic $300,000 number? If so, consider upping it. That $20,000 difference could open up your search to numerous additional properties, and would cost you only about $100 per month. Bring a lunch to work instead of eating out a couple days a week or skip one night out at the movies and dinner per month and you’ve got it covered.

Go back to your lender

If you’re already looking for homes at your max approval amount and not having any luck, have a conversation with your lender. There might be a way to reconfigure your loan options to get you more money to spend.

The Best Paint Colors For An Enduring Look In Your Home

Trends come and go. If you paint your walls the “provocative and thoughtful purple shade” of Ultra Violet, as Pantone, itself, calls it, you’re probably gearing up to repaint them in whatever the color authority deems the “it” shade next year. If you’d rather pick a paint chip or two and keep your space the same for the long haul, you’ll love these colors that endure.

Garden Stone, Clark+Kensington

When it comes to gray, we might be at the end of the widespread trend. But certain shades of gray are classics and “go-to’s” for designers – and they’ll be around long after the next trend is here and gone.

“I try to stay away from colors with heavy blue undertones, and I direct my clients toward warm grays that will stand the test of time,” Ace design expert Katie Reynolds, who prefers Garden Stone, said in Good Housekeeping. “This shade is a favorite.”

Revere Pewter, Benjamin Moore

Google Revere Pewter and you will be inundated with countless photos and praise for this iconic shade. Despite its great popularity, you don’t have to worry that your home will look cookie cutter because the shade looks different in every home – in every room, even – depending on the angles and the amount of light in the space. It also complements any style of architecture.

Repose Gray, Sherwin Williams

Greige is not too gray, not too beige. This favorite color toes the neutral line, and not only is it a favorite of designers, it apparently clicks with homebuyers, too. Pick a mix of gray and beige – “greige” – for your exterior,” said MyDomaine. A recent analysis of colors that help build value “found homes with these shades on their outside sold for $1,526 more than white properties.”

Repose Gray is appreciated because it is “the perfect paint color for almost any room whether you’re living in your home or preparing it for sale,” said Kylie M. Interiors. “Repose Gray is a soft, light gray that has soft and SUPER subtle undertones of brown with a wee dab of purple — not enough brown to qualify it as a greige, it’s just the undertone that adds a certain softness to this lovely color, keeping it from falling flat.”

Manchester Tan, Benjamin Moore

Described as a warm neutral, this hue drinks in the sun but also changes slightly depending on the amount of light and shade in the room, adding interest you don’t always find in a paint color from the beige family.

Clay Beige, Benjamin Moore

“This is my go-to whenever a neutral, but not boring, background is needed,” said Atlanta designer Mandy Lowry in Better Homes and Gardens. “It’s a chameleon color. It has the amazing ability to read either warm or cool and never fails to make its surroundings elegant in any light.”

Super White, Benjamin Moore

You would think it would be easy to pick a shade of white, but…no. Really, there is nothing more challenging when it comes to choosing paint. This one has a little too much yellow. This one is slightly beige. Wait, is that baby blue? I thought I bought white! Ugh.

Go to the paint store, buy a gallon of Super white, and you’ll never look for another shade of white again. “Our go-to white around here if you are looking for a modern clean color,” said Emily Henderson. “It reflects light in such a pretty way and doesn’t have any cool tones that would it go blue or warm tones that would make it yellow.”

Stiffkey Blue, Farrow & Ball

This moody blue brings some drama to a living space without creating a cave-like feel, and is also a good choice for the kitchen, according to Brian Paquette of Brian Paquette Interiors.

“For cabinets, I am more drawn to the material and detail of the actual cabinet and aim to keep the paint neutral, bright, and reflective of what may be going on in nearby room” he said on MyDomaine. “My go-to’s for paint colors are Decorators White by Benjamin Moore and Shaded White by Farrow & Ball for that European look. A contrast on an island or lower cabinets can be fun, and once again I lean toward a fun color that may run throughout the space, a deep gray, like Down Pipe from Farrow & Ball, or a blue that reminds me of the deepest depths of the ocean, like Stiffkey Blue from Farrow & Ball.”

 

Bright Ideas: How to Light Up Your Rooms

These clever tricks banish dim interiors and dark corners, and usher natural light into the house.

Most homes have a few gloomy rooms and nooks, but you don’t have to stay in the dark. To illuminate a poorly lit home without flicking a single light switch, use a combination of these bright ideas to enjoy an improved result that’s like the difference between night and day.

Choose glass-paneled doors. One of the most effective ways to let natural light flood into your home is to use glass-paneled doors. Installing a new window or increasing its size usually requires a permit, but this may not be the case when replacing exterior doors. Whether you like the bold lines of these steel-framed doors or prefer the traditional French doors in the next photo, there is a design to suit every palette and position, both inside and out.

Tip: If privacy is a concern, opt for frosted glass.

Use transom and sidelight windows. This Sydney home uses a sophisticated series of interior French doors to borrow light from adjacent rooms. Designed by Luigi Rosselli Architects and Decus Interiors, the transom windows (which crown the tops of the French doors) and the sidelight windows (which flank the opening) more than double the aperture and maximize the amount of light that travels from room to room.

Sidelights, transoms and fanlights (which also sit above doorways and are arched or elliptical) can usually be retrofitted with relative ease.

Adopt glass backsplashes. Can’t afford to lose valuable cabinet space by replacing your wall-mounted kitchen cabinets with a window? Try using a window for your backsplash instead, as Rudolfsson Alliker Associates Architects did in this residence in Sydney. Natural light will illuminate your countertops and provide important task lighting for cooking. Window backsplashes are possible when your kitchen butts up against an exterior wall. If yours runs along an interior wall, try using a mirrored backsplash instead.

Install clerestory windows. We can’t always puncture a wall with a window at eye level, but clerestory windows can be equally effective in brightening up interiors. Clerestory windows sit high in your wall, as shown in this house in Melbourne, Australia, and because they are positioned above your sightline, they rarely compromise your privacy. They are also especially effective in letting light into dim, excavated rooms.

Select white paint that has a sheen. If you’ve asked anyone how to brighten up a dark home, chances are you’ve already been told to paint your walls white and banish dark furnishings. While this is the first trick in the book, the glossier the paint is, the better it will diffuse light throughout your home. So opt for a satin finish on walls and use gloss or semigloss paint for the trim.

Just note that paints with a medium to high sheen highlight every inconsistency, so make sure that you plaster, sand and prime surfaces well before painting — or call in a professional.

Tip: Reflective tiles and metallic wallpaper have a similar effect.

Embrace glossy floors. We rarely consider treating our floors to lighten a room, though high-gloss floors are brilliant at bouncing light around. It may be as straightforward as sanding back your floorboards and polishing them with a glossy finish, or you may prefer to employ a more drastic treatment and use high-sheen white floor paint or epoxy.

Install a tubular daylighting device. These ingenious inventions go by many names —tubular daylighting devices, solar tubes, sun tunnels, tubular skylights. Most capture sunlight through a small dome on your roof and funnel it down a reflective tube and through a skylight-like opening in your ceiling, which diffuses light throughout the room.

These devices amplify natural light, do not cause homes to heat up and in some cases are capable of capturing solar energy to light rooms at night. Most can even be installed in rooms with no direct roof access, using angled reflective tubing to channel light into hard-to-reach spaces.

Create an atrium. The sheer elegance of atriums is enough of a reason to try to incorporate one into any design. This circular skylight designed by Decus Interiors channels sunlight down to the ground-level kitchen, while natural light pours into the upstairs rooms via interior windows that overlook the void. One of the best features about a large round skylight is the exquisite light play and shadows that transverse your interior over the course of a day.

Break through the ceiling. What better way to wake up than to gaze at the sky during your morning shower? Besides letting natural light pour into a room, skylights have an uplifting effect and can be used in most places with direct roof access.

Gable skylights can be cleverly angled to suit the aspect of your site.

Many skylights and roof windows now use self-cleaning glass. This usually has a specially formulated exterior coating that reacts with ultraviolet sunlight to break down leaves and debris that fall on the glass. Rain then finishes the job by washing the panes clean.

Tip: Skylights can trap heat inside homes, so increase your ventilation to counter this.

Consider exterior glass walls. For sites where privacy is not an issue, using floor-to-ceiling windows instead of walls will flood your interiors with light. Opt for double panes (at least) for insulation, and try to position your wall-to-wall windows facing north. Excessive glass on the western and even eastern sides of your home often lets harsh, hot rays inside and can overheat your house.

If you would like to install floor-to-ceiling windows but are concerned that this may sacrifice your privacy, there are many inventive screening options that may still make it possible to enjoy exterior glass walls and some seclusion too.

Swap walls for room dividers. Sometimes there is no alternative to walls for structural or screening reasons. However, if you want to delineate a space rather than divide it and create a solid barrier for privacy, consider using a room divider instead. Room dividers come in countless creative forms, including glass blocks and laser-cut screens, so the only limits are your imagination and site restrictions.

Hang a mirror on the wall. We’ve all heard that mirrors can transform any space from gloomy to glamorous, but there are a few tricks. First, bigger is always better when using mirrors — the larger the reflective surface, the more light it will bounce around the room.

And second, your mirror needs to reflect a light source, so place it opposite or adjacent to a window. Hanging a mirror behind a lamp can brighten a room even further.

Follow These Steps Before Starting Your Kitchen Remodel

If your kitchen is looking a bit dated, consider a remodel to upgrade its efficiency and looks. Here’s a quick guide to planning your kitchen update:

#1 Plan it out.

Sketch out what you want your finished kitchen to look like. Whether you draw your designs by hand or use software, understanding the finished look of your kitchen is an essential first step.

#2 Measure your space.

It’s important to know how much space you have to work with. Record the dimensions of your entire kitchen and other surrounding areas in your initial sketch. Use your measurements to plan the rest of your project.

#3 Choose storage options.

One of the biggest advantages of remodeling your kitchen is adding more space. Think about your current storage problems and how to solve them. Consider all your storage options, from standalone shelving units to built-in turntables in your new kitchen cabinets.

#4 Pick a color scheme.

Do you want to keep the same color scheme or go with something different? Do you want your kitchen to stand out from the rest of your home or blend in? Now is the time to answer these questions. Your color scheme could impact the appliance- and flooring-related aspects of your remodel.

#5 Compare materials.

Now it’s time for window-shopping. Head to your local home improvement center and begin calculating your remodeling budget. Compare the different costs of different materials. While it’s okay to splurge on some aspects, stray away from a $50,000 kitchen remodel.

#6 Have a set budget.

Once you know how much your project will cost, start saving your money and planning your remodel in earnest. Prices can change over time, so be sure to include some flexibility in your budget. You’ll also need to factor in the cost of permits and contractor labor.

#7 Find a remodeling pro.

Unless you are an expert, you will probably need to hire a remodeler to update your kitchen. Research local contractors, check their references and interview at least three pros before hiring one.

Conclusion.

Remodeling and redesigning your kitchen takes work. If you want to create an updated kitchen, you’ll need to plan, budget and hire a trusted professional.

8 Hot Kitchen Trends For 2018

8 Hot Kitchen Trends For 2018

 

Kitchen design has been about three things for the past few years: white cabinets; quartz or marble countertops; and subway tile backsplashes. The good news is, 2018 trends are veering away from a couple of these mainstays (quartz and marble aren’t going anywhere anytime soon!). If you’re getting ready to do or redo your kitchen, here are eight ideas to consider.

Concrete countertops

Perhaps due to the influence of Fixer Upper stars Chip and Joanna Gaines, who favor the material for kitchens, concrete is growing in popularity for countertops.

“Blame Pinterest, blame Joanna Gaines, blame marble madness overload – but concrete countertops have taken over farmhouses in the past few years,” said Country Living. “It’s easy to see why: Installing concrete counters is a sure way to infuse your home with a rustic yet industrial feel that’s at once trendy and unfussy. And the durability of the cement-and-sand mix has some hailing it as a rock solid (we had to) design choice.”

They caution, however, that concrete counters can stain, scratch, and crack. They’re also not quite as low-maintenance as you might think. While you can DIY this project, beware: it’s not as easy as it looks.

Antibacterial materials

Your solid-surface countertop may soon get an exciting upgrade, with antibacterial properties and also the ability to eliminate “chemicals that come into contact with it, as well as (purifying) the surrounding air,” said Houzz. “Imagine a countertop that helps take care of that salmonella bacteria for you after preparing chicken for dinner. That’s the idea behind several materials presented at the International Exhibition of Ceramic Tile and Bathroom Furnishings (CERSAIE) in Italy back in September. The new K-Life technology incorporated into Porcelanosa’s Krion solid surface uses a process called “photocatalysis, which uses a semiconductor in the surface to enhance a reaction to light, killing bacteria and breaking up pollutants.”

Disappearing vent hoods

The statement hood has been a focal point of the kitchen for the last several years, but as a more minimalist approach to kitchen design peeks in, vent hoods may be a casualty of new trends.

Statement ranges

Statement hoods may be replaced by bold ranges that bring in a burst of color. “So what is the new kitchen focal point? Look to the statement stove to keep the interest simmering,” said House & Home. “In fun colors, high-end purveyors such as Aga and Lacanche are more than willing to grab all the glory, and prove they are worth every penny.”

Flat-panel cabinets

Is this the end of the shaker cabinet? Flat-front cabinets have been showing up in modern kitchens for years, but they’re growing in prominence. According to Inman’s look at what’s hot and what’s not in kitchens for 2018, “Fifty-seven percent of homeowners chose shaker-style cabinets, followed by flat-panel (18 percent) and raised-panel (17 percent) cabinets,” but look for those numbers to start changing this year.

Wood cabinets

As for finishes, look for wood cabinets to make a comeback, giving white a run for its money. “The return of wood cabinets was almost inevitable, but, instead of the heavy, figured doors of the 1990s, today’s wood cabinets are either very modern, or in basic rustic styles…which feel authentic and organic – as if they were born there,” said Apartment Therapy.

Mix-and-match finishes

It may be time to ditch the idea of a one-color space. “The days of monochromatic kitchens are far behind us, Sue Wadden, the director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams, told Elle Décor. “She explains that, this year, it’s all about mixing and matching color, no need to keep it all the same: ‘Using multiple colors in kitchens has become a popular trend this year. For example, painting base walls or cabinets in a dark charcoal tone and upper cabinets and walls in creamy off-white tones is something we’re seeing more and more of.'”

Black fixtures

Fixtures have been moving out of silvery finishes and into gold tones, but black is another option that is gaining heat. “Black is classic in the fact that it will always work with just about every style and color palette that you have going on,” said Emily Henderson.

16 Ways To Make Your Home Look New For The New Year For Under $1,000

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It’s common to start thinking about a new house in the New Year. We all do it (in fact, we’re doing it right now). But if it’s not a practical time to but (or sell) or you’re not in a financial position to make that kind of change, you can still make your house feel like new. Make one big change or a couple of smaller ones to breathe new life into your home. In honor of the coming new year, we’ve got 16 ways to go about it, and you can do them for under $1,000.

1. Paint!

You won’t find a better way to make a big change for a small financial hit, and you can do it yourself. If your kitchen or bathroom cabinets have seen better days, a coat of paint can reenergize the spaceand save thousands of dollars in replacement costs.

2. Redo your exterior trim

Painting your entire exterior might not be in the cards right now, but giving some attention to your home’s trim can have a tremendous effect on the way the house looks. Look closely at the wood areas around windows, doors, and garage doors. Any chipped or peeling areas can be sanded and repainted. Bringing in some contrast or depth with a new color is a great way to change the look of your home with minimal financial pain.

3. Repaint your door

Replacing the entry door busts our $1,000 budget (the midrange cost average is $1,230 according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report), but the return on investment is over 100 percent, making this one smart renovation to do if your home needs it. Or, splash a coat of paint on your door to get a fresh feel at a lower cost. Need color inspiration? Check out these options.


4. Update the exterior details

While you’re thinking about the exterior of your home, take a look at other elements like the house lights and the landscaping. It might be that changing out your lights to something more modern, adding uplights that showcase the home, or even adding some fresh flowers and a seating area on the porch, is enough to give the home the lift it needs.

5. Get a new toilet

It may sound silly, but something as simple as changing out a toilet that’s seen better days can take away the little stresses that are making your home feel less than great.

6. Get a new vanity

The same principle applies to your vanity. An older version with chipping paint or a tired sink/countertop can drag down your space and take you with it. Plumbing is something that experts typically recommend leaving to a pro, but if you’re game (and willing to attend a workshop or watch a few videos), you can do it yourself and feel a sense of pride along with the joy of seeing something pretty in your bathroom.

7. Update your lighting

Old, ugly ceiling fans or builder standard light fixtures making you sad? Your space will sparkle with new options. Pendants continue to be the hottest thing in lighting, and newer, sleeker ceiling fans can continue to give you the function you want without the hideous look.

8. Knock down a wall

A closed-in kitchen, and, especially a kitchen and living room that aren’t open to each other, is reason enough to feel like moving. Removing the wall in between can change the way you use your home, see your home, and feel in the space. But make sure you’re not dealing with a support wall, or taking it out can be much more expensive (at the least) and potentially dangerous to the structure of the home.

“It’s sometimes difficult to determine whether a wall is load bearingor not,” said Houzz. “So it’s always best to call in a professional.”

9. Create a pass-through

If you are not able to knock down the wall, creating or expanding a pass-through from the kitchen to the living room or dining room can give you a similar feel and function.

10. Get one great piece of furniture

Sometimes that’s all it takes to shift the focus from what you don’t like to what you do. And a great piece doesn’t have to be expensive. Go get that fuchsia chair you’ve been eyeing. Replace your old couch with a great new one. Up the ante in your bedroom with a statement headboard. Or hit the flea markets for an antique sideboard you can paint peacock blue to turn your dining room on its ear.

11. Think slipcovers

If new furniture is not in your budget, covering it up can make it look brand new.

12. Dress the walls

Whether you don’t have enough art or the art you do have is not inspired, focusing on dressing your walls can have a dramatic effect on how the space comes together.

13. Let the light in

Are those dark, heavy window coverings stifling your space? Go for a layered look that allows better light control and adds interest with texture and color.

14. Clear the clutter

It will cost you nothing to get rid of stuff. In fact, donating items can be a tax write-off!

15. Rip out that old floor

Yes, flooring can be a huge expense. Sourcing materials and pitching in to do it yourself can keep costs manageable. And a new floor—especially a product like wood-look tile, which is on trend and super easy to maintain—may just be enough to make you forget about moving.

16. Get a great rug

A great rug can also turn a worn floor that’s looking sad into one that’s happily sheathed by something pretty. It’s not a permanent solution, but the “out of sight, out of mind” principle applies here. If your can cover up the offending areas—where it’s most stained and scratched, it’ll feel new again, even if it’s not.

6 Ideas For Selling Your Home In The Winter

#1 Keep the house warm.

While you don’t have to keep the heat on all the time, keep the house warm during showings. You don’t want people shivering while they look through the house. Set the thermostat to at least 70 degrees — whether you’ll be in the house or not.

#2 Trim the outdoor foliage.

Remove snow from shrubs and trees so that potential buyers don’t get wet as they walk up the sidewalk to your home. Brush off snow, prune the tree limbs and trim the hedges as needed. You can even hire a tree serviceto do this for you if you’re strapped for time. While your lawn is dormant this time of year, you can at the very least make it look well maintained to give buyers a sense of what it looks like during the spring and summer. You can also display photos in your entryway of how your home looks outside during the greener months.

#3 Handle winter conditions.

If you have ice and snow on your driveway and sidewalk, you need to take care of it way in advance of showings. Clear ice and snow with shovels and salt, so that your exterior looks nice and safe to buyers. It will also increase the aesthetic quality of your home to buyers and keep you from getting sued by a buyer who falls or slips. If you have particular trouble with ice and snow, you can call a snow removal serviceto do it for you.

#4 Show off the fireplace.

If you have a fireplace, you should showcase it as part of your home’s aesthetic appeal. A gas fireplace is easy to turn on before a showing, and it adds natural beauty to your home — not to mention warmth. A wood-burning fireplace is a bit harder to maintain, because you can run out of firewood. So you need to time the lighting just right before the showing. You also need to make sure the chimney is in good condition, so have it cleaned and checked by a fireplace professionalahead of a showing to avoid any problems.

#5 Add comfort to your home.

There are other steps you can take to make your home more comfortable and inviting during the winter months. Focus on small improvements to your home like:

  • Adding blankets to your couch
  • Turning back the comforter on the bed
  • Baking a pie or cookies for the smell
  • Lighting some candles
  • Turning on some relaxing music

    #6 Make sure your home is well lit.

Since winter takes away a lot of sunshine, you need to utilize light bulbs and other forms of lighting. Outside lights, security lights, candles, LED lighting — every bit of lighting is crucial in the interior and exterior. You want all lights on when buyers are walking through your home — don’t focus on your electricity bill right now. You also want to make as much use of natural lighting as possible. Open your window treatments during the day showings.

 

Holiday Splurges And Saves To Make Hosting Easier

 

If you’re hosting for the holidays, there is undoubtedly a lot to do and a lot to buy. You probably have a budget you’re looking to stick to, but then you make the mistake of wandering in to Williams Sonoma…and there goes your bottom line! There are places to save a few bucks so you can make a few worthy splurges. Here’s a guide that will help.

Splurge: Good cookware

The quality of your cookware can have a big impact on the quality of your food. If your pots and pans have seen better days, it’s a good time to splurge on a few high-end items, like this Swiss Diamond 10-piece set, made of cast aluminum with a PFOA-free nonstick coating. Consumer Reports rated the set the “best pots and pans for your holiday feasts.”

Their lab kitchen evaluated “cooking evenness and how well nonstick surfaces release fried eggs when the pan is new and then again when scratched,” along with nonstick durability and “how quickly a pot takes to bring 4 quarts of water to a near-boil. Testers measure how hot the handle gets during heating and use an instrument to access its sturdiness. A big part of nonstick’s appeal is easy cleanup, so we note how difficult it is to wash away a sticky bechamel sauce.”

The Swiss Diamond set includes 8-inch and 9-inch frypans, 1.4-quart and 2.2- quart saucepans, 3.2-quart saute pan, 8.5-quart stockpot, and glass lids.

Save: Good cookware

The Consumer Reports article shows how, with a little research, you can find high-quality products without spending high dollars. Their top choice for nonstick frying pans? This $100 Zwilling J.A. Henckels version in stainless steel with an aluminum core. But in second place: A $20 Red Copper nonstick pan from Amazon.

Splurge: Amazon Prime

This is a splurge that’s really a save, if you think about it. The service that costs $99 for a year ends up saving you money on all those last-minute gifts and things you forgot to buy and don’t have time to get to the store for because there are rooms to set up and closets to clean out and food to prepare. Amazon Prime also includes free two-day shipping on more than 50 million items, plus you get access to tons of movies, TV shows, songs, and Kindle e-books.

Save: A trip to Costco

Yes, it’s going to be crazy. Yes, you’re going to have to wait in line. But the stuff you can’t find elsewhere (or at least all in one place) will be worth it. Top of our list: Masterpiece plastic plates and Reflections Silverware. They’re nicer than your average disposable stuff and you’ll be grateful when you don’t have to do dishes 12 times a day. And don’t forget to buy lots of toilet paper, paper towels, and Chunky Artichoke & parmesan Dip (seriously, you’ll be happy you did!).

Splurge: A cleaning crew

It may feel like an extravagance to hire a cleaning crew to come before your guests arrive or after they leave – or, who are we kidding: both! But it’s an extravagance that will save you time and peace of mind, which is always important, and especially so when family is in town

Save: Your kids

The children may think holiday breaks are for catching up on sleep or TV, but you know better, right? Homes that have to be prepared for holiday guests needs lots of hands to clean out closets and organize pantries.

Splurge: A good set of knives

Or at least one good multipurpose knife. With all that cutting and chopping you’re about to do between now and the New Year, it’s time to get a real knife. Food and Wine’s best knife is this MAC MTH-80 Professional Series 8-inch Chef’s Knife with Dimples, which is $145 on Amazon. They praise its “hard, super-sharp blade” and “simple wooden handle that’s extremely comfortable and feels secure in the hand.” Their best value knife is the Mercer Culinary Renaissance 8-Inch Forged Chef’s Knife, $38 on Amazon, if you’re only looking for a mini-splurge.


foodandwine.com
Save: Cutting board

Yes, it would be lovely to have a giant two-inch-thick butcher board (and it would make for nice Instagram pics). But you don’t have to spend gobs of money – this Walnut cutting board from Williams Sonoma is $155–399 depending on size! – to get the function you need. The Spruce broke down the best cutting boards of 2017 and found this 10.5″ by 14.5″ inch OXO Plastic board to be its best overall choice. The price: $15 at Amazon.

This plastic board from OXO “is a true workhorse,” they said. “It is just the right size—a bit larger than a piece of letter size paper – so it’s ideal for most chopping tasks. The soft, tapered handles on two edges make it easy to grip and carry from your counter to the stove, and because it can go in the dishwasher it’s ideal for cutting up raw meat and fish.” If you’d rather have wood, they have several options listed, including a $36 butcher block.

Tips For Getting Your Home Sold In The Winter

Tips For Getting Your Home Sold In The Winter

So you’ve decided to list your home this winter. Perhaps you’ve had a job change, need to relocate out of the area, or have financial or family reasons for moving. No matter what is driving the move, you may be concerned about selling at this time of year. But just because you missed the boat on the spring selling season doesn’t mean you can’t get your home sold quickly, and for a profit. A few tips can help get it moving.

Take photos early… or late

If you can take photos before the trees become barren and the grass goes dormant, do so! The last thing you want is for your home to look blah and depressing in photos. If you can capture a snowy day (with perfectly scraped walkways, of course), that works, too. It never hurts to have your home looking like a winter wonderland.

Go easy on the holiday décor

“Deck the halls, but don’t go overboard,” said HGTV. “Homes often look their best during the holidays, but sellers should be careful not to overdo it on the decor. Adornments that are too large or too many can crowd your home and distract buyers. Also, avoid offending buyers by opting for general fall and winter decorations rather than items with religious themes.”

Always mind your curb appeal

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can let things slide out front. Potential buyers won’t give you a pass on chipping paint, a fence that needs repair, or a front door that’s seen better days just because it’s frigid outside.

Safety matters

Shoveling the walk from the street to your home is necessary to make it reachable, make it inviting, and also make it safe. The last thing you want is a slip and fall that could result in an injury, and a lawsuit. “Continually shovel a path through the snow, especially if snowflakes are still falling, Footprints on freshly fallen snow will turn to ice if the temperature is low enough, so scrape the walk. Sprinkle a layer of sand over the sidewalk and steps to ensure your buyers’ stable footing. Remember to open a path from the street to the sidewalk so visitors aren’t forced to crawl over snowdrifts.”

Get a good indoor mat

Perhaps you never use a mat for indoors or yours is grubby or tattered from 10 straight years of winter wear. This one super easy move may not be noticed by visitors – but it sure will if it’s missing or not in good shape. Little things like a $10 mat can give buyers the impression that your whole house is well cared for, or just the opposite.

Clear the front door clutter

If you live in a climate where there is likely to be snow or rain, there are a few more steps you’ll probably have to take in order to keep your house looking great inside. How does your coat closet look? If it’s stuffed with jackets, scarves, boots, and gloves, relocating some to make room for potential buyers to put their stuff away while touring your home is a good idea – plus, a tidy coat closet gives the impression that there is plenty of storage space in the home. It goes without saying that winter wear and shoes that tend to stack up in the entry should be banished while your house is on the market.

Make sure everything is functional

Imagine you live in a climate that stays relatively temperate year-round, and then you have a cold spell. You turn on the heater for the first time the night before your first showing, and…nothing. Same for the fireplace in the living room. Your freezing cold house is probably not going to make a great impression on buyers. As soon as you decide you’re going to sell your home, go through it room by room, checking all major appliances and home functions and looking for little things that may escape notice on an everyday basis – cracked light switches, chipped baseboards, light bulbs that need to be replaced – so your home is perfect for showings.

Light it up

Shorter days with earlier sunsets limit the amount of natural light in your home. Turning on all the lights before showings is more important than ever. Think about the exterior when it comes to lights, too. If you only have a porch light, you might want to consider adding some landscaping lighting, which will help accentuate your outdoor space.

Listen to your REALTOR® when it comes to price

Will you be able to command top dollar for your home and get the same price you would have had you listed in spring or summer? That depends on so many things, including your neighborhood, the available inventory, the condition of the home, and, of course, your listing price. A trusted real estate agent will take all mitigating factors into consideration and use comparables in your area to develop a pricing strategy.

When it comes to offers, remember this tidbit from Realtor.com: “Just because your home’s on the market during the slow, chilly months doesn’t mean you have to accept a lowball offer. If you make your home attractive in all the right ways, qualified buyers will come.”

3 TIPS FOR FIRST TIME HOME BUYERS

3 Tips for Aspiring First-Time Homebuyers

After years of renting, you are more than ready to take the plunge into home ownership. You dream of having a cozy casa to call your own, and you cannot wait to start the house hunting process.

While looking for your first home is exciting, it can also be stressful as unexpected bumps in the road tend to pop up. To avoid as many negative curveballs as you can, keep the following cautionary tips in mind:

Get your finances in order

Many Realtors will not work with home buyers until they have been pre-approved for a loan. In order to be sure that you qualify for a decent amount, spend some time getting your financial house in order. As Bank Rate notes, start by checking your credit score and report, since it will be a key factor in how much you will qualify for, as well as determining your interest rate. You can use a free credit score checking service like CreditKarma, or if you have a credit card like Discover, you should be able to check your FICO score there as well.

In addition, get copies of the actual reports from these companies that show all of your lines of credit as well as the reasons for your score, and go over everything with a fine-toothed comb. Look for mistakes, unpaid accounts and any collections, and if there are any issues, start the repair process at least six months before buying a home. Having a high debt to income ratio may also negatively impact your FICO score; if this is true for you, do all you can to pay down your credit card bills and other debts before shopping for a home.

Choose your neighborhood carefully

Some first-time home buyers are so focused on getting a certain style of house, they may overlook the quality of the entire neighborhood. The surrounding area deserves as much consideration as the house. Research the local school system, even if you don’t have kiddos yet, because it can impact home values.

Check to see how close needed amenities are, like grocery stores, gas stations, coffee shops and hospitals, and do a practice commute to see how long it takes you to get to work. You can also check the local crime stats, and if you drive through it at different times of the day, you can check for unexpected noises and activity levels; like a busy fire station nearby or a sports field where high school bands go to practice.

Make sure technology is working

Once you start the actual home search, you may be pleased to see that some of the homes come with innovative features like a home security camera system, thermostats and other cool forms of technology. Rather than assuming that everything works, either check these gadgets yourself to be sure they are functioning properly, or if you have made an offer on the home, ask your home inspector to determine that the tech is in good working order.

If you find that the security system and other tech is broken or woefully outdated, you can either ask the sellers to change it out to a newer system, or you can ask for a credit so you can purchase a new home security camera system or other tech when you move in. If you go with the latter option, you might want to check out HD security cameras and other home security systems from Lorex Technology; the company offers DIY high definition surveillance systems that are affordable, easy to install and do not require you to sign a contract.

By doing your financial and neighborhood homework and remembering to never assume that anything in a potential home is working properly, your house hunting experience is sure to be more fun and fruitful than stressful and overwhelming.

How To Simplify Your Next Move

When you’re selling your home, getting your belongings organized can seem like a low priority. You’re dealing with finding the right real estate agent, the best time to list your home on the market, and maybe even house-hunting for a new place to live.

All of that can keep you quite busy considering many of us have to do those things while we work a full-time job. Organizing your home so that you can simplify your move just doesn’t seem practical.

However, there is one main reason why getting organized can not only simplify your next move but also help improve your chances of selling your home faster and for more money.

When you go through the process of getting organized, you should be eliminating items from your home which helps to clear clutter. Clearing clutter is one of the first things agents and experts who stage homes for sale will tell you to do.

When the clutter is gone, the home can be shown much easier. Potential buyers can see what makes your house so special and different from others in the neighborhood.

If you’re putting off the process of getting organized because you think you should wait until you accept an offer, let me encourage you to get motivated to do it sooner. I’ve seen it happen many times. The homeowner thinks there’s plenty of time and then when an offer is accepted they’re thrust into high gear because the buyer wants to close escrow fast.

Of course, your agent can negotiate the closing date but sometimes a faster closing is a must. Yes, you may be able to rent back from the new owners to give you more time to prepare to move but you can’t avoid the fact that you’ll need to move at some point.

Here are five tips that can help you jump start your organizing and simplify your next move. You will be glad you start before you get an offer to purchase your home.

1. Sort piles of belongings into groups: keep, giveaway, maybe, and trash. The “maybe” pile you box up and seal for six to 12 months. If you don’t have a use for your items in the “maybe” box during the year then perhaps you can donate it.

2. Give yourself plenty of time. Be patient. This process of getting organized takes time. Know that when it comes to sorting through personal papers and memorabilia it will take you much longer than reviewing other items. Leave some extra time for the expected reminiscing that will occur.

3. Store your items in clear plastic bins. Using clear boxes helps to let you have a quick view of what’s inside. If you used cardboard boxes or colored bins, then use a pen to clearly label what’s inside and which room it will go in at your new home. You might want to use a large piece of paper to write the label on so that you can reuse the bin again later for another purpose.

4. Get rid of the paper. A big problem in many homes is the paper trail they have from room to room. It could be magazines, newspapers, documents, advertisements, receipts, you name it. Most homeowners keep a lot of paper which creates a lot of clutter. Go through your files and reduce the paper by shredding or recycling documents you don’t need. You’ll find that a lot of what you’re hanging on to, you just don’t need.

5. Do it now! This is the most valuable tip. As soon as you finish reading this, go put a time on your calendar when you will begin to get organized. Placing it on your calendar should help you block off time to get started and prevent procrastination. If you take care of things right away, you’ll find that life gets simpler. The same goes for your move. So, get organized and simplify your next move!

Relaxing Designs For Your Lakefront Backyard

According to Wallace J. Nichols, in his book “Blue Mind,” our brains are hardwired to react positively to water. Our predisposition to embrace water might be the reason being near it can actually calm us.

But water lovers probably don’t need to be told how relaxing their lakefront backyard is, or how much they enjoy unwinding alongside the water. To spend even more time in the great outdoors on your lakefront property, design your own oasis with relaxation in mind. Here are five ways to get started.

Create a Waterside Sitting Area

To maximize your time outdoors, create a waterside sitting area to relax with guests or just by yourself with a glass of wine. Sloping lakefront properties might benefit from a staircase down to their dock or shoreline. Place a few colorful lounge chairs and small weather-resistant tables to entertain while sitting lakeside. During the day, it transforms into a prime spot to watch friends and kids playing in the water. A wine tote or basket with all the ingredients to make fresh cocktails makes the perfect complement to waterside seating.

Add an Oversized Hammock

No lakefront property is complete without an oversized hammock. You might even get inspired by the trends in cities like Minneapolis where locals are setting up hammocks in public parks and campuses for a short rest and relaxation.

Install a grand trunk double travel hammock for outdoor roughing it and camping right in your own backyard alongside the lake. A Folding Camp Hammock is also a great choice for something more temporary that you can take up and down and move around your yard as needed. Or curl up with your loved ones in a two-person DuraCord Cameo Rope Hammock for a more traditional look.

Include a Cozy Fire Pit

Embrace the evening moonlight and light up a fire pit with friends and family to roast marshmallows. It’s also the perfect spot to warm up after a day of canoeing or waterskiing. Look for all shapes and sizes from small, round portable pits to grand monoliths that anchor your overall design. Keep in mind the fire pit you choose may require placing it on flat stone to prevent embers from getting out of control. In addition, disclosing a fire pit may be a requirement for your homeowners insurance policy or could be against your lakefront neighborhood rules.

Create an Outdoor Entertaining Space

If your lakefront backyard is large enough for a deck or large patio, considering turning it into an entertaining space. Set up a Tiki bar and outdoor furniture resembling a living room set to bring the comforts of home outside. An outdoor kitchen is perfect for lakefront cooking and dining with countertop space, grill and kitchen sink along with a wine fridge to serve guests. To give your outdoor space even more dimension, create fences and garden walls for extra privacy. A pergola with a string of lights intertwined overhead turns your lakefront backyard into a festive evening.

Indulge in a Vanishing Edge Pool

There may be nothing more indulgent than a swimming pool overlooking your lake property. Choose a vanishing edge pool that makes it look as if your pool drops right into the lake. Place it on a hill to overlook your lakefront backyard or add to a patio area for a heated dip on a cool night. Add floating candles and outdoor speakers for a relaxing evening at home.

 

7 IMPORTANT STEPS TO HELP YOU BUY YOUR FIRST HOME IN 2017

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Thinking about buying your first home? What an exciting time this is bound to be. And, also, what a (potentially) overwhelming, confusing, and stress-filled time. It can easily veer into scary territory if you’re not prepared and not surrounding yourself with professionals who can help guide you in the right direction.

These seven tips can help you make that dream of home ownership come true in 2017.

  1. Work with the right real estate agent

The guy next door or your brother’s girlfriend’s cousin who just got his real estate license may be hungry to get your business, but that doesn’t mean he’s your best bet. An experienced agent quite simply knows things that someone who is brand new probably doesn’t. An experienced agent will also have important relationships in place that may be able to help buyers in every facet of the home purchase, including:

Finding houses that aren’t even listed yet
Finding homes that may be slightly outside of a buyer’s criteria but that are worthy of consideration
Leveraging industry relationships to get you great deals or better terms
Managing appraisals and inspections
Working through every step of the purchase process and handling any issues that pop up along the way
Negotiating a deal that works for both sides

  1. Don’t be afraid to talk to multiple lenders

Your Realtor will most likely have several lenders they have worked with and can refer you to. You may also want to speak to loved ones and get a referral or two from someone they’ve worked with successfully. Each lender may have a different recommendation and/or knowledge of a special loan that works for you, so it makes sense to look at a few different options.

  1. Mind your credit

Many people have no idea what their credit score is, but if you’re thinking about buying a home, knowledge is power. Different loans have different minimum credit score requirements, and it could be that your score doesn’t measure up for the best loan rates, or maybe you need to do some work to qualify for even the most lenient loan.

A good mortgage lender can advise you on your best options to raise your score, from removing any errors on your credit report, to paying any delinquent accounts, to exploring credit repair options. The earlier you learn your score and delve into the details with a qualified lender, the more time you have to address any issues you find.

  1. Save, save, save

For many people, getting the down payment together is the hardest part of buying a home. And the closing costs can be an unwelcome surprise for those who weren’t expecting to have to come up with even more cash. When you first set out to buy a home, make sure you know how much you have to save. Your lender should be able to give you a pretty good ballpark based on a certain home price. Housing experts recommend adding 5% to that number just to be safe.

Even if you’ve never been a great saver in the past, there are strategies you can use that will help you build the nest egg you need for your down payment and closing costs, including these tips from nerdwallet:

Automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings can help to make the process mandatory – and maybe a little less painful.
Save raises and bonuses rather than spending them.
Set aside tax refunds.
Keep the change. At least a couple of banks have variations on this theme. For example, Bank of America allows debit card users to sign up for a service that rounds up purchases to the nearest dollar and puts the change into a linked savings account.
Visualize your goal. Slap big, beautiful photos of your dream house on the refrigerator, near your office workspace – and wrap a small one around the primary credit card in your wallet. You might charge less and save more.”

As for where to put that money while you watch it grow, experts recommend that “If the plan is to become a homeowner in the next 12 months, the money should be kept completely liquid. That means you can easily access it at any time,” said CNN Money. “The best way to do that is in a good old-fashioned savings account, Schulte said. Look for one with a higher yield. In today’s low rate environment, that probably means an online-only account like Ally or Synchrony Bank, which currently pay around 1% annually.”

  1. Lock in your rate

Rates can be unpredictable. Locking in a rate when you get close to buying, which your lender will undoubtedly recommend, can protect you if rates rise. Many lenders also offer a one-time adjustment in case rates go down.

  1. Stay at your job

Not happy at work and thinking about making a change? If you’re looking to buy a home, you may have to delay that plan. Part of your qualification for a mortgage will be based on your job history. Making a big change just before you buy or during the escrow process will be problematic. Lenders advise buyers to stay the course until after the home closes escrow.

  1. Don’t open new credit cards or buy a new car

Your lender will spell out the do’s and don’ts of how to protect your credit when trying to buy a house, but if you haven’t yet talked to anyone and you think you’re getting close to be purchase-ready, that Kohl’s card you take out to save 20% on your $100 bill could cost you. Before you take out any new debt, check with a lender.

HOME MAINTENANCE: TAKING CARE OF ROUTINE SERVICES BEFORE THEY BECOME COSTLY ISSUES

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Your home is your castle. You want to make sure that it looks great on the inside and out. Just like an automobile, a home requires a great deal of maintenance. However, most people think that if it’s not broken, then they don’t need to fix it. You can save a great deal of money by doing preventative maintenance on the home. Here are some items you need to fix or maintain before they break.

HVAC System

Your home’s heating and cooling systems are of the utmost importance. You rely on this unit to keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. However, few know that it requires a yearly inspection. If you have a gas powered unit, an inspection could save your life. As a unit begins to age, rust holes form in the heat exchanger. A technician can identify these holes and keep carbon monoxide from leaking into your home. Additionally, you need to make sure that you change your filter once a month. Maintaining your unit will extend its longevity.

Did you know that a home warranty program doesn’t have to cover an HVAC unit if it has not been maintained?

Plumbing

When a drain is not allowing the water to exit in a timely manner, people grab the plunger and head to the hardware store for a chemical drain cleaner? However, the real problem is a clog. Drain cleaners can get some minor issues resolved, but you could have an issue deep in the pipes. It is imperative to call for professional help when you have toilets and sinks that constantly are clogged.

You could have a problem with the main sewer line. The last thing you want is sewage filling up in the yard. Consequently, it never hurts to have your system inspected and ensure that things are running well before the winter season.

Electrical

The electrical components of a home are vastly important to your family being able to live in the home. If you have an older home, you may have knob and tube wiring. Older homes may also have a fuse box system rather than the new breaker box type. Additionally, a breaker box may be ill-sized for the home and cause breakers to flip off constantly. The electrical system in your home should not be put off.

If you wait until it’s too late, it could result in a fire that causes great damage to the home. If any part of your electrical system is not functioning properly, you need to call in for professional help at once.

Roof

The roof shields the home from the sun, wind, and rain. It allows your home to retain heat and it gives your abode a stylish look. However, the average roof only lasts about 20 years, if you have asphalt shingles. When a roof gets close to the end of its lifespan, shingles may become brittle and start blowing around your yard. You may or may not even notice that your shingles are starting to drift off.

However, it leaves empty spots where rain and debris can get to the sheeting. People get leaks on the inside of the home when the sheeting is damaged. Unfortunately, this allows the rain to slip through. Never wait until your roof is leaking in the house to do something about it. Make sure you have a great roof and it is within its lifespan. Waiting until the last minute could cost you thousands more in unnecessary repairs.

Routine maintenance is as important as paying the mortgage each month. The longevity of your systems and the home’s structure depends on it.

REMOVE ROAD BLOCKS TO SELL YOUR HOME

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Every seller has a common goal in mind: sell the home quickly and for the most money. Yet when it comes time to sell the home not every seller will be prepared.

Many forget or don’t know how to remove road blocks that can stall the sales process or kill it completely. If you’re getting ready to list your home for sale, pay close attention. What you do before you list it can help or hurt the process.

Remove or limit the areas where your home is lacking. Study your neighborhood and the homes that are for sale. If your home is consistently coming up short in comparison, maybe it’s not landscaped enough or it hasn’t had any upgrades in 20 years, and it’s overdue for some renovations or, at the very least, repairs to clean it up.

Get your home “show-ready” so that it isn’t lacking or appearing deficient compared to other homes in your neighborhood. Placing a home on the market that isn’t ready (needs repairs) can cause the home to receive very little foot traffic and it can end up being on the market for a long time.

If, for instance, you have vinyl flooring that’s peeling, consider replacing it with a flooring that matches the style of your home and is comparable to the neighborhood so that it is consistent with the quality of floors in other homes in the area.

Remove YOU from the home. Yes, it’s tricky to remove your personality from the home, especially when you’re still living it. But it’s very necessary. This doesn’t just mean taking down personal photos and putting away private items like medicines. This means that if you’ve turned a room into a particular “you” room – your style, your personality, and your unique use of the room – consider re-doing the room to make it more neutral, versatile, and appealing to buyers.

For instance, if one of the bedrooms in a two-bedroom house was converted into a meditation room, it’s wise, when listing the home for sale, to show it with both rooms as bedrooms rather than one bedroom and one room that is uniquely decorated for a specific use other than sleeping. Buyers can sometimes imagine how else they’d use a room but if it looks like too much work to make changes, they’ll keep hunting for a house that is better suited to their needs.

If you’ve converted the garage into a den, office, or kids play area to fit your particular lifestyle, consider making it a garage again. Find a way to show your home with the garage as clean, useful, and as an extended-living space but also with the option to park cars in it. Not everyone wants to park on the street just to have a few extra hundred square feet of living space. An appraiser can actually knock thousands of dollars off your appraisal if the garage can’t be used to park cars in because it’s considered a loss of covered parking.

Remove strong odors from your home. Of course, I’m talking about foul smelling odors but sometimes too much of a good thing can also be a turn off. Gather up pet toys, pet beds, pet food, and make sure the house is pristine. If you’re using fragrances in your home from sprays, candles, potpourri or even real flowers, make sure that the odor isn’t overwhelming. Subtle is good… overbearing can make people think you’re trying to cover up something bad in the home.

Ultimately, the goal is to make the home have mass appeal with as few road blocks as possible to sell it. Think like a buyer and see your home the way you’ll be looking at your own next home purchase. Then maybe you’ll understand the importance of making some changes before you list your home for sale.

 

KITCHEN RENOVATIONS THAT WILL GIVE YOU THE BIGGEST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK

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For some, the idea of a kitchen renovation is thrilling. They can’t wait to get in there and rip out countertops, replace or paint cabinets, and choose shiny new finishes. Others just had a small anxiety attack upon reading the words “kitchen” and “renovation” together.

The idea of redoing a kitchen, especially if it involves demolition and you don’t know what surprises await behind the walls, can be scary. And whether you’re approaching a renovation with enthusiasm or something more closely resembling abject terror, you still want to make sure you get the value out. Those countertops might be gorgeous, but you’ll probably love them even more if they bring in good ROI.

The national average of an 83% ROI, and the best way to achieve the max is to focus on kitchen upgrades that are energy-efficient, reasonably priced, and low-maintenance.  That’s especially important if you’re looking to sell your home sometime soon.

“If you have a dated kitchen…and a buyer walks into that kitchen, they’re going to think that in order to redo that kitchen, they’re going to have to spend $40,000 or $50,000,” said US News. In reality, “the average cost of a minor kitchen remodel — new cabinet doors, appliances, countertops, sink, faucet, paint and hardware” — is $20,122 nationwide, according to the most recent Cost vs. Value report. “Savvy shoppers can do it for less than the buyer assumes.”

Even if you have no plans of selling soon, or ever, choosing the kitchen upgrades that can have the biggest impact on the look and function of your space while providing the best return on your investment is key. Put your money in the following areas to give you the best shot at both.

Appliances

“Replace basic black appliances with stainless steel,” said Forbes. That goes for white appliances as well. Stainless will instantly update the look of the space, and if your old appliances were, well, old, they probably weren’t functioning great anyway, nor were they energy efficient. “To keep this upgrade within your budget, try to find a deeply discounted appliance at an outlet or local “scratch-and-dent” store — where almost-perfect pieces come with perfectly approachable price tags.”

Cabinets

“Cabinets make up a big chunk of the total cost for kitchen upgrades, sometimes one-third of your total budget,” said Mosaik Design. But you can easily update your space by painting them. As long as your doors and drawers are in decent condition, a few coats of paint will make a huge difference. Choose white for a fresh look that will also make your space look larger. Doors not looking so hot? Refacing can save you tons of money over the cost of brand-new cabinets.

New hardware

You’d be surprised how impactful new hardware can be in making your cabinets look fresh and new, especially if they represent a fancy new trend, like the return of brass, which has never looked better.

“One of our favorite tips for updating a kitchen is to swap out standard hardware,” Marika Meyer of Marika Meyer Interiors LLC told Money magazine. “Hardware can change the feel of the space, making an out-of-date kitchen feel more modern, or noncustom cabinetry feel like an upgrade.”

Countertops

Investing in new countertops can be pricey, and if you’re getting ready to sell, you might not want to make the investment in high-end materials. “Make your decisions with thriftiness in mind: choose one of the more affordable granite countertops (such as Napoli, Baltic Brown, or St. Cecilia),” said Forbes. “Leave higher-end stone and more ornate beveling for your next home.

Add a backsplash

If your backsplash is icky, ugly, or barely warrants a mention, it’s time to get it together. With the right materials and a good effort, you can make the backsplash a focal point, which can help emphasize the positive and downplay other features in the space that may need attention.

“Add a splash of color with a new backsplash,” said HGTV. “New tile is attractive.” And if you want to do it yourself, “Home improvement stores teach classes on this.”

Not sure what to choose? Subway tile is both classic and trendy, which makes it safe, and thanks to about 10,000 kitchen renovations on TV, it’s also one of the most sought-after options.

New lighting

The only thing worse than a dark and dreary kitchen is dark and dreary kitchen with ugly light fixtures. Swap out the chandelier in your eat-in kitchen for something more fresh, and concentrate on the area over your island or breakfast bar by adding a few trendy pendant lights.

“Jeffrey Osborne of Hark and Osborne Interior Design recommends sourcing ‘stylish yet affordable’ pendant lights to hang above an island or countertop,” said Money. Add undercabinet lighting to give the kitchen a higher-end look — or simply change out the bulbs in existing fixtures to cast the kitchen in a better light (you might be surprised at the results!).”

10 FALL HOME IMPROVEMENT TIPS

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Now that summer gear has been stowed away, it’s time to focus on fall home improvement projects. Autumn is the key time to evaluate your home exterior and prepare it for the harsh winter months ahead.

With cooler fall weather comes the realization that your home will soon experience cold, snowy weather.  To get your house ready, start by giving your exterior a thorough review. Everything should be checked, cleaned up and made ready to handle Mother Nature when she comes blowing in within the next few months.

Here is a checklist for exterior fall home improvement projects:

Tip #1 – Evaluate your roof. Look for missing or loose shingles, deterioration of asphalt shingles along with mold, algae or splitting of real wood shingles. If the roof is in poor shape, consider upgrading to a synthetic roof, like those from DaVinci Roofscapes®. The composite shake and slate products resist fire, impact, high winds, insects and mold, making them an ideal long-term investment for a home.

Tip #2 – Clean your gutters. Get leaves and gunk out now so that gutters won’t get backed up, clogged and frozen in the winter, causing ice formations. Gutters should be securely attached to the home and sloped for proper drainage. Also check to make sure all downspouts are clean and connected.

Tip #3 – Check your siding and trim. Make sure there are no rotting boards or insect infestations in any wood exterior products. Determine if a new paint job is needed before the winter weather hits. Should these items need replacement, research man-made low-maintenance products, like James Hardie® fiber cement siding or Ply Gem® PVC trim as reliable replacement options for key exterior parts of the home.

Tip #4 – Evaluate the deck. If your deck has seen its last summer party, look at replacing it before the winter with either a Western Red Cedar deck or composite decking from TAMKO®. Both products stand up extremely well to all types of weather and will make you happy to step out onto the deck every time.

Tip #5 – Check the functionality of your garage door. You’re in and out of your garage door many times each day. Make sure it’s functioning properly and has strong air infiltration seals to help keep energy bills down. If you’re ready for a new look or a harder-working garage door, consider the steel and aluminum options from Haas Door.

Tip #6 – Seal up the windows. Make sure your windows have strong weather-stripping in place with energy-efficient glass that is still working. If it’s time to upgrade your windows, investigate those with ENERGY STAR® ratings to help keep your home warmer during the winter months.

Tip #7 – Consider a privacy window upgrade. Tired of closing blinds or shades to gain privacy in your bathroom or bedroom? Think about replacing key windows with decorative glass or acrylic block privacy windows. Available from Hy-Lite in both operable and fixed styles, these windows add a beautiful accent to a room while protecting your privacy.

Tip #8 – Check out your doors. As with windows, your entry doors should have weather stripping that’s not worn out around the entire opening. This helps keep drafty cold air out of your house during winter months.

Tip #9 – Secure or replace railings. Loose or unstable railing systems can be dangerous. Check all balusters, handrails and elements of front and back rail systems to assure they’re functioning properly. If it’s time for a replacement, consider a new look by adding cable rails or glass balustrades from Fortress Railing Products.

Tip #10 – Spend time with your landscaping. Once the leaves have fallen, get out the rakes. Remove dead leaves and underbrush around the house and garden area before the snow falls. Re-mulch key landscaping areas. Trim back trees and bushes away from the house to get your home ready for winter snows.

 

Home ownership means continually maintaining the exterior elements of a house.  With its cooler weather, autumn is the ideal time to evaluate, upgrade and improve those key exterior elements to assure your home is ready for the winter months ahead.

7 SMART RENOVATIONS UNDER $500

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If you’re thinking about selling your home, you may be stressed out about all the things you need to do to get it market ready, and all the costs associated with those updates. Renovations don’t have to cost you a fortune. By thinking smart about some of the updates that will have the greatest impact, you can minimize your spend and maximize your investment.

  1. Give your kitchen some attention

If there’s one spot that can make or break your home sale, it’s this. You could spend thousands on new countertops and cabinets – and your agent may advise you to do some of these larger updates depending on the age and condition of your current kitchen and the competitiveness of your local market. But, for many of us, attention to a few key areas can help detract from the negatives and highlight the positives.

“Naturally, there are limits to what you can do on a budget. But many home-remodeling experts stress that moderately handy homeowners with just a little cash to spend can make a big difference in their kitchen,” said Bankrate. “And if the work looks good, you’re adding equity to your home,” Erin Davis, lead designer for Mosaik Design & Remodeling in Portland, Oregon, told them.

For under $500, you can paint your kitchen cabinets – use white for a classic yet updated look – and add hardware. You’ll be surprised how much impact these two changes can have in an outdated space. Finish it off with a fancy new faucet that can be swapped out for under $100.

  1. Get a new appliance

It’s not likely that you’ll find a new appliance package for under $500, but you may be able to find a great deal on a new fridge or dishwasher if yours is a bit ratty by looking at scratch and dent items. Sometimes, the scratch is in a place that will be obscured by a wall, meaning you can save tons of money and not ever see the issue. If you can only afford one, think about the fact that you can take the refrigerator with you to your new place.

  1. Bring in the light

One of the most important things you can do to prepare your home for sale is to fill it with natural light. That means opening drapes and pulling blinds for showings—and making sure your windows are clean behind them! If your home doesn’t offer a lot of natural light, careful placement of mirrors can help bounce whatever light there is around. Painting lighter colors can also keep the space airy, and is recommended by stagers as well.

Bringing in new light fixtures to replace anything that is outdated or builder grade can help give the home a modern feel for little financial output. Hanging two or three pendants over an island or peninsula captures one of the hottest trends in lighting today.

  1. Refresh the bedrooms

Making sure the bedrooms have just the right amount of furniture – not too much, not too little – is key. Remove unnecessary pieces to emphasize the space and add key pieces like nightstands in a master (if you don’t currently have them) to highlight function. You can pick up a pair at IKEA for under $30. Style them with a lamp and a book or stylish accessory and no one will know they cost less than dinner. Don’t forget to add a new comforter for another modern touch.

  1. Create some architectural interest

Crown molding can make a room look elegant and is also one of the features that can woo a picky buyer. Having a pro come in to install it can get expensive, but if you can use a saw and are somewhat adept at math, you can do it yourself. Materials should cost you abot $1.20 a foot at a local hardware store.

Creating interest in a space that needs it doesn’t have to involve power tools. Peel-and-stick wallpaper is one of our favorite tools for dressing up a wall without the hassle of working with paste and now it comes in textured looks we love.

  1. Create some curb appeal

Some of the most important things to do in the front of your house won’t cost you a thing outside of elbow grease: mow, rake, and clean up. Next, lay down a new layer of mulch, which will cost you a couple bucks per bag, and plant some fresh flowers or bring some flowerpots close to the door.

If your front door has seen better days, a fresh coat of paint will keep buyers from wondering what else needs work on the inside.

  1. Throw some accessories at it

You may not have money to make large changes to your home, but you can make it look freshened up with a little smart staging. Make sure furniture arrangements in living spaces make sense—it costs you nothing to move stuff around or store an extra-large chair that’s impeding the flow of traffic in the garage while the home is for sale.

Some fresh flowers, a few throw pillows, an inexpensive new rug to anchor the seating area, and maybe a few modern knickknacks scattered around can make the space feel inviting.

5 FRONT YARD LANDSCAPING TIPS THAT WILL WOW BUYERS!

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Your front yard is the red carpet inviting buyers into the beauty that is your home. If it’s rugged, messy and unkempt, buyers will take one look and then keep on driving to the next property on their list. Don’t let that happen by making your front yard luscious and as amazing as the inside of your home.

What areas should you focus on in your front yard? Where do you start? To help you break down the revitalization of your front yard, here are the steps you should take:

  1. Cut the grass.

Buyers don’t want to trudge through high grass as though they were in the Amazon or on a safari in Africa. This means the lawn mower needs to be out at least once a week if not every other week, keeping it trimmed and maintained. It also needs to be green so it looks alive and lush. Water so the sun doesn’t dry out the lawn and turn it yellow or brown. A professional landscaper can help maintain a balance of trimming and growth so it looks just right for buyers.

  1. Plant more shade trees.

One or two trees in the front yard are all right, but if you want to really add some shade, plant more. Shade trees will detract from the glare of the sun, and it can help decrease the temperature of the house if they’re placed close to windows. It also will help keep the lawn green with moisture. You can plant trees that are shorter and will grow by the time the new owner buys the home, but be sure they’re strong and can handle the climate.

  1. Install outdoor lighting.

Outdoor lighting is a good way to both illuminate the house at night and accent parts of your yard. Depending on where you install the lights, your house will look very appealing at night to those buyers who might not have time to do their shopping during the day. Outdoor lighting also helps to illuminate a path like a sidewalk to get from the curb to your front door for easier navigation. It helps to accent the beauty of your landscaping which all together increases the beauty of your home.

  1. Consider adding flowers for more color.

If your front yard has a lot of greenery, you should increase the yard appeal by adding more colors. Flowers are a great and simple way to do this, as well as shrubbery with different blooms. Perennials are the best for this because they last for more than a year, which means less maintenance for the seller and the new homeowner. They come in a wide variety of colors and types so the yard can be decorated with any number of them while still requiring less maintenance.

  1. Keep everything clean!

In addition to keeping the lawn trimmed, everything else should be clean. Anywhere that can build up dirt or grime – siding, porch, front door, driveway – should be cleaned on a regular basis. Buyers don’t want to see a lot of dirt and mess, and it will detract from them wanting to walk into the house. So take a broom, a power washer and a few hours on the weekend to keep everything sparkling clean. Don’t have a power washer? A professional power washing service can cost as little as $300.

SIMPLE STAGING TIPS TO SELL A HOME FAST

Sold Home For Sale Real Estate Sign and Beautiful New House.

When you are hosting an open house or showing your property to potential home buyers, you want them to see it as a home they could live in. That’s where staging comes in. According to Coldwell Banker, homes that were staged spent half the time on the market than homes that were not, and they also sold for about 6 percent more. There are several ways you can stage the home you’re selling without spending a fortune on a decorator or doing any major renovations. Here are a few to consider.

Don’t Underestimate Curb Appeal

The outside is the first thing buyers see when you show them a house, and if they don’t like it, it can turn them off to the entire property. Updating the curb appeal of your home will draw house hunters in immediately and may even attract buyers you wouldn’t expect from simply driving by. Fixing the outer aesthetic of the home doesn’t have to be pricey or time consuming, either. Houzz suggests some simple upgrades you can do yourself around the property, including power washing the sidewalks and sides of the house, cutting the lawn, planting new flowers and shrubs, and repainting house numbers so people can easily find it. A fresh coat of paint on the front porch or door is another good way to refresh the outside of your home.

Create A Scene

The National Association of Realtors suggests creating lifestyle vignettes to show potential buyers what their life could be like in specific rooms. This can be especially helpful in houses with odd spaces, as many buyers do not have the imagination to see how an empty space can be used. Think about what demographic the home appeals to and create scenes that way. For example, a young couple might appreciate a game room with a bar area, whereas an older crowd might appreciate a library with a reading corner. Professional stagers often research the cultural and community interests in a neighborhood and stage according to their preferences. Buyers want to see what their life would look like in each room.

Be sure to use lifestyle elements throughout the house everyone is familiar with, such as subtly scented candles, freshly arranged bouquets or a tray of drinks and baked goods for guests.

Clear Out The Clutter

While staging may make you want to decorate the entire house the way you would want it, a common mistake is to use too many items throughout the house. It can make the home seem smaller and dirty, as well as distract from some of the better features of the property. Pack up about 90 percent of what is in the home before showing it. Kid’s toys, personal photos and mementos and anything worn out or broken should be put away.

Go Neutral

While bright purple might be this season’s color, it won’t be the most appealing design approach for everyone. The same goes for decor that is too masculine or too feminine. You want people or families to see themselves living in the home, so using neutral colors and decor can help them imagine their own stylish touches throughout each room — especially the master bedroom. Make sure the walls and bedding are a neutral color and use clean linens and modern artwork to create a fashionable space with potential.

DECORATING TIPS TO USE FROM DISPLAY HOMES

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You don’t have to be in the market for a new home to tour model homes. In fact, model home complexes are a great place to get a few ideas for your existing home. Whether you’re looking for ideas to renovate your kitchen and want to see the most current trends, are having a hard time deciding on paint colors and want to see how others are incorporating color into the home, or are simply looking for a little inspiration, you can find it here.

Geting color ideas

Model homes are rarely tame when it comes to color, but there are two main takeaways:

1) The color is (by and large) not used large scale, meaning, all the walls of every room won’t typically be painted in bold or bright colors;

2) The main color scheme generally flows from room to room. The shades and placement of color may be different, but there is a coherent look and feel throughout the home that makes it feel finished.

If you want to introduce color without covering every surface, consider these tips from Lennar: “You can add color to a space without painting walls. Pop color with pillows, rugs flowers and artwork. If you do add color to walls, use it sparingly. A painted feature wall can be a great backdrop for a bed or built-in cabinets.”

General design inspiration

You may not have thought about putting certain colors together or layering a bunch of patterns in one room or choosing tile that looks like wood instead of real wood… but you will once you see what they’ve done in model homes. If you’re in a design rut or you’re not sure how to take the first step toward modernizing your space, walk through the models. Consider not just what you see, but how you feel in the space. Starting to feel relaxed or anxious or at home in a particular room? Take note of the color scheme, the organization of the furniture, and the accessories. And then take lots of pictures so you can start trying to replicate the look and feel in your home.

Incorporating the newest trends

Looking to redo your kitchen? Touring a model will give you some great ideas about how to handle the layout and materials. It may not have occurred to you to take down your double-height island and continue the counter height the full length, but this is a hot kitchen trend intended to capture the open space feel. Seeing all-white cabinets may inspire you to have your dark wood cabinetry painted, and the quartz counters are sure to inspire you to start researching new countertop options.

Treating small spaces

In general, the less crowded a room is, the more airy it will feel. But that doesn’t mean leaving it empty. Furniture placement is key to creating a space with form and function. Notice how the office in the room above has just the right amount of furniture. And instead of placing the desk up against the wall, it’s been floated, which allows the eye to more easily move around and makes the space feel larger.

Getting space planning tips

Model home designers are great at disguising awkward spaces with creative solutions and showcasing spaces with furniture that’s to the perfect scale and placed in such a way that it shows the room in its best light. If you’ve got a weird spot in your home that you don’t know what to do with or are having trouble figuring out what furniture to buy or where to put it, studying what they’ve done in a few models might help you figure it out.

Styling a guest room

Go stand in the guest room in the model down the street. Simple, clean, and elegant, right? Excited to go home and redo your guest room? Remember three key things: lighting, pared-down accessories, and crisp bedding.

Getting your kids’ rooms just right

Kids rooms are often some of the most challenging spaces to design, because it’s a slippery slope between a creative space and a circus room. Model home designers love to theme these spaces or give them some pizazz, and they often get the balance just right.MODEL HOME IDEAS TO STEAL FOR YOUR HOME

St. Charles County Outperforms the Nation

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August 24, 2016 by Mark Stallmann

While nationwide the real estate market lost some steam in July, here in St. Charles County the market is as hot as the temperatures were!

Across the nation, housing sales slowed by 3.2 percent.  This was the first year over year monthly decline since November of last year.  Year to date nationally, sales are down 3.2 percent.

Here in St. Charles County, however, the market is strong!  While July did see a bit of a slow down, year to date sales were up almost 6 percent!  In the first seven months of the year, the median home value rose $10,900 or 5.77 percent.  Plus, it took just 13 days to sell a home in July!

If you are ready to sell your home, give VIP GROUP a call!!  The time is right!

5 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT HOME INSPECTIONS

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If you’re hiring someone to inspect the home you want to buy, or you’re a seller trying to find out if there are any hidden problems that need fixing before you put your home on the market, here are five things you need to know:

  1. You can choose your home inspector.

Your real estate professional can recommend an inspector, or you can find one on your own. Members of the National Association of Home Inspectors, Inc. (NAHI), must complete an approved home inspector training program, demonstrate experience and competence as a home inspector, complete a written exam, and adhere to the NAHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics.

  1. Home inspections are intended to point out adverse conditions, not cosmetic flaws.

You should attend the inspection and follow the inspector throughout the inspection so you can learn what’s important and what’s not. No house is perfect and an inspection on any home is bound to uncover faults. A home inspector will point out conditions that need repair and/or potential safety-related concerns relating to the home. They won’t comment on cosmetic items if they don’t impair the integrity of the home. They also do not do destructive testing.

  1. Home inspection reports include only the basics.

A home inspector considers hundreds of items during an average inspection. The home inspection should include the home’s exterior, steps, porches, decks, chimneys, roof, windows, and doors. Inside, they will look at attics, electrical components, plumbing, central heating and air conditioning, basement/crawlspaces, and garages.

They report on the working order of items such as faucets to see if they leak, or garage doors to see if they close properly. Inspectors may point out termite damage and suggest that you get a separate pest inspection. The final written report should be concise and easy to understand.

  1. Home inspectors work for the party who is paying the fee.

The NAHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics clearly state that members act as an unbiased third party to the real estate transaction and “will discharge the Inspector’s duties with integrity and fidelity to the client.” A reputable home inspector will not conduct a home inspection or prepare a home inspection report if his or her fee is contingent on untruthful conclusions.

The inspector should maintain client confidentiality and keep all report findings private, unless required by court order. That means it is your choice whether or not to share the report with others. If you’re a seller, you don’t have to disclose the report to buyers, but you must disclose any failure in the systems or integrity of your home.

  1. Inspectors are not responsible for the condition of the home.

Inspectors don’t go behind walls or under flooring, so it’s possible that a serious problem can be overlooked. Keep in mind that inspectors are not party to the sales transaction, so if you buy a home where an expensive problem surfaces after the sale, you won’t be able to make the inspector liable or get the inspector to pay for the damage. In fact, you may not be entitled to any compensation beyond the cost of the inspection.

As a buyer, you need the home inspection to decide if the home is in condition that you can tolerate. You can use the report to show the seller the need for a certain repair or negotiate a better price. You can also take the report to a contractor and use it to make repairs or to remodel a section of the home.

One thing you should not do when buying a home is skip having the home inspected because of cost or undue pressure by the seller. A home inspection is reasonable, it can save you money in the long run, and it’s required by many lenders, particularly for FHA loans. There’s a reason why buyers should beware, and a home inspection gives you the information you need to make a sound buying deci

4 THINGS YOU SHOULD BE DOING WITH YOUR HOME EQUITY

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You may be sitting on a goldmine. Or a small fortune. Or at least a little chunk of cash. Rising home prices across the country means homeowners have some equity. So what can you do with it? More importantly, what should you do with it? If you’ve got money in your house, you’ve got some options.

“Done wisely, you can use the lower-interest debt secured by your house to pay off debts with high interest rates, like credit cards,” said houselogic. “It’s also a good choice if you know exactly how much you need to borrow for a big expenditure like a new kitchen.”

Historically low interest rates have ignited “a surge in demand for home equity loans this year,” said HOUSINGWIRE. James Chessen, chief economist for the American Bankers Association, told them: “The market for home equity loans and lines will likely continue to grow as a larger pool of qualified borrowers looks to take advantage of low rates to make property improvements or pay off higher-interest debt.”

  1. Make smart updates to your home

Home improvement is “the No. 1 use” of home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), Kelly Kockos, senior vice president of home equity for Wells Fargo in San Francisco, told Bankrate.

Smart property improvements that raise the value of the home make sense for those who have a cushion. But, it’s important to keep in mind the increase in payments. Even if a kitchen remodel or an overhaul of the front-yard landscaping ends up raising the value of your home, you won’t recoup that money until you sell.

Make sure you’re not “increasing overhead to the point that it’s not affordable or comfortable for you,” Justin Lopatin, vice president of mortgage lending for PERL Mortgage in Chicago, told Bankrate.

You’ll also want to focus on smart renovations that provide return on investment. An attic remodel may not pay off like updates to your bathrooms. A new front door gives your home a fresh look and helps with that all-important curb appeal, and is the one item that pays back the investment at a minimum of 100 percent year after year.

  1. Put your kids through college

“A HELOC or home equity loan can be an attractive way to finance a child’s education because the interest rate might be lower and the maximum loan amount higher than some other types of education financing,” Andy Tilp, president of Trillium Valley Financial Planning in Sherwood, Oregon, told Bankrate.

Interest rates on home equity loans and lines of credit are “roughly comparable” to rates federal Stafford loans, according to HSH.com, “but far less than the 7.21 percent interest rate currently charged for federal PLUS loans made to parents.”

HSH.com notes that as the economy has improved, the number of people using their home equity to pay for college has dropped. But “with the total annual cost of college hitting roughly $23,000 for the average four-year public school and about $46,000 for private schools, according to The College Board,” they said, it remains a reality some are going to have to face. Just be sure to check with a financial professional to make sure this new loan won’t put you in a financially risky position.

“I’ve seen parents struggle because they have to delay retirement, sometimes for many years, because of this huge debt. And if they lose their home, and with a bit of an ironic twist, they may be moving in with their new college grad,” Tilp told Bankrate.

  1. Pay off those high-rate credit cards

Did you know that the average interest rate on credit cards is more than 15 percent?! If you have a $10,000 debt on a credit card at that interest rate and make the minimum payment, you’ll be paying it off for nearly 30 years, and it’ll cost you almost $12,000 in interest.

A HELOC with an interest rate around five percent that you use to get your card(s) paid off makes a lot of sense.

“HELOCs are often touted as a great vehicle for consolidating high-interest debt,” said nerdwallet. “Because HELOCs are secured by your home, their interest rates are significantly lower than credit cards. Additionally, rates on home loan products (including HELOCs) have been at historic lows since the Great Recession. This means that if you roll several cards onto one HELOC, you could save serious money on interest payments.”

The tax-deductible interest is also a huge advantage. “This could add up to savings when tax time rolls around.”

  1. Leave it alone

If there’s one thing we learned from the downturn, it’s that reckless financial decisions related to your house can have dire consequences.

“The fact that you’re staking your home against your ability to pay off the debt is just the beginning of the potential drawbacks,” said HOUSELOGIC. “A home equity loan is a lien on your house that usually takes second place to the primary mortgage. As such, home equity lenders can be left with nothing if a house sells for less than what’s owed on the first mortgage. To recoup losses, second-mortgage lenders will sometimes refuse to sign off on short sales unless they’re paid all or part of what they’re owed.

Moreover, even though the lender loses its secured interest in the house should it go to foreclosure, in some states, it can send debt collectors after you for the balance, and report the loss to credit agencies. This black mark on your credit score can hurt your ability to borrow for years to come.”

Leaving your equity and letting it continue to grow while the home appreciates and/or you pay down the balance is the safest choice. But is it the one that works for you?

HOW TO BEAT SELLERS’ STRESS

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Three things are certain in life: death, taxes … and undue stress caused by moving.  Moving is stressful, period. And there’s not much you can do to avoid it. And we’re not just talking about packing and paperwork. Moving is an emotional process. If you’re not calming down your nervous children, you’re trying to reassure yourself that you’ll meet people in your new neighborhood, that you bought the best house within your means, and that your kids’ new schools will measure up.

It’s easy to forget while we’re dealing with all of these jitters that moving actually can represent an exciting adventure, a growth opportunity and the prospect of new beginnings. Once the dust settles after your move, you’re entering one of the most memorable times of your life. With any luck, you’ve recruited a REALTOR® who’s familiar with the obvious stresses as well as the insidious (and subsequently more detrimental) ones. Depending upon your relationship with your Realtor, you should be able to rely on him or her for more than just closing the deal. Your Realtor also should be able to calm your trepidations by giving you the support you need — giving you the facts about that new school district, reassuring you that your jitters are perfectly normal, and giving you as much information about your new hometown as possible, increasing your familiarity with the previously unknown.

It’s important to remember throughout the entire selling and buying process, however, to reserve time for yourself and your family. It’s not a waste of time, but rather an insurance policy for your sanity and continued happiness. Stress is sneaky, as we’ve all discovered. It can eat away at us during what are supposed to be the happiest of times, because after all, any major change in life is stressful. If it’s suppressed, it can wreak havoc both emotionally and physically and spread throughout the family. And there’s nothing worse than moving a grumpy family across the country. For the sake of your continued family unity, keep in mind the following stress-relieving measures:

First, remember that it’s perfect normal to feel unsure of your decision right now. You’ve just made a major commitment, and all of us experience those last-second “What on earth did I just do” worries after signing contracts and making life-changing decisions. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with “what ifs” and dread, reframe this decision as a prime opportunity to begin your lives in a new environment. The old saying “When one door closes, another one opens” definitely applies here. Trust that your Realtor is looking out for your best interests, ask as many questions as you need to throughout the entire process (that’s part of what your Realtor is paid for), and look forward to the adventure that lies ahead of you.

If you can, keep an emergency fund in case you run into any unexpected costs. One example: If your buyer comes forward after a home inspection is completed and requests a series of repairs prior to move-in, you’ll be prepared. Chances are good that you won’t necessarily agree with the buyer’s requests, but at least you won’t face the additional stress of being short the money for repairs if you plan ahead and save some extra cash (no set amount — just as much as you can handle. A goal you might try to shoot for would be in the range of $2,500). It’s probably in your best interests not to try to guess what the buyer will want to repair, and then fix it ahead of time. That’s because buyers have a habit of isolating areas of your home that you never considered having repaired, and not even noticing the ones you expected them to pinpoint. So save yourself any expenses until you’ve determined their requests.

And while we’re on the subject of finances, try to anticipate and prepare for the initial expenses you’ll face upon move-in. Resign yourself to the fact that during the moving process, you’re going to feel as if you’re holding your wallet upside down, and everyone — movers, contractors, buyer, etc. — is sitting underneath, catching the windfall and demanding a larger share. Keep in mind that this is an investment for the good of your family, and that these costs are a one-time inevitability.

Remind yourself of why you’re moving in the first place. A job transfer, or is it a voluntary choice? Obviously, whether or not you had some degree of control over the decision will affect your outlook. Regardless of your answer to that question, round up as much information as you can about your new hometown. What kinds of cultural offerings does the town/city offer? What are its landmarks and natural attractions? Research some possible day trips you might take with the family once you’re settled. Is your new hometown near state borders, giving you the opportunity to explore different regions of the country without much effort?

Envision your new home. Where will you place the furniture? Remind yourself of the home’s primary selling points. Will you have more space? More closets? A large backyard and/or swimming pool? What does your new street look like? Do a lot of young families reside there? If so, your children are likely to be reassured by that knowledge. As often as possible, try to picture yourself and your family fully adapted to your new environment.

Remember to have a little fun occasionally. You’re still allowed, even if you feel as if you don’t have a penny left to your name. Take the family out to dinner, to a movie or a picnic — anything that gets all of you out of the house and away from boxes, paperwork, emotions and all of those pre-move concerns. Keep a regular “date” to get out together — for example, every Friday night leading up to the move. Take your mind off your stress for a few hours, and remind yourself that your family members are experiencing many of the same emotions. Like misery, stress often loves company, so enjoy your time together and remember that this stress won’t last forever. Regardless of what you’re feeling now, the move will happen and everything will eventually fall into place. Journeying into the unknown is what makes life rewarding, so trust in your Realtor’s expertise and in your family’s resilience, and look forward to the journey ahead.

10 THINGS TO BUY FOR YOUR HOME AT TARGET.. AND A FEW THINGS NOT TO

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In my never-ending quest to keep my home looking stylish and current, I spend more time than I care to admit online browsing through sites like Wayfair and Overstock and reading Architectural Digest and Elle Décor. But my favorite thing to do is head out to a few of my favorite stores. Truth be told, I could spend all day, and all my money, at Target (and have!). Not just in the home and housewares and outdoor departments – cause a girl’s gotta eat, and my Target happens to be a Super Target, which means I can also get yogurt and roasted chicken and fresh cherries and Diet Coke along with my new sheets and lightbulbs and tzotchkies and indoor/outdoor rug.

It should be noted that Target is not sponsoring this in any way (not that we’d mind – wink wink, @Target). It just made sense to kick off our ‘What to buy” series, given the number of joyful hours we spend there. In the coming months, we’ll be spending heading out to some others faves, like HomeGoods, Tuesday Morning, and Cost Plus World Market, shopping home sales at stores like Macy’s, and hopefully, giving you some great ideas about what to get for your home.

Come along with me as I try to listen to my own advice and stick to the 10 things to buy at Target for your home (and a few things not to), wontcha?

  1. New trends

Target is a great place to adopt a new trend without a big spend or start easing into a new look.
Tip: Don’t forget to check the end caps when you’re in the home-related sections; this is where you’ll find many of their clearance items.

  1. Window treatments

With so many colors, patterns and textures, it’s hard not to find drapes you like at Target, which makes it easy to swap the out when you get sick of them (guilty!). And, they start at just $9.99 a panel—and that’s not even a sale price. Tip: there are far more sizes available online, so if you find something you love but the length is wrong, check the website.

  1. Serving pieces

Target’s seasonal serving pieces are some of my favorite finds, namely the big, plastic bowls you can get in spring or summer. They’re perfect for a house with kids, cute enough for company.  If you want something a little fancier you can step up to wood or hammered metal.

  1. Rugs

Truth: I can stand in a rug section for an hour or search online for three and still not buy anything. Finding the perfect rug is a challenge. Target’s many choices don’t make it any easier, but when you can catch a sale, jump.

  1. Bedding

Target’s bedding department has so many options, the sheets alone can take you all day to choose. If you’ve already decided on a color scheme and thread count, you’re well on your way.  I’m a fan of the organic sheets, both from a softness standpoint, and also because, in addition to a number of different colors, they also have these fun patterns.  Don’t pass up the pillows either. After many years of wrong pillows, I finally found one that’s right. It’s a down alternative, and has just the right around of squish-to-support quotient. They also have fluffy down pillows that cost $60+ if you’d rather spend more for the “real” thing.

  1. Knickknacks

You’ll find lots of fun stuff to line shelves and top tables in the home area, but always check the dollar section at the front of the store, where seasonal items are a great bargain.

  1. Stuff for kids…for adults

If you’re looking for cute bedding or home accents, don’t forget to check the kids’ section.

  1. Temporary wallpaper

Wallpaper has been a trend for several years, but many people are scared of taking the plunge. Peel-and-stick wallpaper is a great way to test drive the trend before committing. It’s also WAY easier to apply.

This is another item you’ll probably want to buy online because there is far greater variety, but seeing it in person first to check out the texture helped me make a decision.

  1. Paint

You may not think of buying paint at Target, and you’re definitely not going to get the same variety you’ll find at Home Depot or at a paint store, but the options are unique and always expanding, and I love the focus on specialty finishes.

  1. Furniture*

Why the asterisk? Because I haven’t always had the best luck with Target furniture. Stuff you have to put together yourself is generally a bit suspect in my eyes, but that hasn’t stopped me from buying it. When budget is dictating the purchase, you do what you have to do.

What not to buy:

Non-sale throw pillows. You’ll have far more to choose from and better prices at HomeGoods.

The bargain bed pillows. They’re tempting at $4 a pop but you might as well fold up at shirt and put it under your head for all the comfort and support you’ll get.

Candles. They’re no bargain here. Hit IKEA instead.

DUAL AGENCY CAN BE A GOOD THING

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A man can’t serve two masters, the Good Book says; but neither the law nor common practice precludes the possibility of both buyer and seller being represented by the same real estate agent. When this happens a “dual agency” situation is created; and dual agency is a subject about which both confusion and controversy abound.

First of all, how does dual agency come about? In what sorts of contexts does it occur? No doubt the example that most readily comes to mind is when an individual agent shows his or her own listing to someone who then decides to buy it (or at least to try). A most natural setting where this might occur would be at an open house.

Dual agency is not restricted to situations where there is only one individual real estate agent (i.e. person) involved. We have noted before that California law stipulates that it is the broker or the brokerage company that is actually the agent in a transaction. Suppose, for example, that Jim Jones of the ABC company writes an offer for a buyer who wishes to purchase the property listed by Jane Jackson who is also an agent at the ABC company. There would be dual agency in this situation, because the ABC company is the agent of both buyer and seller. Moreover, this would hold true even if Jim and Jane worked out of different offices of the ABC company. It wouldn’t matter if Jim worked in the Los Angeles office and Jane in the San Diego office; the ABC company would still be acting as a dual agent. (This is not the case when there are two independent franchisees represented, even though they share the franchise name.)

It is not hard to imagine why some people find dual agency controversial. “How,” they ask, “can the same agent represent parties whose interests are in conflict?” “It sounds like asking the same person to be both prosecutor and defense attorney.” “Surely,” these critics say, “this can’t be done; more precisely, it can’t be done without at least one of the parties being at a disadvantage.”

In response to this, let us note first what California law requires. (Other states may differ.) There are two primary conditions: (i) Dual agency must be adequately disclosed to both parties. There are severe penalties for agents who fail to disclose dual agency. (ii) The law specifically prohibits someone acting as a dual agent from telling the buyer how low the seller will go, or from telling the seller how high the buyer will go. (Not that agents always know these things, anyway.)

However, we know that all sorts of other information can influence what someone may offer, counteroffer, accept or not accept; and it is this fact that the critics seize upon. They will argue that insofar as the dual agent uses his skills and knowledge on behalf of the buyer, then in that respect he will be doing a disservice to the seller, and, of course, vice versa. How could this not be so?

Those who believe that dual agency does not entail unavoidable conflict reject the model that the critics assume. They do not believe that sales negotiations are what the theorists would call a “zero sum game” — one in which every plus for one side means a minus for the other. That may be an appropriate model for the adversarial proceedings in a courtroom, where one party wins and the other loses; but it fails to take into account that sales negotiations are, after all, negotiations. The aim is not simply for one side to “win” and the other to “lose.” The aim is to get a deal together, to create a transaction that is, of necessity, acceptable to both parties.

Not only is it the aim of sales negotiations to arrive at a mutually satisfactory agreement; but also, especially in residential real estate, there are often important considerations which have nothing to do with the ultimate price. There are matters of personal pride, emotional attachment, convenience, etc. All of these are factors which an agent, or agents, must take into account.

More than one transaction that could have happened didn’t, because agents were not sufficiently sensitive to the personal nuances that play such an important role in negotiations. That is especially likely to happen when agents act like adversaries. Ironically, it is precisely because of their special relationship with the parties that dual agents can frequently be the ones who are most likely to assist the buyer and the seller in arriving at a mutually satisfactory result.

STAGING A PHOTO READY HOME

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Your home’s first impression may not be one that is face to face with a prospective buyer. In today’s world, 84 percent (National Association of Realtors) of home buyers start their search online. That’s an impressive figure, and one that means your home needs to make a strong virtual impression.

Part of this impression is made through online photos. And as you begin the listing process, your agent will want to set up a time to come and photograph your home.

How can you stage your home to be photo ready?

Showing your home is about creating a story line. A home buyer is looking for certain amenities and specifications during their buying process, but in addition, they are looking for a home that will give them the lifestyle they seek. To answer this need, you must make sure your home has an ambiance that is appealing.

A properly staged home can tell this story in pictures.

To create a virtual experience and ambiance, one must develop a plan. What is the demographic of your buyers? Is this a home that will interest empty-nesters, large families, or vacationers?

Once you have distinguished this, then consider what story each room should display.

A step for all buyers is to remove clutter. Grab a box and walk through each room. Pick up the kids’ toys and games. Take your old magazines and papers to the recycling bin.

Next, tidy up. Buyers will notice if there are marks on the wall and dust bunnies on the floor. They will notice if your kitchen sink is full of dishes. So, sweep the floors and wipe down counters and mirrors. Replace burnt out light bulbs. And give each surface a nice dusting.

Now, make repairs. If you have very obvious issues in your home that need attention, there will be buyers who notice. This includes that cabinet door you took off to repair, and the tile work that needs regrouted. It also includes terribly dated wallpapers and borders. Making these repairs before your photos are taken could increase the number of buyers who request a showing.

Now that your rooms are clean, de-cluttered, and in good repair, its time to “edit.” Step back and take a look at each room with new eyes. Less is more when it comes to photos. You want a story line, yes, but you also want the room itself to shine through. Remove unnecessary knick-knacks and decor.

Is this a home that has good entertaining potential? Set up your dining room and table with your best china. Light candles and set out fresh flowers. In your kitchen, have a plate of fresh baked cookies sitting on a plate. And don’t forget to take pictures of the yard and landscaping, as well.

During the photography session, embrace natural light. Not only do buyers look for homes that are light and bright, but natural light also has a way of opening up spaces. Try to arrange a time for a photographer to come when the sun is out!

Be sure the photographer takes several pictures of each room and from different angles. Most MLS sites allow for your agent to list over 20 pictures of a home. This means you should show your buyer as many pictures as possible, in order to give them the clearest vision of you home and its setup.

Good luck during your selling process!

GET YOUR OUTDOOR LIVING AREA READY FOR SUMMER

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As with the inside of your home, outdoor living areas need attention and care to keep them looking their best. While you may not need to dust or vacuum your deck and furniture, there are a few maintenance chores that will get the warm-weather living off to a good start.

Preparing Your Deck

Before you bring out your furniture, give the deck a good sweeping. Make sure you remove leaves and other debris from between the deck boards. Then, take a few minutes to inspect the deck.  Make sure the deck components are structurally sound. Railings should be firm and not wobbly. There should not be any give in the decking when you walk across it.  Drive in any nails or screws that have popped above the surface. If the fastener won’t hold in its original position, drive in a new fastener nearby.  Inspect the deck’s framing if possible. Pay attention to intersections, such as where joists meet beams. Use a screwdriver or an awl to poke any suspect area. If the tool sinks into the wood easily, the wood could be rotting.  Examine where the deck attaches to the house. The point of attachment is called the ledger board, which should be installed with through bolts or lag screws designed for ledger attachment—not simply nailed—to the framing of the house. There should also be flashing that diverts water from the ledger.  If you do find problems, especially on supports or where the deck connects to the house, call in a professional to get them fixed right away.  If the deck has been well maintained, simply hosing it off may be all the cleaning it needs. But if a more thorough cleaning is needed, use a product that is recommended for the material of the deck. For composite materials, use a cleaner recommended by the manufacturer.

You should always follow the directions on the label of the cleaner, but here are some general guidelines:

Sprinkle some water on the deck before beginning. If the water is absorbed into the deck quickly, you may need to apply a waterproof sealer after cleaning.
Cover surrounding plants with a plastic tarp.
Give the deck a thorough sweeping.
Mix the cleaner as directed and apply using a sprayer, or brush the solution onto the deck using a push broom.
Most cleaners should remain on the deck for a few minutes to loosen dirt and stains. Keep the surface of the deck wet during that period.
Go over the deck with a stiff broom. Use a scrub brush on the railings and stairs.
Rinse as directed.
If necessary, apply the sealer following the directions on the label after the deck has dried completely. This process that could take three or four days.
If the deck boards are beyond repair or you just want to upgrade the look of the deck, consider removing the decking and railings and installing new material over the old framing. Chances are the framing is made of pressure-treated lumber, no matter what the decking material. Most of the framing is covered and installed vertically so water can’t puddle on it. If it is in sound shape, it can serve as the foundation for any new decking material.

Freshen Up Your Furniture

As with decks, outdoor furniture can use a little maintenance after a long winter – even if you stored the furniture indoors.  Check all fasteners and tighten any that are loose.  Revive finishes if necessary and remove any rust from metal furniture. Use a primer that prevents rust before touching up the piece with paint. Give wood furniture a fresh stain or coat of paint.  Clean the furniture as recommended by the manufacturer. In general, it’s safe to wash everything using a mild soap and water. Don’t use any cleaner containing chlorine or an abrasive material unless the manufacturer says it won’t harm the furniture. Use a wood-safe product like Murphy’s Oil Soap to clean up wood furniture.  Protect the furniture depending on its material. Apply a thin coat of automobile wax to aluminum furniture to keep out moisture. An exterior varnish will protect wood from the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun, and it will expand and contract with the wood to prevent cracking of the finish. Help prevent fabric cushions from fading by applying an outdoor fabric protector.

Outdoor parties usually mean sunscreen – which in turn means sunscreen spills. And if you have a pool or spa, there will be wet bathing suits laden with chlorine and other chemicals left out to dry. To keep furniture looking good all summer, clean up any spills or damp spots as soon as they happen. Give the furniture a rinse with clean water and allow cushions to dry thoroughly. Outdoor slipcovers will also help prolong the life of your furniture. Use them throughout the season during periods when the furniture is not in use so you’ll be ready when summer rolls around again.

5 CURB APPEAL TIPS CAPTIVATE BUYERS

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Sellers think once their home or condominium is listed online — perhaps with its own website — there’s little left to do but wait for offers to pour in. Wrong!

Curb appeal is king. The work of drawing prospective buyers out of their cars and through the front door has just begun. Most buyers want to get inside a property before they’ll make an offer, but if they don’t like the home’s exterior, they won’t easily be enticed inside.  Properties that look great online — descriptions, dimensions, and video — still have to deliver curbside to be sold.

With condominiums, it’s the building and grounds that draw buyers inside. The condominium board and management are tasked with keeping the street face, interior common space, and grounds looking great to retain building value. If litter, mess, or shabbiness is an issue, unit owners know who to talk to.

Homeowners must become their own “Curb Appeal Police,” ready to be hyper-critical of every detail so the house shines in all respects — from the buyer’s perspective!

#1. Target Buyers

Sellers want to attract those who will pay the most, but sellers do not automatically have a clear picture of this “who” they must win over. Ask your real estate profession to provide a profile of the buyers they are targeting in marketing and advertising campaigns. These details should help with curbside decisions of what to accent and what to minimize, and how to accomplish both efforts on budget and on time.

#2. Not to Your Standard

This can be a challenge for sellers who used their home as a canvas for their creative expression. Real estate professionals have learned that to attract significant qualified interest, buyers must see the home as a welcoming canvas for their own creative expression — often very different from the current sellers’. Input from the listing and staging teams will help transform exterior surfaces and landscaping into a “buyer magnet.” Check out design publications and sites, and drive by new homes and you’ll discover that it’s all about neutral shades, clean lines, and mimicking luxury properties. Combine the professional marketing expertise of the sales team with your knowledge of the property to pull this all together in an impressively-attractive package — a welcoming canvas.

#3. Not “Tart Up” But “Smarten Up”

Curbside views should not be cluttered or over-grown. Garish colors and over-done front gardens send the wrong message. Striking a balance between standing out for buyers and not being radically different from the neighborhood is key. Enticing buyers out of their car and in the front door is the objective.Which curbside details or impressions will speak to the quality and opportunity of the house? Understanding the target buyer viewpoint is key here, so ask the listing team how this curb-appeal message would materialize for the buyers being targeted.

#4. Squeaky Clean Impresses

Particularly in grimy urban areas, sparkling clean building facades and windows are impressive. Manicured gardens and well-maintained driveways are also stand-outs. Keep touching up and polishing until a firm offer is signed and sealed. Until then, too clean and fresh is impossible.

#5. Curb Appeal: Up To and Thru The Front Door

The curbside first impression should continue to impress and welcome up to and through the front door to open on an immaculate, well-presented foyer.  The welcoming first view into the home should speak to the home’s quality and to the loving-care the home has received.

With a clear idea of the “who” you wish to attract and professional knowledge of how to make your home appear a welcoming creative canvas from curbside, you and the property are now ready. Ideal buyers will want to make an offer on real estate that reflects their dreams — not the sellers’.

13 BRUTALLY HONEST REASONS YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO SELL YOUR HOUSE ON YOUR OWN

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Thinking about selling your house without a real estate agent? It’s a choice some people make, mainly to try to save some money. But the number of people who list their home For Sale By Owner is in decline. “Eight percent of home sellers chose to list themselves – a record low of for-sale-by-owner transactions,” according to a National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) survey.

So why isn’t it a good idea to go it alone? Let us count the ways.

  1. Because you’re not thinking with your head
    No matter how level-headed you think you are, selling your home is emotional. When someone comes in with a lowball offer or offends your decorating style, will you be able to remain professional, or are the cops going to have to get involved because you punched a guy?
  2. Because you think your house looks fine as is
    And it may, for everyday living. But a “lived-in” house is not going to wow buyers. Beyond the obvious tips of making your house sparkling clean, a Realtor will help you declutter and depersonalize to get it in selling shape.
  3. Because you clearly have no sense of smell
    If you did, you’d know your house smells like crap. Cat crap, to be exact. Or maybe it’s just musty, which could give potential buyers the idea that there are water issues (which there may very well be). A real estate agent would undoubtedly make you address any odor issues, along with a whole host of other staging stuff to make your place look – and smell – good.
  4. Because Formica countertops went out in the ‘60s
    Actually, were they ever really in? A dated kitchen isn’t just going to affect your sales price. It may keep you from getting offers altogether. The rule about kitchens and bathrooms selling homes is still true; even small but impactful changes can help substantially, which Realtors are keenly aware of. Trying to save a buck by listing a home yourself and not making even small changes can hurt you in the end.
  5. Because you have a view of the freeway
    Think it’s gonna be easy to distract from the eyesore down the street or the overwhelming noise in the backyard? Nope. But an agent will give it their all in ways you may not have thought of or be skilled in, using smart pricing and marketing strategies to deflect, downplay, or refocus attention on other, more attractive elements of the home.
  6. Because you don’t know thousands of people. And you’re not connected to hundreds of agents.
    That’s the difference an agent can make in using their network to market your home far and wide and getting it in front of potential buyers.
  7. Because you need to come down $20k from your “dream” sales price
    Then come down another $10k. Then you might actually be close to market value. This goes back to that “emotional” process thing. Your home isn’t worth the memories you made there, or the work you put in. Market value is market value, and a real estate agent will have a much easier time establishing that and sticking to it.
  8. Because what you call charming and eclectic may just be seen by buyers as tiny and outdated.
    You may not be able to get real about the reality of your home. But your Realtor will.
  9. Because the only offer you got was $30,000 below your asking price
    Know how to proceed? What if you play hardball and lose the only bite you’ve had? What if you agree and always regret the idea that you left money on the table?
  10. Because the inspection report showed all kinds of unpleasant stuff, and now the buyer wants a big, fat credit
    It’s an agent’s job to handle the multiple unpleasant details that would make a regular person run toward a quiet space to roll up into the fetal position. The fact that you don’t have to do any of the negotiating – not on sales price to begin with, not on whether or not you can include your master bedroom furniture, set of luggage, lawn chairs, and collection of vintage cookbooks in the home sale, and not on who’s going to pay to fix the leaky roof and the cracked living room window – is well worth the commission you pay.
  11. That overgrown mess you call a front yard
    Curb appeal is critical to getting your home sold. A real estate agent will help you focus on the simple steps to get it in good shape. Fail to address this key area and those coming to see your home may just pass on by.
  12. You
    Yes, you. You could be the No. 1 deterrent to getting your house sold, starting with the house tour. Shadowing potential buyers while they check out the house, pestering them with questions about how they like it, interrupting their agent to add in inconsequential details – all of these things may turn off buyers and send them off to the next home.
    Agents know what to emphasize and how to give potential buyers space. Crowding and/or annoying them may be enough to make them walk. After all, if dealing with you during the home tour is a drag, who’s going to want to deal with that during the escrow?
  13. And the most important reason of all: the money.
    “In reality, homes sold by the owner make less money overall,” according to the NAR. By the numbers: “The median selling price for all FSBO homes was $210,000 last year. When the buyer knew the seller in FSBO sales, the number sinks to the median selling price of $151,900,” they said. “However, homes that were sold with the assistance of an agent had a median selling price of $249,000 — nearly $40,000 more for the typical home sale.”

Still want to do it on your own?

A SELLER’S GUIDE TO A WINNING OPEN HOUSE

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Holding an open house for your soon-to-be-listed or newly on the market home is a lot like being on a game show where edging out the other contestants in a short period of time is key. In TV game shows, such as “Jeopardy,” the contestants don’t automatically know answers to so many trivia questions; they study and they plan and they make it appear to viewers like they walk around with that body of knowledge every day. Open houses need to be thought of similarly. Once your home is on the market, an open house is your opportunity to plan and strategize how you are going to win over buyers in very short time.

Even in a strong real estate market where houses sell quickly, it’s still important to ask your agent to hold as many open houses as possible until the home sells. One reason is that even buyers with agents still like to look at homes on their own without feeling the pressure of a home tour. Sometimes their agent is out of town when your house goes on the market. Many buyers are not represented by an agent and the only way for them to tour a home is through an open house. Your agent will plan the open house to include everything from signage to freshly baked cookies. As a seller, you should take the following steps:

Depersonalize
Back to the game show analogy, think of depersonalizing as studying the answers and questions before trying out for “Jeopardy.” Your house is lovely for how you live in it, but buyers don’t want to see you in your house. In fact, the more your house makes it difficult to guess who lives there (age, religion, gender etc), the better. Take down personal photos, religious emblems, the cute collection of mini ceramic frogs, etc. Analyze your stuff for whether it’s morally, politically, or otherwise socially objectionable and remove all of it. You don’t want to eliminate buyers because they are turned off by your personal tastes.

Declutter
While you are depersonalizing it’s also a good time to declutter as the two go hand in hand. The more simple and understated your home is, the more likely buyers can see the home for what it is and imagine themselves in it. When you have too much stuff cluttering walls and counters and shelves, buyers turn their focus toward those things and sometimes even make the assumption in logic that if you are cluttery, then you are disorganized, which means maybe you don’t take care of the house as well or as on time as you should. A good rule of thumb is to box up or store at least half of the smaller items displayed in your home.

For example, how much is on your kitchen counter right now? Now imagine reducing that number to just three things. What would you choose to keep versus store? Some sellers are benefited by going to other open houses in their area and looking at how other people have decluttered and arranged what is left. Online pictures, such as what is found on Pinterest, can help too. Often you can get some good ideas on what works visually just by seeing how others do it. When you are all done decluttering, clean your home like never before because buyers notice dirt and grime. Hire a maid service if you have to.

Lure Them In
The outside of your home is as important as the inside, especially the front entry area. Before an open house, take care of simple yard maintenance such as mowing, edging and weeding flower beds. A fresh layer of mulch adds color especially in winter months when not much is blooming. At your front door, clean off spider webs, blown leaves, and place a large, colorful pot of annuals or anything you can buy in season.

Complete Your Honey-Do List
While you have the yard power tools out, dust of your workbench and take a walk around your house inside and out. Make a list of all maintenance issues such as wiggly door handles, missing fascia, paint that has chipped, etc. and repair them before the open house. Buyers see even the smallest of maintenance issues as an extension of the condition of larger items such as roofs, plumbing and major appliances and assume you haven’t taken care of the home.

Be Cautious
Once you have taken the above steps and you are ready for the actual open house, there’s one last thing to plan. Protecting your valuables and identity. It might be rare, but criminals do use open houses as a way to case a house or to find collateral to steal identities. Make sure indoor safes are locked and hidden. Store heirlooms, checkbooks, prescriptions, and valuable jewelry away from prying eyes. Utilize a reliable, trustworthy, identity theft protection service to see you through the entire listing and sales process.

FLIPPIN’ A HOUSE ISN’T EASY: 7 THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU TAKE THE PLUNGE

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Turn on HGTV or any number of other channels almost anytime during the day or night and you’re bound to find at least a couple of shows about flipping houses. Some provide a cautionary tale about overextending yourself financially or making other rookie flipping mistakes, but the vast majority end up with a profit of $30,000, $60,000, or $100,000+ in profit for a couple of months (or a couple of days, in the case of one new flipping show).

Enticing, right? If you’re getting ready to plunk down cash for your own flip, here are a few things you need to think about.

  1. Make sure you’ve got the money

Sounds obvious, but…do you really know the financial stakes involved? “The first expense is the property acquisition cost. While low/no money down financing claims abound, finding these deals from a legitimate vendor is easier said than done. Also, if you’re financing the acquisition, that means you’re paying interest,” said Investopedia. “Every dollar spent on interest adds to the amount you will need to earn on the sale just to break even.”  If you’re planning to pay cash, you won’t have to worry about interest, but you will have carrying costs including utilities, property taxes, and HOA fees where applicable.

Here are a few other options for buying property to flip, courtesy of Auction.com: “If you don’t have enough cash to purchase a home, the next cheapest source is a home equity line of Credit (HELOC). These are low-interest, variable-rate lines of credit that are secured by either your primary residence or an investment property. Typically, the HELOC rate is set about 1–2% above the prime rate. You need to put the HELOC in place before you bid on any homes; then you can bid on the home as a ‘cash deal,’ rather than as a ‘financing deal.’ Many investors use hard money loans or other conventional mortgages to finance their flips. Because of the higher interest rates and points paid at closing, both will reduce your net profit considerably, and are not recommended for flips unless absolutely necessary.”

  1. Buy in the best location you can

“Expert house flippers can’t stress this enough,” said MoneyCrashers. “Find a home in a desirable neighborhood, or in a city where people want to live.” And keep in mind the convenience factor—for the potential buyers, certainly, but also for you. “You will work on this house daily in the weeks and months to come. Do you really want to work all day, and then drive an hour to get home? Don’t invest in a house too far away from where you live; you will spend more money on gas, and it will take longer to fix up the house.”

  1. Work with a realtor…or become one

Tying to maximize profit by selling a flip yourself rarely works out well if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you think trying to figure out if the wall you want to take down is load bearing is complicated, just try to figure out disclosures and conditions without going to real estate school. The money you spend on a Realtor commission can be well worth it for the ability to concentrate on other things and know the sale is in good hands.

Beyond getting the home sold, good real estate agents can be helpful in other important ways when it comes to flipping. “They can help you find great deals, get you comps, help you connect with lenders or contractors, and a lot more,” said BiggerPockets. “Don’t settle for an average agent though—find a great investor friendly agent.”

  1. Check the comps. And check them again

Speaking of comps…you can’t make a smart decision on buying, fixing up, and flipping a house if you aren’t aware of the prices in the neighborhood. And that might be easier said than done. In states like Texas, home sales are not reported and are not public record like they are in states like California. Do your research so you know what you’re up against.

  1. Make smart updates

Knowing where to spend your money is key to a successful flip. You don’t want to leave key areas untouched but you also don’t want to over-improve for the neighborhood. “Home improvements that increase the value of a home might include upgrading kitchen appliances, repainting the home’s exteriors, installing additional closet storage space, upgrading the deck, and adding green energy technologies,” said MoneyCrashers. “On the other hand, avoid home improvements that won’t increase the selling price, like installing a pool, installing a whirlpool bath, or adding a sunroom to the house.”

This is another good reason to use a Realtor who is a local expert: they’ll be knowledgeable about specific updates that are important in your market.

  1. Use good products

Scrimping on construction costs may seem like a good idea if it means your financial commitment is lower, but low-end materials might not get the home sold or fetch the sales price you want.

  1. Work with good people

Everyone you work with has the ability to make your flip a success or derail it. Partner with those you can trust, and don’t forget to make sure they’re qualified for their role. A bargain basement subcontractor that does a shoddy job on your floors can end up costing you thousands when you have to have it redone by a professional.

On the flip side, “The real money in house flipping comes from sweat equity, said Investopedia. “If you’re handy with a hammer, enjoy laying carpet, can hang drywall, roof a house and install a kitchen sink, you’ve got the skills to flip a house. On the other hand, if you’ve got to pay a professional to do all of this work, the odds of making a profit on your investment will be dramatically reduced.”

SPRING CLEANING TIPS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

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Let’s face it. No one looks forward to spring cleaning. The results of those efforts to dust, scrub, vacuum, empty out, declutter, and disinfect – definitely. The process of getting there – nope.

You know what makes it better? Having help. Get the whole family involved to streamline spring cleaning and make it go faster – and maybe even have a little fun at the same time.  Here’s how.

Five and under

Little ones love to help out – it’s only when they get older that they realize clean isn’t as fun as playing video games or going to the mall! Arm then with age-appropriate tasks to make them part of the project.

Starting around age three (or even younger, depending on your child), kids should be able to wipe windows – as far as they can reach, anyway – and baseboards. Give them a rag and a spray bottle of water – they don’t have to know it’s not a “real” cleaning agent. Appropriately scaled tools help as well.

“Don’t expect kids to use adult tools to clean. Instead, create supplies that are kid-friendly,” says Amy Olson of The Maids Home Services (maids.com) on hitched. “Use an ice-cream pail for mopping chores or shorten an old mop handle or broom to make it kid-sized.”

Cleaning out closets, drawers, and cupboards is a big part of spring cleaning, and anything that assists you in paring down and tidying up is great. Young kids can be a great help here, too. Task them with putting all the giveaway shoes you’ve sorted in a box or trash bag or boxing up any errant items on a coat or storage closet floor for you to look through later.

Your child can probably also handle – and have fun with – a mini vacuum that’s battery operated. Vacuuming along the floor in closets that have been cleaned out and in places they may be able to reach easier than adults will be helpful and also allow them to feel the pride of a job well done. And don’t hesitate to let them get under their bed and clean out clothes, toys, and stuffed animals that have gathered there. Laundry baskets or boxes for keeping, trashing, washing, and donating will help them get through the process in an organized manner.

Adolescents

Depending on the age of your kids, they can help with a multitude of tasks, from dusting and polishing furniture, to cleaning out the refrigerator, to organizing drawers and cabinets.

Learning Expressions

Hand your son or daughter the hand vacuum and let them go at the couch cushions. The dust, crumbs, and dog hair that’s collected there will have met its match. Or challenge them to clean out and reorganize drawers and cabinets throughout the house.

A Mr. Clean Magic Eraser can be a great tool for a child to clean fingerprints and other stains off of walls, windows, baseboards, and appliances. Gloves will help keep their fingers safe.

Kids this age may also be able to use other “real” cleaning products – but keep them non-toxic. Children shouldn’t be exposed to the chemicals in many commercial cleaners, so arm them with a non-product like Simple Green – or make your own cleaning product – and then let them loose on the bathrooms or kitchen.

Teenagers

Teens can handle just about any cleaning task; your biggest challenge may be overcoming their resistance (or attitude or laziness). Offering incentives like extra computer or phone time may help.

At some point, “working on a parent’s ‘team’ loses its appeal,” said Organized Home. “Solution? Delegate big – but safe – jobs to teen children. Whether they clean and organize the garage, shampoo the living room carpet, or restore order to a jumbled linen closet, they’ll take pride in their work IF you truly let them own the job…and make it a big one!”

Keeping everyone motivated

No matter who’s doing what, make it more tolerable by playing your favorite music (or at least music you can all agree on) while you’re cleaning. Invite an impromptu dance party to keep it lively. You can also make it fun, or at least inspire the competitive nature of your kids, by adding in challenges and games. Set a timer and the child who has hung up more clothes or folded more of their giveaway clothes into boxes receives a small prize. Be sure to emphasize that all cleaning has to be done well so no corners are cut!

“Spring cleaning is nobody’s idea of a good time, so plan for a reward for your workers,” said Organized Home. “When the chores are done, schedule a family treat. Whether it’s pizza for lunch or a trip to the video store for an evening film-fest, you’ll get better results – and sweeten attitudes – if there’s a payoff at the end of the day.

HOW TO HAVE YEAR-ROUND HOME CURB APPEAL IN 6 EASY STEPS

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Exceptional curb appeal will add to the enjoyment and value of your property and home. Maintaining your curb appeal throughout each season may pose its challenges, but with these tips, you can ensure that your home and landscaping will look their very best throughout the year.

#1 Clean It Up

A thorough power wash is essential for maintaining the cleanliness of your home, driveway and walkways. Many homeowners prefer to do this in the spring, but you might consider an additional wash in the fall as well. By keeping your landscape free of debris like broken branches and dead trees, you can better maintain the appearance of your property.

#2 Planting for Seasonal Interest

It’s helpful to plant with each season in mind to ensure that your landscape looks great year-round. Spring bulbs and flowering trees add visual interest to your landscape at the start of the growing season. A lush lawn and pots of colorful annuals can provide eye-catching appeal in the summer. Think about late summer perennials and deciduous trees or shrubs that boast spectacular fall colors. Evergreens are classic winter plants, but you might also wish to plant trees like birch or interesting shrubs to draw the eye.

#3 Vertical Interest

To avoid flat looking landscaping, be sure to include vertical interest. Arches, even when bare during the winter season, will add visual interest to your front yard. Hanging plants, vines, climbing plants, trellises and even a decorative light post will ensure that your yard has a visual balance year-round.

#4 Hardscaping

Plants aren’t the only method of achieving excellent curb appeal. Consider replacing a worn-out front walkway with elegant cobblestone or brick pavers. Replace mulch with stone or encircle trees and shrubs to achieve a more formal look for your property. Boulders can be strategically placed to draw the eye and provide further visual interest for your setting.

#5 Tackle Problem Areas

If you have a slope that’s difficult to mow or a sunken section of landscaping that always seems to flood, consider a solution. A low-maintenance, terraced garden is ideal for sloping sections of land that are difficult to mow. On the other hand, there are no-mow grasses that can replace a traditional lawn. Installing adequate drainage for low-lying areas of your landscape can help reduce the flooding that occurs during stormy seasons.

#6 House Appeal

You can increase the year-round curb appeal of your home by maintaining its outward appearance. A pleasing door, elegant fixtures, contemporary railings, eye-catching shutters and stylized window boxes will go a long way to boost your curb appeal. For an additional wow factor, consider expanding your porch or replacing worn siding to improve the appearance of your home.

Conclusion

Great curb appeal begins with assessing your current setting. When you do install new features, it’s important to consider how they will appear during each season.

7 RULES FOR CHOOSING THE RIGHT AREA RUG

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You just moved into your new home. You’ve purchased the perfect furniture and accessories. You even found the perfect area rug to add to your hardwood floors, but you’re totally stumped on which size to buy.

There are so many questions: Should the furniture be placed on or off the rug? Does the rug go underneath or next to the bed? How big should a dining room rug really be? It can seem overwhelming, but here are seven simple tips to help you choose wisely. After all, a good rug is an investment, and you don’t want to make any costly mistakes.

Rule #1: Always Go Big

Too big is always better than too small. A rug that’s too small not only looks skimpy, but seems like an afterthought. However, you also don’t want to go overboard. Pick a rug that’s the size of your seating area rather than the size of the room.

Rule #2: Keep Your Furniture on Your Rug

An area rug should anchor your seating arrangement, so place rugs underneath sofas and chairs. Ideally, your rug should fit entirely under your sofa and side chairs. If that’s not possible, make sure at least the front feet of your furniture are on the rug, even if it’s only by a matter of inches. In order to look balanced, rugs should also extend at least 6 inches beyond the arms of the sofa.

Rule #3: Try Layering

Consider layering your area rug over wall-to-wall carpeting. Most people seem to think that this is a decorating “don’t,” but nothing could be further from the truth. An area rug over carpeting adds texture and color to a room. In this case, the area rug can be a little smaller than usual – just make sure it’s placed right up to the edge of the sofa/chairs. And make sure your area rug and carpeting are compatible: a too-thin area rug over plush carpeting will never lay flat and may slide around.

Rule #4: Use Color

Don’t be afraid of pattern, color and texture! An area rug can be the focal point of the room. If your furniture upholstery is neutral, choose a colorful or patterned rug. It doesn’t have to match perfectly, but it should coordinate with the other colors and fabric in the room.

Rule #5: Your Rug Should Be Bigger than Your Bed

Think big when choosing a rug for your bedroom. Your area rug should be big enough to extend two or three feet beyond the edge of the bed. After all, you want to step onto a cozy, warm rug when you get up in the morning!

Rule #6: Your Dining Chairs Must Fit Completely

Chairs should sit perfectly and completely on an area rug in your dining room—that means all four legs on the rug even when they’re pushed away from the table. Never have the front legs of the dining chair on the rug and the back ones off. Not only does it look funny, but it’s dangerous, as your chairs are unbalanced and more prone to tipping over. You can easily estimate the size rug you’ll need by adding 24 to 36 inches to each side of your table. If your table has extension leaves that you use often, choose a rug size to accommodate the table with the leaves in. In terms of shape, a rectangular table needs a rectangular rug. A round table can support either a round or square rug.

Rule #7: Think Outside Standard Sizing

Area rugs tend to come in standard sizes, usually including:

  • 3 x 5 feet
  • 5 x 8 feet
  • 8 x 10 feet
  • 9 x 12 feet

If you need an odd size rug, you can always have one custom-made. It might sound expensive, but it may be more affordable than you think. Simply purchase regular wall-to-wall carpeting, have a carpet installer cut it to your desired size, and finish the edges with binding or serging to get a custom rug without the custom price tag.

Now you can avoid the stress of buying a brand new rug only to find it’s the wrong size. Just follow these rules to make sure your new area rug fits perfectly in your home, so you can enjoy your beautiful, cozy new space.

WHY HOME BUYERS SHOULD HIRE A REALTOR

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Getting a purchase closed in today’s market is complex. The real estate market has changed greatly from only a few years ago. Buyers face many more hurdles including stricter financing, low housing supplies, higher mortgage rates, and rising prices.

To negotiate today’s challenges, you need a real estate sales professional to help you close the deal. A good real estate professional understands current market conditions. He or she has house-by-house neighborhood experience and can help you obtain the right home at the best price and terms.

Your agent can help you find a home quickly. Not only do real estate agents have access to the local multiple listing service, they also share knowledge of homes coming onto the market with their colleagues. Your real estate professional will tell others about your requirements for a home so they can also be on the lookout for you.

In fact, networking is one of the biggest industry advantages. Many homes are bought and sold without a sign ever going into the yard. But, for buyers to be shown the latest homes on the market, or to hear about homes about to come onto the market, there has to be a strong relationship between the buyer and the real estate professional.

If you want to be the buyer positioned to make first and best offers on the most desirable homes, make certain your agent knows you are committed. How do you show you’re serious? There are several ways.

Get prequalified with a lender. Share your financial records so you know exactly how much home you can buy. Your agent won’t go over your limit because it would be a waste of time to show you homes you can’t afford to buy.

Work with only one agent. You can do this by signing a buyer’s representation agreement, if it’s customary in your area. If not, show your loyalty by telling other agents you may meet at open houses or socially that you are represented and give them your agent’s name.

Don’t shop for homes without your agent. If you want to look at open houses or builder homes, invite your agent to go along. If your agent can’t go, make sure you register your agent’s name with builder sales reps and open house sellers’ agents.

Be loyal. Real estate professionals work primarily on commission. If the deal of the century is about to come on the market, who do you think your agent will tell first – the buyer with five other agents or the buyer who is loyal? If you’re playing agents against each other thinking you’ll get people to work for free and that you’ll have your pick of homes to choose, you’re wrong. Agents talk, and they’ll find out they’re working for the same buyer. If you want great service, show appreciation, confidence, and commitment.

Once you find the house you want, the work really begins. You’ll have to navigate negotiations, loan approval, seller’s disclosures, inspections with environmental and structural reports, and so on. From helping you make a reasonable offer, to providing for the discovery and disclosure of material facts, your agent can help protect your interests.

Buyers and sellers are natural adversaries. Agents must be skilled negotiators and problem solvers, as well as anticipate problems before they happen. Pride, ignorance, or stubbornness can get in the way of a fair deal for both sides.

Your agent will share your risk, and will make sure you go into any home purchase with your eyes wide open. Take advantage of the greatest home buying resource available — your own real estate agent!  Whether you are ready to buy or sell, get the best possible representation–call The VIP Group. Experience isn’t expensive…it is priceless! 

CLEVER HOME STAGING TRICKS

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Getting ready to sell your home? It would be awesome to hire a home stager.

Home stagers are paid to furnish a home and help it look its best. What they create isn’t so much the ideal living environment but rather the idealized one—one in which there are no awkward furniture arrangements, toys on the floor, crumbs on the countertops, or surprises in the toilet. It’s not maintainable for most people everyday, but boy, does it work when selling your home!

Stagers typically have furniture and accessories at their disposal—not to mention interior design degrees. But they can cost hundreds—even thousands—of dollars. Fortunately, you can achieve great results by using some of their tricks.

Clear it out and clean it up

The first step in preparing any home for sale is to clear it out and clean it up, getting rid of clutter and personal items and scrubbing it down.

“De-cluttering — and having a pristine home from top to bottom — are the no-brainers that can make your real estate look better than the house down the block,” said Better Homes and Gardens. “Your home must be cleaner and less cluttered than it’s ever been. You need to banish not just the day-to-day buildup (the mail, the shoes, last season’s clothes, the dog hair), but also several years’ accumulation.”

Removing kids’ toys, outdated furnishings, and excessive knickknacks can help. Whatever you can’t sell or donate, box up and store at a friend or relative’s house, or rent a storage unit for a couple of months. Or, if you can do so neatly and without compromising your garage space, stack them along a wall.

Depersonalize

A house that reflects your personal style from floor to ceiling and all over the walls (and every other surface) will have a hard time appealing to buyers.

“Prospective buyers won’t be able to picture themselves in the house if they’re surrounded by dozens of photos of your children and grandparents,” said Bankrate.

Update the bathroom

Not everyone has the funds for a big bathroom renovation prior to selling. Smart changes can make a big difference.

“Avoid dated tile by painting. Bathrooms sell houses, but dated tile in a bathroom doesn’t. A low-cost alternative to replacing the tile is to use paint,” said HGTV. “First coat the tiles with a high-adhesion primer.

Next, brush on a special ceramic epoxy covering. For a fraction of the cost of new tile, you will have an up-to-date bathroom that brings in big bucks.”

Pay attention to design details

After you’ve cleared away the clutter, you want to focus on creating simple, elegant designs. It’s easier than it seems.

“For a visual impact on a table without a lot of fuss, remember a design basic: Groupings of odd numbers always do the trick! Three of a kind, like…hurricane jars, filled with something as simple as pinecones, makes a ridiculously easy and dynamic table scape,”

Up your curb appeal

Make sure you make a great first impression, or you might not have an opportunity to make a second impression.

“You may have spent hours making sure the kitchen is clean, and doing so is worth the effort,” sad Bob Vila. “But remember, the facade is the first part of your house a potential buyer will see. A little landscaping can go a long way. Strapped for time? Potted plants placed around the front door will add welcome charm to your entryway.”

Pay attention to odors

We get used to our environment, so we might notice that musty smell or cat box aroma. Have your realtor or a trusted friend do a walk through and give you an honest assessment—not just of the way the house looks, but how it smells. Then take action to improve it. Start by steam cleaning the carpets and any upholstered pieces that need it.

Don’t ignore the windows

Windows that are cloaked by outdated or heavy window coverings can negatively impact the image your home projects. Open the blinds and replace drapes with inexpensive versions that will let the light in and frame the views.

“Need to dress up a window but don’t want to shell out big bucks for window treatments? Here’s a trick: Use place mats,” said HGTV. “First, apply a hook-and-loop fastener to the place mats and attach them in a row to a basic curtain rod. Now that the place mats are attached to the curtain rods, pin them together at the bottom, and you’ll have a stylish valance that costs about $12.”

Upgrade the Furniture

Giving your home a fresh, clean look with new furniture can make it feel more modern and appeal to more buyers. Don’t have money for new stuff? “Try giving worn-out pieces a pick-me-up with new pillows or a slipcover,” said Bob Vila.

While you’re at it, take a look at your furniture layout too. “Your preferred setup may not be the most appealing one to would-be buyers. Where logical, opt for a social layout that makes it easy to envision the space being enjoyed among family and friends.”

Give rooms a single purpose

That home office that doubles as a guest room is useful, but when it comes time to sell your home, pick one and run with it. “Potential buyers are confused by extra rooms that have a mishmash of uses,” said HGTV.

 

 

10 INEXPENSIVE WAYS TO CREATE A SPA BATH

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The sumptuous spa bath – the kind that makes you forget you have a sink full of dishes, two baskets full of laundry to fold, and two sleeping kids with runny noses on the other side of that door – has been a top trend in new homes and renovations for awhile, and it’s not going anywhere.

If anything, the desire to luxuriate in a decked-out bathroom is only growing.

Here are 10 things that will help get you there.

  1. A towel warmer
    For under $200, you can add a bit of hotel-style elegance – and warmth – to your bathroom with a towel warmer you attach to the wall. What’s more luxurious than just-warmed towels that are ready for you when you get out of the shower?
  2. Bubbles in the bath
    You don’t have to spring for a $2,000 Jacuzzi tub to have the Jacuzzi experience. Drop theConair Dual Jet Bath Spainto your existing bath and bubble away!
  3. A spa shower
    You could spend thousands of dollars on a tricked-out spa shower. Or, you can spend $169 for thisthree-jet panel spa shower system. Your choice
  4. Painted walls
    It’s one of the easiest ways to transform any space, and in the smaller space of the bathroom, painting can have big impact for no cost. Leave the bold and bright for other rooms and swath your bathroom in something serene and relaxed, like light blues and grays. Red will bring too much energy to the space and yellow may change the light in the room, making skin look sallow.
  5. Painted cabinets
    Old, worn, dingy, or broken cabinets do not give off a spa feel. You need it light and airy, which means it’s time to hit the paint store for a can of white. A coat of paint on those cabinets can make the rest of the room look bigger and help create the soothing feel you’re going for.
  6. New bathroom cabinets
    If painting your cabinets isn’t an option or isn’t worth it because your vanity top is worn, chipped, ugly, or all of the above, replace it! You can get a new one inexpensively. Check your local hardware store! If you have decent DIY skills, you can also remove your existing vanity and install the new one pretty easily.
  7. A sit-down vanity
    If you don’t already have a sit-down vanity in your bathroom, trust us…it will change your life. If you can easily remove an existing cabinet under a low cabinet, you can fashion your own. You can also build one in for a luxurious look, or add a freestanding vanity to an open wall.
  8. The right lighting
    “As the bathroom increasingly becomes a place to relax and recharge…the lighting requires extra thought,” saidThis Old House. “And when it’s done right, the payoff is great. A good lighting plan is a series of layers—placing ample light where it is needed for showers, shaving, or putting on makeup, for instance, while other light sources enhance the overall mood of the room.”
    When it comes to the design, choose something sleek, shiny, or romantic to amp up the spa feel.
  9. A silver tray
    Nothing kills a relaxing dip like looking at cluttered countertops. A silver tray, whether it’s brand new or antique, brings in an elegant look and also helps to eliminate clutter by combining items in one space.
  10. Heated floors
    Radiant heating in and of itself is not expensive – materials will cost a few hundred dollars plus installation. But ripping up your existing floors and laying new ones will obviously cost more. If you’re already planning to put new tile floors in your bathroom, it’s the perfect time to add coils. Toasty warmth underfoot won’t just make you happy when you’re getting ready for some alone time in the bath, but every time you don’t have to search for shoes just to use the loo

 

THE SWEET SPOT OF PRICING YOUR HOME

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When you and your REALTOR® sit down to price your home, you’ll be looking at competitive homes that are the most similar in size, location and amenities as your home. You may find that prices can be thousands of dollars higher or lower. It’s tempting to pick the highest price and say, “Let’s list it here.” But what if your home doesn’t sell at that price?

High prices are a strategy that can work in an accelerating market, but it’s risky. Your home can sit for months without selling and you’ll end up marking the price down, perhaps lower than it should have sold for in the first place.

Pricing your home is a science. The science is choosing the right price at which your home will sell quickly. How do you do that? By analyzing your local market conditions and where your home fits in the spectrum.

The only way your home will sell at the highest price possible is if your buyer agrees to your home’s value. To best determine market value, you have three important tools: CMAs, appraisals, and your REALTOR’s® knowledge of the market.

The comparative market analysis

A comparative market analysis (CMA) is a side-by-side comparison of similar homes for sale as well as homes that have recently sold in your neighborhood. REALTORS® use CMAs to compare the features that make each home unique, including age, location, number of bedrooms, baths, room sizes, updates, condition, etc.

As a seller, you should be able to see where your home fits — in the top or lower price range of similar homes. For example, if a similar home to yours has been recently renovated with a new kitchen, expect it to sell for more than your home if your home has not been improved.

The appraisal

An appraisal is a market analysis performed by a professional appraiser using a variety of sources, including multiple listing system data and conforming loan formulas.

Appraisers most often work for lenders to determine market values, so that lenders can weigh the risk of making a loan to a homebuyer. Appraisals come after an offer is made when the buyer applies for a loan. Even though the buyer pays for the appraisal, the lender uses it to determine whether or not to make the loan at the contract price.

Other market data

Your REALTOR® has access to data that may not be public through the Multiple Listing Service. This data is provided to broker members to track market trends over weeks, months and years. Some brokers pay data companies for specific markets that help them plan their business, such as the number of listings on hand, which zip codes are the hottest, and whether closings are trending up or down over last month or last year.

Your REALTOR® uses all this data to help you hit the sweet spot of pricing. That’s high enough to reflect your home’s value, but attractive enough to buyers to get it sold quickly.

GET A BETTER MORTGAGE INTEREST RATE

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People will clip coupons and drive across town to save a few cents at the gas pump, but few will shop around for the best interest rate on their mortgages. Most buyers tend to go with the first lender they talk with, perhaps out of fear of losing the house if they don’t act quickly enough. Paying one-eighth of a point too much can add up to thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.  You’re smarter than that. Know you have the right to shop lenders and negotiate mortgage interest rates and fees. Here’s how to do it.

First, you need to decide on which loan program you’re going to compare. You need to decide between a fixed, an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) and a hybrid. A fixed rate is fixed throughout the life of the loan, so it costs a little more. An ARM has an interest rate that can vary throughout the life of the loan, which would be cheaper now, but might cost more down the road. A hybrid is an ARM that is fixed for a predetermined period, such as five years, then it morphs into an ARM.

With interest rates still near historical lows, most people select a fixed rate because it’s safest and protects you better the longer you stay in your home. An ARM or a hybrid loan is best if you plan to move in five years or less, but most people stay in their homes as long as nine years or more.

Next, you need to select a loan term, which refers to its amortization period. The most common fixed-rate term is the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Lenders also offer fixed rate loans in five-year increments beginning with ten-year loans, so you can select a 15, 20, and 25-year fixed rate. The advantage to doing that is that you’ll pay the loan off faster, but you should know that the loan will cost more monthly because you’re paying down more interest and principal at a time, even with a lower interest rate.

How do you decide which loan is best? By what you can afford. If you want the best rates, conventional loan-to debt-ratios prevent you from having more than 41% of your gross income used toward debt payments and mortgage payments. The ceiling for mortgages is about 28% of your income, with the rest of your debt payments going toward a car payment, student loan, or revolving credit card charges. If you have low debt, or are buying a modest home compared to your means, it’s a good idea to get a shorter term.
Once you select the proper loan as well as the term you can start shopping. Give the lenders you call the exact same facts — what kind of loan you want, how long the loan term will be, how much you want to put down toward the purchase price, and your credit score. According to the new loan disclosure requirements, which went into effect in August 2015, you have to provide six pieces of information to qualify for an “application”:

  • Your Name
  • Your Income
  • Your Social Security Number
  • The Property Address
  • The Contract Price of the Property
  • The Mortgage Loan Amount

    The lenders have to return a good faith estimate of what your closing costs will be within three business days. Then you can compare and choose the loan with the most favorable costs to you.

 

ESSENTIAL THINGS EVERY NEW HOMEOWNER NEEDS

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Becoming a homebuyer is exciting. But now that it’s happening, you’ll need a few things to get you from buyer to owner. You may think you only need the stamina to unpack, but that’s only the beginning.

1. A basic toolkit

You don’t want to be sitting at home without a wrench when your sink is leaking. Or without a Phillips screwdriver when nothing in the house will accept a flathead.

Tools may seem like a boring thing to spend your money on, especially if money is tight after your down payment, closing costs, and moving costs, but spending a few bucks on a decent kit will save you the heartache of having to run out in the middle of the night to buy pliers.

Lowe’s is a great place to look for pre-assembled toolkits if you don’t want to buy individual pieces. They range up to several hundred dollars depending on how professional and comprehensive they are, but you can get away with spending as little as $20 or $30 for a basic toolkit.

2. A DIY spirit

You’re going to be testing the limits of your DIY skills as a homeowner… a lot. Painting your walls, fixing a clogged drain, pulling up old floors, laying tile – they can all expand your skills, teach you new things, and provide a real sense of pride and accomplishment.

“Check out tutorials and how-to guides on sites like The Family Handyman and This Old House – good, reputable sources for home improvement information,” said lifehacker. “Cross reference anything you find with multiple sources though, just to make sure you’re getting good information.”

Keep in mind that experts generally recommend you leave things like plumbing and electrical to the experts so you don’t flood your home or electrocute yourself.

 

3. Deep pockets

Things are going to break. Make sure you have a stash of cash for when that happens.

CBS News”The only thing worse than experiencing repair issues, is having no money to take care of the problem. Liz Weston of MSN.com asked several experts about budgeting for home repairs,” said mortgage resource HSH. “The experts said you should expect to spend at least 1% of your home’s value per year on maintenance and repair, and to plan for more if your home is older or has
been poorly maintained. On a $300,000 house, that’s $3,000 per year. Put $250 a month aside for these expenses and save yourself a lot of grief when a repair arises.”
4. A home warranty, if one is available

A home warranty can help with those large expenses.

“Like all warranties, a home warranty is supposed to protect against expensive, unforeseen repair bills and provide peace of mind,” said Investopedia. “For a homeowner who doesn’t have an emergency fund or who wants to protect their emergency fund, a home warranty can act as a buffer. Home warranties also make sense for people who aren’t handy or who don’t want to worry about tracking down a contractor when they have a problem. Warranties can also make sense for people with expensive taste in appliances.”

Keep in mind that a warranty won’t cover everything, and is not only for brand-new residences; warranties may also be available for older homes.

 

How To Pick The Right Paint Color For Your Walls

 

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Finding the right color for your walls can be one of the more difficult decisions you’ll make in your home. What seems like such a simple thing to do on the surface can collapse you into confusion and despair when surrounded by thousands of strips of every color you could ever imagine in varying degrees of saturation.

Color choice also carries with it a lot of weight because the paint can act as the foundation for the space and can set the tone and the mood for a room.

“Why do we find one place appealing and are uneasy in another? Why are we attracted to one product over another? Color—whether architectural or in products—accounts for 60 percent of our response to an object or a place,” said HGTV.

Paint is also one of the easiest – color choice notwithstanding – and least expensive ways to change or update a room. If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to picking that magic color, or if you’re stuck between a few thousand choices, a few tips can help.

Find some inspiration

Inspiration for your wall color doesn’t have to spring from the paint store while standing in front of the interior display. Meaningful items you already have in your home, pieces of art you admire, and the world all around you can help.

“You can come up with ideas by creating a portfolio of what appeals to you: a favorite painting, the color of your baby’s eyes, an unforgettable vacation in Mexico or that great hike in the Grand Canyon,” said Benjamin Moore. “First, take into consideration your inspirational image’s common denominators in terms of color. Do you like a variety of colors or particular shades and tints of a specific color? Do you like them bold or muted? Digging deep in the well of inspiration plays an important role in selecting and whittling down your choices.”

Decide what you don’t like

It can be intimidating standing in the paint store surrounded by so many choices. But you can easily whittle them down just by eliminating the colors you don’t like. Not a fan of blue or yellow? You just got rid of hundreds of options. If you know you want to stick with a light color, there go hundreds more. Concentrating on those colors and saturation levels you do like instead of getting waylaid by those that aren’t even in the running can help you narrow down more easily

Test them out

No one walks into a paint store, points at a color, buys a gallon, and goes home and paints the room. Finding the right color is a process of trial and error, and that process may mean a few trips to the store, and a few dozen samples up on your walls to compare, contrast, and examine over a few days.

Your first step might be bringing home a stack of paint chips, but those teeny things won’t give you a true idea of what the color is going to look like on the walls. Experts recommend narrowing down to a few leading candidates and buying small samples of the paint to put up on your wall in larger swatches.

“Most companies offer small-size containers, which might cost a few dollars. If you’re considering several paint colors, this can add up, but it’s a worthy investment,” said Better Homes and Gardens. “Nothing will help you choose a color better than seeing the hue applied to the wall. Take the samples home and brush them on the walls of your room. Paint broad sections of the wall at eye level. The larger the section the better to evaluate the color, so don’t be shy. You’ll be able to paint over these test plots, even if the hues are dark shades and you need a primer. Once the test sections are dry, hang artwork over them, push furniture in front of them, and stand back in the room to see how they look.”

Live with the colors for a few days

Wall color can look completely different depending on the time of day and amount of light coming through the windows, and on different days depending on if it’s sunny or overcast. The gold color you’ve fallen in love with may end up looking like mustard in certain lights. Or perhaps the gray that looked so great in the store looks green against your furniture at night.

Go with the trends

If you just can’t bring yourself to make a color decision, go with what other people are doing. Is it the most creative solution? No. But veering toward a popular choice will give you lots of options to choose from and lots of looks to study that will help inform your décor. Take gray, for instance. It’s been the leading neutral for several years, and you could easily find hundreds of hues within the gray family. But if you’ve eliminated all other colors from the mix, a professional can help you to further narrow it down by dark and light, green and blue tint, etc. until you have the perfect gray choice for your home.

THE HOTTEST TRENDS IN OUTDOOR LIVING

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Gone are the days when the yard is used for just a few months. Today, the outdoors are an extension of the indoors, with gracious spaces for eating, lounging, and playing year-round. The latest trends in outdoor living have you covered – literally.

Patio covers

Adding a pergola or arbor to your outdoor space can protect you from the elements, giving you year-round access no matter the climate. Add space heaters and ceiling fans to make it even more inviting. Built-in is best, but if you’re looking for a more affordable option, head for your local improvement or big box store, where a variety of hard- and soft-top options can easily transform your space and give you the coverage you want without having to hire a construction crew.

Hardscape and Softscape

Interlocking pavestones and large-scale pavers are two notable trends for hardscapes. Stained and stamped concrete also remains popular as a way to achieve a high-end look that mimics stone for a minimal cost.
With droughts continuing in many areas, homeowners are increasingly looking for ways to create a yard that needs less water. One of those ways is getting rid of the grass, which explains the growth of artificial grass products.
“Want a picture-perfect lawn? Maybe fake grass is the answer,” said houselogic. “It solves watering, weeding, and fertilizing woes. Synthetic grass for landscaping and recreation is growing 10% to 15% a year in the U.S.”

Lounge Space

The outdoor living room has gone beyond being a trend to become a must-have in today’s homes.
Comfortable outdoor furniture that looks like it could belong inside, wall-hung flat screen TVs, and outdoor fireplaces create cozy spaces that bring the action—and the family—outside.
See some great ideas for outdoor living rooms here.

Outdoor Kitchens

Outdoor kitchens are another feature that has transcended the idea of being a trend. Today, they are every bit as amenitizied—and sometimes even more—than the indoor kitchen.
“These cooking areas feature all the accessories and niceties of indoor kitchens so you never have to go inside,” saidBaybreeze Patio. “Refrigerators, grills, smokers, stoves, warming drawers, beer taps, and of course, the kitchen sink ensure outdoor enthusiasts have everything they need to prepare the meal and more.

Water Features

Whether you’re trying to drown out street noise, create a Zen space in your yard, or just like the way a fountain looks, adding a water feature is a great way to bring interest and function to your outdoor space.
Water features have been steadily growing in popularity over the last few years and are today one of the most requested items in a landscape plan.
“Water features are more popular than ever, from fountains to water walls to serene ponds,” said Neave Landscaping. “The sound of water is soothing after a hectic day at work. It masks distracting sounds, like traffic in front of your house, or the neighbor kids’ water balloon battles. It attracts birds and butterflies who love to sip and splash in the water.”

New Options for Gardening

Edible container gardens including mini fruit bushes and earth tones are two prominent trends in gardening, according to Garden Design.
“Separating flowers from vegetables in your garden is so yesterday. The latest trend is blended gardens that incorporate edibles and ornamentals together,” they said. “These double-duty gardens offer a bountiful harvest of fruit, vegetables and herbs while providing intriguing, energized beds. Tuck tomato plants in with your roses. Plant a drift of “Bright Lights” chard — as pretty as any blooming perennial. Mix asparagus or some raspberry bushes into your cutting garden. And chili peppers? They’re hotter than ever. Before they end up in your salsa recipe, they’re pretty little ornaments to spice up your garden.”

ONLINE HOME VALUES AND THE PRICE OF YOUR HOME

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Plenty of sellers have visited online home valuation sites such as ZillowTrulia, and others only to be shocked at the published value of their homes. Most sellers are pleased when the values appear higher than they expected, but many online valuations come in far lower. So should you use these values to price your home for sale?

Estimating a home’s market value is far from an exact science. What these sites attempt to do is provide greater transparency to homebuyers and sellers by making data derived from public records more accessible. They publish what you paid for your home and how much you pay in taxes. Many have satellite views so accurate they can spot your cat laying on the front walk.

But few consumers realize that two homes right next door to each other could have been purchased at different times and have vastly different tax bases which in turn skews values. The property tax base resets for each home every time it’s sold. Then the taxes can go higher every year, remain the same, or go down according to market conditions. Most communities impose ceilings so that your taxes don’t escalate to an unaffordable level in a single year.

If you’ve only owned your home for five years, you are likely paying much more in property taxes than your retired neighbors who bought their home 30 years ago. Yet your home may not be “worth” more unless you’ve done some substantial updates and/or additions.

Then how do these sites come up with valuations? All property is registered with the city and county for property taxing purposes. Home valuation sites contract with major title companies such as First American to obtain county tax roll data. They also find ways to become members of local multiple listing services, which are either subsidiaries of real estate associations or owned by local real estate brokers. That way, they have access to current listing data and recent solds.

Between tax roll data and listing data, home valuation sites apply their own secret sauce, or algorithm to come up with “zestimates” or approximate values of what homes in a given area are worth. Sometimes the results are spot on, but they can also be inaccurate.

First, transaction data has to be recorded with the county, which could take weeks. But, what alters the algorithm most is that properties not currently on the market are included in the data. These homes have not been tested by the current marketplace and cannot possibly contribute to recent market values.

In addition, the algorithms may include whether or not a home has been updated, but there’s no way to quantify subjective information such as how well the home is maintained, curb appeal, interior design, window and yard views, and neighborhood popularity. For these reasons, online valuations should be used only as one of many tools to estimate a home’s value.

Your best approach to choosing a listing price is to ask your real estate professional for a comparative market analysis, or CMA. He or she can show you the most recent listing asking prices and sold comparables in your neighborhood. These results are accurate up to the hour in most cases. Realtor.com updates listings from MLSs every half hour.

If your home is estimated for far less on a home valuation site than current comparables, be prepared to argue pricing with buyers who take these numbers as gospel. If they have a real estate agent representing them, the agent can confirm the comparables you show them to help them understand the market a little better.

By the same token, don’t expect to get more for your home if home valuation sites put your home in a higher price bracket. Recent comparables tell the true story of the current market as long as buyers and sellers are using the same search parameters.

Remember, a set of comparables is only a guide to pricing your home, so you can sell your home quickly and for the most money possible in the current market.

 

FIVE LANDSCAPING IDEAS FOR SELLERS

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You’ve probably heard how important curb appeal is when you’re trying to sell your home. The first thing buyers look at when they pull up to your home is the big picture — the house, the yard, the trees, the flowers. It’s the impression that counts, and all it takes is one thing to ruin the effect — a cracked walkway, dead branches in the trees, leggy bushes.

As you look around at all the things you need to fix or update to sell your home, it can be overwhelming. Many sellers struggle with the costs, the decisions, and the time it takes to market their homes. Since most landscaping isn’t permanent, you may think it’s not as important as other projects that need to be done, but you should strongly consider putting it in the marketing budget.

You can do some of the work yourself or you can get help. But here are five jobs you can do that help you make the most of your home’s drive-up appeal.

  1. Get rid of anything dead. Dead leaves, flowers, and trees do nothing for your curb appeal. Snip it, rake it and bag it. As you finish, you’ll see blank areas. Fill these in with fresh flowers, small bushes, potted plants or yard art. No Gnomes or flamingoes need apply.
  2. Cut and weed the grass. If you mow your own lawn, make sure it’s freshly mowed every week. Pull or spray weeds so the texture of the grass will be more pleasing.
  3. Replace or hide leggy bushes. Nothing makes a front entry look more dated than bushes with longer legs than torsos. Pull them out and replace them, or if it’s more expedient, plant boxwoods or other small bushes in front. You can also cover a lot of blank areas with mulch, wood chips or gravel.
  4. Improve both hardscapes and softscapes. Decorative stone, tile, brick, concrete or wood can add a lot of appeal to the softer elements such as flowers, plants, grasses and ground cover. Landscaping doesn’t have to end at the porch. Bring color and vitality to the entry with potted plants and flowers.
  5. Light the way. Landscape lighting doesn’t have to be expensive. Lanterns to line the walk, or the occasional uplight for the trees can have a glamorous effect on the exterior of your home. Lighting provides security as well as spotlights what you want to call attention to — a beautiful tree, a flower bed or an architectural element of the house.

If you’re not sure where to begin, go to your local supply with a sketch or photo of your home and ask for ideas. Explain that you’re selling your home and you need help with curb appeal. You may get a lot of free advice that’s really helpful.

ST. CHARLES REAL ESTATE IS BOOMING IN 2015

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The numbers are in and the real estate market in St. Charles County is off to a fast start in 2015!  Through the end of February pending sales are up 27.25 percent over the first two months of 2014!  Plus, the units sold are up over 15 percent over the same period one year ago!  In more good news for home sellers the median sales price rose 1.74 percent and on average it took just 51 days to find a buyer for their home.  If you are thinking of buying or selling a home in St. Charles county, call The VIP Group. We are experts in the area!

RAISE YOUR HOME’S VALUE INSTANTLY

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Your real estate professional is advising you to de-clutter, stage your home, plant new flowers, and make repairs and updates. You may be reluctant because of the costs, but according to a recent study, your real estate agent is giving you sound investment advice that can actually make you more money when you sell your home.

Listed are the top 10 home improvements under $1,500 that add the most to home sellers’ bottom line, as recommended by real estate professionals across the nation.

The top 10 home improvements are listed by the greatest return on investment (ROI):
1. Cleaning and de-cluttering ($290 cost / $1,990 price increase / 586% ROI)
2. Lightening and brightening ($375 cost / $1,550 price increase / 313% ROI)
3. Home staging ($550 cost / $2,194 price increase / 299% ROI)
4. Landscaping ($540 cost / $1,932 price increase / 258% ROI)
5. Repairing electrical or plumbing ($535 cost / $1,505 price increase / 181% ROI)
6. Kitchen and bathroom ($1,265 cost/$3,435 price increase/172% ROI)
7. Replace or shampoo carpets ($647 cost/$1,730 price increase/169% ROI
8. Paint interior ($1,012 cost/$2,112 price increase/109% ROI)
9. Repair floors ($931 cost/$1,924 price increase/107% ROI)
10. Paint exterior ($1,467 cost/$2,222 price increase/51% ROI)

What’s interesting is how consistently listing agents recommended the same home improvements. Nearly 100% of listing agents recommend cleaning and de-cluttering, while 97% recommended lightening and brightening and 80% recommended staging. These top three categories cost just a little over $1,000, yet netted sellers as much as $5,734 at closing.

The top three money-makers for sellers are:

Cleaning and decluttering: Remove personal items; wash and clean all areas inside and outside of house; freshen air; remove clutter from furniture, counters and all areas of the home; organize closets; polish woodwork and mirrors, etc.

Home staging: Add fresh flowers; remove personal items; reduce clutter; rearrange furniture; add new props or furniture to enhance rooms; play soft music; hang artwork on walls, and more.

Lightening and brightening: Open windows; clean windows and skylights inside and outside; replace old curtains; remove other obstacles from windows that block out light; repair lighting fixtures; make sure windows open easily, among other suggestions.

It takes money to make money, and that’s never been truer than when you’re selling your home.

MILLENIALS BELIEVE IN HOMEOWNERSHIP AND REALTORS

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For the second consecutive year, NAR’s study found that the largest group of recent buyers was the millennial generation, those 34 and younger, who composed 32 percent of all buyers (31 percent in 2013). Generation X, ages 35-49, was closely behind with a 27 percent share.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the survey highlights the untapped demand for homeownership that exists among young adults. “Over 80 percent of millennial and Gen X buyers consider their home purchase a good financial investment, and the desire to own a home of their own was the top reason given by millennials for their purchase,” he said. “Fixed monthly payments and the long-term financial stability homeownership can provide are attractive to young adults despite them witnessing the housing downturn and subsequent slow recovery in the early years of their adulthood.”

With millennials entering the peak buying period and expected to soon surpass boomers in total population, Yun believes the share of millennial purchases would be higher if not for the numerous obstacles that have slowed their journey to homeownership. “Many millennials have endured underemployment and subpar wage growth, and rising rents and repaying student debt have made it very difficult to save for a downpayment. For some, even forming households of their own has been a challenge.”

Searching for and Buying a Home
Regardless of their age, buyers used a wide variety of resources in searching for a home, with the Internet (88 percent) and real estate agents (87 percent) leading the way. Millennials were the most likely to use a real estate agent, mobile or tablet applications, and mobile or tablet search engines during their search; Gen X buyers were the most likely to use an open house.

Although the Internet was the top source of where millennials found the home they purchased (51 percent), they also used an agent to purchase their home at a higher share–90 percent than all other generations.

 

DECORATING YOUR HOUSE TO SELL

From the outside, your home is that perfect mix of classic and modern, with a nice wide lawn, mature trees, and the perfect smattering of flowers. It’s in a desirable neighborhood with good schools, and it’s even priced competitively. So why isn’t it selling?

Perhaps it has something to do with the inside. Yes, you’ve got an open floor plan and four spacious bedrooms and granite countertops and nice hardwood floors. But the rest of it…well, it leaves a lot to be desired. And by “the rest of it,” we mean your décor.  Face it. Your style is outdated.

As long as you don’t mind what people say about you, it’s perfectly OK to have bad style – except when you’re trying to sell your home. This is the time when you have to appeal to the masses, or at least create a foundation of attractive style that others will notice, or that is neutral enough to disappear and allow the home’s great features to shine. If it’s too bold, too bright, too tacky, too out there, too out of style or just plain U-G-L-Y, your house might just linger on the market, turning off all who tour it.

Here’s how you can avoid having the unsellable pad: decorate your house to sell.

What does it mean?

Decorating to sell means highlighting your home’s strengths, downplaying its weaknesses, and appealing to the greatest possible pool of prospective buyers. A few easy tips can help you to do this on your own but if it’s a larger undertaking or if you simply don’t trust your taste (and good for you for admitting it!), staging companies can help.

How do you do it?

Decorating to sell concentrates on three main areas: making the home look bigger, making it look updated, and showing off its best features.

Make it look bigger

Too much furniture in a space can make it feel small. Pare down where you can, taking extra tables and large knickknacks out of living rooms and any extra furniture out of bedrooms. If the bedrooms are small, consider taking out large nightstands that make it feel tight and replacing with small tray tables covered in a simple tablecloth.

A space can also look smaller because of how the furniture is set up or if it’s crammed full of accessories.

“Shoving furniture against the wall doesn’t guarantee a larger room. Try angling your bed or our favorite trick of floating the sofa in the living room with a skinny console behind it. Breathing room around your furniture lends the appearance of more space,” said The Nest.

You probably cleared off your table surfaces to move the furniture around. Don’t put it all back. Instead, put back a few key pieces to keep it airy, and pack the rest away. You’ll need to pack up for your move soon anyway!

Now that you’re an expert at decluttering, apply your skills to the rest of your home. In the kitchen and bathrooms, sweep almost everything off of the countertops so buyers can get a true look at the space. Make sure fireplace mantels are highlighting a few pretty items (think candles!) and pack up the rest.

 Make it look updated

You don’t have to redo your whole kitchen to make your house look new. Small changes can make a big difference. Old cabinets can be made to look new with a few coats of paint and some new hardware. Replacing your appliances won’t be cheap, but you just might make up the difference in your sales price. And, you can probably take the new fridge with you.

When your place is old or just looks that way, a new coat of paint on the walls is an easy and impactful way to freshen up your space. But, make sure it’s neutral.

“Paint interior walls with neutral colors, like beige, cream or light pastels,” said Front Door. “Pale blues and greens are good for bathrooms.”

If your furniture and/or furnishings are old or old-fashioned, it might just be time to swap out. If you’re not looking to spend money on new stuff now, remove the biggest offenders and do what you can to update others. Often, all you need is a can of paint. Get some ideas on Pinterest.

Show off your best features

When you’re selling your home, you want to strut your stuff by showing off its sexiest features. Scan your house room by room. Are you hiding its best assets, like a fireplace that’s obscured behind furniture or big, bright windows that are shrouded behind dark drapes? Might as well just go chuck your wallet down the hill.

Clear out, open up, move away anything that is taking away from the great stuff your house has to offer. If you don’t let buyers see what makes your home special, they won’t see it as special. And it might just sit there, getting older. And sadder. Just like you.

You can get more ideas for decorating your home to sell on Front Door.

Five Reasons Why You Need A Real Estate Agent

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It is now common knowledge that the U.S. housing market has recovered from the crash of the mid-2000s. Home prices jumped a whopping 11.3 percent in 2013, increasing in 83 out of the 100 largest U.S. metros. Despite low inventories, home sales have improved greatly from their post-crash levels, thanks in part to comparatively low mortgage rates.

Despite all this good news for homebuyers, it’s still advisable that they work with a real estate agent. Here are the top five reasons why this is the case.

1. Better Access/More Convenience
A real estate agent’s full-time job is to act as a liaison between buyers and sellers. This means that he or she will have easy access to all other properties listed by other agents. Both the buyer’s and seller’s agent work full time as real estate agents and they know what needs to be done to get a deal together. For example, if you are looking to buy a home, a real estate agent will track down homes that meet your criteria, get in touch with sellers’ agents and make appointments for you to view the homes. If you are buying on your own, you will have to play this telephone tag yourself. This may be especially difficult if you’re shopping for homes that are for sale by owner.
Similarly, if you are looking to sell your home yourself, you will have to solicit calls from interested parties, answer questions and make appointments. Keep in mind that potential buyers are likely to move on if you tend to be busy or don’t respond quickly enough. Alternatively, you may find yourself making an appointment and rushing home, only to find that no one shows up.

  1. Negotiating Is Tricky Business
    Many people don’t like the idea of doing a real estate deal through an agent and feel that direct negotiation between buyers and sellers is more transparent and allows the parties to better look after their own best interests. This is probably true–assuming that both the buyer and seller in a given transaction are reasonable people who are able to get along. Unfortunately, this isn’t always an easy relationship.
    What if you, as a buyer, like a home but despise its wood-paneled walls, shag carpet and lurid orange kitchen? If you are working with an agent, you can express your contempt for the current owner’s decorating skills and rant about how much it’ll cost you to upgrade the home without insulting the owner. For all you know, the owner’s late mother may have lovingly chosen the décor. Your real estate agent can convey your concerns to the sellers’ agent. Acting as a messenger, the agent may be in a better position to negotiate a discount without ruffling the homeowner’s feathers.
    A real estate agent can also play the “bad guy” in a transaction, preventing the bad blood between a buyer and seller that can kill a deal. Keep in mind that a seller can reject a potential buyer’s offer for any reason–including just because they hate his or her guts. An agent can help by speaking for you in tough transactions and smoothing things over to keep them from getting too personal. This can put you in a better position to get the house you want. The same is true for the seller, who can benefit from a hard-nosed real estate agent who will represent their interests without turning off potential buyers who want to niggle about the price.

  2. Contracts Can Be Hard To Handle

    If you decide to buy or sell a home, the offer to purchase contract is there to protect you and ensure that you are able to back out of the deal if certain conditions aren’t met. For example, if you plan to buy a home with a mortgage but you fail to make financing one of the conditions of the sale–and you aren’t approved for the mortgage–you can lose your deposit on the home and could even be sued by the seller for failing to fulfill your end of the contract.
    An experienced real estate agent deals with the same contracts and conditions on a regular basis, and is familiar with which conditions should be used, when they can safely be removed and how to use the contract to protect you, whether you’re buying or selling your home.

  3. Real Estate Agents Can’t Lie

    Well, OK, actually they can. But because they are licensed professionals there are more repercussions if they do than for a private buyer or seller. If you are working with a licensed real estate agent under an agency agreement, (i.e., a conventional, full-service commission agreement in which the agent agrees to represent you), your agent will be bound by common law (in most states) to a fiduciary relationship. In other words, the agent is bound by license law to act in their clients’ best interest (not his or her own).
    In addition, most realtors rely on referrals and repeat business to build the kind of clientèle base they’ll need to survive in the business. This means that doing what’s best for their clients should be as important to them as any individual sale.
    Finally, if you do find that your agent has gotten away with lying to you, you will have more avenues for recourse, such as through your agent’s broker, professional association (such as the National Association Of Realtors) or possibly even in court if you can prove that your agent has failed to uphold his fiduciary duties.
    When a buyer and seller work together directly, they can (and should) seek legal counsel, but because each is expected to act in his or her best interest, there isn’t much you can do if you find out later that you’ve been duped about multiple offers or the home’s condition. And having a lawyer on retainer any time you want to talk about potentially buying or selling a house could cost far more than an agent’s commissions by the time the transaction is complete.

 

  1. Not Everyone Can Save Money
    Many people eschew using a real estate agent to save money, but keep in mind that it is unlikely that both the buyer and seller will reap the benefits of not having to pay commissions. For example, if you are selling your home on your own, you will price it based on the sale prices of other comparable properties in your area. Many of these properties will be sold with the help of an agent. This means that the seller gets the keep the percentage of the home’s sale price that might otherwise be paid to the real estate agent.
    However, buyers who are looking to purchase a home sold by owners may also believe they can save some money on the home by not having an agent involved. They might even expect it and make an offer accordingly. However, unless buyer and seller agree to split the savings, they can’t both save the commission.

The Bottom Line

While there are certainly people who are qualified to sell their own homes, taking a quick look at the long list of frequently asked questions on most “for sale by owner websites suggests the process isn’t as simple as many people assume. And when you get into a difficult situation, it can really pay to have a professional on your side.

STAY SANE WHILE SELLING YOUR HOME

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While many of us love the idea of moving to a new home, seldom is the process of selling, buying, and moving very appealing. It can be overwhelming to prepare your house for sale and keep it sparkling clean to show prospective buyers, all the while navigating the sometimes tricky waters of financing a new home. Few would argue, though, that the end result isn’t worth the effort: a new home that better suits your needs and lifestyle.

Here are a few tips that can help you streamline the buying-selling-moving process and keep your cool even when there are bumps in the road:

Hand over the reins. There’s a reason you have a real estate agent – he or she is the expert you have enlisted to help you with the ins and outs of what can be a very involved process. Rely on your agent’s advice when deciding how to price your home to sell in the market where you live. Ask for tips on staging your home for sale. Let your agent come up with a marketing plan designed to entice buyers. By handing over so much of the leg work to your agent, you’ll have more time on your hands to shop around for a new home and pursue financing.

Keep it simple. Start the process of selling your home with a major de-cluttering project. Rent a Dumpster, post items for sale on Craigslist or eBay, fill up a storage unit, and donate anything you don’t regularly use to a local charity. Once you divest yourself of unwanted clutter, you’ll find that you’re in a more comfortable position to stage your home. As a bonus, you’ll have fewer belongings to deal with once you move into a new home.

Keep track of daily, weekly, and monthly responsibilities with checklists and spreadsheets so that you don’t forget to do anything – from tasks as simple as remembering to take out the garbage to more complicated processes like creating a timeline for handing in application materials for a new mortgage loan.

Take a break. Just as with any other complicated process, it’s important to schedule some time for yourself in order to maintain your sanity. Try to keep a semblance of normalcy by continuing with routines, whether it’s regular trips to the gym, movie nights, or treating yourself to a massage. A night out or weekend away can help reset your outlook if the process begins to take its toll.

Focus on your goal. There is sure to be at least a glimmer of uncertainty in any home sale. Make sure that when glitches arise, you can keep your eye on the prize. By focusing on the future – and your life in your new home – you’ll be able to get through the moments when it all seems a bit overwhelming.

A home sale can be both exciting and intimidating. With a little patience, a dash or organization, and a partnership with capable realtors, like The VIP Group, you’ll be on your way to your new home in no time.

DON’T ASSUME YOU CAN’T GET A MORTGAGE LOAN

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According to the latest J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Primary Mortgage Origination Satisfaction Study, first-time homebuyers report challenges with understanding the mortgage process and the options that are available to them. It also suggests that lenders may be doing a poor job of educating and helping borrowers navigate the loan process.

Among survey respondents purchasing a home, 58 percent were first-time home buyers, yet only 29 percent of homebuyers in the last three months were first-timers, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. The percentage of first-time homebuyers has been less that 30 percent for 17 of the past 18 months. The reason the number is significant is that it’s well below the long-term average of 40 percent.

Nearly half (48 percent) of first-timers headed to a brick and mortar lender to meet with a loan representative and receive personalized advice, yet even then, 43 percent reported that they did not completely understand the process. And only 41 percent of first-timers said their loan officer completely explained the types of loans, terms, special programs, fees and options to reduce their down payment.

First-timers want more transparency in the process, but transparency works both ways. Lack of experience and uncertainty about the process may keep first-timers from asking the right questions that could result in the right loan. Buyers may also be reluctant to share key financial information that could help the lender provide better guidance.

For all these reasons, you should assume that your chances of getting a loan are better than you think, but only if you’re willing to do two things — ask questions and share information.

Here are some suggestions to help you:

  1. 1. Look for a lender who is willing to take time with you. Be upfront that you’re a first-time buyer and that you want to understand the process better. If you don’t know a good lender, ask for referrals from people you know who have recently purchased a home.
  2. 2. Be willing to provide basic information your lender needs — income, debts and obligations such as child support or student loan.
  3. 3. Share your plans and dreams. If you want to flip the home in two years, say so. If you want to live in it for 10 years, say so. It will make a difference in the type of loan your lender recommends.
  4. 4. Come clean about any problems you think you may have getting a loan. If you weren’t so great at paying bills while you were in school, you may have hurt your credit rating. Tell the lender that you may have possible derrogatories and what you’ve done to repair the damage.
  5. 5. Be flexible about your goals and don’t try to get a loan that’s beyond your means. You’ll build equity and wealth much more quickly if you buy a home you can comfortably afford.

Call VIP Group if you need a referral to a qualified mortgage professional!

BUILDER CONFIDENCE HITS HIGHEST LEVEL SINCE NOVEMBER OF 2005!

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Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes rose for a fourth consecutive month in September to a level of 59 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). This latest four-point gain brings the index to its highest reading since November of 2005.
“Since early summer, builders in many markets across the nation have been reporting that buyer interest and traffic have picked up, which is a positive sign that the housing market is moving in the right direction,” said NAHB Chairman Kevin Kelly.
In general, this is a good time to house hunt. Prices have gone up, but buyers can still take time to shop carefully.  And mortgage rates are still attractive.

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF HOME BUILDERS, SEPTEMBER 17, 2014

SALES OF NEW U.S. HOMES SURGED IN AUGUST TO SIX-YEAR HIGH!

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New-home sales in the U.S. surged in August to the highest level in more than six years, a sign that the housing recovery is making progress. Purchases of new houses jumped 18 percent to a 504,000 annualized pace, the strongest since May 2008 and surpassing the highest forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists. The one-month increase was the biggest since January 1992.

“Sales could come in a little faster in the second half of the year,” said Ryan Wang, an economist at HSBC Securities USA Inc. in New York. “The housing market is stable.”

Article from: BLOOMBERG, SEPTEMBER 24, 2014

Autumn Maintenance Tips-More Than Just Raking Leaves!

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Home Exterior

  • Regularly clean gutters and downspouts. Make sure all drainage areas are unblocked by leaves and debris. Consider installing gutter guards to make the job a lot easier.
  • Use a screwdriver to probe the wood trim around windows, doors, railings and decks. Use caulk to fill the holes or completely replace the wood.
  • Lower humidity and cooler (not yet cold) temperatures make fall a good time to paint the exterior of your home.
  • Inspect your roof, or hire a licensed professional to examine your roof for wear and tear. If the shingles are curling, buckling or crackling, replace them. If you have a lot of damage, it’s time to replace the entire roof. Also, check the flashing around skylights, pipes and chimneys. If you have any leaks or gaps, heavy snow and ice will find its way in.
  • To prevent exterior water pipes from bursting when the weather gets below freezing, turn off the valves to the exterior hose bibs. Run the water until the pipes are empty. Make sure all the water is drained from the pipes, if not; the water can freeze up and damage the pipes.

Keeping Warm

  • Have your wood-burning fireplace inspected, cleaned and repaired to prevent chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Wrap water pipes that run along exterior walls with heating tape. It will save energy and prevent them from freezing.
  • Clean and replace filters in your furnace or heating system. Contact a licensed heating contractor to inspect and service your gas heater or furnace to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Your local utility company will often provide this service for free.
  • If you use a hot water system for heating, drain the expansion tank, check the water pressure, and bleed your radiators.
  • Check the attic to make sure the insulation is installed properly. The vapor barrier on insulation should face down toward the living space. If it is installed incorrectly (with the vapor barrier facing up) then the insulation will trap moisture causing possible water problems. Cut slits in the vapor barrier to allow moisture to escape. To install attic insulation, unroll the insulation with the paper side out. Install small pieces of insulation between the joists on the attic floor. Be careful not to step between the joists.

Doors and Windows

  • The change in temperature and humidity and normal wear and tear can cause window seals to crack and shrink.
  • Check your windows and doors inside and out for leaks and drafts. Caulk cracks or install weather stripping around windows and doors, including the garage door.
  • Replace screens with storm windows and clean them if needed.

Attic Pest Control

  • Pests love attics because they are full of nice warm insulation for nesting, and they offer easy access to the rest of the house. With gable vents that lead into the attic it is a good idea to install a screen behind them to keep those critters out.
  • Even after closing off those entryways, pests can still find a way in. The first place to check for any unwanted guests is under the kitchen cupboards and appliances.

 Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors

  • Each fall, check carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms and put in fresh batteries. These are very important detectors to have in a home. A smoke alarm can save lives in a house fire. A carbon monoxide detector can also save lives if a home has oil or gas-burning appliances, like a furnace or water heater.
  • Always install carbon monoxide detectors according to manufacturer’s instructions. Generally they should be installed near each potential source of carbon monoxide, and within ear shot of the living and sleeping areas.

GM adding third shift, 750 jobs in Wentzville

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General Motors plans to add 750 jobs at its Wentzville Assembly plant, where it manufactures pickups and vans.

GM officials said the expansion to a third shift is necessary to assist with the production of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups and Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana full-size vans.

It plans to add the third shift by the end of March.

GM said 97,000 people have built and priced the trucks on a company website, a sign of strong demand.

The Wentzville plant currently has 2,600 employees.

Gov. Jay Nixon, in praising the move Tuesday, cited incentives available to GM through the Missouri Manufacturing Jobs Act.

“Four years ago we came together to pass historic, bipartisan legislation aimed at revitalizing the automotive industry in Missouri,” Nixon said in a statement. “Thanks to these efforts and our outstanding skilled workforce, the Show-Me State is now at the forefront of America’s automotive comeback.

Cardinals’ Great Chris Carpenter Lists St. Louis Mansion!

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Chris Carpenter moved from the pitching mound to the front office earlier this year, and now the retired St. Louis Cardinals ace is looking to move on from his mansion-estate. The 2005 National League Cy Young Award-winner, who won two World Series championships with the Cards, has listed his massive home in Ladue for $3.65 million.

Records show that Carpenter purchased the 10,800-square-foot mansion in March 2007, shortly after signing a five-year contract extension worth $63.5 million. Lined in walnut and mahogany flooring and custom millwork, the open floor plan has five bedrooms, six bathrooms, a gourmet kitchen and a wood-paneled office.

Designed for entertaining, a lower level features a billiards room, a golf simulator, a 1,000-bottle wine cellar and a custom wet bar. Leading through a custom glass wall system, the walk-out opens onto a lower terrace level with a pool. An outdoor kitchen, covered lanai and a full gym can also be found on the one-acre property.

Carpenter, 39, recorded 95 of his 144 career victories in a Cardinals uniform and holds the team record for most postseason wins with 10. He missed significant time in 2012 due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, an injury that kept him out for the 2013 season. Carpenter announced his retirement from baseball at a press conference in November and has since joined the Cardinals’ front office.

Energy Cost Disclosure Could Mean Faster Sale

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A preliminary analysis of Chicago single-family homes suggests that real estate listings that include energy costs spend less time on the market and have a higher closing rate.

In July 2013, Chicago became the first municipality in the nation to include the disclosure of residential energy costs (gas and electric) when a home is listed for sale on the MLS. Real estate professionals can access an energy cost disclosure report for the property to provide to prospective buyers.

Elevate Energy reviewed 18,605 single-family homes listed between July 1, 2013 and Feb. 19, 2014 on Midwest Real Estate Data, the MLS serving Chicago. It found that 10 percent of the homes disclosed energy costs. Homes that did include disclosure of energy costs spent less time on the market, the analysis found.

For example, in Lakeview, homes that disclosed energy costs spent a median of 43 days on the market compared to a median of 63 days on the market for homes that did not disclose energy costs. Also, homes that disclosed energy costs had higher closing rates: 66 percent of homes that disclosed energy costs closed, compared to 53 percent for homes that did not disclose.

Of course, home owners whose property is more energy efficient are more likely to highlight energy cost savings, so the study’s findings may be due to an already-documented demand for greener homes.

“Home owners who invest to improve the energy efficiency of their homes should have a clear, consistent way to document those improvements when they opt to sell, and buyers deserve to be able to get a full picture of home ownership, which includes energy costs,” says Anne Evens, CEO of Elevate Energy. “Our preliminary analysis of the MRED energy disclosure data is encouraging. We’ll continue to analyze the data over time to get a more complete understanding of how listings that disclose their energy costs may or may not set themselves apart.”

Source: Midwest Real Estate Data

 

Jumbo loans are making a big comeback – what you should know

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The recent upswing in jumbo mortgage purchases is yet another sign of a real estate market returning to health. Jumbo loans – loan amounts greater than $417,000 ($625,000 in some highly affluent markets) – have typically comprised about 25% of all new mortgages.1 That number dipped to as low as 4.3% after the housing market crash and was up to 11.3% as of 2013.1 The steady increase is largely driven by the fact that rates on jumbo mortgages are at or below the level of rates on conventional mortgages for the first time in over 20 years.

A closer look at the jumbo loan market

There are a few key things to know about the jumbo loan market this year. At the buyer level, borrowers considering jumbo loans should be aware that:

Lower down payments are possible. Some large lenders have begun lowering down payment requirements for jumbo loans to 20%. It is believed others will follow suit. That makes jumbo loans even more appealing to wealthy buyers who may wish to put less cash into their home and invest it elsewhere.2

Documentation requirements can be stricter. Partial income documentation is very difficult to find. As has been the case in the past, buyers should be aware that more lenders are requiring stricter income documentation (driven by new federal regulations that don’t allow for low- or no-documentation mortgages).

Some repayment options may be harder to find. Jumbo repayment choices are more flexible than those allowed for conventional loans under January’s new federal regulations (interest-only mortgages and those that require balloon payments, for example). However, some lenders may shy away from offering certain types of repayment options because they are outside of the “qualified mortgage” protected class of loans and therefore carry more risk for the lender.2

Jumbo interest rates should remain low this year. As noted, jumbo interest rates should remain lower in 2014 due to increased lender appetite for higher loan amount transactions.

Housing market impact. Jumbo loan availability is having a positive impact on the broader real estate market, with more homebuyers finally making that “move up” purchase they may have delayed while waiting for more favorable purchase conditions. This has, in turn, also freed up more inventory in the lower priced end of the market.3

The timing is right for jumbo mortgage purchases

The bottom line is that it’s a good time to be a jumbo borrower. With interest rates far lower than they’ve been in many years and lender appetite for lending jumbo loans improving, potential buyers should be excited for 2014. Buyers should also be sure to find out exactly what lenders are offering since this may vary, but overall the opportunity for an excellent deal on a jumbo mortgage is better than ever.Sources:

  1. As housing market improves, jumbo mortgages return,” by Ben Tracy, CBS NEWS
  2. 5 ways the jumbo mortgage market will change in 2014, by AnnaMaria Andriotis, MarketWatch.
  3. Why today’s home buyers have jumbo mortgage-sized dreams,” by Beth Pinsker, Reuters.com

Are Mortgages Becoming Easier to Obtain?

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Lenders are reportedly easing credit standards. Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, recently announced it has cut its minimum credit score for borrowers of Fannie Mae and Freddie-backed loans from 660 to 620.

Borrowers with lower credit scores must prove their ability to sustain home ownership, however, says Frank Codel, head of production for Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo is looking for “compensating factors” to close the loan, such as requesting an explanation of a credit history event, reviewing the strength of income and stability of employment. But some borrowers are also have an easier time including gifts from relatives as part of a down payment. And in January, the bank began accepting borrowers with credit scores of 600—down from 640—for FHA loans.

Other smaller lenders have also cut some of their requirements recently too. For example, the U.S. unit of Toronto-Dominion Bank has lowered down payments to 3 percent without, in some cases, borrowers having to pay mortgage insurance, Bloomberg News reports.

Following the housing crisis, banks tightened up credit standards. The Urban Institute estimates that up to 1.2 million loans were prevented from being made in 2012 due to the tightening of credit. Lenders mostly concentrated on the refinancing business, but as rates have risen in the past year, refinancing has fallen drastically. Lenders are now looking to the purchase market to ramp up their business.

Credit standards are at the loosest point in at least two years, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association index, reflecting March data.

What’s more, Morgan Stanley data shows that nearly 16 percent of the mortgages for home purchases in March were issued to borrowers who had monthly debt obligations exceeding 43 percent of their pay—up from 13.4 percent in mid-2012.

Source: “Wells Fargo Joins Lenders Lowering Credit Standards,” Bloomberg News (May 1, 2014)

6 WAYS TO BOOST CURB APPEAL

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1. Paint exterior doors, trim and shutters Freshen the shutters, trim and front door by splashing on a fresh coat of paint. This is a great time to add a swatch of color to a neutral exterior that helps it pop to prospective homebuyers. If you need professional help, the cost of a small paint project averages between $600 and $800.

2. Accent sidewalk and drive with lighting If you have a showing in the evenings, outdoor lighting can accent your home exterior and light the path to the front door. The best method is to install landscape lighting along the sidewalk or driveway. Consider installing LED lights or solar-paneled lamps to save on electricity.

3. Add art to the lawn Garden art can help to really sell the front lawn, if homeowners place the right pieces. Although gnomes might not be best, windmills, rock gardens or wireframe animals could add to the landscape. This Old House lists various ways for homeowners to create a secret garden with cheap art, including a do-it-yourself leaf birdbath, recycled bricks and iron rings.

4. Clean up the yard A green, well-maintained yard should be the key selling point when buyers drive up. Shrubs, trees, flower beds and the lawn need to be in top shape to complement the home exterior. If homeowners don’t want to worry about maintenance, they can hire landscaping professionals. For example, hiring a professional arborist to trim or prune trees will cost between $390 and $580 depending on the scope of the work. General tree and shrub maintenance, such as fertilization and pest control, will cost between $260 and $440 according to ImproveNet.

5. Wash the siding and walkway Snowstorms and other winter weather patterns often cover driveways and siding in dirt and grime, which decreases the exterior appeal. Homeowners can remedy this by washing those areas down. To save time, they can also hire a professional for approximately $300 to power wash these areas.

6. Throw in more colors If the snow or deep freezes might have killed some plants, homeowners can plant new flowers of various colors to brighten the front yard and increase curb appeal. Better Homes and Gardens released a list of the must-grow trees, shrubs and vines for 2014 with types to fit any kind of landscape such as hydrangeas, magnolias and lilacs.

*Source:  http://realestate.msn.com/blogs

GREAT NEWS FOR ST. CHARLES COUNTY HOMEOWNERS!

 

 

 

Homeowners in St. Charles County continue to see increases in the value of their homes. In the first quarter of this year, the median sales price in St. Charles County increased $11,363 or 7.2 percent over the same time last year. The average days on the market remained steady at 68 days.

The extreme winter weather did take its toll on market activity. The number of units sold decreased by 13.53 percent over last year, while the sales volume decreased by 7.35 percent. The numbers show that as the weather improved, so did market activity. Pending sales in March were 477, the exact same as last year at this time.

Don’t delay, take advantage of the improving market!  If you are thinking of selling call The VIP Group now.

BUY NOW OR WAIT? THE MORTGAGE FORECAST FOR 2014

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Every homebuyer hopes to get the best possible mortgage interest rate. Lucky homebuyers have been able to snag some extremely low rates. But with the economy headed gradually in a positive direction, the Federal Reserve won’t maintain such low interest rates forever.

Most mortgage bankers agree that rates will rise over the next twelve months – perhaps rising above the five percent mark as soon as the second quarter of 2014.

What does this mean for homebuyers? Prospective buyers should not waste time in shopping for a mortgage. With more stringent lending guidelines and new policies, the application process may take a little longer. Anyone looking to buy a home should begin the loan pre-approval process as soon as possible in order to lock in the most attractive rates possible before they begin to rise.

We work with some of the best mortgage professionals around!  Call VIP Group today and we can help you get that process started, so we can get you in that new home quickly!

 

REALTY TIMES, JANUARY 30, 2014

HIGHER HOME PRICES LEAD TO MORE SALES RETURN

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If home prices edge higher, the housing market will see higher home sales, according to a new white paper by two senior economists with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The economists note that it’s the higher prices that entice owners to sell their homes, thereby helping to alleviate current inventory shortages.
Many sellers are still waiting out the market until home prices rise more, economists William Hedberg and John Krainer write in an article in the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Economic Letter titled “Why Are Housing Inventories Low?” In the past year, existing-home prices have edged up 11.7 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors®.*
This means that if you have been thinking of selling in Lake St. Louis, O’Fallon, Dardenne Prairie, Wentzville, or St. Peters, there has never been a better time! Call VIP Group for more information.

*DAILY REAL ESTATE NEWS

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