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  • Slaying That Credit Score - New Tips For A New Year

    Getting ready to buy a house or just thinking about it? Where to buy, what to buy, and how you'll afford it are probably top of mind. But if you're not also concentrating on your credit score - and by concentrating on, we mean actively trying to raise your scores as much as possible - you're not looking at the whole homebuying picture.

    Not only can does your credit score factor greatly into what you'll pay for your house, it can keep you from being able to buy one, period. "Your credit history determines what loans you will qualify for and the interest rate you will pay," said eloan. "A credit score provides an easy way for lenders to numerically judge your credit at a point in time. It gauges how likely you are to repay your loan in a timely manner. The better your history appears, the more attractive you become as a loan customer."

    Thankfully, your credit score is not static; it can (and does) change all the time, and there are all kinds of ways to improve it, some better than others. We're running down the smartest options to boost your score in the new year.

    Shoot for perfection

    850 is the best score you can possibly get, and, while it may seem completely out of reach, there are people who actually crest that credit mountain and reach the top. "It's the Holy Grail of all credit scores: 850. On the widely used FICO credit score scale, approximately one in every 200 people achieves perfection, at least as of a 2010 estimate by the Fair Isaac Corporation," said The Motley Fool. Careful budgeting and detailed attention to every aspect of their financial picture are the umbrella tactics they use to get and maintain that score - and they're ones you should be using, too.

    Or, shoot for 750

    If 850 is out of reach within a reasonable timeframe (reasonable being the maximum amount of time you want to wait before buying a home), try for 750. This is the magic number for many lenders and creditors. "It puts the ball completely in the corner of the consumer rather than the lender, said The Motley Fool. "You'll often have lenders fighting for your business, and in nearly all instances, you'll be offered the best interest rate by lenders, meaning you'll have the lowest possible long-term mortgage and loan costs of any consumer."

    Talking to your lender about the items on your credit report that have the best chance of raising your score is key. You may think that paying off that old unpaid account from six years ago is an easy way to get a score bump, but is it about to fall off of your report on its own?

    Set up automatic payments

    According to CreditCards.com, a good 35 percent of your credit score is taken from your payment history. You may have missed payments in the past that you need to deal with now, but you certainly don't want to make another mistake while you're trying to get homebuyer-ready. Almost every creditor, from your utilities to your car payment to any outstanding student loans you may have, offers the option of automatic payments. This is the easiest way to ensure you never miss a payment because you got busy or spaced on the due date.

    But, just remember to make sure there is enough cash in your account to cover the payments on the day the money will be coming out. If you have been busy moving funds into savings for your down payment, you'll want to set a reminder to put money back into whatever account your auto payments are attached to.

    Ask before you shut down credit cards

    The amount of credit you have is a factor in qualifying - or not - for a mortgage. Too much debt is a bad thing. But, long-term credit use that has been managed properly can be helpful to your score. If your lender does recommend getting rid of some of your available credit, it likely won't be older cards. "Length of credit history is considered when determining your score - so the longer you've had a credit card, the better," said CNN Money.

    Also beware that closing any card triggers a change in your "utilization," and that might not be a positive. Be sure to consult with your lender first.

    Watch your credit limits

    Banks don't look kindly on those who have used all of their available credit because it gives the appearance that you're not living within your means. "The amount of available credit you use is the second most important factor in your score," said NerdWallet. "Experts recommend you keep your balance on each card below 30% of your limit — if your limit is $5,000, your balance should be under $1,500."

    Of course, even lower is better. Get to 20% or even 10%, and you'll be in great shape. But don't go below that. While it may seem like a zero balance would indicate that you are financially savvy, banks like to see responsible credit management. That means using your cards and paying down the balance to a reasonable level every month.

    Pay down your debt…but check with your lender first

    If you're trying to weigh the best tactics for improving your credit and you don't have the funds to take care of every outstanding wrinkle on your credit report and pay down your existing debt at the same time, you definitely want to check with your lender before you make any move. Every dollar is important, and while NerdWallet notes that your credit score will "soar" as you "pay off your debt as aggressively as possible without acquiring more," it could be that your lender has a strategy that places more importance on other credit issues in your report, or has structured your credit repair according to a different timeline.

    This underscores the importance of working with a lender who is skilled and experienced in credit repair. Using the tools our lender gave us, we were able to improve our score by almost 100 points in four months, allowing us to qualify for the home we wanted and get a great interest rate.

    Don't be afraid to refinance

    You may end up buying a home before you get your credit score exactly where you want it to be. If you're in an appreciating market, which much of the country is, and your score continues to rise after you close escrow, you might be in a position to refinance sooner than you think. Especially if you buy your home with an FHA loan, their streamline refinance program can potentially lower your rate without an appraisal, a credit check, or job/income verification.

  • From Lost Socks to Dirty Dishwashers: DIY Solutions for Problems​ We've All Got

    Raise your hand if you've ever had shampoo explode in your luggage. Or if you've ever had a really unnecessary spat with your spouse about loading dirty dishes into a clean dishwasher. See? These things are totally universal problems that we all face. And that means, yes, somebody's already thought of the perfect solution.

     

    Problem: Bobby pins everywhere.

    Solution: This case from Lovely Indeed, made from a Tic Tac container.

    (Image credit: Made Everyday)

    Problem: Your family uses a billion cups.

    Solution: Everyone gets one special cup that sticks to the fridge with magnets, like these from Made Everyday.

    (Image credit: Studio 120 Underground)

    Problem: Socks keep losing their match.

    Solution: Download this $6 printable file from Studio 120 on Etsy, put it in a frame near the laundry machines and hot glue clothespins to the bottom.

    (Image credit: BrightNest)

    Problem: You keep putting dirty dishes in a clean dishwasher.

    Solution: A magnet, like this one from BrightNest, that you can turn over when you unload or run the dishwasher.

    (Image credit: Alisha Marie)

    Problem: You have too many products in the shower.

    Solution: This shower hacks video from Alisha Marie shows how to use curtain clips to hang face scrub and other bottles from a tension rod (or the towel rod, with shower rings that open).

    (Image credit: I Spy DIY)

    Problem: All your keys look alike.

    Solution: Color-code them with nail polish like I Spy DIY did.

    (Image credit: One Crazy House)

    Problem: The window blinds are always dusty.

    Solution: Make a custom tool like this one from One Crazy House with dish towels and a pair of kitchen tongs.

    (Image credit: Graceship)

    Problem: Your shampoo leaked all over your luggage.

    Solution: Unscrew the lid, cover the opening with plastic wrap and re-close the lid, just like Graceship did here. Great for packing or when you need to move with spillable bathroom and kitchen supplies.

    (Image credit: The Chic Site)

    Problem: You never know which cord is which on your power strip.

    Solution: A bit of colorful tape and a good pen will fix that, as you can see here from The Chic Site.

    (Image credit: LifeHack.org)

    Problem: Your cords keep sliding off the desk.

    Solution: Clip binder clips to the edge of the desk, then fasten the cords inside the clip handles, like here from LifeHack.org.

    (Image credit: Everyday Dishes)

    Problem: Your cords keep sliding off the desk and you can never tell which is which.

    Solution: One part binder clip, one part tape label, from Everyday Dishes

  • Easy Affordable Ways to Add Extra Counter Space to Your Kitchen

    Ask the average person and they'll tell you more kitchen counter space is never a bad thing. For about $160, Ashley of The Gold Hive added over 10 feet of additional work surface to her existing setup, which gave her more prep space, added flexibility, and filled in some awkward visual gaps in her kitchen's current layout. If you're a renter, or just don't want to spend a bunch of money, check out her three very do-able and very affordable methods.

    #1: Add a Freestanding Cabinet

     For her first trick, Ashley went over to IKEA and purchased a single kitchen cabinet to just fit the spot next to her stove. Instead of mounting it to the wall, she used adjustable cabinet feet to get the height she needed, then topped it off with a basic piece of pine wood sealed with food-safe acrylic. Bonus storage is now below the additional work space.

    #2: Fill an Awkward Blank Spot

     Next up was adding a length of wood in between her existing countertop and the wall, which she supported with some custom made wooden cleats screwed into the wall. In a super clever move, Ashley left enough space to feed her coffee maker's power cord up behind the shelf from below. Head over to her The Gold Hive to see exactly how she did it.

    #3: Hang a Traditional Shelf

     If you've done everything else, and you still want more space, hang a basic shelf in a new spot in the kitchen. Ashley used this option to get her microwave off the main kitchen counter and put it in a more out-of-the-way spot. Since it's a heavier appliance she using brackets from the hardware store for more support and to prevent any bowing.

  • 10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW WHEN BUYING A HOME

    If you are in the market to buy a home, you know it’s easier said than done. There are a few things to keep in mind and get ready for as you begin your new home search.

    Here are a few:

    1. Hire a real estate agent in the area
      The first step is to find a local agent who is familiar with the market you are interested in. This alone can be a process, so make sure you are well informed, you know what to ask and you find someone who is experienced and you can trust.
    2. Know What You Are Looking for
      This is very important. There are a lot of options out there and you must narrow the search by making a list of what your ideal home would be like. We recommend that you jot down the requirements. What are your must-haves? And then, what are you willing to compromise on and let go of. The best way to do this is to list each item you must have in your new home by priority. Then, of course, communicate those needs to your real estate agent.
    3. Consider the Costs of Homeownership
      Owning a home or even a condo costs more than just the mortgage payment so budget accordingly. In addition to your monthly payments, consider the utilities, homeowners insurance, and Home Owner’s Association (HOA) fees, if any. What about transportation and cost of living in your new neighborhood? And of course, always plan on some upgrades, repairs and necessary maintenance such as lawn mowing, pool cleaning and the like.
    4. Location Is Important
      A home is only as worth as much as it’s neighborhood. So be sure that you purchase a home in a neighborhood you like to live in. Again, make a list. What kind of neighborhood would you like? If you have children, having a school nearby is probably very important to you. How far are you willing to commute to and from work? And what is the overall feel of your ideal community? Communicate these desires to your agent and spend some time in these areas to make sure this is where you can imagine yourself living.
    5. Know Your Loans and Financing Options
      Let’s face it, every home loan advertisement looks great on paper. But what is the fine print? Make sure you know your interest rates, down payment requirements and penalties. Your local real estate agent will go over these with you, but don’t be afraid to ask if something is not clear. Also, don’t be afraid to shop around and turn down loan offers that seem troubling or confusing at best.
    6. Obtain Full Home Disclosure and Inspection
      By law, the home seller is obligated to disclose any problems with the home or condo that you are buying. However, there may be additional costly repairs and foundation problems that the current owner is not familiar with. So, in addition to getting a report on potential problems, be sure to have your agent hire a home inspector who will come out to inspect the home. In most cases, you will have to pay for the inspection but sometimes the seller will agree to cover the costs. Don’t skip this step; you don’t want to buy a home that may potentially cost you thousands of dollars in additional repairs.
    7. Get Everything in Writing
      Real estate jargon can be confusing. Get it all in writing and if you don’t understand something, make sure to ask your real estate agent. To buy a home, it is imperative that you collect each piece of information and the overall transaction in writing so that you are covered in case something goes wrong.
    8. Take These Steps Before “Closing”
      Before your purchase is final, make sure that you are able to purchase home insurance. In addition, consider purchasing a home warranty, if it’s not included in the transaction. And finally, be sure the home is in the same condition as it was when you initially agreed to buy.
    9. Remember Property Taxes
      Don’t forget that you’ll have to pay property taxes in addition to your regular mortgage payment. Make sure you work this out with your real estate agent and hire an accountant or financial adviser to assist you in understanding this obligation. Owning a home will also qualify you for certain tax deductions. It is important that you take advantage of them each year.
    10. Get Excited
      Most importantly, get excited. You will now be a proud homeowner and this is a big accomplishment. A place to call your own!
  • HOW TO HIRE THE MOST QUALIFIED REAL ESTATE AGENT

    Selling or buying a home is most likely one of the largest and most intricate transactions you will be involved with in your lifetime. Hiring a qualified real estate agent who can guide you through the process is absolutely essential. Qualified agents posses the experience and knowledge that is vital to the success of your transaction. A agent can advise you, guide you, provide all of the necessary paperwork and materials, as well as ensure that the process of buying or selling a home is completed lawfully, quickly and with ease.

    There are a lot of real estate agents out there with varying levels of experience and expertise. You want to make sure you get the best real estate agent you can. Hiring a qualified real estate agent can be tricky. The first step in the entire process is to ensure that you are working with someone who is experienced, competent and sensitive to your needs.

    Here are some tips on what to look for when hiring a qualified agent:

    • Get a referral from a trusted industry leader
      The best way to find a qualified agent is to be referred to one by someone you trust. MyAgentFinder has a perfect rating with the BBB and has thousands of satisfied home sellers and buyers. We work hard to match you with the perfect real estate agent that knows your local area and has the experience, knowledge and tenacity to get you the best deal possible.
    • Spend Time with Your Potential Real Estate Agent
      MyAgentFinder is going to match you with the agent that we think is the best match. But it’s still very important that you feel comfortable with and confident in your agent. Sit down with them before signing anything and discuss exactly what you are looking for in a real estate agent and what you expect out of the transaction. 

      This will give you more insight into the agent’s experience in handling transactions that are similar to yours. More importantly, this time will be very beneficial in determining whether your potential agent is a good match for you in terms of their personality and work ethic. Ask yourself, what does your gut tell you about this person after speaking to them for the first time? Do they appear to be trustworthy? 

      If there are any red flags or you don’t feel completely confident in this agent’s ability to get you the maximum value in a deal, just contact us and we’ll connect you with another top agent in your area that may be a better fit.
    • Explore Your Agent’s Own Success
      A agent’s success will be directly related to yours. If they are successful, knowledgeable and know how to market themselves well, chances are, they will utilize these same skills to sell your home and/or help you buy a home. Look them up online, explore their website as well as their marketing tactics and overall presence in the community. If they are successful, you will be too.
    • Communicate and Ask Questions
      Selling or buying a property will require you to sign a lot of agreements, contracts and consent forms. Be sure that your agent is familiar with all of the necessary paperwork and has the patience to explain and disclose all of the information found in the various forms that you will most likely not be familiar with. Ask questions. Ask about the different forms you will have to sign upfront so you know what to expect. Once you receive the paperwork make sure you read everything before signing and get clarification on specifics that you may be confused about. Ask, answer and communicate. Your real estate agent is your partner in crime so to speak; so don’t be afraid to talk to them about anything that comes up.
    • Does Your Agent Have Access to the MLS?
      The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is the nationwide database of homes on the market. It is extremely beneficial to have access to this information as well as have your agent list your house for sale on MLS. If the agent is only marketing your property on his/her website, this will most likely not do you a whole lot of good. The MLS is essential and any certified real estate agent you would consider hiring will have access to the MLS.

    These are just a few factors to keep in mind when looking for a qualified real estate agent. Get started now by filling in your information on the form and we’ll match you with a top real estate agent in your area.

  • THE BEST STRATEGY TO SELL YOUR HOUSE FAST

    If you are considering selling your home and you want to sell it quickly, the best strategy is to hire a local listing agent who is experienced in your market area. It is important that you do not fall for gimmicks, including various companies that will take the home off your hands for next to nothing. Rest assured that you have options and that there are strategies to sell your house quickly without giving up value. It’s key that you team up with a successful real estate agent or broker to give you the best possible advice during this process.

    Homeowners are often talked into selling their homes on their own, thinking that bypassing the process of hiring a listing agent or a broker will save them time and money. But in reality, it’s the opposite.

    If you want to sell your house fast and for the highest price possible, here are a number of useful tips:

    • Find the listing agent with the most experience selling homes in your area. MyAgentFinder has a database of 20,000 of the top agents throughout the country. We only work with the best and their stats are listed on their profile pages.
    • Connect with your listing agent of choice and let them know you want to sell your house quickly and want to discuss your options. You can contact the agent directly through their profile page on MyAgentFinder.com or you can fill out the form on this page and we’ll match you with the agent that has the best track record of listing and selling homes in your local area.
    • Research the home prices in your area so that you are well informed on what your home is worth well before you list it for sale. Your agent will recommend a listing price and if your goal is to sell your house quickly, it may be lower than it would be otherwise. Make sure you’re informed and then listen to your agent and lean on their industry knowledge and expertise.

    Hiring a listing agent will, in fact, save you time and money. A listing agent is knowledgeable and can act quickly. He or she is also familiar with your market area and can help evaluate your home as well as get the necessary professionals involved, such as an appraisers and escrow officers.

    In fact, he or she may already have a pool of qualified buyers who are interested in purchasing a home in your neighborhood, which can further speed up the process of selling your home fast.

    In addition, your listing agent will advise you on how best to stage your home, hold open house events for you and help fill out all of the necessary paperwork that you will not be familiar with.

    Another important aspect of selling your home fast is how it is presented to the potential homebuyer. Here is a short list of what to keep in mind when preparing your home for a fast and easy sale:

    • Enhance curb appeal – tidy up the outside of your home and lawn so that it’s appealing to buyers at first glance.
    • Make it welcoming – add a welcome home doormat, keep the door open and the hallways neat and free of clutter.
    • Keep it clean – clear all the clutter and get it sparkling clean and smelling good. You want potential buyers to see themselves in the home as soon as they walk in.
    • Upgrade but don’t overdo it – do some necessary repairs and upgrades, but don’t overdo it. Leave some work for potential buyers. They are going to have their own tastes and needs and you don’t want to put your money into an upgrade the buyer is going to change anyway.
    • Listen to your listing agent – he or she knows what need to be done to sell a home fast, so listen to their advice and instructions.

    When looking for a real estate agent to help you sell your home fast you want someone with a network of buyers ready to go. That’s going to be an experienced, knowledgeable agent who has done dozens or even hundreds of transactions before. 

  • 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!

     

  • 4 Tried and True Downsizing Tips for Your Next Move

    For many people, the prospect of downsizing from a larger home to a smaller one can be quite the challenge. Sorting through possessions takes time. It can be emotionally taxing. It can be liberating.

    We asked Houzz readers to share their best downsizing advice, and share they did. We gathered some of the best tips below.

     Step 1: Get into the right mindset. Many acknowledged that shedding belongings can be stressful, and several had thoughts on the benefit of doing so. "Even if you've made careful measurements and found new homes for the furniture that clearly wasn't going to fit in your new place, you may not realize until you move in that what you've brought just isn't going to work," writes Joanna Tovia of the Houzz Australia editorial team. The upside: "You have the perfect excuse to go shopping for new furniture," Tovia says. Houzz reader Lynn B agrees: "Downsizing is a wonderful time to change to a more minimal style and change your style and interior colors."

    Keep in mind that you may have a few regrets when your sorting is through, advises Houzz reader connieay. "There will be some things that you wish you had kept, but the rewards of having less stuff will be worth it!"

     Step 2: Decide what to get rid of. Often the most difficult part of downsizing is deciding what to let go of. "Holding on to our past, whether in the form of corporate work clothes or hefty grad school books, can be tempting because it feels comfortable," writes Houzz contributor Laura Gaskill. She advises spending time gaining clarity on your vision and goals for the next few years. "What are you still holding on to that doesn't mesh with that vision?" she asks.

     In the kitchen, it's wise to keep appliances that are multipurpose and frequently used, says Houzz reader Anthony Perez. "If you entertain at all, don't scrimp on the table and chairs," adds bonniedale22. Downsizing is also an opportunity to adopt a minimalist mindset with your wardrobe, according to Houzz reader andrealew, who recommends keeping on hand only enough clothes for a three-week vacation or, if you will be living in a place with seasons, three weeks per season. Some readers advised not burdening family members with discarded possessions, while others noted the wisdom of at least asking your family members if they would like any of the belongings before you toss them.

     Step 3: Make the process as easy as possible for yourself. Given the mental work involved in deciding what to keep and what to pass along, you might as well take steps that will make the process easier for you. Having a place to sort through possessions is key, according to Houzz contributor Jeanne Taylor. "To keep your job organized, you might want to create as much empty space as possible," she writes. "I recommend picking a category, perhaps holiday decor, and then pulling every item from that category out of hiding and placing it in the staging area."

    It can also be helpful to involve an organized friend, someone you can trust to help you decide what to keep and what to let go. For seniors who would be comforted by a sense of familiarity in their new surroundings, take a photo of the furniture layout and replicate it as best as possible in the new place, advises simplynancy. And on that note, taking photos of prized possessions, whether parts of a collection or simply something with a lot of memories, can make the letting go a little easier.

    Houzz reader AJ advises something unexpected: waiting until after the move to see what won't fit and getting rid of items then. "This is counter-intuitive and goes against everything you're always taught, but I wish I had done it," AJ says.

     Step 4: Maintain a lifestyle of less stuff. "When you're living in small quarters, excess items will stick out like a sore thumb," notes Houzz writer Melissa Cowan. "Use smart solutions, such as underbed storage and built-in wardrobes," she advises. And just because you're downsizing doesn't mean that there won't be upkeep. "Angel smaller house does not mean less work," Ann Haller writes. "It gets dirtier fast because you are using the same room over and over. Buy better quality furniture because it is the only thing you sit on."

     A final word: Go easy on yourself, and be proud that you're tackling a downsize. It will take some effort, for sure, but you'll get through it, with a reward of a lighter lifestyle on the other side.

  • It's A Dog's Life For Millennials: What's Really Driving Their Desire To Buy A House

    Is the millennial homebuying surge about finally "growing up" and giving up mom's home-cooked meals and laundry services? Is it about finally having student loans paid off and feeling secure enough to take on the financial burden? Perhaps it's really about getting ready to marry and have kids. Nope. Turns out none of these things could convince millennials to buy homes like their little furry friend could.

    Yep, when it comes to millennial homeownership, these are the dog days.

     "A third of millennial-aged Americans (ages 18 to 36) who purchased their first home (33%) say the desire to have a better space or yard for a dog influenced their decision to purchase their first home, according to a new survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of SunTrust Mortgage. "Dogs ranked among the top three motivators for first-time home purchasers and were cited by more millennials than marriage/upcoming marriage, 25 percent, or the birth/expected birth of a child, 19 percent."

    There were only two factors that rated higher than dog ownership: 66 percent cited a desire for more living space, and 36 percent were interested in building equity through homeownership. Presumably, they want to do so with a pup by their side.

    "Millennials have strong bonds with their dogs, so it makes sense that their furry family members are driving home-buying decisions," said Dorinda Smith, SunTrust Mortgage President and CEO of the survey. "For those with dogs, renting can be more expensive and a hassle; home ownership takes some of the stress off by providing a better living situation."

    The survey also showed how strongly homebuyers that have not yet jumped into the market feel about this issue. Among millennials who have never purchased a home, "42 percent say that their dog - or the desire to have one - is a key factor in their desire to buy a home in the future, suggesting dogs will also influence purchase decisions of potential first-time homebuyers," they said.

    Those statistics could have a real impact on multiple aspects of the real estate industry, from the way sellers stage their home; to the types of homes that builders and developers concentrate on in pockets where millennials may be looking; to pet-related homeowners' association bylaws that may be in need of review and revision. Most attached homes don't offer the kind of outdoor space millennials are looking for, but townhomes sometimes do, and they can be more affordable than single-family options; some communities have breed and size restrictions and also cap the number of dogs you can have - important considerations if you happen to be one of those dog-crazy millennial homebuyer types or are an agent who's representing one.

     Looking to sell your home and think you have a millennial target in your sights? Perhaps pointing out a good spot for a doggy door, if you don't already have one, and adding a picture of you and your dog (fake it if you need to!), a dog bed, and a basket with dog toys on the fireplace hearth before showings will help.

    Pets before kids

    Homeownership isn't the only thing millennials have delayed. Marriage and kids - if they're in the cards at all for millennials - are waiting. Pet ownership is not.

    Millennials are in age brackets that are commonly associated with the idea of "settling down," said Pet Business. "But, rather than starting families with children, millennials are instead opting for buying or adopting pets to satisfy their caretaking needs." 

    Pet ownership is up overall, led by millennials. The latest American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey shows that, "Sixty-eight percent of American households now own a pet, accounting for 84.6 million pet-owning households, up from 79.7 million pet-owning households in 2015," said Pet Food Industry. "Gen Y/millennial pet ownership has officially surpassed baby boomer ownership by three percentage points to now account for 35 percent of all pet owners."

  • Home Inspectors Are Held To Higher Standards

    A California appellate court ruling contains both good news and bad news for home inspectors. The good news is that, in the eyes of the court, home inspectors are in the same category as doctors, attorneys, accountants, and other professionals. The bad news is that being in such a category restricts their ability to limit liability in certain ways.

    Armando Moreno and Gloria Contreras purchased a 49-year-old Whittier home in August of 1998. On August 18, Deric Sanchez, doing business as Aaero Spec Quality Home Inspectors, conducted an inspection of the property on their behalf. Moreno accompanied Sanchez during the inspection.

     Sanchez's inspection noted that the heating ducts were "serviceable", although he did recommend that the buyers contract with a licensed expert to clean out the entire system, including filters.

    The preprinted contract used by Aaero Spec contained a clause providing that any lawsuit arising out of the inspection had to be filed within one year from the date of the inspection. The contract noted that, "This time period is shorter than otherwise provided by law." (Business and Professions Code section 7199 provides a four-year statute of limitations for home inspections.) Moreno, an attorney and licensed real estate broker, signed the contract and initialed the clause shortening the statute of limitations.

    Escrow closed on October 8, and the buyers moved in a few weeks thereafter. In December, both began feeling ill. Moreno was ill for one week in December and Contreras was sick for two weeks. Her illness became chronic. Near the end of summer in 1999, a culture revealed she had a bacterial infection.

    Subsequent inspections by other companies revealed, "... among other things, an unsealed air return which permitted the unit to draw dust, dirt and rust into the system. It also discovered dirt, dust and debris in the main return which permitted dust and dust mites to be distributed through the system and into the house."

    The buyers, of course, sued the inspector for negligence. Their suit was filed October 19, 1999. The inspector argued that the buyer should not be allowed to sue, because the one-year statute of limitations had run. To this, the buyer responded that the ‘delayed discovery' rule should apply, meaning that the time period during which a suit is allowed should not begin to run until the alleged negligence has been discovered.

    The Orange County Superior Court (held there because the plaintiff is a Los Angeles Court Commissioner) agreed with the inspector. The court noted that the delayed discovery rule applies to a variety of professions, but "…building inspectors really don't fall into the same public-policy circles as lawyers and doctors, possibly architects, particularly when they are sued for malpractice, and it would be something of an extension, as I see it, to put them there…"

    The buyers appealed, and the Second Appellate District agreed with them, reversing the Superior Court. The appellate court noted "...judicial decisions have declared the discovery rule applicable in situations where the plaintiff is unable to see or appreciate a breach has occurred." It went on to say, "... justification for the discovery rule has not been restricted to regulated and licensed professions. Courts have also employed the rule of delayed accrual in cases involving trades people who have held themselves out as having a special skill…"

    The reasoning is simply this. In the case of trades or professions that have special skills, a consumer may lack the ability or opportunity to recognize that negligence has occurred, even if the consumer is as diligent in observation as he is capable of being. In such situations, a statute of limitations should not begin to run until the consumer has discovered that, apparently at least, negligence has occurred.

    The court held that this is the situation with home inspections: "...most homeowners will not recognize a problem has been overlooked, or noticed but not reported, until something goes wrong and the damage becomes apparent." Thus, it held that the delayed discovery rule should apply.

  • Wow Home Buyers With These 5 Front Yard Landscaping Tips

    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.

    2. 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.

     3. 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.

     4. 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.

     5. 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 $293.

  • What Not To Do When Selling Your Home

    Unless you've never bought or sold a house before and have never looked at home listings or watched a single show about real estate (which is pretty hard these days), you have some semblance of an idea of how your home should look when you go to sell it. You probably also have a clue about how best to show off that home in photos (or, at least, you know the importance of showing off that home in photos), even if you personally lack the skill to take them yourself.

    But what happens when you ignore the rules? Does a hot market render them irrelevant? Is it OK to list a home for top dollar when the condition is more fixer-upper?

     "You might think that buyers can see the potential of a house that just needs a little bit of work, but most are looking for a house that is move-in ready and doesn't need any major repairs," said Business Insider. "And even a home that only needs minor repairs may still look like a bad deal to some buyers, turning them off based on appearance alone."

    The truth is that if you want good money for your home, you have to do a little work to get it "show ready." Buyers expect to be able to walk in to a clean, decluttered home - at the very least. If it's not updated, it better at least look like it's move-in ready.

    So how do you explain this listing, then? We'll leave the address and other identifying info out of it to protect the innocent. But a few things we can say: The home is brand-new to the market, and is no bargain, as you might think from looking at the photos; It's priced at least $10,000 over what it should be, just based on comparables, which, for a house in the low $200,000s, is considerable. The photos were obviously taken by the homeowner, who clearly didn't know how to best show off the property (although there were a couple snaps that were passable for an amateur) and who, it looks like, didn't even care enough to try to get it right by: Getting the camera in focus, cleaning out cluttered spaces, and even making sure there weren't random people in the frame of one shot.

    At least it will serve as a great example of "what not to do" when selling your home.

    1. Don't take your own photos

    We'd be remiss if we skipped over one of the main problems here before getting into the details. Don't Take Your Own Listing Photos. Oh, were we screaming? Photos that were not professionally done stick out like, well, photos that weren't professionally done.

    "You already know that a listing with pictures attracts a lot more attention than one without, but do you know how to take great pictures of a home? Whether you're an agent or a person trying to sell his own home, it's vital that you make a big first impression, and pictures are the best (and maybe only) opportunity that you will have to do just that," said Inman.

    If you absolutely insist on taking your own photos, at least consult some basic rules. Most of which were broken in the listing in question. Note that the photo below was one of the better of the bunch.

     2. Address your kitchen

    Don't want to make any upgrades to your kitchen before you get the home on the market? That'll cost you (literally). Even painting out those cabinets, a cheap and easy fix, would make a huge difference. But, if you're not going to make changes to improve this key area, at least make the most basic effort to show it in its best light by removing as much clutter as you can. That means everything off your counter tops. And your fridge. And the top of our fridge. There's no reason that stuff can't be put away for photos, and for showings. Basic staging rule #1.

    3.  Emphasize the space and function, not the other way around

    That printer on the kitchen counter top says: "We don't have room for a home office." Unplug. Put in closet. Problem solved.

     4. Always keep your selling points in mind

    People like bedrooms - clean and tidy bedrooms that they can imagine their children sleeping and playing in. What, exactly, are we trying to show off here? The dead animal on the wall? The clutter on the floor? The glare from the windows? Perhaps the unique angle of the image that ignored all those basic listing photo rules? This shot shows none of the attributes of the room and only makes a potential buyer question the seller's taste level—and gives them closet space concerns.

     5. Focus!

    Maybe check the photo to make sure nothing is blurry before posting it? Just a suggestion. Also, even if this picture was in focus, it still wouldn't be effective. You're not selling bedding, you're selling a home. This image tells a potential buyer nothing about the size or condition of the room.

     6. Show off your bathroom

    Where do we even start here? From the weird angle that doesn't show the space, to the missing light bulb, to the clutter in the shower/hanging robe, this is just all wrong.

     7. Emphasize outdoor space

    It goes without saying that showing off your outdoor space is important. A little effort to repaint the unkempt patio would have helped. At the very least, mow the yard, trim the bushes, and remove the ladder. An unkempt backyard will only make a potential buyer wonder what else needs attention, espeically if they've seen some questionable spaces indoors.

     8. Keep people out of your photos

    Stalker alert! The straggler near the fence draws attention away from the other features of the yard - which, in this case, might not be so bad, really. Still…If you only have one photo of the yard or if the best of the bunch has a person in the frame, there's still one thing you can do: Learn how to to use the camera's crop feature.

     

  • 18 Uses For Apple Cider Vinegar Around The Home

    A Multitude of Uses for Apple Cider Vinegar

    Apple cider vinegar is a multi-faceted household item. Whether you’re in a bind with a recipe, or you can’t seem to find the kinds of ingredients you need, apple cider vinegar is a likely solution to your needs. Read on to learn 18 resourceful ways to use apple cider vinegar around the home.

    Health Benefits: Using Apple Cider Vinegar for Skin Care

    1. Eczema Treatment
    For those experiencing the uncomfortable itching, swelling, cracking, and blistering symptoms of eczema, apple cider vinegar can help. The natural properties of apple cider vinegar help fight the eczema infection while providing relief from itching and dry skin. Taking a vinegar bath works to help remedy eczema.

    2. Skin Toner
    A simple combination of water and apple cider vinegar creates a highly effective skin toner. For best results, use equal parts vinegar and water and ACV to concoct the optimal skin toner.

    3. Acne Astringent

    Another home use for apple cider vinegar? It’s a natural astringent for acne. Livestrong claims that “Astringents, applied as topical skin-care solutions, cause skin tissue and pores to contract; this dries up excess oil secretions and limits pore blockage. Together, these actions help unclog the pores, leading to the shrinkage of pimples.”

     4. Sunburn Aid

    If you can’t find aloe vera, treat your sunburn with apple cider vinegar. Apply a washcloth soaked in apple vinegar to the site of your sunburn, and you’ll find a reduction in both sting and redness.

    Cleaning Aid: Using Apple Cider Vinegar for Home Cleaning

    5. Stain Remover
    Home and Garden shares that apple cider vinegar “is a veritable powerhouse when it comes to pre-treating stains, softening water, and boosting regular laundry detergents.” Check out their apple cider vinegar laundry detergent combinations.

    6. Rinsing Agent
    Put apple cider vinegar to your test during the rinse cycle too. The natural components in apple cider vinegar work wonders as a rinsing agent in your home washing machine.

    7. Fabric Softener
    The same rule applies for fabric softener. Don’t only use apple cider vinegar to clean your clothes and blankets, also put this household item to use to keep your linens and clothes feeling soft as can be.

     8. Garbage Disposal Aid

    Your clothes aren’t the only things apple cider vinegar can clean. Use apple cider vinegar to clean your home’s garbage disposal. Simply pour a bit of vinegar down the disposal with lemon and a dash of baking soda, let sit, then run the water and disposal for a thorough cleaning.

    9. Bug Repellent
    Reduce the amount of home cleaning you’ll have to do by using apple cider vinegar to proactively keep ants away. Ants tend to avoid apple cider vinegar like poison, so pour a little bit in kitchen areas where you’ve experienced ant problems.

    10. Fly Trap
    Speaking of bugs and home cleaning, apple cider vinegar also serves as a great fly trap. Keep your kitchen clean by setting out a plastic-wrapped bowl filled with apple cider vinegar. Poke a couple small holes in the plastic wrap, and enjoy your bug free eating zone!

    11. Humidifier Cleaner
    Apple cider vinegar is also known for its utility in cleaning humidifiers. Simply remove the filter and rinse with water, then add the vinegar to the tank to sit for half an hour. Rinse, dry, and the cleaning is complete.

    Using Apple Cider Vinegar for House Pets

    12. Training Cats
    Help your cat learn what areas of your home are play-safe areas by putting drops of apple cider vinegar in places where they shouldn’t be.

     13. Protecting Pets

    Apple cider vinegar can also help protect your pet from catching fleas. Create a mixture composed of half water, half apple cider vinegar to spray on your pet before he or she goes outside to help protect your creature from fleas.

    Apple Cider Vinegar Home Remedies

    14. Heartburn Relief
    If your medicine cabinet fails you, apple cider vinegar is a great aid for fighting heartburn. Mix a tablespoon of vinegar into a glass of apple juice for best taste/results.

    15. Cough Reduction
    If you’re wrestling a sore throat, heat up some hot water and add two tablespoons of honey and two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. This works for sore throats too!

     16. Help for Indigestion

    If you experience an upset stomach, turn to a glass of water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to find relief from your indigestion and stomach pain.

    Apple Cider Vinegar in the Kitchen

    17. Substitute for Buttermilk
    Apple cider vinegar comes to the rescue when you realize in a pinch that you forgot to pick up buttermilk. Save yourself the pain of going to the store by adding a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a cup of milk. Let the milk sit for at least five minutes, and once the milk thickens you’ll have buttermilk.

    18. Fortify Hard-Boiled Eggs
    To help avoid broken shells for your hard-boiled eggs, add apple cider vinegar to the water to fortify the shells.

     While we only listed 18 ways to use apple cider vinegar around the house, the possibilities are endless! For additional ways to use apple cider vinegar, check out this list of over 100 uses for apple cider vinegar around the home.

    *The information on this page is presented for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for the diagnosis, treatment, or advice of a qualified licensed professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and these materials and products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.*

  • Lessons Learned To Avoid A Stressful Move

    It's been said that moving is one of life's most traumatic events, right up there with switching jobs and losing a loved one. Having experienced all three - and having just recently moved with a toddler in tow - I can honestly confirm that, yep, moving is pretty stressful.

     We decided to move when our rent rose higher than what we were willing to pay for our apartment. But no one wants to pack and unpack, plus we faced the anxiety of transitioning our 2-year-old to new surroundings. So I decided I would control this move (and my anxiety about it) by devising the perfect moving plan.

    The Not-So-Perfect Moving Plan

    As an interior designer, I plan moves for my clients. I plan with contractors and furniture movers and closet designers. But when I had to plan a move involving my own space and things, my anxiety shot up. Add in a 2-year-old and a demanding business, and I was completely overwhelmed.

    So I got super organized. I color-coded each room and moving box. I measured our new space and created a furniture layout plan. I even created a new filing system for all the papers we unearthed in the process of packing. Of course, none of that helped when our movers didn't follow my carefully color-coded plan. Let's just say that I wasn't a lot of fun to be around during our move.

     If I could do it again, instead of striving for organized perfection, here are the things I would focus on.

    Edit Early

    I tell my clients to edit their home every year, advising them to go through closets, drawers and even take a critical eye to worn-out textiles. But I know that many of my clients probably don't do this — and the same goes for me.

    When we had our son, life took over. My closets weren't edited for over a year. My paperwork wasn't neatly filed away. And my son's items seemed endless. Kids grow and, as a result, their toys keep changing, as do their clothes and accessories. This requires a constant state of swapping out items. If you don't keep up with it every few months, you'll be drowning in baby gear.

     When moving, start clearing out every room as early as possible - ideally months in advance and definitely at least one month ahead. Try not to get bogged down in the sentimentality of every item. Trust me, on moving day, you'll be glad you pared back.

    Embrace the Chaos

    This is probably easier said than done, but giving in to the turmoil of the move rather than resisting and trying to control it will go a long way toward saving your sanity. Moving is a chaotic process, and it takes a lot of time to emerge from the chaos. There's really no way around it.

    So don't do what I did and have perfectionist expectations for getting everything done really fast. I cleared my schedule for a single week to tackle moving tasks. But that just wasn't enough time. Feeling short on time left me feeling stressed. I should have used a big red marker on my calendar to circle two months. With enough time, I might have actually enjoyed - or at least better tolerated - unearthing years of nostalgia and packing up boxes.

     Look Ahead

    One thing I realized through the move is that big changes can lead to a more productive path. And that's certainly true in our new apartment. Our closets are organized and less full, there's fresh paint on the walls awaiting new family photos, and my son loves discovering all the different places to play hide-and-seek. You can feel openness throughout our apartment.

    And I, too, feel renewed energy. I look forward to our future here in this new home. I think if I'd deliberately looked ahead during the moving process and kept my eyes on our goal — to be settled and happy in our new apartment, as we are now - I would have been less of a stress case. But I'm comforted by the fact that not only did we survive the turmoil of moving, but we learned important lessons that will help it to be better next time around. After all, we're not done yet.

     

  • How To Care For Your Wood Floors

    Your new or existing wood floors may be beautiful now, but how do you keep them looking that way?

    “Consistent maintenance,” said Chip Wade, a flooring expert, designer, and craftsman. Chip is a regular carpenter on construction shows like HGTV’s Curb AppealShowdownDesign Star and Wise Buys. He’s also appeared on Oprah and CNN. He works with wood daily and has a lot to say about caring for it.

    “Most of the work in caring for your wood floors is preventive care,” said Wade.

     “The most important thing you want to do is limit the amount of moisture you expose your floors to,” he said. He’s not a fan of mopping, or damp mopping, but says if you must, to go back behind the damp mopping with a microfiber pad to pick up any moisture that you can’t see with the naked eye. “What you really want to do is brush or sweep your hardwood floors with a soft bristle broom as often as possible, even several times a day. Hard bristle brooms can scratch your floors because silica and other items tend to get trapped in the bristles. Avoid anything with beater bars, or bristles,” he said. “They can really end up damaging your floor.”

    Preventive Care

     “As far as keeping your floors in great shape, most people underestimate the damage that can be caused by UV rays. One of the biggest killers of hardwood floors is the sun, so keep your floors protected by using curtains, or UV film you can put on your windows to cut down on UV rays,” he said. “UV rays can cause your floors to age prematurely.”

    Caring for a wood floor, Wade said, “is more about what to avoid than about what to do. For instance, walking on wood floors can do more damage than most people realize. He advises against certain kinds of shoes – anything from high heels to golf shoes, track or other sports shoes, or even smooth soled shoes with a damaged heel or nail poking through the shoe. “A 125-pound woman walking in high heels with an exposed heel can exert up to 8,000 pounds per square inch. That kind of impact can dent any floor surface,” he said. The practice of removing your shoes at the door and wearing slippers or going barefoot will go a long way in keeping your wood floors beautiful, and the feel of real wood on bare feet is a much better way to appreciate your floors anyway.

    While Wade says most homeowners worry about their pet’s claws causing damage, they really aren’t that much of a problem. “Keep your dog’s nails trimmed and their paws clean will make the difference,” Wade said. “It’s not so much the nails, as it is the mud, sand, and dirt pets track in that can create micro-scratches in wood floors, or leave stains.”

    But floors get dirty. So how do you clean them? Very carefully.

    “Never use cleaning products for vinyl or tile floors on your wood flooring either,” he said. Products for vinyl, tile or non-wood floor surfaces can damage wood, or make it slippery and dull. The only way to remedy that is to sand and refinish the floor. Never damp mop or steam clean a waxed wood floor either. Excessive moisture, and it doesn’t take much, can dull the finish or damage the wood. Even something as simple as a water spill, wet shoes, or tracking in melting snow or water can damage the wood.

    Best Practices

     “Wipe up your spills and spots immediately,” he said. “I use the product from Mohawk Flooring called ‘Floor Care Essentials’ applied directly to a clean cloth. If you have anything like tar or wax or gum, get on your floor, use ice to freeze it or make it hard, then use a plastic scraper like a credit card to carefully chip or scrape it away.”

    Consistent maintenance of your wood flooring means:

    • Daily: Sweep or dust mop
    • Weekly: Vacuum using the bare floor setting
    • Monthly: Clean with recommended wood flooring cleaner
    • Every 3 – 5 Years: Maintenance coat
    • Every Few Decades: Sand and refinish

    When to Call In a Pro

    There will come a time when your floors will look faded, worn and in need of refinishing. Should you do it yourself, or call in a pro? It depends, Wade said. “If you have experience and have done this thing before, go for it. If you haven’t, hire a pro and watch and learn so you can do it yourself next time. It’s all about your comfort and skill level as well as your proficiency. You can do it, but learn how to do it first. The same rule holds true for any Do-It-Yourself project – don’t be afraid to do it, or try doing it, but only if you have some idea of what you’re doing. If you have no idea, find someone who does who can show you how.”

    Caring for a wood floor can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. “There are dozens of good manuals and how-to tips from major flooring manufacturers. Talk to them, read about your kind of floor, and don’t be afraid to Do-It-Yourself,” he said.

     

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