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  • 8 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying and Selling at the Same Time

    Plenty of people find themselves buying and selling a home simultaneously, but knowing that others have gone through the same stress does not make it one bit easier. After all, the stakes are so high: If your buyer backs out, you don't have any cash to land your next home! Or if your own purchase falls through but your current home sells, you're homeless!

    It's all like walking across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope: The tiniest thing goes wrong, and you fall.

    Breathe in. Don't panic.

     It turns out that most buying-and-selling mistakes are easily avoidable—or at least predictable. Follow these eight tips to enter escrow with eyes wide open.

    1. Waiting too long to prep your home for selling

    Every home needs a little work before selling. You might need to repaint some scratched walls, fix broken decking, or add grout in a rarely used bathroom. Don't wait until the last minute to kick-start this process, otherwise you could wind up in a bind.

     Take, for example, one of the clients of real estate associate Kenneth Er. He was trying to buy and sell simultaneously. Er advised him repeatedly to start prepping the home, "but he kept pushing it off and pushing it off, despite actively looking for a new home and submitting offers."

    Once the client went under contract to buy a home, suddenly he and Er found themselves rushing to list his existing home. When they finally finished prepping, it was already October—precisely when the market was slowing down and it became tougher to find a buyer.

    "I advised him—and would advise anyone—to get the little projects out of the way," Er says.

    2. Skipping the backup plan

    When you're buying and selling simultaneously, the number of moving parts doubles. And if any of those parts gets jammed, it can throw off both transactions.

    For example, Miami Realtor® Juan P. Rojas was recently involved in a three-way transaction where the sellers of property A wanted to buy property B—and the sellers of property B wanted to buy property C.

    "We had to coordinate two closes and three different families moving in and out of properties," he recalls.

    It worked out, but Rojas cautions: "Assume that you won't be able to buy and sell at exactly the same time."

    And with that assumption, you better have a plan in place in case everything goes wrong. Keep your emergency fund well-stocked. In a best-case scenario, you may simply need a hotel for a week, but you may also find yourself looking into short-term rentals. Have cash on hand—in addition to your down payment funds—to survive the setback.

    3. Buying too big

    "One of the biggest mistakes that we see that simultaneous buyers and sellers make is the same one that many first-time buyers make: They fail to get pre-approved on their new loan," says Orange Country Realtor Jessica Althoff.

    Pre-approval is essential, because it puts a stop to unrealistic dreaming by telling you exactly what size of house you can afford.

    "Buyers assume that with a large down payment and increased income, they will automatically qualify for a larger home loan," she says. "Many do, but not as large as they think or wish. They begin the search and are disappointed when they can't upgrade as much as they thought they would be able to."


    4. Working with too little cushion

    You know what price your house should sell for. But what if the market softens? If you're forced to take an offer that's $20,000 less than expected, there goes the down payment on your new home.

    "Give yourself a cushion on what you need to sell your existing home for," Er says.

    If you're hoping to use the entire sale price as a down payment on another home, move forward with the assumption your home will sell for less than expected.

    One of Er's clients set a purchase budget of $2.2 million. In order to afford his new home, he needed to sell his home for about $1.3 million. Not only did he exceed his purchasing budget, Er says, "We're unlikely to get $1.3 million for his current home, due to the softening market and the time of the year. He's stressed out and scrambling."

    5. Failing to compromise

    Don't forget you're not the only human in a stressful situation. That person selling your dream home? And the buyers under contract for your current place? They're all probably stressed, too.

    So keep that in mind when issues come up—for example, if the buyers need an extra week of escrow because there was an issue selling their home, or the sellers don't think they need to fix a leaky pipe for you.

    "One mistake is expecting so much from the people selling the home, but not being willing to give anything to the buyers of their own home," Althoff says. "A little compromise goes a long way, especially when there are two escrows (or more) on the line."

    6. Using two different real estate agents

    Expect this already messy process to get even messier if you're juggling agents for your listing and for buying a new home. Simplify things by using the same agent for both transactions.

    "I would always prefer to handle both sides of your sale and purchase," says agent Michael Pacheco. "Having control and insight over both transactions allows me to make sure that we close both homes simultaneously."

    There are two instances when you should not use the same real estate agent. If you're moving out of state, look for a reputable buyer's agent in your new location. If you're remaining in the same area, you may also meet and like an agent who works exclusively with buyers or sellers — not both. In that case, ask for a recommendation within your agent's brokerage so you can, at a minimum, keep both transactions under the same roof.

    7. Closing on a Friday...

    While you should work with your agent to determine the best timing, you'd ideally want to finalize the sale of your current home first, and then close on your new one. Try to aim for closings within two or three days of the other—"and never on a Friday," says Realtor Karen Choate.

    That's because bank transfers can take a few days to go through. In order to ensure there's money in your account when the time comes, buffer a few days to transfer funds.

    8. ...or late in the afternoon

    When you're scheduling those closings, aim for the morning—especially on the sale of your current home.

    "Banks usually stop wire transfers by 3 p.m. in the time zone where the property is located," says Choate. Closing in the morning allows extra time for the money to hit your account.

  • Hey, Big Spender! 6 Reasons Why Your Higher Offer Won't Win the House

    You've finally found your dream home, and it's actually in your budget. You can swing it—with cash to spare—but with competition fierce, why not go all in and offer way above asking? The seller will be in no position to refuse, right?

    Well, hang on for a second. While cash—and lots of it—is certainly king, there are other factors that play into a seller’s decision to accept an offer.

    In fact, sometimes there are things in your purchase contract that can outweigh even your supersized offer. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But often—especially in today's red-hot market—a successful sale goes beyond money. Here are a few scenarios in which your highest offer might not land you the keys to the front door.


    1. You're not flexible on the timeline

    First and foremost among possible deal breakers is timing.

    “Sellers look at the terms to their specific situation," says Francine Brown, broker/owner and Realtor® at Brown Estate Realty in Norwalk, CT. "Maybe they need more than 30 days to move out, so if someone is pressuring them to move out sooner, that can sometimes be a turnoff if they haven't found a new home to move into.”

     On the other hand, the sellers might have already vacated the property, and are eager to unload it pronto.

     That’s why customizing the length of the closing period to meet the sellers' needs can be more important than the bottom line. Have your real estate agent find out what they need, and let them know you can accommodate them.


    2. You don't have your paperwork squared away

    Yes, we've preached and prattled on about the importance of being pre-approved for a mortgage before you start your home search. And here's just one of many reasons why: You can blow up the deal if you haven’t been pre-approved, says Sharon Paxson, a Realtor with Arbor Real Estate in Newport Beach, CA.

    Why? If you don't have the financing in place to make your initial down payment and closing costs, it doesn't matter how many dollars you promise the sellers.

    “Buyers must have that in place as opposed to tying up a house when they're not really qualified to do so,” Paxson says. “When you're ready to put in an offer, make sure your pre-approval is within 30 days or less. [If sellers] see that the pre-approval was done more than 60 days ago, that could make them wonder if you're still credit-worthy to get a loan."

    Speaking of being credit-worthy, here’s another no-no: Making a large purchase (such as a car) during the escrow period—even if you have the money to do so. It might affect your ability to obtain financing, and that'll be another major red flag to the seller.

    3. You're asking for too many contingencies and concessions

    If you’re in a bidding war for your must-have home, you’ll want to go in not only with the highest offer, but also with the cleanest one.

    “You want the deal to be as sweet and competitive as possible, so that if the seller takes it, there's a very good chance that the sale will go through,” Paxson says.

    For example, a contingency stipulating that your home must sell before you purchase the seller’s house is usually a deal breaker, Brown says.

    “The seller may not consider your offer as favorable because you're still shaky until your house actually sells,” she says.

    Another potential turnoff: Negotiating for a large concession, like for the seller to pay all of the closing costs.

    Instead, ask for the bare minimum closing costs—or none at all—and make sure the concession doesn't dip into the seller's price tag, Paxson advises.

    “So if a house is listed for $300,000, and you can go up to $310,00, then put in $310,000 with a $10,000 seller's concession,” she says.


    4. You're requesting too many things be included with the home

    On a related note: If you ask for the custom drapes, the Smeg appliances, and the Scandinavian hot tub to all be thrown in with the house, sellers might wave you off, Brown says.

    “If the sellers had put in the listing that the chandelier wasn't included, then don’t ask for it to be thrown in,” Brown says.

    You might think you're paying for all that stuff with your higher offer, but if you really want the house, tread lightly here. You risk offending the sellers if it looks like you're trying to squeeze as much out of them as possible.

    5. You haven't expressed your love—for the house

    You might not be the only one bidding high. And when similar offers are on the table, sometimes the sellers look for other factors to break the tie—that another happy family will live in their cherished home, for example. Or that the buyers won’t be gutting it and turning it into something totally different.

    So how can you sway sellers who love their home? Put some heart into your offer by giving them some idea of who you are and why you want their home.

    “I’ve seen buyers take a picture of themselves and their family. If that’s what works to make it more emotional, then do it," Paxson says. "It just depends on who your target is. If your seller is an investor, they’re probably not going to care—they just want the money. But if they raised their family there and want to sell it to another nice family, an emotional appeal might work.”

    Writing a love letter to the sellers can sometimes seal the deal, Brown adds.

    “A buyer may outline why they feel this house would suit their family needs and how they can keep on the tradition of what the previous owner has,” she says.

    6. You gave up after your offer was initially refused

    If, for whatever reason, the sellers reject your bid, hang in there, Brown says. Contracts that come in way over asking price tend to have a high cancellation rate, perhaps because the buyers didn’t have pre-approval and their financing falls through.

    “I make sure things always end nicely with the listing agent, and tell them that we want to be kept in the loop should there be any problems with the accepted offer,” she says.

    Ask your agent to check in every two or three weeks. Because then, instead of putting it back on the market and creating a whole new bidding war, the listing agent may just go to the next most attractive offer: yours.

  • 7 Things House Hunters Should Do Before Even Setting Foot in a Home

    Once you decide to buy a home, the first thing you (understandably) want to do is pop into open houses and fantasize about your new life in your new digs.

    It is a crucial part of the process. But jumping straight into the deep end could land you in trouble—both financially and emotionally.

    Take it from me: When my husband and I bought our first house, we launched into the search without prepping properly. We fell in love with a two-bedroom bungalow far too quickly (it was one of the first homes we saw), and spent the entire closing process playing catch-up. We rushed to get a loan approved; we scrambled to understand our contingency options; and in the end, the home turned out not to be exactly what we needed.

     I've made a promise to myself: Next time, I'll think things through and prevent buyer's remorse. And I urge you to, too. I talked with real estate pros to find out the things you should do before you ever set foot in a home.

    1. Get your credit in order

    Good credit is essential when buying a home. A poor credit score can lead to a higher interest rate and, by extension, a higher monthly payment. Dings on your credit—e.g., an old debt that's been turned over to a collection agency, or a high credit card balance—can even prevent you from buying a home.

     "You would think that, having heard so much about credit, people would know exactly what their credit is, but often they don't," says Marie Bromberg, a real estate agent with Corcoran in Brooklyn, NY. "Not knowing sets you back—a difference of 10 points can make a significant difference in your loan product."

     Before you start house hunting, pull your credit report ( is a reputable and free service) and address any problems dragging down your score.

    2. Get pre-approved

    Before setting foot in a home, find a reputable lender and get pre-approved. Let us be clear: This is not a simple pre-qualification; a pre-approval uncovers exactly how much house you can afford and is an essential component of a successful offer letter.

    "Your offer means nothing without showing a pre-approval letter," says California real estate agent Shelton Wilder.

    Don't have a lender yet? Don't worry. Your agent can recommend local lenders, or you can seek out recommendations from other homeowners. Once you've settled on a lender you like, have the lender review your finances thoroughly to point out any concerns.

    3. Make a list of your must-haves

    Finally, the fun part! Now you get to start browsing home listings. In fact, feel free to start obsessively refreshing for listings in your desired area months before you start seriously looking.

    Just make sure to take extensive notes of everything you love: Do you want to be in a specific school district? Are you eager for an en suite master bathroom? Is a basement a must-have?

    "Then, pick your absolute top three and hold firm on those," says Dolly Hertz, a broker with Engel and Völkers in New York City. "If you get the rest of your longer list, or even a few of them, you're ahead of the game."

    If you have this list prepared and in hand when you visit your first home with your agent, you won't be prone to making impulsive decisions based on your gut, or getting starry-eyed over gorgeous architectural details that don't actually meet your needs.

    4. Review a residential purchase agreement

    It might feel like you're jumping the gun to think about the contract to buy a home before you even start looking for one. But home buying involves a flurry of paperwork, and you should understand what you'll sign before you're under pressure. Review a sample residential purchase agreement with your agent beforehand so you can head into this nerve-wracking process with open eyes.

    "Sometimes in the home-buying process, especially in a seller's market, the process can go so quickly that buyers don't know what they are signing and what the contingencies mean," Wilder says.

    For instance, if you're selling and buying simultaneously, you might want to include a "home sale contingency," which makes the purchase dependent on successfully selling your own home. Or you might include an inspection contingency, so that you'll have the option to back out if serious flaws are uncovered.

    5. Prepare to be flexible

    The home-buying process is filled with highs and lows. You might find a home that fits most of your criteria—but misses the mark in one big way. You might be forced to compromise, or move to an area you didn't expect.

    Before you dive in, "take a deep breath and promise yourself to be as flexible as possible," Hertz says. "You may fall in love with the kind of place you never thought you would consider."

    As an example, she recalls the search for her current home. Early on, she was "set on living in a particular town and only that town." She and her husband spent 10 months looking at homes that didn't fit the bill.

    Then, "quite by accident, my husband found a listing ad that looked intriguing, in a neighboring town we had never even heard of," she explains. "You can guess the rest: Not only was it love at first sight, but 28 years later, it still is."

    6. Explore all of your loan options

    "Often, first-time home buyers automatically sign up for the 30-year fixed," Bromberg says. "But often there are alternatives that will work for them, but are not explored."

    If you're buying a small home or studio, you likely won't stay for 30 years. Perhaps a shorter mortgage term could be useful. Or, if you have big pockets but can't quite afford an all-cash offer and find yourself repeatedly losing in bidding wars, Bromberg recommends the delayed financing option, which lets you pay cash upfront for the house—and then get a mortgage for the home after closing.

    7. Fill your cash reserves

    Don't just save up for a down payment. Make sure you've stuffed your emergency fund, too.

    In addition to having the down payment in your bank account, Wilder says, you should have an emergency fund that amounts to several months of what the mortgage payments would be.

    Having this money before you start the home search will help the loan process—it proves you're fiscally sound. And, of course, it also buffers against any potential surprises once you get the house, like a brand-new water heater going kaput.

    Don't set foot in a home without preparing yourself emotionally and financially. Laying the proper groundwork guarantees good decisions—and a home you'll adore.

  • How banks are helping you budget and track your money to avoid overspending

    What if mom always could be at your side and make you think twice about whether you really should spend an extra $50 on yet another night out with the girls? 

    OK, who really wants to hear from mom all the time? But what about your bank? Could you give up mindless spending if you got a nudge from your banker?

    As we move into the season of New Year's resolutions, expect to hear more from banks and others about how to do a better job at tracking your spending and saving more money.

    "You might not always love what you're hearing. But everybody needs a coach, a mom or a friend," said Andy Harmening, senior executive vice president, consumer and business banking director for Huntington Bank, which operates in eight states, primarily in the Midwest. 

    Huntington is running ads now that highlight a "Heads Up" alert where customers can set a monthly amount to spend on shopping, groceries or restaurants, or whatever.

    Then, during the month, the bank sends a heads up via your mobile phone, laptop or computer to keep you on track. You might get a notice like: "You've spent $300 of your $400 budget for groceries this month." 

    Can a drone stop you from spending? 

    One of the Huntington TV ads uses a clever "spending drone" that hovers above a couple on a special date night in a fancy restaurant. The young man starts out trying to order "oysters." The drone says: "Over budget." He moves on to "lobster." The drone says: "Over budget." 

    You get the picture. Soon, you'd expect the couple to run out the door, jump in the car and head to a more budget-friendly spot with a drive thru. Stay tuned. 

    The bank can help consumers who want to participate track spending by category as the customer uses Huntington debit and credit cards.

    The bank can help you get started by setting up a few budget categories based on your spending history. Beginning in early 2019, the Heads Up program will integrate artificial intelligence tools to provide customers with up to 40 key insights into their financial wellness as they set goals. 

    Talking about money around the kitchen table

    Harmening said the "Heads Up" approach came out of focus meetings where bankers literally sat with customers in their homes around the kitchen table asking them what matters the most to them. He said the "proverbial kitchen table" is the centerpiece of where real conversations happen. 

    The bank created what it calls "The Hub," a new digital banking experience that's free to all its customers. The bank is able to review spending trends for the past 12 months and help people set a budget. The bank's philosophy is that it's not just big events that require some planning and a heads up. Little everyday moments need some financial planning, too. 

    The game plan includes helping customers categorize their spending so they can better understand how to change some habits going forward. Customers also are able to set up a monthly spending limit by category. So if you only want to spend $100 a month on eating out, you'd do a better job tracking that spending throughout the month. 

     A look-ahead calendar also provides a financial view of the month to come, so customers get a better handle on when bills and deposits will hit their accounts and plan accordingly. 

    Such programs can help customers review where they're already spending money. As a result, for example, customers may find it easier to spot recurring subscriptions to services they didn't even realize they were still paying for but not using.

    Customers said they wanted help keeping their financial goals front and center, according to Huntington. 

    "They said: 'Make it easy. Be proactive. We might not always appreciate it. But we need it,' " Harmening said. 

    Watch out for big and small money drains

    Most people can use some help tracking the big money drains in their life. Maybe it's all that money they're spending buying lunch each day. Or getting a coffee on the way to work. Or splurging on a new video game or a new sweater a few times a month.

    Maybe you spend too much money when you're trying to impress a date. Or you're overtired and shopping online late at night. 

    In the old days, people would talk about using spending envelopes to set aside cash that you can use on groceries or rent. Or people would be encouraged to write down how much they were spending each day on incidentals. 

    Now we're living in a digital world where you are able to set up another sort of system. For those already facing big bills, tracking small expenditures really can add up and help with a budget.

    Take someone who is juggling college loan payments. "What happens with student lending is it creates pressure on your cash flow," Harmening said. 

    But if you're able to suddenly save an extra $100 or $200 a month, it makes it a lot easier to pay that $300 student loan bill each month. 

    Kicking mindless money habits is a theme that we'll likely hear more about in the New Year. 

    After big spending moments – which can include everything from Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales to holiday gift giving and trips to visit family – plenty of households start out 2019 in the red. Even finding small ways to cut back right now can help as many wait it out before receiving a big tax refund in February or March. 

    Take something out of the cart and put it back

    Ally Bank announced in late December that it put 48 of its customers to a test of sorts with four savings challenges to overcome "absent-minded and needless spending habits."  

    On average, the bank said, the customers found they could easily save $50 using just one of the strategies. 

    How did they do it? Some took a hard look at what they were buying each week and then focused on cutting out one or two such purchases each week.  

    Some signed up for a "shopping cart challenge" and agreed to review what's in the grocery cart before they check out. Then they'd remove a few items each trip, particularly if the goods turned out to be more of a "want" than an legitimate "need."

    Some eliminated spending money each month on services that they weren't using each month – such as streaming music, online video games and the like. Others aimed to shop "responsibly" online. The idea was to leave items in the online cart, wait a while and then avoid making whatever purchases that you can.

    Some found the best savings by reconsidering their online purchases by waiting a day or two. 

    Mindfulness is a buzzword for all sorts of things these days. Being aware of your present self and surroundings can help cut back on stress, improve sleep and, yes, maybe even control your spending. 

  • 8 Habits All Successful Home Sellers Have in Common

    What’s the secret of selling your home fast, and for top dollar? Keeping your house looking fantastic, of course! To achieve that, most successful home sellers have certain key habits in common, whether it's clearing out their mail pile every day or doing a monthly deep clean.

    So if you've resolved to sell your home this year, listen up: Here are the best habits you can adopt to proactively maintain your home all the way to a successful sale.

    Daily: Tidy up

    When your home is on the market, it's best to always have it “show-ready,” which means in tiptop shape, since buyers love an impeccably clean house.

    "I recommend my clients create a daily checklist of what to quickly tidy up before they leave for the day, so they can be prepared for last-minute showings," says Jessica Creel, a real estate professional in Phoenix. The checklist will help you get into the habit of making sure beds are made, clutter is put away, countertops are wiped down, blinds are left open, and fliers are left on the table.

    Daily: Respond to offers

    Successful sellers are in the habit of responding to offers quickly. "It's very important to strike when the iron is hot," says Bruce Ailion, a real estate professional at Atlanta's Re/Max Town and Country. "Buyers get antsy when their offer isn't responded to and begin to doubt it, because so much of real estate is emotional."

    Prepare yourself by figuring out in advance what you will and won't accept. This includes the lowest offer you will take and what contingencies you'll allow.

    Weekly: Build buzz

    Make it your mission to broadcast to friends far and wide that your home is for sale. This means promoting your listing on social media—not just once, but every week—and through good, old-fashioned gabbing. After all, you never know which friend of a friend is looking for a new home.

    Weekly: Do a deep clean inside and out

    Pick a day each week to do a deep clean of your home, to keep the daily maintenance to a minimum. If you have a pet, this might include a weekly refreshing of carpets and upholstery that may harbor unpleasant smells.

    Monthly: Purge your closets and cabinets

    "When a client approaches me about wanting to list their home, the first thing I tell them to do is go through closets and get in the habit of donating unwanted items every month," says Beverly Burris at William Means Real Estate in Charleston, SC. "Closet and storage space is extremely important to buyers, and a seller needs to make them look as spacious as possible." Getting into the habit of eliminating clutter will make it easier for you to keep your closets show-ready.

    Monthly: Maintain your exterior

    Establish the routine of ensuring your home's stellar appearance by replacing outdoor light bulbs and cleaning the front porch. Freshen up exterior paint, get a professional window-cleaning and plant new landscaping if needed. "Most buyers fall in love with a house before they even enter," says Molly Lasater, an agent in Midland, Texas, at, so this area is especially important to maintain on a regular basis.

    Monthly: Sit down with your real estate agent

    Even though you'll regularly be in touch with your real estate professional on the progress of your home sale, get in the habit of having a monthly review. You'll want a breakdown of the activity going on in your neighborhood and on your property in particular. This will keep you alert to anything that needs to be recalibrated, such as changing the price or marketing if you aren't seeing the results that you would like, says Burris. The routine of checking in can also help drive an overall strategy to sell your home.

    Annually: Make sure your home is in good repair

    Once you know a sale is in your future, it's time to get a presale home inspection, so you can get in the habit of keeping your property in shape until you list it. An inspection will allow you time to make any major repairs, meaning that you'll be able to keep the negotiation power on your side instead of the buyer's, says Shawn Breyer of Atlanta's Breyer Home Buyers.

    If you choose to forgo an inspection, a good rule of thumb is to replace mechanicals if they have reached 75% of their life expectancy. For example, if your water heater’s life expectancy is 10 years, you should replace it if it’s seven years or older.

    All these habits add up to one thing—demonstrating pride of ownership. After all, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

  • How to Get a Moving Estimate That Won't Become a Moving Target

    Newsflash: Moving stinks—and it can be even worse when you don't know how to get a moving estimate you can trust. This can lead to massive misunderstandings, when movers quote you one price before you move, and whole different (and much higher!) number after it's over.

    So what gives?

    The fact is, there are many ways to get a moving estimate, and each come with their pros and cons. Here’s what you need to know to get an estimate that won't become a moving target


    How a moving cost calculator can help

    For starters, you can get an instant estimate for your move using a moving cost calculator, which will ballpark the cost of your move based on the number rooms you have, how far you're moving, and other variables.

    In general, the average cost of a professional in-state household move is $2,300, according to the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA). That number climbs to a whopping $4,300 for an out-of-state move, based on an average weight of 7,400 pounds and an average distance of 1,225 miles.

    But keep in mind that a moving calculator is just a ballpark start. To get a more accurate estimate, you'll have to actually contact a moving company and get its take on the situation.

    Binding vs. nonbinding estimate: What's the difference?

    So you want to know precisely how much your move is going to cost? Get a binding estimate, where a moving company tells you upfront all of your moving costs, including fees, taxes, and insurance. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), movers who provide a binding estimate can't require consumers to pay any more than the estimated amount at delivery.

    There are a couple of caveats, though. Getting a binding estimate upfront may incur an initial fee. And with a binding estimate, “movers will often charge more money to build in an extra cushion, in case the move takes longer than expected,” says Scott Michael, AMSA’s president and CEO.

    By comparison, a nonbinding estimate is free, but the cost that you’re quoted is only an estimate, and is subject to change. If the nonbinding estimate is based on weight, the movers can charge up to 10% more once they get the official weight on your goods, after packing them into the vehicle and stopping at a weigh station.

    How to get a moving estimate that won't change later

    You can obtain a moving estimate over the phone, by email, or in person. Michael recommends getting estimates from at least three movers in person.

    “Doing it in person ensures that the mover will see all the items that need to be shipped, and can identify any complications in advance,” Michael says. “For instance, if there are low-hanging tree branches that would prevent the moving truck from being able to pull up to your house, that’s something you want to know ahead of time.”

    To obtain an accurate estimate, you’ll want to do a walk-through of your home with the mover a couple of weeks before your move. Michael recommends going room to room with the mover, “showing the person every single item the company is going to move.”

    Point out items that you plan to transport yourself, and flag valuables, like artwork or antiques, that need to be handled differently or insured at a higher rate. “You may need to get an insurance policy from a third party to cover extraordinary artwork,” Michael says.

    How to find reputable movers

    To find a reputable moving company, make sure it has a state license to operate—and it should be happy to show you proof.

    If you’re moving out of state, you’ll need a mover that also has a unique license number, issued by the United States Department of Transportation.

    Unfortunately, every year, thousands of people fall victim to moving fraud, according to the FMCSA’s “Protect Your Move” campaign. To avoid getting scammed, steer clear of moving companies that ask for a deposit, list a P.O. Box or a residential address, or offer a ridiculously lowball estimate.

    Once you have an estimate, it should be part of a written contract that’s signed by both parties before the move. That way, if the numbers come back different after your move is done, you have documentation that argues otherwise.

  • 10 Simple Comforts Every Houseguest Will Adore You For

    You’re expecting houseguests. Fun! You want them to feel welcome, comfortable, and — dare we say it? — maybe even a tad envious of your hosting prowess.

    No need to moonlight at hospitality school. We asked Airbnb hosts with tons of great reviews on their cozy bungalows and light-filled island condos for some quick, easy (and cheap!) ideas to turn your guest quarters into a vacation haven. Be careful, though – your guests may not want to leave!

    #1 Stock Up on Extra Chargers and Cords

     A dead phone equals getaway misery. Airbnb host Valarie D’Elia sets out a bowl with power strips and cords, outlet converters, and even an iHome speaker. Nothing sets the stage for feeling at home IRL like feeling at home digitally.

    And that includes posting your Wi-Fi name and password in the guest room so they don’t have to bug you.

    #2 Offer Sample-Size Toiletries in Your Bathroom

    Put your stockpile of Sephora samples and hotel toiletries to good use. Tiny shampoos and lotions arranged in a basket or vintage apothecary jar are as welcoming as they are practical. Guests will be relieved if they forgot their own, but even if they didn’t, they’ll love the luxury of washing their hair on the house.

     #3 Raise Your Cleanliness Standards

     When you miss a dust bunny at home, it’s just your own skin flakes and dried up sneezes in your own corner. To guests, it’s disgusting at best and insulting at worst.

    So clean it all. Airbnb even tells hosts to scrub the entire bathroom, not once but twice, including the toilet, sink, bath, and floors after every guest.

    “We make sure you can smell the cleaner,” says Cheryl Trotta, who rents out her vintage bayside cottage in Warwick, R.I.

    #4 Give It Your Personal Touch

    People choose Airbnbs over sterile hotel rooms because, in part, they want an authentic, personal experience.

    So give it to them!

    Trotta intentionally markets her rental as a family cottage and scatters pictures and family treasures throughout the cottage. Frame a couple of your childhood photos and hang them up alongside some mementos from your own travels.

    How else would your guests discover that you were drum major of your high school marching band?

    #5 Put a Radio in the Bathroom

    Your guests may like to sing along in the shower, but the real reason for putting some tunes in the bath is to provide them with plenty of, well, privacy. Add an essential oil diffuser — or poo-pourri drops — and you’re in business.

    #6 Set Up a DIY Cafe


    If your guests are early birds — or will just want some occasional alone time — put a coffeemaker in their room along with a well-stocked basket of coffee and tea. Maybe even blow their minds with a mini fridge full of snacks.

    To pull this off right, ask how they take their coffee in advance, and stock up appropriately.

    #7 Designate Drawer and Closet Space Just for Guests

    If your guest room closet could be featured on Storage Wars, it’s time to rethink your stuff strategy.

    Consider some serious Marie Kondo-izing — maybe donate your to-be-regifted pile and sell those designer jeans you’ll never fit into again — to make room in the closet and dresser for guest to have plenty of space (and the key word is plenty).

    Label a few guest drawers and crack the closet so they can see there’s space to hang their clothes.

    #8 Fancy Yourself a Travel Agent

    Give guests a local’s-eye view by filling a basket with menus from nearby restaurants, brochures from local businesses that cater to tourists, and a current issue of your community newspaper. It’s a great way for guests to feel like a local and customize their time in your town.

    #9 Hang a Robe – or Two – in the Closet
     Bonding with their host over morning coffee is one of the best parts of staying with friends. But they can miss it completely when they realize they only packed a ratty grandma nightgown or — even worse — NSFW lingerie.

    Help your guests feel right at home by hanging a couple of cozy (and freshly laundered), one-size-fits-all robes in the guest-room closet.

    Not only can they wear their pajamas to breakfast without feeling self-conscious, but they’re also super-comfy and great to wrap up in after a shower.

    #10 Expect the Unexpected with Extra Personal Supplies

    And let your guests know where they are so they won’t feel guilty for bothering you (or worse, go without!). Here’s a list of things that rock-star Airbnb hosts always keep in stock:

    • Disposable razors
    • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
    • First-aid kit
    • Towels, pillows, and extra blankets
    • Umbrella
    • Flashlight
    • Replacement light bulbs

    Being the perfect host is perfectly achievable. With a little forethought, you’ll start racking up your own stellar reviews from your friends and family. Get ready to be the house everyone vies to visit.

  • 5 Tips That Will Protect You from This (Expensive) DIY Mistake

    It was their first plumbing project. “It was just a small crack in a pipe,” says Karah Bunde. She and her husband, Joel, had just purchased a fixer-upper they planned to renovate and rent.

    They bought a new piece of PVC pipe to replace the cracked one. “We installed it, glued it, gave it 24 hours to cure. The next day we turned on the water and it busted at the seams. We had extra pipe and did it again, this time allowing it to cure for two days. Same story,” says Bunde, an avid DIYer who writes “The Space Between” blog.

    The couple returned to the store and started asking questions.

    Turns out they had made one of the most common DIY mistakes: choosing the wrong material for the job. “Our downfall was not doing enough research. Turns out we picked PVC pipe for drains and not one that would hold the pressure of water lines,” Bunde says.

    Whether you’re choosing tile, flooring, lighting, or cabinets, making the right choice can make or break your success. Get the right materials by doing these five things:

    1. Set a Budget for Every Item

    Make a budget for every single item you’re purchasing, says architect Todd Miller, owner of QMA Architects & Planners in Linwood, N.J. Otherwise, you may blow it all on a sexy plumbing fixture, but then choose the wrong flooring, for instance, just because it’s cheap and you want to keep on track.

    “There are always tradeoffs, but having a budget will help you manage the choices,” Miller says.

    2. Shop Where the Pros Shop

    Not to dis big-box stores; they’re great for many things. But you have to know what you’re getting into, says Gary Rochman, owner of Rochman Design Build in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Heeding the siren call from the big-box store can oftentimes go wrong. You’re not getting the service and the professional advice you’d need, especially if you’re a DIYer.”

    For example, he says, “You might purchase treated lumber for an outdoor deck, but no one tells you the nails you bought aren’t for outdoor purposes. At a lumberyard, they’ll let you know those two items don’t go together.”

    Additionally, Miller says some manufacturers will make two versions of the same product: a more cheaply made one for major retailers and another for supply stores that sell to contractors. “I purchased one product at a retail store that had PVC supply lines, and the exact same product from my supplier that had solid copper fittings,” he says. Homeowners can have access to suppliers through their contractor, but many stores also sell directly to consumers.

    3. Try It Out Before Committing to It

    Robin Flanigan, a homeowner in Rochester, N.Y., thought she was doing all the right things when she chose backsplash tile. She went to a local tile store. She schlepped along her cabinet sample, and they knew her floor — a wood-look farmhouse tile — which she’d purchased from them. “The owner took his time with me every time I went to the store — and there were a lot of times I went to the store,” she says. It took her two months to decided on a clear tile. “I thought clear tile would be less noticeable, not clash with the concrete.”

    She hired an installer who put up the tile on two walls before Flanigan saw it. “I wound up in tears all night and asked them to take it down,” she says. The installer did beautiful work, but “what looked great in a small sample turned out to look way too futuristic once the walls were covered. It didn’t fit the rest of the industrial loft vibe at all.”

    Flanigan says the mistake was a “huge budget buster” and posted the torn-down tile on Craigslist. She had a thin concrete backsplash installed instead. “If there’s a next time, I would order a box to see if I liked the look first,” she says.

    4. Invest in the Right Tools

    Here’s a good place to practice balancing durability and cost: Get the right tools for the job.

    “You can buy a brush for 98 cents, but you won’t get good results,” says Les Lieser, who recently retired as owner of a painting company and now runs Front Range Coating Consultants in Greeley, Colo. “Good brushes cost more for a reason.”

    Lieser says cheap brushes are like straw, flaring out and not holding their shape. A good quality nylon or bristle brush, on the other hand, will allow for nice, straight lines. For a few dollars more, you’ll save a lot of hassle and get a more professional-looking result.

    “The same goes for roller covers and paint,” Lieser says. “Spend a little more money on a brand name or something of good quality.”

    What if you need a costly tool? “We’ve rented a bunch of tools; it’s a great option,” Bunde says. In addition, many cities have tool lending libraries or a MakerSpace where you can borrow bigger items. “When you buy your materials, always ask what tools are going to aid in your success,” Bunde says.

    5. Be Cautious About What You Buy Online

    Buying things online might be less expensive and convenient, but when you’ve purchased a 700-pound cast iron tub from Craigslist only to discover it’s scratched or too heavy for your second-floor bath, you’re going to have a hard time sending it back. “It’s important to see and touch the products,” Miller says. “And you’ll have an easier time with returns at a retail shop or professional wholesaler.”

    Although it’s enticing to think you’ll save money by purchasing the cheapest materials and save time by doing it yourself, you’ve got to weigh the value of your time against the inevitability of things not fitting, arriving broken, or not lasting. Otherwise, you’ll be spending your free time wandering the fluorescent aisles of the hardware store rather than kicking back and sipping lattes in your newly renovated space.

  • New Experian tool allows you to instantly boost your credit score

    Boosting your credit score often requires months of responsible financial behavior. But a new tool from Experian – one of the three major credit bureaus – enables you to instantly add utility and cellphone payments to your credit report, potentially increasing your credit score and helping you pay less to borrow.

    The platform, called Experian Boost, becomes available in January for those on the credit bureau’s early access list and will roll out to everyone in the following months, the company said Tuesday.

    The tool is the first of its kind, according to Experian, and provides a way for people to immediately shape their creditworthiness. Typically, it can take months of making on-time payments to meaningfully improve a credit score, while one slip-up can do instantaneous damage.

    “We estimate about 100 million consumers are excluded from mainstream credit and are paying more to borrow,” says Brian Cassin, Experian’s global CEO. “This gives people an opportunity to change that, and we believe many will benefit from a higher credit score, better access to financial products, often at a cheaper cost.”


    How it works

    You first give Experian permission to access your online bank accounts, so it can identify utility and telecom payments and add them to your credit history. You confirm the data is correct and then it’s added. A new credit score is instantly generated.

    Experian Boost works with the most commonly used credit scores by lenders: FICO 8, FICO 9, VantageScore 3 and VantageScore 4. But if a lender relies on a TransUnion or Equifax credit report for its application process, the tool won’t help your approval chances.

    Experian is partnering with Finicity, a third-party company that facilitates the data transfer from your bank account to Experian’s credit report repository.

    Who will benefit?

    Experian expects that two-thirds of consumers will see an improvement. Those with so-called think credit histories – less than five accounts – and FICO credit scores between 580 and 669 will benefit the most, Experian said.

    Ten percent of people with thin files who previously didn’t have enough information in their credit file will have a score. Fourteen percent of those with subprime scores of 579 or lower moved into the 620 to 679 near-prime range, enough to get better credit terms.

     A subprime credit score costs the average person about $200,000 more over the course of their life, according to Credit Builders Alliance.

    “They won’t be approved for the best rate,” said John Ulzheimer, a credit expert who formerly worked at Equifax and FICO. “But they are basically turning someone who is a denial (for credit) into a marginal approval.”

    Real-life example

     Jeff Softley, chief marketing officer of Experian consumer products, received a 28-point boost after using the platform. Before, he only had four accounts in his credit history history – “an incomplete credit profile” as he called it –  but was able to add another six accounts including his water, phone and electric bill payments.

    “It’s a significant gain,” he said. “It allowed me to look at a different type of credit cards that I wouldn’t (otherwise) qualify for.”


    More access to credit

    The Experian Boost platform comes as lenders, the credit scoring industry, consumer advocates and even the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are exploring new ways to expand access to credit, especially to people who are on the cusp of qualifying or who may have no traditional credit history but are financially responsible.

    “This is like a credit score arms race,” Ulzheimer said. “It’s not like there’s a million prime consumers hiding under a rock somewhere.”

    The CFPB last year estimated that 26 million Americans have no credit history at Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. Another 19 million people have credit histories with only inactive accounts that don’t provide enough recent credit payment data to generate a score.

    In October, FICO, the developer of the most widely used credit score, announced a new score debuting next year that considers how you manage your checking, savings and money market accounts in addition to how you pay back your credit cards and loans.

    Experian also plans to broaden the types of accounts you can add to your credit file beyond just utility and telecom payments in the months following Experian Boost’s launch.

    “We have made it a focal point to put consumers at the heart of what we do,” Cassin said, “and increase financial inclusion.”

  • 6 Times It's Actually Smarter to Buy a New Home Before Selling the Old

    You should never buy a new house before selling your old home ... at least, that’s the conventional wisdom. Because if you buy before you sell, you run the risk of owning two homes at once—and carrying two mortgages! What if your first home doesn't sell anytime soon? The financial ramifications are too scary to even consider, right?

    Not necessarily. For some home buyers, it actually does make more sense to buy your new home before you sell your old one. Here are six times to seriously consider this option, along with tips for handling the challenges you might face along the way.

    1. You’re buying in a seller's market

    A seller's market refers to times when there are more buyers looking for houses than there are houses available for sale. And this puts buyers at a disadvantage.

     “In a strong seller's market, buyers face stiff competition with multiple offers and little available inventory. In that environment, it can take several tries before getting an offer accepted,” says Christine McCarron, a real estate agent and investor in Brookline, MA.

     Since your efforts to buy a home may be a long and arduous slog, it may make sense to secure a deal on your new digs before you put your current house on the market. This is especially true if your old home is also located in a seller's market, which is likely if you're buying a new house in the same area. This means you'll probably have plenty of interest in your home, and no problem selling it once you're ready.

     Not sure what kind of market you're in? Here's more on seller's marketsand how to tell if you're in one yourself.

    2. You want to remodel your new home (or your old one)

    If you’re living in a fixer-upper or you have your eye on one, buying before you sell may actually make a whole lot of sense. The reason: This strategy gives you a place to live while renovating the other residence. That way, you and your family don’t have to live in a construction zone!

    And here's another perk: If you’re fixing up the house you currently own, it could boost your home's value, which positions you to receive top dollar for it, according to Ralph DiBugnara, vice president of retail sales of Residential Home Funding in New York City.

    3. You have kids

    Let's just say it's not easy to sell a house that's overrun with children, and all the toys and messes that crop up in their wake. It can even hurt the odds that your home will sell at all.

    “With an active family, the pristine condition that home buyers expect—due to TV shows that display staged, model-like homes—just doesn’t happen unless everyone is out, everything is cleaned, everything is repaired, and the home is staged with furniture with no worries of it getting covered in grape juice," says Cari McGee, a real estate agent in Kennewick, WA.

    Getting your home sales-ready, and keeping it that way, may be simpler if you’re already living in your new home (plus, you don’t have to uproot your little ones more than once).

    4. You’re downsizing

    Downsizing is an especially challenging task. You’re faced with sorting through the contents of your current home, which tends to be a time-consuming and emotional ordeal. Buying a new home before selling gives you time to sort through your belongings and simplify the process.

    Lukasz Kukwa, a real estate agent in Westfield, NJ, has seen this approach work well for his older clients, particularly since with downsizing, the second mortgage is probably a smaller one.

    With downsizing, "it is a good idea to take this approach—buying before selling—since the financial burden of carrying two mortgages will be of smaller significance since you're buying a cheaper, smaller home,” Kukwa says.

    5. You’ve found a great deal, or your dream home

    Some houses are just too good to pass up. If you’ve found an amazing bargain or the home of your dreams, you may want to snap it up! If not, you might regret how playing it safe meant you missed out on this once-in-a-lifetime deal.

    6. You can deal with moving only once

    Here's one huge downside to selling home No. 1 before buying home No. 2: You'll probably have to endure the wholly unpleasant process of moving twice.

    “If the homeowner sells their existing home first, it requires them to move out and find temporary housing and storage. Once the new home is purchased, it would require moving again,” says Jeffrey Hensel, broker associate at North Coast Financial in Oceanside, CA. "Moving twice is inconvenient and costly."

     According to the American Moving & Storage Association, the average cost of moving in state totals $1,170. An out-of-state move will cost much more: $5,630. If moving and coughing up that amount twice is a major turnoff or an all-out deal breaker, then you're certainly a candidate for buying before you sell.

    How to buy a new home before selling your old one

    Even if you have good reason to buy before you sell, that doesn't mean it'll be easy. For one, would you even qualify in lenders' eyes to carry two mortgages at once? And would you want to? Here's how to navigate these challenges.

    Can't carry two mortgages? Consider a bridge loan

    First off, let's face the fact that even if you're fine having two mortgages, lenders may not feel the same way about your prospects.

    “Because of debt-to-income ratios, it may be impossible to qualify for the second mortgage before paying off your first,” says Eric Sztanyo, a real estate agent in Cincinnati.

    Your debt-to-income ratio refers to the amount of your debt payments compared with the amount of your gross monthly income. Lenders are typically looking for a low debt-to-income ratio, with less than 28% of your monthly income going to mortgage payments. If a second mortgage will take your debt-to-income ratio over this percentage, you may not be able to qualify for a second mortgage.

    In this situation, Sztanyo recommends considering a bridge loan.

    With a bridge loan, "you are able to buy the second home using the equity of the first home,” he says.

    A bridge loan is a short-term loan based on the equity and value of your current residence. You typically need at least 20% equity in your home as well as good credit to qualify. These loans often have high interest rates, though, and if your home doesn’t sell quickly, you may be stuck making loan payments on top of your new mortgage payment.

    Add a home-selling contingency to your contract

    Even if you do qualify for two mortgages, that doesn't mean you'll be comfortable doing so. If the very idea of stressing your finances like this makes you break out in a cold sweat, consider adding a home sale contingency to your home purchase contract. This contingency gives you a set amount of weeks or months to sell your current home before your new home purchase goes through—thus buying you some much-needed time.

    The downside? This contingency is not particularly appealing for sellers who want to move soon. That said, some may be willing to opt for this option if they don’t have many offers or are on a flexible schedule to move out.

  • 5 Ways You're Sabotaging the Sale of Your Home

    So you've finally decided to put your home on the market. You've planned your first open house, begun searching for new digs, and even made a mental packing list. Now all you have to do is sit back and wait for the offers to roll in, right?

    Well, sellers, we don't mean to freak you out, but we've got bad news: You just might be sabotaging your home sale. Obviously, that's the last thing you'd want to do, but one wrong turn—or wrong decision—could hurt your chances of landing a buyer. And the most unsettling part? You probably have no idea you're doing anything wrong.

    Below are some of the ways you may be turning off buyers without even knowing it.

    1. Bad color schemes


     When your house is on the market, you want to make it appeal to as many people as possible. And while your kitchen painted in your favorite shade of neon green might be attractive to you, it could repel buyers.

    “When a buyer comes into your home, you want them to imagine it as their future home. The more difficult it is, the less likely they are to buy,” says James McGrath, licensed real estate salesperson for Yoreevo in New York. “The more muted the decorations and color schemes, the broader the reach and the better off you are.”

    2. Too much personal taste

    It's not just bold colors you should avoid; beware of showing off too much of your style—at least while your home is on the market. (Yes, we're even talking about your beloved lion statues on the front porch.)

    “Odd decorations divert buyers' attention away from the home itself,” McGrath says. “I once saw a home with a stuffed peacock in the bedroom, and every buyer would go in and note the peacock, but not the bedroom itself."

    When in doubt, think neutral: Replace loud patterns with muted ones, and put eccentric decorations and personal knickknacks in storage before your next open house.

    3. Bad odors

     You might have become nose-blind to cigarette or pet odor, but savvy buyers will instantly pick up on funky smells—and that's a sure way to drive them away.

    If you smoke—or used to smoke—inside your home, know this: Residual nicotine can still be present in the drapes, furniture, carpets, and on walls and other objects long after you’ve put out the last cigarette, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    And this isn’t a problem that can be solved with air freshener. You’ll need to either wash or dry-clean your fabrics, shampoo your carpets, and wash your walls. If washing the walls doesn’t work, you’ll need to repaint.

    Pet urine on baseboards and in carpets and rugs is also problematic. Bleach, vinegar and water, or specially formulated cleaners can combat these smells. No matter what, expect to do a deep, deep clean before you list your home.

    4. Not being flexible for showings

    The real estate market moves quickly, so if you want to sell your home you need to cater to the potential buyers' schedules.

    “I get it, getting kicked out of your house for showings isn't fun, but to maximize the activity on your home, you have to be accommodating to potential buyers,” says Jim Stevenson, a real estate agent at Realty ONE Group in Doylestown, PA.

    If possible, require only a few hours' notice before showings, he recommends.

    “It's so much easier for me and my buyers if we're able to schedule a showing when it's most convenient for us,” Stevenson says. “The sooner a buyer can see your house, the sooner they can make an offer, which lessens the chance of them finding something else."

    And remember: One thing buyers definitely shouldn’t see during a showing is you.

    “When owners are home during a showing it adds a layer of uneasiness since buyers don’t really feel free in the space,” says Louisa Gillen, co-founder and principal broker at the Simple Real Estate Co. in New York. “They feel like a guest in someone’s home, and ... you want them to feel like it’s their home.”

    5. Disguising problem areas

    In your quest to have a show-ready home, don’t cut corners. A fresh coat of paint might temporarily hide the appearance of mold, but it'll likely crop up in the home inspection.

    “Savvy buyers know to look for mold, which is a fungus that could be toxic,” says Tina Tyus, real estate broker at Town Square Realty in Birmingham, AL. "If they don’t find it, a home inspector will.”

    Structural issues are another concern for buyers.

    “Hairline cracks over doorways could be a sign of settling, but they could also be a sign of structural issues,” Tyus explains.

    Instead of trying to hide these problem areas, be sure to address them before you put your house on the market—and be upfront with buyers if you decide to sell the home as is.

    Bottom line: Don't try to use paint, rugs, or fancy lighting to mask problems that a buyer will probably uncover.

  • 8 Things to Never, Ever Put on a Table If You Hope to Impress Guests

    Do you have visitors coming over or, egad, home buyers you hope might purchase your place? Then you'd better watch what you put where—particularly on tables, countertops, and other highly visible surfaces. Let's face it: A candle or vase of flowers might be considered fine DIY home staging. But choose the wrong kind of place setting or decor, and buyers will take note!

    Don't believe us? One need look no further than Instagram, which is bursting with horrifying sights that, for some reason, the sellers thought might be OK to display. Luckily, real estate agents couldn't help but snap some pics to document these snafus.

    Consider this a list of what to not place on a table if you hope to impress, well, anyone!


    1. Your dirty laundry

     "Laundry, it's what's for dinner!" said no one ever. That little toy bus doesn't seem too appetizing either. The rest looks like a dollar store's clearance bin exploded. Yikes. Any would-be buyer is bound to make a U-turn after seeing this. Holiday guests, too.

    2. Nonfood items on a plate

     Even squirrels might struggle with this meal. You could see where a bowl of lemons or even an array of pine cones could add a nice touch to this kitchen. But together on a plate? Not so much.

    3. Wine is fine, but can that can of cashews

     You don't have to go "nuts" to make your dining area appealing. That simple white runner alone may have done the trick.

    4. Toilet paper as a centerpiece

     We don't want to know what this suggests about the homeowner's cooking abilities. Still, it's safe to say prospective home buyers probably saw more than they wanted to after spying this.

    5. Wrinkly tablecloths and slipcovers

     Slipcovers and tablecloths? Aren't these home sellers fancy?! Alas, unless you're holding a wedding at your house, it's entirely too formal. And surely smoothing out the wrinkles on those ghostlike slipcovers would have helped a bit.

    6. Fake ice

     Having fake ice in a glass bowl is weird enough—wouldn't that money have been better spent fixing that gaping hole in the ceiling? In fact, skip the fake ice entirely; you don't need a professional stager to tell you that fake foodstuff is just not a good look.

    7. Unusual food tableaus

     The breakfast tray alone would've been plenty. No one needs to know that the seller needs more fiber in his diet. And while we're at it, that still life of plastic fruit should go back to art school, and that beauty product display back to, um, Bloomingdale's. As this listing agent explains, it all amounts to "motel staging" at its worst.

    8. Nativity scenes

     It might be fine for Christmas, but even then, this is a bit much (particularly combined with that bear motif and "Rock the Day" inspirational message on the wall).

  • How to Stage a House for Free: 7 Ideas That Don't Cost a Dime

    One of the most common mistakes sellers make is assuming they need to sink a bunch of money into home staging. Some choose the expensive route—swapping out their furniture and art at the behest of a hired professional home stager—but that's not the only way to impress potential buyers.

    "Everyone needs to stage their home to sell it efficiently," says Laura McHolm, co-founder of NorthStar Moving. "But you do not need to spend a lot of money to stage your home."

    Want to get your house in tiptop shape without spending a dime? Follow these home staging ideas that are 100% free.


    1. Depersonalize

    The first step to staging your home is getting rid of personal items such as photos, albums, handmade items, trophies, and mementos—even the kids' artwork on the fridge.

    "No family pictures," says McHolm. "A buyer wants to be able to envision living in that house. It’s not your house anymore. It’s a house that will soon be their house. So get the 'you' out of your house."

    Removing your personal items isn't easy—they're the things that make your house feel like your home, but keep in mind that it's only temporary. Pack them up and store them safely until you can find them all spots of honor in your new place.

    2. Declutter

    All that stuff littering the surfaces of your home has to go.

    "Most surfaces should have between three to five items on them, because clutter is distracting both in photos and in person," says property stylist Julie Chrissis, of Chrissis & Company Interiors. "You want buyers looking at the home, not the stuff."

    This means eliminating piles of mail and magazines, collections you have on display, knickknacks, and most other items that can easily be packed away.

    3. Nix the extra storage

    If you've been living in your current home for a while, you've probably come up with a lot of creative ways to store all of the items you've accumulated. But now that you're hoping to sell, it's time to get rid of them. Purge!

    "Eliminate any plastic storage bins, over-door storage, above-cabinet storage, and extra racks in rooms," says Chrissis. "This is important because buyers never want to think they will outgrow a home. A seller's job is to show them there is plenty of storage space for them to grow into."

    Since all those stored items are already packed into bins and baskets, it should be simple enough to move them to a storage facility until you've moved.

    4. Deep clean

    Even if you consider yourself a neatnik, you're probably going to need to do a little extra work to get your house ready for buyers.

    "Take a critical eye to your home. Living somewhere daily reduces the things you notice that might be a problem, like dirty walls, scuffs and scrapes, leaks, or even odors you have become accustomed to," says Marty Basher, home organization expert at "Also, deep clean the kitchen and bathrooms. These areas of the home are generally the most cluttered and dirty. Both of those things will turn off willing buyers."

    It might help to ask a friend or family member to come by and help you find areas that need attention. Someone who doesn't live in your house will be better able to look at your space through the eyes of a buyer.

    5. Change the furniture layout

    Maybe you've placed your couch at an odd angle to keep the sun out of your eyes during your midday nap, or your armchair is in the middle of the room so you can better see the TV. Those things are all fine for you—but not for buyers. Now it's time to stage the room for optimal space and flow.

    "Room layouts should be set up for photos first. It’s important that the photo not be of the back of a sofa, large chair, or other piece of furniture, as this makes the room look smaller because it blocks the view of part of the room," says Chrissis. "The same goes for open houses and showings. If buyers see a room with furniture barriers, it makes the room seem smaller."

    6. Let there be light

    Now that your home is clean and uncluttered, it's time to brighten things up so buyers can actually see it.

    "You want natural light and lamps with warm light—no swirly bulbs that look like office light," says Chrissis. "We tell most of our clients to remove valances as they typically make a room darker and, in most markets, are a little out of fashion. Lamps are important, especially in winter months when there is less sun and sunset is earlier."

    7. Reduce your furniture

    If your house is filled to the brim with furniture, it's time to move some of it out.

    "After the home is thoroughly cleaned out, keep only up-to-date furniture in excellent condition, and just a couple of accent pieces in each room," suggests broker and interior designer Tory Keith of Natick, MA.

    Not only does this go hand in hand with making things look less cluttered, but less furniture will also make the rooms look bigger.

    Move unneeded pieces to the basement, garage, or a storage facility until you're ready to move.

  • Home Improvement: DIY or Hire a Pro?

    There’s something appealing about the idea of a do-it-yourself home improvement project. By tackling a job yourself, you can save money on labor costs and enjoy work that’s been done with your own hands.

    But the reality is some projects are better left to the experts. Professional contractors can handle tasks that are complicated, time-consuming or downright unpleasant. Whether you plan to spruce up your entire home or just remodel part of one room, you’ll want to make a smart choice between doing it yourself or hiring and paying a pro.

    Here are some tips to help you choose.

    When you could try DIY

    The project is small enough to learn quickly: It’s a good idea to take some time to research a home improvement job before you start. If you want to paint your deck, for example, you may need to watch tutorial videos, read about paint choices, and ask paint sellers for advice. If you’re willing to learn the steps, a do-it-yourself project could make sense.

    You have patience to work through small mistakes: You may have to make extra trips to the store because you didn’t correctly measure the amount of wood you needed. Or you may discover your paint dried unevenly, and you’ll need to start over to get the look you want. Expect that your DIY project won’t be perfect on the first try. It’ll help if you’re flexible enough to work through small errors.

    You view the home repair as more hobby than work: If you enjoy carpentry, painting and other renovation-related activities, you may enjoy a DIY project involving those or similar tasks. You may even find the process as enjoyable as the final result.

    You’re OK with “good enough”: There’s a chance your project won’t turn out as well as a pro’s work. There may be some visible brushstrokes in a newly painted room. Some floor tiles may be slightly uneven. If the problems are minor and you’ll be able to live with the results, it could be worthwhile to try a small DIY job.


    When it’s best to hire a home improvement contractor

    A mistake would have serious or disastrous consequences: If an error would make your home unsafe — faulty electrical wiring that could cause a fire, for example — it’s not worth the risk of doing it yourself. Outsource projects that could affect your family’s well-being or that would be expensive to correct if not done right. Reputable contractors will have insurance and offer a warranty for their work, which protects you as the homeowner. If they make a mistake or worse, damage your property, they’d pay to fix the problem.

    The home renovation requires permits: Many localities require permits for electrical, structural and other major work. You’ll want to contact your city government and ask local contractors which remodel licenses are required in your area. These jobs generally require specialized knowledge, so it’s better to let a professional handle the work.

    Your time’s better spent on something else: Paying a contractor can free you up for other activities, such as spending more time with your family. If you put a premium on those other activities, it makes sense to hire a professional.

    You’re planning to sell your home: When you get ready to sell your house, you want it to be in the best condition possible. An amateurish DIY job could be a turnoff for potential buyers. They may even wonder if the home has other problems.

    If you do decide to hire a pro, you’ll need to do some legwork. Make sure you get estimates in writing, and ask for and contact references. You should also confirm that the contractor has the licenses and insurance needed for the job. You can learn more about how to hire a reputable contractor from the Federal Trade Commission.

    In some cases, you might do some parts of a remodel or upgrade yourself while also working with an expert. For example, you could decide to take on the role of general contractor for a major project, such as a bathroom remodel, and hire out subcontractors for specialized work, including electrical wiring, plumbing and cabinet installation.

    When considering a home improvement project, you’ll want to know the difference between a DIY job and one that should be handled by an experienced contractor. By considering the time you would have to spend on the project, your experience and the difficulty of the job, you can weigh the benefits and make the best decision for your situation.

  • Save on Granite Countertops and Rock Your Remodel

    Granite countertops, durable, high-fashion and low-maintenance, are stars in kitchen and bathroom remodels nationwide. And you don’t need to buy the most expensive granite to get stunning results in your home.

    Here’s what to know about granite counters, how much they will set you back, and tips for cutting costs.

    Granite countertop costs

    Granite countertops generally range from $2,000 to $4,500 including materials and installation, a survey by HomeAdvisor has found. In terms of the overall cost for your project, countertops of any material eat up around 7% of the budget for a bathroom remodel and about 10% for a kitchen remodel.


    Granite fabricators typically quote granite prices by the square foot, which usually includes labor, delivery, installation and a simple finish to the edges. Other products and services — like decorative edge treatments, a sink, faucets, cutouts for sinks and cooktops, plumbing hook-ups, and removing and disposing of old counters — may cost extra.

    Different grades

    Granite is priced according to its grade (also referred to as tiers or levels). Different grades have different price structures. The grade reflects a stone’s availability, color, shipping cost and its distinctiveness, but not necessarily the overall quality.


    7 tips to save on granite countertops

    1. Shop around

    Granite countertops are sold and installed by big box stores, kitchen and bathroom design studios, granite fabricators and companies specializing in prefabricated granite counters. You’ll get the best results by hiring a well-established, experienced and fully insured company.

    Ask family and friends for recommendations and look online, including searching for nearby installers and fabricators at the Natural Stone Institute, a trade association. After narrowing the search, visit two or three companies to discuss your project and see their work. Ask each company for a preliminary estimate based on your rough measurements.

    Sharon Millett, a real estate agent in Auburn, Maine, says she saved nearly $1,000 recently on kitchen and bath countertops for her home by shopping around. One company charged extra for the edge treatment she wanted, so she found another that included it at no charge.

    2. Buy the sink and faucet separately

    Ask your fabricator if it’s OK to buy the sink, faucet and any plumbing parts elsewhere so you can find a style you like that also fits your budget.

    3. Use a remnant

    Granite companies may offer discounts on smaller pieces of stone left over from other projects.


    4. Go prefab

    A prefabricated piece of stone is one that is already cut and polished. Prefab is best for simple counters requiring few cuts. It’s perfect, for instance, if your cabinets are a standard, off-the-shelf size, says Jarren Cheha, owner of Seattle Granite Countertops, a granite fabricator.

    He stocks a single size — 8 feet by 25½ inches — of prefab granite countertop blanks in seven to 10 common colors. They come with three finished edges and a polished surface. The cost is about half that of a custom granite countertop, Cheha says.

    5. Get a line-item breakdown

    Ask for an estimate showing the individual costs of products and services. That lets you compare multiple offers and choose the option that best fits your budget.

    6. Use granite tile

    Tile cut from stone like granite lets you get the look without the price. Granite tile costs about $5 to $15 per square foot uninstalled, according to Home Advisor. You’ll also need to hire a tile installer and buy grout and other materials.

    7. Have the installer do final measurements

    To avoid making expensive mistakes, always be sure the installer takes the measurements and creates a template on which your final estimate is based.


    Are granite countertops worth the cost?

    It’s hard to know exactly how much of the cost of granite countertops can be recouped when you sell the home. Certainly, upgraded kitchens and baths are sought after by most buyers.

    “In my area, real estate agents pretty much insist that homeowners get natural stone in their homes before it goes on the market,” says Sharon Koehler, support services manager at Artistic Stone Design, a stone fabricator in North Chesterfield, Virginia.

    “I have seen agents pay for the (counter)tops themselves and get the money back after sale. It is that important,” Koehler says.

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