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  • 'The Best Home-Selling Advice I've Heard, Ever'

    Selling a house can be a big job, and stressful too! There’s so much to think about regarding the market, home staging, repairs, and more—it’s no surprise sellers find it so overwhelming.

    So in the interests of winnowing it all down to the true essentials—the tasks that can make a real difference—we asked home sellers to reveal only the very best home-selling advice they have heard. From when to put your house on the market to how to price and present your place just right, here are some top home-selling tips for the bandwidth-challenged that are truly worth the trouble.

    Pony up money on repairs

    “When it came to selling my house, the best advice I ever got was to get repairs done before buyers start poking around. Every house is going to have at least a few things wrong with it, and since you'll probably have to do them anyway before you close, you might as well do those little fixes upfront so that buyers can see your house at its best.

     "My last house was a pretty new build and I hadn't had many problems with it, so I didn't think there would be much to fix up when it came time to sell. Still, I knew that if buyers saw a bunch of small problems, they wouldn't be wowed by the house, or pay my full asking price. So, I ended up walking around my place and sticking Post-it notes to things I thought I might need to fix. I looked for loose door handles, leaky sinks, hard-to-open windows, and things like that.

    "I ended up making a bunch of little improvements, and while it took a bit of time and cost a few hundred bucks to fix everything up, my work paid off and I sold the house at asking." – Dustin McCaffree, Salt Lake City, UT

    Spend your reno dollars wisely

    “In my last house, we wanted to change the color of the fence in the backyard, but we knew we were moving soon and backyard fences don’t sell houses. We knew that money would be better spent on something buyers really care about, like the kitchen.

    "So, before putting my house on the market, I took the money I would have used on the back fence and painted my kitchen cabinets. Installed in the 1960s, my old, shiny oak cabinets dated the house, so I painted them gray because it was trendy to have gray cabinets at the time. It cost me under a thousand bucks to do it, but the people who ended up buying the house told us they chose it in part because they loved the color of the cabinets and how modern they made the kitchen look. They didn't even mention the backyard or the fence. I'm glad I put my money where it would count!” – Liz Mullens, Brea, CA

    Don't price your house too high

    "While certain listing agents might claim they can list and sell your house for a higher-than-market value price, they're usually just trying to get your business, so don't be fooled. In fact, you might be better off listing your house just under what you might expect.

    "Our real estate agent in Las Vegas wanted to list our house at a modest price that was obtainable and not off-putting. We had interest in a few hours, and multiple bids within days. From there, we were able to choose the best offer from many within a week. Taking this agent's advice to price modestly ultimately ended up fetching us a much higher price than we'd even dreamed we could get." – Matt Romero, Las Vegas, NV

    Spring is not always the best time to sell

    “People will tell you to sell in the spring because the weather is usually pleasant and the flowers are probably blooming, making the yard look warm and pretty. However, not everyone's house will show best in spring.

    "The last house we lived in, in fact, wasn't great during the warmer months. It was small and stuffy, so when it was hot outside, it was extra-hot inside. Plus, we didn't have much of a front yard and very few plants. We were afraid buyers would think our house was dark compared to the lush, green gardens they saw on other home tours.

    "So, we decided to sell in winter. Our living room was small, but when we decorated for the season (like putting blankets on the couch and lighting a fire), the house warmed up and seemed more like a romantic cabin than a small two-bedroom. Plus, during Christmas our whole neighborhood really got into decorating their homes with lights. It was beautiful to see all the houses lit up, and we knew some buyers might really value that, too. In the end, it worked out and we ended up selling our house at a great price." – Bill Ford, Irvine, CA

    Photos sell houses

    “The best advice I heard was to hire the right real estate photographer so you have great pictures for online listings. Unfortunately, I ignored this advice at first. I'm sort of a DIY kind of guy, and I was thinking that hiring someone would be a waste of money. Why couldn't we just take them ourselves?

    "So, I took it upon myself to snap some pictures on my phone ... and immediately realized that I was not at all qualified to do this. Our house was bright and open, but looked so dark and small in my pictures. I knew we had to hire someone.

    "So my wife and I got a list of recommended photographers from our real estate agent and started narrowing down our choices. We ended up picking one photographer and were completely happy with her work—her stuff was a hundred times better than anything I could have taken on my phone. We knew that those pictures really helped drum up interest from buyers." – Jesse Edmunds, La Habra, CA

    Curb appeal and bathrooms are 80%

    “Before I sold my house, I remember my parents telling me to focus my energy on making the front yard and the bathrooms look their best.

    "They told me to hire a gardener before I started showing the house because they said lots of people make home-buying decisions based, at least in part, on the front yard or garden. I found that this is completely true: When I was going on tours myself, looking for my current home, I started to notice that I would often make my decision about a house before even stepping through the front door. So I ended up hiring a gardener, putting more plants in, and was pleasantly surprised with how good the front of the house looked.

    "With the yard looking great, I tried to fix up the bathrooms as much as I could, too. I didn't have a big budget for this, but I ended up going on Pinterest and watching some HGTV to get some inspiration. I ended up getting the master bathroom shower retiled, repainting the guest bath, and adding some stylish wall hangings and towels to both of them.

    "I was really happy with how both my yard and the bathrooms turned out—and apparently so was my buyer!"  

  • 8 Things Your Plumber Wishes You Knew About Conserving Water

    You've heard it before: Conserving water is important. With all the water that Americans use each day—an estimated 322 billion gallons—every action you take, no matter how small, can contribute to saving this natural resource. No, we're not suggesting you stop flushing the toilet, taking showers, cleaning clothes, washing the dishes, or even watering the lawn. You just need to do them smartly.

    When your home's water system is on the fritz, there's no one quite as knowledgeable as professional plumbers. So to get the real scoop on how to conserve water inside the home, we polled some experienced plumbers (and plumbing-adjacent experts). Below, they spill the eight facts they wish every homeowner knew about saving water.

    1. Study your water bill

    Really look at your water bill every month and monitor your usage over time.

     “We tell our clients to look at their water bill and compare it to previous months,” says Audrey Monell, president of Glendale, AZ–based Forrest Anderson Plumbing and AC. “Spikes in water usage usually indicate a leak somewhere in your home.”

    2. Small leaks can cause big problems

    Even if you’re noticing just a few drips from a faucet or pipe, you should address these leaks immediately.

    “A small drip from a worn faucet washer can waste 20 gallons of water per day, while larger leaks can waste hundreds of gallons,” says Don Glovan, franchise consultant for Mr. Rooter.

    If “hundreds of gallons” doesn’t move you off the sofa to plug those leaks, Monell explains it another way.

    “If your faucet drips once every second, you will waste 3,000 gallons of water every year,” she says. “It is equivalent to 180 showers, which is like having your next-door neighbor come to your house and take a shower every other day because he likes your towels better.” (Gross.)

    3. That old toilet is wasting water (and money)

    Even if your toilets and faucets don’t leak, they could still be draining money out of your wallet. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, toilets account for 30% of an average home’s water consumption.

    “Replacing your older toilets with water-saving toilets can reduce a typical home’s water consumption by nearly 13,000 gallons a year,” Monell says.

    Gary Findley, CEO of bluefrog Plumbing + Drain, in Waco, agrees. “Older toilets can use 3 gallons of clean water with every flush.” However, new toilets use as little as 1 gallon per flush.

    Findley recommends products, including toilets and low-flow shower heads, with the WaterSense label, which means the EPA deems them water-efficient.

    4. Reuse your grey water

    Did you know that some water can be used twice?

    “Gently used water from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines can be recycled to water your yard,” says Findley. “While you let your shower warm up, you can save the water that comes out to water the yard.”

    Some cities even allow residents to install grey water recirculation systems.

    However, you should not store grey water for longer than 24 hours. Any longer than this and the nutrients in the water will break down and cause unpleasant odors.

    5. Turn off the faucet

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey, people use about a gallon of water when brushing their teeth, washing their faces, and shaving. And if you have an older faucet, you’re actually using closer to 2 gallons! However, the solution is quite simple: Turn off the faucet while lathering, and then turn it back on when needed.

    6. Be smart when hand-washing dishes

    If you wash dishes by hand, Glovan warns against leaving the water running when you’re rinsing dishes.

    “If you have a double basin, fill one with soapy water and one with rinse water,” he says. “If you have a single-basin sink, gather washed dishes in a dish rack and rinse them with a spray device or a pan full of hot water.”

    7. UV rays are bad for your pool

    It takes a lot of water to fill a swimming pool, so avoid having to add more water unnecessarily.

    “If you use a swimming pool cover, you can avoid water loss due to evaporation,” says Findley. In fact, according to the California Urban Water Conservation Council, using a pool cover can reduce water loss through evaporation by almost 30%.

    If your pool is still losing an excessive amount of water, have it checked to ensure you don’t have a leak.

    8. Mulch will save water

    Evaporation also affects the greenery in your yard. To keep your plants and trees moist, Findley recommends putting mulch around them.

    “This will reduce evaporation, promote plant growth, and control weeds,” he says, and it’s true. According to a University of Florida study, mulch reduces soil water loss to evaporation by 33%.

    Mulch comes in a variety of materials, including leaves, lawn clippings, bark, straw, stones, and river rock. However, hay and straw may contain weed seeds, so you should purchase mulch that is weed-free.

  • Trapped in a Home Decor Rut? Try These 6 Tricks to Shake Things Up

    When you've lived in the same place for a few years, things can start to feel stale. That cheap secondhand coffee table you've had since your first apartment is definitely out of style. And you know the living room layout needs tweaking, but you just aren't sure how to change it up without blocking the fireplace with the sofa.

    Alas, this all-too-common dilemma has a name: the home decor rut.

    For many of us, design change can be hard (even when we're desperately seeking it). We're often too familiar with our homes, which can be a major roadblock when reimagining a room. Plus, when there's so much to be done, it can be hard to know what to do first. So we don't do anything at all, stuck in our own personal decor escape room.

     That's no way to live! You can dig yourself out of a design rut with a few tricks from the pros.

    1. Make changing your decor an urgent priority

    Photo by Chris Snook 
    How long have you been staring at your problem room, waiting for a solution to magically pop into your head?

    Stop staring. Instead, "create urgency," says Stephanie Plymale, president and CEO of the Portland, OR-based Heritage School of Interior Design. "Nothing gets done until you make a decision."

    That decision could be something, anything to force you to look at your room differently—for instance, getting rid of an enormous piece of furniture or painting a single wall a strange color.

    Not sure where to start? Consider: What's causing you the most stress? Plymale suffered her most recent design rut in her bedroom.

    "I realized that the anchor piece in my bedroom, a large bed with an imposing headboard, was dominating the room," she recalls. "It had to go."

    She called a friend and asked her to take the headboard away.

    "At that moment," Plymale says, "I became committed to change. Don't let fear stand in your way."

     

    2. Identify your mental roadblocks

    Now it's time to think about what's been holding you back from mixing things up.

    "If you're in a rut, a limiting belief of some kind is keeping you there," Plymale says. "In my case, for some reason, I had a limiting vision of what a headboard was."

    Think about the design beliefs you have that could be holding back your imagination. Maybe you've never strayed from a bohemian chic aesthetic, or perhaps you can't imagine anything but neutral gray on your walls. If so, take a look at midcentury modern design, or consider navy blue paint—anything to shake up your preconceptions.

    "I finally found my inspiration—the piece that broke me out of my rut," Plymale says: a headboard built from a room divider, stretching from floor to ceiling. "It made the room feel twice as big. I knew I needed to find my version of that vision."

     

    3. Empty the space

     If the deep-dive into your psyche isn't revealing any good reason for your home decor hangup, start from scratch.

    "Completely empty the space," says Ola Swarn, an interior design blogger at J'adore le Décor. "Leave only the large-ticket items, like the sofa, coffee table, and chairs."

    This has two benefits: First, you can better visualize alternate furniture arrangements. Maybe the couch really ought to live on the opposite wall—or your dining table should be rotated 90 degrees.

    Second, removing all the small furniture lets you look carefully at your bigger pieces. If your decor tastes have changed dramatically, this might be causing your rut.

    "Ask, 'Do I like the bones of this furniture? Am I still in love with the style of it?'" Swarn advises.

    Once you've answered those questions, you can focus on either replacing your large furniture, or updating your smaller pieces to get you closer to a style you adore.

    4. Go 'shopping'

    Designer Justin Riordan of Spade & Archer has a brilliant strategy for climbing out of your design rut: While emptying the room, organize all your items into categories. Put all your art together, for instance, and set your chairs and side tables elsewhere. Accessories go on another table.

    Take a break. Clear your head. And then, "go 'shopping' in the 'stores' you created," Riordan says. When looking at your belongings out of context, you might just come up with a brilliant idea for a new design.

    This process works best when you're redesigning your whole house, Riordan admits. But if you're truly stuck in a single space, give this funky strategy a go.

    5. Shift your design style ever so slightly

     If you outfitted your home when you were going through a farmhouse phase, figuring out new decor might get complicated. After all, you can't buy all new furniture. But everything looks so, well, farmhouse.

    All is not lost! You can keep your farmhouse furniture and just change your accessories for an entirely new vibe.

    "Many times a lateral shift to a different version of the same style is all that is needed to refresh a dull home," Swarn says.

    For example. farmhouse has a dozen variations: rustic farmhouse, industrial farmhouse, modern farmhouse, farmhouse glam, and more.

    "Most of the big-ticket furniture items in each of these versions will likely be very similar," she notes. "It's how the room is accessorized that swings the pendulum from one design aesthetic to another."

    6. Find another set of eyes

    Still can't figure out how to escape your design rut? Bring in a fresh pair of eyes. A friend or family member might be able to figure out what's missing. Maybe your living room demands a chandelier, or your kitchen's clamoring for some bright-red paint.

    If that's a bust, it's time to bring in the big guns: a professional.

    Yes, hiring interior designers can be pricey: You could easily pay in the thousands of dollars for their services. But if you're truly struggling with a room, their professional eyes can quickly pinpoint the problem. And cheaper solutions do exist for tighter budgets. E-design services like Modsy offer basic design services for less than $100.

    Getting out of your rut requires pushing your comfort zone and trying new things. But that little bit of effort creates a room that's both surprising and delightful—and not boring at all.

  • Why You Should Sell Your Home in 2019

    Few people are predicting that 2019 will be a record-breaking year for home prices.

    But relatively speaking, 2019 might be the best time for you to put your house on the market. Especially if you’re on the fence about selling this year or next, Nick Ron, CEO of House Buyers of America, recommends going with the devil you know rather than the devil you don’t.

    “I think it’ll be better than 2020 and 2021 – who knows what’s going to happen in those years,” Ron says.

     Home price growth slowed in the second half of 2018, with fewer buyers entering the market, at least partially due to rising interest rates issued by the Federal Reserve. In 2019, consumers shouldn’t expect homebuyers to flood the market again and drive prices through the roof, but it’s also unlikely to be a crisis for home sellers.

    If you bought your house in the last year or two, still love it and don’t want to part with it, go ahead and wait another five years before revisiting the thought of selling. But if you’re weighing your options to sell, considering selling this year or maybe the year after, don’t play the waiting game.

    Here are four reasons to sell your house in 2019:

    • New buyers are still entering the market.
    • Interest rates are still on the lower end.
    • You have high equity.
    • Selling now will be better than waiting till 2020

    New Buyers Are Still Entering the Market

    As interest rates rise, some buyers will hesitate to make an offer on a home or apply for a mortgage, so be ready to see occasional drops in buyer activity. And if your house is at the higher end of the price range in your market, you should expect less buyer interest than before. Ron notes the combination of rising mortgage rates and home prices exceeding buyers' budgets are what has caused the slowing of homebuyer activity in recent months.

    But with available housing inventory remaining low, even with rising interest rates, buyers who are ready to make a purchase will still shop for homes. The biggest wave of new homebuyers will be among millennials, who are mostly first-time buyers. In a Harris Poll survey of 2,000 U.S. adults commissioned by real estate information company Trulia, more than one-fifth of Americans between ages 18 and 34 said they plan to buy a home within the next 12 months. Already, millennials make up the largest share of homebuyers at 36 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors, which released the number in March 2018.

    The bottom line: While houses may sit on the market for a few more days on average compared with 2017 when the market was white-hot, buyers remain active and it’s still possible to profit from your home sale.

     

    Interest Rates Are Still Low-ish

    Mortgage interest rates have been on a bit of a bumpy road over the last few months. Interest rates for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage reached their highest level in over seven years in November 2018, when they hit 4.94 percent, according to Freddie Mac. As of the end of February 2019, however, interest rates are down slightly to 4.35 percent, according to the mortgage loan company. While it’s reasonable to expect mortgage rates to continue to climb gradually throughout the next year, they’ll remain much lower than the historic high of more than 18 percent in 1981.

    It’s important to keep in mind that while mortgage rates tend to mirror the Fed’s interest rate activity, mortgage rates are based on the market in that moment, your financial status and the property you’re looking to purchase.

     Just because the Fed raises rates at one meeting doesn’t mean mortgage rates will follow that exact pattern. “Not every Fed increase is passing on (to) a mortgage rate,” says John Pataky, executive vice president and chief consumer and commercial banking executive at TIAA Bank.

    A sudden leap in mortgage interest rates is unlikely in 2019, though Pataky notes that you should be ready to see rates continue to climb. “We do expect over the next 12 months that mortgage rates will continue to drift higher,” he says.

    If you’re looking to get the lowest interest rate possible on your next house, try to make a deal sooner rather than later.

    You Have High Equity

    Homeowners who bought during the recession or shortly after benefitted from historically low interest rates and, up until around 2015, lower home prices that were still in recovery mode. If you fall into that category, your home equity has risen with nearly every mortgage payment, each renovation you made to the house and all the other houses on the block that sold for a higher price.

    The higher your equity in your home, the more you net from the sale, which can easily go toward the down payment on your next house. The larger your down payment, the better you look to lenders and the lower your interest rate will be, and the less likely you'll need to increase monthly payments with private mortgage insurance.

     

    Selling in 2019 vs. 2020

    If not selling your home in 2019 means putting your house on the market in 2020, the sooner option is the best one. In a survey of 100 U.S. real estate experts and economistsby real estate information company Zillow, released in May, almost half expect the next recession to occur in 2020. Another 14 percent believe the recession will hold out until 2021, while 24 percent of panelists expect the recession earlier – sometime in 2019.

    Whether you believe the recession is imminent or a long way off, current real estate patterns indicate a sudden upswing in activity or prices is unlikely in the near future. Real estate markets tend to operate on a cycle of their own, the length of which varies by market but can be between 10 and 16 years total and flow from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market with a period of balance in between.

    “It doesn’t look like there’s anything on the horizon that’s going to cause a big spike in home prices or increase demand dramatically,” Ron says.

    US NEWS  

  • Why You Should Take Your Real Estate Agent's Advice

    Buying or selling a home seems like it should be fairly intuitive. A buyer and a seller agree on a price and voila – a deal is made. But of course, as any homebuyer or seller will tell you it’s much more complicated than that.

    In many markets, buying residential real estate has become all but a contact sport, and selling seems just shy of a Stepfordian beauty pageant. Not only has technology changed the way properties are marketed and searched for, but the smoke-and-mirrors of home staging has raised the bar for sellers’ presentation, and therefore made it more difficult for buyers to spot that diamond in the rough. And, of course, a seasoned Realtor can advise even the most veteran or rookie client.

    Many real estate professionals have begun to call themselves real estate advisors, and in many ways, the title is appropriate. For the average American homeowner, a home represents the largest asset they have. Therefore it is a wise move to hire someone to advise, regarding how and when to smartly buy or sell the asset.

     For many buyers and sellers, the real estate agent has become a trusted advisor, much like a portfolio manager. If someone is living in a robust real estate market, like a cosmopolitan city or affluent suburb, it makes sense to not only hire a smart and experienced agent to shepherd the often confusing process of buying or selling property, but also to follow his or her advice.

    Chances are your real estate agent is going to echo other professionals in a few key topics when it comes to buying or selling. Here are a few notable examples of advice your agent may give, and why they'll help you buy or sell your home.

    For Sellers:

    Stage Your Home


    These days, buyers have very little imagination, and they expect to see houses that look like clean slates, and the popularity of both newly developed properties as well as TV shows about interior design and real estate deals further the expectation. These professionally staged homes are selling a dream, and if your resale is going to compete, you also have to sell the dream of clean and bright. Anything too far from that can easily turn off many potential buyers.

    If some of your furniture looks old or odd, bringing in some newer pieces instead might be a small investment that will net you more money – and more quickly – upon the sale. And if your agent asks you to put a bowl of lemons in the kitchen or flowers in the living room, just do it.

    Clean Up and Declutter


    Cleaning up means not only giving the bathrooms and kitchen a deep cleaning, but it also means decluttering. Remember: You’re moving. Think of this as step one of packing, including getting extra furniture, toys and out-of-season clothes out of your house. Closet space is paramount. Keep your closets as neat as possible while your home is on the market. The floors of the closets should also be clear – if there's clutter on closet floors, it telegraphs to buyers that this home doesn’t have enough closet space.

    And for each showing or open house, make the beds, get dishes out of the sink and remove laundry from sight – and close those toilet seats.

    Depersonalize


    Personal effects can distract buyers from focusing on the space itself. All family photos, or other identifying decor pieces like awards and diplomas, should be moved into the new home or put into storage. They’re not going to help sell the property and your privacy is important. A good way to think about selling your house is that although the property is your home, once it’s on the market, it’s a product for sale. Depersonalizing also means neutralizing decor choices that are specific to you, like painting the chartreuse foyer white, storing your beer-soaked pleather recliner from college and taking down the bead curtain from the bedroom door frame.

     

    For Buyers:

    Get Your Ducks in a Row


    Before you begin to look at properties, decide if you’re going to take out a mortgage and get preapproved by a bank. It will give you an idea of what you can afford, and what you can’t. Many real estate agents are happy to help you reach out to lenders, but they won't want to show you homes until you know how you plan to pay for a house.

    Make a Wish List


    To best utilize the time and talents of your agent, give him or her your wish list. What are the things you must have versus what you’d like to have? An open kitchen? A view? Proximity to work? Outdoor space? A home office? The must-haves and want-to-haves help your agent narrow down potential properties, which shortens the time it takes for you to find a home that meets your needs.

     

    Let Your Agent Play Devil’s Advocate


    When you tour properties together, tell your agent what you liked and disliked about each property, but ask him if you’re missing something. Is bad decor throwing you off from seeing the amazing bones of the house? Is a fabulous renovation distracting you from dark views or an unlivable layout? Your agent should be able to see a neglected gem, as well as through the smoke and mirrors of great staging.

    Whether someone is new to the market or has bought and sold many properties over the years, one of the biggest mistakes that buyers or sellers make is to think they can outsmart the market or cut corners regarding their Realtor’s advice. As you would listen to the advice of your accountant, financial advisor or attorney, if you’ve bothered to hire a real estate agent whom you respect, listen to the advice he or she is imparting to you.


  • Are You Ready to Buy Your First Home?

    What does it take to activate a millennial homebuyer? Are the reports true that the younger generations prefer renting over homeownership, the American dream? As the market indicates and many real estate professionals can attest to, that's not the case. Millennials do want to own a home, but many don't know how to navigate this field. After all, it is the largest purchase most people ever make, and requires many considerations.

    So, how does the traditional process of buying a home jive with this technologically savvy generation that is used to relying on data derived from computers? More importantly, how do you know when you're ready to buy, and how do you know what to buy? There's no right or wrong way to answer any of these questions, and how you move toward homeownership is based on a variety of factors, both deeply personal and connected to the real estate industry overall.

     Here are five important things to consider and questions this generation can ask themselves to figure it out:

    • Money matters.
    • How long you plan to live there.
    • Timing.
    • The online marketplace.
    • Expert advice.

    Money Matters

    Do you need a mortgage, and how much are you able to put toward a down payment? Discuss your financial wherewithal with a mortgage banker, mortgage broker or financial advisor who can give you feedback on your individual financial situation. Review monthly home expenses, including property taxes with mortgage payments, compared to the option of renting. The monthly outlay may not be much different from renting, but consider whether you will see appreciation in property you own over time. In comparison, rent typically increases over time, unless you live in a rent-controlled building.

    How Long You Plan to Live There

    Most homebuyers should purchase with a minimum five-year window in mind. It's unlikely that you will make a profit selling after just a year or two, and flipping a house requires experience and skill.

     

    Timing

    Should you purchase a starter home or wait until you can afford something bigger? Many millennial buyers struggle with this decision for one obvious reason: money. When is the right time to take the leap? This is the kind of soul searching buyers have to do for themselves. Sometimes when you wait, you might miss the market completely. Adversely, if you wait longer to have a larger budget, it will afford you to get more of what you want on a longer horizon.

    The Online Marketplace

    The internet is not the gospel when it comes to real estate. It's a great source for floor plans and photos, but remember that it's a marketing tool geared toward luring you in. Automated home valuation tools like Zillow's Zestimate are not always spot on, and should be double-checked by a human with real estate expertise. A great real estate agent is often the best source for comparable sale information, as he or she knows the ins and outs of the local market. Most importantly, this is your home you are shopping for – there are some intangibles that matter in owning a home that will factor into your final decision, and are often found in person rather than online.

    Expert Advice

    Do not discount the value of a real estate professional you can trust. They are experts in their field and will make navigating the transaction much easier. Many new buyers do not realize that they are paying for this service whether they use it or not. The total commission is already negotiated between the seller and the listing agent, and is built into the sale price. The seller pays both agents at the closing. There may be a small incentive to the seller if you buy without and agent, but it is to your disadvantage when you forgo representation and the expertise the right agent can provide.

     The joy derived from homeownership has a price that is worth more than a simple mathematical, scientific analysis. Though this decision must make financial sense, there is without a doubt a happiness factor that comes from owning a home that one cannot put a price on. From their growing representation in the homebuyer market, millennials want a piece of this American dream as well.

  • 5 Home Improvement Projects That Build Equity

    How do you build equity in a home while simultaneously enhancing your everyday life? By making home improvements that add value to your property. Not only will improving a home allow you to build equity quickly and efficiently, but it will also make your life more comfortable on a daily basis. Of course, you don’t want to improve or add just anything to your house. Instead, be strategic about the specific improvements you decide to make to your home. In other words: choose improvement projects that will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to adding value to your property.

    Fortunately, we’ve done the research for you. If you’re looking to build equity in your home, and the property is lacking in these areas (think: a dated kitchen or lack of curb appeal), then these projects are an excellent way to add thousands upon thousands of dollars of value to your home. Here are 5 home improvement projects that will likely add value to your home. 

    5 home improvements that add value to a home
    Landscaping
    Ask any homebuyer what they look for in a home, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one who doesn’t place value on curb appeal. After all, you can have the best interior in the world but without attractive landscaping and front exterior, few buyers (if any) will be charmed. Even a simple, well-maintained lawn can go a long way in building equity in your home. However, Money Crashers warns that going overboard with landscaping (i.e. adding fountains, expensive plants, etc) will not necessarily add value to a home. Instead, the website encourages homeowners to “wow potential buyers with a well-kept lawn, and some well-laced shrubbery or small trees.” These front yard house changes tend to “recoup a decent percentage,” according to Money Crashers.

    Energy efficient windows
    Tired of living in a home with old, drafty windows? Fortunately, this is an easy fix. Simply replace your old windows with new, energy efficient ones, and you’re sure to increase your home’s value (and decrease those monthly energy bills). While new windows aren’t cheap, they do end up saving you money in the long run. They also make it easier and faster to heat and cool your home throughout the year, which means you can kiss those high utility bills goodbye. In fact, according to Money, “replacing old windows with newer, energy-efficient ones can save you anywhere from $25 to $450 a year in heating and cooling costs.”

    Outdoor deck addition
    Everyone (especially a homebuyer) loves having an outdoor deck for lounging, eating and grilling. According to Remodeling’s 2019 Cost vs. Value Report, adding a wood deck addition to your home yields a return of more than 75 percent. The report notes that this return is for a 16×20 foot deck addition using pressure-treated joists. According to Money Crashers, the cost of adding a deck varies widely depending on materials and size, however, most decks cost anywhere from $1,200 to $10,000 or more. Though pricey, these decks will ensure you have plenty of outdoor space to enjoy while also building equity in your home.

    Bathroom remodel
    Having updated or new bathrooms in your home will go a long way in attracting potential buyers down the road. Since it’s a room that you and guests use on a daily basis, many consider bathroom remodels to be well worth the money, time and effort. According to Remodeling’s 2019 Cost vs. Value Report, a mid-range bathroom remodel will cost you around $20,000. When homeowners sell the home, they should be able to recoup around 67 percent of their investment. In many cases, you can remodel a bathroom for under $20,000 when you choose affordable and reasonable finishes from Home Depot and Lowe’s. 

    Kitchen remodel
    Kitchen remodels can either be extremely expensive or fairly affordable, depending on the finishes and appliances chosen. While it’s certainly never cheap to redo a kitchen, it doesn’t have to break the bank either. Those that choose high-end, luxury finishes, such as marble countertops, custom cabinets and designer backsplashes, could end up paying upwards of $100,000 or more. However, those that choose less luxurious finishes can easily redo a kitchen for $40,000 or less. For many homebuyers, having a spacious, practical and updated kitchen is at the top of their list of needs, making this improvement a must. 

    Other ways to build equity in your home
    In addition to adding value through home improvements, you can build equity in your home through other means including:

    Putting extra money towards paying off home loans – The more money you put towards paying those monthly mortgage bills, the closer you’ll be to owning your home. Whether it’s an end-of-year bonus or money from a side hustle, every little bit counts when it comes to paying off the principle and interest on your home loans.
    Putting more money down at the beginning –If you have the resources to do so, making a larger down payment will lower your monthly mortgage payments and interest on a home. It’s also a great way to build equity in a home almost immediately.
    Giving it time –In general, the longer you live in a home, the more equity you’ll have in that home. So don’t sell a home right away. Give it time, work to pay off your debt and add value to the home. Before you know it (in five plus years), you’ll have built up a good amount of equity in the home.
    For more advice on how to build equity faster, check here.

    Planning to sell your home and move soon?
    So you’ve made the necessary upgrades, waited for the right time to sell and have officially sold your home. Congrats! If you’re ready to say goodbye to your old home and hello to another, you’ll need the right moving company to handle the transition. Fortunately, Moving.com’s extensive network of reputable and reliable movers makes it easy to book the best moving company for the job. All relocation companies in our network are licensed and insured, so you can rest assured that your move will be in good hands. To get organized for your move, use our comprehensive Move Planner. Our tool provides customizable moving checklists, personal tasks list, helpful recommendations, email reminders and plenty of coupons to get you organized. Best of luck and happy moving!
     
  • 10 Warning Signs That You Hired the Wrong Realtor

    Perhaps you’re preparing to list your home or currently searching for a new one. Either way, it’s absolutely essential that you hire the right Realtor for the job. Otherwise, you could end up losing out on the right buyer or home. Not sure if you’ve enlisted the best Realtor for your specific needs? Fortunately, we can help. Below, we’ve compiled a list of 10 signs that you hired the wrong Realtor. Here are the most important red flags to watch out for when using a Realtor to buy or sell a home.

    10 signs that you hired the wrong Realtor

    1. The Realtor is rarely available for showings

      Having trouble contacting your real estate agent? Do they seem to always be out of town – especially on weekends when showings are most common? Are they only available on days that don’t work for you? If your Realtor is rarely available for showings (or for anything else), then you may have hired the wrong real estate agent. After all, if they’re constantly on vacation or busy with other tasks (or clients), then they won’t be able to dedicate enough time to show your home to potential buyers or show you multiple listings when looking to buy a home. 

    2. They don’t seem to have any sort of marketing know-how

      From Instagram and Facebook pages to professional brochures and mailings, a good Realtor will have multiple platforms for reaching buyers and sellers. If your real estate agent lacks a web presence, this is a problem. Simply placing a sign in the yard and listing your home on the MLS isn’t always enough to sell a home quickly and for the best price. Realtors should have a proactive plan for reaching customers. This might include sending out mailers, posting on social media platforms, and hosting an open house or event. In addition to leveraging social media and other marketing strategies, a good Realtor should be capable of producing high-quality, professional-level photographs of a home when listing it for sale. If your home’s listing photos look like they were taken on an iPhone, consider finding a real estate agent with more marketing know-how. 

    3. They lack negotiation skills

      Negotiation skills are key when it comes to buying and selling a home. After all, your Realtor represents you and should therefore be able to represent your needs and desires clearly and accurately when handling this very important transaction. Negotiation skills come into play when making an offer on a home as well as when making a counter offer. Without good negotiation skills, your Realtor won’t be able to reach a deal between the buyer and seller. In addition, a Realtor will need to be able to negotiate after a home inspection. From major structural issues to trivial cosmetic problems, these inspections always inevitably find something wrong with a home. It’s up to the listing agent and the buyer’s agent to decide who pays for what (if anything) when there’s a problem with the listing. A good Realtor should be able to negotiate the best deal possible for their clients. 

    4. They’re a little too green

      Nothing’s wrong with hiring a new Realtor. After all, newbies often bring a fresh perspective to the table. If the new real estate agent is hardworking, dedicated and knowledgeable of the market, then you probably won’t have any issues – especially if they work for a reputable broker. However, if the Realtor doesn’t have a particularly good understanding of the local housing market and lacks critical negotiation and paperwork skills, you have a problem. When hiring a Realtor, who also happens to be new to the job, make sure they are capable of handling the task.

    5. The listing agent doesn’t understand the home’s market value

      Has your home been sitting on the market for multiple months with numerous showings yet hasn’t received any offers? If the answer is yes, then chances are good that the Realtor listed your home for way more than it’s worth (read: your home is overpriced). Realtors eager to win your business may suggest selling your home for a too-good-to-be-true number. If the home is priced way above market value, then it likely won’t sell anytime soon. Unfortunately, the longer a home sits on the market, the more buyers wonder what’s wrong with it. Pricing a home correctly from the very beginning is extremely important, which is why you need a Realtor with a realistic point of view and a deep understanding of the local housing market.

    6. The Realtor is too pushy

      The last thing you want is a Realtor desperate for a deal (any deal!). If you’re listing a home, and the listing agent pushes you to accept an offer or make a counter offer that you’re not comfortable with, then this Realtor isn’t for you. If you’re buying a home, and the agent pushes you to make an offer on a home when you’re not quite ready, this is a red flag that they are desperate for a deal. A good Realtor will never push you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. They should have your best interest at heart – not their own. After all, they work for you. 

    7. They aren’t familiar with the area

      Even if you hire an experienced and reputable Realtor, it won’t do you any good if they aren’t familiar with the local housing market. If your real estate agent has little to no experience with buying and selling homes in the area, then you’ll need to hire someone who does. Having a Realtor who understands the local market will ensure that your For Sale home is priced just right. If you’re a buyer, having a local Realtor will ensure that any offers made will be competitive and fair. 

    8. The Realtor is both the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent

      Unfortunately, naïve buyers and sellers may end up using the same Realtor. This is called dual agency. We recommend finding your own agent to represent you and only you throughout the real estate transaction. While having a Realtor represent both parties will certainly benefit the agent (after all, they won’t have to split their commission), it likely won’t benefit the client – especially the buyer. Why? Because if the agent also represents the seller who wants to get as much money as possible for their home, then how can they also represent the buyer who wants to minimize every dollar spent? How can the dual agent really have everyone’s interest at heart? We recommend avoiding this situation altogether by finding a new Realtor. 

    9. They are unprofessional

      Are they late to showings or appointments? Do they make inappropriate comments? Your Realtor is unprofessional and should be shown the door. Other signs of an unprofessional Realtor include wearing inappropriate clothing while working (i.e. showing up in yoga pants and a t-shirt to a showing), not having business cards or professional marketing materials, not returning important phone calls or emails, displaying erratic behavior and lacking good communication skills.

    10. They don’t ask the right questions

      When selling a home, it’s absolutely critical that you and the Realtor be on the same page. A good real estate agent will ask all the right questions prior to listing the home. This will allow them to sell a home quickly and for the right price. It will also allow them to preempt certain questions from buyers. Important questions that your Realtor should ask you include: how quickly are you hoping to sell the house? What improvements have you made to the house? Were there other home projects you hoped to accomplish? How do you prefer to communicate (phone, email, etc). Remember: when real estate agents ask you questions, it’s also important that they listen to your answers.

      Ready to fire your real estate agent? For tips on how to break up your Realtor, check here.

    Ready to move?

    You’ve bought and/or sold a home, and you’re ready to move. Congrats! To find a reliable moving company, check Moving.com’s extensive network of movers. Our website makes it easy to find and book the best moving company for the job. All relocation companies in our network are licensed and insured, so you can rest assured that your move will be in good hands.

  • How to Make the Home Selling Process Easier on Pets

    When I sold my home last year, one of the unexpected challenges was the stress it put on my pets. It was my first time going through the home selling process, so I hadn’t put much thought into how things like spur-of-the-moment showings and unexpected furniture rearrangements would affect my dog and cat. We were lucky because we sold quickly, but even in the short period of time that we were on the market I could see a bit of heightened anxiety as they tried to make sense of all that was going on.

    Animals—ourselves included—are creatures of habit. Our pets find comfort in the predictability of a routine. They’re also territorial to varying degrees (the cat seemed a bit more wary of the change in interior scenery than the dog did). So the home selling process, with all its ups, downs, and unpredictabilities, is naturally a bit much for our animal companions. But if you plan ahead and take active steps to lessen the impact with your pets in mind, you can reduce some of that stress and make the whole thing easier on both you and your furry (or feathery or scaly, etc.) creatures. Here are some tips on how to do it.

    Have a plan for their stuff

    While the environment around them may be changing—and is soon to change even more once you sell and move in to your new home—do your best to keep your pet’s individual space as familiar as possible. In our home, our pets have a little corner of the living room where their beds and toys are. So when we sold, we made sure that corner was always the same and always available to them.

    The key to doing this is to have a plan for quickly making that space disappear when a showing is about it happen. Designate a space in the closet (or even under your bed) that you can quickly transfer your pet’s things to when you need to get them out of sight. The same thing goes for other pet-related items like food and water dishes, spare leashes, and anything else that screams “a pet lives here!” This way, your pets will have what they need when they need it, and buyers will be none the wiser when they come through.

    Take your pet with you during showings

    This one is hopefully a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning. You should never leave your pet home alone during showings, since you never know who is coming by. Even if your pet is friendly they may not welcome strangers walking in and out of their space, and in addition to the fear and stress this can put on your pet, it’s also not great for potential buyers either (not to mention that you could be held liable for any pet-related injuries that happen on your property).

    Showings, especially last minute ones, are part and parcel of the home selling process—you can’t avoid them, regardless of how inconvenient they may be. You need to have a plan in place for how you will get your pets out of your home for showings and what you will do with them. For me, this meant leashing up the dog, sticking the cat in his carrier, and hitting the road. If the weather permitted we went for a walk somewhere; otherwise we just sat in the car and hung out until we could go back home. You could also consider dropping your pet off at a neighbor or pet sitter’s house, if possible.

    To make sure you have enough time to wrangle your pets prior to showings, request that you get at least one hour’s notice before anyone comes through. Better yet, ask for two or more hours. That way you don’t have to run out in a hurry, and if you need to find a place for your pets to go you have some time to arrange it. Talk to your realtor about the issue ahead of time so they understand your limitations and that the pets need to be out of the house before buyers come over.

    Talk to your vet if your pet has any issues with anxiety

    The home selling process can be difficult on all pets, but particularly those who already suffer from some degree of anxiety. If this is the case with your animal companion, make an appointment with your vet to talk about options for taking the edge off. These include prescription and non-prescription calming medications, wearable stress relievers like the Thundershirt, calming sprays and collars, and other products designed to regulate your pet’s mood. For my own anxious dog, I relied on CBD treats.

    If you can, try to talk to your vet long before the actual chaos of home selling starts. That way you give yourself some time to play around with anxiety reducing options and see what the best fit is for your pet. Regardless of how much time you have before your home goes on the market, however, explain the situation to your vet as clearly as you can and see what they have to say—pet health professionals will usually have good advice for you on how to guide your pet through a tough situation.

    Make sure your pet gets plenty of exercise and attention

    You know what they say: “a tired dog is a good dog.” And the same goes for other types of animals, too. Being sure to provide your pet with lots of opportunities to release pent up stress and energy during the home selling process is beneficial for both of you. If you have a dog, consider adding some time on to their daily walk or taking more trips to the dog park. Exercise your cat by instigating more play time, with games like chase and hide-and-go-seek. Up the amount of attention you give your pet too, since they probably need a little bit more TLC during this time. Both exercise and attention help strengthen your own bond with your pet, in addition to being good for their mental state. Even if you’re busy, set aside plenty of time to help your pet expend mental and physical energy.

    Know the signs of stress

    Some animals may get more stressed than others during the home selling process. And it’s up to you as their benevolent caregiver to not just have a plan for mitigating that stress, but for reacting right away when you see that it’s occurring. Signs to watch out for include panting, clinginess, drooling, excessive dandruff, shaking or shivering, pacing, and excessive licking. You can see a full list of stress signs in various types of animals here.

    If you do notice that your pet’s stress is increasing, notify your vet. It may be that your current plan of attack isn’t working and you need to try something else, or there may be other ways that you need to adjust your strategy. The better idea you have of what to look for, the quicker you can react when your pet communicates to you that they could really use some extra help.

    Stay calm

    I know, easier said than done. But as with all things when it comes to pets, your body language and your mood have a large effect on your pet’s demeanor. Just as you would when you take your unwilling pet to the vet or when you fly with them, do your best to remain as cool and collected as possible when you’re dealing with the harried tasks of home selling. This will in turn have a positive effect on your pet’s mood and behavior, and will help ease them through the transition.

    There’s really no way to make home selling totally stress-free for your animal, but trust that you’ll get through it together and eventually, life will go back to normal. For more advice, check out the rest of our articles on moving with pets.

  • Should You Buy a Home Warranty When You Move?

    Should you buy a home warranty when you move? For many buyers, home warranties offer peace of mind when it comes to budgeting for home expenses. For others, home warranties are simply a waste of money. Whether or not you need to purchase a home warranty depends on your specific needs, finances and the condition of your new home. Fortunately, we’re here to help. To make your decision easier, we’ve included information on what home warranties are good for (and what they’re not) as well as the types of homeowners who should and should not consider purchasing one.

    What is a home warranty?

    So what is a home warranty, anyway? It’s essentially a single protection plan that homeowners can purchase to cover the cost of repairs and replacing of appliances and systems in their homes. Basically, think of it as insurance for your home appliances. However, unlike homeowners insurance, home warranties only cover basic appliances and features, while insurance covers big-ticket items such as the structure of your home and personal household belongings. Typically, insurance also requires a major event such as a fire, flood or burglary to take place in order to receive compensation for items, whereas home warranties may only require general wear and tear or malfunction of an appliance. For information about the cost of home warranties, check here.

    What does a home warranty cover?

    Practically every homeowner will experience problems from time to time with appliances and home features. After all, who hasn’t had a dishwasher or refrigerator break down at least once in their lives? Fortunately, this is where home warranties can help. Having a home warranty ensures that if your appliance breaks or become damaged, a service professional will come to your home to repair or replace the item. Since you’ve already purchased a home warranty, the only thing you’ll likely end up paying for is the small service fee. On the other hand, those who do not have a home warranty will need to pay out of pocket for any replacements or repairs. Home warranties typically cover:

    • Plumbing systems
    • HVAC units
    • Electrical systems
    • Washing machines and dryers
    • Garbage disposal
    • Ovens and stovetops
    • Dishwashers
    • Refrigerators and freezers
    • Water heaters

    What to do before you move 

    • Read up on what a home warranty actually covers – Debating whether or not to purchase a home warranty? First, read up on what a home warranty does and does not cover. Most home warranties cover the cost of repairing or replacing a number of home appliances and systems within the home including the ones listed above. Certain providers may also give customers the option to add extra home features such as a swimming pool to their home warranty plan. Be sure to research different providers and their offerings before committing to a home warranty plan.
    • Ask the seller about existing home warranties– Do the sellers have a home warranty already? Do they have individual manufacturer warranties for different appliances? Make sure to ask the sellers these questions when purchasing a home. The sellers may even offer to pay for all or part of the buyer’s home warranty during the first year.
    • Have an inspector get a good look at the home’s appliances and features – Under contract and preparing to purchase a home? Be sure that the inspector who oversees your official home inspection gets a good look at the appliances and systems. Your inspector should be able to give you a full assessment of the condition of these items. This should make it easier to decide whether or not you need a home warranty. For instance, if an appliance is on its last legs, it’s probably a good idea to purchase a home warranty and/or ask the seller to handle the repairs prior to closing.

    Home warranties are ideal for:

    • Those moving to an older home or one with outdated appliances – Home warranties are ideal for those moving to an older home or one with outdated appliances. After all, with older homes, it’s just a matter of time before something breaks down (and trust us, it will!). So save yourself the headaches, frustration and expense by buying a home warranty when moving.
    • Those who are risk averse – Does the thought of a broken fridge keep you up at night? If you’re one of those people who simply needs the peace of mind that a home warranty provides, we strongly suggest purchasing one when you move.
    • Those who are not financially prepared to make a large, out of pocket expense – Of course, new appliances don’t come cheap. In fact, refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers and other big-ticket appliances can set you back a few thousand dollars. Unless you’re financially prepared to replace these items at the drop of a hat, it may be a good idea to purchase a home warranty.

    Home warranties are not ideal for:

    • Those moving to a new home or one with updated appliances – Moving to a new construction home? You likely won’t need to bother purchasing a home warranty. Most new home features and systems should work without the need of repairs or replacements for several years. In addition, these newer appliances should still be covered under manufacturer warranties, which are usually good for up to several years.
    • Those who already have individual manufacturer warranties on appliances – Does the seller have manufacturer warranties for certain appliances? If these household items are already covered under an individual warranty, then there’s likely no need to purchase a larger umbrella home warranty policy, unless you’re worried about plumbing, electrical and other big ticket items breaking down.

    What to do with your warranty information

    If the seller passes along their manufacturer warranty or home warranty information to you, be sure to store all paperwork and receipts in an easy-to-find file folder and/or home binder. 

    Ready to move?

    So you’ve bought a home, purchased a home warranty and are ready to move. Congrats! To find a reliable moving company, check Moving.com’s extensive network of movers. Our website makes it easy to find and book the best moving company for the job. All relocation companies in our network are licensed and insured, so you can rest assured that your move will be in good hands.

  • 11 Ways to Save for a Down Payment

    On the path to home ownership, few tasks seem more insurmountable than having to save for a down payment. The median asking price for U.S. housing in 2018 was just over $206,000, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. For that price, competitive buyers are expected to put down between $20,600 and $41,200—no small chunk of change for most people. Stagnant wages and student loan debt have made it more difficult than ever before to save for a down payment, but plenty of people do it with careful savings plans. Read on for some actionable down payment advice, including 11 ways you can start building up the capital you need.

    How much do you need to save for a down payment?

    You may have heard that 20% is the gold standard when it comes to down payments, but in fact, many of today’s buyers are putting down closer to 5% or 10%. And if you’re a first time buyer who’s willing to take on the added cost of mortgage insurance, you can even get away with putting down just 3% of your total home’s purchase price as a down payment.

    Keep in mind that the amount you need to save for a down payment varies greatly by your lender and your credit qualifications. To get a feel for your own situation, reach out to a mortgage broker. They’ll be able to pull your true credit score (not the one you see on a consumer report) and based on their expertise tell you how much you’ll likely be expected to put down.

    How to save for a down payment

    Whether you’re putting down $1,000 or $50,000, you’ve still got to figure out how to save what you need. Incorporate one or more of the following tips into your savings plan to start saving faster.

    1. Open a new savings account that’s just for your down payment

      Create a separate account with no linking debit card or checks that you can use solely for the purpose of saving for your down payment. Try to transfer a certain percentage of all incoming money into the account—every little bit makes a difference.

    2. Use cash instead of credit

      As much as you can, rely on cash for your everyday spending instead of a credit card. You’ll be more conscious of how much you spend and less likely to splurge on unnecessary or overpriced things, in turn helping you keep more money in the bank that you can put toward a down payment.

    3. Set achievable goals

      Again, even small amounts add up. Instead of focusing on one big number that you have to get to, break it up into smaller, more manageable amounts. Try to save just $100, then another $100, and so on. It will put things into perspective so that when you do manage to set aside $10 or $20 toward your goal you’ll actually recognize it for the accomplishment that it is.

    4. Create a budget

      One of the best things you can do for yourself when actively saving money for a down payment is determine just how much you have left over after necessities. This is the money you’ll be able to save from, after all. Set a budget that takes into account all of your monthly payments in order to help you make smart choices about how you spend the leftovers.

    5. Sign up for automatic saving plans

      Many banks will help you automatically save by rounding up the dollar amount on purchases you make and putting the extra into a savings account. It’s a no-fuss way to save money without having to even really think about it.

    6. Dedicate any extra income to your down payment

      Put any bonuses or cash gifts aside for your down payment instead of spending them as they come in. Even that $20 your grandma sent for your birthday is worth holding on to.

    7. Think, then spend

      Trying to save for a down payment doesn’t mean you have to completely stop spending money on things you enjoy, like clothes or concert tickets. But it does mean that you want to put more thought into buying those things that take you a few steps back from achieving your goal. For any purchase that isn’t a necessity, give yourself 24 hours to think about it and decide if it’s worth it. If it’s a really big purchase, give yourself a week.

    8. Put your spending into context

      It’s much easier to save money when you consider purchases in terms of how hard you had to work to pay for them. Is a designer bag really worth a week’s worth of work? Probably not, but a house certainly is.

    9. Remove temptation

      If you’re subscribed to marketing emails from your favorite brands or stores you’re baiting yourself to spend money on non-essentials. Click “unsubscribe” so less temptation ends up in your inbox and you can focus more on the purchase that matters most to you.

    10. Make shopping lists (and stick to them)

      Stores work hard to get you to buy more than you came for. Beat the system and save a ton of money by creating a list of what you need before you go and actually sticking to it. Yes, even if that means forgoing the oh-so-tempting dollar section at Target.

    11. Sell stuff you don’t want or need anymore

      Chances are you have plenty of things in your home that you never use. Put unneeded belongings to good use by selling them for cash online or with a yard sale. Not only will you make some money, you’ll also have less to pack up when you do finally save enough and make your move—a win-win!

    Don’t look at a down payment as an impossible hurdle to jump over. Break it into small, digestible goals so that you can see your progress in action, and never lose sight of the reason you’re working so hard to save. If owning your own home is truly important to you, it will be more than worth it to pass on the expenses that bring you immediate gratification but take you further away from what you really want. Be smart in your spending and realistic in your home buying budget and you should be able to save up what you need.

  • Should I Buy a House With a Swimming Pool? Here’s What You Should Know First

    Thinking of buying a house with a swimming pool or installing one in your current home? You’ll need to carefully consider all aspects of pool ownership before taking the plunge. While owning a home with a pool comes with plenty of advantages (namely that it can improve physical health, boost mental health and expand your social life), it can also come with quite a few serious considerations. From the price of pool maintenance and the cost of higher insurance premiums to the safety of your children and the impact on your property value, there’s plenty to think about when buying a house with a pool. Here are eight things you should know when making this decision. 

    8 Things to Know Before Buying a House With a Swimming Pool 

    1. Pools require regular maintenance and cleaning

      Unfortunately, pools do require regular maintenance. From using the proper chemicals to cleaning the surfaces, the upkeep of a swimming pool takes time and effort on the part of the homeowner. Otherwise, PH levels could become imbalanced and problems such as algae and bacteria could reek havoc on the health of you and your family. Don’t have the time or energy to take care of a pool? Fortunately, there are plenty of pool service companies available to help maintain your pool. Most pool service pros cost anywhere from $50 to $150 a week. In addition to being fairly expensive, these pool professionals will likely have to service the pool several times a week for regular upkeep. So be prepared to see the pool professionals on a weekly basis, if you own a swimming pool.

    2. Having a pool can improve your quality of life

      Buying a house with a pool comes with its fair share of perks. For one, pool owners have access to their private swimming pool to enjoy whenever they wish. Second, swimming can improve cardiovascular health, flexibility and overall physical well-being. It’s also been proven to boost mental health and quality of life. Finally, having a pool can improve a homeowner’s social life. After all, who doesn’t want to throw a private pool party with friends?

    3. Your utility bills will increase

      If you’re thinking of buying a home with a pool or installing a pool in your yard, be prepared for an increase in utility bills. According to HomeAdvisor, homeowners often pay up to $300 a year in electricity just to operate their pool pump. The pump controls the pool’s filtration system and is absolutely essential to maintaining a pool. Those installing a pool in their home will also need to be prepared for an increase in water bills, as it costs anywhere between “$60 and $120 to fill a standard, 15,000 to 30,000-gallon” pool with city water, according to HomeAdvisor.

    4. You’ll need to take certain pool precautions with children

      Sadly, “drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death in children 1 to 4 years old and the second leading cause in kids ages 1 to 15,” according to Parents Magazine. With this in mind, it’s absolutely critical that you and your family take the necessary precautions when buying a house with a pool. Preventative and protective measures include installing a safety fence around the pool, putting locks on the doors leading out to the pool, teaching your children to swim at a young age and setting pool rules with your family.

    5. You’ll need outdoor space for the pool and its equipment

      If the property is small, you may want to think twice before buying a house with a pool or installing one in the backyard. Not only will the pool and deck take up a good chunk of outdoor space, but it will also require extra room to store necessary pool equipment and accessories such as pool vacuums, skimmers, cleaning supplies, floats and towels. So make sure you have plenty of outdoor space to accommodate your pool needs before moving into a home with a pool. 

    6. Your community may require that you install a fence around the perimeter

      Most communities and cities require that homeowners install some sort of fence or gate around the perimeter of their property for safety purposes. This is to prevent strangers from walking off the street and into your pool. Zoning rules vary from community to community, so be sure to check your town’s specifics before installing a pool in your home.

    7. Having a pool may increase your property value (or not)

      Live in a warm weather climate? Having a pool may dramatically increase your property value. In fact, if you live in Florida, Arizona, Southern California or any other warm weather locale, you may be more likely to resell your home if the property has a pool. House hunters in these locations often list having a pool as one of their top priorities. However, if you live in New England or the Midwest, you may be better off skipping the pool. Those who live in cold weather climates often view owning a pool as more of a hazard and hassle. Therefore, house hunters in these areas will be less inclined to want a pool when shopping for a new house.

    8. Your insurance premium will be higher

      Those buying a house with a pool will likely need to increase their liability coverage due to the high incidence of injuries involved with swimming pools. Since the insurance company will be taking on more risk, you’ll likely have to pay a higher annual premium. You may also want to think twice before installing a diving board in the pool. According to Money Crashers, many homeowners insurance policies exclude pools with diving boards and water slides because of their association with increased injuries and higher medical bills. 

    Moving soon?

    So you’ve weighed the pros and cons of having a pool, purchased a new home and are now ready to move. Congrats! Fortunately, Moving.com’s extensive network of reputable and reliable movers makes it easy to book the best moving company for the job. All relocation companies in our network are licensed and insured, so you can rest assured that your move will be in good hands. Best of luck and happy moving!

  • Tips for Winning a Bidding War on a House You Really Want

    Ever found that perfect house only to get out-bid on your offer? In seller’s markets, when demand is high and inventory is low, buyers often have to go above and beyond to make sure their offer stands out from the competition. Sometimes, multiple buyers vying for the same property can end up in a bidding war, both parties trying to sweeten the deal just enough to edge out the other. And while there’s no science behind winning a bidding war on a house, there are things that you can do to up your chances. Here are eight of them.

    Up your offer

    Money talks. Your best bet if you’re set on a winning a bidding war on a house is, you guessed it, offering more money than the other person. Depending on the home’s price, location, and how high the demand is, upping your offer doesn’t have to mean ponying up to pay another ten thousand dollars or more. Sometimes, even going up just a few thousand dollars can make the difference between getting a property and losing out on it.

    One important thing to keep in mind when upping your offer, however: just because you’re ready to pay more for a house doesn’t mean the bank is. When it comes to your mortgage, you’re still only going to be able to get a loan for up to what the house appraises for. So if your higher offer gets accepted, that extra money might be coming out of your own pocket.

    Be ready to show your pre-approval

    Sellers are looking for strong buyers who are going to see a contract through to the end. To let them know how serious you are, it helps to have a pre-approval from your lender clearly stating that you’ll be able to borrow enough money to purchase the house. Make sure that the pre-approval document you show is specific to the property in question (your lender will be able to draft a letter for you; you’ll just have to give them a heads up). If your goal is winning a bidding war on a house where there is just you and another potential buyer and you can easily present your pre-approval, the seller is going to be more inclined to go with the sure thing.

    Increase the amount you’re willing to put down

    If you’re up against another buyer or buyers, it can be incredibly helpful to increase your down payment commitment. A higher down payment means less money will be required from the bank, which is ideal if a bidding war is pushing the price above and beyond what it might appraise for.

    In addition to a verbal promise to increase your down payment, back up your claim with financial proof. Presenting documents such as pay stubs, tax forms, and your 401(k) balance shows that not only are you prepared to put more down, but you also have the funds to do it.

    Waive your contingencies

    Contingencies are certain things that must be met in order to close a deal on a property. If they’re not met, the buyer is allowed to back out without losing any money. By waiving your contingencies—for example, your financial contingency (an agreement that the buyer will only buy the property if they get a large enough loan from the bank) or your inspection contingency (an agreement that the buyer will only buy the property if there aren’t any dealbreaker issues found during the home inspection)—you show just how badly you want to move forward with the deal. It is still possible to back out after waiving your contingencies, but you’ll lose your earnest money.

    There is a risk in waiving contingencies though, as you might imagine. Your contingencies give you the wiggle room you need as a buyer to renegotiate terms and price. So if you waive your inspection contingency and then find out during inspection that the home has serious foundational issues, you’re either going to have to sacrifice your earnest money or pay for expensive repairs once the title has been transferred. However, waiving one or more contingencies in a bidding war could be the extra push you need to get the house. You just have to make sure the risk is worth it.

    Pay in cash

    This obviously isn’t going to apply to everyone, but if you have the cash to cover the purchase price, offer to pay it all up front instead of getting financing. Not only are you eliminating the need for a third party to get involved in the deal, you’re also showing the seller that you mean business. There’s a risk any time a lender has to get involved—when you eliminate their presence, you eliminate the risk. Again though, very few standard buyers are going to have the necessary funds to buy a house outright. If this option doesn’t apply to you, skip it.

    Include an escalation clause

    An escalation clause can be an excellent asset when trying to win a bidding war. Simply put, the escalation clause is an addendum to your offer that states you’re willing to go up by X amount if another buyer matches your offer. More specifically, it dictates that you will raise your offer by a specific increment whenever another bid is made, up to a set limit.

    There’s an argument to be made that escalation clauses show your hand in a way that you might not want to do as a buyer, informing the seller of just how interested you are in the property. However, if winning a bidding war on a house is the end result you’re looking for, there’s nothing wrong with putting it all on the table and letting a seller know how serious you are. Work with your realtor to come up with an escalation clause that fits with both your strategy and your budget.

    Have your inspector on speed dial

    For both the buyer and the seller, a home inspection is a hurdle that has to be jumped before a deal can close, and there’s a lot riding on it. If you want to edge out another buyer, offer to do your inspection right away. This way, the seller doesn’t have to worry that by accepting an offer and taking their property off the market they’re wasting time that could be spent getting something better. You can do this in conjunction with waiving your inspection contingency if you’re really confident you want the house no matter what, or you could agree to a shortened contingency period. The goal here is to speed up the process as much as you can, in turn providing a benefit to both yourself and the seller.

    Get personal

    While money is pretty much always going to be the final deciding factor in a real estate decision, it never hurts to humanize your offer with a personal appeal. If you love a property, let the seller know in a letter. Be open and honest regarding why you feel so strongly about their home and why you think you’re the right buyer for it, and don’t be afraid to get a little emotional. This tactic isn’t going to work on all sellers (and almost certainly not on investors), but on a seller who themselves feels a strong connection to the property, it may make a positive impact.

    Winning a bidding war on a house takes a bit of strategy and a bit of luck. Your realtor will be able to help guide you through each step of the process so that you know you’re making the right decisions at the right times. Be confident, be calm, and trust that if it’s meant to happen, it will.

  • 7 Reasons Why You Should Get Involved in Your HOA

    Moving to a home with a homeowners association? Lucky you. While these organizations often get a bad rap for being expensive and rule-obsessed, they can also make life much easier. Well-managed HOAs typically run everything from your home’s landscaping and exterior aesthetics to pool maintenance and overall upkeep of the property. HOAs also manage finances and enforce rules in housing communities. They are most common in apartment buildings, planned neighborhoods and condo communities where residents live in close proximity to one another.

    If you’re preparing to move to an HOA community, consider joining your board, attending meetings and/or getting involved in neighborhood events. Not only does this make it easier to meet the neighbors, but it also gives you the power to review and change community rules that you find unreasonable. HOA responsibilities and rules vary from property to property, so be sure to thoroughly read your property’s handbook prior to moving.

    If you plan to join your HOA board, start by attending meetings. Every HOA community is different. Some hold meetings once a week, others once a month. To find out more about your HOA specifics, call the property manager for details and/or ask neighbors for information. To become a board member, you’ll need to inquire about elections (when and where they take place) as well as whether or not there are already open spots available. Many HOA boards vote on leadership positions once a year, so be sure to ask about the frequency of these elections. Even if you decide not to join your HOA board, you can still make a difference by showing up to meetings, voicing your opinions and helping out around the community. Here are 7 reasons why it’s important to get involved in your HOA.

    Why you should get involved in your HOA

    1. You can protect the community’s property values

      One of the main roles of the HOA is to help preserve the community’s property values by overseeing the maintenance and upkeep of the individual units as well as the grounds. If the landscaping and recreational areas are well taken care of, then the properties are more likely to uphold their value (or even increase in value). Needless to say, being involved in the HOA gives you more control over these maintenance decisions and therefore, more control over your home’s value.

    2. You can meet new neighbors

      If you’re new to the neighborhood, what better way to meet neighbors and make friends than to get involved in your HOA? Study after study shows making friends is easier when you live in close proximity and see each other on a regular basis. Attending HOA meetings, discussing issues and planning events together will bring you closer to your community and make you feel right at home almost immediately. 

    3. You can change rules and/or make new ones

      Are you annoyed by the fact that you can’t bring food to the community pool area? Or that your neighbor is throwing loud parties every Saturday? If you feel that the rules need to be changed or new rules need to be implemented, joining your HOA board is a step towards modifying the HOA rule book. At the very least, you should attend your HOA meetings to make your opinions known.

    4. You can fix problems in the community

      Whether it’s a problem with neighbors, landscaping or expensive water bills, HOA meetings give residents a platform to address important issues. If you’ve heard the same complaint from more than one neighbor, try creating a petition and/or coming up with solutions to the problem. Being a part of the HOA board allows you to fix problems and change things for the better. 

    5. You can gain leadership skills

      Want to hone your leadership skills in a no-pressure environment? Then joining your HOA board may be the right decision for you. Not only will participating on the HOA board teach you problem solving and strategic thinking skills, but it will also allow you to polish your public speaking and negotiation skills – all of which help your future leadership abilities.

    6. You can plan community events and social activities

      Live in a community where no one talks to each other? It’s time to change that. Join your HOA board to help plan and set up social events and activities to bring people together. Association barbecues, family-friendly outdoor movie nights, chili cook-offs and holiday parties are all great excuses to socialize and get to know your neighbors. If you’re one who especially likes to party plan, then your HOA may need your event planning expertise.    

    7. You can add volunteer experience to your resume

      Looking to beef up your resume? Adding volunteer positions, such as an HOA board member, is never a bad idea. After all, what employer wouldn’t want to see that you’re working hard to improve your neighborhood and overall quality of life? Having this volunteer position on your resume proves that you’re a community-oriented, civic leader.

    What are the benefits to living in an HOA community?

    In addition to zero landscaping (read: you’ll never have to mow a yard ever again!), there are a number of perks that come with living in an HOA community. For one, your utilities (think: water, insurance and electricity) often come rolled up into your HOA fee, simplifying your monthly bill payments. Second, residents of an HOA community benefit from monthly socials and events, making it easier to meet friends and neighbors. Finally, the most popular reason for choosing an HOA community is the access to a number of amenities. Many HOA neighborhoods include golf courses, tennis courts, community parks, swimming pools, fitness clubs and more.  For more information on the pros and cons of HOA living, check here.


  • Ready to Buy? Advice for First-Time Homebuyers

    Buying a home can be a tricky process. For first-time homebuyers, it may seem like the most complicated aspect of a home purchase is finding the perfect property, but that’s really only half the equation (and the fun half, at that). There’s a lot to manage on the back-end, including financing, timing, and big decisions about how and where you want to spend the next however-many-years of your life. It can get stressful and overwhelming, which is why it helps to go into the homebuying process with as clear of an idea as possible about what lies ahead and how to tackle it. Whether you’ve already started your home search or are just embarking on one, this is the advice that all first-time homebuyers should keep in mind.

    1. Know your budget…

      First and foremost: know how much you have to work with. The amount you should spend on a home is a complicated number comprised of how much you’ve got in the bank, how much you’re comfortable spending, and how much you want to take out as a loan. There are other considerations, too, like how much money you need leftover to furnish your home once it’s purchased and whether you’ll need money for repairs or renovations. Simply guessing at your budget isn’t a good strategy, so get the help of an expert early on. It can be a financial advisor, mortgage broker, or someone else who can give you a budget based on your current financial status and your future goals.

    2. …and stick to it

      Money can easily lose meaning when you’re faced with spending so much of it. After all, what’s another ten thousand dollars on a thirty-year mortgage when you’re already borrowing hundreds of thousands? Mortgage lenders will often approve you for way more than you should advisably spend, so it’s important to not just be apprised of your actual budget but to treat it like a ceiling that you can’t go over. Purchasing a home isn’t a decision that only affects you now—it’s an investment in your long-term financial health. So while it will likely be incredibly tempting to spend a little more and get a little more, it’s important to think big picture. That extra $10,000 on a $100,000 loan will mean hundreds of dollars extra year in mortgage payments.

    3. Don’t forget about closing costs

      Speaking of extra money, don’t neglect to factor in closing costs when you’re coming up with your spending limit. You may think you’ll get off easy since the seller usually covers agent commission fees, but there are still a lot of other costs associated with being a buyer: title fees, mortgage insurance, homeowners insurance, underwriting fees, taxes, attorney fees, etc. Together, they can—and often do—run up to ten or twenty thousand dollars. And that’s on top of your down payment. First-time homebuyers aren’t going to have capital from the sale of a previous property, so that’s money you’re going to have to save for and factor in when you’re deciding how much to put down.

    4. Don’t go with the first mortgage you find

      It pays to shop around when it comes to finding the right mortgage. Rates and fees can differ from lender to lender, so if you go with the first one you come across you may be taking on unnecessary additional costs. If you don’t know where to start you can work with a mortgage broker, though keep in mind that you’ll be paying them about 1% to 2% of your total loan rate in fees on closing day. If you’d rather do it on your own, follow these steps from Realtor.comon how to effectively shop for a mortgage.

    5. Put a hold on any activity that might negatively affect your credit

      Your credit plays a big role in both the terms and interest rates of your mortgage. Once you know where you’re at with your credit score, hold off on doing anything that could negatively affect it, such as opening a new credit card, taking out a different loan, or refinancing any existing loans. You can take actions that could work to improve your score—think paying down loans—but for the most part, focus on stability. This is especially true for the period between mortgage approval and closing.

    6. Find a realtor you really like

      First-time homebuyers often start searching on their own. There’s nothing wrong with browsing properties without a realtor (thanks to the internet, it’s way easier to do that than ever before), but you should have an expert on your side when you find a property you’re interested in. An experienced agent is a seasoned pro at all of the things that can be foreign to first-timers in the market, including trends and comps, negotiations, and all the real-estate-specific language that can be super confusing if you’ve never come across it before . In addition to all of that, a realtor will help you schedule showings and help connect you with a reputable attorney and home inspector when you find your ideal home. And just as important as working with a realtor is making sure to work with a realtor you like. Do your research, read reviews, and ask for referrals to find someone who you get along with and who is ready to do their best for you.

    7. Know your dealbreakers…

      You probably have a pretty good idea about what you’re looking for in a home, but what about those things that you know you don’t want? While it’s important to keep an open mind, every homebuyer—first-time homebuyers among them—probably has a general idea of things they can’t overlook, even for the right price. Maybe you know you’re not ready to take on a fixer-upper, or that you’re not willing to add another hour on to your commute. Acknowledging your no-gos is helpful for narrowing down your search, and will help mitigate the chances of future buyer’s regret.

    8. … but look past bad decorating

      Unless you’re buying new construction, there’s a very high chance that most of the potential properties you see are going to have something about them you would change. And while orange kitchens, shag carpeting, and dated window treatments may be tough on the eyes, they can all be changed pretty easily. Don’t let bad decorating turn you off of an otherwise charming home… a house with good bones is worth putting in a little bit of time and effort to make it your own.

    9. Get comfortable with negotiations

      The back and forth negotiations inherent in buying a home can take first-time homebuyers way out of their comfort zone. It may feel weird to ask the seller to bring down their asking price or to make certain repairs—especially if you’re framing it as an ultimatum, wherein you’ll otherwise walk away from the property—but it’s part and parcel of the homebuying process. Compromises are expected to be made on both sides, and when it comes to getting what you want it never hurts to ask. Fortunately, your realtor will be the one actually doing all of the direct communication during negotiations—you’ll almost certainly never meet or speak to the seller yourself.

    10. Think of the future

      Unlike renting an apartment, where you’ll likely be out in a year or two, you’re probably going to be in your first home for half a decade or more. Because of this, you need to factor in not just your current needs but your future needs when you’re choosing the right house. Want to start a family? Make sure you have an extra bedroom or two. Planning to adopt a dog? You’re going to want a yard. Your current needs are important too, but envision how you intend to grow into your home, and give those considerations some weight when you’re making a final decision.

    Here’s a secret that first-time homebuyers should hear but often don’t: there’s no such thing as a perfect house. Even if you think you’ve found it you’re going to find yourself getting annoyed with unexpectedly noisy pipes or summer ant problems or rude neighbors. It’s all part of the general joys of homeownership. Go for the place that makes you feel happy when you walk in the door and that doesn’t overstrain your finances or come with a list of problems that you have to force yourself to overlook. While the perfect home may not exist, yourperfect home is out there—you’ve just got to find it.

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