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  • 12 First-Time Home Buyer Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

    Every year, first-time home buyers venture into the market and make the same mistakes that their parents, siblings and friends made when they bought their first houses.

    But today’s novice buyers can stop the cycle. Here are 12 mistakes that first-time home buyers make — and what to do instead.

    1. Shopping for a house first before a mortgage

     Talk to a mortgage professional about getting pre-qualified or even preapproved for a home loan before you start to seriously shop for a place.

    It’s more fun to look at homes than it is to talk about your finances with a lender. So that’s what a lot of first-time home buyers do: They visit properties before finding out how much they are able to borrow. Then, they are disappointed when they discover they were looking in the wrong price range (either too high or too low) or when they find the right home, but aren’t able to make a serious offer.

    How to avoid this mistake: Talk to a mortgage professional about getting pre-qualified or even preapproved for a home loan before you start to seriously shop for a place. The pre-qualification or preapproval process involves a review of your income and expenses, and it can make your bid more competitive because you’ll be able to show sellers that you can back up your offer. (See what a preapproval is and why it matters.)

    Neal Khoorchand, broker-owner of Century 21 Professional Realty, in the South Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, New York, pre-qualifies his clients before showing them properties.

    “If you’re qualified for a one-family house for $500,000, we’re not going to show you a one-family for $600,000 — it would be a waste of time,” he says.

    2. Not looking for first-time home buyer programs

    As a first-time home buyer, you probably don’t have a ton of money saved up for the down payment and closing costs. But don’t make the error of assuming that you have to delay homeownership while saving for a huge down payment. There are plenty of low-down-payment loan programs out there.

    How to avoid this mistake: Ask a mortgage lender about your options. You might qualify for a Veterans Administration or U.S. Department of Agriculture loan that doesn’t require a down payment. Federal Housing Administration loans have a minimum down payment of 3.5%, and some conventional loan programs allow down payments as low as 3%.

    3. Not hiring a buyer’s agent

     Work with an exclusive buyer’s agent, someone who has a duty to work in your best interests.

    Some home buyers make the mistake of working directly with the seller’s real estate agent, who is obligated to secure the best price and terms for the seller. As a novice home buyer, you could be overmatched when negotiating with an experienced agent who’s working on the seller’s behalf.

    How to avoid this mistake: Work with an exclusive buyer’s agent, who has a duty to work in your best interests. 

     

    4. Using up all of your savings

    If you buy a previously owned home, it almost inevitably will need an unexpected repair not long after. Maybe you’ll need to replace a water heater, repair a crack in the chimney or get rid of hidden mold.

    “That’s a growing pain for the first-time homeowner, when stuff breaks,” says John Pataky, executive vice president of the consumer division of EverBank. “If they don’t have enough in back reserves, emergency funds, they find themselves in a hole quickly.”

    How to avoid this mistake: Save enough money to make a down payment, pay for closing costs and moving expenses, and take care of unexpected expenses. This is easier said than done. But you can buy a home with a down payment of much less than 20%, allowing you to conserve your savings. (Find out how much down payment you need to buy a home.)

    5. Ignoring a home’s drawbacks

     Write a list of the attractive and the unattractive qualities of each house, and pay attention to each home’s downsides.

    A lot of first-time home buyers fall in love with one of the first properties they look at. They ignore the negatives of the house and its neighborhood.

    But you can’t disregard the downsides forever. For example, you might think you’ll be OK with a long commute, but after a few months of spending too many hours stuck in traffic, you’ll wish you had bought a house closer to work.

    How to avoid this mistake: Do two things. First, resolve to visit “10, 15, 20 houses” before making an offer, Khoorchand says, so you’ll be less likely to fall in love with the first or second or third home you look at.

    Second, write a list of the attractive and the unattractive qualities of each house, and pay attention to each home’s downsides.

    6. Being indecisive

    The flip side of choosing a place too quickly is acting too slowly when you find the right home. In a market with more buyers than sellers, you have to move fast.

    Khoorchand says he can talk all day about clients who “needed some time to think about it” and made an offer two or three days after viewing a house, only to discover that another buyer had swooped in and made a successful offer.

    How to avoid this mistake: “Once you look at multiple houses, and you get a feel of the market and you know what the market is like and where the prices are at, and you see something you like, don’t hesitate to make an offer, because you and 10 other people will be interested in that same property,” Khoorchand says.

    7. Overpaying for a house

    First-time home buyers tend to pay more than experienced buyers would pay for the same house, according to research conducted by two economists with the Federal Housing Finance Agency. In their analysis of appraisal data from more than 1.7 million home sales, FHFA economists Jessica Shui and Shriya Murthy concluded that first-timers overpay by an average of 0.79%, which was nearly $2,200 per house, according to the data set they examined.

    Shui and Murthy pointed to the inexperience of first-time home buyers. Real estate agents say newbie buyers let their emotions take over, too. “You tend to overlook potential negatives and only look at the positives of a particular house,” says Jim Murrett, president of the Appraisal Institute, an association of real estate appraisers.

    How to avoid this mistake: Ask your agent for a competitive market analysis, a report that looks at the prices of comparable nearby homes that have been sold recently. And it helps to fully understand the real estate process, so seek homebuying advice from a certified HUD housing counselor.

    8. Skipping the home inspection

    It’s a mistake to buy a previously owned home without an inspection because there could be expensive, hidden damage.

    In some markets, a lot of buyers compete for a small number of properties for sale. In these strong seller’s markets, buyers are tempted to waive a home inspection. It gives them a competitive edge over smarter buyers who wouldn’t dream of forgoing an inspection before plunking down hundreds of thousands of dollars for a home.

    It’s a mistake to buy a previously owned home without an inspection because there could be expensive, hidden damage that you wouldn’t spot but an inspector would.

    How to avoid this mistake: Simple: Hire a licensed home inspector. Your real estate agent will gladly make a recommendation, but it’s better to hire an inspector of your own choosing who doesn’t depend on your agent for referrals. The American Society of Home Inspectors (homeinspector.org) has an inspector search tool.

    9. Underestimating the costs of ownership

    After you buy a home, the monthly bills keep stacking up. This can come as a surprise if you’re not ready.

    “It’s not just your mortgage payment,” says Seth Feinman, vice president of Silver Fin Capital, a mortgage brokerage in Great Neck, New York. “You’re going to have the oil bill, the gas bill, you’re going to have a cable bill, you’re going to have all these things that the bank doesn’t care about when qualifying you for a mortgage.”

    Renters often pay these kinds of bills, too. But the new home could have higher costs — and it might come with entirely new bills, such as homeowner association fees.

    How to avoid this mistake: Work with a real estate agent who can tell you how much the neighborhood’s property taxes and insurance typically cost. Ask to see the seller’s utility bills for the last 12 months the home was occupied so you have an idea how much they will cost after you move in.

    10. Miscalculating repair and renovation costs

     Assume that all home repair estimates are low. Seek more than one estimate for expensive repairs, such as remodeling.

    First-time home buyers are frequently surprised by high repair and renovation costs. Buyers can make two mistakes: First, they get a repair estimate from just one contractor, and the estimate is unrealistically low. Second, their perspective is distorted by reality TV shows that make renovations look faster, cheaper and easier than they are in the real world.

    How to avoid this mistake: Assume that all repair estimates are low. James Ramos, owner of Re/Max Bay to Bay, a real estate brokerage in Tampa, Florida, recommends doubling the estimates to get a more realistic view of costs.

    Seek more than one estimate for expensive repairs, such as roof replacements. A good real estate agent should be able to give you referrals to contractors who can give you estimates. But also seek independent referrals from friends, family and co-workers so you can compare those estimates against ones you receive from contractors your agent refers.

    11. Applying for credit before the sale is final

     It’s a mistake to get a new credit card, buy furniture or appliances on credit or take out an auto loan before a mortgage closes.

    One day, you apply for a mortgage. A few weeks later, you close, or finalize, the loan and get the keys to the house. The period between is critical: You want to leave your credit alone as much as possible. It’s a mistake to get a new credit card, buy furniture or appliances on credit or take out an auto loan before the mortgage closing.

    Here’s why: The lender’s mortgage decision is based on your credit score and your debt-to-income ratio, which is the percentage of your income that goes toward monthly debt payments. Applying for credit can reduce your credit score a few points. Getting a new loan, or adding to your monthly debt payments, will increase your debt-to-income ratio. Neither of those is good from the mortgage lender’s perspective.

    Within about a week of the closing, the lender will check your credit one last time. If your credit score has fallen, or if your debt-to-income ratio has gone up, the lender might change the interest rate or fees on the mortgage. It could cause a delay in your closing, or even result in a canceled mortgage.

    How to avoid this mistake: Wait until after closing to open new credit accounts or to charge furniture, appliances or tools to your credit cards. It’s OK to have all those things picked out ahead of time; just don’t buy them on credit until after you have the keys in hand.

    12. Missing the first mortgage payment

    Sounds hard to believe, but it’s not rare for new homeowners to be late with their first monthly payment, or to miss it altogether, says Neil Garfinkel, a real estate attorney with Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson in New York City. “Maybe you didn’t fully understand the process. You thought it was being auto-deducted but it’s not being auto-deducted. You didn’t get the bill in the mail. Whatever. Those first couple of payments, from a credit perspective, are really, really important,” he says.

    How to avoid this mistake: At the real estate closing, ask when the first mortgage payment will be due and write it down. Ask how you will receive notice that the payment is due: A coupon book? A letter in the mail? An email or a text? Then, look out for that notification.

    In many cases, the mortgage servicer — the company that bills you, collects the payments and makes sure the principal, interest, taxes and insurance all go to the right places — will mail you a welcome letter with these details.

     

  • Find the Best Agent to Sell Your House


    Working with the right real estate agent can mean the difference between getting prompt, expert representation and feeling like you’re going it alone when selling your home. Here are 10 questions to ask when you’re interviewing agents.

    1. How long have you been selling homes?
    Mastering real estate requires on-the-job experience. The more experience agents have, the more likely they’ll be able to handle any curveballs thrown during your home sale.

    2. What designations do you hold?
    Designations like GRI (Graduate REALTOR® Institute) and CRS® (Certified Residential Specialist), which require that agents complete additional real estate training, show they’re constantly learning. Ask if agents have designations and, if not, why not?

    3. How many homes did you sell last year?
    Agents may tout their company’s success. An equally important question is how many homes they’ve personally sold in the past year; it’s an indicator of how active and aggressive they are.

    4. How many days on average did it take you to sell homes?
    Ask agents to show you this data along with stats from their local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) so you can see how many days, on average, their listings were on the market compared to the average for all properties in the MLS.

    5. How close were the asking and sales prices of the homes you sold?
    Sometimes sellers choose their agent because the agent’s suggested listing price is higher than those suggested by other agents. A better factor is the difference between listing prices and the amount homes actually sold for. That can help you judge agents’ skill at accurately pricing homes and marketing to the right buyers. It can also help you weed out agents trying to dazzle you with a lofty sales price just to get your listing.

    6. How will you market my home?
    The days of agents putting a For Sale sign in the yard and hoping for the best are long gone. Look for an agent who does aggressive and innovative marketing, especially on the Internet.

    7. Will you represent me exclusively?
    In most states, agents can represent the seller, the buyer, or both in a home sale. If your agent will also represent buyers, understand and consent to that dual representation.

    8. How will you keep me informed?
    If you want weekly updates by email, don’t choose an agent who plans to contact you only if there’s an offer.

    9. Can you provide references?
    Ask to talk to the last three customers the agent assisted. Call and ask if they’d work with the agent again and if the agent did anything that didn’t sit well with them.

    10. Are you a REALTOR®?
    Ask whether agents are REALTORS®, which means they’re members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (NAR). NAR has been an advocate of agent professionalism and a champion of homeownership rights for more than a century.
  • How to Use Comparable Sales to Price Your Home

    How much can you sell your home for? Probably about as much as the neighbors got, as long as the neighbors sold their house in recent memory and their home was just like your home.

    Knowing how much homes similar to yours, called comparable sales (or in real estate lingo, comps), sold for gives you the best idea of the current estimated value of your home. The trick is finding sales that closely match yours.

    What makes a good comparable sale?

    Your best comparable sale is the same model as your house in the same subdivision—and it closed escrow last week. If you can’t find that, here are other factors that count:

    Location: The closer to your house the better, but don’t just use any comparable sale within a mile radius. A good comparable sale is a house in your neighborhood, your subdivision, on the same type of street as your house, and in your school district.

    Home type: Try to find comparable sales that are like your home in style, construction material, square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, basement (having one and whether it’s finished), finishes, and yard size.

    Amenities and upgrades: Is the kitchen new? Does the comparable sale house have full A/C? Is there crown molding, a deck, or a pool? Does your community have the same amenities (pool, workout room, walking trails, etc.) and homeowners association fees?

    Date of sale: You may want to use a comparable sale from two years ago when the market was high, but that won’t fly. Most buyers use government-guaranteed mortgages, and those lending programs say comparable sales can be no older than 90 days.

    Sales sweeteners: Did the comparable-sale sellers give the buyers downpayment assistance, closing costs, or a free television? You have to reduce the value of any comparable sale to account for any deal sweeteners.

    Agents can help adjust price based on insider insights

    Even if you live in a subdivision, your home will always be different from your neighbors’. Evaluating those differences—like the fact that your home has one more bedroom than the comparables or a basement office—is one of the ways real estate agents add value. 

    An active agent has been inside a lot of homes in your neighborhood and knows all sorts of details about comparable sales. She has read the comments the selling agent put into the MLS, seen the ugly wallpaper, and heard what other REALTORS®, lenders, closing agents, and appraisers said about the comparable sale.

    More ways to pick a home listing price

    If you’re still having trouble picking out a listing price for your home, look at the current competition. Ask your real estate agent to be honest about your home and the other homes on the market (and then listen to her without taking the criticism personally). 

    Next, put your comparable sales into two piles: more expensive and less expensive. What makes your home more valuable than the cheaper comparable sales and less valuable than the pricier comparable sales?

    Are foreclosures and short sales comparables?

    If one or more of your comparable sales was a foreclosed home or a short sale (a home that sold for less money than the owners owed on the mortgage), ask your real estate agent how to treat those comps.

    A foreclosed home is usually in poor condition because owners who can’t pay their mortgage can’t afford to pay for upkeep. Your home is in great shape, so the foreclosure should be priced lower than your home.

    Short sales are typically in good condition, although they are still distressed sales. The owners usually have to sell because they’re divorcing, or their employer is moving them to Kansas.

    How much short sales are discounted from their market value varies among local markets. The average short-sale home in Omaha in recent years was discounted by 8.5%, according to a University of Nebraska at Omaha study. In suburban Washington, D.C., sellers typically discount short-sale homes by 3% to 5% to get them quickly sold, real estate agents report. In other markets, sellers price short sales the same as other homes in the neighborhood.

    So you have to rely on your real estate agent’s knowledge of the local market to use a short sale as a comparable sale.

  • Getting your house ready to sell

    Wondering how to get your house ready to sell? If you're looking to sell your home during prime house-shopping season this spring, you'd better get cracking now.

    How to get your house ready to sell

    Unfortunately, getting a house ready to sell is not as easy as slapping an ad on Craigslist. If you want your humble abode to stand out from the competition, that could take months to do right. So, here's how to whip your place into shape by fixing any problems and upgrading the eyesores. Because like it or not, your home has sustained some wear and tear over the years. Here's how to assess the damage and find out which renovations will pay off down the road.

    1. Tally the age of various items

    No matter how great your home looks at first glance, any savvy buyer will point to various parts and pop the question: How old? And since guesstimates won't cut it, you will need to gather some paperwork to get your house ready to sell. If you've purchased your home in the past few years, check your home records or seller's disclosure for the age or last repair of big items (namely your roof, HVAC system, water heater, and gutters), or dig up copies of your own maintenance records or receipts.

     Wondering how to get your house ready to sell? If you're looking to sell your home during prime house-shopping season this spring, you'd better get cracking now.

    How to get your house ready to sell

    Unfortunately, getting a house ready to sell is not as easy as slapping an ad on Craigslist. If you want your humble abode to stand out from the competition, that could take months to do right. So, here's how to whip your place into shape by fixing any problems and upgrading the eyesores. Because like it or not, your home has sustained some wear and tear over the years. Here's how to assess the damage and find out which renovations will pay off down the road.

    How long items last depends on a lot of factors such as the model and how well it's been maintained, but you can get a general idea of average lifespan from the National Association of Home Builders. For example:

    • Wood shingle and shake roof: 15 to 30 years
    • Central air-conditioning unit: 15 years
    • Electric water heater: 14 years
    • Gutters: 30 years

    2. Do your own walk-through

    Channel Sherlock Holmes and go through your home, room by room. Look for signs of damage that might drag down its value. Chandler Crouch, broker for Chandler Crouch Realtors in Fort Worth, TX, suggests looking for these common problem spots:

    • Wood rot around outside door frames, window ledges, and garage doors. Condensation and rain can cause these areas to weaken and rot.
    • Water stains on the ceiling or near doors and windows. This can indicate a leaky roof or rain seeping in from outside.
    • Leaks under sinks or around toilets.
    • Bulges under carpet or discoloration on hardwood floors, which can indicate flooding problems or an uneven foundation.

    Next, test what's called the “functionality" in every room. For example, “Cracks visible in the walls and floor, doors that don’t shut right, broken handles on cabinetry, basically anything that doesn’t work perfectly should be repaired,” Crouch says. And don’t forget to inspect the outside.

    “A lot of sellers skip the outside, but it is so important. That is where buyers will make their first impression,” says Darbi McGlone, a Realtor® with Jim Talbot Real Estate in Baton Rouge, LA.

    3. Bring in the pros

    Once you’ve done your own walk-through, you may want to have a pro take a second look before you decide you're ready to sell. These people can spot flaws you overlooked, because either you're used to them or you didn't realize they could cause trouble. You can enlist a Realtor or hire a home inspector to do an inspection (or pre-inspection) to pinpoint problems from bad wiring to outdated plumbing.

    While the cost varies, people pay $300 to $500 for a home inspection. Go to the National Association of Home Inspectors to find an inspector in your area. It may cost a bit, but it will buy you the peace of mind of knowing you're not in for any surprises down the road. In fact, having a home inspection report handy to show buyers can inspire confidence that they (and you by association) aren't in for any nasty surprises as you move toward a deal.

    4. Decide what needs renovating

    Once you know what in your house could stand for repairs or upgrades, it's time to decide where to infuse some cash. Don't worry, not everything needs to be done before your home is ready to sell. And while you're probably not jumping at the idea of renovating a property you're going to sell, certain fixes will give you an edge over the competition, which means more/better offers. Remember, real estate is an investment!

    But don't just obsess over the obvious—e.g., your kitchen could stand for new cabinets. After all, many buyers will want to tweak cosmetic details to their own tastes, so you could be throwing money down the drain. Instead, focus on fix-its that are less susceptible to personal preferences that buyers like to know are in good shape.

  • How to Get Your House Ready to Sell

    Wondering how to get your house ready to sell? If you're looking to sell your home during prime house-shopping season this spring, you'd better get cracking now.

    How to get your house ready to sell

    Unfortunately, getting a house ready to sell is not as easy as slapping an ad on Craigslist. If you want your humble abode to stand out from the competition, that could take months to do right. So, here's how to whip your place into shape by fixing any problems and upgrading the eyesores. Because like it or not, your home has sustained some wear and tear over the years. Here's how to assess the damage and find out which renovations will pay off down the road.

    1. Tally the age of various items

    No matter how great your home looks at first glance, any savvy buyer will point to various parts and pop the question: How old? And since guesstimates won't cut it, you will need to gather some paperwork to get your house ready to sell. If you've purchased your home in the past few years, check your home records or seller's disclosure for the age or last repair of big items (namely your roof, HVAC system, water heater, and gutters), or dig up copies of your own maintenance records or receipts.

     Wondering how to get your house ready to sell? If you're looking to sell your home during prime house-shopping season this spring, you'd better get cracking now.

    How to get your house ready to sell

    Unfortunately, getting a house ready to sell is not as easy as slapping an ad on Craigslist. If you want your humble abode to stand out from the competition, that could take months to do right. So, here's how to whip your place into shape by fixing any problems and upgrading the eyesores. Because like it or not, your home has sustained some wear and tear over the years. Here's how to assess the damage and find out which renovations will pay off down the road.

    How long items last depends on a lot of factors such as the model and how well it's been maintained, but you can get a general idea of average lifespan from the National Association of Home Builders. For example:

    • Wood shingle and shake roof: 15 to 30 years
    • Central air-conditioning unit: 15 years
    • Electric water heater: 14 years
    • Gutters: 30 years

    2. Do your own walk-through

    Channel Sherlock Holmes and go through your home, room by room. Look for signs of damage that might drag down its value. Chandler Crouch, broker for Chandler Crouch Realtors in Fort Worth, TX, suggests looking for these common problem spots:

    • Wood rot around outside door frames, window ledges, and garage doors. Condensation and rain can cause these areas to weaken and rot.
    • Water stains on the ceiling or near doors and windows. This can indicate a leaky roof or rain seeping in from outside.
    • Leaks under sinks or around toilets.
    • Bulges under carpet or discoloration on hardwood floors, which can indicate flooding problems or an uneven foundation.

    Next, test what's called the “functionality" in every room. For example, “Cracks visible in the walls and floor, doors that don’t shut right, broken handles on cabinetry, basically anything that doesn’t work perfectly should be repaired,” Crouch says. And don’t forget to inspect the outside.

    “A lot of sellers skip the outside, but it is so important. That is where buyers will make their first impression,” says Darbi McGlone, a Realtor® with Jim Talbot Real Estate in Baton Rouge, LA.

    3. Bring in the pros

    Once you’ve done your own walk-through, you may want to have a pro take a second look before you decide you're ready to sell. These people can spot flaws you overlooked, because either you're used to them or you didn't realize they could cause trouble. You can enlist a Realtor or hire a home inspector to do an inspection (or pre-inspection) to pinpoint problems from bad wiring to outdated plumbing.

    While the cost varies, people pay $300 to $500 for a home inspection. Go to the National Association of Home Inspectors to find an inspector in your area. It may cost a bit, but it will buy you the peace of mind of knowing you're not in for any surprises down the road. In fact, having a home inspection report handy to show buyers can inspire confidence that they (and you by association) aren't in for any nasty surprises as you move toward a deal.

    4. Decide what needs renovating

    Once you know what in your house could stand for repairs or upgrades, it's time to decide where to infuse some cash. Don't worry, not everything needs to be done before your home is ready to sell. And while you're probably not jumping at the idea of renovating a property you're going to sell, certain fixes will give you an edge over the competition, which means more/better offers. Remember, real estate is an investment!

    But don't just obsess over the obvious—e.g., your kitchen could stand for new cabinets. After all, many buyers will want to tweak cosmetic details to their own tastes, so you could be throwing money down the drain. Instead, focus on fix-its that are less susceptible to personal preferences that buyers like to know are in good shape.

  • 26TH ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS

    An Unforgettable Holiday Experience

    The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa - Southern California’s historic AAA-Four Diamond hotel will kick off the holiday season on November 23, 2018 with our 26th Annual Festival of Lights celebration a free, six-week-long holiday extravaganza featuring one of the nation's largest holiday light collections of its kind. Now in its 26th year, Festival of Lights is an annual gift to the community from property owners Duane and Kelly Roberts, who saved the historic hotel from destruction in 1992.

    The beloved Southern California tradition recently named “Best Public Lights Display in the Nation” by USA Today creates a magical, Disneyland-like experience in the heart of Riverside and attracts more than 500,000 visitors from all over the world each year, commencing with the famous “Switch-On” Ceremony, a spectacular event in which the castle-like hotel is instantly illuminated with 5 million holiday lights followed by a full fireworks display.

    Highlights of Festival of Lights include 200 animated figures including angels, elves and Dickens carolers; appearances by Santa Claus, the world’s largest man-made mistletoe, horse-dr

    awn carriage rides, elf tuck-ins, freshly fallen snow, elaborately decorated Christmas trees; and delectable holiday confections at the famous Casey’s Cupcakes, among other festive offerings. 

     

    • Starts Friday @ 4:30 pm
    • November 23rd, 2018
  • How to Get Your House Ready to Sell in 4 Steps

    Wondering how to get your house ready to sell? If you're looking to sell your home during prime house-shopping season this spring, you'd better get cracking now.

    How to get your house ready to sell

    Unfortunately, getting a house ready to sell is not as easy as slapping an ad on Craigslist. If you want your humble abode to stand out from the competition, that could take months to do right. So, here's how to whip your place into shape by fixing any problems and upgrading the eyesores. Because like it or not, your home has sustained some wear and tear over the years. Here's how to assess the damage and find out which renovations will pay off down the road.

    1. Tally the age of various items

    No matter how great your home looks at first glance, any savvy buyer will point to various parts and pop the question: How old? And since guesstimates won't cut it, you will need to gather some paperwork to get your house ready to sell. If you've purchased your home in the past few years, check your home records or seller's disclosure for the age or last repair of big items (namely your roof, HVAC system, water heater, and gutters), or dig up copies of your own maintenance records or receipts.

     Wondering how to get your house ready to sell? If you're looking to sell your home during prime house-shopping season this spring, you'd better get cracking now.

    How to get your house ready to sell

    Unfortunately, getting a house ready to sell is not as easy as slapping an ad on Craigslist. If you want your humble abode to stand out from the competition, that could take months to do right. So, here's how to whip your place into shape by fixing any problems and upgrading the eyesores. Because like it or not, your home has sustained some wear and tear over the years. Here's how to assess the damage and find out which renovations will pay off down the road.

    How long items last depends on a lot of factors such as the model and how well it's been maintained, but you can get a general idea of average lifespan from the National Association of Home Builders. For example:

    • Wood shingle and shake roof: 15 to 30 years
    • Central air-conditioning unit: 15 years
    • Electric water heater: 14 years
    • Gutters: 30 years

    2. Do your own walk-through

    Channel Sherlock Holmes and go through your home, room by room. Look for signs of damage that might drag down its value. Chandler Crouch, broker for Chandler Crouch Realtors in Fort Worth, TX, suggests looking for these common problem spots:

    • Wood rot around outside door frames, window ledges, and garage doors. Condensation and rain can cause these areas to weaken and rot.
    • Water stains on the ceiling or near doors and windows. This can indicate a leaky roof or rain seeping in from outside.
    • Leaks under sinks or around toilets.
    • Bulges under carpet or discoloration on hardwood floors, which can indicate flooding problems or an uneven foundation.

    Next, test what's called the “functionality" in every room. For example, “Cracks visible in the walls and floor, doors that don’t shut right, broken handles on cabinetry, basically anything that doesn’t work perfectly should be repaired,” Crouch says. And don’t forget to inspect the outside.

    “A lot of sellers skip the outside, but it is so important. That is where buyers will make their first impression,” says Darbi McGlone, a Realtor® with Jim Talbot Real Estate in Baton Rouge, LA.

    3. Bring in the pros

    Once you’ve done your own walk-through, you may want to have a pro take a second look before you decide you're ready to sell. These people can spot flaws you overlooked, because either you're used to them or you didn't realize they could cause trouble. You can enlist a Realtor or hire a home inspector to do an inspection (or pre-inspection) to pinpoint problems from bad wiring to outdated plumbing.

    While the cost varies, people pay $300 to $500 for a home inspection. Go to the National Association of Home Inspectors to find an inspector in your area. It may cost a bit, but it will buy you the peace of mind of knowing you're not in for any surprises down the road. In fact, having a home inspection report handy to show buyers can inspire confidence that they (and you by association) aren't in for any nasty surprises as you move toward a deal.

    4. Decide what needs renovating

    Once you know what in your house could stand for repairs or upgrades, it's time to decide where to infuse some cash. Don't worry, not everything needs to be done before your home is ready to sell. And while you're probably not jumping at the idea of renovating a property you're going to sell, certain fixes will give you an edge over the competition, which means more/better offers. Remember, real estate is an investment!

    But don't just obsess over the obvious—e.g., your kitchen could stand for new cabinets. After all, many buyers will want to tweak cosmetic details to their own tastes, so you could be throwing money down the drain. Instead, focus on fix-its that are less susceptible to personal preferences that buyers like to know are in good shape.

  • 7 Things in Your Kitchen That Are Grossing Out Potential Buyers

    Once upon a time, my husband and I toured an adorable home for sale in a bucolic New Jersey town. We were thrilled when we walked through the front door. But that feeling dissipated quickly once we entered the kitchen.

    At least, I think it was a kitchen. There was a sink.

    The rest was indistinguishable due to the sheer volume of stuff—boxes, newspapers, empty cans, and dirty dishes. As we picked our way to the adjoining living room, we were forced to squeeze past a sullen teenager, who'd apparently just rolled out of bed and was slurping what appeared to be a bowl of milk.

    We didn't buy that house. Or even tour the rest of it.

    The kitchen is the nucleus of any house, and if it's not looking its best, every other part of the home seems icky, too.

    "Most buyers have a 5-second rule," explains Claire Groome, an agent with Warburg Realty in Manhattan. "If they walk into a [home] and don’t see themselves living there after 5 seconds, it’s not for them. How the kitchen looks is a very important part of that."

    Everyone has their own deal breaker, but these things that might be lurking in your kitchen are likely to make buyers run—not walk—toward the nearest exit.

    1. Trash

    Ashlie Roberson, an agent with Triplemint Real Estate in Manhattan, has encountered used dog potty pads splayed out in the middle of kitchens. But even that wasn't her scariest kitchen tale.

    One Sunday, Roberson took her clients to see a cool loft in the West Village. Although they had an appointment, when the seller’s agent opened the door, there were people passed out on the floor of the kitchen, surrounded by empty bottles.

    “We slowly backed out of the apartment,” Roberson recalls.

    The bottom line: If you want to throw a farewell bash, don't schedule it for the evening before you show the house. If you must, build in a cushion of cleaning time.

    2. Anything related to cats

    You love Mr. Whiskers, but not everybody feels the same—especially if his bathroom is in your kitchen.

    “You’d be surprised how many people leave kitty litter [out],” Groome says.

    And even if a litter box isn't front and center, seeing your feline friend roaming through the area where food is prepared and served might send potential buyers fleeing. One of Groome's clients insisted on leaving a home showing when she saw cats lounging on the kitchen counter and open cans of wet, pungent cat food on the floor.

    Remove evidence of your pets before you show your home. (They'll forgive you.)

    3. Stuff, stuff, and more stuff

    Oddly enough, the kitchen—where you actually need room to do things—is often ground zero for stockpiled stuff, says Cedric Stewart, a real estate agent in the Washington, DC, area.

    "Due to the lack of space, this phenomenon is usually accompanied by a crowded sink—and buyers can't get past this," Stewart adds.

    While you might cohabitate just fine with your clutter, you're going to have to clear it—or  chuck it—before you show your home. Remove everything from your kitchen counters, Stewart advises, and free up your sink. While you're at it, clear out the pantry of old foodstuffs, and remove magnets and photos from the refrigerator.

    4. Straight-up weird things

    While touring one home with clients, Stewart discovered commercial hair dryers and a salon chair parked in the kitchen.

    “The house was also operating as an unlicensed hair salon," he recalls. "Big turn-off.”

    During another tour, all was going well until Stewart and his clients peeked into the fridge and freezer. “They both contained a lot of meat,” he says. “Like, really big sections of meat and nothing else. Freaky stuff.”

    Neither home was purchased by his clients.

    If you're unsure whether something in your home is odd, let's be honest: It probably is. Find a temporary storage plan for your weird stuff before someone asks, "What the heck is that?"

    5. A fast-food vibe

    Would buyers walk into your kitchen and see fryers with grease still in them? Could they possibly spot spatter all over the walls, hood range, and cabinets? Might there be a heavy odor as well?

    “Some kitchens get put through their paces and it shows,” Stewart says.

    Now, no one's telling you to stop eating at home. But if you cook foods that cause a mess, “buyers will be too concerned about leaving with a smell on their clothes to properly consider your home,” Stewart says.

    Buy a Magic Eraser (or several) and go to town on the grease. Once your kitchen's sparkling, try to keep it that way.

    6. Pests—or evidence of them

    Pat Vosburgh, an agent in St. Petersburg, FL, recently took some clients through a home in an upscale area—and discovered piles of termite droppings in the kitchen.

    "Our clients actually kept stepping in the debris, it was that bad," Vosburgh says.

    Although the owners promised to get the pests under control ASAP, Vosburgh's clients didn't bite.

    "Most buyers know that if there's one bug or one mouse, there are likely many more," says Christy Murdock Edgar, a real estate agent in the Northern Virginia and Washington, DC, area. "Buyers don't want to find out that what they thought was one random cockroach is, in reality, a massive infestation."

    Pests are inevitably drawn to the kitchen. But if you're fighting the good fight, hide the evidence while showing your home. Stow away traps, poison, and bug sprays. Even better? Complete your campaign against the little critters before you open your kitchen to the public.

    7. Neglected appliances

    Nashville, TN, broker Leneiva Head admits that her clients make a beeline to the kitchen of any house they’re interested in. What they want to see the most? The appliances—specifically, the inside of them.

    “They equate a clean oven with the level of care the owner gives to their home,” she explains.

    Many buyers will even pull out the refrigerator or lift the stovetop, warns Bruce Ailion, an agent with Re/Max in Atlanta.

    “A filthy home is a turn-off for all but investors,” Ailion cautions.

    Don't have the fortitude to clean your refrigerator coils or scrape old marinara off the inside of your microwave door? Hire a professional crew. That will ensure all your appliances get the deep clean they—and your potential buyers—deserve.

  • Do Property Liens Mean a Home Sale Can't Happen? Here's Hope

    Have property liens on your home? If you're trying to sell your place, a lien can throw a wrench in things, but that doesn't mean your efforts are doomed. It all depends on how large the lien is, and how you handle it once it's found.

    In other words: Don't give up hope! Here's how property liens affect home sales, and what you can do about it.

    What is a property lien, anyway?

    property lien, in case you're foggy on the concept, is a public record filed against your property for unpaid debt. Liens can be filed by an assortment of people and parties for various reasons: the government (for unpaid taxes), contractors (on renovations they weren't compensated for), ex-spouses (for child support payments), credit card companies, and more.

     Sometimes, home buyers may not even know there are liens on their property until they’re uncovered during a title search as the deal moves toward the closing table. Or homeowners may already be aware of the lien, but lack the funds to pay it off.

    In either case, all liens must be settled before a home sale can happen.

    “If you attempt to put a house up for sale with liens, you are going to run into delays,“ warns Nick Woodward, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in Connecticut.

    Do liens mean a property sale can't go through?

    In some cases, liens can mean delays that are only hiccups. The sale can still happen, but the lien is going to eat into whatever profits the seller may have hoped to bring in.

    Let's say, for example, you’ve agreed to sell your house for $200,000 and still owe $100,000 on your mortgage. Normally, at the closing table you'd pay off your mortgage and be left with $100,000 in profit. However, if a $15,000 lien is also found on your property, that will have to be paid off first, so your profits will be only $85,000 (minus any other closing costs, of course).

    Issues can arise, however, if you don’t have enough equity in your home to cover the liens.

    “If you have enough equity to cover the lien, you should be all set," says Woodward. "However, if you have low equity, the profits from your house sale may not be able to take care of the lien."

    For instance, if you're selling your house for $200,000, yet still owe $190,000 on your loan, you have only $10,000 in home equity. If a lien is found on your property for $15,000, your home sale won't even cover the lien, which puts this sale in jeopardy.

    The first step to getting a lien removed from a property's title is, of course, to pay the debt. But if you don't have that option, all is not lost. Here are two options:

    • Negotiate with the party who issued the lien. Many will remove liens if you agree to pay just a portion of the amount owed, or set up a payment plan to pay it off gradually. It can't hurt to ask.
    • Negotiate with your buyer. You could try to persuade the buyer to take on the lien, although the chances of that happening are slim.

    “Ninety-nine percent of the time, the buyer will not want to take over a lien," says Mike Higgins, a real estate agent in De Pere, WI. Or, even if buyers are willing to, they may have trouble getting a loan to purchase a property with a lien on it, as most lenders won’t finance them.

    Yet there are some cases where liens are often transferred to buyers. For example, homes purchased in a foreclosure or at an auction may come with liens attached that become the buyer’s responsibility. While those properties may seem like a bargain upfront, a hefty lien can tip the scales.

    So, should home buyers run if there’s a lien on a property they're interested in buying? Not necessarily. says Higgins.

    "Always rely on your professional that you are working with—the real estate agent or title company—to get to the bottom of it, and first see if the seller will take care of the lien,” he says.

    However, he urges buyers to proceed with caution. “Make sure you know 100% what it all entails before signing on the dotted line," he says.

     

  • 5 Ways to Avoid Costly Home Renovation Mistakes

    A home renovation can be time-consuming, and you want the result to be worth the hard work. If you make a home-remodel mistake, however, it could turn your dream project into a nightmare.

    So how can you avoid costly renovation mistakes? We’ve gathered five tips to help you make sure you’re heading into the right project, the right way:

    1. Consider return on investment

    Any project is worthwhile if it makes you happy, but if you plan to sell your home soon, make sure you focus on renovation projects that give a good return on your money. Many renovations cost thousands of dollars but won’t increase the value of your home by the same amount.

    For example, it costs about $42,000 to add a new bathroom, but homeowners typically recoup only about 56% of the cost in increased home value, according to the latest Remodel magazine Cost vs. Value report.  A minor kitchen remodel, on the other hand, returns about 83% of its cost, so that type of project might make more sense.

    When it comes to recouping your money, consider how your home compares with others on your street. If you already have the biggest house on the block, and its market value is near the high end in your neighborhood, new improvements probably won’t increase your home’s market value by much.

    Consider calling local real estate agents and contractors to ask them about the potential return you might receive from a home renovation project.

     

    2. Create a budget

    You don’t want to run out of cash in the middle of a home remodeling project. But unless you’re careful, your project may get more expensive while it’s underway. That nicer tile may add only $7 per square foot, but if your kitchen is 70 square feet, watch out! To avoid running short on cash, add up your expenses before you start the project. Then, add 10% or 20% to the total to allow for cost overruns.

    Ask for written estimates from different contractors so you can compare prices and understand the project’s costs. You can also look for information from third-party sources, such as Consumer Reports or Remodeling magazine. It’s best to have the project fully funded before you start, whether the money comes from your personal savings, a mortgage refinance or a line of credit.

     

    3. Research contractors

    As you get estimates from different professionals, check their references and ask about their credentials. At a minimum, make sure each contractor is properly licensed to do the work on your home. You can also ask about their membership in trade associations. Many reputable contractors belong to professional trade groups such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry or National Association of Home Builders.

    A good contractor will guarantee the work and offer a warranty. You can check Better Business Bureau ratings to see if others have had complaints about companies you’re evaluating. If there have been complaints, check to see how they were resolved.

    When you select a contractor, make sure you get your agreement in writing.

     

    4. Secure home renovation permits

    Permits help protect your home and your safety. Without the necessary approvals to perform work on your property, there’s a chance the renovation won’t meet local building codes. It could even affect your ability to sell your home in the future. Contact your municipality for details about what permits you must have for your renovation project. And follow up to make sure your contractor has permits in hand before beginning the work.

    5. Understand price/quality tradeoffs

    You’re probably planning to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars on a remodeling project. It’s understandable to look for ways to save money, but don’t automatically cut corners by using the cheapest materials.

    Talk to your contractor about the tradeoffs between quality and price for your project. You’ll probably be better off selecting the best-quality products that fit your budget. Otherwise, you could be stuck with having to make costly repairs after a few months because you skimped on quality.

    A home remodel project can give a big boost to your home’s aesthetics and market value — if you avoid costly mistakes. By setting a budget, researching contractors and making sure your improvements use quality materials, you can help avoid expensive pitfalls and enjoy your home’s new design.

     

  • Installing a New Garage Door Can Give Your Home a Lift

    Despite its hanging in there through life’s ups and downs, it’s time to replace your garage door. A new garage door can improve the look of your entire home, but what should you expect to pay?

    Garage door installation — not including an opener — costs about $2,300, on average, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, or NARI. But the cost of your new garage door will vary depending on where you live, the size and type of door you choose and who installs it.

    Keep reading to find out how much a garage door should cost, the factors that affect cost and tips to make it more affordable.

     

    Garage door cost breakdown

    Here’s a breakdown of factors in the final cost of your new garage door:

    Size

    A standard single-car garage door is 8 to 10 feet wide, while a two-car garage door is 12 to 18 feet wide. Garage doors also come in different heights and thicknesses, and in general, the bigger they are, the more they cost.

    Type

    Most homes have sectional or roll-up garage doors, which tend to be more affordable. Other types include the one-piece or swing up, the swing out or carriage-house style and sliding garage doors.

    Materials and hardware

    • Steel: Durable and low-maintenance, steel garage doors are a popular residential option. But steel doors are also heavy, hard on an opener and easily dented. Steel is typically one of the most affordable garage door materials. The cost of a steel, two-car garage door generally ranges from $750 to $3,500 depending on the style and construction.
    • Aluminum: Lighter than steel, aluminum is rust-resistant and well-suited for wider doors. Though generally affordable like steel, aluminum is a poor insulator and bends easily. The cost of an aluminum two-car garage door typically ranges from $1,500 to $2,000.
    • Wood and composite wood: Solid wood garage doors are heavy, require upkeep and are expensive. Composite wood garage doors are lighter and less expensive than solid wood, but not as durable as metal or synthetic materials. The cost of a wood or composite wood two-car garage door generally ranges from $1,200 to $4,000.
    • Fiberglass: Resistant to rot and rust, fiberglass doors are light and available in many looks. Fiberglass is generally affordable, but it yellows with age and sometimes cracks in extreme temperatures. The cost of a fiberglass two-car garage door typically ranges from $1,500 to $2,000.
    • Vinyl: Vinyl garage doors are lightweight and low-maintenance and can take a beating, making them ideal for high-traffic homes. Vinyl is prone to fading, however, and style options are limited. The cost for a vinyl two-car garage door generally ranges from $900 to $1,500.

    An automatic opener with infrared safety beam, if not already installed, may be required for proper door function. The cost to install a garage door opener may range from $200 to $650 depending on horsepower and features.

    Professional installation

    Hanging a garage door isn’t for the average person, says Jim McGrath, CEO of Doors Galore in Clayton, Ohio. For starters, garage doors are heavy and difficult to move into place without the right equipment. The powerful springs and cables required to operate the door are dangerous if handled incorrectly.

    Hiring a professional installer may cost about $200 to $500 of the total job, depending on your location and complexity of the work, but it’s faster, safer and comes with a warranty.

     

    How to plan your garage door installation

    1. Have a goal in mind. Is your current door malfunctioning and you need a full replacement, or are you hoping for a better price when you sell your house? Your reason for buying a new garage door should guide style choices and how much you spend.

    2. Hire the right installer. Compare quotes from at least three garage door installers, including a chain like Lowe’s or Home Depot, to make sure you’re getting a good deal, McGrath says. Make sure the price includes parts, labor and disposal of the old door.

    The best installers are licensed and insured and warranty their work, says Linda Anderson, owner of Coast Garage Door Co. in Seaside, Oregon. Ask for examples of past projects and make sure they follow local building codes.

    3. Think about the weather. Extreme hot or cold, high winds and corrosive coastal air take a toll on garage doors. Talk to your installer about the garage door materials and hardware that make sense for your climate.

    4. Keep it simple. An garage door with windows, custom colors or keypad locks may seem exciting but will cost more. Aim for a door that matches the look of your house. Simple, durable doors are generally the most affordable.

    Reasons for garage door replacement

    • Your current door is damaged. Repairing an old garage door’s tracks, springs and rollers can cost hundreds of dollars. Your money might be better spent on a brand-new door, McGrath says. Replacement means a new warranty and ensures the door meets current safety standards.
    • You want to increase energy efficiency or security. The garage may be your home’s biggest entrance or serve as an extra room. If you want to conserve energy or feel safer, a new garage door with extra insulation or an open-door alert system may be the answer.
    • You want more curb appeal. The garage door is a prominent part of your home’s exterior, whether the garage is attached or detached, Anderson says.
    • You want to increase home value. If your door is faded, dented, rusting or otherwise showing its age, a new one may help you sell your home at a higher price. An upgraded garage door recovers up to 87% of its cost in added resale value, according to the National Association of Realtors.
  • Moving 101: Pet Safety

    Moving day is here, your bags are packed, boxes loaded, and movers are en route. Everything seems to be going smoothly, then suddenly, you realize you can’t find Fido…

    More than 10 million pets go missing each year. A good number of those wander off while their families are preparing for a move. To avoid this situation, you must take preemptive measures to ensure your entire family (even those with furry paws) make it home safely. Keep reading for a few tips on how to keep your canine secure, calm, and confident while planning a change of address.

    Before the move

    The first step toward purchasing a new home is to sell your current one, and as a seller, your number one goal should be to make potential buyers feel as comfortable as possible when they come for a showing. The biggest piece of advice any Realtor® will give you is to remove your pet during showings via boarding, leaving them with someone else, or taking them for a walk during the scheduled showing. Not only will this put buyers at ease, but it will reduce potential stress to your dog due to having strangers come in and out of the house such as agents, buyers, or home inspectors. After you’ve made sure your dog is safe and secure, don’t forget to address any potential odors too, as this is often a turnoff for buyers. Sweep up any dog hair, make sure the yard is free of droppings, and put pet supplies away. Remember, you love your pup more than anything, but it could be the deciding factor for someone else.

    ID is key

    According to the Brittmoore Animal Hospital in Houston, microchipping your pet gives them their best chance at returning home in case of an accidental escape. This simple procedure involves implanting a chip the size of a grain of rice under your dog’s skin. It is a safe and effective way to create a tangible bond between you and your pet. Before the move, make sure your dog’s tags are up-to-date with current contact information. Pets that are easily identifiable are more likely to be returned!

    Try the car, but not too far

    If your pet isn’t used to traveling, get them accustomed to being in the car well ahead of moving day. Start with short trips, perhaps to the local dog park. This way, your beloved best friend will associate driving with something positive and won’t be as skittish later on. Increase your distance gradually and always offer treats for good manners. Consider investing a few dollars in a vehicle restraint system for your dog. These comfortable tethering systems keep Poochie in place, meaning you’ll be less distracted and she will be safer during a sudden stop.  GoPetFriendly.com points out that it is illegal in some parts of the country to drive with a dog in your lap, so harnessing may save you from an expensive ticket.

    Board not bored

    Short of locking Lucy away in a room by herself, consider boarding your dog or hiring a dog walker to keep her entertained in the days before the move. This will not only allow her more freedom but will give you the peace of mind that your precious pup isn’t underfoot and out the door. Hiring an off-site pet sitter for the day is especially beneficial when you’re selling your home. Sellers can (and should) take advantage of local boarding facilities, too. Dogs, as creatures of habit, tend to get nervous during showings, walkthroughs, and open houses. And anxious animal may exhibit signs of aggression toward perceived intruders, which may result in a missed sale. Most buyers prefer a pet-free possibility when purchasing a new place. The question of what to do with pets while a home is on the market was posted on Trulia back in 2008. Nearly a decade later, agents are still responding with an almost universal cry of, “Keep the dogs out of the house!” Rover, which recently partnered with DogVacay, is a great nationwide resource for finding trustworthy pet parent proxies.

    Acclimate instead of crate

    While you may have been looking forward to this transition for weeks, months, or even years, this change of scenery will be a shock to the family pet. When you arrive at your new home, allow your dog to explore his new surroundings. If possible, have a few of his favorite toys waiting in various rooms upon arrival and some special treats from your new town. Be patient, and let him check out each new room in his own time. Perhaps most importantly, give your bewildered bow-wow the love and attention he’s used to. This will ease his fears and make the move a tolerable task for all concerned.

  • Halloween Zombie Maze!

    Halloween Zombie Maze!

    October 31 @ 4:00 pm - 7:00 pm

     

    THE SHOPS AT DOS LAGOS HOSTS OUR 3rd ANNUAL ZOMBIE MAZE!

    HALLOWEEN -SAFE TRICK-OR-TREAT EVENT

    Come Participate in Safe Trick-or-Treating at The Shops at Dos Lagos

    The Shops at Dos Lagos invites the community to participate in its safe trick-or-treating event – Zombie Maze.
    The FREE Event will feature:

    * Costume Contest: Prizes for 3 Categories & 1 Grand Prize Winner:
    – Kids ages 12 & under (Prizes for Top 3)
    – Kids over 12 (Prizes for Top 3)
    – Family (Prizes for Top 3)
    * Zombie stilt walker and roaming Zombies
    * Halloween Games with Free Prizes
    * Face painting, balloon artist and music
    * Zombie Maze
    * Magician

    WHEN:
    Wednesday, October 31, 2018 from 4pm-7pm

    WHERE:
    The Shops at Dos Lagos
    2780 Cabot Drive

    Corona, CA 92883 

     

  • Tricks to Banish Bad Smells From Your Home

    Even if your house looks immaculate, there are few things that will exterminate (with extreme prejudice) any kind of positive first impression than an off-putting smell. Whether it's eau de cat, last night's attempt at Nepalese cuisine, or just an overall mustiness, bad odors are bad news—especially if you're trying to sell your home. After all, as Debra Johnson, a home cleaning specialist with Merry Maids, points out, “If you enter a home and immediately encounter a smell, that is generally all people focus on, and all they will remember.”

    Banishing bad odors, however, isn’t as easy as dusting toe kicks. Certain scents are hard to remove—the more so when you're so used to them, you become “nose blind” and don't even notice. So for starters, you may have to ask people you trust (or your Realtor®, if you're selling) to tell you honestly whether they're picking up a whiff of anything weird. And if the answer is yes, we've got some tips and techniques for you.

     

    Pet pee

    The odor of cat urine, in particular, is so obnoxious and persistent that people have actually sued former homeowners for not disclosing it. The odor might be successfully masked during showings, but reemerge once the new owners move in.

    Luckily, there are sprays with enzymes that break down odor molecules to remove the stench. The trick is to soak the spot with the enzyme spray, letting it seep down into carpet pads and floors.

    If that doesn’t work, you may have to pitch the rug or replace a section of flooring, but not necessarily the whole thing. Cats and dogs are creatures of habit when it comes to doing their business, so replacing just that area may do the trick.

    Yesterday's dinner

    Open windows and set the range hood fan on high while you’re cooking fish or other pungent items, then clean pans and utensils immediately. If odors still linger after dinner, set a shallow bowl filled with white vinegar or coffee grounds on the counter to absorb smells overnight. Another tip: Close bedroom and closet doors before cooking fish so clothes and linens don’t absorb the smell.

    Pungent paint

    A cut onion can neutralize paint smells that can otherwise make your house reek for days. Before painting, peel a large onion and slice it in half. Place each half on a dish and position them in opposite ends of the room. After the onions absorb the paint fumes, wrap and toss. And don't worry; the smell of the onion won't linger for more than an hour, tops.

    Lingering garbage

    Even after you’ve pitched out the garbage, those cans hold traces of trash. The best way to banish the smell is to wash out the can. Then, make an odor-eating sachet: Place some coffee grounds, a couple of tablespoons of baking soda, and a few cloves in the center of a coffee filter. Close with a rubber band or twist tie, then place in the bottom of the can, beneath a clean trash bag.

    Whatever's in the kitchen sink

    Whenever you smell a foul odor near your sink, check your drain and garbage disposal, where rotting meat or produce can become stuck and create a major stink. To deodorize the grinder, place two or three slices of lemon or orange in the disposal, turn on the water, and flick on the switch. More things you can grind to remove disposal odors include ice combined with rock salt, white vinegar, or good ol’ mouthwash.

    Mustiness

    If your home smells musty, you may have a mold problem that only a professional can wipe out safely. To prevent mold, the trick is to control your home’s humidity so that mold spores don’t have a chance to multiply.

    “By keeping a home’s indoor humidity to a range of 30% to 60%, homeowners can discourage mold and mildew,” says Ryan McLaughlin, a project manager at 1-800-WATER-DAMAGE. You can purchase a hygrometer, which reads the moisture level in the air, for about $10. If it reaches a mold-friendly level, try the following techniques to dry indoor air.

    • Turn on bathroom fans during and after showers to remove the moisture. Keep the shower door open to dry out the stall.
    • Open windows, if your bathroom has them, to create cross-ventilation and increase air circulation.
    • Buy a dehumidifier to remove air moisture. If you can stretch a hose from the machine to a drain, you won't have to empty buckets of water each day.
    • Fix plumbing leaks to prevent standing puddles.

  • Thinking of Converting Your Garage Into Living Space? You'd Better Read This First

    You love your home, but spacewise, you’re bursting at the seams. Building an extension seems daunting, but moving out of your fabulous neighborhood is off the table. Hmm ... you do have that two-car garage; perhaps you should convert it into a kids' playroom, an office or gym for you, or even an in-law suite.

    A recent American Housing Survey showed that 80% of Americans have a garage or carport, yet only a fraction use it for parking. Let’s be honest: Most garages are packed floor-to-ceiling with sporting equipment, gardening tools, kids’ toys, and more.

    But before you transform this area, think about how this reno will affect resale down the road. Nearly 30% of shoppers rate a garage as one of the most important home features, just ahead of an updated kitchen and open floor plan, according to a recent realtor.com® survey.

     Don't despair—we're here to help you determine when converting your garage makes sense, and when it’s a definite no-go.

    Converting a garage is often more affordable than adding on

     If you add on to your house, you're going to incur some major costs. Think of all the cash you'll pour into a new foundation, or what you'll pay to retrofit a second story on top of your home.

    “Typically, it’s more cost-effective to convert a garage or storage space," says Derald Norton, president of BMF Construction in San Bruno, CA.

    Indeed, depending on where you live, building an addition could run you anywhere from $20,000 to over $65,000. A garage renovation, on the other hand, comes in at $11,000 on average.

    One caveat: If you want to go beyond the basics and add a kitchen or bathroom, your costs will inflate exponentially, cautions Alex Tsalagas, president of A D Construction in Boston.

    “Most garages are made from concrete or cinder blocks, so you have to do some drilling to get pipes through, and then insulate to protect those pipes from freezing,” he says.

    Converting a garage can boost your property value...

     When it comes time to put your home on the market, buyers don’t want to see your stuff jammed into every available inch. So if a garage conversion means extra psychological space to spread out, that's a win, Norton says.

    “In every case I can think of, converting from parking to living space has had a very significant positive effect on property value," says Norton (whose business is in the burgeoning San Francisco Bay Area market, where space is at a premium).

    But to reap the rewards, you'll need to convert with finesse. In fact, a "well-done" garage conversion to living space can give you up to an 80% ROI, HomeAdvisor reports.

    "The greatest increase in value and satisfaction will come from good design: building a space that flows naturally from the upstairs and looks like it’s part of the home,” Norton says.

    That means making sure brickwork, windows, flooring, and lighting match the rest of the house.

    ... but buyers might prefer the parking space

    However, when parking is at a premium, such as in urban areas, you might actually decrease the value of your home if you swap out your garage, Tsalagas says.

    In certain parts of Boston, “parking is worth a lot more money than the square footage of the living space, unless it’s high-luxury," he says. For example, a single-car garage can easily be sold for $300,000 to $400,000, he says, "so it’s definitely not a smart decision to convert when you have a parking space that will give you that much of a return."

    In rural areas, buyers prioritize garages

    And keep in mind that in rural areas, or places where outdoor enthusiasts flock, garages are sacred spaces that are hard to replace, warns Dave Kimbrough, a Realtor® and team leader with the Kimbrough Team Re/Max in Grand Junction, CO.

    “In places like western Colorado, outdoor lifestyle is king, so a garage is extremely important," Kimbrough says. "Whether you kayak, paddleboard, river raft, mountain bike, ski, hike, hunt, or fish—all of that comes with equipment and everybody needs somewhere to put it. A garage in our marketplace is an expectation."

    Converting a garage can be a lengthy process

    In certain areas, local zoning departments can slow down the process of converting your garage—it can take up to a year to get the proper permits. If you’re part of a neighborhood association or have a heritage property, it can take even longer.

    And that's before you can even start building! Remember: If the work is complex and extensive (i.e., you'll need to raise the house to convert the garage), you could be looking at months or more of construction.

    Your garage might not lend itself to conversion

    Depending on how your garage was built, it might not be well-suited to become living space.

    You'll want to check if your garage is below, at, or above the adjacent grade, Norton says.

    “Should the garage be below-grade, it becomes more complex and costly, because you may have drainage and waterproofing requirements, and might need a more involved insulating system,” he says.

    Also ensure you have at least 8 feet of ceiling height, which is required for a habitable room. And if you need to excavate the garage floor to meet height restrictions, you’re looking at major bucks.

    Want to forge ahead? Make sure the space can easily be converted back into a garage, Kimbrough advises, by keeping as much of the original structure as possible. 

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