More than 60% of Americans own their homes, and while there are certain benefits to ownership, there's also a downside: the cost.
You may have thought that coming up with a down payment was the greatest financial hurdle you'd face, but as you'll soon come to learn, there are numerous expenses associated with owning a home. Here's how to handle them.
1. Create a new budget
Given that your monthly mortgage payment is bound to differ from your previous rent payment, it might seem like a no-brainer that you'll need to adjust your budget accordingly. But there's more to it than that, because you may find that other costs change by virtue of your new home. For example, if you move from a two-room apaSimilarly, if you suddenly have a lawn to maintain, you can expect to spend more than you would renting an apartment.
Rather than just substituting your new mortgage payment for your previous rent payment, spend a few months tracking all of your expenses and update your budget to reflect the actual costs of living in your new home. You may come to find that you're spending more than expected, in which case you'll need to adjust your flexible expense categories, like leisure, to compensate.
2. Prepare to spend money on repairs and maintenance
You're probably aware that you'll spend some money on maintenance and repairs for your home, but you may not realize just how much you may end up parting with. Most homeowners spend 1% to 4% of their homes' value each year on repairs and maintenance.
So if your home is worth $300,000, expect to shell out anywhere from $3,000 to $12,000 a year on upkeep. And if you need to do something major, like replace a faulty heating system or roof, your costs could climb even higher.
You should therefore aim to pad your emergency savings so that you have funds to tap if a significant repair pops up unexpectedly. Most people need at least three months' worth of living expenses in an emergency fund, but as a homeowner, you should aim for six months' worth of expenses or more.
3. Expect your property taxes to go up
Your property taxes are based on the assessed value of your home coupled with local tax rates. When you buy a new home, you'll be advised of your current property tax liability -- but don't get too comfortable with that number.
Property taxes have a tendency to rise, even when home values drop. Back in 2000, localities across the U.S. collected an estimated $247 billion in property taxes, but by 2010, that number almost doubled to $476 billion despite the decline in home prices from the infamous housing bubble implosion.
Additionally, some localities require property reassessments at certain intervals (such as every year, every other year, or every three years). If your home is reassessed at a higher amount, you could see an instant hike in taxes.
To protect yourself, leave some wiggle room in your budget. This way, if you're hit with a significant property tax increase from one year to the next, you won't be scrambling as much to make those payments.
4. Don't get caught off guard when big payments come due
Some people roll their homeowners' insurance and property taxes into their mortgage payments via an escrow system. The way this works is that a lender will charge a set amount each month above your mortgage payment alone, put that excess money in an escrow account, and use it to pay your property taxes and homeowners' insurance for you. But not all mortgages work this way. Many just have you make your exact mortgage payment and remain responsible for paying your homeowners' insurance and property taxes on your own.
If you fall into the latter category, you'll need to budget accordingly so you're not caught off guard when these larger payments roll around.
The average U.S. household spends $2,127 on property taxes each year, but in many states, that number is much higher. Take New Jersey, for example, whose average annual property taxes exceed $7,000 and, in some counties, can easily top the $15,000 mark.
Most homeowners pay property taxes quarterly, and if yours are $4,000 a year, that's an extra $1,000 check you'll need to write every three months. Rather than scramble to come up with that money, be sure to budget $333 a month for property taxes. Along these lines, the average annual homeowners' insurance premium in the U.S. is $952. If you're required to make that payment all at once, you'll need to set aside money each month in anticipation to a 2,000-square-foot house, you can bet on your heating and electricity costs going up.
It’s a slow Sunday morning. You’ve just brewed your Nespresso and popped open your laptop to check out the latest home listings before you hit the road for a day of open houses.
You’re DIYing this real estate thing, and you think you’re doing pretty well—after all, any info you might need is at your fingertips online, right? That and your own sterling judgment.
Oh, dear home buyer (or seller!)—we know you can do it on your own. But you really, really shouldn’t. This is likely the biggest financial decision of your entire life, and you need a Realtor® if you want to do it right. Here’s why.
1. They have loads of expertise
Want to check the MLS for a 4B/2B with an EIK and a W/D? Real estate has its own language, full of acronyms and semi-arcane jargon, and your Realtor is trained to speak that language fluently.
Plus, buying or selling a home usually requires dozens of forms, reports, disclosures, and other technical documents. Realtors have the expertise to help you prepare a killer deal—while avoiding delays or costly mistakes that can seriously mess you up.
2. They have turbocharged searching power
The Internet is awesome. You can find almost anything—anything! And with online real estate listing sites such as yours truly, you can find up-to-date home listings on your own, any time you want. But guess what? Realtors have access to even more listings. Sometimes properties are available but not actively advertised. A Realtor can help you find those hidden gems.
Plus, a good local Realtor is going to know the search area way better than you ever could. Have your eye on a particular neighborhood, but it’s just out of your price range? Your Realtor is equipped to know the ins and outs of every neighborhood, so she can direct you toward a home in your price range that you may have overlooked.
3. They have bullish negotiating chops
Any time you buy or sell a home, you’re going to encounter negotiations—and as today’s housing market heats up, those negotiations are more likely than ever to get a little heated.
You can expect lots of competition, cutthroat tactics, all-cash offers, and bidding wars. Don’t you want a savvy and professional negotiator on your side to seal the best deal for you?
And it’s not just about how much money you end up spending or netting. A Realtor will help draw up a purchase agreement that allows enough time for inspections, contingencies, and anything else that’s crucial to your particular needs.
4. They’re connected to everyone
Realtors might not know everything, but they make it their mission to know just about everyone who can possibly help in the process of buying or selling a home. Mortgage brokers, real estate attorneys, home inspectors, home stagers, interior designers—the list goes on—and they’re all in your Realtor’s network. Use them.
5. They adhere to a strict code of ethics
Not every real estate agent is a Realtor, who is a licensed real estate salesperson who belongs to the National Association of Realtors®, the largest trade group in the country.
What difference does it make? Realtors are held to a higher ethical standard than licensed agents and must adhere to a Code of Ethics.
6. They’re your sage parent/data analyst/therapist—all rolled into one
The thing about Realtors: They wear a lot of different hats. Sure, they’re salespeople, but they actually do a whole heck of a lot to earn their commission. They’re constantly driving around, checking out listings for you. They spend their own money on marketing your home (if you’re selling). They’re researching comps to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
And, of course, they’re working for you at nearly all hours of the day and night—whether you need more info on a home or just someone to talk to in order to feel at ease with the offer you just put in. This is the biggest financial (and possibly emotional) decision of your life, and guiding you through it isn’t a responsibility Realtors take lightly.
No matter how many fond memories you’ve accumulated in your home, there may come a time when you start wondering: Should I sell my place? Maybe it’s because your local real estate market is booming and you stand to score a sweet payout. Maybe you’re relocating. Or your expanding family has outgrown your space. Or you’re just looking for a change of scenery. But questioning is easy; deciding to put your house on the market is tough.
Here are some steps to help you pinpoint when the time is right.
How to calculate your home equity
A key variable in the decision on whether to sell your home is how much equity you’ve built up over the years. Home equity is the amount of money tied up in your house—what you’d receive if you sold it, minus what you owe on your mortgage.
So how do you calculate your home equity? You’ll need two numbers: the remaining balance on your mortgage and what your home is currently worth. You can get a ballpark of the latter by typing your address into realtor.com®’s home value estimator. For a more in-depth assessment, ask your real estate agent, who will do an analysis by checking comparables, or comps (the prices of recently sold, similar homes in your area), as well as other aspects of your home.
Here’s how this calculation looks with actual numbers: Let’s say you purchased your home for $300,000, but its market value has risen to $325,000. Let’s also assume that you’ve whittled down your mortgage over the years so that all you owe is $75,000. To get your home equity, subtract $75,000 from $325,000 and you have $250,000 in home equity, which is pretty sweet!
Of course, the more you owe on your mortgage and/or the more your home’s price has plummeted, the less home equity you have. If that number is much smaller or even negative (which can happen if housing prices plummet), consider holding off on selling until conditions improve.
Is it a seller’s or buyer’s market? Here’s how to tell
Another factor in deciding if it’s time to sell is whether you’re in a seller’s market. This essentially means that the demand for homes is outpacing the supply, which gives sellers more leverage during negotiations. To figure out if you’re in a seller’s market, browse through some listings and look for these two signs: houses are selling for over asking price, and homes aren’t sitting on the market for long (generally less than six months). If that describes your area, then it’s a great time to sell. (Just don’t forget that if you sell, you may also have to buy, which may present problems unless you’re leaving the area.)
On the other hand, if homes in your area are selling for under asking price and sitting over six months, that means you’re in a buyer’s market and that market forces aren’t working in your favor. This means if you want top dollar you may want to wait.
What’s up with interest rates on mortgages?
If you’re planning to sell your home and buy a new one, you should definitely consider interest rates on mortgages. Fortunately, right now, interest rates are at historic lows, hovering around 4%. That’s an astounding deal! In the ’80s, they were a whopping 17.48%—and while they probably won’t shoot up quite as high in the near future, we’re expecting them to move up by next year. Homeowners eager to upgrade to their dream home might want to grab them while they can.
Have your housing needs changed?
Market forces and interest rates aren’t the only things to keep in mind when deciding if you should sell your home. A lot has to do with you, and whether the house suits your space requirements. For instance: Is your current place too small now that you’ve been joined by a couple of kids—or is it too big now that your grown children have moved out on their own? Both scenarios are fine reasons to find a home that better suits your needs, so be sure to consider all of these factors in weighing whether the time is right to sell.
If you feel like you’ve been managing your debt just fine, making the minimum payment on your credit cards on time every month, you might want to change your ways before applying for a home loan.
Fannie Mae, which offers government-backed loans to more than a quarter of mortgage applicants nationwide, has just revised its risk assessment software to factor in more details about how borrowers pay off their debts.
Historically, the credit report generated by Fannie Mae—and scrutinized by lenders—mainly showed how much of your available credit you’d used and whether you’d made your monthly payments on time. But the newest version of Fannie’s Desktop Underwriter software (used by about 2,000 lenders and more than 10,000 mortgage brokers) kicks things up a notch. Now, it also details just how much you coughed up each month over the past two years—whether you’re parting with only the minimum, laying out the full monty, or hovering somewhere in between.
Fannie officials say these new details, known as “trended credit data,” can help lenders better assess how well people manage their debts—and, consequently, how well they’ll manage their mortgage payments.
“Generally, the new underwriting model gives weight to how borrowers pay off their credit debt,” explains David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “While it is not clear how finely tuned the new system is, there is clearly a move toward a more granular approach to debt repayment.”
How this news affects your prospects of a home loan
So far, FICO and other credit score measures aren’t factoring in this extra info, so your score won’t get dinged. But your application could be affected in another way.
“If you compare two people with exactly the same credit profiles except that one pays more than the minimum amount due or the entire balance, that person would be considered to be a lower credit risk by Fannie Mae,” says Reiss. “As a result, that person would be more likely to be approved for a mortgage.”
But you might not have to pay much more than the minimum to boost your chances of getting that loan.
“At this time it’s unclear what impact to mortgage scoring and automated underwriting the payment history will have, but we believe anyone that is paying 30% or more of their balance monthly will see improvement,” says San Diego loan officer Michael Rosenbaum at CrossCountry Mortgage.
Of course, people who pay off the whole balance every month will be favored even more, and with good reason.
“Research has indicated that borrowers who paid off their credit card debt every month are 60% less likely to become delinquent than borrowers who make only the monthly minimum payment,” Rosenbaum adds.
And while this might sound ominous, it could actually be helpful if you had some credit blemishes in your past.
“Fannie has also indicated that paying more than the minimum due will particularly help borrowers with delinquencies on their credit report, because it will allow borrowers to ‘demonstrate that a late payment was not deeply reflective of their general debt repayment ability and behavior,'” Reiss notes.
Will this change affect your interest rate?
All that said, if all you can afford is your minimum monthly debt payments, you don’t necessarily have to kiss your home-buying dreams goodbye.
“Since loan pricing is mostly based on credit scores, this new information shouldn’t have an immediate impact on your interest rates,” says G. Brian Davis, director of education at SparkRental.com. “If this pilot program takes off, though, more lenders may start adjusting rates based on this extra credit card history information.”
So brace yourself, and start allocating your acorns accordingly. Because after all, do you really want to be seen by lenders as a “bare minimum” type of borrower, or one who goes above and beyond?
Bringing a baby home is wonderful. And terrifying. Suddenly that Mid-Century Modern coffee table you just had to have seems so very pointy and just the right height to put an eye out. And all those succulent planters? You just know your little tyke is going to pull those down and get hurt. All of this makes baby-proofing your home a must, hopefully before your bundle of joy starts toddling around. But how far do you really have to go to keep your home from killing your kid?
It turns out you really aren’t overreacting. Every year, millions of kids are hospitalized because of accidents around the home, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. But there’s good news: You can easily lower those odds by thoroughly baby-proofing your home. Here are the steps you need to take to keep baby safe.
Is your baby furniture safe?
First things first: Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission sitefor any recent recalls that might include stuff you’ve bought. While widespread recalls are fairly rare, you can sign up for notifications by email or phone so you don’t have to worry. You’d be amazed by how many products have been recalled that are still in parents’ homes, particularly since used baby furniture is often sold secondhand to others. So, be sure to check any furniture you bring into your home, from drop-side cribs (bad idea) to baby bumpers (anything in a crib is a suffocation hazard) to rickety high chairs that tip over.
How to spot trouble
To truly baby-proof a home, you must think like a baby.
“The first thing I always recommend new parents do is to get down on your hands and knees and look around the room from a baby’s perspective,” says Jen Taylor, founder of the new-mom survival guide, MomTricks. “It may feel silly, but you’ll be able to get a much better idea of what might be dangerous to a curious toddler.”
Keep an eye out for anything pointy, slippery, or potentially dangerous. Any serious risks might need to be removed (or at least covered up) until baby is a bit taller. For furniture with sharp edges, invest in some bumpers. They won’t look great, but neither does a baby with a black eye.
Safe paint for your nursery
Whether you pick pink, blue, yellow, or some other pastel shade for the walls of your nursery, look to buy products that have low or no VOCs. Volatile organic compounds are microscopic particles that waft off of many paints, wood stains, varnishes, rugs, and furniture. Though tiny, they can cause short- and long-term health effects like nose and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, or liver and kidney damage, according to the EPA.
Alternatives like milk-based paints (no, seriously) from Real Milk Paint are VOC-free, have a low mold growth, and are environmentally friendly. And don’t forget, if you’re stripping the old paint or wallpaper, skip the chemical-laden stuff and opt for a healthier alternative like a soy-based paint remover.
Lock it down
Toddlers are notoriously curious. Turn your back for a second, and they’re getting into something. To keep your home safe, you’ll have to lock everything down—and we do mean everything.
For cabinets and drawers, look for the simple plastic latch that attaches to the tops and that must be bent down to open. It’ll keep those cabinets off-limits without driving you crazy every time you need to grab something.
For doors, it may be enough just to make sure your toddler can’t reach the lock—and you’re motivated enough to keep it locked all the time. If you’re not sure, Taylor recommends the Child Proof Deluxe Door Top Lock. Unlike regular door guards that lock from the bottom (where a toddler might figure out how to defeat it), this one locks from the top where only the grown-ups can reach. And it is simple enough that you won’t be stuck fiddling with it every time you need to get out.
Check around your home for loose cords or wires. Curtain pulls and electrical cords in particular can be a problem and should be tucked away or tied down securely. Also make sure electrical outlets are covered lest your curious child starts poking around and gets the shock of his life.
Taylor recommends the LectraLock electrical outlet covers. “Instead of blocking off the outlet entirely, they let you use the outlets while keeping the plugs secured so that they can’t be pulled out,” she says.
Clean and clean again
Even with everything locked down and secured, you’re still going to face one big obstacle: “Assume anything that’s not nailed down is going to end up in their mouth,” Taylor says. “That means being ever-vigilant and not missing anything that might fall on the floor, be it food or otherwise. Even the smallest of objects can be a choking hazard.”
To keep things hazard-free, you’ll need to create and stick to a pretty regular cleaning schedule. Check the floors often for anything that might have dropped, and keep an eye out for stuff that slides under the furniture. Sound like a pain? It is. It might be time to invest in that Roomba.
But in the end, remember the golden truth: “Don’t drive yourself crazy with worry,” Taylor says. “You’ll have to be OK with bumps and bruises. They’re going to happen. But seriously, never underestimate a toddler’s ability to get into things they shouldn’t be getting into.”
Before placing a home on the market or setting out to find the perfect new home, you should identify REALTORS® in your community who can assist with the sale.
While realtor.com® is the largest real estate site online, it’s great place to find a REALTOR® to fit your needs.
Realtor.com® lists realty professionals nationwide, and you can find those active in your community through extensive directories and property listings.
Why Use a REALTOR®?
More than two million people nationwide have licenses to sell real estate, of which more than one million belong to the National Association of REALTORS®. Only N.A.R. members are entitled to use the term REALTOR®.
N.A.R. members must adhere to a strict code of ethics. By joining N.A.R., individuals have access to a wide range of classes, seminars and certification opportunities. Local REALTOR® groups are active in community service, economic development, local politics, and other neighborhood organizations.
In essence, local REALTORS® are the community experts. They track real estate trends, share neighborhood concerns and participate in local matters. They’re good neighbors who are in the business of helping others buy and sell homes.
How Do You Choose a REALTOR®?
Whether you’re a first-time seller or someone who is looking to buy your first home, there are several ways to find a local REALTOR®:
- Use the “Find a REALTOR®” search engine on realtor.com® to find individuals who actively sell in your community.
- Get recommendations from friends and family members who have bought or sold their properties recently.
- Look for REALTOR® signs in your community.
- Attend open houses and see if you connect with a REALTOR®.
- Call your neighborhood real estate brokerages.
Buyers and sellers have different needs. In some cases, sellers elect to meet with one REALTOR®, while a buyer might elect to test a couple of agents before deciding to work with one exclusively.
Whatever your preference, there will be a number of questions you will want to ask:
- What services do you offer?
- What type of representation do you provide?
- What experience do you have in my immediate area?
- How long are homes in this neighborhood typically on the market?
- Be aware that because all homes are unique, some will sell faster than others. Several factors can impact the amount of time a home remains on the market, including list price, changing interest rates and local economic trends.
- How would you price my home?
- Ask about recent home sales and comparable properties currently on the market. If you speak with several REALTORS® and their price estimates differ, that’s alright—but be sure to ask how their price opinions were determined and why they think your home would sell for a given value. Request a written Comparative Market Analysis (CMA), as well.
- How will you market my home?
- At listing presentations, brokers will provide a detailed summary of how they market homes, what marketing strategies have worked in the past and which marketing efforts may be effective for your home.
- What is your fee?
- Brokerage fees are established in the marketplace and not set by law or regulation.The commission is the agent’s rate for handling your transaction. Ask if there are other fees you will have to pay such as a early cancellation fee, marketing fee, MLS fee or any other cost that is not included in the commission rate.
- What disclosures should you receive?
- State rules require brokers to provide extensive agency disclosure information, usually at the first sit-down meeting with an owner or buyer.
What Should You Expect When Working With a REALTOR®?
Once your home is listed with a REALTOR®, he or she will immediately begin to market your home according to the most appropriate conventions for your community. A REALTOR® keeps you informed as the marketing process unfolds and as expressions of interest are received.
Be sure to specify how you would like to communicate. Some clients prefer emails while others only want to be called or have in-person meetings. Whatever your preference, it is best to outline those expectations upfront so everyone is working with clearly-defined objectives.
The same is true for buyers. Because buyers are constantly meeting with their agent to see properties and give feedback on the properties they’ve already seen, communication is important. If you like to communicate via text message, let your agent know. All forms of communication are not acceptable to everyone. Make sure you have an agent who communicates with you in a way you find acceptable.
Every client should expect professionalism. That means a REALTOR® will always expect you to be on-time, and you should expect likewise from a REALTOR®.
Remember, the REALTOR® is your advocate in the transaction, whether you are buying or selling. Once you have signed up with an agent to represent you, he or she is your face, your voice and your defense against all involved in the multi-layered home buying or home selling process.
Your offer has been accepted, and there’s just one more obstacle between you and your new home: the inspection. It can be a stressful event for both buyers and sellers as they wait for the report, hoping no major issues will surface that could sideline the deal.
But what if you make it through that day, let out a big sigh of relief, seal the deal, and then a few weeks or months later find an issue in your new home—a bat infestation, a leaky roof, a CDC-level mold problem—that the home inspector didn’t catch? Just how much peace of mind does a home inspection really buy you?
Find out how you can protect yourself.
Start by finding the right home inspector
Sadly, there’s no insurance home buyers can take out to protect themselves from a faulty inspection. As such, the most important step home buyers can take to prevent that scenario is to select a reputable inspection company.
Make sure you choose a firm that has been in the residential inspection business for a while and has a strong reputation (real estate agents and lenders often have recommendations).
But most important, your home inspector should have adequate insurance.
Keith Balsiger, president of Balsiger Insurance in Las Vegas, says buyers should ask for a current certificate of insurance that shows the inspection company has both general liability insurance and professional liability insurance (also known as errors and omissions insurance). This is what would potentially cover you as a buyer if there was a major “miss” on the part of the inspection.
If you want to be extra safe, you can call the insurance agency of the inspection company to confirm the coverage on the certificate is still valid.
You also want to closely examine the terms of the liability insurance. David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, says some contracts will state that the company is liable only for the cost of the inspection, which won’t be much solace if you find yourself on the hook for repairs that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Ideally, you would not want there to be any limit on the inspector’s liability in case he or she was negligent in doing the inspection,” says Reiss. At the very least, make sure the limit exceeds the cost of the inspection alone.
Why buyers should attend the home inspection
As an added safeguard, buyers should be physically present during the inspection. If an inspector balks at this idea, that’s a red flag. Make sure to find out what is covered by the inspection, and if there’s anything you want the inspector to scrutinize in particular (say, you know the boiler is old or the basement has water stains, suggesting flooding issues), state that upfront.
“It’s a buyer’s job to make the most of the home inspection,” says Bryant Dunivan Jr., a real estate and consumer protection attorney in Brandon, FL. Here are some things to watch for during the inspection:
- The inspector is working off a checklist of items that was in the contract.
- Major systems (air conditioning, heating, water, etc.) are tested.
- The inspector actually enters attic and crawl spaces.
- A report complete with pictures is provided.
What to look out for in a home inspection
Robert Pellegrini Jr., president of PK Boston, a real estate law firm based in Boston, says a typical red flag disclaimer on the inspection report is a statement that there was a problem with “access” to roofs, eaves, and areas behind locked or blocked doors or crawl spaces.
“That serves to absolve the inspector of any liability,” Pellegrini says.
Urge the home seller to remove all barriers that might prevent an inspector from doing a thorough job. Some home buyers even take the process into their own hands and hire drones or robots to view inaccessible areas.
Uh-oh! You’ve closed, but there’s a problem
No matter how many precautions you take, the nightmare scenario does happen: You move in and then discover a problem. A big one. Can you bring it up with the seller? After all, sellers are required to disclose any known issues about the home.
Well, here’s the rub: Proving the seller knew about something after the fact is nearly impossible, and the legal cost involved in trying to prove it is often too steep to make an attempt.
Which brings us back to the home inspector. If you encounter a problem, bring it up with your inspector. As long as you used one with decent liability insurance that covers more than just the cost of the inspection, odds are decent you’ll be compensated for any damages. Again, you’ll have to prove it. For example, if the inspector said the roof was in good condition, but there was a leak months later during a big storm, you would have to prove that nothing happened in the intervening time that damaged the roof.
“Bottom line: You would probably need pretty clear facts on your side to win,” Reiss says.
Problems and repairs are just par for the course when you become a homeowner, but hopefully you won’t have to deal with them the minute you step in the door of your new home.
We love our pets, whether they be dogs, cats, hamsters, capybaras, hedgehogs, or pygmy goats—but that doesn’t mean that they want to see said pets (or any evidence of them) when looking at a home they’re thinking of buying.
“Pets are either an attractive distraction, so cute they distract prospective buyers from looking at the real estate, or completely the opposite—smelly, frightening, or otherwise off-putting,” says Diane Saatchi, an East Hampton, NY, real estate broker with Saunders & Associates.
Don’t want your precious property to be known as “that dog house”? Well, you need to pet-proof your place when preparing and showing it for sale. Here’s how, in six simple steps.
1. Check your insurance
Although you know your pets would never hurt anyone, they could scratch or bite a potential buyer whom they mistake for an intruder on their territory. You could be held liable for any harm your pet causes, so make sure your homeowners insurance covers you for incidents like these.
However, some insurers will not cover anyone who owns what they deem vicious or aggressive breeds, such as pit bulls; and if they do provide coverage, it could be expensive. If you have such a dog (and even if you don’t), it’s best to keep him out of the house during a showing.
2. Prepare your yard
Buyers will walk around your yard, a stroll that will be ruined if they step in poop or turn an ankle where your dog likes to dig.
Perform a poop patrol before each showing. Double-bag the waste before disposing, so your garbage cans don’t smell when buyers walk by. Fill all holes and sprinkle grass seed on top.
Before putting your house on the market, make sure your yard is a green oasis—not a brown-and-yellow dustbowl created when pets pee on grass. You can try to aerate and seed bare spots. But if that doesn’t work fast enough, you can replace ugly patches with new sod. Then, train Travis the Titan Terrier to use an out-of-the-way spot for his business. Or take him for very long walks.
3. Remove the odors
Removing the odors pets leave behind is one of the biggest challenges. It’s easy to clean and tuck away kitty’s litter box. But it’s way harder to erase years of piddle from rugs and hardwood.
If a bacteria-eating pet odor remover doesn’t banish all traces of cat or dog urine, you might have to hire a professional service to clean carpets or rugs. (Perhaps you should consider this whether you are selling your home or not.) Often, however, the odor returns, so if a carpet continues to reek, replace it before buyers trek through.
Clean turtle, hamster, and guinea pig cages frequently, to prevent odors. And make fish tanks sparkle; a daily swipe with an eraser sponge will do the trick.
4. Clean up the hair
Not only does a layer of pet hair on floors and sofas make your home look messy, it can trigger allergies and send potential buyers sneezing and wheezing out the door.
Before each showing, vacuum and dust to remove any settled hair or dander. Or, consider buying a vacuuming robot (such as a Roomba) that you can schedule to suck up hair several times a day. They actually work.
If your pet sheds, brush him frequently outside, so the hair doesn’t fly around the house. Bathing can help minimize shedding, too.
5. Hide the evidence
Like kids, pets (or rather, their caretakers) tend to accumulate lots of stuff—leashes, collars, toys, water bowls, food, cute sweaters, and costumes for Christmas and Halloween (ladies and gentlemen: It’s canine Ken Bone!). But no matter how adorable you may think it all is, to buyers, it’s just clutter.
Make sure you stow pet paraphernalia in a cupboard or closet. Put dry food bins in a laundry or mud room. Wash pet beds to remove odors and dirt, and only display them if they’re attractive.
6. Say goodbye to your pets (just for a while!)
If you decide to leave your dogs or cats at home, either crate them or confine them to a special area of the house, and make sure your real estate agent knows where they are. Keep them busy with interactive toys or long-lasting treats, says Chris Rowland, CEO of Pet Supplies Plus, based in Livonia, MI.
“Even purchasing a new exciting toy or treat just prior to company coming may keep them more preoccupied,” he says.
But it’s best for everyone if you can find a playdate for your pet before a showing, or to send him to Grandma’s for an extended stay. But remember that pets have emotions, too—especially when it comes to change in their routines.
When you stow their toys, move their water bowl, or put them in a crate when strangers inspect their home, some pets will feel confused and anxious. So before making any major changes in the life of a dog or cat, talk to your veterinarian, who can help you ease your pet’s transition to a temporary new home.
If your home has a kitchen, odds these days are you have a kitchen island, or you’re pining for one. Pining hard! What started as a clever way to add extra counter space has morphed into so much more. And it’s evolving at a breakneck pace.
In case you are poised to make some kitchen upgrades soon or just want to drool over the latest designs, here are some kitchen island ideas that could be popping up in homes near you.
Trend No. 1: Kitchen Islands are getting huge
Simply put: The kitchen island is taking over, expanding ever larger.
Karen Foutz, a Southern California mother of six and grandmother of seven, has a 9-by-10-foot kitchen island that’s far larger than a king-size bed (see pic below).
“I have to climb up on it to clean it, so I can reach the center,” she says with a laugh.
The reason for this expansion is obvious: Since kitchen islands are being used not only for food prep, but also for dining, crafts, homework, and more, more space is required for all these activities. Plus, since open floor plans are all the rage, kitchen islands often serve as room dividers—and, as such, can be larger to better carve up a space.
Trend No. 2: Kitchen Islands are multiplying
If one kitchen island is good, two is better, right? That’s the reasoning behind double islands, which are becoming major selling features in larger kitchens. There’s one island for food prep and another for socializing. Believe it or not, some fancy people (e.g., Kim Kardashian and Kanye West) who are into throwing massive parties have as many as threekitchen islands, making the space seem more like a kitchen archipelago.
Trend No. 3: Kitchen islands are the new appliance centers
So many more appliances can be accommodated when they’re not limited to the counters along the walls. Microwaves and dishwashers have been designed with drawers, rather than doors, so they fit nicely into kitchen islands and you don’t have to bend down to use them.
So what are some of the latest additions? According to Amer Hakim of the Universal Appliance and Kitchen Center, in Studio City, CA, some of the more popular appliances they install in kitchen islands include the following:
- Cooktops with special features like a teppanyaki grill
- Wok stations
- Open-flame barbecues
- Warming drawers
- Wine refrigerators
- Ice machines
- Ovens (or second ovens or steam ovens)
- Regular or display sinks
- Recycling centers (they have mostly replaced trash compactors these days)
Trend No. 4: Kitchen islands double as homework/entertainment stations
As we move away from bulky desktop computers toward portable laptops and tablets, the kitchen island has become the ideal place to set up shop—for work, entertainment, and more.
Parents preparing a meal can easily keep track of what their kids are looking at on their computer screens while they’re doing their homework on the kitchen island. Crafts projects that require access to a stove, sink, or oven are more easily done on the kitchen island. And baking that requires hours of kneading, shaping, filling, or decorating is so much easier when you can sit at an island rather than stand at a counter.
Just about the only domestic activity that doesn’t take place there is sleeping, but it’s probably only a matter of time before some designer comes up with an island that doubles as a foldout bed. Can’t wait!
No room for a kitchen island?
Now if the kitchen island craze has got you seriously depressed because you live in an older home or an apartment, or you just plain don’t have room, fear not! Designers have come up with all sorts of clever alternatives to built-in kitchen islands, some as small as 1 square foot! And many are on wheels, so they can do double duty as kitchen island, bar, serving cart, etc. So no matter how much (or how little) room you’ve got, just know that your kitchen island dreams can become a reality.
Even if you aren’t a Kardashian fan, you’re probably painfully aware that Kim, Khloe, Kylie, and the rest of the clan love posting updates on social media about where they are (Paris!), whom they’re with (Kanye!), and (last but definitely not least) what kind of bling they’ve acquired recently.
But guess what? All of their oversharing on Instagram, Snapchat, and other sites does have some serious downsides. Beyond the psychic toll it’s having on their souls, it’s also harming them on a more literal level—by helping burglars break into their homes to rob them blind.
Case in point: Shortly after Kim Kardashian flaunted a $4.49 million engagement ring on Instagram in October, thieves tracked down her whereabouts in her Paris apartment and made off with the bling. Meanwhile, police have warned younger sister Kylie to stop posting her GPS coordinates on Snapchat, because this could lead strangers straight to her front door. Seems kinda obvious once you mention it!
This danger isn’t limited to reality stars, either. Whether you’ve posted recent vacation pics or a close-up of a pricey gift (“OMG, look what he gave me for Christmas!!”), we’re all sharing a lot of information online that could be leading criminals straight to our homes and valuables. In fact, one study found that nearly 80% of burglars use social media to plan their heists.
That’s a scary statistic no matter how you look at it. Here are three main ways your social media habits might be putting your home security at risk.
Risk No. 1: Including your location in posts
Typically when you post an update on many social media sites, they will ask whether you’d like to include your location in the post. Take Twitter, for instance: If you compose a tweet and hit the location icon, you can choose the city and state you’re currently in, or you can turn on “share precise location,” which will share your exact GPS coordinates.
This is a bad idea: Post while you’re home, and thieves who gain access to this info now have your address. All they need to do now is lie in wait for a later post when you’re away on vacation to know your home is sitting there vacant, ready to be robbed!
Solution: First things first, make sure your permissions are set so that your posts are viewable only by “friends” and not the public. But even that’s not enough.
“Even with privacy settings in place to limit your posts to friends, if someone in your network gets hacked and compromised, anything you’ve shared with them is likely to be exploited,” says Spencer Coursen, a security expert in New York.
So as an added layer of security, never, ever enable location services for social media sites, and don’t add location tags, either. Also make sure not to post any pictures or statuses about your vacation while you’re away—no matter how tempted you may be to show off your toes in the sand. If you want to share, post those photos later and be sure to remark that they are from a previous vacation.
Risk No. 2: Posting photos of expensive items
Even if you omit your exact location on your Facebook updates, another weak point many aren’t aware of is hiding in the photos. If you take a photo with your iPhone and post it online, it may automatically contain geotags with your exact GPS coordinates. While Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter strip out location data from photos, other sites (like Tumblr) do not.
The upshot? A thief could easily download the photo you took of, say, your awesome new jewelry or flat-screen TV, and use a tool (such as ExifTool) to pinpoint the address where your prized possessions are hiding.
Solution: The safest option, of course, is to simply avoid posting pictures of any valuables on social media sites, even if they’re just in the background. You also have the option to disable your phone from adding GPS location information to pictures as well. For example, on the iPhone 6 go to: Settings / Privacy / Location Services / Camera / Choose “Never.”
Risk No. 3: Adding your hometown, birthdate, and other details to your profile
Even if your exact home address isn’t listed in your updates or photos, is your profile on Twitter or Facebook filled with details about your life such as your hometown, current city, workplace, and birthdate? Most are, but all of that info along with other publicly available research tools on the internet—sites like Intelius or Spokeo—make it pretty darn easy for robbers to find out exactly where you live.
Solution: Keep your personal information—birthdate, hometown, and other details—off social media profiles. Even setting personal information to be viewable only by “friends” can be potentially dangerous.
“A burglar could simply create a fake profile to try to induce a user to add them as a friend so that they could then view that personal information,” says Shawn Davis, director of digital forensics at Edelson PC Law Firm in Chicago.
Overall, the resounding advice is to post as little as possible about where you are and what valuables you might have lying around your home.
“In the industry, we refer to this as ‘security via obscurity,’ which means not disclosing facts that would bring unwanted attention,” says Robert Siciliano, an identity theft expert in Boston. “The Kardashians violate that rule quite often.”
The bottom line: Be less like a Kardashian. How hard is that?
From curbside to the inside, show your home at its best
When you're ready to sell your home, make sure potential buyers see it at its best. Here are the top ways to fix up the appearance of your home without investing a lot of money. A little time and effort now will pay big dividends at closing.
Trim the grass and make sure all flowerbeds are freshly mulched and free of weeds. Prune overgrown shrubs, especially if they're hiding windows or blocking the entryway.
Gutters and Fences
Reinforce sagging gutters and straighten crooked fences. Make sure the gutters are cleared of obstructions and the soil isn't washed out around downspouts. A quick power washing will brighten fences.
Driveway and Walkways
Clear away clutter like bikes, tools and toys. Use weed killer on grass and weeds that sprout in pavement cracks. Keep edges neat with a weed eater or edger.
Freshen the door and trim with a new coat of paint. Tighten loose doorknobs, oil squeaky hinges and make sure the doorbell works. Clean any furniture or outside decorations. Add a colorful potted plant or a new doormat.
Shampoo the rug or scrub and wax the floor. Add a fresh area rug and make sure it has a nonskid surface for safety. Hang a mirror to make your entry look larger and brighter.
Set a warm, inviting mood by keeping countertops free of clutter and adding decorative canisters or a scented candle. Clean out the refrigerator, degrease the oven, wipe down cabinet doors and keep the sink shining.
Make sure your bathrooms sparkle. Clear countertops of unnecessary clutter. Replace discolored or damaged caulking. Fix dripping faucets and leaky toilets.
Organize the contents to make your closets appear larger. Donate unwanted items to charity and store what's left in stackable plastic totes to maintain a neat, tidy appearance.
Garage, Basement and Attic
This is the time to sort through all the junk and decide what to keep and what to give away. Use easy-to-assemble storage shelves to stow tools and sporting goods; wall hangers for garden hose, blowers and other equipment.
Replace burned out bulbs and clean fixtures, inside and out, to get rid of dead bugs and cobwebs. Consider replacing dated fixtures in the most visible locations. Install indoor track lighting to highlight artwork and open drapes and blinds to let in natural light. Outside use landscape lighting to accentuate architectural features.
Most of these great fix-up items and helpful do-it-yourself advice can be found at your local home improvement center.
There are a ton of benefits to buying a home with a VA loan. You’ll pay less upfront than other buyers. You might get a lower interest rate. And you can use your benefits again and again.
But although you may have a leg up on the other guys when it comes to home financing, making an offer on your dream home could be trickier than you expect. VA loans work a bit differently than conventional loans, but understanding VA and lender guidelines will help you make the strongest purchase offer possible.
Take this guidance to heart when you’re looking for your dream home and making an offer.
Be cautious—but not dismissive—of older homes
Before you get down to the business of making an offer, you’ll need to ensure you’re making an offer on the right kind of home. When you’re buying with a VA loan, you’ll have to get the home approved by an appraiser, and the VA’s standards can be stricter than those for the average home buyer. In short, they want you to find a home in good condition. That leads many buyers to believe historic homes are off-limits, but that might not be the case.
“The VA’s rules about homes and what they will and won’t approve is probably one of the most argued-about things I’ve seen,” says Bobby Middleton, a VA-savvy Realtor® with Texas Premier Realty in San Antonio. “I’ve seen houses that were built in 1929 that didn’t have a problem with the VA, and I’ve seen new houses and you just knew the appraiser wasn’t going to approve it.”
“I suggest to my clients to avoid HUD and short sale properties,” adds Rob Racz, managing broker for Windermere Real Estate in Everett, WA. Many of these properties have been damaged or fallen into disrepair, making them unlikely to win approval for a VA loan. If you really want an older home, look for one that’s already been remodeled.
2. Work out repair requests with the seller
Even if you’re buying a newer home, you’ll have to be on the lookout for potential problems. The need for a little updating in the kitchen or a fresh coat of paint won’t matter much to a VA appraiser, who’s looking at broad health, safety, and marketability issues. But bigger issues can cause a problem with your VA loan—and, subsequently, your offer.
“The lender is not going to loan you the money to buy the house unless the repair is made,” Middleton says.
The problem is the seller doesn’t have to make any repairs. The seller could decide to just walk away from the deal and wait for another buyer. Your best option is to have your Realtor work with the seller’s to reach an agreement. Often, the problem simply boils down to a lack of understanding. The seller might not realize that as a VA buyer, you need to have the repair done to get your loan approved.
This is where choosing a Realtor who understands the VA loan processcomes in.
“If you’ve got a buyer’s agent that can explain all that to the listing agent, nine times out of 10 we’ll get the repair done,” Middleton says.
Buyers can also look to pay for repairs themselves if the seller won’t budge.
3. Do market analysis before making an offer
Making an offer with a fair price is key to getting that offer accepted. But what’s considered “fair”?
Striking the right note here can be challenging. You could lowball the seller in hopes of saving some money, but you’d risk driving the seller away. On the other hand, if you offer more than the VA is willing to approve, you’ll have to either come up with the cash to cover the difference or risk losing out on the home.
You’ll need to do a little homework to see what the home might appraise for before you make the offer—and that can get tricky.
“Sometimes we find with older homes that sellers are basing their prices on the new homes being built 2 miles away,” Middleton says. “Basically, they want to price their 1990s house as a brand-new house, but the appraiser might not always agree.”
The key to finding a good balance comes down to the comparative market analysis, or comps. Your Realtor should run a market analysis on similar, recently sold homes in the area before you come up with an offer price. If you land on a price that looks good to the seller and matches up with the appraiser’s valuation, you’ll have an easier time getting your offer accepted and getting approved for that VA loan.
4. Be conservative with demands
There are lots of myths about the VA loan process—that it takes a long time (not true) or that the seller won’t make a profit (not true again!). Being a VA buyer shouldn’t keep sellers from accepting your offer, but still aim to make your offer shine—especially if you’re buying in a competitive market and multiple offers are common.
That means you might want to dial it back with the demands. Take, for example, closing costs. If you don’t have the funds you need to cover the closing costs yourself, it makes sense to ask the seller to foot some of the bill. But you stand a better chance of getting your offer accepted if you present it carefully.
Middleton recommends trying to roll those closing costs into the total cost of the home.
“You have to put yourself in the seller’s shoes a bit. If you just say, ‘Hey, I want you to cover $6,000 in closing costs just because you’ve been on the market for 71 days,’ it may not go so well,” he explains. “Rather than offer $173,000 for the house and then ask for $6,000 in closings costs, absorb some of those costs into the asking price. Offer $179,000 instead.”
With this approach, you’re effectively financing your closing costs—with interest—over 15 or 30 years. But do keep in mind the home will need to appraise for that higher amount.
5. Make yourself stand out
You should also find creative ways to make yourself stand out from the other buyers.
“We often ask our buyers to write a ‘love letter’ to the seller,” Racz says. “For instance, what they like about the house, why they are moving, how long they have been looking, etc.”
It could mean the difference to sentimental sellers who want to see their home go to someone who will love it as they did. Even if it doesn’t, you know you pulled out all the stops to make a solid offer that not only will be accepted by the seller, but will also get your VA loan approved.
Got a lucky number? Like, a really lucky, Powerball-deciding, superstition-fueling, wedding date–determining number you evoke like an enchanted incantation? For surprisingly large numbers of Americans, that magic number is 7. But that’s not the case with the Chinese. In Chinese culture, 8, or ba, is considered the luckiest number because its pronunciation is similar to fa, which means to make a fortune.
With the surge of Chinese buyers in the U.S. property market—the National Association of Realtors® estimates that Chinese buyers will purchase $27.3 billion in residential properties by the end of 2016—we’ve seen increasing numbers of homes priced at $888,888 to lure buyers.
But could the pursuit of good luck really be driving unusual real estate sales? We asked our numerology-loving data team to help us find out.
8 is the luckiest
So far this year, there have been 178 homes on realtor.com priced at either $888,888 or $8,888,888. Those homes are concentrated in New York City (34), San Francisco (27), Los Angeles (25), and San Jose (23). The first three cities are among the top markets viewed by Chinese buyers, according to Juwai.com, a website for Chinese people searching for real estate properties abroad.
“It’s an eye-catching strategy. [Chinese] buyers would see the price and be like, ‘why not check out the home?'” says Hao Yuan, an LG Fairmont real estate salesperson based in New York. “The important thing is that it makes them feel lucky.”
We compared those “lucky homes” with nearby homes of similar size, and found that on average, they sell only 0.32% faster—a difference so small, it’s negligible.
“It’s not so much that a lucky number helps sell your home,” explains Tina Ying, a broker with New Century Real Estate in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Buyers can always counteroffer, so the final price is hardly ever the original list price.” But many sellers set such a price in hopes of getting a smooth sale, she adds.
The real luck (and price premium) lies in the street number. A street number is gold among the Chinese if it’s crammed with as many 8’s as possible, and especially if it ends with an 8.
A Bel Air, CA, home with the address of 10888 Chalon Road was recently sold for $4,175,000—which was 36% higher than similar-size homes in the same neighborhood. We couldn’t confirm whether the deep-pocketed buyer was indeed of Chinese descent, because the home was bought by a limited liability company—a common practice for buyers to hide their identities.
4 is unlucky
Chinese people often have a visceral negative reaction to the numeral 4, which is pronounced the same as “death” in Chinese. For properties with a 4 in the street number, a Chinese home buyer might ask for a discount of 5% or even 10% on the asking price, according to Ying.
Ying cites a Fremont, CA, home that has not only one, but two 4’s in its street number. The seller slashed $200,000 off its $2 million asking price before the buyer finally agreed to the sale. Both the seller and the buyer were Chinese.
One apartment building in Long Island City, NY, doesn’t have a fourth floor. The building developer even went out of the way to hire a feng shui consultant to certify the building.
Rearranging a home according to feng shui
It’s more than just a numbers game—other superstitions come into play, too. So far this year, 355 homes on the market tout feng shui in their listing description, a 57% increase in just three years. Feng shui is the ancient practice of placing things within a living environment to affect the flow of energy, and therefore to influence the fortune of the people who live there.
The most frequently mentioned feng shui attribute is “south-facing,” which is thought to maximize luck. Kevin Zheng, a Re/Max Realtor® in Los Angeles, says that in his experience, it’s the one thing Chinese buyers simply won’t compromise on. (South-facing homes also get the advantage of all-day sunlight without too much glare or heat, so they have a practical appeal as well.)
Other common practices include mindfully positioning a fountain in the yard (which is supposed to bring fortune) and designing the entryway to prevent fortune from flowing out the front door. Depending on the buyer, the importance of feng shui ranges from high to extremely high.
Zheng says he had a client who walked away from a deal because of bad feng shui. The client took great interest in a $1 million–plus home in Orange County, but wanted to know the direction rainwater flows on the ground. The seller’s agent confirmed that water flows from left to right—unfortunately, that’s the so-called “backward water,” an ominous sign.
The most dreaded 13
But Chinese people are not the only superstitious ones—many buildings don’t have a 13th floor because in much of the Western world, 13 is associated with bad luck. In Manhattan, out of 629 buildings high enough to have more than 13 floors, 91% of them relabeled the floor as 14, 12A, 12B, or M (the 13th letter in the English alphabet), according to CityRealty’s data released last year.
If you’re trying to sell your home, it’s likely your real estate agent has suggested hosting a broker’s open house. But, what is that, exactly? Long story short, it’s an open house not for home buyers, but for their agents so they can determine whether your home is right for any of their clients.
Here’s how to decide how to make the most of this marketing opportunity.
How a broker’s open house is different
The biggest difference between a broker’s open house and a standard open house is who ends up on the invite list. While standard open houses are quite flexible about who can stop by—and might include anyone from potential buyers to curious neighbors—the guest list for a broker’s open house is strictly limited to other real estate agents and industry professionals.
Time is another differing factor. Usually, standard open houses are hosted on Sunday afternoons, because the vast majority of potential buyers have weekends free for house hunting. On the other hand, because a broker’s open house caters to agents—whose weekend schedules are often packed with home showings for clients—it is often held midweek, when agents are more likely to be available.
What happens at a broker’s open house?
At its core, this is another tool that real estate agents use to help market a home. In addition to internet marketing systems like the multiple listing service, it’s a method of debuting your listing to industry professionals in your community.
Once your agent schedules a broker’s open, he will advertise it to his network of industry contacts. Usually a free lunch is also offered as an incentive to show up. On the day of the event, the other agents will be given a chance to tour your home, enjoy the free lunch while catching up with colleagues, and offer your agent their opinions on the property.
Typically, broker’s open houses are held within the first few days of a home being put on the market in order to capitalize on the initial burst of interest that often accompanies new listings. But if there is ever a dramatic adjustment to how your home is being marketed—such as a significant drop in price—your agent may suggest hosting another broker’s open house in order to spread the news.
The benefits of a broker’s open house for sellers
If you’re the type who doesn’t relish the idea of opening your home to crowds of looky-loos who’ll tramp through your rooms and open every closet and medicine cabinet, then a professionally targeted broker’s open may be appealing.
If all goes according to plan, the agents who tour the house will go through their mental Rolodex to see if your property would be a good fit for any of their clients. If so, they’ll likely bring those clients back for a private showing in the near future, especially if the broker’s open was well-attended.
“It creates a sense of urgency“, says Stephen Marchese of Re/Max Central in Blue Bell, PA. “And, a higher perceived value of the house.”
However, even if an offer doesn’t come directly from the broker’s open, it can offer a valuable critique of how your home looks in comparison with other properties currently on the market in your area. Since Realtors regularly have the chance to view a variety of homes, they have the ability to give your agent feedback on how your home is being perceived by others—and how to better attract buyers.
T is for Turkey. T is for Turducken. T is for “Thank God this election season is over, now can we all please stop talking about politics for just one damn weekend?” Whatever your “T,” it’s now T minus three days until Thanksgiving, the glorious holiday when many Americans will spend the entire day sweating in the kitchen—and quite possibly several additional days prior to that, stressfully prepping. As for the big day itself, that oversized fowl will take three to five hours to cook, depending on its girth, and then there are side dishes to prepare and pies to bake. So many side dishes and pies!
After a brief reprieve to actually peck at the food, you’re back in the most important room in your home to clean up a monumental mess.
Even apart from Flightless Bird Consumption Day, Americans are spending more waking hours in the kitchen—cooking, eating, and socializing—than ever before. That’s why the kitchen has become the most obsessed-about and downright valuable room in real estate. But we want details! So we decided to tap our ever-hungry data team to dive into the statistics and apply some cool, hard numbers to this hot obsession.
What we discovered: some fascinating facts about the way we cook and eat today, how that shapes the features we want in our home kitchens, and how they drive the prices that we’re willing to pay. Let’s head to the SousVide machines!
Kitchen confidential No. 1: A trophy kitchen sells your home better than anything else
Once a small, functional space tucked away at the back of the house, the American kitchen has emerged as the showpiece of the home. Top-of-the-line-appliances, rich cabinets, and shining stone countertops have become status symbols. And catnip for home buyers.
“It’s almost not worth calling it a kitchen anymore—it’s a living room that you can cook in,” says Christopher Peacock, a high-end cabinetry designer in Norwalk, CT.
In real estate, the data proves that the kitchen has become the most important room in home buying and selling. Of all homes listed for sale on realtor.com®, 69% of them tout the kitchen as a selling point in their descriptions, compared to 49% that mention the bedrooms and 21% that mention the living room.
Homes that include a “killer kitchen” or “luxury kitchen,” as described by the sellers, sell 8% faster than similar-sized homes in the same ZIP code. And that’s why they’ve become a key part of renovation plans, home decor upgrades, and listings descriptions. Vive la cuisine!
Kitchen confidential No. 2: Small homes no longer mean small kitchens
You can turn out a holiday meal from a cramped galley kitchen, but would you want to? Across the United States, the size of home kitchens varies by region. And you might be surprised to find out which regions of the country love their kitchens the most.
Homes in the Mid-Atlantic region—New York and Pennsylvania—have the largest kitchens (at an average of 170 square feet); while the wide-open West North Central region—the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa—have the smallest kitchens (153 square feet), according to a report from the American Kitchen and Bathroom Association.
While larger homes tend to have larger kitchens, the scale of the increased kitchen size is not proportional to the overall home, the report notes.
“We see extra space in the Mid Atlantic, where people are more affluent, and prime land is relatively inexpensive. In the Southwest, where families are bigger and need a bigger kitchen. And, of course, everything is bigger in Texas,” says Javier Vivas, realtor.com’s economic researcher.
High-end kitchen mania is not universal, however. In America’s heartland, people appear to be less enthusiastic about investing in a luxury kitchen. Affordability, efficient layout, and outdoor features are more appealing to these folks. More of them are maximizing the utility of a small kitchen with clever organizers, like racks that can be attached to a drawer. A rolling island, which can be used both as a prep area and dining surface, is becoming a popular way to save sanity on Thanksgiving Day, says Heidi Féliz-Grimm with Martha O’Hara Interiors in Minneapolis.
Kitchen confidential No. 3: Some features add big value, some don’t
If you want to keep your home from looking dated, you need to up the ante in the kitchen. At the same time, kitchen renovations really can cost you—so home owners need to be wise about putting their money where their mutton is (or where it could be, judiciously broiled and served with rosemary and garlic-infused fingerlings. Delicious!)
As we can see from our listings, some features are better at adding value than others. Custom cabinets that pull the kitchen together, a center island that holds everything you need, and a capacious pantry to stock with your favorite essentials are among the most frequently mentioned features.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, you should probably stay away from over-the-stove microwaves, maple cabinets, and 4 x 4 tile floors—those are so yesterday.
Kitchen confidential No. 4: The chef’s kitchen is growing in popularity
If budget is not a concern, having a professional chef’s kitchen is the ultimate dream. Currently, 4.7% of homes on the market describe their kitchen as a “chef’s kitchen” or “gourmet kitchen,” up from 3.3% three years ago. Homes with this feature carry a median price tag of $589,900.
While there’s still no standard definition of what a “chef’s kitchen” includes, we were able to calculate which features are most frequently associated with one. The idea is becoming more and more specific and tangible to homeowners and would-be buyers alike.
The No. 1 principle: Think big, and bigger. That means an oversized fridge (it’s even better to have a separate fridge and freezer); dual commercial-quality ovens to separate the main dish and the sides, a six-burner stovetop (or two!) so your pans don’t crowd each other, and a butler’s pantry that serves as a catering station.
Those are the most touted gourmet features, but we also couldn’t help drooling over indulgences like a walk-in refrigerator, blast chiller (it cools beverages and food within minutes), and a wood-fired pizza oven.
Kitchen confidential No. 5: The nation is split—between open kitchens and formal dining rooms
For years, HGTV has been telling us to knock down walls and open up the kitchen, so that families can spend more time together, whether they’re cooking or eating.
“I can’t even remember the last time somebody asked me to put a wall in their kitchen,” says Féliz-Grimm.
But the formal dining room still has a hold on some parts of the country. For each state, we counted the number of homes in our listings that mention explicitly whether they have an open kitchen or a formal dining room. Here we present you with the United States of America—divided by kitchen layout:
In New England, where many of the country’s oldest homes tend to be smaller, opening up the kitchen and creating a feeling of space is the focus of many home renovation projects. In the Southwest, where balmy weather dominates most of the year, an open floor plan increases natural light and the connection to the outdoors.
This does not apply in the South, where the formal dining room has been a tradition for centuries. People are far more likely there to enjoy their turkey with all the family in a separate dining room, often lit up with chandeliers and adorned with plush drapery.