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  • MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME: 5 TIPS FOR HOMEBUYERS IN 2017

    Buying a home can be both an exciting and stressful time for families. Most homebuyers spend a significant amount of time researching real estate information and looking at properties. If you will be looking for a new home in 2017, keep these tips in mind to help you get the most out of your home purchasing dollar.

     

    MAKE SURE YOUR CREDIT SCORE IS GOOD

    Financial institutions offer the best mortgage rates to borrowers with a credit score of 740 or higher. If your credit score is 620 or below, you will have fewer options for a mortgage. Get a copy of your credit score, and make sure the information is up to date. If you have any problems on your credit record, make sure they are resolved and that the corrected information is updated. Also, avoid making any large credit card purchases or take on any new loans while you are applying for a mortgage.

     

    CHOOSE AN AFFORDABLE HOME

    Homebuyers tend to stretch a bit to purchase their first home, but you should always avoid buying more house than you can reasonably pay for on a month-to-month basis. The difficulty of coming up with a large mortgage payment each month can put uncomfortable pressure on a family’s financial resources. Keep your expectations in line with reality. If your income increases significantly in the future, you can always trade up to a larger home.

     

    LOOK FOR NO-CLOSING-COST MORTGAGES

    Financial institutions are competing aggressively for mortgage holders’ money and are offering benefits like no-closing-cost loans to draw in homebuyers. Look for these specials, which can save new homeowners thousands of dollars on their loans.

     

    BE A GOOD NEGOTIATOR

    Many homeowners have held off putting their properties on the market during the bad years of the real estate crisis. Many are now eager to upsize or downsize and will be open to negotiating the price or certain amenities in order to get the deal completed. If you are reasonable, you are likely to get a good reception for your offer.

     

    KEEP THE COST OF PROPERTY TAXES IN MIND

    Homebuyers are always advised to look for a home in an area with good schools, transportation options and other amenities. However, you should also look at the amount of property taxes you will pay each year. Property taxes add a significant amount to your monthly payment, so make sure you know how much taxes will add to your mortgage obligation.

     

    Interest rates are beginning to rise, which means you should make your move to purchase a house now rather than wait for a later date. If you have any questions, consult a realtor. These tips will help to ensure the best home purchase possible, so you can enjoy the experience of having a place of your own.

  • MOST IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW/DO BEFORE CLOSING ON A HOUSE

    The contract is finalized and signed, the mortgage approval is received and the movers are ready to pack up your stuff and move it to the new house any moment now. Looks like you did everything you had to in order to prepare to close on your home.

     But, there’re numerous situations that often happen in the real estate world and tiny details an overly excited buyer desperate to finally seal the deal and move in into his new home may forget about, but strongly regret on the closing day or after he obtains the full rights to the property. In an ideal world, the home closing procedure is nothing but pure formality and the happy moment of receiving the keys to the house that, from now, belongs to the new owner. But, when the real life kicks in with its bumps on the way, it’s easy to go off road and fail the entire deal.

    These house closing tips should help you prevent an enormous disaster, prepare for the process and conduct a smooth painless closing.

    THINGS TO KNOW/DO BEFORE THE HOUSE CLOSING

    COME EDUCATED

    Obviously, you won’t be the only one facing the seller and signing all the papers. Your legal representative, as well as real estate agent and most likely a closing agent will be by your side during that day. However, it’s still necessary to learn as much as you possibly can about the peculiarities of the house closing to know what to expect from the day, how to prepare for it and which parts of the process are completely obligatory. This way, all parties involved will come well-educated and prepared for the deal closure, which means that fewer mistakes will be made.

    So, do your research online and don’t be ashamed to ask your attorney or real estate agent what house closing actually means, what papers have to be brought and signed, which fees have to be paid, how much time it will take and at which point there would be no way to retreat and withdraw from the deal.

    MAKE SURE THAT EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING IS READY

    First of all, check in with your house closing lawyer and make the list of papers you need to bring to seal the deal. Don’t rely on other parties when it comes to gathering the paperwork and ensure that those documents are physically present on your own.

    Even though in most real estate deals, which are carried out with the escrow company’s assistance, the latter provides the clients (the buyers) with an inclusive packet of papers that conclude the deal. But, you’re going to be the one who’s responsible for the deal and who bears its consequences. Thus, protect yourself and go through the papers with your attorney, insurance and real estate agent to make sure that you understand the peculiarities of the purchase.

    Most importantly, find the mortgage approval letter and review the conditions of the loan agreement while you still have time to make all its provisions clear, come to the complete understanding of your financial obligations and liability and possibly change some of the contract’s clauses to make them more straightforward or favorable for you.

    Finally, I suggest putting together a folder of documents and arranging the time of the house clothing gathering in advance so that everybody who needs to be present at the house closing is able to clear out the schedule and show up on time.

    HAVE SOMEONE TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR KIDS AND PETS

    Closing a house and moving is a huge responsibility on its own. It would be just impossible to tackle the kids or pets while signing the final documents and dealing with moving arrangements. Hire a babysitter or ask your family members to look after your kids and pets to be able to pay all the attention to the house closing process and not to overwhelm your children with a new, empty house with no beds to sleep or food to eat.

    LEARN EVERYTHING ABOUT THE PROPERTY

    By the closing day, you should have carried out a couple of inspections to make sure that the value of the house you’re about to buy is worth the money you’re paying for it and that there’re no unpleasant surprises to discover after the purchase, which are now wisely concealed by the current owner.

    But, in addition to that, you need to make sure that everything on that property will exclusively belong to you after the purchase. Has the seller given a legal permission (recorded easement) to the neighbors to use the driveway you fell in love with? Are there any recorded restrictions on your property you need to know about? Maybe, the owner of that particular property has to keep his trees and shrubs below the certain height not to disturb the neighbors, or he can’t build the fence, or there’s a height limit imposed on the new construction. Those are the kinds of things you have to make clear.

    TRANSFER THE SERVICES AND SWITCH THE UTILITIES

    It’s important to have all the utilities and services available at your new property the day you move into it. And, it’s easy to forget about this detail amidst the moving and home buying hustle. So, make the necessary calls a week or so in advance to switch the gas, electricity, water, and cable, as well as to let the home maintenance providers, whose services you use, (weekly house cleaning, Internet, lawn mowing, pool cleaning) about your new address.

    BOOK REMODELING CONTRACTORS

    Wouldn’t it be nice to start working on your new home the moment you become its lawful owner and get it finished as fast as possible? For that matter, don’t wait till you receive the keys to the property to call remodeling, paining, flooring, plumbing and other contractors, whose assistance you need to renew your home and make it appropriate for living. Don’t forget to call a locksmith to change the locks the day you move in, as well as take care of the security system installation.

    I would even invite them over to the property and ask them to give the estimates regarding the remodels I’d like to carry out to be able to budget the renovation and schedule the remodeling dates to whenever I need, so that the contractors don’t get overbooked and unavailable by the time they’re able to start working on my house.

     


  • MAINTAINING YOUR PROPERTY

    One of the most important aspects of selling or renting property is keeping up with the maintenance. Are the appliances up to date and in good working condition? Is everything clean and aesthetically pleasing? As a real estate agent, property manager, landlord, and prospective buyer and/or tenant, there are certain technicalities that require keen attention to detail. Maintaining properties can be quite costly, but taking care of these items will help the home/apartment look great, keep utility bills low, and prevent future repairs.  

    Foundation- The foundation of the property might not be something that comes to mind when looking to buy or rent. It's easy to assume that since the property is on the market it must be in good condition. However, there might be an issue that the owner did not notice, and it is always better to be safe than sorry. Be sure to check for moisture and cracks that may be a potential hazard in the future.  

    Roof- The roof can be inspected from both the outside and inside of the property. It may be hard to notice, but try to look for loose tiles or shingles that need to be replaced. Once inside the property, check the ceiling for any bubbles or wet marks. This is an indication that there is a leak that needs to be handled before it gets any worse.  

    Paint- Interior painting is usually touched up before the showing of the property. If not, it will be handled before the move in date.  For rental properties, it is important to make note of any scuff marks, holes, or other damages in order to ensure the new tenant will not be charged.  

    Chimney- If the property has a chimney it would be wise to hire a chimney sweep to clean it out before selling or renting. The point of this is to remove the buildup of flammable substances in order to reduce the risk of a hazardous chimney fire.  

    Water heater- Water heaters tend to create some pesky maintenance issues. Typical water heater issues include leaking tanks, no hot water, strange noises in the tank, and discolored or funky smelling water. To avoid having these issues make sure to have the temperature and pressure relief value tested regularly.  

    Air Conditioning/Heat- Air conditioning and heat may not be of utmost importance depending on the climate of where the property is located, but it is reliant upon the residents' preference. It is best to make sure that all of the filters are clean in case the unit will be used so the property is considered to have habitable living conditions.  

    Washer/Dryer- Some rental properties come equipped with a washer and dryer in the unit. Others simply have a laundry facility on site. Whatever the case, be sure the machines are functioning properly. Also, make sure the exhaust duct line is clean and all hoses are in good condition.  Most properties that are for sale do not come equipped with a washer and dryer. Before buying these appliances, double check if there is a gas or electric hook up in the house so you buy the appropriate machines.  

    Refrigerator- Refrigerators can cause quite a few different problems. They can leak, completely shut down, make obnoxious sounds, etc. Each of these issues can be avoided by simply taking care of the appliance. Make sure the temperature gauge and compressor are working consistently. Also, try to keep the coil as clean as possible. This will increase energy efficiency, which will in turn keep the utility cost low.  

    Garbage disposal- Garbage disposals are fairly easy to maintain. However, if they are not operated properly, a garbage disposal can very easily break down or clog. Be aware of the basic garbage disposal do's and don'ts. Do: keep it clean (hot water and baking soda), run it regularly, grind food with a strong flow of cold water. Don't: grind glass, plastic, or metal, grind large pieces of food, pour grease/oil down the drain. Using cold water will cause any grease/oils that do happen to get down the drain to solidify, making them easier to chop up before reaching the trap.  

    Doors/Windows- Doors and windows are a huge part of the security of a property. Hinges and locks needs to be in good working condition to ensure residents' safety. Woodwork around doors and windows needs to be installed properly in order to prevent leaks. Leaks can cause wood rot. New windows or doors cannot be properly installed if this occurs.  

    Flooring- Before renting a property it should have been professionally cleaned. This is referred to as "vacancy cleaning/deep clean". This will include carpet/floor cleaning in order to sanitize the property from anything that happened while the previous tenants were living there. This is sometimes the case when it comes to buying, but depending on the situation, the cleaning is usually the responsibility of the new owners.  

    Smoke alarms/Carbon monoxide detectors- Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are very important for the safety of future residents. Be sure all alarms and detectors throughout the property have working batteries. There are about thirty-seven states that require carbon monoxide detectors in residential properties. Even if it is not a state requirement where the property is located, it is wise to have these devices in good working condition to prevent a potential tragedy 

    Although this may seem like a simple list, keeping these items updated and in good working condition will improve the quality of the property, which will help it sell or rent out quicker. It's common sense: if appliances are taken care of properly they will be less likely to cause any problems. Maintaining these items will also ensure happier residents, lower monthly bills, and less costly and less problematic future repairs. 


  • IS NOW THE BEST TIME EVER TO BUY YOUR FIRST HOME?

    If you've been thinking about buying your first home, talk of rising mortgage rates may have you worried. But, the reality is that this may be one of the best opportunities for first-time buyers in recent memory. Conditions were already good for first-timers with new, super-low down payment loans. But the FHA's announcement that they would be cutting mortgage-insurance premiums makes buying even more advantageous.

     "The annual fees the Federal Housing Administration charges to guarantee mortgages it backs are being cut by a quarter of a percentage point," said Bloomberg of a statement released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). "With the reduction, the annual cost for most borrowers will be 0.60 percent of the loan balance."

    According to HUD, "The fee cut would save new FHA-insured homeowners an average of $500 this year. The cut would take effect on Jan. 27."

    What other factors should you be paying attention to if you're looking to buy your first home?

     Yes, rates are up from their lowest point. But the average 30-year fixed-mortgage rate right now is 4 percent, down a bit this week and waaaaaay down from decades ago when they were in the teens. You'll pay a few bucks more per month now than you would have at this time last year, but, if you're getting an FHA loan, those new mortgage interest cuts will help.

     More than anything, it's important to be realistic. We're not anywhere near gloom-and-doom time, despite some of the more hysterical talk out there. In fact, today's rates are still near historic lows, which make buying a home more affordable than rent in many cities.

    But, if you need to find a way to lower your monthly payment on your future home, and you're not eager to search for less expensive homes, remember that your credit helps determine your mortgage-worthiness, and the better it is, the better your interest rate. If you're not being offered the best rate out there, it's time to…

    Get your credit in order

    Have great credit? Great! Your lender will be pleased and, presumably, you will be, too. But many of us need some help in this area, and even a small bump in your score can make a big difference not just to the rate you get but also whether you will qualify for a loan at all.

    "The homebuyer's credit score is among the most important factors when it comes to qualifying for a loan these days," said Bankrate. Your lender will be able to give you tips for improving your score, which can range from checking your report for errors to paying off old delinquent accounts.

    It's also important to keep in mind that what you consider to be responsible credit management may not necessarily be seen as a positive when you go to qualify for a loan. "Just because you pay everything on time every month doesn't mean your credit is stellar," they said. "The amount of credit you're using relative to your available credit limit, or your credit utilization ratio, can sink a credit score. The lower the utilization rate, the higher your score will be. Ideally, first-time homebuyers would have a lot of credit available, with less than a third of it used."

     Low down payment loans

    For many first-time buyers, the down payment is the largest barrier to homeownership. But new loans with lower down payment requirements are helping to eliminate it.

    The most popular loan for first-time homebuyers continues to be through the FHA, for a number of reasons: Because this loan is government-backed and because it requires only 3.5 percent down if you meet their credit and income requirements, and a minimum of a 620 credit score.

    The new Affordable Loan Solution Mortgage from Bank of America gets those down payments even lower—to three percent—and without Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). But, there are restrictions related to income that "could rule out a lot of potential borrowers," said The Street.

    "The program, a partnership between Bank of America, Freddie Mac, and non-profit Self-Help Ventures Fund, is targeted towards low - and moderate - income borrowers. To qualify, borrowers can't make more than the HUD area median income and must have a credit score of 660 or higher. As an example, for 2016, New York City-based borrowers with a household of one would need an income below $65,200 to qualify for the program."

    SoFi, an online lender that started out focusing on student loan refinancing, has also gotten into the mortgage game, offering a loan that has a higher down payment at 10 percent, but without PMI.

    Investigate situation-specific loans

    Are you a veteran, a police officer, or a firefighter? There may be a special loan for you with conditions that can make purchasing a home easier and more affordable. There are also specific loans for those who are buying a home that has (or needs) energy-efficient features, one that can be bundled with home improvement funds, and another from the USDA that can save those who are moving to a rural area money.

    "This one may surprise you," said nerdwallet. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a homebuyers assistance program. And no, you don't have to live on a farm. The program targets rural areas and allows 100% financing by offering lenders mortgage guarantees. There are income limitations, which vary by region."

     

  • 7 BATHROOM FLOOR TRENDS IN 2017

    The bathroom floor doesn’t get the attention it deserves when it comes to remodeling, and yet it is a critical point of any décor. Paying attention to this much underrated piece of your home’s décor could transform not just your bathroom but the space around it as well. When it comes to choosing bathroom floor styles, it is much easier to go with what’s working for others instead of inventing a whole new style that might backfire. If you’re looking to remodel your bathroom floor, here are 7 trends that will come in handy when it comes to inspiration.

    Ceramic tiles

    This is one of the styles you can never go wrong with. It’s timeless and appealing and very easy to maintain. Installing ceramic tiles is easy and fairly priced, and it goes with just about any décor that you choose for the rest of the house. If by some bad fortune the tiles break within the period of use, replacing or repairing the same will not cause a dent in your pocket.

    Stone tiles

    Stone tiles are distinct and have some sort of understated elegance and Victorian royalty about them, especially when well maintained. These work with particular décor themes, require regular and oft-costly maintenance and are costly to install. Therefore be sure of the commitment you’ll be making before choosing this type of tiles.

    Porcelain tiles

    Porcelain tiles are a good choice if you are looking for something durable that’s easy to clean. While you might pay extra for porcelain tiles, they are made to last and you will not need to constantly replace them. The color of porcelain runs down through the tile and even as the years go by and the tiles wear, the color persists.

    Heated tile floors

    Over the years, the cost of heated floors has gone down, allowing homeowners this luxury that is very convenient for the cold winter months. You have two options to consider when it comes to choosing heated tile floors, and that is electric and hydronic heating. For the former, there are electric coils that run underneath the floors while hydronic heating relies on tubes that are connected to the boiler system in the house.

    Laminate and faux-wood tiles

    If you want that wooden look in your bathroom, go for laminate tiles. These tiles are versatile, reasonably priced and easy to maintain. The downside to this choice is that if any of the tiles gets damaged you’ll need to replace it-it cannot be repaired.

    Vinyl

    This low cost option comes with very many designs and is low maintenance. It works well for high traffic bathrooms and you can choose between sheets, tiles and plank. Vinyl tiles are easy to install and you can choose a design that mimics ceramic or stone tiles. As such you get an almost similar effect on your décor, but at a much cheaper cost.

    Patterns and textures

    Patterns and textures are in, so if you are looking to remodel your bathroom floor do not be afraid to go bold. Whether you are looking to add some color to your bathroom or step away from the usual squares, then patterns, textures and designs are what you should be looking into.

     

    And there you have it, with so many options, there is no reason why your bathroom floor should be boring. 


  • REVERSE MORTGAGES: 5 IMPORTANT CHANGES FOR 2017

    From its birth in 1961 to the present day, reverse mortgage loans for senior homeowners have evolved significantly and continue to undergo changes. Increased government regulations for lenders and protections for borrowers are the most recent developments. For the real estate industry, here are the major changes and things to consider going into 2017:

    1. Increased loan limits:
    In 2017, the loan limit for HECM reverse mortgage loans is increasing from $625,500 to $636,150. This is the first time the HECM lending limit has been raised since President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. Announced by the FHA on December 1, 2016, it went into effect on January 1, 2017 and will continue through December 31, 2017. The increase is 150% of the national conforming limit of $424,100 and is due to rising home prices.

    2. Interest Rates Likely To Rise
    December 2016 saw the Federal Reserve raise interest rates for the first time since 2009. Reuters reports that policymakers signaled they expect to raise rates three more times in 2017. While this is an indicator of a healthy economy, the downside is that higher rates can significantly decrease the amount seniors can borrow from their reverse mortgages in 2017. Reverse mortgage calculators that require no personal information are available from the NRMLA and AAG.

    3. Housing Prices: 
    Adjusted for inflation, home values in many markets are almost as high as they were prior to the 2006 housing crash. Rising interest rates however may dampen home prices as people cannot borrow as much money for purchasing. 

    4. Potential Cuts in Social Security and Medicare: 
    While President-elect Trump has vowed not to change these programs, there are increasing murmurs that they may experience cuts. If either of these programs are modified to the detriment of seniors, expect reverse mortgage to become a more desirable product. 

    5. The Impact of the Trump Administration: 
    Neither President Elect Donald Trump, nor Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson, have addressed reverse mortgages specifically yet so it is unclear what changes, if any, will be implemented in 2017.


  • 4 money tips for new homeowners

    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.

     

  • 6 Reasons You Should Never Buy or Sell a Home Without an Agent

    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/DReal 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.

     

  • Should I Sell My House? How to Tell If the Time Is Right

    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.

     

  • Fannie Mae Taking a Closer Look at Applicants’ Credit Card Payments

    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?

     

  • No More Tears: Baby-Proofing Tips for Your Home

    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.

    Reduce hazards

    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.”

     

  • How to Find a REALTOR®

    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.

     

  • Yikes! What If Your Home Inspector Missed Something Huge?

    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.

     

  • 6 Essential Steps for Selling a Home With Pets

    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.

    ——

     

  • Kitchen Island Ideas: 4 Trends for Your Home's Most Popular Gathering Place

    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.

     

     

     

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