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

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1. Shopping for a house first before a mortgage

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

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

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

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

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

2. Not looking for first-time home buyer programs

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

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

3. Not hiring a buyer’s agent

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

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

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

4. Using up all of your savings

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

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

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

5. Ignoring a home’s drawbacks

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

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

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

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

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

6. Being indecisive

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

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

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

7. Overpaying for a house

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

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

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

8. Skipping the home inspection

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

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

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

How to avoid this mistake: Simple: Hire a licensed home inspector. Your real estate agent will gladly make a recommendation.

9. Underestimating the costs of ownership

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

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

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

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

10. Miscalculating repair and renovation costs

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

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

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

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

11. Applying for credit before the sale is final

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

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

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

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

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

12. Missing the first mortgage payment

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

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

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

This article originally appeared on nerdwallet.com

6 Maintenance Tasks You Should Tackle While Selling Your Home

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If you're a homeowner, you already know that keeping your property in tiptop shape requires dedication and patience for ongoing maintenance. But what if you've put your home on the market, or even accepted an offer? Perhaps you're thinking: Not my problem anymore.

Sorry, folks, we've got news for you: Just because you’re selling doesn't mean you're off the hook from routine maintenance tasks—and that's especially true if you’ve already vacated the house.

Sure, a well-cared-for house shows better: Small things like broken doorbells and leaky faucets make buyers wonder if your property also has bigger issues elsewhere. But more important, a little routine maintenance can help you avoid a catastrophic problem down the line (e.g., burst pipes, roof leaks, critters moving into your attic) that could devalue your property and derail that sale.

1. Keep up the yard and walkways

Whether you're still living at the home or not, you'll want to make sure to keep your landscaping tidy—remove dead tree limbs, rake leaves, and clean out flowerbeds.

If your home is already vacant, have someone tend to the yard regularly so that grass and weeds don’t detract from your home’s appearance, suggests Kyle Hiscock, a Realtor® with Re/Max Reality Group in Rochester, NY.

“If your home does not have a well-maintained exterior, (potential buyers) will keep driving,” he cautions. “Plus, this kind of neglect can be a bull's-eye for vandals to break into your property.”

Consider having lights on timers so the house doesn’t look dark all the time, and arrange for driveways and walkways to be plowed weekly in the winter months. And don't let mail pile up in the mailbox.

2. Clean the gutters and check the roof

This one's easy to forget about, even when you don't plan on going anywhere. But when it comes to gutter and roof issues, neglect can cause a dangerous domino effect.

Overflowing gutters can damage your foundation, and also lead to drainage issues. And, of course, you don’t want buyers seeing puddling water as they approach your house.

Just ask Alise Roberts, owner/broker at Alise Roberts & Company in Bellevue, WA. In the rainy Pacific Northwest climate, she frequently has to remind her clients to keep sidewalks clear of moss and clean gutters of pine needles and leaves.

"Buyers, seeing the house when it’s raining, will also see your gutters overflowing," she says. "That’s a terrible first impression.”

And then there's the roof. Of course, it'll be examined during the home inspection, but it would behoove you to do it before putting your home on the market. Small roof cracks can remain undetected for years, causing water to slowly infiltrate your home and damage ceilings and walls.

“If water starts to penetrate a property, it can be a very difficult sale," Hiscock notes. "Water in basements or in homes is one of the top three things buyers are scared of.”

3. Service your heating systems

It’s not sexy, but the hidden guts of your home need regular attention, whether you’re still living there or not. That means having your HVAC systems professionally serviced.

First up, your furnace: If you get it addressed before you list your home, it won't smell like dust when you crank up the heat during an open house on a chilly day. While you're at it, have the duct work and filters cleaned as well. And if you have baseboard heaters, vacuum those out, too.

(Speaking of heat, Roberts suggests keeping the thermostat at 66 degrees Fahrenheit when agents are showing your house so buyers can visit your place comfortably. This will also avoid any issues with pipes freezing or bursting.)

Have a chimney? Be sure to have it inspected and cleaned as well.

“You want to make sure there are no cracked flue tiles, and that from the exterior, there are no gaps in the mortar between the bricks,” Hiscock explains. “Otherwise, you could potentially have the chimney fall over onto the house, and that’s a very expensive fix.”

4. Keep the critters out

If you don’t want to add "family of raccoons included" to your listing (and pay the hefty tab for getting them out), inspect the inside and outside of your home for any areas that need to plugged up. Take care of holes from damaged siding or fascia under the roofline—and do it promptly.

“In a colder climate, squirrels look for somewhere warm to go, and they’ll find their way into your property,” Hiscock says.

Stove and dryer vents, for example, should be covered with wire mesh to deter pests.

5. Wash your windows

Most people associate sparkling windows with spring-cleaning, Roberts says. But if your house is on the market, it doesn't matter what time of year it is—you need to get those babies squeaky clean.

“If buyers walk through your home and all they see is dirty windows, that’ll really mar the showing process," she says.

Make sure to wipe them down after a bad storm, when they're especially likely to show muck and grime buildup.

6. Check the calendar

Depending on what time of year you bring your house to market, pay attention to any details that scream, "We don’t live here or care anymore," Roberts says.

That means tackling seasonal tasks such as clearing away lawn mowers in the fall and storing shovels in the spring.

“Too often, I see a seller’s patio furniture still outside during the winter time. To me, that's not a good reflection on the property,” Hiscock says. “It shows deferred maintenance and lack of caring, and can really turn off a potential buyer.

"If a seller can’t put away their patio furniture and lawn mower, what makes you believe that they've actually maintained the property all the years they've been there?” he adds.

Staying on top of these regular tasks will make it easier to sell your home with fewer headaches. Plus, it'll preserve the value of your property, and potentially, the thickness of your wallet, too.

6 Reasons There Aren't Enough Homes on the Market

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Almost anyone who has searched for a house recently knows there are not enough houses for sale.

One simple number defines the problem:

In October 2017, the nation had a 3.9-month supply of existing homes for resale. That means, at the pace seen then, it would have taken 3.9 months to sell all the homes on the market. A supply under six months puts home buyers at a disadvantage.

“Inventory is tighter than it appears. It’s much lower for entry-level buyers,” said Sam Khater, deputy chief economist for CoreLogic, a data provider for the real estate industry. He spoke at the Urban Institute’s annual housing finance symposium on Nov. 1.

Why don’t millennial, first-time buyers and Generation X move-up buyers have more to choose from? Who is responsible for the shortage of homes for sale and why? We’ve identified some suspects.

1. Boomers won’t move

More than three-quarters of baby boomers own their homes. For millennials to buy their first homes, and for homeowning Gen Xers to move up to their second home, boomers have to sell. But boomers are staying put.

Realtor.com conducted a survey this year that found that 85% of boomer homeowners planned to stay put over the next 12 months. “The reasons for that could be that they’re living longer, they’re living healthier and so staying in place is more possible for them,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com.

“[Baby boomers] have been slower than previous generations to sell the family home, thus exacerbating the shortage of houses for sale,” concluded a Freddie Mac research report.

Also, thanks to rising home prices, would-be downsizers can’t find smaller homes that cost much less than their current homes, says Dennis Cisterna, chief executive officer of Investability Solutions, a real-estate investor marketplace. So they stay put. “There’s no urgency to sell right now unless you have to,” he says.

2. Landlords won’t sell

Millions of single-family homes were converted to rentals after the foreclosure crisis, Cisterna says. “Those investors have no incentive to sell,” he says. When a house goes up for sale, “now you’re competing not only with your neighbor who wants to buy that house, you’re also competing with investors.”

Renters made up 36% of households in the third quarter of 2017, up from 31% in 2005, according to the Census Bureau.

With greater demand for homes, but less supply, home values rise. Meanwhile, rents are rising faster than home prices. “Both of those factors would tend to encourage landlords to hold onto those homes and rent them out,” Hale says.

3. Owners are hooked on low mortgage rates

Over the last three years, the interest rate on outstanding mortgages averaged just 3.8%, according to the Department of Commerce. People savor their low mortgage rates and don’t want to give them up.

So as mortgage rates rise, homeowners tend to keep their homes a little longer, said Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic, at the Urban Institute symposium.

“That means the inventory of homes for sale, which is already very low, is likely to remain that way if we see higher interest rates,” Nothaft said.

4. Builders ignore entry-level buyers

Through the first nine months of 2017, about 473,000 newly constructed houses were sold, according to the Census Bureau. Fifty-five percent of those homes cost $300,000 or more. “Of the new homes that we are building, the vast majority are move-up products,” Cisterna says. “They’re not for the entry-level buyer anymore.”

Builders counter that they pay $45,000 for a typical buildable lot nationally and around three times that in New England. And they say they face a shortage of skilled construction labor because experienced workers dropped out of the construction trades during the Great Recession, younger people aren’t replacing them, many job applicants can’t pass drug tests, and immigration enforcement is scaring some laborers away.

5. Regulations add costs

Homebuilders say regulations — including environmental protection, infrastructure fees and rules that specify minimum lot sizes — add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of every home. Regulations account for about one-quarter of the cost of each home, said Michael Neal, assistant vice president for forecasting and analysis for the National Association of Home Builders.

A Freddie Mac report concurred. “Land-use regulations have become more burdensome” in the last 30 years, making it costlier to build, it said. Freddie Mac found that it takes just 3.5 months to get a building permit in lenient New Orleans, whereas it takes 17 months to get a building permit in restrictive Honolulu. A longer permitting process costs money as developers carry the investments on their books while awaiting permission to build.

6. Owners want to restrict supply

Local zoning and land-use regulations aren’t bestowed by a hidden hand. They’re enacted by officials who were elected by the people. When planning and zoning officials limit the number of houses that can be built in a neighborhood, or when they set minimum square footage for houses, they’re limiting the supply of homes and making them more expensive. They’re responding to constituents.

“There are regulations that are more about the neighbors’ sensibilities than they are about the safety of the people living in the houses,” says Miriam Axel-Lute, associate director of the National Housing Institute, a nonprofit that examines how social issues affect housing.

“It’s neighbors who want their property values to go up, in most cases, who are insistent upon some excess safety design standards or minimum lot sizes or other things,” she says. “They either want their property values to go up or they don’t want, quote, ‘the wrong sort of people’ in their neighborhoods. This is the pressure behind a lot of the most damaging regulations out there.”

How can home buyers respond?

Clearly, it will take time and concerted effort to fix the problem of not enough houses for sale. Meantime, there are things home buyers can do:

  • Be realistic about how long it will take to find and buy a home. Real-estate agents can provide an estimate, based on market conditions.
  • Save plenty of money for a down payment and reserves.
  • Improve your credit score to get a good mortgage deal.
  • Be ready to make a competitive offer when a suitable home comes on the market.

That advice works for any real-estate market, whether it favors sellers or buyers. But these tips are especially appropriate when inventory is low.

 

This article originally appeared on NerdWallet

6 Near Genius Ways to Fool Burglars Into Thinking You're Home

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Your home: You love it, but sometimes you have to leave it.

 

Whether it’s the eight hours a day or eight days on a dreamy beach, allowing your biggest investment to fend for itself can be stressful. And it’s a legit concern; when your home looks empty, break-ins happen. A lot. Ugh.

You could deter burglars by never leaving your house again. Or you could do the next best (OK, way better) thing, and just make it look like someone is there all the time. Here’s how.

1. Light Up a Room (From the Road)

Your parents may still rely on their lighting timer — on at 8 p.m., off at 7 a.m. That old-fashioned option still works, but apps are more fun. They not only turn your lights on and off, but can do so randomly for a more realistic effect. And you can decide to flip on your porch light while sipping a mojito in Fiji.

You can Google your options, but one affordable example is the Lutron Caséta Wireless system (about $80 for the device and $55 per switch). You replace your current wall switches with these wireless ones and “talk” to your lights from afar.

2. Fake a Netflix Binge

Nothing says “we are definitely home” like the colorful glare of a television dancing in the window. Put the little FakeTV gizmo where it can project light onto a curtain, and that’s exactly what your home will say to passersby. The device (which runs between about $20 and $40 depending on size) plugs into an adapter and can either work on a timer or with a light sensor, so it can switch on when it gets dark.

3. Change Up Your Shades Remotely

Leave your window shades down while you’re gone and you might as well put out a “Gone Fishin’” sign.

Check out wireless options to throw some shade on the go. Several companies have systems — including Hunter Douglas PowerView, Pella Insynctive, and Lutron Serena — that allow shades to go up and down at your command for about $300 to $500 a window.

4Make Some Noise

Burglars can change plans in a hurry at the first sound of life inside a home — they’re a bit tetchy that way. So, one option when you’re just gone for the day is a noise app, like Sleep And Noise Sounds that can play on a homebound phone, tablet, or computer. With noises like vacuuming and a boiling kettle, it can deter a thief who cracks open a window.

5. Make Them Ring And Run

“Burglars will often ring your doorbell, and if no one answers, they’ll go around back and kick in the door,” says Deputy Michael Favata with the Monroe County Sheriff’s office in New York. Now you can answer the door with the Ring Video Doorbell ($180 for the basic model).

If someone pushes the doorbell, you can talk to them through an app on your phone. Whether it’s your nosey neighbor or a sketchy stranger, you can say, “I’m in the basement” while you’re really on the slopes. They’ll never know. And even if they don’t believe you, they know they’re being watched (insert devilish laugh here).

6. Try a No-Tech Technique

Not everything requires a gadget. Here are ways to up your home security without downloading a single app:

  • Hire a house sitter. Then someone will be home.
  • If there’s snow, have a neighbor walk up and down the path to your door, shovel a passage up to the garage door and drive in and out of the driveway. If it’s hot out, ask them to keep your plants looking fresh with regular waterings. And don’t forget to bring them a nice gift from your getaway.
  • Ask friends, family, or neighbors to just be present on your property — use your patio, play in your yard, or bring in the mail.
  • Invite a neighbor to keep a car parked in your driveway. During the holidays, they may be happy if they need overflow for visitors.
  • Install a fake security camera for as low as $8. Burglars may not notice these fakes don’t have all the wiring necessary to be real. And their blinking red lights offer reasonable doubt.
  • Get a dog. A real dog. While you’re at work or running errands, nothing deters bad guys and gals like a barking, slobbery security guard. And when you go away, having a pet sitter stay can be as economical as some boarding facilities (especially if you have multiple dogs), and you’ll get the benefit of a human and canine sentinel.

These tips were pulled from an article on CAR.org

 

 

7 Home Staging Tricks to Make a Small Room Look Huge

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When it comes to home staging, there's really one golden rule: Make your space look bigger to would-be buyers. And perhaps nowhere is that concept more vitally important than in the living room—the place where homeowners tend to spend most of their time entertaining and relaxing, and where potential buyers will be placing extra scrutiny.

But you don't have to knock down walls or spend a small fortune to make things look big. Fortunately, there are a few quick and relatively affordable ways to maximize your living room's first impression, even when the square footage is lacking.

1. Don't leave your living room empty

This one might seem counterintuitive, but it's worth considering: "An empty room gives buyers no point of reference for size," says designer Kristie Barnett.

"I have seen many buyers walk away from a vacant home because they falsely believe their own furniture will not fit in the master bedroom or that the living room will not provide enough seating for entertaining," she adds. "Staging rooms helps establish the room's size and helps a buyer visualize how they can arrange their own furniture."

But don't just shove some furniture in the living room and call it a day. There's actually a science to arranging your stuff in a way that makes the room feel bigger.

Most buyers scan a room from left to right upon entry, "just like the way we read," Barnett explains. If you place the tallest piece of furniture in the far left corner, the room will appear larger than if that same piece of furniture is closer to the entry. Placing a large or tall piece of furniture near an entryway or door tricks the eye into thinking a space is smaller than it is, so keep taller items in corners or eliminate them altogether.

2. Carefully consider your seating scheme

Choose a focal point—a fireplace or windows with a view are the usual suspects, but maybe yours is a great piece of art or a family heirloom—and position your seating arrangement around it. And remember: You want prospective buyers to imagine themselves actually living in and using your space, so your seating concept should be functional.

“A well-staged room has a singular definable purpose and a focal point,” says interior designer Susan Anthony of Susan Anthony Interiors. “The purpose of a living room is to socialize, so the seating should encourage sitting and talking.”

That means carefully considering how your room flows.

“You never want a buyer to walk into a room that's blocked or overloaded with heavy furniture,” says Caryn Benoit, co-owner of Nicole Jocelyn Staging & Design in Boston. “Make sure you’re not walking into the back of a large sofa, no chairs are in your way, and there aren’t other pieces of furniture in walking paths.”

3. Scale down your furniture

This should come as no surprise, but you never want to fill your small space with a truckload of huge stuff; you'll dwarf the space, naturally.

“Instead of a sectional or large sofa, use a love seat, a wedge sofa, or a semicircular sofa that curves inward,” says Michelle Ellis, owner of e-commerce retailer Cottage & Bungalow. “Using smaller furniture leaves more white space, which will make the room seem larger.”

Another alternative: Choose a piece that looks airy in a material like wicker or rattan (both of which are typically in high supply at retailers such as HomeGoods and Marshalls).

Beware, though, not to go overboard with the tiny pieces. Too many can make a room look cluttered and, therefore, smaller. Less is more here, folks.

4. Build around your largest piece—and edit ruthlessly

“Making the most of a small place can be difficult,” says Nicola Croughan, lead interior designer for Roman Blinds Direct. “You need to weigh up functionality with style.”

Her advice?  Assess the room for your largest piece (likely your sofa), and judge every other item in the room against it.

“Think, ‘Does this serve a purpose, either functional or decorative?’” Croughan says. “If you can’t come up with an answer immediately, it’s not worth keeping.”

While you're at it, ditch bold, busy pieces of artwork for more neutral, unobtrusive prints, and get rid of the clunky family photos on the mantel. Remember: The goal is for your space—not your trinkets—to do the talking.

Pro stagers also nearly universally recommend ditching TV sets, which occupy a lot of visual real estate. The only exception?  A wall-mounted, flat-screen TV that's appropriately sized to the room (that's the kicker).

5. Balance color

You don't need to slather your walls in an uninspiring, institution-evoking white. You can have some fun with it. But you'll need to follow some basic rules to avoid overwhelming the space.

First, and perhaps the most obvious, you'll want to nix dark or bold paint colors, which make cramped spaces feel tighter—or at least use them sparingly.

"You can definitely do an accent wall in a bolder color, but all four walls in navy blue will be oppressive," says Bee Heinemann, an interior design expert at Vant Wall Panels.

"Brighter colors need to be repeated to be balanced well—especially in a smaller space," adds Anthony. "If the rug is red and everything else in the room is various shades of neutral, add red to the pillows and accessories."

When it comes to ceiling colors, choose a shade that's lighter than your walls to give the impression of openness, Heinemann advises. And for extra credit, match your wall color to larger (lighter-hued) pieces of furniture, which Heinemann says makes the latter blend in and seem smaller.

6. Use the right materials

"When it comes to furnishings, materials like glass and metal, which reflect light and feel more airy, give a greater sense of space than dark, heavy wood pieces," Heinemann says.

Avoid heavy bookshelves and try floating shelves instead. Then, embrace your inner Marie Kondo and declutter their contents by at least 60%.

7. Lighten up

An abundance of natural light tricks the eye into thinking a space is larger. To maximize light, keep your window treatments minimal with a simple roller shade, Croughan says.

If you must have curtains, choose a lightweight, airy fabric such as voile or linen and mount the rod as close to the ceiling as possible to create the illusion of height. For darker rooms, hang mirrors to reflect the light you have.

The 9-to-5er's guide to keeping your house clean

 If cleaning the house seems like one big chore, you're probably doing it wrong. Before you put off cleaning for another month, here are some ways to make housework a comfortable and even enjoyable part of your daily routine.   Start small   If you begin and end each day with a little picking up, you'll never get swamped with housework again. Keeping a clean house begins with good habits like making your bed every morning and doing your dishes while you cook. Nobody wants to navigate through a minefield of yesterday's mess to make coffee, so never allow yourself to go to sleep with dirty dishes or a disheveled living room. Before you leave for work in the morning, take one to two minutes to tidy up. That way you can look forward to returning to a clean and stress-free house.   Enjoy yourself   Even the most reviled of household chores can be enjoyable if you have headphones or a portable speaker. Truth be told, cleaning the house is a hidden source of me time you will eventually grow to love.  For example, if you think vacuuming kind of sucks, listen to an energetic playlist of your favorite songs and sway to the music like nobody's watching. If you haven't had much time to read lately, listen to audiobooks and podcasts while you do the dishes. If you're a parent and miss watching movies and shows without singing princesses, prop up your phone or tablet and use some wireless headphones to do a little binge watching. Yay for chores!   Simplify your chore list   Rather than making a never ending list of unattainable projects, break it up into manageable, bite-sized pieces.  Get a blank sheet of paper and make four columns: Daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Everyday chores like making the bed, picking up the house and doing the dishes can go in the daily column. Chores like vacuuming and dusting can go in either the weekly or monthly column, depending on what's realistic for your lifestyle. Reserve the yearly column for big projects such as cleaning the oven, shampooing the carpets, or wiping down fan blades.   Even if you fall behind on your chore list, seeing it all laid out on one page will reduce your anxiety and make procrastination a thing of the past.   Stock your cleaning caddy   Instead of using one caddy to store all your cleaning supplies, only fill it with what you'll use on a weekly basis: spray bottles of all purpose cleaner and window cleaner, paper towels, a rag, dusting cloth, scrub brush, heavy duty sponge, and an old toothbrush to get into hard to reach places.   To ensure that you'll actually use the caddy, keep it in your bathroom so it's easily accessible.Store specialty kitchen cleaning products (stainless steel and cooktop cleaners) in the kitchen, and keep big bottles of bleach, vinegar and floor cleaner in the garage. And of course, keep any cleaning products out of the reach of young children.   Multitask   Even though your sink is caked with toothpaste, soap scum and beard stubble, you still haven’t found the time to clean your bathroom lately. Well, fellow procrastinators, here’s a little secret: You can wipe the sink while you get ready in the morning! Keep a roll of paper towels underneath the sink so you can wipe the countertop and basin whenever you brush your teeth.  To keep the shower clean, fill a hollow dish scrubber with a mixture of half dish soap and half vinegar, keep it in the shower and scrub the tiles a little every time you shower.  To spot clean the kitchen floor and put off mopping another week, save any damp paper towels whenever you clean the kitchen counters. Before throwing them out, use them to clean up messes on the floor.   Aim for finished, not perfect   Nobody’s going to go over your cleaning job with a fine-tooth comb, so don’t bother sweating the small stuff. The goal is to make cleaning an attainable habit that fits in nicely with your busy lifestyle; worrying about not doing a good enough job will only make you procrastinate more.  Another problem is biting off more than you can chew. If mopping the whole house at once seems too daunting a task for one afternoon, settle for the kitchen floor for now. You can always move on to another room if you feel the urge.

If cleaning the house seems like one big chore, you're probably doing it wrong. Before you put off cleaning for another month, here are some ways to make housework a comfortable and even enjoyable part of your daily routine.

Start small

If you begin and end each day with a little picking up, you'll never get swamped with housework again. Keeping a clean house begins with good habits like making your bed every morning and doing your dishes while you cook. Nobody wants to navigate through a minefield of yesterday's mess to make coffee, so never allow yourself to go to sleep with dirty dishes or a disheveled living room. Before you leave for work in the morning, take one to two minutes to tidy up. That way you can look forward to returning to a clean and stress-free house.

Enjoy yourself

Even the most reviled of household chores can be enjoyable if you have headphones or a portable speaker. Truth be told, cleaning the house is a hidden source of me time you will eventually grow to love.

For example, if you think vacuuming kind of sucks, listen to an energetic playlist of your favorite songs and sway to the music like nobody's watching. If you haven't had much time to read lately, listen to audiobooks and podcasts while you do the dishes. If you're a parent and miss watching movies and shows without singing princesses, prop up your phone or tablet and use some wireless headphones to do a little binge watching. Yay for chores!

Simplify your chore list

Rather than making a never ending list of unattainable projects, break it up into manageable, bite-sized pieces.

Get a blank sheet of paper and make four columns: Daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Everyday chores like making the bed, picking up the house and doing the dishes can go in the daily column. Chores like vacuuming and dusting can go in either the weekly or monthly column, depending on what's realistic for your lifestyle. Reserve the yearly column for big projects such as cleaning the oven, shampooing the carpets, or wiping down fan blades. 

Even if you fall behind on your chore list, seeing it all laid out on one page will reduce your anxiety and make procrastination a thing of the past.

Stock your cleaning caddy

Instead of using one caddy to store all your cleaning supplies, only fill it with what you'll use on a weekly basis: spray bottles of all purpose cleaner and window cleaner, paper towels, a rag, dusting cloth, scrub brush, heavy duty sponge, and an old toothbrush to get into hard to reach places. 

To ensure that you'll actually use the caddy, keep it in your bathroom so it's easily accessible.Store specialty kitchen cleaning products (stainless steel and cooktop cleaners) in the kitchen, and keep big bottles of bleach, vinegar and floor cleaner in the garage. And of course, keep any cleaning products out of the reach of young children.

Multitask

Even though your sink is caked with toothpaste, soap scum and beard stubble, you still haven’t found the time to clean your bathroom lately. Well, fellow procrastinators, here’s a little secret: You can wipe the sink while you get ready in the morning! Keep a roll of paper towels underneath the sink so you can wipe the countertop and basin whenever you brush your teeth.

To keep the shower clean, fill a hollow dish scrubber with a mixture of half dish soap and half vinegar, keep it in the shower and scrub the tiles a little every time you shower.

To spot clean the kitchen floor and put off mopping another week, save any damp paper towels whenever you clean the kitchen counters. Before throwing them out, use them to clean up messes on the floor.

Aim for finished, not perfect

Nobody’s going to go over your cleaning job with a fine-tooth comb, so don’t bother sweating the small stuff. The goal is to make cleaning an attainable habit that fits in nicely with your busy lifestyle; worrying about not doing a good enough job will only make you procrastinate more.

Another problem is biting off more than you can chew. If mopping the whole house at once seems too daunting a task for one afternoon, settle for the kitchen floor for now. You can always move on to another room if you feel the urge.

10 Things Every Homeowner Should Know Before Disaster Strikes

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If a disaster were to strike your home right now, would you know what to do? What would your first move be—besides, you know, panicking?

If we've learned anything recently, it's that hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires can affect anyone—at any time. So it's probably a good idea to take a quick refresher on how to help yourself during an emergency. Granted, no one likes to imagine themselves in the midst of a natural disaster. But a little preparation could prevent damage to your home, make processing claims easier—and, most importantly, save your life.

Here’s what every homeowner needs to do now that will help you if disaster strikes later.

1. Make sure your smoke detectors work

Whether because of damaged electrical wiring or generators being used improperly, “fires tend to happen around natural disasters,” warns Tom Heneghan, senior program manager for Disaster Cycle Services at the American Red Cross.

Make sure that your smoke detectors are properly placed inside your home—and that they work. If they’re hard-wired, make sure they also have battery backup. (You can change the batteries each time daylight saving time begins and ends.) And don’t forget to replace the detectors themselves every 10 years—the sensors go bad over time, Heneghan says.

2. Memorize your escape plan

Everyone in your family should know not one, but two ways to get out of the house fast, Heneghan says. Then, set up a safe meeting place nearby—like the elm tree across the street or a neighbor's porch—and arrange to meet there once you’re out.

3. Know where to access your most important belongings

Social Security cards, birth certificates, wedding and baby photos ... if you have to evacuate quickly, you shouldn't be running through your house trying to remember where you keep these precious things.

Instead, your most valuable possessions should live in a fireproof safe or a container you can quickly grab on your way out of the house, Heneghan says.

4. Be prepared to survive for a few days on your own

“Have a grab-and-go kit ready to go at the foot of your bed," Heneghan advises. "A flashlight, water, and all-purpose tools can go a long way."

Don’t forget a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, which will help you to communicate with the outside world and keep up with local breaking news, even when the power's out.

“It's important to follow the directions of your local officials,” Heneghan says. They’ll be able to tell you, for instance, if your water is safe to drink, if and when you should leave your home, and where you can go for help.

5. Know how to deal with your utilities

“If you smell natural gas, see downed power lines, or suspect another emergency situation, leave the area immediately,” says Teresa Young, a spokesperson for Pacific Gas and Electric.

Call 911, then call your utility company. Alert everyone nearby, and head to an upwind location.

“Don’t use anything that could be a source of ignition, including cellphones, flashlights, light switches, matches, or vehicles until you’re a safe distance away,” Young adds.

Although your gas can be turned off at the main gas service shut-off valve, experts don't advise attempting this unless you smell or hear gas, see a broken gas line, or suspect a leak. (In which case, you really should get the heck out of there anyway.)

It's also wise to know where your main electric panel is. In an emergency, you can flip the main breaker switch inside to turn off all the power in your house. But use common sense. For instance, if your panel's located in a flooded basement, you shouldn't go anywhere near it until an electrician gives you the all-clear.

6. Anchor your heavy furniture

Live in a fault zone? Don't wait until "the big one" hits to anchor your heavy shelves to the walls. Not only will these tip over and hurt you, Heneghan says, but the various tchotchkes on them could become projectile missiles as well.

7. Read your insurance policy

Do you have flood insurance? Are you protected against earthquake damage? Now's the time to make sure you're covered.

“If your home was impacted by a major disaster, you may be eligible to apply for federal assistance,” says Jenny Burke, a Federal Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman.

That said, any grant money you're eligible for might not cover all your damage. Or, you might only qualify for a loan that will need to be paid back.

8. Estimate how much everything in your home costs—and will cost to replace

One of the most common mistakes homeowners make, Burke says, is not documenting and insuring property, valuables, and critical documents.

Get ahead of the game by taking video or pics of all of your belongings—that means everything from your grandmother’s diamond ring to your sectional couch to your juicer. If your home is damaged during a natural disaster, this inventory can help prove to your insurer what you own and speed up processing of your claim.

9. Get to know the people you'll count on

Now's a great time to meet your neighbors.

“You’ll really depend on each other during and after an emergency,” Heneghan notes. “Who’s near you who will need help? Who can help you?”

Get friendly with your block now.

10. Know that you got this

Panic might be your default setting in an emergency, but when you freak out, you lose the ability to think clearly and help yourself and others around you. Learn some coping mechanisms before you truly need them, even if it's just taking a few deep breaths and asking yourself, "What can I do right now?"

You can also download one of the Red Cross' free apps for advice on handling common first-aid emergencies, tracking weather alerts, and other tips on preparing for specific emergencies.

Sure, it's scary to think about being stuck in a natural disaster. But being prepared will help you panic less.

These tips were pulled from an article on realtor.com

Everything You Need To Know About HOA Fees

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There are lots of things that you might expect to pay for as part of your monthly mortgage payment. You have the principal and interest on the loan as well as the taxes and insurance. If your property is located within a homeowners association, chances are, you’ll also have to pay a homeowners association fee.

What’s the purpose of a homeowners association (HOA)? What do HOA fees cover? What are the pros and cons of buying in an area with an HOA? Finally, what questions should you be asking the association before you buy? We’ve got the answers.

Why a Homeowners Association?

If you’re looking at buying a home, one of the advantages of moving into an area with an HOA is that they take care of much of the basic maintenance and service functions associated with owning your home.

A good way to think about this is that you take care of everything on the interior of the property, and the association typically takes care of most things on the exterior of the property.

One thing to be aware of is that since the HOA is taking care of the exterior, they often have regulations regarding the look and feel of the outside of your home. There may be certain things you can and cannot do, such as putting up a fence, a personal pool, etc. It’s something to consider.

So, where are your HOA fees going?

What Do HOA Fees Cover?

Each association has different policies. This is why it’s wise to ask the seller for a list of the HOA rules and regulations. If the seller doesn’t have one available, you can ask for the name of the property management company that oversees the community in order to get more details.

In general, these are some of the costs that can be covered by HOA fees:

  • City services: Services such as trash removal, water and sewage are often covered.
  • Insurance: This only includes insurance for damage to the outside of the building and the property around it. You still need an individual insurance policy to cover everything inside the condo.
  • Lawn care: This usually includes snow removal, gardening and general lawn maintenance.
  • Pest control: Many HOAs schedule a monthly inspection from a pest control company in order to avoid pest infestations.
  • Maintenance and repairs to the outside of the building: This includes things such as roof leaks, exterior painting, driveway pavement repairs and so on. It also covers the cost of gym or pool maintenance, etc., if applicable.

If you don’t mind paying HOA fees every month and like the convenience of having some labor-free amenities, purchasing a condo or home within a neighborhood association might be the best option for you.

Who Decides on HOA Fees?

If you’re considering moving into a community with an HOA, one of your considerations should definitely be how much the fees are. But what goes into determining the fees, and who decides on them?

There are some things the homeowners association may not have as much control over as you would think. Property values are experiencing a general upward trend right now. If property values go up over a certain threshold, you’ll have to pay more for insurance for the exterior, and your association will have to raise the dues. A similar effect will happen if the price of certain services goes up due to inflation.

That’s not to say you don’t get any input on what your dues are. HOAs hold meetings at least once a year. You can go to these meetings and make your voice heard. If you want, you can run for the association’s board and help negotiate the prices you pay for the services the HOA provides.

Questions You Should Ask of Your HOA

If you’re looking at getting into a community with an HOA, there are a few key questions you should ask of the association in order to properly compare one community to another.

Services

One of the first things you should ask is what services you’ll be getting for your dues. Some associations have more maintenance commitments and benefits than others.

If you like to cut your own lawn for example, this is also a good time to ask whether you can opt out of services that you ordinarily wouldn’t pay for.

Fee Structure

You should definitely ask what the fees are. But it goes a bit beyond that as well. Occasionally, a homeowners association will have a big expense that’s not part of your normal dues. Let’s say the roof on the clubhouse needs to be re-shingled or a pool has to be resurfaced.

Your HOA should collect a certain amount to fund these maintenance projects as part of your normal dues, but if the reserves don’t cover the entire cost, the association may have the community vote on whether there should be a special assessment. You should check into how regular fees and these special assessments are voted on and when they’re due.

Finally, make sure you really check into what the rules are. If you fall behind on your dues because of temporary financial trouble, what powers does the association have? Depending on the way the bylaws are written, it’s not uncommon for the association to have the ability to put a lien on your house. You should also see if they have a way for you to get on a payment plan to get back in good standing.

9 Home-Buying Costs Veterans and Active Military Should Keep In Mind

 For veterans and active military, VA loans are a great way to achieve the dream of homeownership. More than 22 million service members have used these flexible, no down payment loans since 1944.  But when people hear “no down payment,” they often don’t realize they'll still need some cash on hand to finish the deal.  While the amount you need to close will vary according to your location and situation, experts say you can usually expect to need about 3% of the purchase price on hand to close.  Want to break it down? Here are some home-buying costs that veterans and active military shouldn’t overlook.  1. Credit report  Buyers will often pay this fee, which runs, on average, about $30, to their lender when they first apply for a loan. Be aware that this fee is nonrefundable even if the loan doesn’t close.  2. Earnest money  The earnest money deposit is key to the home-buying process. It essentially allows you to put a "hold" on a house while you conduct the inspections and appraisal. Without earnest money, you could theoretically make offers on many homes, essentially taking them off the market until you decided which one you liked best. As the name suggests, it shows that you are earnest about moving forward on the purchase.  “The seller wants that buyer to have some money in the game when they take the house off the market,” Chubirko explains.  Depending on where you live, you can expect to put down anywhere from 1% to even 10% of the home’s purchase price as earnest money. (In some highly competitive markets, buyers are making even larger deposits in an effort to stand out.)  But don't worry! Whatever you put down for earnest money will go toward your down payment and closing costs as soon as the deal goes through. (If the deal falters, you could lose some or all of your deposit, depending on the reason why the agreement tanks.)  3. Appraisal  All VA loans require an appraisal to ensure the property is up to acceptable standards and meets the VA's Minimum Property Requirements. What does that mean? Well, an appraiser will calculate the square footage, confirm the property is worth the price you're offering, and that it's safe, structurally sound, and sanitary. Among other things, the appraiser will check for safe mechanical systems, acceptable roof life, and hazard-free basements and crawl space. VA buyers will often pay for the appraisal upfront, but they may be able to recoup the cost at closing.  4. Home inspection  While the appraisal is required, a home inspection is technically optional (except for a pest inspection, which is required in certain states and can cost roughly $50 to $150). But you never want to take a pass on the inspection, unless you're buying a tear-down (not with a VA loan!).  The home inspection is your all-too-crucial opportunity to uncover any problems with the house before you make it official. It's also your chance to point out repairs you can ask the seller to make on your behalf (and those repairs could cost much more than the inspection itself, which is going to run about $300 to $500.)  5. Recording fees  Recording fees must be paid out of pocket at the time of closing. This is the fee you pay the county to record your mortgage in the public record, and the cost varies from county to county.  6. Real estate transfer taxes  These costs vary by state—from none in Indiana, to a $2 flat fee in Arizona, to $2 per each $500 in value in New York. States, counties, and municipalities collect these taxes to transfer the title of the property from the previous owner to the new owner.  7. Title insurance  Title insurance protects you (and your lender) in the event there are title issues from previous owners of the home. The average cost of title insurance is around $1,000 per policy, but that amount varies widely from state to state and depends on the price of your home.  8. HOA fees  If you buy a home in an area where there is a required homeowners association, you will need to pay the application fee, which is variable depending on the local rules. Then there are your monthly dues. For a typical single-family home, HOA fees can cost homeowners around $200 to $300 per month, although they'll be lower or much higher depending on the size of your unit and the amenities.  9. Loan origination fees  An origination fee is one of several that will make up your closing costs. The VA allows lenders to charge up to 1% of the loan amount to cover origination, processing, and underwriting costs.  The bottom line? While VA loans are a great option for any veteran hoping to buy a house, being prepared before you apply will ensure no surprises throughout the process.  These tips were pulled from an article on  Realtor.com

For veterans and active military, VA loans are a great way to achieve the dream of homeownership. More than 22 million service members have used these flexible, no down payment loans since 1944.

But when people hear “no down payment,” they often don’t realize they'll still need some cash on hand to finish the deal.

While the amount you need to close will vary according to your location and situation, experts say you can usually expect to need about 3% of the purchase price on hand to close.

Want to break it down? Here are some home-buying costs that veterans and active military shouldn’t overlook.

1. Credit report

Buyers will often pay this fee, which runs, on average, about $30, to their lender when they first apply for a loan. Be aware that this fee is nonrefundable even if the loan doesn’t close.

2. Earnest money

The earnest money deposit is key to the home-buying process. It essentially allows you to put a "hold" on a house while you conduct the inspections and appraisal. Without earnest money, you could theoretically make offers on many homes, essentially taking them off the market until you decided which one you liked best. As the name suggests, it shows that you are earnest about moving forward on the purchase.

“The seller wants that buyer to have some money in the game when they take the house off the market,” Chubirko explains.

Depending on where you live, you can expect to put down anywhere from 1% to even 10% of the home’s purchase price as earnest money. (In some highly competitive markets, buyers are making even larger deposits in an effort to stand out.)

But don't worry! Whatever you put down for earnest money will go toward your down payment and closing costs as soon as the deal goes through. (If the deal falters, you could lose some or all of your deposit, depending on the reason why the agreement tanks.)

3. Appraisal

All VA loans require an appraisal to ensure the property is up to acceptable standards and meets the VA's Minimum Property Requirements. What does that mean? Well, an appraiser will calculate the square footage, confirm the property is worth the price you're offering, and that it's safe, structurally sound, and sanitary. Among other things, the appraiser will check for safe mechanical systems, acceptable roof life, and hazard-free basements and crawl space. VA buyers will often pay for the appraisal upfront, but they may be able to recoup the cost at closing.

4. Home inspection

While the appraisal is required, a home inspection is technically optional (except for a pest inspection, which is required in certain states and can cost roughly $50 to $150). But you never want to take a pass on the inspection, unless you're buying a tear-down (not with a VA loan!).

The home inspection is your all-too-crucial opportunity to uncover any problems with the house before you make it official. It's also your chance to point out repairs you can ask the seller to make on your behalf (and those repairs could cost much more than the inspection itself, which is going to run about $300 to $500.)

5. Recording fees

Recording fees must be paid out of pocket at the time of closing. This is the fee you pay the county to record your mortgage in the public record, and the cost varies from county to county.

6. Real estate transfer taxes

These costs vary by state—from none in Indiana, to a $2 flat fee in Arizona, to $2 per each $500 in value in New York. States, counties, and municipalities collect these taxes to transfer the title of the property from the previous owner to the new owner.

7. Title insurance

Title insurance protects you (and your lender) in the event there are title issues from previous owners of the home. The average cost of title insurance is around $1,000 per policy, but that amount varies widely from state to state and depends on the price of your home.

8. HOA fees

If you buy a home in an area where there is a required homeowners association, you will need to pay the application fee, which is variable depending on the local rules. Then there are your monthly dues. For a typical single-family home, HOA fees can cost homeowners around $200 to $300 per month, although they'll be lower or much higher depending on the size of your unit and the amenities.

9. Loan origination fees

An origination fee is one of several that will make up your closing costs. The VA allows lenders to charge up to 1% of the loan amount to cover origination, processing, and underwriting costs.

The bottom line? While VA loans are a great option for any veteran hoping to buy a house, being prepared before you apply will ensure no surprises throughout the process.

These tips were pulled from an article on Realtor.com

Everything You Need To Know About FHA Loans

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1. What is an FHA Loan?

An FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loan is a mortgage insured program that allows borrowers the possibility of homeownership when other programs may not. FHA loans are a great way to turn the American Dream into a reality! Mortgage insurance will be paid by the borrower and while it may have a bad rap it’s what allows the FHA loan to be possible by protecting the lender from a loss if the borrower defaults on the loan.

2. How do I qualify for an FHA Loan?

Anyone can qualify for an FHA loan if the meet the FHA requirements.  Borrowers will need a 3.5% down payment and a credit score of 580 or higher OR a 10% down payment and a credit score above 500. The lower the credit score the more the borrower will pay in interest. FHA loan requirements are not as strict as other mortgage programs.

3. What are the FHA Loan requirements for buyers?

For buyers, an FHA loan is going to require a 3.5% - 10% down payment. It will also require you to pay mortgage insurance over the life of the loan which isn’t as bad as it sounds. You will also be required to have a credit score of over 500 (580 to qualify for the 3.5% down payment program).

4. What is the minimum credit score for FHA Loans?

The minimum credit score for FHA loans is 500 with 10% down payment and 580 with a 3.5% down payment. This means that people with bad credit can still afford a home! The lower your credit score the higher your interest rate will be. The FHA loan is a great loan for folks with low credit scores to be able to buy a home (albeit while paying a premium).

5. What is the difference between FHA and Conventional Loans?

There are several differences between FHA and Conventional loans. The main difference is that an FHA loan has a greater likelihood that people can qualify while conventional loans may be a bit more challenging. FHA loans require 3.5% down while Conventional loans require 5% down. FHA loans will have mortgage insurance over the life of the loan. Conventional loans require at least 20% equity in the home. Once you have paid down the mortgage balance to 80% of the home’s appraised value call the lender and ask them to cancel PMI. They are not required to remove PMI until the balance reaches 78%. That’s a big saving for you so make sure to call!

6. What is the maximum amount for FHA Loans?

The max amount of an FHA loan depends on what county you live in. The current limit in Los Angeles is $625,000.

7. Can closing costs be included in FHA loans?

In short, yes, your closing costs can be included in an FHA loan. There are specific sets of rules that apply to including closing costs in an FHA loan. You still need to bring a minimum 3.5% down payment. If the seller is paying part of your closing cost expenses another set of FHA rules kick in: “The seller and/or third party may contribute up to six percent of the lesser of the property’s sales price or the appraised value of the buyer’s closing costs, prepaid expenses, discount points and other financing concessions."

8. Are there income limits for an FHA Loan?

No. There are no income limits or restrictions that prohibit you from qualifying for an FHA loan. As long as you meet the other FHA requirements and guidelines you have the opportunity to use an FHA loan to help when purchasing a home.

9. Can you use an FHA Loan for new construction?

Yes. You can use an FHA loan for new construction no matter if the home is to be built or is an inventory home ready for move-in. The same FHA requirements and guidelines will apply to this loan known as the ‘one-time close.’ The one-time close allows lenders flexibility to offer FHA loans to borrowers who want to build a new house, buy a manufactured or modular home. The FHA one-time close allows lenders to dictate what types of homes will be included in their one-time close guidelines.

10. Can I refinance an FHA Loan?

Yes. You can refinance an FHA loan to a conventional loan or even a different FHA loan. Refinancing an FHA mortgage to conventional loan makes sense when your goal is to remove the mortgage insurance from your FHA loan. In some cases, especially when you intend to own the home for a long time, refinancing an FHA loan can make sense. There is a large cost to refinancing though! 

11. Can I use an FHA Loan after bankruptcy?

Borrowers are typically ineligible for an FHA loan after Chapter 7 bankruptcy until two years have passed. There are times when a medical emergency or a death to a spouse, or any other life-altering event can cut the wait time down to one year. It takes three years for an FHA loan if you had a foreclosure, short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure.

 

Study: FSBOs Don't Save Real Estate Commission

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One of the main reasons why For Sale By Owners (FSBOs) don’t use a real estate agent is because they believe they will save the commission an agent charges for getting their house on the market and selling it. A new study by Collateral Analytics, however, reveals that FSBOs don’t actually save anything, and in some cases may be costing themselves more, by not listing with an agent.

In the study, they analyzed home sales in a variety of markets in 2016 and the first half of 2017. The data showed that:

“FSBOs tend to sell for lower prices than comparable home sales, and in many cases below the average differential represented by the prevailing commission rate.” 

Why would FSBOs net less money than if they used an agent?

The study makes several suggestions:

  • “There could be systematic bias on the buyer side as well. FSBO sales might attract more strategic buyers than MLS sales, particularly buyers who rationalize lower-priced bids on with the logic that the seller is “saving” a traditional commission. Such buyers might specifically search for and target sellers who are not getting representational assistance from agents.” In other words, ‘bargain lookers’ might shop FSBOs more often.
  • “Experienced agents are experts at ‘staging’ homes for sale” which could bring more money for the home.
  • “Properties listed with a broker that is a member of the local MLS will be listed online with all other participating broker websites, marketing the home to a much larger buyer population. And those MLS properties generally offer compensation to agents who represent buyers, incentivizing them to show and sell the property and again potentially enlarging the buyer pool.” If more buyers see a home, the greater the chances are that there could be a bidding war for the property.

    Three conclusions from the study:

  • FSBOs achieve prices significantly lower than those from similar properties sold by Realtors using the MLS.
  • The differential in selling prices for FSBOs when compared to MLS sales of similar properties is about 5.5%.
  • The sales in 2017 suggest the average price was near 6% lower for FSBO sales of similar properties.

Don't Buy a House in 2018 Until You Read This

How to Prepare to Buy a House in 2018

Step 1: Check your Credit Score

This step is important if you are planning to take a mortgage or home loan. To qualify for a mortgage and get the best terms possible, you need to have a good credit score.

There are a lot of great websites online that can help you understand where your credit score is at (creditkarma.com is a great one). The scores aren't always 100% accurate so take them with a grain of salt. Using the mobile app on my phone I'm able to understand the strengths and weaknesses of why my score is the way it is. Try not to close your older credit accounts because these give you a good average length of credit history. 

A credit score is simply a representation of your credit worthiness. FICO credit scores range from 300 – 850. A higher credit score is always better when taking out a mortgage. You are bound to get the best interest rate (lowest interest rate possible) and best loan terms if your credit score is 740 or more. The interest you pay for your loan is important because it dictates the entire cost of the loan. Furthermore, getting a rate that is .25% lower can translate to thousands of dollars in savings every year for the entire term of your mortgage. 

Step 2: No New Credit Cards

When preparing to buy a house, you should also stay away from new credit cards even if they come with irresistible benefits. This is highly recommended since opening new credit lines can hurt your chances of qualifying for a mortgage, and if by any chance you are eligible for a mortgage, you won’t get the best rate. New credit lines usually change mortgage loan application numbers. To make sure your mortgage loan application numbers stay the same, avoid new credit lines by all means. You should also avoid overusing existing credit going forward to avoid getting bad terms in the future. 

What are the benefits of the credit card? Can you call your bank and see if there is any way to get around using a credit card until you have purchased the new home? This will allow you to have the highest credit score possible when it comes time to get a mortgage.

Step 3: Find a Mortgage Lender

Before you start looking for a home to buy, you need to get a mortgage lender first. This step is critical because it lets you know the kind of home you can afford to buy. It saves you the time, money and headaches during the home buying process. It also makes sense to start a conversation with a mortgage lender well in advance of you buying a home because they can help prepare you for the actual application process.

Finding a good mortgage lender is easy, though it requires a lot of effort and that's the hard part. You can start by asking your bank if you have established a good relationship with them what are the best steps you can take for a mortgage approval? Next, you will want to compare products. Each lender and bank will have different products they can offer certain types of people so don't settle for the first one. Look at all of your options and choose the one that makes the most sense for you!

Step 4: Get Preapproved

Serious buyers make a pre approval their first step when buying a home. This is because they are serious and know that if they are going to buy a house they will need it. As with most markets, if you try to buy a house in this market you're going to compete with a lot of other buyers.

Before you can approach potential home sellers, you have to get pre approved which simply tells the seller you are capable of buying the home in question. Getting preapproved is easy. You just need several documents. Typically, you will need your tax returns and W-2 forms for the past year or two. You’ll also need your current paycheck stubs for three or more months as well as a list of your debts and assets. Other documents such as proof of mortgage/rent payments may be required as well. Once you get pre approved, it’s important to avoid making big purchases, missing debt payments and changing jobs as you wait to get a mortgage to avoid altering information in your mortgage application.

Step 5: Find A Great Real Estate Agent

Before you find the house you need to find a great real estate agent and this is more important now than in previous years. With so much information online it's hard to believe what's real and what isn't. A great Realtor will help you navigate the world of real estate. Often people will be willing to see a house with anyone who will show it to them. Strong Agents are going to have tougher barriers that you need to break through because they are in high demand.

Often people will be willing to see a house with anyone who will show it to them. Strong Agents are going to have tougher barriers that you need to break through because they are in high demand. It's worth working with someone who is good, that has good reviews, than it is working with someone random. Do your research.

When someone asks to see a home for sale in a competitive market, we typically require a phone call or in-person meeting beforehand to help learn if we are the right fit for that client. This is a benefit to the client as it is to us. We make a commitment to our clients not to work with too many clients at once because that would jeopardize our ability to work for them.

Once you are pre-approved, you can get yourself a good real estate agent to help you find the perfect home for you. Real estate agents are easy to find today regardless of your location. You can use referrals, relatives or the internet to get the best real estate agent in your area. This step is important since real estate agents are knowledgeable about real estate. They offer useful support on all matters relating to real estate from finding the right house to negotiating and closing. 

Step 6: Find a Great House

Start with the location you want.

A lot of folks in our area are basing their home purchase in 2018 on school districts. Finding a great house doesn't necessarily make you dependent on a school district, though it does make sense for families who make it a priority.

Determining your priorities is going to help you find a great house. Have a list of 'must haves' and stick to it while being reasonable. Understand that most homes are not going to have everything you want and if it does then you should act quickly. When you find a great house, don't wait, make an offer on it because if you don't, someone else will.

Step 7: Don’t Forget about the Closing Costs

Even if you are a first time home buyer with a 0% down payment loan you need to remember that bringing money to closing is often required. Most people don't realize that closing costs can be around $5,000 when you include the attorney, lender, inspection, and other fees. Remember, as the buyer you don't pay any Realtor fees.

If you're buying a home in 2018 you should start the conversation now. Begin saving up for your down payment, your closing costs, and have a cash reserve for a rainy day!

It’s also important to discuss with your agent on ways of reducing closing costs. However, if you hire a reputable real estate agent, you have nothing to worry about. 

Summary

Buying a house is challenging if you don’t understand the process. The above steps give a great overview to how best prepare when buying a house in 2018. The information may vary slightly depending on location as well as the mortgage lender you choose.

If you're buying a home with a significant other you will want to start preparing for that as well. There are a lot of additional steps to take and the laws will vary by state on how it works. Consult with a Real Estate attorney if you have any questions on how to take title.

12 Things That Make a Neighborhood Truly Great

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1. Lifestyle match

Is the neighborhood in sync with your current lifestyle? Both renters and homebuyers tend to gravitate to areas with similar demographics. Just as a fantastic suburban neighborhood in a gated community may not be right for a young single professional, a family with three small children might not find a small condo in a hip downtown neighborhood to be the best fit for their lifestyle.

2. Pride in ownership

Pride in ownership is obvious when the residents maintain their homes and care about their neighborhood. Neighbors connect and create local groups that bring the residents together for the betterment of the area.

3. Low crime rate

Low crime rates give a neighborhood a sense of ease and calm. Crime rates are a quick way to tell if a neighborhood is improving or not, since everyone is concerned with safety and security. You can usually spot a transitional and improving neighborhood by the improvement in its crime rates.

4. Great schools

For homeowners and renters with children, great schools top the list of what makes a great neighborhood. Not only are great schools important for families with children, but they also make the surrounding neighborhoods more valuable and more sought after, keeping property values strong.

5. Outdoor activities abound

Being close to the outdoor adventures you love can sweeten the appeal of your neighborhood. Being close (or within a reasonable drive) to places to jog, sail, or pedal can keep you in love with your home. Proximity and access to tennis courts, neighborhood swim clubs, and golf courses are also qualities that keep your neighborhood on par.

6. Stepping back in time

There’s something about an area with history that makes it very desirable. Tree-lined streets give neighborhoods a charming, older, and established feel. These neighborhoods are usually very stable, with longtime residents and community support, which also helps encourage safety and low crime rates.

7. Access to medical care

Being close enough to get to a hospital or doctor’s office quickly is key for many people, especially for seniors, retirees, and families with young children.

8. Family-friendly

Neighborhoods where plenty of families live are a real draw for buyers with children. There are more opportunities for children to play, socialize, and make lifelong friends. Carpooling groups and other children’s programs are much more accessible when the neighborhood is overflowing with kiddos.

9. Close to public transportation

Easy access to public transportation is a fantastic plus for a neighborhood and an amenity for almost any lifestyle. From a commuting millennial to a retiree who wishes to keep the car at home, public transit is a solid upgrade to any neighborhood.

10. Nearby shopping and restaurants

If you want to join the hustle and bustle (and don’t want to cook dinner every night), having great restaurants, shopping, and markets in close proximity is a must!

11. Nightlife and entertainment

Is there a nearby town center or downtown with movies, theaters, bars, and nightlife? This could be the one thing that makes your neighborhood come alive. This is a priority for anyone who is young and single, but everyone appreciates a neighborhood where the hot spots are within walking distance or a short cab ride away.

12. Walkability

Being able to leave the car keys at home and hit the pavement to walk to markets, shopping, restaurants, parks, and all the other amenities your neighborhood has to offer can alleviate a lot of road rage … and make you fall even more deeply in love with your neighborhood.

These tips were pulled from an article on Trulia.com

5 Tips to Buying a Short Sale

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What is a short sale and how does it differ from other sales?

Simply put, a short sale is when a home sells for a price that won't cover the cost of the outstanding mortgage.Short sales are different from both traditional home sales and foreclosures. In a traditional home sale, you work with only the seller and the seller's agent to make an offer. In a foreclosure, the lender has already bought the property, so you’ll make an offer directly to the lender, without a buyer involved. In a short sale, the home is being sold at a loss. So, while the seller still owns the property, the lender must approve any offers.

Below are tips on what to expect and how to have your offer stand out from the crowd.

1. Have your finances sorted

Solid financing always makes an offer appear stronger, but this is especially true in a short sale.

According to Mark Ainley of GC Realty Investments in Chicago, "You can increase your chances of having an offer accepted by either being a cash buyer or having a pre-approval letter from a lender. The pre-approval will carry more weight than a pre-qualification letter because it shows that a lender has already vetted your finances and approved you for that loan amount."

In addition to the pre-approval, being prepared to put down a sizable earnest money deposit can help move your offer to the top of the pile.

2. Be ready to wait for approval

The approval process is a bit different with short sales. The seller first has to approve your offer, as usual, but then it must be sent to the lender for review before the sale can move forward.

"Be patient. Banks take their time approving a short sale," advises, Kathryn Bishop, a Keller Williams agent in Los Angeles.

Several individuals, including the lender, will need to look at your offer before a consensus can be reached. The lender must decide how much of a loss it's willing to take on the loan and it'll likely vet your finances to make sure you are financially sound enough to buy the home.

This process could take weeks, but in most cases it will take three to four months.

3. Don’t expect contingencies

In a typical home sale, you can negotiate contingencies with the seller to reduce closing costs, cover fees, or make repairs before you finalize the deal. However, in a short sale, the lender also needs to be taken into consideration, and it is less likely to approve your contingencies.

Keep in mind that the lender is already taking a loss on the loan and won’t want to lower its profits any further.

The lender "is the one making the final decision on whether or not to accept your offer," says Karen Hanover, a former short sale negotiator with a major lender. "They are going to look at the net after all costs of sale, not just the asking price. They also want to see the properties sold as is."

4. Don't navigate a short sale alone

The bank will be trying to recoup as much of its investment as possible, and the seller will be focused on unloading the property before it's foreclosed. So who has your interest at heart? It's important to have someone in your corner who can advocate for you and make sure you leave the negotiating table satisfied.

"The buyer must be able to control who does the short sale negotiation and have the legal right to communicate with that negotiator and receive status reports," says James Tupitza, a real estate lawyer with Tupitza & Associates in West Chester, PA.

Before you even consider making an offer, make sure to bring on a real estate agent—or even legal council—who specializes in this type of transaction.

 

9 Crazy Things That Will Absolutely Clog Your Pipes

1. Fruit peels and rinds

If you're like us, you probably love to test the limits of your garbage disposal. But the first step to avoiding clogs is to scale back on what you put down the drain to begin with. No. 1 on the no-no list? Fruit rinds. These bad boys simply don't break down easily.

A good rule of thumb: If you wouldn't eat it, don't put it down the kitchen drain.

2. Starches (and other fibrous foods)

This one surprised us. Apparently, starchy and fibrous foods—including potatoes, celery, corn, corn husks, onion skins, asparagus, and artichokes—expand in the garbage disposal and can wrap around its blades, damaging the motor and causing a big backup.

"Think about what happens when you overcook pasta, rice, potatoes, or beans," says Glenn Gallas, vice president of operations for Mr. Rooter Plumbing. "They turn into a pasty substance capable of clogging the kitchen drain if you dispose of them there." 

Adds Janet O'Dea, owner of Powers Plumbing in San Diego, "We had one instance on thanksgiving when the plumber was sent out to service a clogged kitchen sink, and the owner admitted that she put a box of mashed potato buds down the drain, ran the hot water, and the disposal literally was stuffed full with mashed potatoes."

To avoid such problems, O'Dea recommends using the garbage disposal only for crumbs and putting other larger kitchen scraps and debris into the trash.

3. Grease, oil, and fats

"Grease should never be allowed to go down the kitchen sink drain, because it will coat the pipes and create sludge," O'Dea says. "Grease also will build up over time, making the pipe size constricted and preventing you from getting good drainage."

Instead of dumping your grease down the drain, pour it into an empty container let it congeal. Then throw it in the trash.

We're not quite sure why this warrants a reminder, but Gallas also cautions against dumping grease and oil waste in the toilet.

"Pipes are a lot like arteries," he says. "When fats flush the pipes and cool off, they freeze and congeal, building up like cholesterol. After a while, the blockage can become too great, causing your pipes to have a proverbial heart attack."

4. Feminine products and cotton swabs

We don't want to write about this one any more than you want to read about it. But we have to, because plumbing professionals keep finding these items in homeowners' drains and pipes.

We're here to tell you once and for all: Stop. Flushing. This. Stuff.

OK, moving on...

5. Wipes and cosmetic towelettes

"Anything that claims to be flushable besides toilet paper should never be put down the toilet because it won't don't break down," O'Dea says. "If it makes it past your drainage system, it continues to play havoc with the municipal system."

The consistency of toilet paper allows it to fall apart quickly when immersed in water, she explains—unlike towels, towelettes, or wipes.

"Once a drain is clogged with wipes (or paper towels), you will likely have to call a plumber to clear the drain—the plunger won't provide enough force to get the line clear," she says.

And sorry, new (tired) parents: The same logic applies to baby wipes—they don't mix well with aging infrastructure.

"Many older neighborhoods, like those in the northeastern United States, are finding themselves at risk for shelling out big bucks to clear clogs related to wet wipes," Gallas says.

6. Kitty litter

Don't even think about dumping cat litter down the toilet.Clay, silica, and sand are extremely troublesome for any plumbing systems, because those substances are designed to absorb moisture and create clumps, which turn into large clogs almost immediately once they enter your pipes.

7. Egg shells

There's an old wives' tale that claims eggshells are good for disposals because they sharpen the blades. False!

"The membrane layers of eggshells can wrap around the shredder ring, potentially damaging the disposal, not to mention the sandlike consistency of egg shells can cause pipes to clog," Gallas says.

8. Toys

Anyone who's shared a space with a child is likely nodding knowingly: Toys have the darnedest way of scattering, well, everywhere.

"One evening we received a call from a casino we often work with who had complaints of a backed-up sewer line," says Robyn Roth, owner of Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Yavapai & Coconino Counties in Arizona. "When we arrived, the clog was so bad that the foreign object had been pushed into the main sewer line, backing up all pipes throughout the casino. If we didn’t act fast the entire casino would have flooded with raw sewage! A combination of sawing, digging, and jetting led us to the culprit of four Thomas the Train toys that had been flushed down the toilet in the day care of the casino."

Avoid a train wreck (sorry) of similar proportions by keeping toys far, far away from the toilet.

9. Dental floss, hair, and other stringy stuff

Believe it or not, O'Dea says that dental floss (in addition to "flushable" wipes and tampons) are the most common clog culprits for bathroom drains.

Floss and string "are neither biodegradable nor easily flushed down the toilet," Gallas says. Add in all the hair that's swirling down there, and consider how this stuff can easily form knots and clumps, trapping in icky odors and resulting in major clogs.

This article was pulled from a post on realtor.com

How to Clean a Kitchen: Tips Your Parents Should Have Taught You

How to clean cabinets

You want to begin by cleaning the cabinets. Why? Because no matter what room it is you’re cleaning, “you always go from top to bottom,” says Debbie Sardone, a home cleaning expert and president of SpeedCleaning.com. “If you don’t, you’re going to undo some of your work by brushing dirt onto the lower surfaces.”

To clean wood cabinets, Sardone recommends using a microfiber cloth dipped in Murphy’s Oil Soap. For all other finishes, use a mild, nontoxic all-purpose cleaner. Pay special attention to door handles, which tend to accumulate the most germs. When you’re finished, go over wood with Old English Scratch Cover polish. “It works miracles on cabinets that are overdue for refinishing,” says Sardone.

How to clean a microwave

The microwave is one of the most neglected kitchen appliances, which is why you might silently cringe when you open it to see the spatter of past dinners inside. The good news is that the magic box is usually quite easy to clean.

Jan Dougherty, author of “The Lost Art of House Cleaning,” recommends that you pop in a clean wet rag, run the microwave on high for 2 minutes, and let the rag sit for 20 minutes. “The steam from the rag will soften up any hard-crusted foods so you can wipe it right off,” says Dougherty. If the microwave has a rotating glass tray, simply pop it in the dishwasher.

How to clean a stove

If your range has a gas cooktop, start by removing the grates and burner covers. Sardone’s cleaning method: “Pour a quarter of a cup of household ammonia into a large gallon-size bag, then put the grate inside, seal it tight, and let the grate soak for 24 hours. Flip the bag six to eight times throughout the day. Within 24 hours, the grime will slide off.” While the grates are soaking, wipe the burner top with hot soapy water and a plastic scrub pad—but stay away from steel wool and abrasive cleaners, which can scratch the surface.

Have an electric range or cooktop? Wipe it down with hot soapy water, then polish using a formulated cooktop cleaner, like Cerama Bryte.

As for the oven, that's the fun part—that is, if you have a fancy self-cleaning oven. If you don’t, place a pot of boiling water on the bottom rack and, on the top, a heat-safe bowl containing 1 cup of ammonia. Shut the oven door and leave overnight. By morning, the grease caking your oven's insides will wipe right off (make sure to use rubber gloves).

How to clean a refrigerator

For starters, follow the top-to-bottom rule when you clean the shelves with a damp cloth and all-purpose cleaner. Next, here's the step people forget: Wipe down the jars and other containers before you place them back inside, because the goop caked on them will rub off on your fridge's interior, says Sardone.

You'll also want to take out your vacuum and clean the refrigerator coils(which sit along the bottom or back of your fridge), which can collect dust and hamper your fridge's performance.

How to clean countertops

For laminate or quartz countertops, use a soft cloth to wipe with a mild liquid detergent. Granite countertops, however, are a totally different beast, because food, grease, and wine can seep into granite if it isn't properly sealed. To assess what condition your granite is in, drop a bit of water on the surface. If it beads up, you're good. But if the water pools together, it's time to reseal with granite sealant, which is available at any home improvement store. Once the granite is protected again, make sure to wipe up spills as they happen to keep it in tiptop shape.

How to clean a dishwasher

This might sound strange—after all, isn’t the whole point of having a dishwasher so that you don’t have to clean as many things?—but you’ve probably noticed that even an empty dishwasher can get funky sometimes. That’s because food gets trapped in a strainer that’s in the bottom of the unit, says Sardone, which “creates a horrible odor.” Thus, you’ll want to remove the strainer (usually it twists right off) and clean it once every three months; to access it, simply pull out the bottom rack.

To clean the rest of the dishwasher, “pour a bowl full of white vinegar, set it face up on the top rack, and run the dishwasher without anything else in it,” says Sardone. “The vinegar will circulate and clean everything.”

These tips were pulled from an article on Realtor.com

Simple Ways to Add Value to Your Home

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1. Paint- Repainting parts of your home every once in a while is a simple value adder that is fairly inexpensive. You don't have to repaint everything; focus on the parts that a potential buyer would look at, such as the kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms.

2. Outdoor Seating- Adding a quality seating area in the backyard adds value by giving your outdoor space a better look. Prospective buyers will like the fact that you have another area where they could host guests, or spend time with their family.

3. Bathroom Upgrades- The bathroom is most likely to be your least expensive room to upgrade, but could produce the most results. A more modern bathroom could go a long way i convincing potential buyers that your home is the one for them. 

4. Landscaping- You certainly don't need to go overboard in terms of landscaping. If you do, it will get expensive fast. However, adding to or improving upon the plant life surrounding your home will give prospective buyers a better first impression of your home and make the exterior of your home brighter and more appealing.

5. Store Effectively- No one wants to walk into a home that looks like it belongs to a hoarder. Decluttering your home will not only increase its property, but also make you feel proud of your space while you're still living there. By the way, you know what makes storage and organizing much easier? Getting rid of stuff you don't need! 

If you're preparing your home because you're thinking of selling your home, let's talk!

These tips were pulled from an article on www.trendinghomenews.com