Author Archives: James Silver

5 Mortgage Misconceptions Set Straight

Looking for a home loan? Get your facts straight so you can proceed with confidence.

Getting a mortgage can be a breeze or a slog, depending on what you know about the process. To get organized and set your expectations properly, let’s debunk some common mortgage myths.

1. Lenders use your best credit scores

If you’re applying for a mortgage jointly with a co-borrower, logic suggests that your lender would use the highest credit score between both of you.

However, lenders take the middle of three credit scores (from Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) for each borrower, and then use the lowest score between both borrowers’ “middle scores.”

So, if you had a middle score of 780, and your co-borrower had a middle score of 660, most lenders would qualify and approve you using the 660 credit score.

Rates are tied to credit scores, so in this example, your rate would be based on the 660 credit score, which would push your rate up significantly — or potentially even make you ineligible for the loan.

There are exceptions to this lowest-case-credit-score rule. Most notably, if you have the higher credit score and are also the higher earner, some lenders will allow your higher credit score on the file — but this is mostly for jumbo loans above $417,000.

Ask your lender about exceptions if you have credit score disparity between co-borrowers, but know that these exceptions are rare.

2. The rate you’re quoted is the rate you’ll get

Unless you’re locking in a rate at the moment it’s quoted, that rate quote can change. Rates are tied to daily trading of mortgage bonds, so most lenders’ rates change throughout each day.

Refinancers can often lock a rate when it’s quoted — as long as you’ve given your lender enough information and documentation to determine if you qualify for the quoted rate.

You typically receive a quote when you’re beginning your pre-approval process, but a rate lock runs with a borrower and a property. So until you’ve found a home to buy, you can’t lock your rate. And while you’re home shopping, rates will be changing daily, so you’ll need updated quotes from your lender throughout your home shopping process.

Rate quotes also come with an annual percentage rate (APR), which is a federally required disclosure that shows what your rate would be if all loan fees are incorporated into the rate.

This can make you think that APR is the rate you’ll get, but your loan payment will always be based on your locked rate, and the APR is just a disclosure to help you understand fees.

3. Fixed-rate mortgages are always better than adjustable-rate mortgages

After the 2008 financial crisis, many borrowers started preferring 30-year fixed loans. For good reason too: The rate and payment on a 30-year fixed loan can never change. But the longer the rate is fixed for, the higher the rate.

So before settling on a 30-year fixed, ask yourself this question: How long am I going to own this home (or keep the loan) for?

Suppose the answer is five years. If you got a five-year adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) instead of a 30-year fixed, your rate would be about .875 percent lower. On a $200,000 loan, you’d save $146 per month in interest by taking the five-year ARM. On a $600,000 loan, the monthly interest cost savings is $438.

To optimize your home financing, peg the loan term as closely as you can to your expected time horizon in the home.

4. Real estate agents don’t care which lender you use

A federal law enacted in 1974 called the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) prohibits lenders and real estate agents from paying each other fees to refer customers to each other. So as a mortgage shopper, you’re always free to use any lender you choose.

But real estate agents who would represent you as a buyer do care which lender you use. They’ll often suggest that you use a local lender who’s experienced with your area’s nuances, such as local taxation rules, settlement procedures and appraisal methodologies.

These areas are all part of the loan process and can delay or kill deals if a nonlocal lender isn’t experienced enough to handle them.

Likewise, real estate agents representing sellers on homes you’re interested in will often prioritize purchase offers based on the quality of loan approvals. Local lenders who are known and respected by listing agents give your purchase offers more credibility.

5. Mortgage insurance is always required if you put less than 20 percent down

Mortgage insurance is a lender-risk premium placed on many home loans when you’re putting less than 20 percent down. In short, it means your total monthly housing cost is higher. But you can buy a home with less than 20 percent down and avoid mortgage insurance.

The most common way to do this is with a combination first and second mortgage — often called a piggyback — where the first mortgage is capped at 80 percent of the home’s value, and the second mortgage is for the balance of what you want to finance.

 

About the author

Julian Hebron

Julian Hebron is a mortgage banking executive and consultant based in San Francisco. He’s the founder of influential consumer finance and housing blog The Basis Point, and his work is regularly cited by CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and other mainstream media. Follow him on Twitter: @thebasispoint

Small Updates, Big Return: 5 Ways to Increase Your Home’s Value

No matter your budget, there’s always an upgrade or two that’ll up the resale ante.

Whether your home improvements are for you or potential buyers, consider their impact on your home’s potential resale price before picking up your toolbox (or the phone to call a contractor).

A brand-new kitchen or bathroom will undoubtedly wow potential buyers, but there’s no guarantee you’ll recoup the money you put into those pricey remodels.

To help you navigate the choices that lead to the best return on investment, we asked two industry experts (and one enthusiastic DIYer) to weigh in.

Kitchen renovations

“Renovating the kitchen is always the biggest way to add value to your home,” says Grace Fancher, real estate agent at Kansas City firm Sarah Snodgrass. “People love to cook, and everyone tends to gather in the kitchen. If you add seating, such as an island with barstools, buyers go crazy for that.”

A full remodel is a major investment, but smaller projects make a big difference if you can’t — or don’t want to — go all out. “Nicer appliances really stick out to potential buyers — even if you’re planning to take them with you,” Fancher says.

She also suggests replacing tired finishes with fresh, neutral materials. “You don’t want to be too trendy, but you want it to look up-to-date,” she says. “Everyone loves clean, white subway tiles now, but they’re really a timeless look.”

Replacing dated countertops (quartz is your best bet, according to Fancher) and flooring is also worth the time and money.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Bathroom updates

The smallest rooms in the house can have a big impact on its value, so Fancher suggests adding a second bathroom or upgrading existing ones so your home features at least two full baths.

Joe Monda, co-owner of Seattle-based general contracting firm Promondo, agrees. “People are spending more on upgrading their houses before listing them,” he says. “They really want to maximize the potential house value.”

But if you’re remodeling a bathroom just to put your house on the market, keep it simple. “Most people don’t want to pay for upgrades, so you want it to be a neutral space that doesn’t look straight out of the big DIY warehouse stores — even if it is,” says Fancher.

She adds that an easy solution is spending a little more on details, like high-quality towel bars and upgraded hardware for those big-box store vanities.

Not in a position to remodel? “Re-grouting tile, or even just using one of those grout paint pens, gives any bathroom a fresher look,” says Sharyn Young, a self-proclaimed DIY addict from Minneapolis.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Lighting upgrades

“The brighter a room feels, the bigger it looks,” says Fancher. “And when you’re selling, you want every space to look as big as possible.”

She recommends replacing flush-mount ceiling lights with recessed and/or pendant lighting — a relatively cheap upgrade that looks modern and makes a huge impact.

“LED lighting has changed everything,” says Young. “There are so many readily available, inexpensive options now that are easy to install. I added Ikea under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen of my last house, and I was amazed at how that one simple upgrade made the space feel larger and cleaner.”

Photo from Zillow listing.

Fresh paint

Like lighting, a new coat of paint can also make a space feel cleaner and brighter. Stick to neutral shades, such as light gray and beige, and if you don’t have time or budget to do the whole house, start with the living areas you see when you first walk in.

An even quicker fix is refreshing just the trim. “Beat-up, dirty trim can give buyers a subtle impression that the whole house is dingy,” Fancher says. “Repainting gives a sharper look and shows the buyer that you’ve taken care of the house.”

Photo from Zillow listing.

Landscape improvements

“A lot of people overlook how important landscaping is, especially when you’re selling in the spring or summer,” says Fancher, adding that you can increase curb appeal by just putting down new, dark-colored mulch, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on planting.

Monda suggests paying special attention to the entry. Repair or replace any damaged stepping stones, concrete paths, and porch plants, then give the front door a fresh coat of paint and add some potted plants. “You want people to be excited to walk in the door,” he says.

Photo from Zillow listing.
Top photo from Zillow listing.

Get more home improvement ideas on Zillow Digs.

Lara Hale

Lara Hale is a freelance writer and editor who covers lifestyle and home design topics. A Seattle resident, she loves rainy days, coffee, DIY home projects and hanging out with her dog, Floyd. She tweets about all of these and more @littlebitlara.

Four Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Fixer-Upper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on home renovation TV shows, you might expect flipping a fixer-upper to be a perfectly satisfying and profitable experience. While this could well be the case, it doesn’t happen by default. A good experience with a fixer-upper depends very much on planning — getting the right house, the right contractors and doing the right amount of work yourself. Here are four key questions that will help you get this right.

Where Will You Look?

Getting a decent fixer-upper within your price range will require some up-front research. You’ll probably spend a lot of your time looking up potential properties online. The ideal fixer-upper needs cosmetic repairs only, so look for houses that don’t look like they’ve been remodeled in a while, or for which the exterior looks unkempt. Most buyers will be put off by this, so the fact that the owner hasn’t fixed the place up before selling might mean they’re open to lower offers. Tell your agent what you’re looking for too, so that they can keep an eye out for you. Another option is to visit foreclosure auctions — Fox News has some great tips on this.

How Much Work Needs Doing?

When you find a prospect, bring in a house inspector. It’s best not to use one recommended by your agent, as they may not have your best interests at heart. Ideally, find a qualified builder experienced in working with older houses. When you get the assessment, avoid places with structural problems, issues with the roof membrane, or problems with the foundation. These problems are usually not cost-effective to repair. For all other issues, you’ll need to get an estimate of the repair costs, which means you’ll also need to find a contractor you want to work with while you’re still looking for a house. With the assistance of your house inspector and contractor, draw up a list of all the work that needs doing.

What Can You Do Yourself?

Work down your list and decide which jobs you can do yourself and which you’ll need professionals to do. For example, you should consider bringing in the pros for any remodel demolition work. Demolition work can be dangerous, time-consuming, and a financial nightmare if you make mistakes. When hiring professionals, most homeowners spend between $1,500 and $3,586 for demolition. Then, with advice from your contractors, put the jobs into order — you’ll want to do the bigger, messier jobs first — demolition work, remodels, plumbing and so on before you move on to cosmetic work. The Spruce has some great tips on how to carry out renovations here.

Can You Make a Profit?

For each item, write down the cost and the expected time frame for completion. Again — wherever you’re hiring contractors, be sure to get quotes from them before you make your bid. This is why it’s important to get a contractor early — they can inspect the house and give you a quote in one pass. For the jobs you’ll do yourself, don’t forget to factor in the costs of tools — do you have a power drill, jigsaw, crowbar, and other equipment you’ll need? If not, will you buy or rent? Once you’ve done this, you can create a budget, and see whether you’re able to make a profit from the house. If the margin is not great, but the area is up-and-coming, you might consider renting it out for a while in expectation of the value rising in the future.

If this sounds like a lot of work — it is! You may end up paying for several inspections before you find a suitable house. However, if you don’t put in this effort and expense, you might end up with a house that’s too expensive to repair, or in the worst-case scenario, one that needs to be torn down. No one likes homework, but in this case, it’s vital — plan, prepare, and then profit.

Photo: Pixabay

4 Surprising Things That May Increase How Much Your Home Is Worth

Does your home offer any of the perks some buyers will pay more for?

For most Americans, their home is their most important financial asset. But in the past, homeowners only knew how much it was worth when they bought or sold their home.

To understand how much your home is worth, it’s important to understand the variety of factors that go into assessing the value, both existing (assessed and appraised) value, as well as potential real value on the market.

Thousands of data points correlate with home values and sale prices — some of which are obvious (like the condition of the home), and some that aren’t so obvious.

Here are several surprising things that can affect either the existing value of your home or the price someone is willing to pay for it, all based on data.

1. How close you are to a Starbucks

How far do you have to drive to get a Frappuccino? If the answer is “not that far,” you’re in luck.

Photo courtesy of ShutterStock.

A 2015 Zillow report found that, between 1997 and 2014, homes within a quarter-mile of a Starbucks increased in value by 96 percent, on average, compared with 65 percent for all U.S. homes, based on a comparison of Zillow Home Value Index data with a database of Starbucks locations.

To evaluate if this effect is isolated to Starbucks, or if it extends to other caffeine purveyors, the research team also looked at another coffee hot spot (one with particular pull on the East Coast): Dunkin’ Donuts.

The analysis of that data showed that homes near Dunkin’ Donuts locations appreciated 80 percent, on average, during the same 17-year period — not quite as high as homes near a Starbucks, but still significantly above the 65 percent increase in value for all U.S. homes.

2. Blue kitchens and blue bathrooms

Beyond America’s obsession with lawns and all-around “curb appeal,” what’s inside your house counts a lot, too — especially the colors you’ve painted the rooms (particularly the kitchen).

According to Zillow’s 2017 Paint Color Analysis, which examined more than 32,000 photos from sold homes around the country, homes with blue kitchens sold for a $1,809 premium, compared to similar homes with white kitchens.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Blue is also a popular bathroom shade. The same analysis found that homes with light pale blue to soft periwinkle blue bathrooms sold for a whopping $5,440 more.

Walls painted in cool neutrals like blue or gray can signal that the home is well cared for or has other desirable features.

3. Trendy features

Joanna Gaines’ aesthetic is permeating more than just your YouTube search history. Zillow listings mentioning some of the shiplap queen’s favorite features — keywords like “barn door” and “farmhouse sink” — sell faster and for a premium, according to a 2016 analysis of descriptions of more than 2 million homes sold nationwide.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Listings with “barn door” in the description sold for 13.4 percent more than expected, and 57 days faster than comparable homes without the keyword.

Meanwhile, listings touting “farmhouse sink” led to a nearly 8-percent sales premium. This “barn door” effect doesn’t seem to increase the value of the home off the market, but is seemingly due to the popularity of this style at the time of the analysis. Sellers can use the listing descriptions to highlight trendy details and features that might not be noticeable in the photos.

4. How close you are to a city

If you own a home in a major metropolitan area in America, you’re most likely sitting on a significant (and rapidly appreciating) financial asset. Case in point: Home values in the New York, NY metro area are worth $2.6 trillion, per a recent analysis — which is more than the value of the entire French economy.

Long Island City, Queens. Photo courtesy of ShutterStock.

The average urban home is now worth 35 percent more than the average suburban home. Since 2012, the median home value in urban areas have increased by 54 percent, while in suburban areas the median home value is up 38 percent.

Article Courtesy of Whitney Ricketts

How Seniors Can Make Moving Day A Success

Photo via Pixabay by Congerdesign

Buying and selling a home — and going through the moving process — is a big job, and it requires quite a bit of planning to pull off. For seniors who are downsizing, there’s always a lot to think about, including paring down their belongings, packing up a home full of memories, and figuring out the logistics of the move itself. It might feel overwhelming at first, so it’s important to have a good support system around you, to get organized, and to take care of your mental and physical health during the process.

For many seniors, downsizing is the next step after retirement. This often entails going through belongings to scale down — donating old clothes, for instance, or condensing photo albums and loose pictures by scanning them onto a computer — and getting used to living in a much smaller home. The benefits of this are life-changing for some, as it means not having to take care of a large yard or living in a one-story home with no stairs to traverse every day. It can be emotionally draining, however, to move from a home you’ve lived in for many years, so it’s imperative that you find ways to make the process as easy as possible.

Plan for packing

Packing up a home takes a while, especially if you have lots of memories. Ask a friend or family member to come over and help you go through your belongings, as there may be things you want to give to loved ones, items you can sell or donate, or things that can be thrown away. Having at least one other person there to help will make the process go much faster and will give you some much-needed emotional support.

When you’ve finished with that part, consider hiring someone to help you pack up the rest. It can be a very physically demanding job, so having help can be extremely beneficial and help you avoid potential injury.

Make some lists

There are a lot of details to think about when you’re selling or buying a home, and facing it all head-on can be overwhelming. Make some lists to ensure nothing is forgotten, and cross off each item as you complete it in order to stay organized. You might make a shopping list of supplies you’ll need or a list of tasks to complete (such as changing your address with the post office). Having it all written down in front of you will help you feel more in control and will give you peace of mind. Find some great checklists here.

Practice self-care

Moving can be emotionally and physically exhausting, so it’s a good idea to practice self-care during this time. This means finding ways to relax and participating in activities that make you feel good in healthy ways. You might make time to sit down and read, or to practice a hobby you enjoy. Taking care of yourself can go a long way toward reducing stress and anxiety during this time.

Remember your pets

If you have pets, remember that they’re going through the move too. Big changes can lead to anxiety in animals, so be mindful as you start packing; leave your pet’s belongings for last, and refrain from buying new toys or bedding for the new house, as this can be confusing for them. If possible, let your pet explore the new home before the actual move so it won’t come as such a shock, and ask a friend to pet-sit on moving day to keep him safe during all the chaos.

Making a big move doesn’t have to be stressful; with some planning and a little help from your friends and family, you can pull it off as smoothly as possible. Don’t forget to rest often on moving day, eat something, and stay hydrated. Taking care of yourself is important on such a busy day. And once it’s all said and done, you’ll be moved in and ready to start the next chapter of your life.

 

Blog Courtesy of Seth Murphy

How Much Does It Cost to Move?

The dollars and cents that go into moving vary greatly depending on a number of factors.

Making the decision to move can be an exciting time, whether you’re moving across town or across the country. But it can also be a milestone surrounded by uncertainty: am I making the right decision? How will my kids adjust to a new school? Will I like my new neighborhood?

According to the US Census, 11.2 percent of Americans moved in 2016, for reasons related to housing, family, and employment. And there’s one question pretty much everyone who is thinking about moving asks: How much will it cost to relocate?

There are all kinds of moving expenses to keep in mind, including changes in cost of living, balancing two mortgages (or a mortgage and rent) during the transition, and the cost of actually getting all your belongings from point A to point B. Here’s some information about average moving expenses to help you make sense of it all.

Estimating moving costs

Roughly half of all people who move use professional movers, whether they’re moving short or long distances.

These are average costs for moving, according to HomeAdvisor. Of course, prices vary by region and by distance.

Type of move Average charge Extra charges
Local/intrastate (under 100 miles, including 2 movers + truck) $80-$100 per hour + $25-$50 extra per additional mover
Interstate/cross-country (over 100 miles) $2,000-$5,000 per move + $0.50 per pound

How much does it cost to move across town?

Local moves make up the vast majority of people moving every year. According to Zillow research, 57 percent of home buyers who also sell a home move within the same city, and 86 percent move within the same state.

For local moves, you’ll typically pay an hourly rate that includes a truck and the services of two movers. The bigger your home, the longer your move will take.

Consider these estimates from HomeAdvisor.

Size of house Estimated time of move Average price range
1-bedroom apartment 3-5 hours $200-$500
2-bedroom apartment 5-7 hours $400-$700
3-bedroom house 7-10 hours $560-$1,000
4-bedroom house 10+ hours $800-$2,000+

How far in advance should I book local movers?

Keep in mind that most people move between May and September, so you’ll want to book your movers at least four weeks ahead of time. The earlier you book, the more likely you are to get the day and time that works best for you, and the more likely you are to get an experienced crew.

The least expensive days to move are Monday-Thursday. In the off-season (October-April), you can often book movers with only one to two weeks’ notice.

How much does it cost to move across the country?

While local movers typically charge by the hour, for a cross-country move you’ll likely be charged based on two key variables: weight and distance.

Weight

Before the move, the empty truck is weighed, and your mover should provide you with an “empty weight” receipt. Then, once all your belongings are loaded, they’ll weigh your truck again to help them determine your moving cost.

Have no idea how much your belongings weigh? Reputable movers will give you an estimate before you sign on the dotted line, using average weights for homes of your size (more on estimates later).

For example, the goods inside a 1,000-square-foot, 3-bedroom apartment typically weigh about 5,000 pounds. A 2,800-square-foot, 4-bedroom home’s furnishings typically weigh in at around 20,500 pounds.

Distance

Simply put, the farther a moving company has to transport your belongings, the higher the bill will be. You’ll likely be charged a per-mile rate in addition to the weight-based charges. Make sure to ask if there are any additional transportation charges, like fuel or tolls.

How far in advance should I book movers for a long-distance move?

For an interstate or cross-country move, you’ll want to book your movers as early as possible — ideally six to eight weeks before your move.

Movers loading moving truck
Moving costs vary depending on factors such as the number of belongings, the length of the move, and the services provided.

Typical moving expenses

Whatever kind of move you’re planning, the moving expenses you’ll incur will vary based on the level of service you’re looking for:

  • Just a truck rental: The ultimate DIY move, in this scenario you’ll be doing the packing, loading, transportation, unloading, and unpacking on your own, with just the help of a rental truck. Flat per-day rates start at around $20 per day, depending on the size of the truck, plus charges for gas and mileage.
  • Loading, transportation, and unloading: Save your back by doing all the packing and unpacking yourself, but have professional movers do the heavy lifting. For a local move, this service can range from $200 for a one-bedroom apartment to $2,000+ for a 4-bedroom house.
  • Full-service moves: Leave everything to the pros, including wrapping and packing your belongings, loading them, transporting them to your new home, and unloading. You’ll just be responsible for unpacking your belongings and getting settled. This type of move is usually used for long-distance moves. Expect to pay roughly $2,000-$5,000 for the transportation, plus about 50 cents per pound, plus $25-$50 per hour, per mover for packing and unpacking help.
  • Temporary storage: If your moving dates don’t line up exactly, you may find yourself needing to temporarily stash your things in a storage unit or moving container. Storage facility rates start at about $50 per month for a small unit, and go up to $300 or $400 for larger units. If you’d like the convenience of a portable storage unit that’s delivered to your home, loaded by you, and stored in a warehouse until you’re ready for re-delivery, expect to pay $150-$300 per month, plus delivery and re-delivery costs.
  • Moving supplies: Instead of buying and then recycling boxes, you can go green and rent hard plastic boxes for your move. Prices start at about $50 per week for enough boxes to pack a 1-bedroom apartment, and up to $200 to pack a large house. Once you’re done, the rental service will pick up the boxes. To save money on cardboard boxes, check your local “buy nothing” group or moving truck rental company, which often have used boxes on hand.

Additional costs of moving

  • When calculating your relocation budget, make sure to keep in mind these unexpected moving costs:
  • A transportation surcharge if the moving company pays workers more for working in metropolitan areas, where labor costs are often higher.
  • You may opt to purchase full value protection insurance. Released value protection is typically included by movers at no cost, but the protection is minimal — just 60 cents per pound per article lost or damaged.
  • Charges for moving vehicles, including cars, boats, and motorcycles.
  • Surcharges for moving large or fragile items — think swing sets, pianos, extra-large furniture, or riding lawn mowers.
  • Additional charges if the movers have to walk more than 75 feet from door to truck, or if they need to use stairs or an elevator.
  • Additional charges if your street is too narrow to accommodate a moving truck and they’ll need to shuttle your belongings with a smaller truck.
  • You may find yourself paying unexpected moving costs if there’s a delay in the availability of your new home and the moving company has to put your items into storage.

Moving cost agreements

Any reputable moving company should provide you with a quote before your move, using the industry-standard rate book published by the Household Goods Carrier Bureau, called the Tariff 400-N. There are two main types of moving quotes:

  • Non-binding estimates are the industry standard. They reflect the company’s best guess as to what your final bill will be, but they can often be inaccurate. Whenever possible, opt for not-to-exceed quote.
  • Not-to-exceed estimates are quotes where the moving company commits to a maximum price.
Family unpacking belongings after moving
To avoid being surprised by high moving costs, ask your movers to provide a not-to-exceed estimate.

Get moving

When it comes to moving, the best way to limit your costs (and to keep your sanity) is to move quickly. The faster you’re out of your old home and into your new home, the less you’ll pay in movers, rented supplies, storage costs, and — most importantly — overlapping mortgage payments or rent.

Looking to sell your house in a hurry? Check out Zillow Instant Offers, where you can list your home for investors only and attract offers from investors who are ready to buy.

Related:

Originally published July 2012; data updated March 2018.

Mary Boone

Mary was a newspaper writer/editor for 13 years and worked as spokesperson for a Fortune 500 Company before becoming a freelance writer. She has authored more than two dozen books for young readers and writes for a handful of regional home and garden magazines.

Budget-Friendly Curb Appeal Boosters

Get maximum improvement for minimum cash with these tips for transforming your home’s exterior.

A polished home exterior makes for an inviting experience for any visitor or passersby, which is especially important if your home is on the market.

All sellers should focus on exterior home improvements, says Tallahassee-based realtor Joe Manausa of Joe Manausa Real Estate. “Buyers are searching for homes online, and the exterior picture of your home will be the most likely culprit for somebody to reject your home,” he notes.

Check out our tips to get the most curb appeal for the lowest cost — while turning your neighbors’ heads and getting prospective buyers to your door.

Clean up

Sometimes the most obvious way to enhance curb appeal is simply dedicating a weekend to deep cleaning the exterior of your home.

shutterstock_123204070
Photo from Shutterstock.

Sure, you’ll want to trim bushes, sweep, and mow your lawn, but there’s so much more to curb appeal than keeping a tidy front yard. Turn the nozzle on your garden hose to the strongest setting and clean off your driveway, sidewalk, windows, and fence.

If dirt and grime is really caked on your home’s exterior, you can rent a power washer for around $50 to $75 a day — but steer clear of any area with caulking, like windows and doors, as you can strip some of the sealing. And as tempting as it may be to power wash your roof, you may want to hold off to avoid damaging the shingles’ coating.

Spraying off your windows with a garden hose isn’t enough to make them spic and span, however. For maximum sparkle, clean your windows outside and inside. Instead of relying on a glass cleaner, try a mix of detergent diluted in warm water.

Add shutters

shutters
Photo from Zillow listing.

An easy way to accentuate the size of your windows is to add shutters. Not only does it make your windows look larger, but it adds visual interest by disrupting a bland exterior wall. Choose a color that contrasts with the color of your home to make it pop for maximum curb appeal.

Paint accent areas

Paint is a quick and easy curb appeal-booster. Instead of painting the entire exterior of your home, focus your attention on the trim, door, and shutters.

You can typically find a gallon of exterior paint for $20 to $30 a gallon. But before slapping on that paint, consider exterior color scheme trends, while keeping in mind your home’s natural style.

Give your door a face lift

If you’re not in love with your front door, you don’t need to dish out loads of money to replace it. Think beyond paint and consider also adding molding, which offers a decorative frame for your door, welcoming visitors while serving as a grand entrance.

You can also glam up your door by adding metal house numbers, which you can find for as low as $5 a number. Manausa also suggests adding a wreath or seasonal decorations to your door as a bonus.

house number
Photo from Zillow listing.

Replace your house numbers

If you’d rather not add house numbers to your freshly painted door, here are some alternative DIY ideas:

  • Paint a terra-cotta planter with your house number and place it by your doorstep.
  • Add house numbers to a post planter near your front porch.
  • Make use of your front porch stair riser’s real estate by hanging or painting numbers there.

Update your light fixtures

Replacing your exterior light fixtures is another curb appeal must. You can usually find outdoor sconces for around $20 at home centers. Just make sure your new light fixtures have the same mounting system. And if you want to save on lighting, a fresh finish can do wonders. Try spray-painting them — a can of spray paint costs around $10.

Be deliberate about porch furniture

Manausa advises homeowners to limit their use of personal decor and furniture. Just as you would aim to simplify the interior of your home when your house is on the market, the exterior of your home should allow prospective buyers to envision their style in the space.

Photo from Shutterstock.

“Porch furniture and decor, if its appearance is attractive, should be used to give a potential buyer the possibilities of using the outdoor space – but it should be minimal,” says Manausa. “Outdoor pillows and cushions are an easy way to give color and life to furniture.”

So put your pink flamingo and wind chime collection into storage and focus on porch decor that offer pops of color and character. You can find brightly colored outdoor chairs for $20 to $30 each.

Quick changes

If our favorite tips to upping your home’s curb appeal leave you wanting more, be sure to attempt these bonus ideas for the ultimate curb appeal style on the block:

  • Upgrade your mailbox. Install a new mailbox for under $100, or spray paint your existing mailbox.
  • Plant a tree. Make sure you know how large the tree will grow first, but planting a tree adds to your curb appeal for as low as $20.
  • Build a tree bench. Already have a tree you love in your front yard? Build a wraparound tree bench. Great for napping, picnicking, or just hiding exposed roots, a tree bench will just cost what you spend on boards and screws.
  • Install flower boxes. For around $20 each, flower boxes are a quick way to add some life and color to your house windows. If you don’t want to worry about installing flower boxes, try out a container garden in pots by your front porch.
  • Hide eyesores. Place a small lattice fence or side of paneling around your air conditioner to avoid an appliance eyesore, and hide your trash bins behind a small fence or by building a garbage can shed. You can also hide your hose in a pot or storage bench.
Top image from Zillow listing.

About the author

Sarah Pike

Sarah Pike is a freelancer, writing teacher, and new homeowner. When she’s not writing, teaching, or obsessively organizing her home, she’s probably binge-watching RomComs or reading home decor magazines. She also enjoys following far too many celebrities than she should on Instagram. You can find Sarah on Twitter at @sarahzpike.

5 DIY Home Improvement Projects and When You Should Call a Pro

As a homeowner, there are many improvements you would like to tackle on your own. Doing things yourself is an excellent way to save money on your overall home ownership costs. However, even simple projects, such as painting, may require a helping hand if your safety or the structure of your home could be compromised by mistakes. These are five such tasks to evaluate and then proceed or call a professional.

1. Painting. The simple act of painting a room isn’t difficult and its project that even new homeowners shouldn’t be afraid to tackle under the right circumstances. But there are dangers that must be considered prior to popping open a paint can. True Value Hardware cautions that working around electrical outlets may require turning off the power. Additionally, some interior paints may trigger respiratory issues in those sensitive to volatile organic compounds. Room height is another aspect to consider. If you have vaulted ceilings or must paint in a stairwell, it’s probably best to pay a professional.

2. Roof repair. Your roof is one of the most important components of your home and is its first line of defense against rain, sleet and snow. Check your roof once each year for loose or missing shingles. These can easily be replaced. Anything more advanced should be referred to a licensed roof repair contractor. Asphalt roof repairs are typically not that expensive, costing between $269 and $825, according to HomeAdvisor. If the repairs needed are less than your insurance deductible, it makes sense to pay out-of-pocket. However, if the damage is significant, call your insurance company.

3. Deck. Your outdoor recreation is important to your overall quality of life. A deck or patio can increase your living space seasonally and, depending on its location, is a great DIY project for those comfortable with hand tools. Many big-box retailers offer detailed instructions on how to design, layout, and build a professional-quality deck with common materials. . This is not a quick-fix project and multiple days and at least two people working several hours each day before completion. Never attempt to build a second-story deck unless you have extensive carpentry experience. Ground-level projects, however, are a great learning experience.

4. Bathroom remodel. Many minor bathroom-remodeling jobs can be done in a single afternoon and cost less than $100. Installing a new toilet, adding modern cabinet hardware, or replacing a large bathroom mirror can instantly update this important room. Be careful when doing plumbing work, however, as even minor leaks behind the wall can result in significant structural damage and require expensive repairs later down the road.

5. Kitchen cabinets. The kitchen is one of the most used rooms in the home and also one that tends to suffer from quickly changing design trends. Give your kitchen a face-lift by painting the cabinets and adding brushed nickel hinges, knobs and drawer pulls. If your kitchen countertops are less than appealing, a contractor is your best bet for replacement. This requires meticulous calculations in order to properly cut the countertop material to fit correctly around the sink. Porch.com offers more advice on when to tackle this on your own and when to call an experienced contractor.

Many minor to mid-grade home improvement projects can significantly increase the value and livability of your property. But, even seemingly simple tasks are not without their risks. Before you begin any improvement or upgrade, first evaluate your safety and the cost of doing it yourself versus calling an expert. There are plenty of projects to go around so rest assured, there will always be something for you even if you have to call the pros for these.

Image via Pixabay

Blog Courtesy of Seth Murphy

Image via Unsplash

It’s no fun paying for renovations that you don’t get to enjoy yourself. Nevertheless, many sellers have no choice but to remodel before listing. But just because a home needs updates doesn’t mean it needs a total overhaul. Here’s how you can determine which projects are worth the money.

First, decide what asking price you want to set for your house. If you’re comfortable accepting a lower offer, you won’t have to put as much effort into cosmetic updates. Instead, you can focus your energy on fixing issues that might turn buyers away.

However, if getting the best price is a priority, you’ll need to offer all the same bells and whistles as other homes in your target price range. Review local listings to see what homes of a similar age and square footage are selling for, and use that data to inform your price point.

Next, determine where your money will have the biggest impact. There’s no point spending money on renovations that buyers won’t pay more for. The exception is major issues that affect a home’s livability, like a damaged roof. Most buyers don’t want a home that needs immediate attention, and those who do are likely to make a lowball offer due to the hassle. It’s worth your while to take care of repairs that ensure your home is ready to sell.

Conventional wisdom says that the kitchen and master bathroom are the most important rooms in any home. Buyers are reluctant to overlook problems in these rooms, especially if other homes offer the features they want. Sellers should also focus on the areas prospective buyers see first: the front yard, entryway, and living room. It’s hard to recover from a poor first impression, so it’s important that these areas look their best.

Finally, use Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report to determine which home improvement projects offer the greatest return on investment. While it’s rare to recoup 100 percent on any project, strategic improvements can increase your pool of buyers and shorten time spent on the market, all while minimizing the hit to your budget.

If you’re still not sure which renovations are a good investment, consider these improvements that can increase a home’s resale value:

Major Renovations

  • Roof repairs: If your roof is over 20 years old, has buckling or missing shingles, or shingle granules accumulating in the gutter, it’s time to pay for a new roof.
  • HVAC repair: You’re unlikely to get past the first open house if the heat or air conditioning isn’t working properly. Consider ENERGY STAR’s signs that it’s time to replace HVAC equipment.
  • New appliances: If your appliances scream 1990, it’s worthwhile to upgrade before listing. Most buyers want stainless steel appliances; opt for mid-range models unless you’re selling in a luxury market.

Mid-Range Jobs

  • New lighting fixtures: It’s hard to show off your home in its best light if there’s not much light to speak of. If lighting issues can’t be fixed with higher-wattage bulbs, you may need to replace or add fixtures.
  • Flooring replacement: Floors that are stained, scratched, or just outdated have a big impact on your home’s overall appearance.
  • New garage door: The garage door is a significant part of your home’s facade. If yours is damaged, outdated, or has stopped working, hire a pro to repair or replace it.

Low-Budget and DIY Projects

  • Painting: Garish colors or dated wallpaper are major turn-offs. A fresh coat of paint in muted, neutral hues offers broad appeal.
  • Floor refinishing: Some flooring problems can be fixed through refinishing, rather than replacing, especially when it comes to hardwood.
  • Landscaping: Make sure your curb appeal is drawing buyers in, not turning them away, by tidying the lawn, installing evergreen plants, and lighting the way with low-voltage landscape lights.

Ultimately, the decision of what to renovate before selling depends on the real estate market, your home’s condition, and the price you hope to get for your home. While it’s always wise to do your own research, your realtor will have the most knowledge about the features that matter in your local market. Talk to your agent about what buyers are looking for so you can spend your money where it counts.

Blog Courtesy of Seth Murphy

5 Steps to a Healthier Home

Believe it or not, being healthy at home isn’t just about what’s happening in your fridge. Sure, it’s a good starting point, but there are actually many ways to create a pro-health environment throughout your home. Here are five simple ways to start.

  1. Declutter the kitchen. In this case, we’re not talking about knickknacks—we’re talking about food. Go through your cabinets, pantry, fridge and freezer and say goodbye to anything that’s been lingering for way too long. Donate canned goods you’ve been saving ‘just in case,’ get rid of freezer-burned processed meals and old packages of crackers and snacks. Once your shelves are cleared out, start buying and eating mostly fresh items, picking up just what you need every couple of days as opposed to doing a mega shopping every couple of weeks.
  2. Honor your eating area. If you’re wolfing down meals standing up at the kitchen counter or on the sofa in front of the TV, it’s likely that you’ve adopted some poor eating habits. Make sure your dining space is set to sit down and enjoy a mindful eating experience that includes quality time with your loved ones, as well. Not only will this lead to eating better prepared, healthier meals, it will force you to eat more slowly, which will help you avoid overeating.
  3. Check the air quality in your most-frequented space. Whether it’s the living room or family room, make sure the air is healthy in the room in which you spend the most time. Dust and vacuum more often than usual (especially if you have pets or use a fireplace frequently), open the windows to circulate air, or use an air purifier or salt rocks to remove impurities. Add some houseplants to help absorb carbon dioxide and release additional oxygen.
  4. Carve a restorative niche. Whether it’s a small workout area, or a reading and meditation nook, everyone needs to build their own private space within the busy walls of their home. Whether it’s for exercise or simply quiet time, having a mini-escape right at home is essential to both your physical and mental well-being.
  5. Create a rest-inducing bedroom. Many of us aren’t getting enough sleep, which is at the root of a wide variety of health problems. Do a quick analysis of your sleeping quarters to make sure they’re conducive to a good night’s rest: Is your mattress well-suited for your sleeping needs? Is there a television that needs to go? Is the temperature cool enough? Is an after-hours quiet zone enforced? If not, get your bedroom in sleeping shape pronto.

These five steps will help ensure your home is designed to serve both your physical and emotional health.