Author Archives: James Silver

Is Buying a Historic Home Right for You?


Hold on there, architecture aficionado! Consider these factors before making history your home.

Some home buyers want new, modern and move-in ready. Others prefer older homes, with character and charm they can’t find in new construction. If you’re interested in historic homes, take these factors into consideration as you shop.

Historic neighborhoods often impose restrictions

Many towns throughout the U.S. have zoning and planning commissions that, among other things, set out to preserve and protect historic homes and neighborhoods.

As a result, renovating and altering a historic home — particularly the building’s facade — will require a separate layer of approval and sometimes bureaucracy. If you buy a 100-year-old home, you may not be able to renovate it the way you want, and that is a serious consideration.

Some landmark or historic districts retain an immense amount of control. As a result, renovations and planning can take longer and cost more. If you’re purchasing a historic home with intentions to renovate, you should consult both an architect and town officials.

Recreating architecture from the past can be challenging — and expensive

Let’s consider the example of Victorian-era homes. Contractors and home builders constructed Victorian homes through the mid to late 19th century, often with materials that are no longer in use today.

If you buy a home in less-than-perfect condition, finding the wainscoting, picture rails, crown moldings, and richly decorative and ornate features common in Victorian architecture can be tricky. Architectural salvage companies can track down these materials, but there’s often a steep cost attached.

Repair and maintenance needs could be extensive

Most buyers want move-in ready homes because they don’t have the time, money or energy to embark on a renovation project. These buyers also don’t want to be burdened with systems going out or having to live with older or outdated technology. For them, it’s a quality of life issue.

If you want a historic home, you need to have a maintenance strategy in mind. Unless you plan to do major renovations or updates (subject to any landmark or historic area regulations), you have to be ready to address issues that arise. Broken systems, leaks or flaws mean time and money.

For history buffs, no amount of time commitment or money will stand between them and a one-of-a-kind home. That person appreciates the architecture and knows that intensive maintenance is par for the course. If you don’t share that appreciation, a historic home is not right for you.

BRENDON DESIMONE

Brendon DeSimone is the author of Next Generation Real Estate: New Rules for Smarter Home Buying & Faster Selling. A 15-year veteran of the residential real estate industry and a nationally recognized real estate expert, Brendon has completed hundreds of transactions totaling more than $250M. His expert advice is often sought out by reporters and journalists in both local and national press. Brendon is a regularly featured guest on major television networks and programs including CNBC, FOX News, Bloomberg, Good Morning America, ABC’s 20/20 and HGTV. Brendon is the manager of the Bedford and Pound Ridge offices of Houlihan Lawrence, the leading real estate brokerage north of New York City.

3 Must-Do’s Before Listing Your House for Sale

When it comes to first impressions, the little things make all the difference.

Planning to sell your house this year? Now’s the perfect time to prep it for listing!

Set aside a couple of weekends to do the work, and follow these three steps. Then, get ready to make a great impression on potential buyers and cinch the deal.

Step 1: Clean and declutter

It may sound obvious, but the importance of cleaning and decluttering cannot be overstated. Here are some ideas to make this process nearly painless.

  • Eliminate clutter before cleaning: This is the time to purge your house of unwanted and unnecessary items. In addition to donating items to charity, consider giving them away through Craigslist or neighborhood sharing groups. Recyclers are often willing to pick up and haul away large metal items for free.
  • Deep clean your house: This step will probably involve the biggest time investment. Get the whole family involved if you can! Think of this as a pumped-up spring cleaning. Pay special attention to kitchens and bathrooms, and clean the inside and outside of your windows — this makes a striking improvement in the overall appearance of your house.
  • Organize closets, cabinets and drawers: In this case, out of sight is not out of mind. Many potential buyers will open cabinets and closets, because they are thinking about storage space. Clean and organized storage areas signal to buyers that you take care of the house.

Step 2: Make small repairs

Take care of these problems before you show the house for the first time. These are all fixes that you can do yourself.

  • Fix any leaking faucets and running toilets.
  • Replace caulking around tubs, showers and sinks.
  • Freshen up or repair grout as needed.
  • Repair walls and repaint them in a neutral, generally pleasing color that complements your home.
  • Fix cracked or broken windows.
  • Replace or repair damaged window screens.
  • Replace burned-out lightbulbs.

Step 3: Go for curb appeal

You want potential buyers to be charmed by the outside of your house so they look forward to coming inside. Extend your pumped-up spring cleaning to the outside of your house too.

  • Trim bushes, shrubs and trees. Make sure vegetation isn’t touching your roof or siding.
  • Repair broken downspouts and gutters.
  • If it’s appropriate for your yard, apply new mulch, river rock and/or pea gravel. This can do wonders for your landscaping and provide immediate curb appeal.
  • Clean and repair concrete areas, such as driveways and walkways. Eliminate any oil or grease stains, and clean out any weeds coming up through the cracks.
  • If it’s seasonally appropriate, put out some pots of annuals, which will maintain their color for the season. Freshen up your doorstep with a new welcome mat and make sure the house numbers are easy to see.

With just a moderate amount of effort, you can make your house beautiful and welcoming, both inside and out.

 

About the author

See Jane Drill

See Jane Drill has been teaching and empowering homeowners to take care of their own homes since 2013. With easy-to-follow tutorials and detailed explanations on a wide variety of home repairs, they encourage everyone, including beginners, to become a DIY-er and save money! They produce a new DIY video every week. Follow See Jane Drill on YouTube and Facebook.

8 Curb Appeal Boosters You Can Do in a Weekend

 

Win home shoppers over before they even think about stepping foot inside.

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

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

The easiest way to enhance curb appeal is dedicating a weekend to deep cleaning your home’s exterior.

Sure, you’ll want to trim bushes, sweep and mow your lawn, but there’s 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 are caked on your home’s exterior, you can rent a powerwasher for around $50 to $75 a day. Just avoid areas with caulking, like windows and doors, because you can strip some of the sealing. And as tempting as it may be to powerwash your roof, don’t do it —  you may damage the shingles’ coating.

When it comes to your windows, spraying them with a garden hose isn’t enough. 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 are an easy way to accentuate the size of your windows. They make your windows look larger and add visual interest by disrupting a bland exterior wall. For maximum curb appeal, choose a shutter color that contrasts with your home’s color to make it pop.

Paint accent areas

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

You can typically find a gallon of exterior paint for $20 to $30. But before you decide on a color, consider home exterior color trends, along with your home’s natural style.

Give your door a face lift

If you don’t love your front door, you don’t need to dish out loads of money to replace it. Think beyond paint — consider adding molding, which offers a decorative frame for your door that welcomes visitors.

You can also add metal house numbers, which you can find for as low as $5 a number. And if seasonally appropriate, consider adding a wreath to your door as a bonus.

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.
  • Use 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.

Keep porch furniture neutral

Just as you would aim to simplify the interior of your home so shoppers can envision themselves living there, the exterior of your home should be neutral and welcoming too.

Put your pink flamingo and wind chime collection into storage, and focus on porch decor that offers pops of color and character. You can find brightly colored outdoor chairs or throw pillows for $20 to $30 each.

Don’t forget the small things

These low-budget fixes make a big impact, so don’t forget the little details!

  • Upgrade your mailbox: Install a new mailbox for under $100, or spray paint your existing mailbox.
  • Plant a tree: A charming tree can up your curb appeal for as low as $20.
  • Build a tree bench: If you already have a tree you love, build a bench around it! Great for napping, picnicking or just hiding exposed roots, a wraparound tree bench costs only 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 windows. If flower boxes sound like too much work, try a container garden in pots by your front porch.
  • Hide eyesores: Place a small lattice fence or a side of paneling around your air conditioner, and hide your trash bins behind a small fence. You can also hide your hose in a pot or storage bench.

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.

Meet the Clutter Scale: One Pro’s Secret to a More Intentional Home

On a scale of 1 to 5, how much do you need to declutter? Dorothy Breininger shares a favorite tip for cleaning up.

Although I have always been organized, there were two significant moments in my life that taught me how to manage clutter.

The first was when I returned from a backpacking trip around the world. Having visited homes in many developing nations, I no longer wanted to have such excess in my own home. My possessions were organized, but I had too many of them for my taste.

After I unpacked from my journey, I began a thorough review of my stuff. I started upstairs, removing unnecessary items floor by floor. By the time I reached the basement, I had enough stuff to set up a second apartment.

My second decluttering lesson was right after my divorce. Just months after the split, I was facing bankruptcy. I began my climb out of sudden and severe financial debt while simultaneously making a name for myself in the organizing industry. I hired a top-tier PR agent, but I knew I had to come up with some big bucks to cover his fee and all the expenses that go along with creating a brand. I decided to sell my home and everything I owned to make it happen.

As I sorted my belongings for a second time, I created the ranking system below to help me decide what to keep and what to toss. It worked beautifully for me, and I think it can work for you too.

The clutter scale

5 — Important items whose place in your home is non-negotiable. For me, this included my green-stained Depression glass, photos, business files, office equipment and car.

4 — Items that are difficult to replace and items you use every day. This pile included most of my clothes, some furniture, a favorite sheet set, towels and jewelry.

3 — Items you use occasionally but haven’t used within the last six months.

2 — Items you rarely use but feel hesitant to toss.

1 — Items you never use, like seasonal items, specialized tools or kitchen gadgets. I got rid of stationery, extra wrapping paper, old boxes and my printer.

You know what I found as I used the clutter scale? There were rarely items that rated a 2 or 3. And once I established some criteria, I sorted and purged the 2s and 3s like never before. As you sort your less important items, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I love it?
  • What’s the special story behind it?
  • Do I have the space for it?
  • Can I replace it?
  • Can I easily borrow it or rent it if I need it again?
  • Does it support my goals and values?
  • Does it compare to the items I ranked as a 5?

The clutter scale is a great way to get back in touch with your priorities. My priority at the time was starting my business, so I kept the bigger goal in sight and let go of anything that didn’t support it.

What I didn’t know then was that I was already practicing what I was going to preach in my business. I learned to organize my life and stuff based on my values. I chose to collect experiences — not things.

As you declutter and rank your possessions, don’t forget to take a few minutes to think about your goals and values. You’ll find your home to be much more intentional and peaceful if you do!

 

DorothyTheOrganizer

DorothyTheOrganizer (Dorothy Breininger) is America’s most innovative organizer and can be seen weekly on the critically acclaimed, Emmy-nominated show “Hoarders” on A&E. She also appears on The Doctors, The Dr. Phil Show and The View. Creating organization solutions that change people’s lives is her passion. Follow DorothyTheOrganizer on Facebook and Twitter.

Is it time to say goodbye to shiplap and millennial pink? This design expert weighs in.

As we flip to the last pages of our 2018 calendar, it’s time to look at interior design trends on the rise — and say goodbye to those on their way out in 2019.

Here are our predictions about what’s in and what’s out in the year to come.

What’s in

Warm modernism

It’s official — many regions throughout the U.S. are choosing a modern aesthetic over a rustic style.

While black-and-white contrast and raw materials like steel and wood will continue to be popular, they’ll be softened by color and asymmetry. These modern elements will have a fresh approachability when surrounded by sun-soaked fabrics and natural wallcoverings.

Effortless technology and transformations

Talk-to-me tech products help you get things done with your voice, and homeowners are using them to modernize their daily routine.

In 2019 you’ll see smart faucets, fans, window coverings and appliances paired with popular platforms — Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Apple HomePod — for a convenient, connected home.

Additionally, products that offer easy installation and seamless integration into existing layouts make projects remodel-friendly. Innovative sinks, faucets, medicine cabinets, appliances and lighting provide a quick transformation to refresh the style and functionality of your space.

Om sweet home

Though talk-to-me tech is trending, some will be looking for ways to escape the chatter.

Meditative and sound-barrier features will appear in more homes this year — think transformative experiences using acoustic panels, colored lights and aura effects. Ethereal, sheer and translucent fabrics will support the aesthetic, pairing an organic feel with the benefits and convenience of select technology.

Industrial style

Concrete, quartz and metal lovers, rejoice! Industrial styles are predicted to rise in popularity in 2019.

Matte black and bronze continue to dominate and complement a more industrial vibe. But when selecting wall colors, appliances, faucet finishes and fabrics, consider the possibilities of moody blues and the gray color spectrum. From warm light grays to the coolness of matte black, these tones add a subtle layer of intrigue and distinction.

Plus, black and charcoal gray front doors could earn up to $6,271 more when selling your home!

Organic maker accents

Handmade details can immediately soften an interior. This year you’ll see rhythmic patterns and imperfect lines incorporated through hand-painting, stitching and detailing, expanding the possibilities for endless mixing and matching in the home. Additionally, fabrics and accents with strands of crystal, wooden and pearlescent beads present a sophisticated flair for artful detail.

Home decor favorites will still include earthy elements and nubby textures. Think neutral naturals by simply adding a wooden side table and sculpture, live and fake plants for color, and natural fibers through rugs and fabrics.

What’s out

Rustic

Is America finally over the “Fixer Upper” movement? Not quite, but the rustic, farmhouse-chic elements are getting refined.

The shiplap-crazy trend seems to be leaning toward a modern twist, simplifying layers of the look. Cutesy barn doors will take a backseat to more modern versions featuring glass and metal instead of reclaimed barn wood.

The signature statement range hood covered in rustic materials will swing to simplified finishes, like brushed brass, stainless and matte black. Lastly, the harsh light of the Edison bulb will move to a more complementary glow, reflecting concealed bulbs versus exposed ones.

Millennial pink

Bold, trendy color schemes are likely on the way out, with more subtle earth tones and cool, classic palettes on the rise.

Blues and neutrals continue to top Zillow trend reports, adding higher dollar values related to home sales when used in kitchen and bathroom areas. While millennial pink may have been all the rage on designer Instagram feeds, people don’t actually want to live with it throughout their homes.

Whether trends inspire you or not, it’s important to be aware of them, because they help shape our own personal interior style. If you love purple gingham in your dining room, go for it. If an all-white interior speaks to you, celebrate it.

Our homes are where we express ourselves and tell our unique style story, so I encourage you to do just that in the new year.

Kerrie Kelly

Kerrie Kelly is a Northern California interior designer and the founder of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab.She is an award-winning interior designer, multimedia consultant and an author of two books: “Home Décor: A Sunset Design Guide” and “My Interior Design Kit,” with Pearson Professional and Career Education.

A Psychologist’s Secrets To Making New Year’s Resolutions Stick

Research suggests that approximately half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions yet only 8% actually achieve them.

How can you join this elite few? How can you actually follow through on your plan to lose weight, get organized or to spend less and save more?

Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down to lunch with noted behavioral psychologist, Dr. Paul Marciano. Dr. Marciano is the author of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work and specializes in the area of behavior modification and motivation.

In a wide ranging conversation around goal-setting and behavior change, I noted seven pieces of advice.

1. Clearly define your goals. Many people in the spirit of New Year’s loudly proclaim, “This is the year I’m going to finally get in shape.” But what does that mean? Do you intend to lose a certain number of pounds? Reach a body-fat percentage goal? Run three miles without rest? Bang out 10 pull-ups? Dr. Marciano is a fan of goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART). The first step to behavior change is to clearly understand what “it” is.

2. Track your progress. “If you can measure it, you can change it” is a fundamental principal of psychology. These measurements will be a source of motivation as you reflect on where you started and where you are. They will also help you to identify plateaus or “sticking points” in your progress so you can adjust your efforts.

3. Have patience. You must set realistic goals and realize that progress is never linear. Some people will see rapid gains only to hit resistance later in their efforts. For others, initial progress may be painfully slow but then they suddenly achieve rapid breakthroughs. Making lasting changes takes time.

4. Publicize your goals to friends and family. As embarrassing as it might be to announce your specific resolution to the world, social support is critical. Yes, it takes some personal courage and vulnerability to share something that you might actually fail at, but to dramatically increase your odds of success you’ll want support from those around you.

5. Put it on your schedule. How often do you hear people say they can’t “find the time” to do something. Nobody finds time. We all choose to spend our time the way we do—whether that’s eating junk food or going to a spin class. Make your new goals a priority and actually schedule them into your calendar. If you have a fitness goal schedule time for your workouts. If you want to declutter, schedule time to clean out your closet on your calendar. If you want to save money, put in a weekly budget review onto your Sunday afternoons. Think of these time blocks as important appointments—just like an appointment with a doctor. Don’t automatically schedule something else over them. That which is scheduled gets done.

6. Stop “all or nothing” thinking; it’s better do something than nothing. Are you guilty of “all or nothing” thinking? Do you ever think, “Well, I might as well get dessert since I already ate those French fries?” And then, “I blew my diet last night so I’ll just restart it next week.” The difference between doing something rather than nothing is huge. If you don’t have a full hour to workout at the gym, just decide to make it the best 20-minutes you can. If you have a slight cold or minor injury, decide to just walk the track for a couple miles. If you have a financial emergency and can’t save your full 10% this month, just save what you can. The bottom line is, any effort towards your goal is better than no effort.

7. Get up, when you slip up. None of us are perfect. As the great Vince Lombardi said, “It isn’t whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.” Resiliency is the key. Don’t turn relapses or temporary failures into total meltdowns or excuses for giving up. Instead, just acknowledge the mistake and recommit to the path.

Dr. Marciano firmly believes that achieving our goals isn’t about willpower. It’s about developing the right skills and strategies that, with patience, will lead to success. Keep these seven secrets in mind in 2016, and you’ll join the elite 8% who will be celebrating their success later in the year.

Kevin Kruse is a bestselling author and keynote speaker. His new book is 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management: The Productivity Habits of 7 Billionaires, 13 Olympic Athletes, 29 Straight-A Students, and 239 Entrepreneurs.

9 Tips for Achieving Maximum Coziness

Gray skies don’t have to mean a drab indoor life.

As fall continues and the days become shorter, it’s too tempting to just hibernate until spring. But there is, indeed, joy to be found in the quieter months of the year.

Perhaps it’s a bit overdone to talk about the art of hygge, that untranslatable Danish word that references the feeling of being ultra-cozy and content.

The thing is, the Danes know how to thrive in winter. You might already know they’re the happiest people on earth, but did you know a lot of them attribute their unseasonably sunny outlook to their home- and self-care habits?

When it’s cold and rainy out, you might hear the siren song of your favorite streaming service. Ahh, sweet, solitary binge-watching! But if you’d like a more satisfying way to spend a chilly evening, here are a few ideas to channel the Danes’ wisdom and make an intentionally delightful day out of drab weather.

1. Set the mood

Candles are a key ingredient to a supremely comfortable atmosphere. Not only do they provide beautiful, soft lighting, but they also add warmth and scent to your space.

Tip: Choose seasonal scents to inspire celebration, or choose a summery scent, such as coconut and floral, to help combat the seasonal blues.

2. Bake something

Cake is central to the cozy experience. But it doesn’t just begin when you eat the cake (or cookies or pie) — it begins when you buy the ingredients.

Go to your favorite market, choose your ingredients carefully, and mix them with great care, taking your time to enjoy the task at hand. It’s just a bonus that your baking will flood your space with delicious smells — and taste good too.

Tip: Call up a friend or family member whose recipes deserve appreciation, and ask if they could show you how to work out their spectacular skills. Baking together makes for a lovely afternoon, no matter the weather!

3. Add texture

Plush throws, sheepskins and cushions make for a much more inviting space. Cover your surfaces in as many luxurious fabrics and pillows as you can find and snuggle down.

Tip: Faux is just as fashionable as the real thing. If cost prohibits, find inexpensive alternatives.

4. Invite people over

Do you tend to hide from your friends as soon as October hits? Fight the urge to retreat, and invite your nearest and dearest (or those you want to know better) over to share your coziness. Bonus: Ask them to bring a bottle of your favorite autumnal beverage!

Tip: Low on funds but want to host a dinner party? Ask everyone to bring an ingredient for stew, and make it together.

5. Get out the board games

They gather dust all year, so make use of them now! For the minimalists among us, a deck of cards is a highly versatile recreational object to keep around. No one to play with? Try your hand at a game of solitaire — analog style.

Tip: Have long-distance friends and loved ones? There are many gaming apps that you can play from all over the world. Start up a game and maintain your connections year-round!

6. Perfect your hot drink game

Hot cocoa, hot toddies, apple cider, mulled wine — pick your poison. Whatever it is, find your own special recipe that is so delicious you can’t wait to show it off. Then have those aforementioned friends over again!

Tip: Why, yes, you can put whiskey in those drinks. But it’s usually a good idea to perfect a mocktail version, too, for friends who don’t imbibe.

7. Embrace sweater weather

If you don’t already have a favorite sweater, it’s time to find one. It should be something that makes you feel at home when you slip it on. Cashmere, wool, mohair — anything will do. Whatever you choose, pair it with thick socks!

Tip: Start a knitting, crocheting or weaving circle, and make your own sweater over the course of the winter. It’s easier to get through lengthy projects when you’re sitting beside a friend — and it’s a great excuse to get together every week, no matter the weather.

8. Curate your cold-outside playlist

Make yourself a mix of music that inspires you to do all those things that make you feel absolutely endeared to your space. Put it on shuffle, relax, repeat.

Tip: Instrumentals are classics for a reason — they can work as background for just about anything. When in doubt, most music services have pre-made playlists, some of which you can filter by mood.

9. Do seasonal activities

Making caramel apples? Check. Carving pumpkins? Check. Canning, puddle jumping, sledding, walking through string-light-wrapped neighborhoods? Check!

Whatever your favorite seasonal treats might be, set some dates to make them happen and feel the magic of even the most blah weather wash over you.

Tip: This is a great way to involve kids in seasonal celebration. If you don’t have children of your own, hosting a kid-friendly event (such as pumpkin painting) is a lovely way to connect with friends with little ones. Not a fan of cleaning up after the kids? Offer them a treat in exchange for cleaning up. Everybody wins.

 

Author

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