Five Tips on How to Sell Your Home in a Competitive Market

Five Tips on How to Sell Your Home in a Competitive Market

What does it take to sell a home in a competitive market – a fresh coat of paint or a kitchen overhaul? Lowering the asking price or offering incentives?

What does it take to sell a home in a competitive market – a fresh coat of paint or a kitchen overhaul? Lowering the asking price or offering incentives? From cosmetic to strategic, smart sellers can take advantage of a few simple tips to get the most out of their properties. Here are five suggestions on how to help secure a “sold” sign:

Price Point is Paramount When getting ready to put a home on the market, determining the right listing price is the number one most important element in the home selling process. After you have carefully chosen an agent, the trust you have established will come into play immediately. Have those tough discussions with your agent about where to price your home. Make certain you understand how the agent has arrived at the price, including how previous sales and current homes on the market make an impact. If necessary, jump in the car with your agent and see some of the homes on the market in the area. This will provide first hand knowledge on homes that are available in your neighborhood.

Appeal to Your Audience Work with your agent to determine how to get your home to stand out. Providing incentives is a great way to draw in potential home buyers, and monetary bonuses don’t just have to come from negotiation of the listing price. Sellers can also choose to contribute to closing costs, or conduct pre-home inspections, which can comfort potential home buyers in knowing that the property is in top shape.

Leave a Great First Impression Everyone talks about curb appeal, but a first impression is truly lasting. Remember, your agent is your trusted advisor. They will know the necessary updates and upkeep you should make to get the home ready for showings. But some of this is fairly easy and the front door is particularly important. This is the area where a buyer will first step up to a home – and likely wait for a moment providing time to look around. Do this ahead of time, stand directly in the front door and look up and around at the home from all angles – cobwebs that have not been noticed in years could be the first thing greeting a potential home buyer, so it’s important for this area to give a great first impression.

Everything is in the Visual Don’t underestimate the power of visuals in marketing your home. The National Association of Realtors found that, more than 90 percent of home buyers begin their search online. Your agent may push hard for you to have the home prepared for vivid pictures and video of the property that can be posted on websites such as Coldwell Banker On Location

Hit the Right Note with all Five Senses When a buyer comes to look at a home they want the full experience. To help a home stand out, your agent may ask you to focus on appealing to all five senses. Small and inexpensive upgrades to the home such as getting the walls painted, de-cluttering and making minor improvements to the outdoor landscape. In terms of “touch,” remember that buyers aren’t just going to look – they’ll be turning on your faucets and opening closets, so make sure closets are clean and organized. When it comes to making a home smell good, many agents prefer the smell of baked goods rather than fresh flowers or air fresheners which can be overwhelming. All of this is being done to allow the buyer to properly visualize living in the home.

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The Home Improvement Projects DIYers Regret the Most—You’ll Never Guess No. 1

The Home Improvement Projects DIYers Regret the Most—You’ll Never Guess No. 1

Binge-watching HGTV home improvement shows can make it look so easy—even enjoyable—to do anything from retiling a bathroom to repainting the living room. Heck, it even seems like it might make financial sense to forgo the pricy professionals altogether. What could go wrong?

Those famous last words have led nearly two-thirds of do-it-yourselfers to regret not calling an expert on at least one home improvement project, according to a recent survey from ImproveNet. The online home services marketplace surveyed 2,000 Americans in November who had attempted at least one DIY renovation project.

The average DIY enthusiast attempted eight projects, according to the survey. And about a third of them had to later hire a professional to redo the job—which can cost more than if they’d hired a professional from the start.

“People should educate themselves about what they’re getting into and what the common pitfalls are,” says Andy Kerns, creative director at Digital Third Coast, which teamed up with ImproveNet to do the survey. “It’s natural for people to expect things to go smoothly, especially if they’re not experienced contractors. [But] rather than just jumping in, people should find out what’s happened when things didn’t go well for others.”

Folks with no experience can start with a simple, low-stakes project, and go from there, says Joanne Theunissen, the remodeling chair of the National Association of Home Builders.

“We have seen people take on a lot more than they could deal with,” says Theunissen, also the co-owner of Howling Hammer Builders, a Mount Pleasant, MI–based remodeler and custom builder. “Be cautious. If it looks easy on TV, understand it’s not [in real life].”

Which projects did folks regret doing themselves the most?

If you don’t have experience installing floor tiles, you may want to start slow, rather than in the master bath: That was ranked the most regretted home improvement project by survey participants.

“It’s so difficult, and there are so many steps to getting it right,” says Theunissen. “If you think you want to try, buy an old table and see if you can put ceramic tile on the top, getting it level and grouted correctly. And if doesn’t work, throw it away. You’re not out much.”

The rest of the top 10 most regretted DIY home improvement projects were replacing a ceiling; refinishing hardwood floors; installing carpets; finishing basements; installing hardwood floors; refinishing cabinetry; installing sprinklers; installing showers and baths; and painting home interiors.

Why were these DIY projects so regrettable?

The majority of DIYers, 55%, said their projects took longer to complete than they expected. The ones that ran over more than anticipated the most were repairing home foundations, installing outdoor patios and walkways, and painting the exteriors of their homes.

Meanwhile, about 50% of do-it-yourselfers said their improvements were physically more difficult than anticipated, particularly when it came to installing roofs, landscaping, or installing patios and walkways. And 48% said their endeavors were technically harder than they had counted on, and 17% said they cost more than they had assumed.

Some projects even caused harm to their homes—and themselves. About 8% said their places were damaged as a result of the undertakings, mostly with repairing foundations, replacing ceilings, and installing roofs. And 6% were injured in the process. So be careful with installing fireplaces and windows and repairing foundations!

“A lot of people do very nice work, but you have to be really aware of what your skills are,” says Theunissen.

So what was the top reason folks were disappointed in the fruits of their blood, sweat, and now tears? About 55% of respondents said the finished project simply didn’t look as good as they had hoped. These folks were the most dissatisfied with their interior paint jobs, floor tile installations, and hardwood floor installations.

There Goes the Neighborhood: Watch Out for These 7 Red Flags When Buying a Home

Finally, you’ve done it: You’ve scoured the market for available homes—and then some—and found one you can’t stop thinking about. It’s time to make an offer!

But before you put your money on the line, take a peek around the neighborhood. We won’t use a certain cliché, but there is a reason the pros emphasize location when buying real estate. You can change your house—but you can’t change the neighborhood. And if your hood is on the decline, you just might have a helluva time offloading your home when it’s time;

A bad neighborhood isn’t always obvious, though; sometimes you need to do a little digging to know if a community is worth buying in. Luckily, we’ve identified seven red flags that should give you pause before you sign on the dotted line.

Red flag No.1: Too many houses are on the market

There’s nothing wrong with two or three listed houses on the same street. But if you see an army of “For Sale” signs, consider looking elsewhere.

“This points to illiquidity in the market and pricing pressure, which is a risk for buyers,” says Alison Bernstein, the founder of Suburban Jungle, which helps families find their ideal suburb.

Red flag No.2: The schools are enrolling fewer students

Schools in healthy communities should be steadily increasing their enrollment—or at least keeping the population steady, if there’s no physical room to grow.

“Shrinking class sizes are a red flag,” Bernstein says.

There are a number of reasons enrollment might decrease. Your local school might have a reputation for poor management, sending parents fleeing to charter or private options. Or perhaps residents are staying put as their kids grow up, leading to older neighbors and fewer close-by pals for your kids. That may or may not be a deal breaker, but it’s certainly something to consider.

Red flag No.3: The area leans industrial

A nearby strip of cute boutique stores might be a nice selling point, but reconsider the purchase if the closest commercial influences lean toward the industrial.

“Be mindful of any kind of commercial influence on the block, such as close gas stations or anything that could be undesirable health-wise,” says Ralph DiBugnara, the vice president at Residential Home Funding.

Any nearby industrial plants should automatically nix a neighborhood, and think long and hard before buying across from a car dealership or auto body shop, which attract a lot of car traffic.

Red flag No.4: There are lots of empty storefronts

Don’t just stop at counting boutiques versus gas stations. Are the stores actually thriving, or are there lots of retail spaces for rent?

“Empty storefronts can tell you a lot,” Bernstein says. “They point to less disposable income of residents than clearly there once was.”

Why does that matter? Decreased disposable income indicates a neighborhood on the decline. If homeowners don’t have money for dinner out, they probably don’t have cash for upkeep. Shabby homes drag down property values. Meager cash flow can also lead to future foreclosures—and a foreclosed-upon home is a neighbor that no one wants.

Red flag No. 5: The Stepford style is in full force

You might love the homogenous, well-groomed suburban look (and there’s nothing wrong with that!). But take a moment to examine it more closely. Are there any unique decorative doodads dotting each garden, like aluminum chickens or wind chimes? Or is the front porch furniture identical?

If all the neighborhood’s homes (and landscaping) look suspiciously similar, “explore how restrictive the homeowners association is,” says Susanna Haynie, a Realtor in Colorado Springs, Co. “It could be an issue.”

Red flag No.6: There’s no parking

Sure, the property may have a one-car garage—but where will your friends park, and where can you keep your spouse’s car? If the streets have bumper-to-bumper traffic, think twice about buying in the neighborhood—especially if the home lacks a garage or carport.

“I’m always on the lookout for a lack of parking,” DiBugnara say. “It’s best to visit at night or on weekends to really, truly tell what will be available to you once you live there.”

Unless you commute primarily by foot or bike—or you’re OK spending your weekends circling the block—the neighborhood may not be a good fit for you.

Red flag No.7: Surrounding homes aren’t well-maintained

A street in shambles might seem like an obvious red flag. But you also might have heard that buying the best house in the worst neighborhood is a prime opportunity for profit.

Tread lightly here: A street full of run-down homes with overgrown yards and broken fences should set off warning signals. And this has nothing to do with wealth; lower-income neighborhoods can be just as well-kept as more expensive ones. It’s about pride. Neighbors with no pride in their home’s appearance and upkeep decrease property values for everyone.

Plus, problems with the homes next door can indicate that the house you want might have bigger issues than meet the eye. Look at every house on the block for issues such as water pooling in the yards, or flickering porch lights.

“If there are problems such as water pipes or electrical issues, you will tend to see more than one home showing damage,” DiBugnara says. Fixing these major problems “could be a major expense, hassle, or detriment to your value later on.”

A Seller’s Guide to Navigating the Home Inspection

A Seller’s Guide to Navigating the Home Inspection

Passing the inspection advances you to the next level: closing the deal on your house.

Getting beyond the home inspection is sort of like advancing to the next level in a video game.

When you get past this step, you get to advance to a fresh, exciting place — your new home, to be exact.

In Every Inspection, There Are Stakes for Buyers and Sellers

Once the buyer has made, and you’ve accepted, the offer, your home will get the once-over from the buyer’s home inspector. The inspection is usually a contingency of the offer, meaning the buyer can back out based on serious problems discovered. The lender also expects an inspection to make sure it’s making a good investment. Makes sense, right?

During the home inspection, an inspector will examine the property for flaws. Based on the inspector’s report the buyer will then give you a list of repair requests.

Your agent will work with you to negotiate those requests. Don’t want to be responsible for a repair? (Maybe it’s best if the buyer has the fix made by their own contractor anyway.) Your agent may be able to negotiate a price credit with the buyer instead.

By the way, inspections aren’t necessarily a big, scary deal. Your agent will help advise you about repairs you need to make before the inspection. In fact, she may have made those recommendations to you even before you put the home on the market. And if you’ve been maintaining your home all along (and you have, right?), your punch list may be minimal.

In addition, back when you put the home on the market, you were required to disclose to buyers the home’s “material defects” — anything you know about the home that can either have a significant impact on the market value of the property or impair the safety of the house for occupants. Material defects tend to be big underlying problems, like foundation cracks, roof leaks, basement flooding, or termite infestation.

What a Home Inspection Covers Depends on the Home

Every home is different, so which items are checked during your property’s inspection may vary. But home inspectors typically look at the following areas during a basic inspection:

  • Plumbing systems
  • Electrical systems
  • Kitchen appliances
  • Heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment
  • Doors and windows
  • Attic insulation
  • Foundation and basement
  • Exterior (e.g., siding, paint, outdoor light fixtures)
  • Grounds

Depending on the sales contract, the purchase may also be contingent on a roof inspection, radon inspection, or termite inspection.

What a home inspection won’t cover is the unseen. Your inspector isn’t going to rip open walls or mountaineer on the roof. (Though that would be kind of exciting to watch.)

Related Topic: Sell a Home: Step-by-Step

So What Do You Need to Fix?

A home inspection report is by no means a to-do list of things that you must address. Many home repairs, including cosmetic issues and normal wear and tear, are negotiable.

There are, however, three occasionally overlapping types of repairs that sellers are typically required to deal with after a home inspection:

  1. Structural defects. This is any physical damage to the load-bearing elements of a home; these issues include a crack in the foundation, roof framing damage, and decaying floor boards.
  2. Safety issues. Homes for sale have to meet certain safety standards. Depending on where you live, safety issues that you, the seller, may have to address could include mold problems, wildlife infestation, or exposed electrical wiring.
  3. Building code violations. Building code violations — such as the absence of smoke detectors, use of non-flame retardant roofing material, and use of lead paint after 1978 — must be addressed by the seller.

Again, addressing these might take the form of a credit on the pirce, which in the case of structural issues could be sizeable.

Use This Checklist to Prepare for a Home Inspection

So, are you ready for the inspection? If you take these steps (with your agent’s assistance) you will be:

  • Assemble your paperwork. Transparency is key. Ideally, you’ll have summaries or invoices of renovations, maintenance, and repairs you’ve done on your home that you can provide to the home buyer. Create a file that collects this documentation and share it with the buyer.
  • Make sure your home is squeaky clean. Your home should be pristine when the inspector arrives — a good first impression will set a positive tone. Take time to declutter and deep clean the whole house. A deep clean (stuff like cleaning the range hood and upholstery and sanitizing garbage cans), averages between $200 and $400, according to Angie’s List, depending on the size and condition of your home.
  • Remove any obstacles that may block Does the Inspector Have a View?Make sure to rake up leaves and brush from the home’s foundation so the inspector can get a good view of the grounds, grading, and exterior. the inspector’s access . Take measures to ensure the inspector has complete access to all facets of the property, including electrical panels, attic space, and fireplaces. This may require temporarily moving clothing and other items that impede access.
  • Leave the utilities on. For the home inspector to test items such as the stove, dishwasher, furnace, and air conditioning system, the utilities must be connected regardless of whether the house is vacant; otherwise, the inspector may need to reschedule, which can potentially push back closing.
  • Fix minor problems ahead of time. Many cosmetic issues — say, a broken light fixture or a scratch on the wall — are minor and easy to fix, but they can make buyers more concerned about how well you’ve maintained other areas of the home. It’s best to take care of small problems yourself before the buyer’s inspection.

It’s a Good Idea to Do Your Own Inspection Before the Inspection

Some sellers choose to hire their own home inspector to check the property before their house is even listed. This is called a “pre-listing inspection,” and it has several advantages:

  • It can give you time to fix deal breakers. Granted, a pre-inspection costs money — a basic inspection is about $315, with condos and homes under 1,000 sq ft. costing as little as $200 and homes over 2,000 sq ft. running $400 or more, according to HomeAdvisor.com. That said, it can enable you to address major issues that could cause a buyer to pull out of their offer. Big problems may include mold, water damage, or foundation cracks.
  • It can mean fewer surprises — and help you market your home. Knowing what needs to be fixed in your home in advance will enable you to be upfront with buyers about any big pre-existing issues, which can give buyers peace of mind. You can also make it known to prospective buyers that consideration for those items has already been factored into the sales price.
  • It can speed up the negotiation process. Having a pre-listing inspection can help reduce, or even eliminate the time-consuming process of having back-and-forth negotiations.

If you discover any material defects to the property in a pre-listing inspection, you are legally required to disclose them to buyers — even if you fix them. Also there’s no guarantee that the buyer’s own inspection won’t reveal things yours didn’t find. The choice to do a pre-listing inspection is yours, but it never hurts to get a head start on repairs.

Be Aware of These Tried-and-True Tactics for Negotiating Repairs

When it comes to repairs, your agent will haggle with the buyer’s agent for you — though it’s ultimately your decision as to how you want to respond to the buyer’s home repair requests.

Here are four time-tested negotiating techniques that your agent may deploy to protect your best interests — without reducing the sales price:

  1. Agree to make reasonable repairs. Unless your house is flawless — and the reality is that no one’s is — be prepared to receive repair requests from the buyer. You don’t have to offer to fix everything that buyer asks of you, but you should take responsibility for major issues.
  2. Offer a closing cost credit. Don’t want to deal with the hassle of making or ordering home repairs yourself? Ask your agent to offer the buyer a credit at closing for the estimated costs. This can also help you avoid complaints from the buyer over the quality of the workmanship, since you won’t be the one overseeing the repairs.
  3. Barter. One way to smooth things over with a buyer and keep the deal moving forward is to offer something of value that’s unrelated to the requested repairs. For example, if you know the buyer loves the new couch or bedroom set you bought, you could offer to leave it behind in exchange for making fewer repairs.
  4. Leverage the market. You may have more negotiating power depending on where you live. In a hot seller’s market, for instance, you might be in the position to offer the buyer fewer repairs, especially if you have another buyer eager to make an offer.

Home inspection may sound like a burdensome process, especially when you’re so close to your goal. But when you cross it off your list, you’re readier than ever to jump to the next level — and into your life’s newest phase.

What to Do ASAP as a New Homeowner (“Future You” Will Thank You)

What to Do ASAP as a New Homeowner (“Future You” Will Thank You)

If you’re serious about developing good habits, you need this worksheet.

It’s finally yours. Your very own home. You can paint the walls whatever you like. Heck, even knock out a wall! There’s no landlord to fight you.

But if you’re serious about developing good homeowner habits (so your home makes you richer, not poorer), you’ll use this worksheet the minute you close on your home — if not before. Easier to do now than suffer some head-slapping regrets later.

Things to do after buying a house worksheet for download

If that doesn’t do it for you, here’s a *cheater* version done in the form of 22 tips. You only need scroll:

Security & Safety

These are the very first things you should do after buying a house (for obvious reasons):

1. Change locks. Spares could be floating around anywhere.

2. Hide an extra key in a lockbox. Thieves look under flower pots.

3. Reset the key codes for garage doors, gates, etc. The former owners might’ve trusted half the neighborhood.

4. Test fire and carbon monoxide detectors. Who knows when the last time was. Definitely install them if there are none.

5. Check the temperature on your water heater, especially if you have young ones, so it won’t accidentally scald. Manufacturers tend to set them high. (but the best temperature setting for hot water is 120 degrees).

6. Make sure motion lights and other security lights have working bulbs.

7. Put a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and each additional floor.

Maintenance Planning

Start your master maintenance plan (and good home-keeping habits) by setting reminders in your calendar to do these basic maintenance tasks:

8. Clean out the dryer hose and vent yearly. Clogged ones burn down houses. And you don’t know the last time the previous homeowner did it.

9. Change your HVAC filters at least once a season. You’ll save on heating and cooling — and your unit will last longer. (While you’re at it, go ahead and stock up on them, too.)

10. Schedule HVAC maintenance for spring and fall.

11. Clean your fridge coils at least once a year. It’ll run better and last longer. (Don’t see any coils? Lucky you! Newer fridges often have coils insulated, so there’s no need for annual cleaning.)

12. Drain your water heater once a year.

13. Clean your gutters at least twice a year.

14. And if all items on your inspection report were not addressed, make a plan to fix them — before they become bigger and more expensive repairs.

Emergency Preparedness

You really really don’t want to be figuring any of this out in a real emergency. Do it now. You’ll sleep better and be less likely to ruin your home.

15. Locate the main water shut-off valve. Because busted pipes happen to almost every homeowner at least once. And water damage is value-busting and pricey to fix.

16. Find the circuit box, and label all circuit breakers.

17. Find the gas shut-off valve, too, if you have gas.

18. Test the sump pump if you have one. Especially before the rainy season starts.

19. List emergency contacts. You already know 911. These are the other numbers you often need in an emergency. You should have them posted where they’re easy to see. In fact, here’s a worksheet you can fill out and post.

  • Your utility companies
  • Your insurance agent
  • Plumber
  • Electrician

20. Assemble an emergency supply kit. Some key items are:

  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Non-perishable food and water
  • Blankets and warm clothing
  • A radio, TV, or cell phone with backup batteries

Home & Mortgage Documents

In case there’s a dispute with your mortgage lender or a neighbor over property lines, or if you’re a bit forgetful about due dates.

21. Store copies (the originals should be in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box) of important home documents so they’re readily available. Go paper, cloud, or better, yet, both.

  • Lender contact information
  • Property survey
  • Inspection report
  • Final closing documents
  • Insurance documents

22. Set mortgage and other bills to auto-pay so you’re never late.

10 DIY Home Insulation Projects You Can Do in 15 Minutes

10 DIY Home Insulation Projects You Can Do in 15 Minutes

A door snake is one of the quickest insulation tips. It only takes a few seconds.

 

A little bit of DIY home insulation can protect you from a drafty house and a scary energy bill. You can lower your heating and cooling costs by as much as 20% if you plug all the places drafts are sneaking in.

Though most people ask a pro to do the big job of insulating walls and ceilings, here are some quick insulation tips you can do in 15 minutes or less.

#1 Get a Door Snake — the Simplest DIY Home Insulation Ever

Multi-colored knit door snake on wood floor | DIY InsulationImage: @su_or_so

Keep drafts from sneaking in with a door snake, an object you place along that crack under your door. A 1/8-inch gap can let in as much cold air as a 2.4-inch diameter hole in the exterior wall, so a door snake makes a difference.

A rolled-up blanket makes a great snake — or you can buy the real deal for less than $20.

#2 Caulk Around the Dryer and Bathroom Vents

The hole in the wall where your dryer and bathroom vents exit the house leak air, too. Go outside and put silicon caulk on the outside edge of the vents, where it meets the wall.

You’ll also keep bugs and other critters from sneaking in through the vent gaps.

#3 Hang Heavy Curtains

White, red, and blue washable Roman window shadeImage: KARUILU Home

Hang curtains or shades made of thick material that will keep in your expensive, man-made heat during the winter and keep out room-baking sun in the summer.

Open the drapes during sunny winter days. The light lifts your mood and heats your home.

#4 Put Weather Stripping Around Doors and Windows

Gaps around doors and windows are a top source of heat loss.

Install DIY TipRope caulk and peel-and-stick foam tape require no tools.weather stripping — a narrow piece of metal, vinyl, rubber, or foam — around them to stop conditioned air from escaping, and outdoor air from coming in.

#5 Install Window Insulation Film

Window film adds a layer of cold-blocking plastic that reduces heat loss by around 10%. It comes in sheets you cut to size, tape to the window glass, and then heat with a blow dryer to fit snugly and smoothly. It won’t block natural light, so you can have your sunshine and your insulated window, too. You can also use this on sliding glass doors.

Make sure to clean your windows first, or the adhesive on the film may not stick.

#6 Add Foam Board to Patio Doors

Cut the heat loss from that glass door by installing rigid insulation board over any doors or portions of doors you don’t use during the cold months. Cut the panel to fit the door, and slip it into the doorframe in the winter. Come spring, pop it back out.

#7 Put Insulation Sleeves on Water Heater Pipes

Keep pipes from losing heat (or worse, freezing and exploding one very cold day!), by wrapping them in a pipe sleeve. They’re strips of fiberglass insulation that fit around the pipe. You can tape them to the pipe.

Bonus: You’ll raise water temperature by two to four degrees, so you won’t have to wait as long for hot water.

#8 Wrap Your Water Heater in an Insulation Blanket

If your water heater is old or in an unheated area of your house, you’ll cut your heating bill by as much as 16% with an insulation blanket. There are different types of insulation blankets for water heaters, but most are made of fiberglass or foil and cost less than $50.

You’ll need to wrap a gas heater differently than you do an electric one. For safety and access reasons, different elements of each type can’t be covered. Read the instructions for your heater type carefully.

#9 Get a Fireplace Plug

Your fireplace and chimney can be a superhighway for drafts, with one study showing an open fireplace increases heating bills by as much as 30%. A fireplace plug — an inflatable piece of urethane that you stick in the hearth when you’re not using it that looks a lot like a square balloon — keeps cold air out and warm air in.

#10 Install an Attic Stairway Insulator

The door in your ceiling that leads to the attic is another source of money-sucking drafts. An attic stairway insulator (also called a stair cover) is a tent-like insert made of foam, aluminum-coated fabric, or fiberglass that you can strap or staple into the doorway.

Look for one with a zipper opening so you can crawl into the attic without pulling out the insulator.

You Only Think It’s True: 10 Myths Costing You Time and Money

You Only Think It’s True: 10 Myths Costing You Time and Money

Save your cash for more important things, like, you know, your mortgage.

Image: Patric Sandri/Offset

You can’t swing a tool belt without hitting a website or TV network offering tips on taking care of your digs. Save money by watering your lawn at night! No, water it in the morning! No, dig it up and replace it with a drought-hardy meadow!

Throw in the info you pick up from well-meaning friends and there’s a sea of home care truisms out there, some of which can sink your budget.

Myth 1: Stone Countertops Are Indestructible

Fact: Even rock can be damaged.

Marble, quartz, travertine, soapstone, and limestone can all be stained. Regular household cleaners can dull their surfaces over time. And marble is maddeningly fragile — it’s the prima donna of stone.

It’s easy to scratch. It’s easy to stain. Here’s the worst part: Mildly acidic substances like soda, coffee, lemon juice, even hard water will eat into marble, creating a cloudy, dull spot in a process known as etching.

“Spill a glass of wine on a marble counter and go to bed without cleaning it, the next morning you’ll have a problem,” says Louwrens Mulder, owner of Superior Stone in Knoxville, Tenn.

And while stone counters won’t crack under a hot pot, such direct heat can discolor quartz or marble, says Mulder. So be nice to your counters, no matter what they’re made of. And note that the best rock for your buck is granite. “It doesn’t stain or scratch. It’s tough because it’s volcanic rock,” Mulder says. Which means it can stand up to all the merlot and barbecue sauce you can spill on it.

Myth 2: Your Smoke Detector’s Test Button Is Foolproof

Fact: The test button doesn’t tell you what you really need to know.

Yes, check your smoke detector twice a year. But all that test button will tell you is whether the alarm sound is working, not if the sensor that detects smoke is working. Pretty key difference there.

The best way to check your device is with real smoke. Light a long, wooden kitchen match, blow it out, and hold it near the unit. If the smoke sets off the alarm, it’s working. If not, replace the batteries. If it still doesn’t work, you need a new smoke detector. And replace those batteries once a year anyway, because dead batteries are the No. 1 reason smoke detectors fail.

Myth 3: Gutter Guards Are Maintenance-Free

Fact: You gotta clean gutter guards, too.

Gutter guards keep out leaves, but small debris like seeds, pine straw, and flower buds will still get through.

Gutter guards can lessen your work, though — sometimes a lot. Instead of shoveling out wheelbarrow loads of leaves and other crap twice a year, you might just need to clean them every two years. But if there are lots of trees in your yard, once a year might be necessary.

Related: Money-Saving Tips to Repair Those Dastardly Gutters

Myth 4: A Lemon Is a Great Way to Clean a Disposal

Lemons ready to be added to a disposalImage: Anne Arntson for HouseLogic

Fact: While wanting to use natural cleaners is admirable, all of them will damage your disposal and pipes over time.

The lemon’s acidic juice will corrode the metal parts of your disposal. The mixture of salt and ice contains metal-eating acid, too. The coffee grounds are abrasive enough to clean the gunk off the blades and make it smell like a cup of americano, but they’ll accumulate in pipes and clog them.

The best natural cleaner for your disposal is good old baking soda. It’s mildly abrasive so it will clean the blades, but it’s a base, not an acid, and won’t damage the metal. Best of all, a box with enough baking soda big enough to clean your disposal twice costs less than a buck.

Myth 5: Mowing Your Lawn Super Short Means You’ll Mow Less Often

Fact: You might not have to mow as often, but your lawn will look like awful.

Cut that grass under an inch high, and you’ll never have to mow again because your grass will die. Mowing a lawn down to the root — a screw-up known as scalping — is like cutting all the leaves off a plant.

Grass blades make and store your lawn’s energy. Removing more than 1/3 of the length of the blade will leave your grass too weak to withstand weeds and pests. It also exposes the roots to the sun, causing the lawn to dry out quickly. Leave 1 to 3 inches of grass above the roots to keep your lawn lush.

Myth 6: CFLs Cost Too Much, and Are Dangerous

Fact: CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) have come down in price since they first hit the market and don’t contain enough mercury to cause any harm.

You can buy one now for as low as $3. And replacing one incandescent bulb with a CFL will save nearly $60 a year for the lifetime of the bulb, says Consumer Reports. CFLs last an average of 5 years, so one bulb can save $300. A houseful of them, say 20, will save $600 each year.

And CFLs are a safe option. They actually lower your exposure to mercury indirectly, because they use 70 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs. That means the coal-fired power plants that spew 340 million pounds of mercury into the air each year won’t have to run as long to keep our houses lit. Fewer toxins, lower power bills. What’s not to love?

Myth 7: A Trendy Kitchen Re-Do Will Increase My Home’s Value

Avocado green kitchenImage: Tate Gunnerson

Fact: Décor trends come and go as fast as viral videos.

Remember those Tuscan-style kitchens with mustard gold walls, ornate cabinets, and medieval-looking light fixtures that were the must-have of the late ‘90s and early aughts?

Today, they’re as dated as flip phones. Instead of remodeling in the latest look, which costs $22,000 on average, try repainting in on-trend colors, which costs $1,700 on average. If you do opt for a full remodel, choose elements like Shaker cabinets, wood floors, and subway tile, a timeless style you’ll love 10 years from now.

Related: 7 Bad Habits Homeowners Need to Quit Now

Myth 8: A Contractor Recommendation From a Friend Is Good Enough

Fact: Good contractors have more than just your buddy to vouch for them.

Your neighbor’s rec is a good start, but talk to a couple of sources before you hire anyone. Check the contractor’s reviews on Angie’s List or other online rating sites.

Ask a local building inspector which contractors meet code on the properties they inspect. Ask the contractor for the names of past clients you can talk to, how many other projects they have going, how long they’ve worked with their subcontractors, and if they routinely do projects the size of yours.

Look at this as a job interview where the contractor is an applicant and you’re the hiring manager. Make them show you they’re the guy or gal for the work.

Related: 5 Secrets Your Contractor Doesn’t Want You to Know

Myth 9: Turning Off Your AC When You Leave Saves Energy

Fact: Turning off the air conditioner when you leave could actually cost you money.

That’s because when you turn it back on, all your savings will be lost as the unit works overtime to cool your hot house. A better way to save on utilities is to turn the thermostat up or down (depending on the season) 5 to 10 degrees when you leave, says home improvement expert Danny Lipford of todayshomeowner.com.

And the best option? “Install a programmable thermostat,” he says. Even better, buy one you can control remotely with your smartphone and adjust the temperature before you get home. Because thermostats you have to touch are so 1998.

Myth 10: Permits? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Permits

Fact: You do.

Let’s say your neighbor’s brother-in-law, Cecil, is an electrician. Cecil can rewire your kitchen in a weekend because he won’t inconvenience you with a permit. Should you hire Cecil? No. Building codes protect you. From Cecil. Getting a permit means an inspector will check his work to make sure he didn’t screw up.

Plus, if your house burns down in an electrical fire and your insurance company finds out the work was done without a permit, they won’t cover your loss. Check with your local planning or building department to find out if your project needs a permit. If it does, get one.

The Everything Guide to Selling Your Home

The Everything Guide to Selling Your First Home

How to figure out exactly what you want, and how to work with the experts who’ll help you get it.

Selling, a famous salesman once said, is essentially a transfer of feelings.

You love and cherish your home. You want the next owner to fall in love with it, too — through photos, through words, and through the experience of walking through your front door. But, perhaps most, you want to get the price you want.

This isn’t a small task. Selling a home requires work. It requires time. The journey isn’t always easy. There will be frustrations. But when you seal the deal and move on to your next chapter  — wow, what a blissful, boss feeling.

Below, we preview and link to each step in your journey.  We’ll discuss how to know what you want (and what your partner wants, if you’re selling together). How to understand the market, and ways to make a plan. And most importantly? How to create relationships with experts and trust them to help you get the job done.

Now, let’s talk about selling your house.

Jump to a specific home selling step using these links:

Know What You Want | Do Your Research | Interview and Select an Agent | Price Your Home | Prep Your Home for Sale | Market Your Home | Showcase Your Home | Receive Offers | Negotiate With the Buyer | Negotiate Home Inspection Repairs | Close the Sale

Know, Exactly, What You Want

First things first: You need to know what you want (and what your partner wants) in order to sell your home with minimum frustration. Why are you moving? What do you expect from the process? When, exactly, should you put that For Sale sign in the yard? We can help you get your thoughts in order with this home selling worksheet.

Do Your Research

Unless you bought your home last week, the housing market changed since you became a homeowner. Mortgage rates fluctuate, inventory shifts over time — these are just a few of the factors that affect the state of the market, and every market is unique. Educate yourself on what to expect. Start with our study guide on the market. 

Related Topic: Sell a Home: Step-by-Step

Interview and Select an Agent

This is the most important relationship you’ll form on your home selling journey. Pick the right agent and you’ll likely get a better sales price for your house. Here’s how to find and select the expert who’s right for you.

Price Your Home

How much is your home worth? That’s the … $300,000 question. Whatever the number, you need to know it. This is how your agent will help you pinpoint the price.

Prep Your Home for Sale

Today, home buyers have unfettered access to property listings online, so you have to make a great first impression — on the internet and IRL. That means you’ll have to declutter all the stuff you’ve accumulated over the years, make any necessary repairs, and get your home in swoon-worthy condition. Here’s how to stage your home.

Market Your Home

Home buyers look at countless listings online. The best-marketed homes have beautiful photos and compelling property descriptions, so they can get likes — which can amount to buyer interest — on social media. Some agents are even using videos, virtual tours, texts, and audio messages. It’s time to consider how to promote your property.

Showcase Your Home

One of the best ways to get buyers in the door is to have an open house. This is your chance to show off your home’s best assets, and help buyers envision themselves living there. Know how your agent will organize, advertise, and host the event to ensure it’s a success.

Receive Offers

Yes, you might get offers plural, depending on your market. Assuming you’ve collaborated with your agent, you’ve likely positioned yourself to receive attractive bids. Your agent will review each offer with you to determine which is best for you. (Read: The offer price isn’t the only factor to consider: Here’s why.)

Negotiate With the Buyer

To get the best deal for you, you’ll likely have to do some negotiating. Your agent will help you craft a strategic counteroffer to the buyer’s offer, factoring in not only money, but contingencies, etc. Let’s talk about how to ask for what you want.

Negotiate Home Inspection Repairs

Ah, the home inspection. It’s as much a source of anxiety for buyers as it is for sellers. Nonetheless, most purchase agreements are contingent on a home inspection (plus an appraisal, which will be managed by the buyer’s lender). This gives the buyer the ability to inspect the home from top to bottom and request repairs — some even could be required per building codes. The upshot: You have some room to negotiate, including about certain repairs. Once again, your agent will be there to help you effectively communicate with the buyer.

Close the Sale

Settlement, or closing, is the last step in the home selling process. This is where you sign the final paperwork, make this whole thing official, and collect your check. Before that can happen though, you’ll have to prepare your home for the buyer’s final walk-through and troubleshoot any last-minute issues. We’ve got you covered with this closing checklist.

3 Brilliant Hacks to Make Snow Shoveling Less Miserable

3 Brilliant Hacks to Make Snow Shoveling Less Miserable

Don’t break your back. Try a de-icing cocktail instead.

 

If you’re a homeowner in a snowy climate, chances are good you rue the winter: All that snow has to go somewhere, and it’s not getting there itself.

Cue the snow shovel.

Barring a move to a snow-free state or barricading your family inside all winter, there’s no way to avoid the endless task of shoveling snow. There are, however, ways to make the process much easier. Here are three simple hacks to make the morning after a snowfall much less stressful.

#1 Spray Your Shovel with Cooking Oil

Snow sticking to your shovel makes an already arduous task even more obnoxious. Avoid it with this hack: Lightly coat your shovel with non-stick cooking oil to make snow slide right off. No more time wasted removing snow from your snow remover. (You can substitute a spray lubricant like WD-40, but the downside is it’s toxic.)

#2 Lay Out a Tarp Before the Snow

If you like short cuts, this technique, billed as “the laziest way imaginable” to clear snow, according to a tutorial from “Instructables,” has got your name on it. The day before an expected snowfall, lay a tarp on your walkway. When the snow finishes falling, just pull out the tarp, and voilà: an instantly cleared walkway. (Word to the wise: Make sure pedestrians won’t trip on your tarp; include a sign or use this technique in your backyard walkway if you’re concerned.)

The technique requires a tarp, firewood, and twine as well as some prep work. Pre-storm, use firewood to weigh down your tarp — you don’t want it flying away in the wind! — and tie the twine to both the tarp and to a shovel standing upright in your yard. You’ll use the shovel to pull out the snow-laden tarp.

Although this method might be faster than shoveling, it does require manpower. After all, a cubic foot of snow can weigh between 7 and 20 pounds. So don’t get too ambitious with the size of your tarp or you might not be able to pull it once it’s full of snow.

#3 Make a Homemade De-icing Cocktail

De-icers make snow removal easier by cutting through the tough, icy layers that are a pain to remove with a shovel. But an easy solution should be easy on your property as well. Many commercial de-icers are pretty harsh.

Commercial ice-melting substances — magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium chloride (salt) — all cause damage to the environment, according to the University of Maryland’s Home and Garden Information Center. They can also damage concrete sidewalks and driveways, which mean hefty repair costs later.

A better solution: Make your own de-icer using rubbing alcohol or vinegar. You’ll save money, too. Commercial melters typically cost $8 or more. Plus, you’ll avoid the hassle of trekking to the hardware store to stock up.

Use vinegar before a storm to make ice and snow removal easier:

  • Combine 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water.
  • Spray or pour gently (you still want to avoid runoff into your landscape) before a storm.

To keep the sidewalks and steps from icing after a storm:

  • Combine 2 parts rubbing alcohol with 1 part water.
  • Apply to minimize runoff.

5 Tricks to Keep Your Pipes from Exploding

5 Tricks to Keep Your Pipes from Exploding This Winter

Even if you think they’ve already started to freeze.

New homeowners may have heard that winterization is important, but in the hubbub of your first year living in a home you own (finally!), it can be easy to overlook the need to prepare for the cold weather ahead. After all, it’s just not something renters deal with; prepping pipes for winter is often the landlord’s job.

Ideally, you should winterize your pipes in the fall, before winter seriously sets in. But if you’ve forgotten and all of a sudden you’re in the middle of a deep freeze, there’s still time to prevent disaster.

Here are some easy techniques to save your pipes from bursting:

#1 Turn On Your Faucets

If the temperatures have dropped into freezing and intend to stay there, turning on your faucets — both indoors and out — can keep water moving through your system and slow down the freezing process. There’s no need to waste gallons of water: Aim for about five drips per minute.

#2 Open Cabinet Doors

During cold weather, open any cabinet doors covering plumbing in the kitchen and bathroom. This allows the home’s warm air to better circulate, which can help prevent the exposed piping from freezing. While this won’t help much with pipes hidden in walls, ceilings, or under the home, it can keep water moving and limit the dangerous effects of freezing weather.

#3 Wrap Your Pipes

If your pipes are already on their merry way towards freezing, wrapping them with warm towels might do the trick. You can cover them with the towels first and then pour boiling water on top, or use already-wet towels — if your hands can stand the heat (use gloves for this). This should help loosen the ice inside and get your system running again.

#4 Pull Out Your Hairdryer

A hairdryer (or heat gun) can be a godsend when your pipes are freezing. If hot rags aren’t doing the trick, try blowing hot air directly on the pipes. Important note: You don’t want to use a blow torch or anything that produces direct flames, which can damage your pipes and turn a frozen pipe into an even worse disaster. You’re trying to melt the ice — not your pipes.

#5 Shut Off The Water if Pipes Are Frozen

Have your pipes already frozen? Turn off the water immediately. (Hopefully you know where the master shut-off is, but if not, now’s the time to find it!)

Make sure to close off any external water sources, like garden hose hookups. This will prevent more water from filling the system, adding more ice to the pile, and eventually bursting your pipes — the worst-case scenario. This also will help when the water thaws; the last thing you want after finally fixing your frozen pipes is for water to flood the system — and thus, your home.

How to Sell a Home Fast—Even Before the Holidays!

Need to know how to sell a home fast, even though the holidays are speedily approaching? If you’re thinking of throwing up your hands and giving up hope until the new year, we’re here to offer hope: There’s still time!

Because here’s the deal: As eager as you may be to sell your home before the holidays, plenty of people out there are dying to buy a place before the holidays descend, too. So if you play your cards right, it is entirely possible to not only find a buyer, but also close the deal and move out before Santa’s sleigh starts making the rounds.

Here are some insider secrets on how to sell a home fast, even during the hectic holiday rush.

Polish your online listing

Because the weather outside is “frightful,” as they like to say (or at least will be soon enough), buyers want to do much of their looking online. With that in mind, focus on making your home so alluring they’re willing to put on those parkas and check it out in person.

“Make sure that your home has an online listing that’s up to date and has optimal photos available, since buyers usually don’t like to go out in cold weather,” advises Ray Sturm, CEO and co-founder of AlphaFlow.

“Most home buyers vet potential homes through online listings before reaching out,” Sturm continues, “so ensuring your home is presented in the best light online is a good way to attract potential buyers.”

Play up the holiday features

Buyers want to envision themselves settling into a home in time to celebrate that first Thanksgiving or Christmas, says home expert Lauren Mak, who has appeared on TLC’s “Trading Spaces” and ABC’s “Fab Life with Tyra Banks and Chrissy Teigen.”

Mak suggests accenting architectural features such as a fireplace or sweeping staircase to showcase how great your home could look for the holidays.

“Add twinkle lights to a fireplace or table decorations to your dining room to help potential buyers visualize their future home,” she says. “If you have something like a bay window where a Christmas tree might be, clear the clutter before showing your home.”

Suzy Minken, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway, agrees. “For sellers with a spacious dining room, the table can be decorated for holiday entertaining,” she says. “This is an ideal opportunity to create that ‘wow’ moment among buyers, so sellers may want to consider purchasing new tableware and accessories that are trending in home design. This gets buyers excited about making the house their new home just in time for the holidays.”

Home decor aside, Gill Chowdhury of Warburg Realty recommends writing a property description that highlights the features that really count during the holidays. For example, “spacious dining room, ideal for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner” will appeal to a buyer’s emotions.

But don’t overdo the holiday decor

While it’s good to be jolly, don’t go over the top, says Dawn Houlf, real estate coach and owner of EXIT Realty Number One in Las Vegas.

“Homes do look their best during the holiday, but simple is best,” she says. “Too big or too many adornments can crowd your home and distract buyers.”

Be flexible with showings

If you want buyers bidding for your home, they’re going to want to check out every nook and cranny, so you’d better be ready and willing to let ’em.

“The best thing that sellers can do during the holiday search is keep the home clutter-free and stay open and available for last-minute and short-notice showings,” says Shayna Goldburg, broker and chief human resources officer at SetSchedule.

“What I have noticed is that it is harder and harder to view homes during the holiday season,” Goldburg says. “Oftentimes homeowners go out of town, guests come to visit, or owners have their own entertaining schedule, and prefer not to have showings to interrupt this time. At the end of the day, the more open, available, and flexible you are as a homeowner for showings, the more your home will be seen and greater your chance for a sale.”

Make sure your home is move-in ready

Having your home pre-inspected before you list can accelerate your sale in three key ways, says Steve Wadlington, president of WIN Home Inspection.

  1. It makes your house more marketable: Buyers feel safer making an offer on a home thats an open book during the home-selling process.
  2. It can save you money: Once you know what issues need to be fixed, you can have those problems taken care of before you list. The cleaner and more issue-free you can make your home, the faster its likely to sell, which can save you money in the long run.
  3. It allows you to highlight your homes assets: New flooring or granite counters installed? Electric wiring redone? Brand-new appliances or furnace? “These are huge selling points, and your home inspection report will reflect all of the improvements and upgrades youve made,” Wadlington says.

Make curb appeal a top priority

“As the leaves begin to fall, maintaining the exterior of your home becomes even more important,” says Houlf. “Bare trees equal a more exposed home, so touch up the paint, clean the gutters, and spruce up the yard. Paint the front door, hang a decorative wreath, and [add] a decorative welcome mat. In addition, keep buyers’ safety in mind as well by making sure stairs and walkways are free of snow, ice, and leaves.”

And don’t forget to highlight the outdoor features buyers can enjoy year-round. If you have a fire pit or hot tub, show it off.

Offer incentives

While competition is greatly reduced around Thanksgiving, that alone may not be enough to encourage offers, notes Sophie Kaemmerle, communications manager for NeighborWho.com.

“Incentives put you ahead of the pack,” she says. “Offer what you can, ranging from updated appliances to paying closing costs, offering extras like TVs, and be flexible with negotiations.”

Plan a themed open house

“Since you are so close to the holiday, why not host a Thanksgiving or holiday-themed open house,” Kaemmerle suggests. Think: an early tree-trimming, or offering up some homemade holiday treats.

“Not only is this a fun way to show off a home, but also you will stoke buyers’ holiday and home-buying excitement,” she says.

Just keep in mind that timing is important this time of year, Kaemmerle adds: “Not many people will ditch family dinners for an open house on an actual holiday.”