City vs. Suburbs?

There is no shortage of heated, seemingly eternal debates: Democrat or Republican? Apple or Samsung? Boxers or briefs? Team Edward or Team Jacob (ask some tweens…)? But through it all, one quandary reigns supreme:

Should you live in the city or the suburbs?

And cutting to the chase for homeowners: Which option offers the better long-term investment?

Since the rise of the American suburbs in the mid-20th century, there’s been a growing divide between the glamour, pace and possibilities of city life and the safety, serenity and family-friendliness of suburban life—and the homeowners who are attracted to each.

In 2012, the Associated Press reported that for the first time in a century America’s largest cities were growing faster than their suburbs. But three years later, in 2015, the Brookings Institute showed that city population growth, while still on the rise, appeared to be slowing.

Here at realtor.com®, we believe that home is where the heart is—whether in a split-level ranch house in a sweet township or a converted warehouse loft in an emerging urban neighborhood. But every romance needs a solid foundation, and in the case of real estate it’s the value of your financial investment. Where, we wondered, are homes holding their value best?

We sent our data team to find out. To differentiate between city and suburbs, we relied on Nielsen’s population density data. We then compared home prices in January, from our own listings, with those one year ago. And to round out the picture, we evaluated the most-mentioned home and neighborhood amenities in our listings.

Let’s hit the road, shall we?

Factor 1: Homes appreciate faster in cities

As of January 2016, city homes have seen their values grow by 11.3% from one year ago, outpacing suburban home values, which have grown 6.7%. Currently, homes in urban neighborhoods are listed at significantly higher prices ($431,000) than in the suburbs ($230,000).

Here are the top five markets where urban dwellings are appreciating the fastest:

 Rank  Market

Urban home price change (Jan. 2015-Jan. 2016)

Suburban home price change (Jan. 2015-Jan. 2016)

 1  Honolulu, HI  26.8%  1.9%
 2  Pittsburgh, PA  17.3%  0.0%
 3  Seattle, WA  29.6%  13.9%
 4  Portland, OR  26.3%  14.4%
 5  Atlanta, GA  24.5%  13.6%

Much of this growth is due to new construction. Honolulu, for example, has always been a highly desirable place, but in recent years the downtown waterfront area has become hotter then an island blacktop in August due to its growing luxury condominium inventory. In particular, Kakaako, a crane-dotted neighborhood 2 miles from Waikiki Beach, is in the midst of explosive expansion.

Some cities, such as Seattle, are enjoying the benefits of being high-tech epicenters. Others are seeing the results from long-term campaigns to revitalize their older neighborhoods, such as Atlanta’s focus on its once-crumbling Old Fourth Ward.

So does all this mean you should rush back to the city? Not without considering some other factors. Such as…

Factor 2: Your dog will be happier in the suburbs

All that stuff that’s been drilled into you by your parents and endless reruns of “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Brady Bunch” still stands: You’ll have way more room to spread out in the suburbs—they’re great for kids and dogs alike. In general, suburban homes are 300 square-feet bigger than urban homes. With the increased space, more homeowners are able to have features such as a family room, backyard, and garage—all of which they tout in our listings. Never dismiss the power of a nice backyard.

city_suburb-01

Factor 3: Museums and mojitos vs. trails and teachers

You choose! For city dwellers, you can have a variety of obscure and awesome ethnic restaurants, open all night, just blocks from your front door. You like Sri Lankan cuisine? You can get Sri Lankan cuisine. Or you can hop on the bus or subway to peruse the museum, or drop your paycheck in a pricey boutique. The high life! Listings for homes in the city often check off these boxes.

For suburban residents, you can avoid the fumes of city buses and garbage trucks and opt for a run in the woods—our listings show that more suburban homes boast of their proximity to parks and trails. And suburban towns often boast good public schools. You are more likely to be on your own for food and entertainment, though, so keep the fridge full and your Netflix subscription up-to-date.

city_suburb-02

Factor 4: Cities are more dangerous, but less than you might think

 We all know that cities can be scary places. And, yes, crime stats back this up. But the difference between city safety and suburban safety is becoming less pronounced each year.

According to 2014 FBI crime statistics, within all metropolitan areas in the United States, major cities had twice the property crime rate and 2.5 times the violent crime rate compared to surrounding suburban areas. Even though cities had seen significant declines in crime—a 14% decrease in violent crime and a 12% drop in the property-crime rate from 2009 to 2014—they had a long way to go before catching up with the suburbs.

But, hey, let’s get real: Violent crime is only part of the safety issue, and criminals aren’t the greatest threat to your health and well-being. A University of Pennysylvania study showed that the number of deaths from unintentional injuries are 15 times greater across the United State than those from homicides. And on this metric, urban areas win out: Researchers found that city dwellers are 20% less likely than most rural residents to die from injuries, with the top three causes of death being motor vehicle collisions, firearms and poisoning.

Factor 5: You can choose your route to a healthier lifestyle

In terms of access to health services, no significant disparity was detected between urban and suburban home listings. But as far as environmental conditions go, urban settings are way less than ideal: Filthy air contributes to respiratory diseases, dense population facilitates the spread of viruses, and fast-paced life increases stress levels. While many cities are making progress in cleaning up their air and adding green space, there’s still a considerable gap with many suburbs.

But living in the suburbs is not without its health drawbacks. The lack of public transportation leads people to spend about 18% more time driving, according to researchers at the University of Connecticut and the University of Colorado. City dwellers, on the other hand, tend to walk and bike more, contributing to lower levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, theresearch reveals.

The debate will never end. But at some point, you’ll make your choice, and it’ll be the right one. Eventually.

Sellers Most Common Questions: Answered!

Selling a home you’ve lived in and loved over the years isn’t exactly like unloading your collection of old Slayer LPs on Craigslist (or is it…?). It’s hard. It’s emotional. And above all else, it’s complicated. A slew of questions will likely pop into your head throughout the process—and possibly keep you up at night.

Last week, we revealed the most common questions asked by home buyers. Since people on the other end of this deal have a lot on their minds, too, today we’ll tackle the most common questions that real estate agents hear from sellers—along with some answers, of course.

Q: How much needs to be done to my house before putting it on the market?

“Many sellers have extreme anxiety over the thought of having to clear out and fix up their home, so much so that it can prevent them from putting the place on the market in the first place,” says Alyssa Blevins with Pierce Murdock Group. But in most cases, there’s no need to panic here—or to overshoot your goals. “Very often, there’s far less to do than homeowners think.” So before spending months and millions (figuratively) upgrading your place—or just throwing up your hands and giving up before you begin—show your home to a Realtor®. You might be pleasantly surprised by your current sales prospects.

Q: How much is my house worth?

While the median house price in 2016 is $228,000, the exact price of your own home will depend on its size, neighborhood, and lots of other factors. Further complicating matters is your own skewed perspective: We tend to mentally inflate our home’s positives and airbrush out the flaws that are all too apparent to the cold, calculating eyes of buyers. “People always seem to compare their house to the most expensive sale in the neighborhood,” says Mary Ann Grabel, an agent at Douglas Elliman in Greenwich, CT. Instead, look at the prices of similarly sized homes that have recently sold in your area—data that agents call comparative market analysis, or “comps.” Then, price your place strategically. “If you price too high, the home is likely to linger on the market,” says Grabel. Meanwhile, pricing low can have major upsides, resulting in multiple bids that could ultimately jack up your price. So, do your homework. Then, discuss a number with your Realtor that feels right—and is realistic.

Q: How long will it take to sell my home?

Right now, nationally, houses spend around 100 days on the market before they sell, although the time varies wildly based on area and price. So, price competitively and make sure that you and your Realtor are getting the place in front of as many eyeballs as possible. “The higher the exposure, the faster the offers,” says Felise Eber, a real estate associate affiliated with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate and part of the Miami Beach luxury real estate sales team The Jills. Spread the word through your own social networks——real ones and virtual ones. You never know whose passing it along to that special someone will lead to a sale.

Q: Is staging really important?

On average, a staged home sells 88% faster—and for 20% more money—than a home that’s left as is. The reason it works, of course, is it gives buyers a “stage” onto which they can play out their home-owning fantasies and envision themselves living in your home. “Choose neutral paint colors and remove any family photos,” says Johnson. Give would-be homeowners a blank canvass that they can mentally fill with their loved ones and themselves.

Q: Should I be present when buyers view my house?

“NO!” says Johnson. (Hey, no need to shout. We’re right here!) “There is not any situation in which this is appropriate. Having the owner in the house makes the buyers uncomfortable. They feel as though they can’t make comments or ask questions that could be offensive. The owner—who has a history and attachment to the house—has the tendency to argue if a potential buyer makes a comment that could be a little negative. This can turn off buyers and lose you offers.” Got it.

Q: What is the agent’s commission?

While the commission can vary, it is typically 6% of a home’s sale price—and that’s usually shared with the buyer’s agent. But what’s implied by this question is “What are Realtors doing to earn that fat check?” Here are some facts to keep in mind: Unlike lawyers who get paid by the hour, or doctors who are paid by the appointment, listing agents don’t get paid unless they make a sale. For every hour an agent spends with a client, he or she will typically spend nine hours on average working on that client’s behalf doing everything from networking to finding potential buyers to filling out paperwork. And no, not all agents are created equal. Since most contracts last for a year, Realtor Susan Ratliff recommends that sellers “interview three agents prior to selecting one to represent them. It’s no different from choosing an attorney, accountant, or the doctor who will deliver your baby. You want to be sure that you trust that person and are comfortable with them.”

Amen.

Turn Your Laundry Room from Drab to Fab With These 8 Ideas

Turn Your Laundry Room from Drab to Fab With These 8 Ideas

HomeAdvisor shares their best laundry room renovation tips to spruce up your work space.

Regardless of where your laundry room is located, making laundry day a breeze isn’t as difficult as you may think. In fact, here are eight creative ways to renovate your laundry room.

#1 Add a Wall-Mounted Drying Rack

Make your life easier by installing a wall-mounted drying rack. No matter the spatial parameters of your laundry room, a wall-mounted drying rack is always a good investment. A drying rack is also the perfect choice for silks and other delicates that shouldn’t be machine dried.

#2 Don’t Hide the Hamper

A laundry hamper is an essential part of any laundry room. But, it’s probably not the first thing you show your guests. Ditch your worn out hamper and consider buying a new, more stylish alternative. Keep an eye out for a good-looking replacement next time you’re shopping.

#3 Use Rolling Drawers

Folding laundry is something most people don’t enjoy. A set of rolling storage drawers can solve storage issues and keep your folded laundry neat and clean. Look for a set of storage drawers that can be pulled out for easy transport.

#4 Install Task Lighting

A lack of light can make your laundry room difficult to use. Install LED light barsunder overhead storage cabinets to gain a better view of the buttons on your washer or dryer. If there are no outlets nearby, purchase battery-powered LED lights. You can find these lights in most hardware stores and online.

#5 Use Modular and Adjustable Racks

Chances are your fabric softeners, detergents, special cleaners and stain removers are cluttering up your laundry room. Make your life easier by using modular and adjustable storage racks. Whether you choose a utilitarian metal rack or a more attractive and colorful plastic model, you’ll increase your storage space and make items easier to find.

#6 Consider Variable Countertop Heights

Adjustable counter heights are extremely useful. If you have a front-load dryer, a high countertop will mean less stress on your back as you remove laundry. If your laundry room includes a utility sink, a lower countertop is ideal for proper (and comfortable) use.

#7 Open and Closed Storage Solutions

Open and closed storage options are useful in any laundry room. If moisture is a problem, you will want a closed space to store your detergents and other powders. At the same time, open storage makes folding dried easier.

#8 Utilize Cabinet Locks

If you have children, make sure to keep dangerous liquids and cleaning agents locked away. The best place to store detergents and other cleaners is in a locked cabinet high above your washer and dryer. You can use the same cabinets to store your detergents, fabric softeners and other essential laundry room items.

Conclusion

Just because your laundry room is a workspace doesn’t mean it has to be drab. The ideas listed above will help you transform your boring laundry room into a space that’s as beautiful as it is useful.

4 Affordable Smart Home Devices

4 Affordable Smart Home Devices

Smart home devices are no longer luxury items and some are even under $100.

The connected home was the overwhelming theme at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Everywhere you turned there was a new device that automates some aspect of your life at home through your mobile device, and many of them weren’t cheap.

So what about those homeowners who want their home to be just a bit smarter, but don’t want to empty their wallets in order to do so? Being the penny pinching person that I am I tracked down four extremely affordable devices to allow you to test the smart home market while still balancing your budget.

Roost Batteries

phone-and-battery-popup

Looking for a Nest Smoke Detector alternative that won’t cost you a few hundred bucks? Try the Roost Batteries which can turn any existing smoke alarm into a smart device just by replacing the batteries. You can turn your alarms on and off from your smartphone as well as be alerted when it goes off. A single pack of Roost Batteries can be bought on Amazon.com for $34.97.

Microbot Push

microbot-push

Simply put – this is button makes dumb things smart. Any device that has a push button to turn it on, can have the Microbot Push added to it and instantly make it powered on remotely. From light switches to coffee makers to crockbots, the Microbot Push is arguably the simplest smart home device on the market. A pack of 2 will onlycost you $59.

Noke Locks

noke

Pronounced “No-Key,” the Noke Locks solve the simple problem of dealing with keys or combinations for locking things in and around your home. The Noke can replace the lock on the shed in the back or that padlock on the cage in the basement of your beach condo where you store your stuff or even that chain lock for parking your bike in front of your brownstone. It looks just like any padlock, but can be controlled by your smartphone to unlock it from anywhere. The Noke Padlock retails for $69.99.

Temp Traq

temp-traq

The Temp Traq doesn’t necessarily make your actual home smarter, but it certainly simplifies part of life inside it for those with small children. One of the hassles of parenting is trying to monitor the temperature of your sick child. There’s the head thermometer that you’re not quite sure how to use properly. There’s the thermometer that goes under your tongue that never stays in place. And then there’s that other thermometer that goes somewhere else and you’re a little grossed out every time you have to use it…you know what I mean. The Temp Traq is basically a thermometer band aid. You stick it on your child and you can monitor his/her temperature throughout the day and even while they sleep right from your smartphone. Plus it can send you an alert if their temperature spikes so you can keep tabs on when they need closer attention. One Temp Traq will cost you only $24.99.

Learning the Lingo: Bidets, Floating Vanities, and Other Bathroom Mysteries

bathroom-lingo

asbe/iStock

Bathrooms have come a long way over the years. The British word for the toilet, “loo,” comes from the French garde à l’eau, meaning “watch out for the water.” In medieval Europe, people would yell this phrase out the window before throwing the contents of their chamber pots onto the streets. At least they warned passers-by.

But today, the once-humble lavatory has become a primary home oasis, often with some serious renovation dough behind it. In fact, bathroom remodeling requests have shot up 64% on HomeAdvisor, a marketplace for online home improvement services.

The bathroom is one of the rooms that prospective home buyers focus on most intently, and as such has been the focal point of a slew of innovation. So what do you call all the sexy features that are prized among homeowners today? Look no further than our Learning the Lingo series where, this week, we take a deep dive into the terminology of bidets, vanities, and more so you can navigate your choices for the best bathroom ever.

Curbless shower

Curbless shower

Astronaut Images/Getty Images

Curbless shower

You know the standard 6-inch (or so) step at the entrance to most showers? Say goodbye to it in this increasingly popular design. In a curbless shower, the floor tiles run straight from the general bathroom area into the shower space, without a curb or lip of any kind.The seamless look gives a clean, modern aesthetic and is perfect for smaller spaces where every inch counts. Depending on the width of the entrance, it’s also accessible by wheelchair. Don’t worry, you won’t have a flood on your hands every time you shower: A glass wall or door typically blocks most of the spray, and a very slight incline in the floor leads to a center drain.

Steam shower

Steam shower generator

Kohler.com

Steam shower generator

Yes, you can bring the spa home with you. You want steam? We’ll give you steam. These popular built-in devices heat a small amount of water and fill up the enclosed shower for aromatherapy sessions, postworkout pampering, or just chilling out in general. The steam shower originated in ancient Roman baths, but today’s modern versions offer a slew of features such as foot massagers and chromotherapy (lights). Some even have built-in cellular or flat-screen technology for those who desperately fear silence.

Soaking tub

Big ol’ tub

Hero Images/Getty Images

Big ol' tub

If you crave major tub time, consider a soaking version, which is deeper than standard models—in fact, it can usually fit two people. President William H. Taft—at 340 pounds, the largest POTUS—required a bathtub of “pondlike dimensions” that could hold “four ordinary men,” according to contemporary newspaper accounts. (On the other hand, stories about Taft getting stuck in his tub and requiring the assistance of White House butlers have never been confirmed.) Taft was ahead of his time: Today, the oversize soaking tub, or garden tub, has overtaken the jetted spa tub in popularity.

Freestanding tub

Freestanding tub

Astronaut Images/Getty Images

Free-standing tub

Yes, freestanding tubs are space hogs, demanding at the very least a few inches of wiggle room on all sides. But they’re also the centerpiece to the ultimate destination bathroom, continually rising in popularity over the past decade. According to a 2014 Wall Street Journal article, more than 60% of poll respondents said they had ordered freestanding tubs when renovating their bathrooms. While the claw-foot tub is the most iconic—and most popular—design, modern minimalist versions have been gaining speed in recent years

Gravity-assisted toilet

Gravity-assisted toilet

Kohler.com

Gravity-assisted toilet

Most household toilets are gravity-assisted—meaning, as you might have guessed, that they use the force of gravity to wash down the bowl’s contents. Until about the 1930s, the pull-chain toilet (with a tank placed high on the wall) was used to maximize the water’s gravitational force. If you’re into the vintage thing (or the Italian restaurant murder scene in “The Godfather”), you can purchase a modern-day version.

Pressure-assisted toilet

Pressure-assisted toilet

Kohler.com

Pressure-assisted toilet

You can attribute the loud whoooosh of most public toilets to this innovation, which uses pressurized air to suck waste through the pipes with more force and speed than gravity. Although more common in commercial spaces, you can buy them for residential spaces, but they remain a niche product (perhaps because midnight trips to the john have a tendency to wake up the whole house). Despite common perceptions to the contrary, they actually use less water than standard gravity models to achieve their dramatic flush.

Low-flow toilet

Persuade Curv Comfort Height low-flow toilet

Kohler.com

Persuade Curv Comfort Height low-flow toilet

These models flooded (sorry) the market when Congress mandated all toilets reduce their flush from 3.5 gallons to 1.6. And they did indeed conserve water. But early models also fell a bit short in the all-important “thorough flushing” department, so they suffered a backlash. The category has rebounded thanks to redesigns, and excellent low-flow options are now available. According to this water-savings calculator, you can conserve 7,000 gallons of water annually for a four-person, two-toilet home.

Dual-flush toilet

Two options for all your flushing needs

Kohler.com

Two options for all your flushing needs

This smart combo combines water-conserving low-flow with more muscle when you need it: Push one button for flushing liquid waste (0.8 to 1 gallon of water) and another for solid waste (1.6 to 2 gallons).

Bidet

Bidet on the left

terex/iStock

Bidet on the left

Popular in Europe and Asia, the water-spray washing system is rare in the United States. While few bathrooms are large enough to accommodate a separate bidet and a toilet, theseat/bidet combo, or “washlet,” is a space- and cost-effective addition. Bidet lovers are bringing their enthusiasm here: Kitano, a Japanese hotel in New York City, is the first to offer washlets manufactured by Toto in all its rooms.

According to Toto, it offers “five warm-water rinsing modes, warm air dryer, an adjustable cleansing wand, heated seat, automatic air purifier, and wireless remote control.” We’re not entirely sure what the wireless remote does, but God bless modern technology!

Selling Your Home this Spring? 7 Tips to Help You Prepare

Selling Your Home this Spring? 7 Tips to Help You Prepare

While it still may be chilly outside, the weather isn’t the only thing that’s about to warm up. The spring selling season is right around the corner, and we’ve got seven things you can do now to prepare for selling your home once spring arrives.

While it still may be chilly outside, the weather isn’t the only thing that’s about to warm up. The spring selling season is right around the corner, and if you’re selling your home, that means competition. The good news is, you can get a head start on preparing your home now, so it’s ready to go once the first signs of spring appear. Here are seven simple tips you can do now, to help get your home market-ready.

1. Give a Thorough Clean

Think spring cleaning territory when deciding what level of clean your home requires for sale. Everything from scrubbing baseboards to dusting fan blades and clearing cobwebs from storage areas should be covered as you scrub-down your home. If the task feels overwhelming, simply go room by room until it’s done.

If you have carpet, and it’s in reasonably good shape, a thorough cleaning with a professional carpet cleaner will improve the look and the odor in your home. If carpets are worn and threadbare, consider a reasonable replacement, such as a good quality laminate. Cracked tiles should be replaced now, if it’s in your budget, for maximum effect.

Carpet cleaner giving a deep clean to carpets

Image Source: Flickr/Laura D’Alessandro

2. Do a Minor Update

It’s no secret that kitchens and bathrooms sell homes. A quick update to a kitchen can make a huge impact simply by cleaning painting or replacing tired hardware and fixtures. If your kitchen lacks a backsplash, this is the perfect time to add one for maximum appeal.

3. Clean the Windows

Even if it’s too cold to tackle the job from the outside, you can get half the job done now. Scrub the interior side of all windows and don’t forget the window sills, tracks of sliding doors, and the surrounding trim. Buyers will notice the attention to detail once your home is on the market.

4. Paint

Choose the spaces that have the boldest color and tone them down to a neutral palette. The goal should be for buyers to see your home as a blank canvas for their own belongings. Focus on high traffic areas next, and finally, repairing any flaking paint in damp areas such as basements or bathrooms is a must.

Image of a row of paint swatches in a store

Image Source: Flickr/Dean Hochman

5. Pack Early

While you don’t need to pack up everything you own, strategically boxing up personal items that will depersonalize your space is a good idea. Family mementos all serve to remind buyers that this is your space, and you want them to picture it as theirs. Storage space is another big item on a buyer’s list, so consider packing up any out of season clothing and tucking them away to make closets seem larger.

6. Purpose Every Room

Every room should have a clear purpose, so buyers can see how versatile your space is. This may mean removing furniture from a crowded space and moving it somewhere else in your home to create defined living areas. Look for opportunities to create functional spaces like an office area or reading nook, and if you have too much furniture, consider putting it in storage. Less furniture will create an open feeling throughout your home.

A cozy home reading nook, staged for real estate

Image Source: Flickr/Michael Pardo

7. Go Outside

While it is too early to landscape, paint, or deal with the exterior areas of the home, curb appeal is essential to getting buyers to even walk through the door. Assessing your home now, from the garden spaces to the roof and front entry, will let you make a list of quick and easy items you can tackle as soon as the weather warms up, which will make selling your home a breeze.