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11 Steps to Winterize a House

Keep your house warm and damage-free all winter with these tips. Whether it's for your primary residence or a second home you're leaving vacant, here are tips for winterizing your house. 

Getty Images

By Devon Thorsby

Extreme winter weather can leave neighborhoods and communities without power or other public services for long periods of time, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warns.

With the risk of damage to your property or personal injury, it's a smart idea to prepare your home for such winter weather emergencies as well as cold weather throughout the season that can cause minor issues or even evolve into larger problems.

Whether it's for your primary residence or a second home you're leaving vacant, here are tips for winterizing your house:

Prepare Your Plumbing

Ensure your plumbing is set up to withstand the cold, and consider utilizing sensors to let you know when there's a problem. "Burst pipes have become one of the most common issues experienced by homeowners in the winter months, and can be very costly to repair due to the extent of water damage that can occur," wrote Steve Wilson, senior underwriting lead for insurance company Hippo, which is headquartered in Palo Alto, California, in an email.

In Northern states where freezing temperatures are expected during a portion of the year, housing codes require insulation and for pipes to be properly protected from the cold. Places that don't see regular frost, however, won't always have a basement for plumbing to stay warmer or effective insulation to keep heat from escaping. As a result, a day or week of freezing temperatures in parts of North Carolina, Georgia and even Texas can cause a lot of damage, says Anne Cope, chief engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety in Richburg, South Carolina. 

If your plumbing runs through a crawl space, consider insulating the pipes or the crawl space itself. "It can be a do-it-yourself project, or it can be a hire-a-handyman project," Cope says.

Wilson also stresses the importance of draining and disconnecting hoses on the exterior of your house to avoid freezing there. "You can purchase a cover for your exterior faucets inexpensively from your local hardware store," he says.

For additional protection, you can get water-leak and pipe-temperature sensors. The former will let you know if pressure inside the pipe suddenly decreases, indicating a burst pipe, while the latter will notify you of dangerously cold pipes so you can prevent a burst pipe.

Additionally, automatic water shutoff valves are becoming more popular in homes. They stop the flow of water should a pipe freeze and burst to reduce the amount of damage to the home.

If the house is vacant: If your home will be vacant for a long period of time, sensors and a remote water shutoff valve could help prevent damage in the house before you can get there.

Clean Out Gutters and Clear the Roof

Leaves, sticks and other bits of nature make their way onto your roof and into your gutters during the fall. Before the first heavy snowfall, be sure to clear debris from your roof and gutters to prevent a buildup of ice and snow, also known as an ice dam, that can get under shingles and cause leaks and water damage inside your house. 

Preventing ice dams and other issues on the exterior of your home should be periodically checked throughout winter as well, Wilson says.

If the house is vacant: Clear as much debris as you can before you close up the house for the winter, but you may need to have a local friend or contractor finish the job when you're away.

Insulate the Attic

Another way to reduce the chances of an ice dam forming is to insulate your attic floor. This helps keep the living areas of your house warmer, Cope explains.

Cope recommends going up
to your attic before the winter weather sets in to examine attic vents, check for leaks and get a look at the insulation. "If your insulation looks terrible, now is a great time of year to get that taken care of," she says.

If the house is vacant: Insulation will help you avoid hefty heating bills during the months that you're not staying in the house. Good insulation that leads to lower heating and cooling bills can also be a plus when you sell the house.

Have Your Heating System Serviced

Have your heating and ventilation system checked and cleaned before the weather gets too cold. If you wait until the first cold snap or snowstorm of the season, many service professionals will be overbooked.

Beyond keeping you warm, a functioning HVAC during the coldest days of the year is key to avoiding frozen pipes, which can burst inside your walls and cause significant damage.

If the house is vacant: Having your HVAC system serviced before you leave for the season is important so cold temperatures don't cause a bigger issue like a burst pipe.

You may be tempted to turn off utilities like gas, power and water if you plan to be away for months at a time. However, a home left to the elements can sustain a lot of damage that you may not see right away. If any water is left in the plumbing, for example, it can easily freeze and cause problems when you return to the home and turn on the utilities, so you would have to be sure all plumbing is thoroughly drained.

Adjust Your Thermostat

The cost of your heating and cooling bills often plays a part in the temperature you stick with during summer and winter – in summer, you may be willing to keep your house at 72 degrees or higher, while in winter you may lower the target temperature to 68 degrees. However, make sure the interior of your home doesn't get too cold as exterior temperatures drop – at the very minimum, the heat should kick on before it dips to 50 degrees Fahrenheit inside.

If the house is vacant: It's important to keep a vacant house at a temperature well above freezing; the standard is between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Call a Chimney Sweep

Whether you have a wood-burning or gas fireplace, make an appointment for your chimney to be inspected annually to see if cleaning or repairs are necessary, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America. In wood-burning fireplaces, a professional will clean out creosote buildup, which comes from burning wood and can cause a fire hazard inside the chimney if it's not cleaned. In any fireplace, it's important to clear animal nests that might be blocking the chimney and to check for issues in the masonry.

If the house is vacant: Be sure to close the chimney flue as well as any hearth doors. That way you'll keep cold drafts from making your furnace work harder and prevent animals from entering through the chimney and getting into other parts of the house.

Check for Drafts

As the weather cools, walk around the house and check for drafts or air leakage, particularly around windows and doors. Use caulk to seal cracks and weatherstripping to help insulate around door and window frames.

If the house is vacant: Checking for drafts and leakage will help cut down on the work your furnace has to do by keeping cold air out.

Keep Rodents Out

The National Pest Management Association reports that rodents get into an estimated 21 
million U.S. homes each winter. Your work to seal holes and weatherstrip around doors and windows will also help eliminate points of entry for small animals or insects.

Move any upholstered furniture from your patio or garage into the house to keep them from becoming rodent nests. Firewood should be kept elevated and away from the exterior walls of your home.

If your house is vacant: Be sure you've removed all food from your pantry before vacating the place, so pests don't have something to feed on if they do get inside. If you have a friend or hired help checking on the property while you're gone, he or she should check for signs of pests inside your home during visits and contact an exterminator if any are found.

Have a Friend on Call

If you go away for vacation or on a business trip, it's good to have a friend, relative or neighbor on call for your temporarily vacant house. Especially if a winter storm occurs while you're gone, this person can make sure your power stays on and even shovel the sidewalk to prevent slipping hazards.

If the house is vacant: Your HVAC may be in perfect condition with everything insulated, but you still shouldn't leave the house unchecked for the entire winter.

"I wouldn't want someone to think that a property can sit vacant for months at a time without someone coming to check on it. You wouldn't do that with your car," Cope says.

If you have friends or relatives nearby who can check on the house every few weeks, ask them to do so. Otherwise, hire a local handyman to regularly check in and ensure the heat continues to work, the power stays on and no critters manage to break their way into the living space. Even if you have security cameras and sensors, line up someone who can come by on short notice.

Move Plants Elsewhere

If you have outdoor potted plants, fall is a good time to bring them inside if you want to keep them alive during the colder months.

If the house is vacant: Any houseplants you want to keep alive should come with your, unless you're planning to have someone visit the house often enough to water them.

Have Monitoring Devices Installed and Updated

Water-leak sensors and automatic water shutoff can help save your house from massive damage due to a burst pipe, but there are plenty of other tools to help monitor your home to keep it running right throughout the season.

"In the winter months, smart devices will serve as your best friend to ensure your home is adequately protected from intruders and that all systems are working properly while you're away," Wilson says. "Some of the most common smart home devices today can track movement, water leaks, smoke alarms and temperature shifts in and outside the home."

If the house is vacant: Make sure any devices you have installed will be able to continuously monitor for long periods of time. "Before leaving your property, ensure you've checked and changed the batteries in your devices, including smoke alarms," Wilson says.

 

Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor for U.S. News & World Report, and has worked for the company since 2015, reporting and editing on all manner of real estate topics, from homebuying and selling to home improvement, mortgages, tenant rights and the housing market. 

Updated on Nov. 30, 2021: This article has been updated with new information.

The New Normal of Selling a Home Today

If you’re selling your home right now—or thinking about doing it soon—you should know that today’s housing market is unlike anything we’ve seen or experienced lately, maybe ever.

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In the past, home sellers might have waited weeks or months to get an offer that might not be as high as they’d hoped. Buyers may have lowballed, or driven a hard bargain asking sellers to make certain repairs or other concessions before closing the deal.

Today, however, many of these realities are no more: In many areas of the country, homes are getting snapped up fast, sometimes within days of going on the market. Buyers mired in bidding wars are pushing their offers over asking price, and often waiving inspections and other demands to sweeten their offer.

In general, this is all good news for sellers—but it also means that it’s more important than ever to understand the market and play your cards carefully to fetch the best offer and terms for you. Here’s what sellers need to know about the real estate landscape today.

How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the housing market today

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much of our lives, and real estate is no exception.

“We’ve all been through a hopefully once-in-a-lifetime experience that dramatically changed the way we lived, worked, and went about our daily lives,” says Realtor.com Chief Economist Danielle Hale. “Even as we move forward and get back to living the way we used to, it’s likely that these experiences will stick with us and shape the way we make decisions for years into the future.”

For one, pandemic lockdowns made many people realize that their current living spaces just aren’t working for them anymore.

“One of the major motivations of homebuyers is the desire to have a larger, more functional home,” says Jason Gelios, a real estate agent with Community Choice Realty in Southeastern Michigan.

This is particularly true for people who started working remotely during the pandemic—who, after cramming their desks into dining rooms, “cloffices,” and other corners, are ready to upgrade to a bigger house so they can work at home with more privacy and comfort.

“This allows for people who are permanently remote-working to be more productive in their home,” explains Gelios.

And since remote workers may no longer need to commute to the office often or at all, many are now house hunting in areas that they hadn’t previously considered.

“With remote work flexibility becoming the new normal, buyers sought out areas like South Florida where they could enjoy the outdoors, extra space, and the tax benefits that come with living here,” says Chad Carroll with The Carroll Group at Compass, in South Florida.

Home inventory is low

Although buyers are out in droves, there are many fewer homes on the market than usual—which is creating a highly competitive market for buyers nationwide.

“Sellers are benefiting from the historically low inventory levels and record demand,” Carroll says. “This combination has fueled bidding wars and led to properties going under contract at an insane velocity.”

These low-inventory conditions may improve somewhat over the next year. But Hale warns, “the market is so out of balance that even with improvement, the number of homes for sale will remain low.”

Home prices are high

With fewer homes and high demand for them, many sellers are seeing multiple offers that, in turn, are driving up prices.

“The ongoing increase in housing prices makes it a great time for a home seller to cash out on their homes now,” says Beatrice de Jong, consumer trends expert at online real estate transaction company Opendoor.

Often, buyers are making offers above the listing price.

“Faced with few homes available for sale, buyers intent on owning are pulling out all the stops,” says Hale.

However, this highly beneficial market for sellers comes with a big caveat if selling means you’ll need to buy a new home yourself.

“Sellers searching for their next home will face the same fierce competition,” warns de Jong.

What’s more, home prices are seeing some early signs of leveling off—or at least not be rising at the breakneck pace of the past. So if you want to sell at the top of the market, it may pay to list sooner rather than later.

Interest rates are at record lows

Even though home prices are high, mortgage interest rates have hit record lows. And since even a 1% lower interest rate could lower monthly mortgage payments by up to 20%, it make homes more affordable for buyers, which is driving them into this competitive market.

“While the cost of a home is on the higher side, the cost to obtain the financing is much lower and oftentimes offsets the higher price, spurring a huge demand for buyers to go out and shop for homes,” Gelios says.

It’s a seller’s market

“There are many ways to define a seller’s market,” says Hale. “But a few key hallmarks are limited availability of homes for sale, fast-selling homes, rising home prices, and competitive buyer offers such as offers over asking price, waiving contingencies, and flexible closing terms.”

All that said, most buyers are looking for a new home because it’s the right time for them—not because of market conditions.

“They’re getting married, moving in with a partner, expanding their family or planning to do so,” Hale explains.

And the same wisdom applies to deciding whether to sell your house: Even though market conditions are in your favor, you should make sure it’s the right time to sell your house for you. Weigh your own personal circumstances, including any current or upcoming life changes such as a new job, retirement, the arrival or departure of family members within the home, and more.

 

Courtesy 

 

7 Credit-Building Myths First-Time Homebuyers May Hear (and Believe) Today

People love to dole out unsolicited advice. Some of it is actually useful. Other tips you hear, though, may do more harm than good—particularly when it comes to your credit score.

Young girl looking at cell phone

(Getty Images)

By Erica Sweeney | Nov 16, 2021

Establishing credit and maintaining a good credit score (also known as a FICO score) is essential if you hope to get a mortgage to buy a home someday.

“Good credit proves to lenders that you’re a reliable and trustworthy person who will pay back the money you owe,” says Ace Watanasuparp, national director of strategic sales at Citizens Home Mortgage.

Having good credit helps you not only get a mortgage, but one with a low interest rate, which will lower your monthly payments and the overall amount you pay for the home. And even if your credit score isn’t stellar right now, Watanasuparp says it’s never too late to start repairing it.

Yet this is where bad advice from uninformed yet well-meaning friends and family could lead you astray. Want some guidance separating fact from fiction? Here’s a look at some of the worst credit-building advice floating around out there that actually isn’t true.

1. To build credit, you’ve got to use credit—lots of it!

Many may insist that the only way to establish good credit is to use it—liberally. While it’s true that utilizing some level of credit is important, more is definitely not better.

“Carrying a high balance on your credit card has the potential to hurt your score,” says Stephen Rosen, head of sales at the mortgage company Better. “And on top of that, you will end up paying more each month, due to interest.”

Credit utilization, or the amount of credit you’re using, makes up 30% of your FICO score. The higher your credit card balance, the higher your utilization rate, which hurts your credit score. So pay as much as you can on your credit card bill each month.

That said, keeping a modest credit card balance can help, Watanasuparp says. A good rule is to use only 30% to 40% of your maximum credit line. So, for a credit card with a $10,000 limit, keep the balance to no more than $3,000 or $4,000.

2. Close your credit cards once you pay them off

Closing a credit card once you’ve paid it off may seem like a logical thing to do—that way, no more debt! Yet in reality, closing cards is a bad idea.

“Closing recently paid off accounts can shorten your credit history, especially if it’s one of your oldest accounts to date,” Rosen says.

Credit history, or how long you’ve had credit accounts, makes up about 15% of your credit score.

Instead of closing the cards, Watanasuparp suggests keeping them open and using them from time to time—and always paying off the balance whenever possible.

3. The occasional late or missed payment is no big deal

Late or missing bill payments happen to just about everyone, and therefore may seem like NBD. On the contrary! Paying your bills on time has a huge effect on your credit, accounting for 35% of your FICO score.

It doesn’t matter how much credit you have, as long as you can manage it, meaning you have enough money to pay your bills and that you’re paying them on time, Watanasuparp says.

“It becomes a problem when you are not able to responsibly manage these lines of credit, and you start falling behind on payments, and you no longer have the funds to back your credit,” he says.

Consistently paying late or not at all suggests that you might not be able to make your mortgage payments either, so it could be tough to get a home loan. Setting up automatic payments or calendar reminders will help you avoid missing payments.

4. You can boost your credit score by adding your spouse to your accounts

If your spouse has excellent credit—but yours is subpar—you may have heard that adding your upstanding partner to your own credit accounts will help raise your own score. Sorry, but it’s not that simple.

Credit scores are unique to each individual, Rosen says, so merging accounts won’t boost your credit. However, there isone way a high-scoring partner does work in your favor.

“When it comes to applying for new credit with your partner, such as filling out a joint application for a mortgage, each partner’s credit score is taken into consideration by the lenders,” he says.

Lenders will often average out a couple’s scores to determine your overall creditworthiness as a team. So in this sense, your partner could help you get a loan with good terms.

Once you’ve got a loan together—and if it gets paid on time—this will start reflecting positively on both your credit reports. This takes time, however, so don’t expect any miracles overnight.

5. You should constantly check your credit report

These days, sites like CreditKarma.com make it easy (and free) to check your credit score and report on a daily basis. But that doesn’t mean you should.

Watanasuparp says you only need to check your credit score and report once a year—or every three to six months before getting a mortgage—to make sure there are no errors or late payments that you’re not aware of.

6. Getting a credit report will lower your score

The good news is that checking your credit yourself through an official report from one of the primary reporting agencies is a soft inquiry, which won’t affect your credit score.

However, loan applications for new credit cards or mortgages are considered hard inquiries, and will show up and stay on the report for up to two years, briefly lowering your score.

“My advice is to avoid loan applications for at least six months before you apply for a mortgage. This will ensure your best possible credit score is on file,” Rosen says.

Then, you can shop around with multiple lenders to find the one offering the best rate.

7. You need to hire a credit repair agency to clean up your credit

Credit repair agencies promise to repair your credit for a fee, by checking your credit report for errors and disputing them for you. However, it’s usually unnecessary.

You can dispute information on your credit report yourself for free, using AnnualCreditReport.com, a federally authorized site.

Furthermore, no one can remove accurate information, such as a history of late payments, from the report, Rosen says.

“There’s nothing that a credit repair company can do for you that you can’t do yourself,” he says. “The only legitimate way to enhance your credit score is to practice good credit management.”

 

Erica Sweeney is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Parade, HuffPost, Business Insider, Money, and other publications.

7 ‘Design Therapy' Hacks to Improve Your Office

A well-designed work area can improve your mental and physical health. Here’s how to create your best office space.

by Melissa Dittmann Tracey

Could an inviting workspace make you feel better and work smarter? Jessica Shaw, interior design director of Turett Collaborative, believes it can. She offers steps to practice “design therapy” for your office space, factoring in colors, layout, lighting, and more.

Shaw draws from “neuro-architecture,” which explores how art, color, lighting, and design in your office space can affect a person’s mood, productivity, and health.

She offers the following tips for creating an office that boosts mental and physical health, whether it’s your work-from-home area or in-person workplace.

1. Use color smartly.

Color can potentially affect a person’s mood, emotions, concentration, and even physical health, according to a body of science called color psychology. Draw from some of these insights to outfit your workspace.

  • When to use brighter hues: For example, bold, bright colors like yellow have been linked to boosting positive thoughts and sparking creativity. Red can stimulate and energize. For detail-oriented work, you may benefit by adding red accessories to keep you focused, Shaw says.

©Turett Collaborative

  • When to use softer colors: Lighter shades of blue and green can bring a sense of calmness to a space. These colors tend to work best in lounge spaces and break areas, Shaw says.

  • When to use white: Use white sparingly in furnishings and accent pieces. Too much white can make a space feel cold and uninviting. Use white more as an accent color or within a more monochromatic color scheme, Shaw recommends. She suggests reserving white for more serious spaces in a workplace, such as conference or meeting rooms.

©Turett Collaborative

A balanced composition of white and color brings visual harmony to the Turett Collaborative’s Civic Hall lounge area.

Use the color wheel for inspiration for the color of your workspace, Shaw suggests.

  • Choose analogous colors: Groups of three colors beside one another on the color wheel (e.g. blue, blue-green, and green)—to create harmony in your office.

  • Reserve complimentary colors: Opposite hues on the color wheel—for a bolder look (e.g. yellow and purple or orange and blue).

  • Consider triadic colors: Three colors equally spaced on the color wheel—for a more energetic, personality-filled space (e.g. red, blue, and yellow). 

  • Use color with intention: Pops of red energize this office space.

©Turett Collaborative

Also, Shaw recommends strategically using different hues, tints, tones, and shades to draw attention to certain objects within the workspace.

©Turett Collaborative

An energizing palette of triadic colors adds an element of contrast to the Turett Collaborative Civic Hall dining area.

2. Don’t play it too safe.

You want your workspace to have a sense of harmony, but you also don’t want it to bore you, your agents, or staff. When using interior elements that are too similar, your space can appear dull. But you want a workspace that will visually stimulate. To do that, bring together pieces that juxtapose one another in color, form, or aesthetic to liven up the workspace, Shaw says.

“To break up the rigidity of a grid-based layout often seen in traditional offices, try incorporating organic, soft shapes to add a layer of dimension, dynamism, and visual complexity,” Shaw says. “Balancing masculine and feminine pieces is a great example of creating tension to achieve a cohesive, yet elevated look.”

©Turett Collaborative

Interior designer Jessica Shaw creates a bold, yet balanced atmosphere with the use of complementary reds and greens in her personal home office.

3. Go abstract with your art.

Abstract artwork could make you feel more creative and spur more innovation in the workplace. “Art is an incredibly influential aspect in impacting moods and the feel of an environment,” Shaw says. “In a sense, it can be a reflection and extension of your company or individual brand.”

©Turett Collaborative

The colorful artwork on the wall of Turett Collaborative’s Civic Hall aim to project visual complexity and stimulation. Large abstract prints can command attention and make a statement.

©Turett Collaborative

A gradient tile art piece of geometric patterns composed of sage greens and blues adds texture to the space.

4. Maximize the light.

Factor in sunlight when determining the optimal layout for the office. Brighter work environments with natural lighting can help make workers feel more productive, according to a 2018 study conducted by Cornell University Professor Alan Hedge. Natural light also can help reduce eyestrain, drowsiness, and headaches, and even elevate a person’s mood.

Try to locate desks near windows to gain the benefits of natural light, Shaw says.

©Turett Collaborative

5. Section off with the flooring.

The flooring can greatly enhance the overall look of a room. “Carpeting provides a softer feel to a space while hardwood floors create a strong, polished look,” Shaw says.

In the workplace particularly, different flooring can help section off spaces in the absence of walls. Use a variety of flooring as an alternative to physical dividers like cubicles. It can keep the space feeling more open, too.

“Lines also encourage movement; our eyes are trained to follow lines in the direction they flow,” Shaw says. “For instance, vertical lines promote movement and mobility, whereas horizontal lines create a grounded, secure feeling.”

Try vertical running wood or carpeting along hallways to bring about movement and then use horizontal lines in spaces for relaxation and lounging, Shaw recommends.

©Turett Collaborative

Opposing carpet patterns can liven up a monochromatic scheme for a hallway while also creating the perception of two work zones.

6. Minimize visual and noise distractions.

The more objects and items on display on a desk, the more visual and informational processing a person has to do. That can make it difficult to concentrate on work.

Visual clutter hampers organization and productivity. Noisy offices also can be a detriment to your mental health. This also applies to those who work from home, who may face noisy pets or neighborhood construction.

Consider furniture and design elements that can absorb sounds, such as carpeting, acoustic wall paneling, or drapery.

©Turett Collaborative

Pullout drawers allow for discrete organization, keeping the office of this apartment clean and uncluttered. Carpeting provides sound absorption.

7. Follow the principles of proxemics.

Let the law of proxemics be your guide to designing your office space. It states that various distances can serve different forms of interaction.

For example, a distance of 1.5 feet to 4 feet best facilitates friendly, casual conversation, while distances less than 1.5 feet promote a stronger connection between individuals.

“It is important to design a work environment that allows for these varying degrees of physical separation to help promote both individual work and collaborative efforts,” Shaw says. “Alleviating stress and fostering a safe environment contribute to employees’ overall well-being and comfort.”

This may be even more important as more people prepare to return to the workspace after working from home during the pandemic. Open hallways and additional spacing between workstations reduce visual congestion and naturally create social distancing and separation for employees who prefer that, Shaw says.

Turett Collaborative’s Civic Hall design layout includes both up-close and distanced working arrangements to suit the needs and comfort levels of all workers.

©Turett Collaborative

 

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine. 

Why Does Dust Accumulate So Quickly After You Clean?

No, you're not seeing things—dust really does seem to build up faster on recently wiped-down surfaces. Here's how to slow the course.

CREDIT: VADIMGUZHVA / GETTY IMAGES

By Lauren Wellbank

If you examine your freshly dusted furniture, electronics, and knick-knacks a day after you clean, you might notice some residual debris. You didn't miss a spot: According to Vera Peterson, the president of Molly Maid, dust moves that fast. "On freshly clean, beautiful surfaces, you're more likely to notice dust when it accumulates," she notes. "However, if your dusting method isn't efficient, you might be stirring up more dust than you are trapping." Ahead, her best tips for removing this household nuisance—and keeping it at bay for longer.

To prevent more dust, change your cleaning method and use the right tools. 

The most efficient way to dust is with a top-down approach, notes Peterson. "When dusting, work from top to bottom—dust first, then vacuum, " she says, to prevent having to vacuum twice (before and after you dust). And while feather dusters were once a popular tool to sweep a variety of surfaces, a microfiber cloth is best: "This will gather the dust, instead of just pushing it around," she explains. Working with a cloth will also cut down on the amount of particulate you kick up and into your home—which tends to land on your freshly cleaned tables and appliances, leading to faster accumulation.

Identify any dust-enhancing culprits. 

If you have noticed that your home seems dustier than it should, there may be a surprise culprit: your HVAC filter. "An electrostatic-charged furnace filter attracts and captures dust particles which reduces the amount of dust floating in your home," Peterson explains. "Also, be sure you're dusting and vacuuming often (that's a given!) and regularly grooming your pets."

Dust often. 

Maintaining a dust-free space is so much easier than doing a deep clean after waiting too long. "If you really want to keep your home dust-free, dust at least twice per week, especially if you suffer from allergies," says Witulski. "That's not always feasible for everyone, so at least hit the areas you touch most (like furniture, remotes, and household technologies) once a week. Then, you can focus on those often-overlooked areas (think your ceilings, blinds, and doorways) less frequently. Aim to reach those about once a month!" 

Turn to microfiber. 

Forget that old school feather duster—it only pushes dust around. A simple microfiber cloth and water will get the job done and won't introduce any unnecessary chemicals into your home. Thanks to the cloth's unique structure, fibers are able to grab onto dust, trapping it instead of swirling it around your surfaces. For light dust, you can use a dry cloth; if it's stubborn, a damp rag will work better, especially on glass.

Dust from top to bottom. 

"Always dust your room from top to bottom," adds Witulski. "This seems obvious, but many people forget this step which ultimately duplicates your work (or leaves your home dusty)." First, hit the ceiling, corners, molding, and light fixtures. Can't reach those high-up areas? Wrap a flat-top mop with your microfiber cloth "to get into those high crevices," she explains.

As you work your way down the walls, wipe down any décor or frames before moving on to lampshades, furniture, and objects (be sure to move furniture and objects around so you're getting to untouched areas, such as the space under your television or couch). Don't forget to dust past the edge of a surface as well, if the cloth stops on the edge it will leave a line of dust. Finally, it's time to vacuum. At this point, most of the dust has either been picked up by your microfiber towel or fallen to the floor, which is why you should vacuum last. Take your time, and make sure to move your machine in more than one direction to pick up all of the dust and dirt.

Focus on prevention. 

Want to dust less? Don't let it into the house in the first place. "Most dust is brought into your home through the front the door. Place a wipe-off mat at the entrance of your home to trap the dust before it spreads. These mats should be cleaned or shaken out once a week," says Witulski. "Besides dusting regularly, remove your shoes when you enter your home and change your vacuum bag and filter regularly. But do this outside, so you don't spread more dust!"

Call in the pros if you need to. 

While most homeowners are able (and willing) to stay on top of the maintenance that lowers the amount of dust and debris that accumulates on your furniture, electronics, and knick-knacks, nothing will beat the clean a true professional can provide, says our expert. They can target high-touch areas (which tend to be the dirtiest) and provide you with a fresh canvas. After all, keeping your home tidy and dust-free is a lot easier when you're simply touching up hot spots, as opposed to tackling deep cleans.

 

Lauren is a freelance writer for MarthaStewart.com.

As Boomers Downsize, Competition Grows for Simpler—but Not Always Smaller—Homes

Older buyers seeking smaller or easier-to-maintain homes are crashing into younger buyers in a housing market where the competition is fierce.

Red, white and green shutter houses

(Getty Images / Realtor.com)

By Julia Carpenter | Nov 1, 2021

Soaring home prices and new construction favoring bigger builds have interrupted traditional patterns of homeownership for buyers across the country. Smaller houses, desired by aging seniors and young couples alike, are among the toughest to find. The supply of homes up to 1,400 square feet is near a five-decade low, according to data from Freddie Mac.

In 2020, about 28% of real-estate transactions could be characterized as downsizing, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors. The majority of these transactions are made by buyers 55 or older.

“We have a housing shortage,” Mr. Yun said. “Clearly from the age patterns, young people want to upsize, and the older generation is looking to downsize, but not greatly—only 100 or 200 square feet smaller than where they’d been living.”

The typical housing cycle for many families—kids go off to school, household sizes shrink, empty-nesters hand off their family homes to new households raising their own children—has been disrupted in recent years, said Len Kiefer, deputy chief economist at the mortgage giant Freddie Mac. The large baby boomer population outnumbers the rising Gen X-ers, who would be the ones to traditionally take over the family homes.

Many boomers want to “age in place,” meaning living in their original home independently into their later years. A 2018 survey of 2,287 adults from the AARP shows seniors would prefer to stay in the communities where they already live.

“They like their grocery store, they like their doctor, they like their local options,” said Karan Kaul, senior research associate at the Urban Institute.

Once they decide to move to a smaller home, they end up competing with first-time buyers and limited supply, Mr. Kiefer said. Price growth has been strongest for smaller, less-expensive homes. “That works against you in terms of what you can get for your buck,” Mr. Kiefer said.

If they haven’t paid off their mortgage, older buyers might find they could sell their current home at a high price but then pay more in mortgage payments on a smaller place. The share of older homeowners with debt has steadily increased over the past decade, rising to 55.4% in 2019 from 33.2% in 2007. This rise is driven in large part by mortgage debt, according to data from the Urban Institute.

After retiring from working at the New York Department of Education for 33 years, Enid Maldonado-Salgado started to make a plan to move from her current home in Flushing, in New York City’s Queens borough, to further east on Long Island, where she and her husband can be closer to family.

The 60-year-old worked with a Realtor for a year before retirement. Ms. Maldonado-Salgado said her goal was to find a home valued at 80% of her current home’s worth. She found the house-hunting process difficult, even with the money she had saved from refinancing her existing home and the substantial profit she expects from selling it.

For Ms. Maldonado-Salgado, downsizing meant finding an affordable home that wouldn’t require too much maintenance or upkeep. She wanted the freedom to travel and to be closer to her grandchildren.

Ms. Maldonado-Salgado is now in the process of closing on a new house in Smithtown. The new house is nearly equal in square footage to her house in Queens.

“It wasn’t about finding something smaller, it was about finding something that benefited my budget,” she said. “We wanted to make things simpler for ourselves.”

 

Courtesy: 

Will Rising Mortgage Rates Make Homebuying More Expensive—or Less?

It could become a lot more challenging to buy a home in the coming months—or it may have just gotten a whole lot easier.

(Getty / Realtor.com)

By Sharon Lurye for Realtor.com | Nov 3, 2021

After hitting historic lows, mortgage interest rates are creeping up. The U.S. Federal Reserve’s announcement on Wednesday that it will taper its purchases of bonds and mortgage-backed securities is expected to keep pushing mortgage rates higher.

Those higher rates could indeed make homebuying more expensive for many as their monthly mortgage payments get bigger. But in this paradigm-breaking market, higher rates could also prove to be a boon for buyers in some markets by keeping prices in check and lessening competition. That could make homebuying less expensive if buyers aren’t spending as much on their homes and engaging in crazy bidding wars—possibly a welcome lifeline for many first-time buyers who’ve been barred from homeownership by record-high prices.

Confused? Well, today’s COVID-19-fueled housing market is like nothing the U.S. has seen before. There is a dire housing shortage, builders haven’t been able to ramp up, and a massive generation of millennials is champing at the bit to become homeowners. And so depending on a variety of factors, these rising rates could be either a blessing or a curse for prospective homebuyers.

How can you tell which side of the equation you’ll wind up on?

Higher mortgage rates could hurt buyers struggling with high home prices

For some, higher interest rates are a double whammy of bad news. Home prices in most competitive housing markets will still remain high. And after buyers purchase homes, they will be paying more in interest. So buying a home will be more expensive all around.

“It’s going to be less affordable a year from now than where we are today,” warns Leonard Kiefer. He is the deputy chief economist at Freddie Mac, the government-backed organization that helps support the U.S. housing market.

His team forecasts that mortgage rates will reach 3.2% by the end of the year, and go up to 3.7% by the end of 2022 for 30-year fixed-rate loans. At the same time, housing prices will go up 7% in 2022, according to Freddie Mac’s price index—although that’s still better than the explosive 16.9% growth of 2021.

Low rates, which bottomed out at just 2.65% in the first week of January for 30-year fixed-rate loans, helped to fuel the explosion in home prices in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Homes could cost more, while monthly mortgage payments stay the same as they were a few years ago when rates were higher.

For example, the monthly mortgage payment on a median-priced home of $380,000 with a 2.65% mortgage rate would be $1,225 a month on a 30-year loan. That payment goes up about $80 a month with a 3.14% rate. Over 30 years, that can equal nearly $29,000. (This is for buyers who have a 20% down payment. It does not include property taxes, home insurance, or homeowners association fees.)

Rates averaged 3.14% in the week ending Oct. 28, according to Freddie Mac data.

But, historically speaking, rates even in the 3% range are still very low. It’s less than the current rate of inflation (5.4% in September, according to the Consumer Price Index). This means that banks aren’t even charging enough in interest to make up for the value that money loses over time due to inflation. With such low rates, there will still be plenty of buyers who want to jump in on a mortgage.

Plus, the majority of millennials are now in their 30s, the prime age to buy a first home. And they are the largest demographic group in the country. But instead of more housing going up to accommodate them, the number of available homes has shrunk with construction declining and investors turning single-family homes into rentals.

That will keep competition high as will the dearth of homes for sale.

“We are living in an unprecedented housing market,” says Jodi Hall, president of Nationwide Mortgage Bankers, a lender. “Housing prices will continue to rise because of the shortage of housing, specifically homes for first-time homebuyers.”

Higher mortgage rates could keep rising home prices in check

Other experts take a sunnier view. They argue that higher mortgage rates will finally cool down some of the cutthroat competition over housing and—eventually—help push down sale prices.

“Prospective homebuyers should actually be praying for rates to start creeping up,” says Katie Gatti, a personal finance consultant and founder of the Money with Katie blog.

The big picture suggests price increases will at least have to slow down. Median incomes have barely grown since 2000—while housing prices have skyrocketed. That means “price growth will almost certainly have to slow,” says Gatti. There just aren’t enough people who can afford current prices.

“As the prices get higher, that potential buyer pool shrinks,” says Gatti. “Simply put, our economy—and the average income— can’t support the cost of a home in most cities.”

Ultimately, homebuyers may still be out of luck if they want to see home prices actually go down.

“With how hot the market is, the rising rates will only slightly affect housing prices,” says Khari Washington, owner of 1st United Realty and Mortgage in Riverside, CA.

Price growth may slow down, meaning prices are still increasing, but at a more gradual, manageable pace. Offers over asking could also decrease, which would help buyers’ bottom lines.

Why mortgage rates matter to homebuyers

Mortgage rates aren’t just an esoteric statistic about the real estate industry. For most Americans, they determine how much it costs to own a home. Rates have been falling in the U.S. since the1980s. But when the pandemic hit, they became almost absurdly low thanks, in part, to the Federal Reserve’s purchases of mortgage-backed securities.

When lenders make mortgages, they typically bundle up the loans into these securities, otherwise known as mortgage bonds, and sell them on the secondary market to investors. This frees up money to make new loans.

When the pandemic struck the nation in March 2020, the Fed announced it would buy bonds to help stabilize the economy and the housing market. That led to a surge in demand, which pushed mortgage interest rates down to record lows. When the bond market is strong, mortgage rates fall.

As a result of these early pandemic moves, the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell below 3% for the first time in July 2020.

Now that the economy has rebounded and unemployment has dropped, the Fed is diminishing its bond purchases. This weakening bond market should lead to rising mortgage rates.

Mortgage rates aren’t the only big factor driving the housing market. The main problem is a lack of homes for sale. Historically low rates encouraged more people to go out and buy a house. But the number of homes for sale, already well below what was needed, dried up even further. And the residential construction industry hasn’t caught up.

Freddie Mac estimates the U.S. needs 3.8 million more homes to fix this shortage. While an average of 418,000 new starter homes a year went up in the 1970s, that number plummeted to just 65,000 in 2020.

“Is there going to be relief? Probably not for some time,” says Freddie Mac’s Kiefer. “Fundamentally, the issue for the housing market is lack of supply. We just haven’t built a lot.”

 

Sharon Lurye is a freelance journalist based in New Orleans. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2018.

 

5 Easy Decor Hacks That'll Brighten Your Home—and Your Mood—This Winter

If you struggle with seasonal depression, these simple indoor winter decorating ideas can lighten your home and mood.

 

By Katie Holdefehr | Updated October 13, 2021

As the days get shorter and our homes get darker, it's easy for the dim light and cold weather to put a damper on our moods. If you're determined to beat the fall and winter blues this year, there are some scientifically-backed methods to try, and you can also adjust your home decor to make your space a cheery oasis. 

While there are only so many days you can spend snuggled up on the sofa before you start wishing for springtime, these easy decor tricks will make your home a lighter, brighter, and cozier retreat this winter. According to designer Nicole Gibbons, all it takes is a fresh coat of paint, some carefully chosen window treatments, and a few live plants. Even a simple swap like changing the light bulbs in a room can make your space feel cheerier. Here are five designer-approved ways to design a home that will help you fight the fall and winter blues.

1 Brush on a Bright, Warm Paint Color

Consider the paint color on the walls in the spaces you tend to hang out the most in the winter, like the living room or kitchen. Before winter really hits, think about painting the room a neutral color with warm undertones, like Timeless from Clare. "It will bring a clean, bright feeling to your space and the cozy, almost ivory winter white look adds a soft and relaxed warmth to your home," Gibbons says. If you and your family hang out all winter in the kitchen, this creamy white will make the room feel less sterile and more inviting.

And if you're craving a little more color? "I also love vibrant hues that brighten and uplift a space during a cold, dreary winter and also look great year-round. A bright, airy color like Headspace will reflect light and help open up a room," Gibbons explains.

2 Introduce Live Plants

Even if the trees outside your window are bare, you can still bring leafy greenery into your home this winter. Plants not only add color and life to a room, but Gibbons points out that studies have shown that the presence of nature may lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. Our advice: start out with some easy-to-care-for house plants so you can get the full stress-busting benefits—without worrying about keeping your new plant babies alive.

3 Switch Out the Light Bulbs

Less hours of sunlight and cloudier skies are a big factor contributing to the fall and winter blues. To make the inside of your home feel bright and sunny, Gibbons suggests switching to LED light bulbs, which emit the most light while using the least amount of energy (bonus: you'll also save money on your utility bill). Look for LED bulbs in soft white, which will brighten the room, without making it look too stark.

4 Let the Light In

Since there's less natural light streaming in the windows in the winter, make sure your decor maximizes what little sunlight there is. Gibbon's recommendation: Opt for sheer curtains that won't block the light, as well as stylish pullbacks. When installing a curtain rod or brackets, make sure to set them slightly outside the window frame, so that when the curtains are pulled open, they won't block the sides of the window.

Check: is there anything blocking the windows, like plants, furniture, or lamps? Relocate these items to let more light in.

5 Add Bursts of Color

When it comes to winter decor, we naturally think of darker, moodier hues. But Gibbons recommends trying something new this year. "Bring in fun pops of color in your throws and pillows to help brighten your space even more," she says. Warm red throw pillows or dish towels will add energy to the space—and a sense of playfulness will make you smile more than decor that takes itself a little too seriously. Buy inexpensive throw pillow covers you can swap out whenever you're craving a change of scenery.

 

Katie Holdefehr is a senior editor at RealSimple.com, where she writes about everything from decor ideas to dryer balls. 

Selling a Haunted House? Disclose With Care, or the Deal Could Die

You’re probably aware that you have to disclose any known physical issues with your house when you’re selling it—such as termites or a cracked foundation. But did you know you might have to disclose spiritual problems, as well?

(DNY59/iStock)

By Warren Christopher Freiberg

In New York’s Stambovsky v. Ackley (commonly known as the “Ghostbusters” ruling), the court decided that if homeowners have claimed publicly that their home is haunted, they can’t turn around and deny that it’s haunted when they try to sell it.

The bottom line? Be careful if you go mouthing off about things that go bump in the night. Joking or not, you might have to disclose it to prospective buyers—or risk losing the deal or—worse—getting sued. Yes, you can get sued over ghosts... Scary!

Here’s what you need to know about how to make sure you’re legally covered when selling a home you think might just be haunted.

1. Make sure you really live in a haunted house

Naturally, when you tell people your home is haunted, there are going to be some different reactions.

Some people will think you’re nuts. Others will be intrigued and will want to hang out at your place to see if the walls bleed or your refrigerator houses an ancient demon. 

So, if you like company, advertising your home as haunted can actually be a plus.

But more likely, you’re heading down a rabbit hole that’s probably best avoided. Before you start spouting off to friends, family, and random strangers on the street about your place being haunted, rule out every other reasonable possibility first.

News flash: Just because lights turn off and on by themselves, that doesn’t mean you have a ghost.

“Flickering lights can be an electrical problem and potential fire hazard,” says Bonnie Vent, a medium who runs a website with listing of purportedly haunted homes. “I always recommend that a homeowner have an electrician come out and do a full inspection. Electric gates opening and closing by themselves can be a faulty sensor.”

If you’ve had the house inspected and still notice seemingly paranormal activity, Vent recommends keeping a log of it. After a while, you might recognize a pattern that can establish whether something paranormal is really occurring.

2. Keep your mouth shut

Let’s say you keep a record of the weird happenings in your home, and you’re pretty darn sure you have a spirit.

Remember this: Much like the existence of your stockpile of signature edition “Golden Girls” collector plates, there’s no reason to actually tell other people about it.

The reason why the buyer prevailed and was able to back out of the contract in Stambovsky is because the owners had bragged about their home’s supernatural reputation in Reader’s Digest and local newspapers.

Had the owners kept any paranormal happenings to themselves, the buyer would have had to prove in court that the house was haunted and that the sellers knew at the time of closing. You think that’s easy? That’s not easy.

In fact, most judges would have probably laughed that case out of the courtroom. Stambovsky wasn’t really so much about the existence of ghosts, but the importance of disclosing the reputation of a home when selling it.

“In no way does the law make a decision on haunted or not haunted,” Vent says. “It is about the reputation of the property and the potential buyer’s right to know.”

3. Then again, it could be a selling point

If you truly think your house is haunted, but you’re worried that disclosing that fact might kill the deal, keep this in mind: It could work in your favor.

Maybe your prospective buyer ain’t afraid of no ghosts. You could tell them they’re moving into the next Amityville Horror house, and they might laugh it off and move right in. A lot of buyers are just looking to save money, regardless of a home's reputation.

“I would say in New York City, it happens fairly often—anything prewar, and especially downtown in the Village,” says Mike Fabbri, a licensed real estate agent in Manhattan. “[It’s] more just a vibe or energy that can be felt. But I’d say it’s never usually a deterrent.”

In fact, Fabbri (who has a “personal fear of the paranormal”) even refers his clients to a spiritual healer who does sage cleansings of their new homes.

You might ask your real estate agent what reaction they’ve gotten in response to haunted houses in the area. If you’re in an area with a big market for old homes, buyers might accept a little hauntings as part of the deal. It’s important to stay informed and team up with the right agent. Here’s how to find a real estate agent in your area.

4. Deaths on the property have different legal implications

Realistically, few of us will probably ever deal with the issue of buying or selling a haunted home, but that doesn’t mean that the reputation of a home is never an issue in a sale.

The law recognizes “stigmatized properties”—homes where murders, suicides, or criminal activities have occurred in the past.

In some states, such as Alaska and South Dakota, a seller must disclose if a homicide or suicide has occurred in a home in the 12 months prior to sale. California requires disclosing if any deaths occurred in a home within three years of the sale.

Other states, such as Arizona and Indiana, have specific statutes on the books that don’t require the seller to disclose anything about whether the property is stigmatized. The best option? Check with a Realtor® in your state if you’re unsure about what you need to tell prospective buyers about a home’s history.

And leave the lights on tonight. Just in case.

 

Warren Christopher Freiberg is an attorney and freelance writer living in Chicago. He has previously written for Den of Geek US, TechnoLawyer, and Hustler.

Lenders Shift Focus to Home Buyers as Refinances Slow

Refinancings have kept lenders busy as homeowners have arranged lower mortgage rates to lessen their monthly mortgage payments. But as the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rises above 3%, lenders are shifting their focus to compete for more home buyers as refinancings slow down.

© Vertigo3d - E+/Getty Images

October 20, 2021

In the third quarter, purchase mortgages comprised nearly half of the loans packaged into government-backed securities and sold to investors, the highest share since prior to the pandemic, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The refinance surge has largely ended as mortgage rates have increased. Applications to refinance a home loan fell by 7% last week and are 22% lower than a year ago, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported Wednesday.

“Refinance applications declined for the fourth week as rates increased, bringing the refinance index to its lowest level since July 2021,” says Joel Kan, the MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.

But the home purchase market remains hot, even as rates have inched up. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.05% last week, according to Freddie Mac.

As refinancing activity declines, home buyers may find themselves better positioned to negotiate a lower interest rate, Sam Polland, a loan officer at Intercoastal Mortgage LLC in Potomac, Md., told The Wall Street Journal.

Lenders refocusing on the home purchase market are thriving. U.S. Bancorp says that in the first half of 2021, about half of its mortgages went to buyers. It originated more than $28 billion in the third quarter, up 11% from a year ago, according to Inside Mortgage Finance data.

 

Source: “Rising Mortgage Rates Shift Lenders' Focus to Home Buyers,” The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 17, 2021) [Log-in required.] and “Weekly Mortgage Demand Drops Over 6% After Interest Rates Move Even Higher,” CNBC (Oct. 20, 2021)

Homeowners Unsure Whether to Sell

Many homeowners are wrestling with the decision on whether to sell or not. After all, home appreciation has skyrocketed over the past year, and the temptation may be stronger than ever.

©fstop123 - Getty Images

Homeowners usually sell their homes after 16 years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. About 20.2 million homeowners have purchased their home in the last 10 to 19 years, which would mean many of them may be feeling that desire to move, notes the National Association of REALTORS® Economists’ Outlook blog.

“Although the market typically slows down in fall, there is still stiff competition among buyers, with multiple offers for each home due to low inventory,” writes Nadia Evangelou, NAR’s senior economist and director of forecasting, on the association’s blog. “As a result, sellers continue to have strong negotiating power as most of them are able to sell their home for higher than the asking price.”

Homebuying activity remains strong this fall, even if reports do indicate it has slowed somewhat from the ultra-busy summer. Buyer demand continues to outpace supply. Eighty-seven percent of homes sold in August were on the market for less than a month, according to NAR data.

Also, for home sellers who also have to buy, they can still take advantage of historically low mortgage rates. Rates are expected to rise over the next year. Last week, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.05%, according to Freddie Mac.

Bidding wars are still occurring too. About four offers were received on each closed home sale in August, according to real estate professionals surveyed for the REALTOR® Confidence Index survey for August.

Source: REALTORS® Confidence Index Survey, August 2021

A recent report on HomeLight says that certain homeowners especially should consider selling now, like those desiring to trade up and wanting to lock in a low mortgage rate; those who are looking to maximize retirement funds; and homeowners who have a current house that may need some work (seller’s markets tend to offer homeowners negotiation leverage in repairs).

Stacey Glenn, a real estate professional in Fort Myers, Fla., told HomeLight that it may cost home buyers about 10% to 20% more to purchase a home than a year ago, but buyers can still come out ahead in the long run, if they remain financially stable and stay in the house long enough for market appreciation.

On the other hand, HomeLight points out that homeowners may not want to sell if they recently refinanced their home; can’t afford current housing prices; or haven’t built up much equity yet.

Source: “Instant Reaction: Mortgage Rates, October 14, 2021,” National Association of REALTORS® Economists’ Outlook blog (Oct. 14, 2021) and “Should I Sell My House Now or Wait? In 2021, Make Hay While the Sun Shines,” HomeLight.com (Sept. 9, 2021)

What Is Wainscoting? Pros, Cons, and Costs of This Trendy Wall Decor

Many homeowners and interior designers appreciate these wooden panels for their ability to make any room look a little more buttoned up. It’s a decorative wall trim that’s never really been seen as a home decor “don’t,” likely due to its versatility—there’s a type of panel that suits just about every design style.

Here are some details on where the heck this trend came from, and (more importantly) the many ways wainscoting can be used to boost your home’s interior appeal.

By Cathie Ericson | Oct 17, 2021

What is wainscoting and what is it used for?

Wainscoting started out in the 18th century as a wall covering used to help insulate a room and provides a more durable surface than a painted Sheetrock wall.

Photo by Upside Development

The height of this detail can vary depending on your rooms’ designs and the look you are trying to achieve.

According to Barbara Mount of Barbara Mount Designs and Windermere Realty Group, in Lake Oswego, OR, wainscoting often goes up as high as 5 feet for more impact. It can also be taken up well beyond chair-rail height—most of the way up the wall for an extra layer of protection, leaving the top 2 feet for paint or accent wallpaper.

Wainscoting comes in a wide variety of materials

Today’s wainscoting designs run the gamut of wood products. Depending on the value of the home, some contractors will use medium-density fiberboard, an engineered product also known as pressed wood—a fine, cost-effective choice for any room except those with water, says Mount.

“If you want this paneling element in a bathroom or kitchen, use real wood because it will hold up to spatters and spills,” she adds.

Another choice in bathrooms and other areas prone to moisture is wainscoting made from ceramic tile, which appeals because it is nonporous and easy to clean.

Photo by C&M Woodworking

If you’re going for that shabby chic, rustic farmhouse look in a kitchen or den, you might want to consider beadboard wainscoting, which is historically made from a series of vertical plywood planks separated by half-rounded vertical grooves, or “beads.”

Another option you can choose to create your wainscot look is shiplap, which uses a horizontal pattern of interlocking boards.

“While in the past white shiplap has been on-trend, painted shiplap can give a room a much different look if you’re not going for that country feel,” says Nikki James, studio manager for Ashton Woods, a homebuilding company in Dallas.

Other iterations of this trim include PVC plastic, embossed metal, and molded drywall—any of which can add texture and style to a room.

Wainscoting is a versatile trim for many rooms

Traditional wainscot designs in white or dark shades can add sophisticated trim, with either straight or beveled edges, to a living room, dining room, or study.

Mount’s favorite uses for this panel treatment are in an entryway and along stair walls, as these spaces typically lack architectural interest.

James loves wainscoting panels or beadboard designs in the powder room.

“Most of your guests will see this room during their visit.” she says.  

To achieve a less formal look, Hairston recommends painting wainscoting panels an accent color rather than the conventional white.

The one look to avoid? Installing wainscoting all the way up to the ceiling for a full wall of brown paneling, which is too reminiscent of the ’70s-era rec room, say experts. If you’re dying to install trim near the ceiling, consider crown molding.

Is wainscoting expensive?

Wainscoting is a valuable investment from a design standpoint as it can add value and warmth to your space. That said, the cost of this wall treatment can vary greatly depending on the substance it’s made from, the type of panel used, the height (whether to chair-rail level or higher), room size, and local market conditions.

Hairston recommends manufactured wainscoting panels as the most cost-effective, ranging from $8 to $10 per panel. Hardwood panels are higher in price, with costs varying by wood species, but professionals estimate $12 to $20 per square foot for average quality. Higher wood grades and intricate designs will run about $40 per square foot.

“Installing wainscot paneling can certainly be done as a DIY project, provided the user is skilled in precise measurements and knows their way around a chop saw,” Hairston says. However, typically she will recommend you call on a skilled carpenter to install it. She recommends sourcing a local installer from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry site.

Labor costs for wainscoting vary based on local conditions, the scope of the project, and the materials, but she recommends a ballpark installation budget of about $2 to $4 per square foot for an average dining room.

 

Cathie Ericson writes about real estate, finance, and health. She lives in Portland, OR.

7 Fixes to Avoid Major Foundation Problems

Water can damage a foundation in countless ways, so homeowners should look to experts for the dos and don’ts.

©nicolamargaret - Getty Images

by Barbara Ballinger | September 24, 2021

Water is not always our friend. Sure, we drink it, swim in it, and need it to survive, but when it comes to homes, it can destroy the foundation, says home inspector Thomas Dabb of Immaculate Home Inspections in South Orange, N.J.

Water can enter a home from the exterior and interior, so buyers and homeowners need to keep their eyes open for signs of its presence—or worse—its damage.

The good news is that there are many experts available to spot and diagnose a problem and suggest the best fix. Water expert Steve Barckley with Exceptional Stone Products in Livingston, N.J., believes that homeowners should start by doing everything possible on the outside of the homes to correct problems and divert water away from a foundation.

Share these seven solutions with clients to help them minimize a foundation’s damage in various scenarios.

1. Improve grading. The slope of a property may direct water toward the base of a single-family house or multifamily dwelling rather than away. Cracks or openings in the foundation then allow it to enter, as well as through higher-level walls, the roof, and other entry points. Fix: “Be sure the grade slopes away from the house,” says Bill Coulbourne, a structural engineer whose eponymous company is near Annapolis, Md. A berm of soil or a swale with planting can prevent water from making its way to a foundation, says Cary Jozefiak, a home inspector with Home Team Inspection in Chicago. Caveats: This approach requires periodic maintenance to be sure the berm doesn’t erode. “It also needs to be directed so water doesn’t move toward a neighbor’s property,” Coulbourne says. Using a French drain to allow water to dissipate slowly from near the foundation into the landscape is more environmentally friendly than introducing it into the street to wash away, says Barckley. French drains also require some preventive maintenance to avoid clogging, Jozefiak says.

2. Waterproof a foundation. Keeping the foundation dry will prevent moisture from accumulating on the outside or entering inside. Fix: If wet, the best fix is to waterproof the exterior perimeter and interior walls of a basement or crawl space to prevent capillary action from building up, says New York City architect Victor Body-Lawson of Body Lawson Associates. “What we try to do is create an envelope around a building so water can’t enter through its skin, sometimes with a rain screen that drains water down and out to a storm drainage system,” he says. A sump pump will help if there’s moisture and water inside. It must drain far enough from a house, so water doesn’t recycle back inside if the property slopes or there’s an opening. Home inspector David Rose of Astute Home Inspections in Plainfield, N.J., suggests the drain be at least 5 feet from a house. A backup battery will prove useful if power fails.

3. Install gutters and downspouts. Water flowing off a roof will land near a house and possibly cause damage over time. Fix: A good line of defense is to have both gutters and downspouts installed around a home or building’s perimeter. The downspouts should extend far enough to carry away the water rather than have it sit near a foundation. Jozefiak recommends six feet away from a house. To keep gutters and downspouts functioning, they must be cleaned. How often to do so may depend on the trees near a house, Coulbourne says.

4. Keep large trees and bushes away from a house. Tree roots and other plant materials try to grow toward water, which can destabilize a structure and penetrate foundations, says Rose. Fix: If large trees already grow near a house, check that plumbing lines are free, and confirm there aren’t foundation cracks. If problems arise, the tree may need to be taken down or bushes transplanted, Body-Lawson says. Sacramento, Calif.-based landscape designer Michael Glassman suggests consulting a licensed arborist to check roots, stability, and if the tree should be removed. “The best time to remove trees is in winter when they are dormant,” Glassman says.

5. Don’t ignore diagonal cracks. Movement, temperature changes, and time may cause foundation cracks to develop. But large diagonal ones require attention from a structural engineer to avoid bigger issues. “Visual clues appear before structural inadequacies do,” says Madison, Conn.-based architect Duo Dickinson. Among the problems are moisture and salt destroying anything made of steel and non-pressure-treated wood, which may rot, Dickinson says. Fix: Cracks suggest settlement and send a red flag that something might be wrong with a foundation, says Body-Lawson. “It might have sagged but it may not deteriorate further. However, if it continues to do so, the foundation needs underpinning.” Cracks that appear in foundation walls due to settlement may be visible in a first floor’s interior, too, says Coulbourne. Hairline cracks are common, but when it’s a quarter-inch in width and V-shaped, it may indicate pressure on an exterior wall.

6. Check for significant leaks and stains, especially efflorescence in a basement. “An unfinished basement is the best basement because it’s easier to see problems,” says Rose. Fix: When a basement is finished, experts recommend looking for clues. For example, a rust color that shows through paint can be a sign of moisture, says Barckley. Efflorescence—white powder left behind from minerals in water—may also appear. Coulbourne says that mold is another indicator, most likely visible at the base of a wall where moisture accumulates. Use your nose, too, he says. “If you walk into a damp basement, you can smell that,” he says. Sometimes areas covered over need to be checked. For example, Rose may pop open ceiling tiles to examine what’s behind them.

7. Learn why interior or patio floors may slant. It could be that a house is settling, which happens over time, says Body-Lawson. “Old houses may sag a little and then stop,” he says. But if the floor or patio was level and now slants, it might be time to hire a structural engineer, says Jason Chang of Jersey Inspections in Verona, N.J. Fix: Floorboards, tiles, and carpet can be picked up, joists shimmed, and a new layer installed, says Body-Lawson. If water gets under pavers outdoors, they may need to be taken up, the pitch of the patio checked, a membrane or drainage system installed, then pavers put back, Jozefiak says.

 

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space. Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman.

 

 

Just 180 More Days Until Your Oven Arrives: Appliance Delays Cause Havoc

(Getty Images)

By Austen Hufford | Oct 8, 2021

When Deric Bradford’s delivery of a new clothes washer was delayed for several weeks this September, the 43-year-old banker started hauling his baskets of dirty clothes to John Calderon’s place—“like I was a college student,” he said.

The two are friends, but the laundry runs are all business. Mr. Calderon is the owner of Los Angeles-based Advanced Building and Remodeling Inc., which helped Mr. Bradford buy appliances for the Hollywood Hills home he moved into over the summer.

Mr. Calderon and other remodelers and appliance sellers are trying to keep consumers like Mr. Bradford happy in the midst of delays on many appliances. Manufacturing and supply-chain problems have turned household amenities into hard-to-find trophies, leaving consumers and salespeople alike scrambling for workarounds. Appliance sellers are doing double duty as therapists to frustrated consumers, who may find themselves eating cereal for dinner and doing dishes in the bathtub for months.

Jacqueline Feeney, an interior designer, ordered appliances in August 2020 for her new apartment in Rye, N.Y. The delivery dates kept getting pushed back, but she and her husband moved in anyway, making an Instant Pot pressure cooker the center of their kitchen while waiting for their stove. Ms. Feeney, 33, initially used a Yeti cooler to store food, but was eventually able to borrow a mini-fridge from her appliance store, a practice that suppliers said has become common among retailers hoping to soothe customers.

To save refrigerator space, Ms. Feeney said she and her husband cooked only one dinner a week, eating it as leftovers and supplementing with ready-made meals and some takeout.

“It was like playing Tetris to see how many things we can shove into the mini-fridge without the door popping back open,” she said. Their full-size refrigerator didn’t arrive until last month, after more than a year.

Supply-chain problems that slowed production of household amenities after the onset of the pandemic have only gotten worse, manufacturing industry officials say. Producing them got tougher as shortages of steel, plastics, computer chips and labor spread, while space on trucks, ships and trains grew scarce.

Adding to that are delays on piping, cabinets and other needed parts. A shortage of skilled workers means that scheduling plumbers, electricians and countertop cutters has become more difficult.

Meanwhile, rising home prices, stimulus checks, a growing economy and 18 months of at-home activities are leading more people to upgrade their kitchens, designers and appliance sellers said. (It hasn’t all been bad: One retailer’s email about delayed furniture turned into a bonding session for a couple hundred strangers.)

Delivery times for certain models of refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers can be six months to a year out, appliance sellers and designers said. Major domestic producers like Whirlpool Corp. and GE Appliances said supply-chain challenges are resulting in longer lead times.

“We know [consumers] are frustrated,” said Joe McGuire, chief executive of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, a trade group.

Steve Sheinkopf, the head of Boston retailer Yale Appliance, said he has lent out so many cheaper appliances to customers that he feels like he’s running a lending library. His staff has been berated by homeowners missing ovens and dishwashers. He said that he added “combat pay” and threw ice-cream parties and free pizza to try to boost morale.

“We have to take the calls that are less than understanding,” he said. “We feel bad for the people who work here.”

Shea Pumarejo, a kitchen designer in San Antonio, said she has handed out restaurant gift cards to clients waiting on major appliances. “There is only so much apologizing you can do,” she said.

In Los Angeles, Mr. Calderon, 42, said he is trying to manage customers’ expectations, and to connect customers directly with manufacturing representatives to show that he doesn’t have any more information than they do about when their dishwashers will arrive. Still, he feels like it isn’t enough.

“If it wasn’t for Covid, I would go over and do their dishes,” he said.

In Brighton, Mich., Dawn Nabozny said she sometimes wakes up to the sounds and smells of her husband cooking breakfast in the microwave at 5 a.m. The problem, she said, is that their old microwave and hot plate have been in their bedroom since January while their kitchen is being renovated.

“It smells most of the day,” acknowledged Anthony Nabozny, her husband, 47, who works for a coatings manufacturer.

They had to make do without a kitchen sink and dishwasher for several months, so in the evenings, Ms. Nabozny would take the dirty dishes from their dining room through the bedroom and into the master bathroom. She placed the dishes into her walk-up bathtub, added soap and scrubbed away. A drying rack balanced awkwardly on the edge, without enough room to sit fully flat.

“We are leaning over the bathtub washing dishes,” said Ms. Nabozny, a 46-year-old teacher. “It is such a challenge.”

John McClain, a California-based kitchen designer who is 46, said he put together a temporary galley kitchen, including two fold-up tables, a small convection oven, a hot plate and a microwave, while the renovation of his own kitchen dragged on for nearly a year.

His induction stove top arrived a few weeks ago, Mr. McClain said, but he discovered the opening for the countertop wasn’t cut out correctly, so he had to get the countertop cutter to return.

“I’ve pulled every string imaginable,” he said. “I didn’t think it would take this long.”

 

 

Hot Home Trend: The Accent Wall Is Back

It's bold and adds a dramatic statement to a room.

 

By: Melissa Dittmann Tracey | October 4, 2021

Make a bold statement with just one wall. The accent or statement wall is coming back as a home trend in 2021, says Brian Santos, director of education for Fresh Coat Painters, a nationwide painting firm, who’s also known as the “Wall Wizard.” Statement walls also pay homage to another hot trend emerging in home design: the influence of the “Roaring Twenties.”

Santos says many homeowners are getting inspired by harkening back to the 1920s, when vibrant wall colors were the norm. Consumers are tying in deeper, brighter colors—such as bronze, teal, and black-and-gold combos—with all the “Agreeable Greys” and beiges that have recently dominated design concepts.

But instead of covering an entire room in these bolder colors, homeowners are adding just a hint of hue with the statement wall. “The background palettes for three walls are mostly neutral,” Santos says. “And then, you use the fourth wall as a focus wall to add more drama to the room.”

View some of the ways accent walls are making a statement.

Black Walls

Paint the wall that showcases your television jet-black. That’s what Santos did while keeping the surrounding walls a lighter beige and white. “It’s a museum kind of effect,” Santos says. “It’s not just a shade up or down in tone but a very dramatic contrast.”

Photo courtesy Fresh Coat Interiors

Stripes or Patterns

The statement wall can become artwork with bold patterns like black and white stripes.

Photo courtesy Fresh Coat Interiors

Subtle Pops of Color

Even a small area can be used to create a focal point, such as a wall niche or section of a hallway. For example, in the foyer below, one wall in a hallway was painted burgundy to complement the beige wallpaper. Artwork was also used to dress up the statement wall.

Photo courtesy Fresh Coat Interiors

Layering the Layout

By painting one wall in your open floor plan, you can bring depth to a space.

Photo courtesy Fresh Coat Interiors

Painted Ceilings

The room’s fifth wall—the ceiling—also can make a bold statement.

Photo courtesy Fresh Coat Interiors

 

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, editor of the Styled, Staged & Sold blog, and produces a segment called "Hot or Not?" in home design that airs on NAR’s Real Estate Today radio show.

‘The Fever… Has Broken': Is the Housing Market Frenzy Really Going To Cool Off This Fall?

Over the next few weeks and months, the long-overheated U.S. housing market is expected to continue to cool off in the bracing chill of autumn.

By Clare Trapasso | Sep 30, 2021

After a wild year of unprecedented price increases, a worsening shortage of homes for sale, and cutthroat bidding wars where offers six figures over the ask price weren’t uncommon, conditions are finally normalizing. More homes are expected to go up for sale this season just as many would-be buyers are either priced out or so fed up after losing out on home after home that they’re dropping out of the running.

“The fever in the housing market has broken,” says Ali Wolf, chief economist of building consultancy Zonda. “There have been buyers that have just been beat down for the last six months—and after losing so many homes and going through the emotional roller coaster, they’ve decided to stop searching for now. There are more homes on the market than there were six months ago.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, record-low mortgage interest rates, below 3%, helped many homebuyers to absorb prices that reached all-time highs in the spring and summer. But prices rose so high so quickly that even bargain mortgage rates couldn’t offset them enough to give buyers some needed financial relief.

With more folks sidelined, some of the steam has been let out of the market. Prices aren’t rising by as much as competition is down and homes are taking a little longer to sell, giving buyers some breathing room.

In September, the rate of year-over-year growth was halved, to 8.6%, down from its peak of 17.2% in April, according to Realtor.com® data. This means the median list price of a home grew half as fast as in the spring. Homes also took a bit longer to sell, at about 43 days. While that’s down 11 days from the same month last year and 22 days from 2019, it’s up 6 days from June.

“Things are settling down. There will still be some multiple offers, but it will be less tense,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors®. He expects the days of homes receiving 20 to 30 offers are becoming a thing of the past. “And some homes are lingering on the market for a week or two without an offer.”

This fall, buyers may once again be able to include contingencies in their offers, such as requiring home inspections and appraisals, and still win out bidding wars. They may even—gasp—get homes at the list price.

All-cash offers could also dip if buyers don’t need to cash out their savings, stocks, and cryptocurrency stashes to stand out from the competition.

“It’s not like the market is soft,” says Yun. “It’s just moving away from that extreme frenzy.”

The changes in the housing market may be coinciding with the seasonal slowdown. Typically, competition is fierce in the summer as families battle over larger homes in the suburbs, hoping to secure residences and settle in before the kids start school. Then the market slows down with less competition for the smaller homes that traditionally go up for sale.

Yun expects annual price increases will slow to a more normal level, around 5%, versus the double-digit price hikes that reigned earlier in the year. But this may not be true for every home in every part of the country.

“If you want a reasonably priced home in a desirable area, be ready to still face stiff competition,” says Zonda’s Wolf.

Will home prices fall?

The question on the minds of sellers, buyers, homeowners, and just about everyone else is whether prices might actually fall. Sorry, buyers, that likely won’t happen anytime soon.

The nation is still suffering from a severe housing shortage resulting in more buyers than there are abodes for sale. This is a continuing hangover from the Great Recession’s aftermath, when builders largely held off on building while investors bought up single-family homes and turned them into rentals. Meanwhile, the millennial generation is larger than the previous one, meaning there are more prospective buyers than there were a decade or so ago.

There’s plenty of pent-up demand for homes.

“You’ve still got a lot of young people who have still not bought a home but who would like to,” says Realtor.com Chief Economist Danielle Hale. “Anytime the market starts to cool, you’ve got people on the sidelines waiting for their chance to get in. That keeps both home sales and home prices from declining too much.”

She expects more homes to hit the market in October and through the end of the year. But it won’t be enough to ameliorate the problem of demand.

The nation is still short about 5 million homes, Hale says. As builders can’t get them up fast enough, she expects it will take between five and six years before there are enough homes for sale to meet demand.

New construction is beginning to pick up after months of builders contending with shortages in lumber, labor, materials, and appliances. While there are still delays compared with before the pandemic, there was about a 5% uptick in construction in August compared with July, says Zonda’s Wolf.

“Inventory is still very, very tight,” says Wolf. But “we’re up from the bottom. We expect to see a little more inventory trickle onto the market through the end of this year and into next year.”

Rising mortgage rates will likely keep high prices under control

Rising mortgage interest rates are expected to keep price growth in check: After all, buyers can afford to fork over only so much for their monthly housing payments. So if rates rise, buyers won’t be able to afford more expensive properties.

This could result in lower price growth, or prices going flat or even dipping a little in certain markets.

“Once mortgage rates push up a little bit, it’s going to combine with higher home prices to price people out of the market,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics. “Some markets could see prices go down a little, like in the most juiced markets. … [But] it’s not a crash.”

Rates are expected to top 3% by the end of the year and reach 4% by the end of 2022, says Joel Kan, an economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association. They averaged 2.88% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan in the week ending Sept. 23, according to the most recent Freddie Mac data.

Historically speaking, even 4% is still low. Over the past 20 years, mortgage rates averaged about 5%, according to MBA. The difference between a 3% and a 4% rate on a $380,000 home (the median list price nationally) was about $169 a month on a 30-year fixed-rate loan. That adds up to nearly $61,000 over the life of the loan.

“We’re expecting rates to increase moderately over the next 12 months,” says Kan. “As the economy improves, as the job market improves, typically that pushes rates higher. [But] there is a little bit more uncertainty now, given that we’ve seen the pandemic linger longer than we expected.”

How will the fall market affect home sellers?

While experts predict the housing market will remain firmly in the seller’s court, the days of picking prices out of thin air are likely coming to an end. The same goes for not making any improvements to a property (let alone having it properly cleaned) before listing it.

“Some sellers got a little too greedy or had a misconception about the market conditions,” says NAR’s Yun.

Zonda’s Wolf recommends sellers look at comps of other homes in their neighborhoods that have recently sold to get a realistic idea of what they can charge for their properties. They should also get their homes in tiptop shape. And while they may not get 20 offers like their neighbors may have received a few months ago, well-priced, move-in ready homes are in high demand.

“If you’re a seller today, you’ll likely still get top dollar, but you’re still going to have to put in the work,” adds Wolf. “Dust for cobwebs, stage the home, put on a fresh coat of paint.”

 

Clare Trapasso is the deputy news editor of Realtor.com. She previously wrote for a Financial Times publication, the New York Daily News, and the Associated Press. She also taught journalism courses at several New York City colleges and obtained a real estate license.

6 Things People Say About Buying a Home Today That Actually Aren't True

You’ve probably heard about some of the challenges of buying a home these days. Stories are splashed across news sites and whispered among friends and neighbors, about homebuyers mired in insane bidding wars, going way over asking price, and still not getting the house.

By Erica Sweeney | Sep 29, 2021

Daunted and dejected, homebuyers have also heard heaping earfuls on what to do, from “wait it out” to “waive your home inspection” and other extreme measures. Yet amid this frenzy of well-meaning chatter, the thing to remember is that real estate markets can change quickly, and much of what you’ve heard may not even be true—at least, not anymore.

“A lot of homebuyers are coming in with some trepidation because of the media hype around the market,” says Chris Arienti, broker and owner of Re/Max Executive Realty in Franklin, MA. “The market has been such a seller's market, and there’s a million offers on homes. While that was true six months ago, we’ve seen a cooling-off period.”

To help homebuyers navigate this ever-changing terrain, here’s a look at six myths you’ve probably heard about buying a home, and why they might not necessarily be the reality right now.

1. ‘It’s a bad time to buy a home’

Even though there are fewer homes on the market, higher prices, and intense competition, experts insist that, despite the odds, it’s actually still a good time to buy a home. For one, the market is finally starting to soften. Combine that with low mortgage rates, and this spells a fantastic opportunity.

“Interest rates are at a historic low,” says Tony Rodriguez-Tellaheche, owner and managing broker of Prestige Realty Group in Miami. “If you can get a 30-year fixed-rate loan at an all-time low, it makes all the sense in the world to purchase property right now.”

2. ‘I’ll have to waive a home inspection for my offer to stand out’

Though it’s a risky move, many potential homebuyers have waived home inspections recently as a way to speed up their purchase and make their offers more attractive to sellers. But by now, most buyers have begun to change their tune on this.

“As the market is starting to change, we are seeing fewer homebuyers being this aggressive, although competition still exists,” says Jason Gelios, a real estate agent with Community Choice Reality in Southeastern Michigan.

Arienti agrees, saying buyers in his market are insisting on home inspections again, and using the inspection as a way to negotiate repairs or the home’s price, something few were doing earlier this year. And for good reason: Waiving a home inspection can be risky for buyers since they’re responsible for any repairs or maintenance issues that come up after the sale.

3. ‘I’ll need to bid tens of thousands over list price’

Over the past year, median home prices have soared to nearly $360,000—18% higher than last July, according to the National Association of Realtors®. As such, bidding over the asking price is something most buyers still need to consider, says Scott Bergmann with Realty ONE Group Sterling in Omaha, NE.

Yet buyers aren’t offering as much over asking today as they were a few months ago.

Over the summer, in his market in Southeastern Michigan, Gelios says buyers were offering more than $40,000 over the list price and waiving appraisals.

“Fast forward to September 2021, and we are still seeing offers over asking price, but not that many compared to several months ago,” he says.

Rodriguez-Tellaheche says he’s seen buyers offer up to 40% over the asking price (and sometimes still not land the home), but now it’s more like 10% above the list price.

4. ‘I’ll end up in a bidding war’

Bidding wars for real estate have been common in 2021, as there have been more buyers than homes on the market. Some buyers were left disappointed when their bids didn’t make the cut.

While the market is still competitive, Arienti says homes in his area aren’t receiving as many offers these days—maybe one or two instead of dozens from a few months ago. That’s leading sellers to adjust their expectations.

Still, some buyers may still need to bid on several homes before getting an offer accepted, so Arienti urges buyers to not get their hopes up too high about a home until they have a sales contract in hand.

5. ‘I’ll need extra money to cover an appraisal gap’

Mortgage companies typically require a home appraisal before approving a loan. But when a home appraises for less than what a buyer offers to pay, the buyer is often stuck paying the difference, known as an appraisal gap.

Rodriguez-Tellaheche says that over the past few months, it’s become common for buyers to pay for the appraisal gap, as many were submitting offers a lot higher than the home’s list price. Many buyers making cash offers waived appraisals altogether.

Yet waiving appraisals and agreeing to cover appraisal gaps aren’t happening quite as much anymore.

“A lot of buyers just got fed up in the spring, and they hopped out of the market,” Arienti says. “That changed the stance of a lot of sellers.”

6. ‘I need a perfect credit score to get a loan’

Today more than ever, a high credit score and a solid financial history are necessary for getting pre-approved for a mortgage. But this doesn’t mean your credit score has to be perfect.

Bergmann says he often encounters homebuyers who think they need a credit score in the 700s.

“Although a 700 or above does help your interest rate, it is not a requirement for most lenders,” he says. “If you have a 640 or above, you could potentially be pre-approved; you may just have a higher interest rate.”

If your credit score is a little lower and you’re offered a higher interest rate, you can purchase mortgage points to lower that rate. In his area, Bergmann says a point costs 1% of the purchase price and lowers the interest rate by 0.25%.

“So if you have the ability to save up and are worried about your interest rate, save up at least one point so that you can buy down your interest rate,” Bergmann says. “This will save so much more money in the long run.”

 

Erica Sweeney is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Parade, HuffPost, Business Insider, Money, and other publications.

15 Ways to Reduce Your Home Insurance Costs

There's a long list of discounts if you know the right questions to ask and which home improvements to invest in.

By Mia Taylor, Better Homes & Gardens | April 1, 2021

Shopping for insurance (of any type) is one of life’s least pleasurable chores—ranking somewhere between negotiating a car purchase and tracking down a year's worth of receipts in order to file your annual tax returns. Still, as much as we all hate buying insurance, rushing through the process can be a mistake.

For those who’ve done their homework and know which questions to ask (or home improvements to embark upon), there’s a long list of home insurance discounts. From bundling rebates to safety discounts, here are some of the best ways to save money on your home insurance bill.

CREDIT: MAPODILE / GETTY IMAGES

1. Invest in a home security system.

The statistics are pretty clear: not having a home security system increases the likelihood that your house will be robbed by 300%. What’s more, 83% of burglars say they look to see if a home has an alarm when deciding whether to break in. These are just some of the reasons why a home security system scores you an insurance discount, says Alan Umaly, president of Westwood Insurance Agency in Los Angeles.

“When you have a security system installed in your home, you’re not only protecting your belongings from being stolen, you are also protecting your home from any damage that burglars might cause during a break-in,” says Umaly. “Many home security systems now come with additional safety features such as surveillance cameras and automatic fire or carbon monoxide alerts. The more features your home security system has the higher your home insurance discount may be.”

2. Install a fire safety system.

Water safety systems, also known as fire sprinklers, are another route to earning yourself an insurance discount, says Umaly. “These systems respond to fires inside the home and quickly release water or other flame retardants to contain the damage caused by heat, smoke, and flames,” says Umaly. “Having a water safety system can save your home from total ruin, especially if your local fire station is slow to respond or is located far away. Oftentimes, home insurance providers will issue discounts to homeowners who install these safety systems.”

3. Pay small claims out of pocket.

Even filing just one claim can cause your homeowners’ insurance carrier to apply a surcharge on your premiums for up to five years, says Madelyn Mauk, private risk advisor with Holmes Murphy. With this in mind, you may want to think twice before picking up the phone to report a claim, carefully weighing whether it might be more cost-effective to simply pay for whatever the problem is on your own.

Mauk suggests that if you’re considering filing a claim and the cost is close to what your deductible would be, then you’re better off paying for repair out of pocket. “Using homeowners’ insurance only for catastrophic claims can lead to a reduction in insurance cost,” says Mauk. “Also, if you view homeowners’ insurance as only being for catastrophic claims then you can carry a bigger deductible, which will also decrease the cost of your insurance.”

4. Install a water shut-off device.

Yet another proactive measure you can take to reduce insurance premiums is installing a water shut-off device, says Mauk. “Water is one of the leading claims seen by homeowners’ insurance carriers. These claims tend to also have a larger severity in the claim cost,” she explains. “A water shut-off device is installed on the main water pipe that comes into your home. If the device senses water flowing for an extended period of time or an excess of water, then it will shut the water off to the home. This means if a pipe bursts while the homeowner is not home, the water will not continually run and cause further damage.”

5. Lock-up with deadbolts.

Installing deadbolts on your home’s point of entry is a great way to slow down even the most expert would-be burglars, says Umaly, of Westwood Insurance Agency. “This is why many home insurers offer discounts to homeowners who install deadbolts,” says Umaly. “However, the type of deadbolt you choose matters.”

When selecting a deadbolt, look for options labeled Grade 1 or Grade 2, Umaly notes. Avoid Grade 3 deadbolts, as they tend to be the weakest.

6. Replace your roof, HVAC, electrical wiring, or plumbing.

Conduct an assessment of your home and figure out which items need updating or renovating and focus on undertaking projects that may also cut your insurance premiums. “Insurance carriers will give you more favorable rates based on how recently your roof, HVAC, wiring, and plumbing has been replaced,” says Mauk. “Insurance carriers believe that when these items are newer, they will see less claims.”

7. Increase your deductible.

One of the most common deductible amounts chosen by homeowners is $1,000, says Mauk. Yet, if you’re willing to increase the deductible slightly, it’s possible to realize quite a bit of saving on your premium. “Depending on the insurance company, a client could save 10 to 20% by increasing the deductible to $2,500,” says Mauk. “Our rule of thumb is that if you save the difference in three years, then it is worth considering. For example, if you have a $1,000 deductible and bumping the deductible to $2,500 would save you $500 per year, then it would make sense to make the jump.”

8. Bundle coverage.

Probably one of the most widely known and simplest tips for cutting insurance costs, bundling means using the same insurance carrier for multiple policies, such as your auto, home, and life insurance. “Bundling provides the opportunity to take advantage of package pricing, which offers discounts of as high as 20%,” says Brian Flood, vice president in the personal insurance division of HUB International.

Cost savings isn’t the only reason to bundle, says Flood. This approach also streamlines your monthly bills, as you’ll be receiving a bill from just one company for your policies. And yet another benefit of this approach, one that's probably less obvious: there's a reduced likelihood of an insurance company canceling coverage due to you filing a claim. “The company has a greater interest in not losing the accompanying policies,” says Flood.

9. Review your policy annually and shop around.

Many consumers include home insurance premiums in their mortgage escrow accounts. When you take this approach, insurance renewal bills go directly to the mortgage bank, causing many consumers not to track annual policy costs, says Flood. Taking a ‘set it and forget approach’ however, is not ideal if you want to snag the most competitive prices.

“If your policy is billed to your mortgage bank, check each year to see how the policy cost is trending and if it might be time to pursue a better option,” says Flood. “Much like a consumer likes to see a doctor for a second opinion, reviewing your home insurance with another insurance agent often further educates consumers about the home insurance policy and may help reduce the cost of the policy.

10. Keep your credit score as high as possible to reduce rates. 

Is your credit score in bad shape or something less than stellar? Consider working on that in order to obtain cheaper insurance premiums in the future. Many consumers don’t realize that their credit score is taken into consideration by insurance companies when assigning premiums.

“The insurance companies know that credit score is evidence of reliability and risk. They set the lowest rates for those homeowners who have the highest scores,” says Allyson Dennen, an accredited financial counselor for Fab Life Now.

11. Tell your insurance company if you’re part of a homeowners’ association.

Insurance companies tend to look at homeowners associations (HOAs) favorably, as HOA properties are generally well maintained and face lower risks of theft and vandalism, says Pat Howard, home insurance expert at Policygenius. “You may be able to save money on home insurance if you belong to a homeowners association,” says Howard. “If you’re part of one, it’s worth letting your insurance company know.”

12. Inquire about a claims-free discount.

According to a Policygenius survey, 53.4% of homeowners didn’t know that going several years without filing a claim could also earn them a discount. “This is usually called a claims-free discount, and it’s worth asking about if it’s been years since you last filed a claim,” says Howard.

13. Investigate lesser-known discounts.

Some insurance companies and agencies may offer home insurance discounts that aren't widely discussed or known about. These might include discounts for paperless billing, working in a specific career such as teaching, or firefighting, or providing a discount if you pay your premium automatically through your bank. “Unless you check directly with your provider, you might not know what other savings you could be eligible for,” says David Adler, president and owner of Denver-based Adler Insurance Group.

14. Remove high-risk items from your property.

Believe it or not, insurers may raise your premiums because they deem something on your property to be an "attractive nuisance," says Adler. “Things like trampolines, tree-houses, and hot tubs can carry a significant amount of risk, as those items can have a high risk of injury,” Adler explains. “Getting rid of those items could result in some serious savings on your home insurance policy.”

15. Install a smart thermostat.

Smart home technology has so many perks. It’s fun, it makes your life easier and it can reduce your monthly insurance bills.“The addition of a smart thermostat such as a Nest can also bring homeowners insurance costs down,” says Jim Hyatt, senior vice president of personal lines at Arbella Insurance Group. “Today, eco-friendly and energy-saving home home improvement tactics are being rewarded by most insurance companies in the form of a discount or credit to the homeowners premium.”

Ask Questions and Negotiate 

When shopping around for home insurance, there’s nothing wrong with asking as many questions as you need. If it's not already obvious, doing so could save you money. Furthermore, don't forget to negotiate.

“If some policy features are simply not applicable to your situation, see if the policy can be amended to remove these items,” says Flood, of Hub International. “The consumer does have many ways to negotiate to be sure they’re purchasing the best overall value for their dollar.”

8 Red Flags Home Buyers Will Undoubtedly Notice

By Wendy Helfenbaum | Realtors®

8 Red Flags Home Buyers Will Undoubtedly Notice—and How To Address Them Correctly

When my husband and I were house hunting, properties that had plastic taped over the windows or draft catchers below the exterior doors gave us pause: Did that mean the house wasn’t energy-efficient or warm enough in colder months? Newly retouched areas on the ceiling made us wonder if the sellers were covering up water damage from a leaky roof that had been patched but not replaced.

“When buyers walk into a home, they want to know it’s been well-maintained,” says Lynn Pineda, a Realtor® with eXp Realty in Southeast Florida. “Corroded air-conditioning vents, loose hinges on cabinets, and leaky faucets lead buyers to think, ‘If the seller can’t keep these things up, what big things are lurking behind the walls that haven’t been taken care of?’”

As a seller, you should already know that legally, you can't hide any major problems with the house. So if your home needs some attention, don’t slap on a quick fix—you’re not fooling anybody, and you may just send potential buyers straight back out the door, says Chicago-based Frank Lesh, ambassador for the American Society of Home Inspectors.

“Sellers have to be careful not to put lipstick on a pig,” he cautions. “Just do the right thing, fix the problem, and make the deal go through a lot smoother for everybody.”

Here’s how to tackle eight common repairs properly to swing the odds in your favor.

1. A fresh coat of paint on one room’s ceiling

The issue: A stained ceiling, possibly from a leak

“When we inspectors see cans of new stain-killing primers in the garage, we know that something happened,” says Lesh.

Do this instead: If you paint over a stain without making sure you don’t have an active leak, that stain can reappear in a month, adds Lesh, so bring in a professional who can rule out a leaky roof or some other problem.

2. Bathroom water is shut off

The issue: Your toilet runs constantly

Do this instead: “The most common failure is the flapper in the toilet tank. There may be debris caught under it, preventing it from closing, and flappers wear out and need to be replaced from time to time,” says Lesh. “This is an inexpensive repair that any handy person can do.”

3. Newly painted trim

The issue: Wooden window frames past their prime

“A lot of times people paint over rotten wood, and think nobody’s going to see that, but we can tell that it’s rotting. We just put our fingernail on the trim to see if it goes through the wood,” says Lesh.

Do this instead: Pull out the rotten trim and replace it.

4. Lights are off in just one room

Issue: Flickering lights in that room

Do this instead: “Electrical issues can be dangerous, so if you’ve tried the lightbulb in another fixture and it works, then there may not be power going to the light,” says Lesh.

Pick up an inexpensive voltage tester, which lights up when electricity is present at the switch and fixture, he suggests. A handy homeowner may be able to trace the problem, but to be safe, call an electrician to make sure the wiring is correct.

“Old wiring can be a concern to some buyers, so sellers are better off just fixing it ahead of time,” adds Pineda.

5. Small space heaters or air conditioners set up

Issue: Some rooms are too cold or too warm

“If a home has central air conditioning, but in one room you see an additional AC unit sitting there, buyers are going to wonder why it’s not working,” says Pineda.

Do this instead: If you have a forced-air furnace, check to make sure the furnace filter, blower fan, ductwork, and grills are clean, advises Lesh.

“Sometimes debris clogs the system, and the further the cold room is away from the furnace, the harder it is to get heat,” he explains. “If you have radiators or baseboard units, make sure they’re clean and not obstructed.

“If the colder rooms are over an unconditioned space like a garage, then there may be poor insulation in that room, which will make the room harder to heat and cool,” Lesh adds. “A home inspector who uses an infrared camera should be able to find the problem.”

6. Dehumidifier and air freshener in place

Issue: A bad smell in a damp room

“It raises my radar when I see or smell that,” says Lesh. “That’s a real tipoff, because either there’s mold or mildew, or something else.”

Do this instead: “There’s typically a root cause for a room being damp, so you want to correct the cause, not put a Band-Aid on it,” Lesh says. “If there’s moisture getting in the house, that moisture is generally coming from outside. Figure out how to prevent water from getting in, not how to handle it after it gets in.”

7. Plastic wrap taped across every window

Issue: Old, drafty windows

Do this instead: “Sealing the areas around the windows would be a good alternative to plastic wrap,” says Lesh, who suggests buying caulk in rope form, which can be molded to fit around large openings and cracks. “That’ll form an airtight seal, which will help keep drafts out.”

8. Strategically placed planters or shrubs

Issue: Puddles of water near your foundation

Do this instead: Water should always drain away from your foundation, notes Lesh, so if it’s collecting against your house, this needs to be corrected.

“Ask a professional why this is happening,” suggests Lesh. “Ask: Is the land sloping toward the house, which means water might eventually run into the lower level? Are the gutters clogged so water is pouring over the top and landing alongside the foundation?”

Taking the time now to fix things properly instead of rushing through a shoddy half-repair will pay off in the long run, advises Pineda.

“When you’re selling a home, everything has to look pristine if you want to interest buyers and get the most money for your home,” she says. “Get it in tiptop shape. If don’t you want to do all the repairs and the cleaning, then hire someone to come in and take care of it for you.”

 

Wendy Helfenbaum is a journalist and TV producer who covers real estate, architecture and design, DIY, gardening, and travel. 

10 Fall Mantel Decor Ideas for a Festive Fireplace

Welcome autumn indoors with these gorgeous fall mantel ideas. See how to style a mantel for fall with natural elements, easy DIY projects, and other budget-friendly ideas.

By Jessica Bennett | Better Homes & Gardens | Updated September 15, 2021

There's nothing quite like curling up next to a fire on a crisp autumn evening. To make your home feel extra cozy, add seasonal style to your living room with these fall mantel decorating ideas. Showcase classic fall colors in your mantel decor or try a monochromatic arrangement of autumnal accessories. Embrace traditional patterns and materials, like plaid and burlap, or go modern with a minimalist display. Whichever style you prefer, we'll show you how to use items from around the house, natural elements, and simple DIY projects to create beautiful fall mantel decor that won't strain your budget.

CREDIT: KIM CORNELISON

1. Colorful Fall Mantel Decor 

Gather an assortment of accessories to create a colorful, layered display on your mantel. This arrangement includes mini pumpkins, gourds, branches with acorns, seasonal flowers, and taper candles in an array of colors. Varying the sizes and shapes of your fall mantel decor creates a more visually interesting effect. Metallic vases, trays, and other vessels add depth and a shimmery touch.

CREDIT: WENDELL T. WEBBER

2. Elegant Fall Mantel 

This sophisticated fall mantel idea will last from September through Thanksgiving. A large rectangular mirror serves as the backdrop for a striking burgundy wreath made from stems of sumac. Decorative gold orbs and glass vases filled with seasonal grasses dot the mantel below. Although this fall mantel decor is simple, the rich colors of red and gold make it stand out.

CREDIT: EDMUND BARR

3. Farmhouse Fall Mantel Decor 

Let farmhouse style inspire your fall mantel decor. Here, faux white pumpkins nestled inside a rustic wood box and positioned atop a salvaged column offer an elevated twist on rustic style. Sprigs of faux fall leaves tuck between white pillar candles on the mantel. Skeletal spider decorations and ghoulish-themed art nod to Halloween but are easy to swap out as autumn progresses.

CREDIT: KRITSADA PANICHGUL

4. Metallic Fall Mantel 

Create fall magic by combining rustic burlap and dried wheat stalks with gilded accents. Pumpkins and nuts partially coated with gold spray paint add sparkle to this fall mantel idea. To make the hanging branch embellishments, hot-glue twine to nuts and tie onto branches. When choosing pumpkins and gourds, look for some that are about a third of the height of your tallest cylinder for dynamic heights.

CREDIT: KRITSADA PANICHGUL

5. Cozy Fall Mantel Ideas 

Repurpose items from around your home to create inexpensive fall mantel decor. Old cable-knit sweaters and leftover yarn, for example, can be used to wrap cylinder vases and create a garland of yarn balls. To recreate this cozy mantel decorating idea, cut the sleeves off old sweaters and stretch them over vases. Shop at secondhand or thrift stores for good deals on used sweaters if you don't want to cut any of your own. Fold the edge over the rim, securing the top and bottom with a little double-sided tape or hot glue if needed. Add a pop of color by filling the containers with branches of fall foliage.

You can also create a soft and simple yarn ball garland for a cozy fall mantel. Wrap foam balls of various sizes in neutral yarns, securing with pins as needed. Push a sharp pencil through the center of each wrapped ball to create holes. String balls on a length of cotton clothesline rope, pushing rope through the holes with a wooden skewer; knot the ends.

CREDIT: JAY WILDE

6. Simple Fall Mantel Decor 

Don't want to store a bunch of fall decor for the nine months when it isn't in use? Look into accessories that can be recycled or composted at the end of the fall season. Head to your local pumpkin patch or grocery store and pick up some small pumpkins and gourds. Line a few up on your mantel for a subtle touch of fall. Accentuate the display with a vase of fresh leaves and other greenery clipped from your yard.

CREDIT: KRITSADA PANICHGUL

7. Plaid Fall Mantel Decor 

A trio of vases serves as the centerpiece on this fall mantel. Try wrapping inexpensive glass vases or storage containers with old belts and plaid shirts to create your own cozy fall mantel decor. Fill them with pumpkins, bittersweet branches, and dried hydrangeas, then surround the vases with additional gourds and faux leaves to round out the look. Arrange birch logs in a wicker basket below to hint at crackling fires to come.

CREDIT: JAY WILDE

8. Easy Fall Fireplace Decor 

Don't forget the rest of your fireplace when decorating your mantel for fall. Take advantage of a non-working firebox by filling it with fall accents, such as a gathering of pumpkins in various sizes and shapes. Pumpkins are great for fall decor because they can stretch from September to Thanksgiving. To save money, opt for realistic-looking faux pumpkins instead of the real thing so you can reuse them year after year. If your fireplace is functional, keep the fall decor on the hearth or off to the side to avoid a fire hazard.

CREDIT: KRITSADA PANICHGUL

9. Fall Wreath Display 

Make a statement on your fall mantel with a single impactful accent. Hanging a large fall wreath or framed print above your fireplace is an easy way to decorate your living room for the season. Add some greenery and other small items to bring everything together. To add interest, vary the scale of your fall mantel decor by pairing mini pumpkins with a vase of tall branches.

CREDIT: JAY WILDE

10. Traditional Fall Mantel Decorating 

Create a gorgeous fall mantel using classic autumn elements. To build your own DIY fall wreath, start with a simple grapevine wreath and tuck in layers of wheat, faux fall flowers, leaves, berries, and more. Round out this traditional fall mantel with classic motifs like leaves, pumpkins, and an adorable garland of acorns. Create a warm glow with LED pillar candles.