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

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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, where she writes about everything from decor ideas to dryer balls. 

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

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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?


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

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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

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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,” (Sept. 9, 2021)

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

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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

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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

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(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

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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?

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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® 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 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 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

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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

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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.


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

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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

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Vintage Boat Race Regatta in Wolfeboro 2021

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Looking for something fun and different to do this weekend? This fun-filled two-day event takes place on beautiful, historic Wolfeboro Bay in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.

The event is presented by the New Hampshire Boat Museum and is sanctioned by the Vintage and Historic Division of the American Power Boat Association (APBA). This biennial event is a favorite for visitors to watch and for drivers to show off their spectacular vintage race boats dating from the 1920s – 1980s.

Vintage Boat Race Regatta

When: Friday, September 17, 2021 & Saturday, September 18, 2021

Time: 8:30 am  - 5:00 pm

Where: Wolfeboro Town Docks, Wolfeboro Bay

For more information:
Telephone: 603-569-4554


4 Things People Say About Selling a Home Today That Just Aren't True

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It’s no secret that today’s seller's market is wilder and more competitive than it’s been in years, fueling sellers’ hopes of major profits if they list their own home, too. All of which could be true—but only if you gauge your market carefully, and handle your sale with care.

Getty Images

By Erica Sweeney | Aug 19, 2021

You’ve heard the stories: Maybe your neighbors sold their fixer-upper as is for $100,000 over asking price. Or your friends were deluged with crazed homebuyers engaged in a bidding war within 24 hours of putting their house on the market.

“The biggest issue I’m having when I talk to sellers is, they’re seeing stuff in the papers or hearing from their neighbors, ‘Oh, this house just got this absolutely crazy price, or this guy flipped a property for a huge profit,’” says Liz Hogan, vice president of luxury sales at Compass in South Florida. “Those stories are circulating because they’re the anomalies. Nonetheless, a lot of that chatter has made sellers think that even their home—which may just be a regular home and not a super spectacular listing—is going to get some crazy price. That’s not necessarily going to happen.”

For one, this strong seller’s market has started to show signs of softening, with fewer buyers and lower prices. This means sellers may need to reset their expectations.

To help home sellers separate fact from fiction, here’s a look at four myths you’ve probably heard about selling a home today, and why they might not be true for you. Plus, we’ve got some tips to adjust your strategies for the realities of today’s market so you can up the odds that your home actually does become the next success story on the block.

1. ‘You don’t need to renovate—buyers will take anything’

In such a hyperactive market, sellers may get lazy and expect to get a high price for their homes without making any repairs or upgrades. But Jason Gelios, a real estate agent with Community Choice Reality in Southeastern Michigan, says this could set you up for failure.

“Home sellers looking to get top dollar should not sell a home as is, even in this seller’s market,” he says.

Despite the limited housing inventory, high-priced homes that need too much work are a turnoff, since many of today’s buyers expect homes to be mostly move-in ready.

“Buyers today still want to walk into a clean home, one that has nice paint on the wall, that doesn’t have chipped-up countertops or banged-up refrigerators and toilets that aren’t working,” Hogan says.

The truth of the matter is this: A fresh coat of paint, tidying up the landscaping, and a good scrub-down are inexpensive upgrades that bring a return on investment of thousands of dollars when you sell. And don’t neglect minor things like replacing lightbulbs and fixing broken doorknobs. They count.

2. ‘You can price your house sky high and get that amount’

It’s true that home prices have been going up. According to the National Association of Realtors®, the average home price was $363,300 in June (the latest month data is available), 23% higher than a year earlier. That’s quite a rise, but don’t let those dollar signs get to your head.

“The market is hot, which makes sellers think they can just ask for whatever price they want and get it,” says Ruthie Assouline, a real estate broker with Compass in New York City and Miami. “That’s a myth, because it’s all supply and demand.”

Homes need to be priced realistically in line with what the market is asking, the type of home it is, and its condition.

“Just throwing something online and asking for a ridiculous price—you probably have to have the crème de la crème to be able to pull that off,” Assouline says.

Pricing too high also means the home could sit on the market for a while. Plus, Hogan says she’s starting to see buyers push back on the high prices by delaying their home search or not making offers, forcing some sellers to reduce their asking price.

3. ‘Sellers don’t need to market their listing much—it will sell’

Recently, Hogan says a client was interested in a multimillion-dollar home in Miami, but the listing featured only one smartphone photo of the exterior. She called the listing agent to ask if more images would be added; the agent said the owner said they didn’t need more photos since they were certain the home would sell fast.

“I’m like, for a $10 million home, you can’t spend $500 to take professional photos?” she says. “It’s crazy.”

This is a common sentiment these days. Some sellers think putting a lot of effort into online marketing is pointless, since the home is bound to sell quickly regardless of what they do. But consider this: Most homebuyers start their search online—so if your listing falls short, you just won’t get much attention.

Plus, Hogan says sellers aren’t always selling to local buyers who can drive by or are familiar with the area.

“Homes hitting the market without professional pictures, additional pertinent information, and other appealing amenities that could sway a buyer to choose their property is a huge error,” Gelios says.

Photos, videos, floor plans, 3D tours, and other details help homebuyers decide if a home is right for them and if they want to see it in person.

4. ‘In a bidding war, it’s a no-brainer to just pick the highest offer’

Bidding war are common these days, with sellers receiving multiple offers with some over the asking price. Accepting the highest offer may be tempting, but it’s not always the best move.

“It’s terms versus price,” Hogan says. “A smart seller may take a little bit lower price to get much better terms.”

A lower offer that’s all cash, for instance, may be more attractive, since it eliminates the financing hurdle and could mean a quick closing. Or you may need extra time to stay in the home until you find somewhere to move.

Sellers should examine all factors of every offer, including a buyer’s finances, and not focus solely on price, Gelios says.

“Many home sellers have other motivators that could sway them toward choosing an offer,” he explains. “These could include longer occupancy, more flexible closing terms, or other outside-of-the-box offerings, like a credit toward the seller’s moving costs.”


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

Is Your Home (and Home Insurance) Ready for Extreme Weather?

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Hurricanes. Heat waves. Earthquakes. Tornadoes. Today’s headlines are awash in extreme weather, and whether you blame climate change or just plain bad luck, the simple truth is that the damage from these disasters is impossible to ignore.

Getty Images

By Margaret Heidenry

More trouble may be brewing, as our country’s six-month hurricane season peaks in September, followed by winter’s plummeting temperatures leading to blizzards, hail, and other dangers. Even Southern areas are no longer immune, as was made clear in February 2021 when Winter Storm Uri overwhelmed Texas power grids and inflicted losses estimated at $10 billion to $20 billion. Then, the wrath of Hurricane Ida's fury last month.

While no climate expert or weather forecast can divine exactly what will unfold in the coming months, one thing all Americans can do to protect themselves and their home is have a solid homeowners insurance policy. But how prepared are we on this front?

To find out,® teamed up with HarrisX to conduct a poll of 3,026 adults on their extreme weather concerns and homeowners insurance know-how—and the results suggest that many Americans may be more vulnerable than we think.

Here are some of the key highlights:

  • The natural disasters homeowners are most worried about are tornadoes (39%), severe winter storms and cold weather (38%), floods (35%), and hurricanes (29%). To a lesser degree, they’re also concerned with earthquakes (21%), wildfires (17%), and droughts (11%).

  • All that said, only 52% of American homeowners took natural disasters into account when choosing the location of their current home.

  • Just over half (56%) of homeowners knew what to look for in their homeowners insurance policy when buying their home, with 15% admitting they had no clue what to check. Meanwhile, almost one-third (29%) said they thought they knew what to look for, but learned a lot they didn’t know while buying insurance.

  • The youngest generation is the least likely to understand homeowners insurance: only 39% of Gen Z said they knew what to look for in their policy when buying a home, compared with 58% of Millennials, 58% of Gen X, and 57% of baby boomers.

In short, these survey results suggest that while many Americans might assume their home insurance will foot the bill for any extreme weather–related damages that come their way, they could be in for a rude awakening if disaster strikes.

To help clear up some common misconceptions about homeowners insurance, here’s a rundown of some extreme weather occurrences and what most home insurance policies will cover—and won’t cover—so homeowners are truly prepared for whatever happens.

Does home insurance cover floods?

Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States, according to CoreLogic. And if you think you don’t need flood insurance, keep in mind that more than 20% of insurance claims happen in non-flood zones.

Yet currently, only 12% of Americans have flood insurance. And while you might assume your standard home insurance policy covers floods, the reality is that it doesn’t. Instead, you’ll have to obtain separate flood coverage.

“Flood insurance must be purchased separately through the National Flood Insurance Program, or through a private flood insurer,” says Ted Olsen, managing director at New York’s Goosehead Insurance. (The program defines flooding as “an excess of water on land that is normally dry, affecting two or more acres of land or two or more properties.”)

Since flooding is not typically covered, it’s essential to know a home’s flood risk to weigh whether purchasing additional insurance is merited.

Coverage will also hinge on you doing your own due diligence to keep your house from flooding—namely by maintaining proper grading, where the ground around your house slopes downward and away from your foundation to keep water seeping outward rather than in.

“A flood insurance policy won’t cover you if your home floods due to improper grading around the home,” adds Olsen.

You can hire a landscaper to regrade your land, which usually costs between $969 and $3,000, according to HomeAdvisor. It’s a small price to pay to keep your house high and dry.

Does home insurance cover wind damage and tornadoes?

If a tornado, hurricane, or windstorm tears through your area, any wind-related damage to your home (e.g., ripped off shingles and siding) is typically covered under a standard insurance policy. But there are exceptions.

“In tornado-prone areas, there is often a separate higher deductible for wind damage,” says Olsen. And if you live in “tornado alley” (which includes parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska) or another area that consistently experiences frequent tornadoes, you may need additional coverage for high wind damage. Some insurers even require an additional windstorm rider and separate deductible if you live near coastal areas that are vulnerable to tropical storms.

The goal of your homeowners insurance policy and additional coverage is to make sure you’re covered not only for minor damage, but also in case your home is completely destroyed and needs to be rebuilt. This is known as “actual total loss” or “total loss.”

Total loss coverage varies from area to area as well as from home to home, but it basically boils down to an estimate of how much it would cost to rebuild your home.

That could cost more than you paid for your house, or less—it all depends on the construction costs in your area. Be sure to check your policy to see what’s covered. Total loss coverage is pricier, but if you don’t have it, you’ll be on the hook for all the building costs not covered by your policy.

Does home insurance cover hurricanes?

Hurricanes inflict damage in one of two ways: wind and water. Damage from wind is typically covered in standard policies, although your insurer may put in place a separate higher deductible for hurricane-related wind damage.

Meanwhile, flooding caused by hurricanes is typically not covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy (as noted above), so if your property is at risk for flooding, you’ll have to purchase additional flood insurance.

Does home insurance cover wildfires?

In 2020, a large chunk of the damage coming from weather was due to a record-breaking U.S. wildfire season that burned more than 10.2 million acres. And this year is already looking worse. Twelve of the most destructive wildfires in California history took place in September and October, according to the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection.

The good news to all this bad?

“All home insurance policies include fire as a covered peril,” says Alan Umaly, president of California’s Westwood Insurance Agency. “This means your home and belongings that are damaged in a wildfire will be covered.”

However, if you live in an area with a particularly high risk for wildfires, be warned that the increase of wildfires has prompted some insurance companies to forgo renewing even loyal policyholders because of the risk. Even if your insurer does offer wildfire coverage, it may not cover the total cost of rebuilding a home. Instead, it may cover just the loss of your personal property, some of the costs of rebuilding a home, and living expenses while your home is being repaired.

Read your insurance policy closely, and see if you need to secure additional coverage with wildfire-specific insurance policies.

Does home insurance cover damage from cold weather and snow?

Most home policies include coverage for a frozen pipe that breaks due to a snowstorm, as long as you maintain proper temperatures in the home. In other words, if you leave for a monthlong winter vacation and turn off your heat, a pipe that freezes and bursts as a result of this negligence is on you to fix.

And if ice or snow causes a tree to fall on your home, most insurance companies will pay to have the tree moved from the house and for home repair, says Josh Thorner, agency manager with Country Financial in Portland, OR.

This falls under a “covered peril,” which is standard in most home insurance policies, and typically includes fire, lightning, wind, and ice.

Does home insurance cover damage from hail?

Yes, but “in areas where hail damage is prevalent, you will typically see some larger deductibles,” says Olsen.

So keep an eye out for home policies that are less expensive, but only because the wind and hail deductible is high—and consider purchasing higher-priced insurance with a lower deductible for hail if it’s common in your area.

Also note that a home’s roof, in particular, is the most susceptible to hail damage, and frequent roof replacements in hail-prone areas are what causes higher premiums.

Does home insurance cover earthquakes?

Standard home insurance policies not only don’t include coverage for earthquakes, they also specifically exclude them from coverage.

“The only way to protect against this natural disaster is to secure a specialty earthquake insurance policy,” says Umaly.

If you live in California, your insurance company is required under law to sell you earthquake insurance. But even if you have earthquake coverage, there are limits on what it pays out.

Most earthquake insurance covers only some of the losses and damage that earthquakes might cause to your home and belongings. For instance, if you would want to rebuild a damaged home to current earthquake building codes, you’d have to upgrade your earthquake coverage with an additional optional rider.


Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine.

Fun Fall Activities to Do With Friends, Kids, or Solo! We've got you covered all season long!

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Looking for fall things to do while the weather's crisp and the foliage is at its peak? Consider this checklist of fall activities the ultimate way to make the most of autumn.


By Maggie Seaver | Updated September 07, 2021

From enjoying Mother Nature's simple pleasures (hello, leaf-peeping and bird watching) to planning the perfect fall trip with friends (winery tour, anyone?), here are our favorite fall activities for kids, families, and couples, plus tons of things to do with friends or on your own this fall.

Outdoor Fall Activities 














Fall Activities for Kids and Toddlers 

















Fall Activities to Do With Friends 













Indoor Fall Activities 







Fall Activities for Couples 









Nostalgic Fall Activities 








6 Ways Home Buyers Mess Up Getting a Mortgage

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If you’re out to buy a home, you have to be vigilant. To clue you into the pitfalls, here are six of the most common ways people mess up getting a mortgage.


By Daniel Bortz - Magazine

Waiting until you can make a 20% down payment

A 20% down payment is the golden number when applying for a conventional home loan, since it enables you to avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), an extra monthly fee of 0.3% to 1.15% of your total loan amount. But with mortgage rates where they are today—in a word, low—waiting for that magic 20% could be a huge mistake, since the more time passes, the higher mortgage rates and home prices may go!

All of which means it may be worth discussing your home-buying prospects with lenders right now. To get a ballpark figure of what you can afford and how your down payment affects your finances, punch your salary and other numbers into a home affordability calculator.

Meeting with only one mortgage lender

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, about half of U.S. home buyers only meet with one mortgage lender before signing up for a home loan. But these borrowers could be missing out in a big way. Why? Because lenders’ offers and interest rates vary, and even nabbing a slightly lower interest rate can save you big bucks over the long haul.

In fact, a borrower taking out a 30-year fixed rate conventional loan can get rates that vary by more than half a percent, the CFPB has found. So, getting an interest rate of 4.0% instead of 4.5% on a $200,000, 30-year fixed mortgage translates into savings of approximately $60 per month, or $3,500 over the first five years.

So to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible, meet with at least three mortgage lenders. You’ll want to start your search early (ideally, at least 60 days before you start seriously looking at homes). When you meet with each lender, get what’s called a good-faith estimate, which breaks down the terms of the mortgage, including the interest rate and fees, so that you can make an apples-to-apples comparison between offers.

Getting pre-qualified rather than pre-approved

Mortgage pre-qualification and mortgage pre-approval may sound alike, but they’re completely different. Pre-qualification entails a basic overview of a borrower’s ability to get a loan. You provide a mortgage lender with information—about your income, assets, debts, and credit—but you don’t need to produce any paperwork to back it up. In return, you’ll get a rough estimate of what size loan you can afford, but it’s by no means a guarantee that you’ll actually get approved for the loan when you go to buy a home.

Mortgage pre-approval, meanwhile, is an in-depth process that involves a lender running a credit check and verifying your income and assets. Then an underwriter does a preliminary review of your financial portfolio and, if all goes well, issues a letter of pre-approval—a written commitment for financing up to a certain loan amount.

Bottom line? If you’re serious about buying a house, you need to be pre-approved, since many sellers will accept offers only from pre-approved buyers, says Ray Rodriguez, New York City regional mortgage sales manager at TD Bank. Here’s how to start the process of mortgage pre-approval.

Moving money around

To get pre-approved, you have to show you have enough cash in reserves to afford the down payment. (Presenting your mortgage lender with bank statements is the easiest way to do this.) Nonetheless, your loan still needs to go through underwriting while you’re under contract for your loan to be approved. Because the underwriter will check to see that your finances have remained the same, the last thing you want to do is move money around while you’re in the process of buying a house. Shifting large amounts of money out or even into your accounts is a huge red flag, says Casey Fleming, mortgage adviser and author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.”

So if you’re in contract for a home, your money should stay put.

Applying for new lines of credit

If you apply for a new credit card or request a credit limit increase a few months before closing, watch out: Credit inquiries ding your credit score by up to five points. So, don’t let the credit inquiries add up.

“Worse than the actual hit on your credit score is any pattern of trying to borrow more money all at once,” says Glenn Phillips, CEO of Lake Homes Realty. Translation: Applying for multiple lines of credit while you’re buying a house can make your mortgage lender think that you’re desperate for money—a signal that could change your mortgage terms or even get you denied altogether, even if you’ve got a closing date on the books.

Changing jobs

Mortgage lenders like to see at least two years of consistent income history when pre-approving a loan. Consequently, changing jobs while you’re under contract on a property can create a big issue in the eyes of an underwriter.

Your best bet? Try to wait until after you’ve closed on your house to change jobs. If you’re forced to switch before closing, you should alert your loan officer immediately. Depending on the lender, you may simply need to provide a written verification of employment from your new employer that states your job status and income, says Shashank Shekhar, the founder and CEO of Arcus Lending in San Jose, CA.


Daniel Bortz has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Money magazine, Consumer Reports, Entrepreneur magazine, and more. He is also a Realtor in Virginia.

Follow This Fall Garden Checklist to Get Your Yard Ready for Winter

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Changing leaves signal that the growing season is winding down. Here's what you should do to prep every area of your landscape for the colder months.



By Megan Hughes | Updated July 29, 2021

As temperatures begin cooling off and daylight hours dwindle, it's time to finish the gardening season strong by preparing all your plants for winter. Essential autumn chores on your to-do list should include giving permanent plantings such as trees, shrubs, and perennials a little TLC, cleaning up your veggie garden, and winterizing your lawn. A little work now means you'll have more time in spring for planting vegetables and colorful blooms rather than being bogged down with clean-up tasks and tracking down garden tools. Check off a couple of tasks a day and you’ll be ready for winter in short order; then you can spend your time browsing seed catalogs while you dream up next year's garden plans.

Getting Your Lawn Ready for Winter

As the weather cools off, autumn lawn care is a combination of clean-up and encouraging new growth. It's also a good time to help your grass recover from being trampled during your backyard games of catch or maybe bocce ball this summer. Pave the way for lush, healthy grass next spring with these timely chores.

  • Fall Lawn Care Checklist



Prep the Perennial Garden

Perennials are garden workhorses. After a long growing season, they're ready for a winter rest. Stop deadheading in early fall and leave the above-ground parts standing even after frost kills them (unless pests and diseases are an issue). They'll provide both food and shelter for wildlife. Songbirds will enjoy the seed buffet and many pollinators like native bees overwinter in standing stems and brush. Complete the following tasks in your perennial garden in fall:

  • Fall Perennial Garden Checklist


Refresh Your Vegetable Garden for Next Year

Whether you have an elaborate kitchen garden or a small patch for raising edible plants, things will start to slow down in fall as you harvest the last of your tasty bounty. Once a few frosts finally bring the growing season to an end, check off these vegetable garden chores to get ready for next season’s harvest.

  • Fall Vegetable Garden Checklist


Care for Trees and Shrubs

Did you know fall is an excellent time for planting trees and shrubs? This is when you should start that new hedge or establish a new shade tree in your yard because the soil is still warm enough for roots to grow a little before winter sets in. Plus, a little fall care for your established trees and shrubs will help them weather the colder months better.

  • Fall Tree and Shrub Care Checklist


Organize Your Tools and Gardening Gear

As the growing season winds down, don't forget to prep your garden tools for winter. Cleaned and refreshed, your favorite garden helpers will be ready when you are, come spring.

  • Fall Garden Tool Care Checklist


Clean Up Annuals and Containers

Colorful annuals are often the first plants to succumb to frosty fall weather. Once a hard frost does them in, you'll want to tidy up planting beds and pots to be ready to fill again next spring.

  • Fall Annuals and Container Garden Checklist


orticulturist and writer — Better Homes and Gardens

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