Plan your Kitchen Remodel

Homeowners spend more money on kitchen remodeling than on any other home improvement project. And with good reason: Kitchens are the hub of home life and a source of pride.

A significant portion of kitchen remodeling costs may be recovered by the value the project brings to your home. A complete kitchen renovation with a national median cost of $68,000 recovers about 59% of the initial project cost at the home’s resale, according to the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of REALTORS®.

The project gets a big thumbs-up from homeowners, too. Those polled in the report gave their new kitchen a “joy score” of 10 (out of 10!), a rating based on those who said they were happy or satisfied with their remodeling, with 10 being the highest rating and 1 the lowest.

To help ensure you get a good return on your kitchen remodel, follow these seven tips:


#1 Plan, Plan, Plan

Planning your kitchen remodel should take more time than the actual construction. If you plan well, the amount of time you’re inconvenienced by construction mayhem will be minimized. Plus, you’re more likely to stay on budget.

How much time should you spend planning? The National Kitchen and Bath Association recommends at least six months. That way, you won’t be tempted to change your mind during construction and create change orders, which will inflate construction costs and hurt your return on investment.

Some tips on planning:

Study your existing kitchen: How wide is the doorway into your kitchen? It’s a common mistake many homeowners make: Buying the extra-large fridge only to find they can’t get it in the doorway. To avoid mistakes like this, create a drawing of your kitchen with measurements for doorways, walkways, counters, etc. And don’t forget height, too.
Think about traffic patterns: Work aisles should be a minimum of 42 inches wide and at least 48 inches wide for households with multiple cooks.

Design with ergonomics in mind: Drawers or pull-out shelves in base cabinets; counter heights that can adjust up or down; a wall oven instead of a range: These are all features that make a kitchen accessible to everyone — and a pleasure to work in.

Plan for the unforeseeable: Even if you’ve planned down to the number of nails you’ll need in your remodel, expect the unexpected. Build in a little leeway for completing the remodel. Want it done by Thanksgiving? Then plan to be done before Halloween.

Choose all your fixtures and materials before starting: Contractors will be able to make more accurate bids, and you’ll lessen the risk of delays because of back orders.

Don’t be afraid to seek help: A professional designer can simplify your kitchen remodel. Pros help make style decisions, foresee potential problems, and schedule contractors. Expect fees around $50 to $150 per hour, or 5% to 15% of the total cost of the project.



#2 Get Real About Appliances

It’s easy to get carried away when planning your new kitchen. A six-burner commercial-grade range and luxury-brand refrigerator may make eye-catching centerpieces, but they may not fit your cooking needs or lifestyle.

Appliances are essentially tools used to cook and store food. Your kitchen remodel shouldn’t be about the tools, but the design and functionality of the entire kitchen.

So unless you’re an exceptional cook who cooks a lot, concentrate your dollars on long-term features that add value, such as cabinets and flooring.

Then choose appliances made by trusted brands that have high marks in online reviews and Consumer Reports.

#3 Keep the Same Footprint
Nothing will drive up the cost of a remodel faster than changing the location of plumbing pipes and electrical outlets, and knocking down walls. This is usually where unforeseen problems occur.

So if possible, keep appliances, water fixtures, and walls in the same location. Not only will you save on demolition and reconstruction costs, you’ll cut the amount of dust and debris your project generates.

#4 Don’t Underestimate the Power of Lighting


Lighting can make a world of difference in a kitchen. It can make it look larger and brighter. And it will help you work safely and efficiently. You should have two different types of lighting in your kitchen:

Task Lighting: Under-cabinet lighting should be on your must-do list, since cabinets create such dark work areas. And since you’re remodeling, there won’t be a better time to hard-wire your lights. Plan for at least two fixtures per task area to eliminate shadows. Pendant lights are good for islands and other counters without low cabinets. Recessed lights and track lights work well over sinks and general prep areas with no cabinets overhead.

Ambient lighting: Flush-mounted ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, and track lights create overall lighting in your kitchen. Include dimmer switches to control intensity and mood.


#5 Be Quality-Conscious


Functionality and durability should be top priorities during kitchen remodeling. Resist low-quality bargains and choose products that combine low maintenance with long warranty periods. Solid-surface countertops, for instance, may cost a little more, but with the proper care, they’ll look great for a long time.

And if you’re planning on moving soon, products with substantial warranties are a selling advantage.

#6 Add Storage, Not Space


Storage will never go out of style, but if you’re sticking with the same footprint, here are a couple of ideas to add more:

Install cabinets that reach the ceiling: They may cost more — and you might need a stepladder — but you’ll gain valuable storage space for Christmas platters and other once-a-year items. In addition, you won’t have to dust cabinet tops.

Hang it up: Mount small shelving units on unused wall areas and inside cabinet doors; hang stock pots and large skillets on a ceiling-mounted rack; and add hooks to the backs of closet doors for aprons, brooms, and mops.

#7 Communicate Clearly With Your Remodelers
Establishing a good rapport with your project manager or construction team is essential for staying on budget. To keep the sweetness in your project:

Drop by the project during work hours: Your presence broadcasts your commitment to quality.

Establish a communication routine: Hang a message board on site where you and the project manager can leave daily communiqués. Give your email address and cell phone number to subs and team leaders.

Set house rules: Be clear about smoking, boom box noise levels, available bathrooms, and appropriate parking.

Be kind: Offer refreshments (a little hospitality can go a long way), give praise when warranted, and resist pestering them with conversation, jokes, and questions when they are working. They’ll work better when refreshed and allowed to concentrate on work.


And a final tip to help keep your frustration level down while the construction is going on: plan for a temporary kitchen along with the plans for your new kitchen. You’ll be happier (and less frustrated) if you’ve got a way to have dinner while construction is ongoing.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Protect your Home From Severe Weather

Brown lawns. Flooded basements. Piles of snow dumped on your doorstep. Topsy-turvy weather can test your patience, and even put your home at risk.

If a freak storm drops in your area, will your home be up to the challenge? Consider this:

The median age for U.S. homes is 37 years — getting up there when it comes to handling severe storms.

But a few value-adding improvements provide some peace of mind. Here are five home improvements to consider to protect your investment:

#1 Get a Cool Roof
It can make your home more comfortable when the temperatures spike — and reduce your cooling costs. A traditional dark-colored roof can heat up to almost 190 degrees, creating sweltering indoor conditions. A lighter-colored cool roof stays 50 to 100 degrees cooler since it reflects sunlight instead of absorbing heat. As a bonus, keeping your roof cooler can extend its life.


There are a ton of roofing materials. Among the options:

– Cool roof coating. It’s like a very thick white paint that can be applied to different roof types. Coatings can offer additional perks such as water and chemical protection.
– Cool-colored roofing tiles. They look like traditional tiles but have a higher solar reflectance. Tiles like these also come in a wide range of shades. Keep in mind darker colors like black will be less reflective than a lighter shade like terra cotta.


Tip: If you have a flat or shallow-pit roof, a green roof could be an option. They reduce storm water runoff because the plants absorb the water that would otherwise flow into the gutter.

#2 Install a Standby Generator

You’ll have electricity to run essential appliances and your central air system. A standby generator can even reduce your chances of flood damage by keeping your sump pump running.

It’s permanently installed outside your home and fueled by liquid propane or natural gas. Since it’s wired directly into your home’s electrical system, it can automatically restore power in seconds. Price depends on the size of your home and the amount of wattage needed.

Tip: If the ticket price is too high, you can opt for a portable generator. They’re fueled by gasoline or propane, and are powerful enough to keep a few appliances and some lights running. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars. “Consumer Reports” publishes a generator-buying guide with product reviews.

#3 Hurricane-Proof Your Home

Powerful windstorms and hurricanes can cause weak places in your home to fail. Hurricanes are responsible for eight out of the 10 most expensive natural disasters to have hit the U.S. High winds (and water) can wreck your stuff and, at worst, rip the roof off your house.

Even if you don’t live in a hurricane-prone area, making your home impact resistant can protect against tornadoes and other high-wind storms. Here are ways you can windproof:

1. Add truss bracing to homes with gabled roofs, which are more prone to hurricane wind damage. The bracing uses wood beams to attach the rafters at the ends of gable roofs to boost stability.

2. Install impact-resistant windows, doors, and garage doors. These can inhibit high winds that cause structural damage from entering your home. Impact-resistant features like these come with additional perks. They can:

– Protect your home from intruders
– Reduce outside noise
– Stop warm or cool air from escaping
– Entitle homeowners to a discount on home insurance


If you’re considering shutters, keep in mind, they may not be the best long term investment:

-They’re not convenient. You have to put up the shutters and brace your garage door whenever a storm is coming, and that can be potentially dangerous. Most homeowners don’t have the tools, time, or experience to properly install them.
– They may not resist high wind pressures as effectively during Category 4 or 5 hurricanes. This is especially true for older, less wind-resistant homes, and if your garage door is made of wood.
– New windows and garage doors, in general, have more value when it’s time to sell.

Tip: Hurricane-proofing your yard can also protect your home. Proper tree maintenance can prevent diseased or weakened branches from falling and damaging property. In addition, remove anything in your yard that’s not secured in place — wind chimes, outdoor furniture, garbage cans, garden equipment, and toys — which can become projectiles.

#4 Landscape With Fire-Wise Plants

Drought not only makes lawns look scruffy, it also creates ideal burning conditions for wildfires, especially in Western states.

Incorporate fire-wise landscaping to put a damper on kindling by limiting the amount of flammable vegetation and materials around your home.


The right materials can act as fuel breaks. Here are just a few:

– Replace mulch with pebbles or gravel.
– Replace a wood deck with a concrete patio.
– Add pavers and rocks.
– Avoid fire-prone plants that have volatile oils that burn easily. One way to identify plants in the pyrophytic family: Crush their leaves to see if they produce a strong smell. Examples include: sagebrush, rosemary, and pine trees.
– Plant high-moisture annuals and perennials native to your area. You can find lists of plants appropriate for your area at firewise.org.

Tip: Wire mesh offers some protection by reducing the risk of nearby embers entering or hitting vulnerable parts of your home. You can use wire mesh to:
– Cover soffit, attic, and under-eave vents
– Cover openings in areas below patios, desks, and porches to prevent the collection of combustible materials like dried leaves and other flammable debris


#5 Retrofit for Flooding
The best way to physically protect your property from flooding is with a flooding retrofit. FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program have strict guidelines on what would work (and they aren’t cheap). Here are a few:
– Elevate your home so that the lowest floor is at or above flood level.
– Dry flood-proof your home so it can withstand floodwaters for at least 72 hours. This involves making the portion of a home that’s below flood level watertight using materials like concrete.
– Wet flood-proof your house, which involves making changes that will allow floodwater inside a home’s structure to minimize damage.


Finally, remember that regular preventive maintenance is the cornerstone of home protection. So if you’re not cleaning your gutters or sealing your home against water and air leaks, add-ons won’t make much difference.

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

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From Fixer-Upper to Dream Home

That moment when you realize the home you want to buy is not the home you can afford: What do you do?

Eve and Jason Trombley didn’t give up. Nor did they wait until they could save up for their dream home. They were ready to buy, so they did. Even though it wasn’t what they first imagined.

Then bit by bit, they turned it into their dream home.

Here’s their story:


Homeowners: Eve Trombley, 40, and husband Jason Trombley, 39
Their home is in: Schaghticoke, N.Y.

Type of home they wanted to buy: Custom built, down to every detail

What they bought instead: A 1977 ranch fixer-upper

Sale price: $167,000


Why did you choose this house after giving up on custom building?
Eve: The location. It’s in the country, close to our jobs, family, friends, and in a good school district. It was also reasonably priced and had the potential for a facelift without being overwhelming.

The bones were good. It didn’t have expensive, pressing issues. We weren’t going to have to jack the foundation up or reinstall a furnace and heating system.


What did you want to change about it?
Eve: The exterior needed a paint job, the fence and landscaping were kind of a hot mess, and we ended up having to replace the well pump within the first year of living here.

We were planning more to improve the floors, gut the bathroom, replace light fixtures, that type of stuff. We really hadn’t intended to touch much in the layout other than finishing the basement and adding a bathroom.

But the longer we lived in it, the more possibilities I saw in it. I really need to live with something and think about flow as well as symmetry before settling on the best options.

And that led to bigger changes?
Eve: Oh yes. After we had lived here three years, I figured out the kitchen and dining area could work better, so we completely redid the space. The two spaces were open to each other, and the fridge was encroaching on the dining area.


So we closed a hallway off the kitchen with a wall, and put the fridge there.


It kept the kitchen from being the thoroughfare for the hallway, and in a way it created more floor space. Then we built a doorway between the dining area and kitchen that made each space more defined, but kept the floor plan open.

We also put a doorway between the kitchen and the living room that mirrored the one between the dining room and living room. It made the three spaces flow together much better.

What’s still on the to-do list?

Eve: We are planning to build a 16-foot-by-24-foot deck off the back of the house so we can have both an eating area and a sitting area. I want to put board and batten with wallpaper in our hallways soon-ish.

We’re going to add a bedroom for my son in the basement, a formal office/studio space for me, and add a toilet and sink down there. And our bathroom is a mess; it needs a new tub, sink, and toilet.

Yowza. Will you ever be finished?
Eve: I have some more big updates in mind. I’d say in about three years we should be mostly settled with what we want to do — if we stick with the existing footprint and don’t add on to the house.


Of all your projects, which has had the biggest impact on your life?
Eve: Definitely the reworking of the kitchen/dining room/living room layout. We used to only seat four people in the dining area; now we can seat six comfortably and up to 10 for holiday dinners.

We can talk to guests in the living room now while we’re in the kitchen, so the space is better for entertaining.


How much have you spent on renovations? Ballpark estimate is fine.

Eve: Around $20,000. That tally is 99% just materials. Everything has been DIY. Jason works in construction, so we’ve done most of the work. And he has a network of handy friends to help him with different projects.

Wow, having a husband who’s a carpenter with generous friends is handy. How much do you think you saved on labor?

I would say we probably saved at least $10,000 to $20,000, but I’m not super well-versed in labor costs.

What do you think your house is worth after all your work?
Eve: We would probably be able to sell it for about $190,000. Things like the pool have been expensive and can go either way with resale. But we weren’t concerned about recouping the cost if we ever sell; it’s been worth it because we use it so much.


What’s the hardest part of a home renovation?
Eve: The middle of a project can feel monotonous and never-ending. There’s often a point where you think, “What did I do? I should have left this alone!”

You may need to step away for a week or two so you can recharge and come back with new motivation and fresh eyes. It’s all normal.

What advice would you give to someone tackling their first home renovation?

Eve: I would say not to bite off more than you can chew. Look at your obligations to figure out how much work you can put into a house. If you can only work on the house on weekends, it might be better to go with something that is livable and doesn’t need to be torn down to the studs.

Also, make a list of all the things that need to be done, per room. And expect to spend more money than you planned. And more time.

Has it been worth all the work?
Eve: Yes, it has, and here’s when I knew that. The original owner of the house stopped by. She brought photos of what the house looked like when she owned it. We could see there had once been an enclosed porch off the dining room, like we’re planning to add!

It made me feel even more connected to the house. Maybe we were meant to buy it.

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

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What to Expect when you’re (Home) Inspecting

The first thing you need to know about home inspection: You’ll feel all the feels.

There’s the excitement — the inspection could be the longest time you’re in the house, after the showing.

Right behind that comes … anxiety. What if the inspector finds something wrong? So wrong you can’t buy the house?

Then there’s impatience. Seriously, is this whole home-buying process over yet?

Not yet. But you’re close. So take a deep breath. Because the most important thing to know about home inspection: It’s just too good for you, as a buyer, to skip. Here’s why.

A Home Inspector Is Your Protector
An inspector helps you make sure a house isn’t hiding anything before you commit for the long haul. (Think about it this way: You wouldn’t even get coffee with a stranger without checking out their history.)

A home inspector identifies any reasonably discoverable problems with the house (a leaky roof, faulty plumbing, etc.). Hiring an inspector is you doing your due diligence. To find a good one (more on how to do that soon), it helps to have an understanding of what the typical home inspection entails.

An inspection is all about lists.

Before an inspection, the home inspector will review the seller’s property disclosure statement. (Each state has its own requirements for what sellers must disclose on these forms; some have stronger requirements than others.) The statement lists any flaws the seller is aware of that could negatively affect the home’s value.

The disclosure comes in the form of an outline, covering such things as:

– Mold
– Pest infestation
– Roof leaks
– Foundation damage
– Other problems, depending on what your state mandates.


During the inspection, an inspector has three tasks — to:

1. Identify problems with the house that he or she can see
2. Suggest fixes
3. Prepare a written report, usually with photos, noting observed defects

This report is critical to you and your agent — it’s what you’ll use to request repairs from the seller. (We’ll get into how you’ll do that in a minute, too.)

The Inspector Won’t Check Everything
Generally, inspectors only examine houses for problems that can be seen with the naked eye. They won’t be tearing down walls or using magical X-ray vision, to find hidden faults.

Inspectors also won’t put themselves in danger. If a roof is too high or steep, for example, they won’t climb up to check for missing or damaged shingles. They’ll use binoculars to examine it instead.

They can’t predict the future, either. While an inspector can give you a rough idea of how many more years that roof will hold up, he or she can’t tell you exactly when it will need to be replaced.

Finally, home inspectors are often generalists. A basic inspection doesn’t routinely include a thorough evaluation of:

– Swimming pools
– Wells
– Septic systems
– Structural engineering work
– The ground beneath a home
– Fireplaces and chimneys
When it comes to wood-burning fireplaces, for instance, most inspectors will open and close dampers to make sure they’re working, check chimneys for obstructions like birds’ nests, and note if they believe there’s reason to pursue a more thorough safety inspection.

If you’re concerned about the safety of a fireplace, you can hire a certified chimney inspector for about $125 to $325 per chimney; find one through the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

It’s Your Job to Check the Inspector
Now you’re ready to connect with someone who’s a pro at doing all of the above. Here’s where — once again — your real estate agent has your back. He or she can recommend reputable home inspectors to you.

In addition to getting recommendations (friends and relatives are handy for those, too), you can look for professional inspectors at their trade association websites. The American Society of Home Inspectors’ (ASHI) Find a Home Inspector tool lets you search by address, metro area, or neighborhood. You can also search for inspectors by state at InterNACHI.

You’ll want to interview at least three inspectors before deciding whom to hire. During each chat, ask questions such as:

– Are you licensed or certified? Inspector certifications vary, based on where you live. Not every state requires home inspectors to be licensed, and licenses can indicate different degrees of expertise. ASHI lists each state’s requirements here.
– How long have you been in the business? Look for someone with at least five years of experience — it indicates more homes inspected.
– How much do you charge? Home inspection costs range from $275 to $400, although pricing may vary regionally beyond this range. The costs depend on the size of your house as well as market conditions, demand, and supply.
– What do you check, exactly? Know what you’re getting for your money.
– What don’t you check, specifically? Some home inspectors are more thorough than others.
– How soon after the inspection will I receive my report? Home inspection contingencies require you to complete the inspection within a certain period of time after the offer is accepted — normally five to seven days — so you’re on a set timetable. A good home inspector will provide you with the report within 24 hours after the inspection.
– May I see a sample report? This will help you gauge how detailed the inspector is and how he or she explains problems.


How to Really Read Online Reviews
Take extreme reviews (“she was the best inspector ever”) with a grain of salt; compare a provider’s reviews on several sites; don’t let a few bad reviews cloud the positives; see if a contractor has addressed negative reviews.

Sometimes you can find online reviews of inspectors on sites like Angie’s List and Yelp, too, if past clients’ feedback is helpful in making your decision.

Show Up for Inspection (and Bring Your Agent)
It’s inspection day, and the honor of your — and your agent’s — presence is not required, but highly recommended. Even though you’ll receive a report summarizing the findings later on, being there gives you a chance to ask questions, and to learn the inner workings of the home.

Block out two to three hours for the inspection. The inspector will survey the property from top to bottom. This includes checking water pressure; leaks in the attic, plumbing, etc.; if door and window frames are straight (if not, it could be a sign of a structural issue); if electrical wiring is up to code; if smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working; if appliances work properly. Outside, he or she will look at things like siding, fencing, and drainage.

The inspector might also be able to check for termites, asbestos, lead paint, or radon. Because these tests involve more legwork and can require special certification, they come at an additional charge.

Get Ready to Negotiate
Once you receive the inspector’s report, review it with your agent.

Legally, sellers are required to make certain repairs. These can vary depending on location. Most sales contracts require the seller to fix:

– Structural defects
– Building code violations
– Safety issues


Most home repairs, however, are negotiable. Be prepared to pick your battles: Minor issues, like a cracked switchplate or loose kitchen faucet, are easy and cheap to fix on your own. You don’t want to start nickel-and-diming the seller.

If there are major issues with the house, your agent can submit a formal request for repairs that includes a copy of the inspection report. Repair requests should be as specific as possible. For instance: Instead of saying “repair broken windows,” a request should say “replace broken window glass in master bathroom.”

– If the seller agrees to make all of your repair requests: He or she must provide you with invoices from a licensed contractor stating that the repairs were made. Then it’s full steam ahead toward the sale.
– If the seller responds to your repair requests with a counteroffer: He or she will state which repairs (or credits at closing) he or she is willing to make. The ball is in your court to either agree, counter the seller’s counteroffer, or void the transaction.


At the end of the day, remember to check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling about all of this. You need to be realistic about how much repair work you’d be taking on. At this point in the sale, there’s a lot of pressure from all parties to move into the close. But if you don’t feel comfortable, speak up.

The most important things to remember during the home inspection? Trust your inspector, trust your gut, and lean on your agent — they likely have a lot of experience to support your decision-making.

That’s something to feel good about.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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September Home Maintenance

Ah, September… The weather is changing, and we’re getting back to our normal, post-summer routines.

It’s also a great time to give the house a little extra love and maintenance.

Stain the Deck

Help your deck field what winter throws at it by re-staining it this month. September’s cooler temps and lower humidity make it the ideal time for this project.

Check Fire Extinguishers


According to the Red Cross, fires increase in the fall and winter. Keep your home fire safe by getting your fire extinguishers checked by a certified professional. Fire extinguishers do break down and malfunction. In fact, after six years they need to be emptied and reloaded. If you haven’t already, buy one for each floor — and the garage.

Spruce Up the Yard


Aerate your lawn, reseed or fertilize it if needed, and plant perennials and shrubs (often on sale now). Your lawn will green up faster after winter, and the shrubs and perennials will have a chance to establish roots before the first freeze.

Inspect Your Home’s Exterior


Spending money on roof repairs is no party, but neither is handing out buckets to the family to catch leaks in a winter storm. Inspect your roof — and other big-ticket items, like siding, grading, and gutters — before you’ve got problems. You’ll cut costs by fixing them now and stay dry and warm all winter long.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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How to Prevent Home Buyer’s Remorse

When you’re house hunting, the pressure of competition can move you from “Hmm, I like that, but it’s too pricey,” to “I have to have that!” You think, so what if paying for this house will put me way over budget? I can cut back somewhere else, right? But that kind of thinking can get you into trouble. Trouble that’s totally avoidable.

Whether you’re in the middle of a home bidding war or facing down a list of must-haves, don’t lose sight of your budget and the risks. That way, you can own a house without home buyer’s remorse. And you’ll have money left to enjoy things like new furniture, entertainment, and just plain having fun.

Who Has Home Buyer’s Remorse and Why?

A competitive real estate market can set buyers up to purchase a home that’s either beyond their budgets —sometimes hugely beyond — or doesn’t meet their needs, according to a 2021 survey by Bankrate and YouGov. The survey found that recent home buyers, including 64% of millennials, had regrets about their home purchase. The top reason? They were unprepared for maintenance and other home ownership-related costs. On top of that, 13% percent of millennials said they think they paid a higher sales price than they should have.

“Things in homes always break down, so people should put aside a budget for anything that will need fixing,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of REALTORS®. “A rule of thumb is to anticipate 1% or 2% of the home price for potential maintenance,” he explains. “So, for a $300,000 home, that means setting aside $3,000.”

One reason home buyers may be tempted to go over budget is they’ve been influenced by the beautiful homes on TV, according to an NAR report on home staging. “The shows can create unrealistic expectations for the home buying process and how homes should look,” says Brandi Snowden, NAR director of member and consumer survey research. In time, buyers can view features that used to be luxuries as necessities. They believe everyone has them and they should too. One solution: Work with a REALTOR as early as possible in the process. “Make sure your agent knows your budget, so they can help you set expectations and stick to them,” she advises.

How to Navigate House Hunting in a Competitive Market
In addition to pressure to exceed their budgets, buyers are facing hurdles like these five:

1. Requests to Waive Contingencies
Tamara Suminski, a real estate agent at Beach Real Estate Group in Manhattan Beach, Calif., is seeing not only bidding wars but also sellers wanting buyers to waive contingencies. “With an appraisal contingency, if the appraisal comes in low, the buyer has choices. They can choose to try to renegotiate with the seller, bring in the difference, or cancel. When they remove that contingency and its protection, and if the home doesn’t appraise at the right level, the seller is not very likely to renegotiate with them. And the buyer has waived their right to cancel. If they cancel anyway, they’re risking their deposit.”

Some buyers are also waiving contingencies related to home inspections. These investigations are an opportunity to have a home inspector view the home based on disclosures and for the buyer to use findings as a bargaining tool, Suminski says.

Eliminating these protections can end up costing money for buyers. And the more offers the buyer writes and loses, the more risk they will tolerate. So, they may waive contingencies and regret it later, says Suminski. Talk to a buyer’s agent who will guide you through this and explain the risks of removing protections and unknown variables, she advises.

2. Speed Showings and Decisions
Bryan Yap recently bought a home in an expensive and highly competitive market — Orange County, Calif. He found that with the pandemic, each showing lasted only 15 minutes. That was one of the biggest hurdles. “We’d see three, four, or five homes in one day. It’s hard to keep track of what you like and don’t like with each house. What I would do differently is take notes immediately after viewing a home. If you’re able to prepare beforehand, create a list of wants and requirements in priority order. Immediately after seeing each home, rank it based on the list.”

3. Focusing on the Top of Your Price Range
“If you’re looking in a micromarket where listings are achieving multiple offers and homes are going above asking price, don’t set your on the houses at the top of your price range,” Suminski says. If $300,000 is your upper limit, look at houses priced at $250,000 or $275,000. Otherwise, you’re going to be outbid from the gate every time.”

That was the process Yap used when he was looking. “I would look for homes $25,000 under my max budget. I went on Zillow and looked at homes that were sold recently and tried to calculate the average over-listing price those homes were being sold for and factor that into my offer price.”

4. The Need to Compromise
Yap’s must-haves were three bedrooms, two baths, and being closer to the city center of Anaheim. “I was able to get three beds, two baths, but I did have to compromise on location. I also had to compromise on price, which was doable because I could still afford it. To compete with all the potential buyers, I knew that we had to either offer an over-list price or remove some contingencies.”

Suminski advises adjusting your search outward geographically, even if it means a longer commute. Buyers might also have to compromise on property types and features. In addition, they should consider doing some DIY projects instead of wanting everything to be move-in ready. “They may have to be willing to look at townhouses instead of single-family homes or install carpet and paint on weekends.”

5. Information Overload
In the two years before he started searching for a home, Yap did a lot of reading. “It was a massive plan I had to come up with and stick to so that I’d be able to afford buying a home.”

Because of how hot the Orange County market is, agents scheduled showings as soon as a house was listed or showed “coming soon” status. Yap treated the home search as “almost a second job,” using lunch breaks and evenings to check emails, do online searches, and text his real estate agent about what he wanted to see. “I had to make a lot of sacrifices. People wanted to set plans with me for the weekend, but I said, ‘Sorry, I have to go view homes that day.’”

He primarily credits his real estate agents, including Sumiski, for keeping him informed. “They made all this possible. I learned a lot from them.”

Some agents, like Suminski, hold an accredited buyer’s representative designation but usually work with sellers as well as buyers. “An [agent with an] ABR has taken extensive buyer’s representation training,” Suminski says. “They’ll provide education to buyers so that they’re learning as much as they can about the market, including the risks involved with different negotiations. If buyers are going to shorten terms or remove protections, they need to be well informed about the pitfalls.”

Learn from Experiences
That access to information and guidance will help buyers making an offer on a home especially in a competitive market. “Today’s buyer has seen and written offers on many properties before they get their offer accepted,” Suminski says. “That’s common across the country. Each is a learning opportunity for buyers about what information they might need to be researching so they can move more quickly.”

When you act on advice from recent buyers and agents, you can stay well informed and get good results even in a tough market. And that’s the best way to prevent home buyer’s remorse.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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What to Know About Credit before Buying a Home

Like it or not, your credit score is one of the most important numbers in your life, ranking up there with your Social Security number, date of birth, and wedding anniversary. This three-digit number is your financial report card, except there’s no getting rid of it after college.

Your credit score shows lenders just how trustworthy you are when it comes to managing your finances, and it can either save or cost you thousands of dollars throughout your life.

If you’re in the dark about just how significantly this number can impact you and the details behind your personal score, here’s an overview of what you need to know before hitting the mortgage application process.

How Your Score is Calculated

Your FICO credit score is comprised of five elements, according to the Fair, Isaac Corp.

  1. 35% of your score is attributed to how you pay your bills. Points are added for paying on time and deducted for late or missing payments. Note: This is a big portion of your score, so if you’re not paying bills on time, it’s best to get that under control pronto.
  2. 30% of your score is based on your credit utilization ratio. Translation: How much money do you owe as a portion of the amount of credit available to you? The lower this ratio, the better.
  3. 15% is based on the length of your credit history. When did you open your first account (and is it still open)?
  4. 10% of your score goes to the type of credit you have. Think revolving credit (such as credit cards) and installment credit (such as car loans and mortgages).
  5. The last 10% is impacted by new credit applications. How often and for what types of credit are you applying?

Where to Find Your Score and Report

To access your credit report, use a website such as annualcreditreport.com, which will give you one free report a year, or creditkarma.com, which will provide you with free access to your score upon signing up for an account.

Once you have copies of your report and score, immediately look for fraudulent or erroneous information. If you find anything, immediately contact both the credit reporting agency and the company that is portraying inaccurate information to determine next steps.

How Your Score Can Cost You

Your score can range from about 300 to 850. You’ll find a variety of breakdowns on what’s considered “good” compared to “excellent” versus “poor,” but in general you’ll want to aim for a score of 740 and higher, which is the “very good” range.

The higher your credit score, the more creditworthy you appear to lenders (meaning they can rely on you to pay your debts and pay them on time), which translates into lower interest rates and more money saved when taking out a loan.

Not sure how this can play out financially? Consider this:

Meet Claire: She’s 35, pays her credit card off in full each month, has all her bills on auto-draft, and never misses a payment. She’s had a positive credit history for 10 years and wants to buy a home. Claire was approved for a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate loan at 3.75%.

Meet Steve: He’s 32, obtained his first credit card at age 18, ran up some debt in college that he’s still working on paying down, and has no system for keeping track of bills. He has consistent late and bounced check fees. Steve wants to buy a home and was approved for a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate loan at 5.5%.

What’s all the fuss about if they were both approved? Over the life of her loan, Claire will pay $133,443.23 in interest. Over the life of his loan, Steve will pay $208,808.08 in interest. A small interest rate difference of 1.75% translates into $75,364.85 more paid by Steve! $75,000 is a pretty significant sum of money that could be used toward other goals.

Having a solid credit score is one of the most financially savvy tools for you to have on hand when it comes to buying a home. When managed wisely, your credit score will bring you confidence, peace of mind, and more money saved via low interest rates.

When mismanaged or not cared for at all, your credit score can delay your success in meeting financial goals and result in additional funds and resources spent correcting past mistakes.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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6 Kitchen Materials Savvy Remodelers Never Use

About to remodel that old kitchen? Unless you’re cool with treating the hardest working room in your house like a museum exhibit, resist the temptation to buy the cheapest or shiniest materials available and go for durable options that can stand up to regular abuse.

Trust us: Although it may be tough to leave that raised, tempered glass bar top (ooh!) in the showroom, repairing its first (and second, and third) chip will get old. Very fast.

Picking the right materials is easy if you do your homework. “There are amazing products out there,” says Jeffrey Holloway, a certified kitchen designer and owner of Holloway Home Improvement Center in Marmora, N.J.

“You’re looking at price point, sanitation, how easy it is to clean the product, its durability and maintenance.”

Keeping those all-important features in mind, here are some materials to avoid during your next kitchen project.

#1 Plastic Laminate Counters

First off, there’s plenty of great laminate out there. It’s the entry-level, plastic laminate to stay away from, Holloway says.

These are the ones that look thin and dull, as opposed to richly textured. They scratch easily, and if the product underneath the laminate gets wet (say, from steam rising from your dishwasher), it can delaminate the countertop, which means the edges will chip pretty easily.
Also, one misplaced hot pan on the plastic will result in a melted disaster zone you’ll remember forever.

But if you’re watching your budget, plastic laminate at the next level up is a good choice. “It’s got good color consistency, and there are a lot of retro and trendy patterns available,” says Dani Polidor, an interior designer and owner of Suite Artistry, and a REALTOR® in Pittsford, N.Y.

New laminate counter technology offers scratch resistance, textured surfaces, and patterns that mimic real wood and stone. “There are even self-repairing nano-technologies embedded in some laminates,” says Polidor, “and others have antimicrobial properties.”

For an average 10-by-20-foot kitchen, the next-level-up laminate will cost about $3,000, Polidor estimates, and those super cool technology options add another $200 to $300. For durability and longer life, the investment is well worth it.

#2 Inexpensive Sheet Vinyl Flooring

You spend all day stepping on your floor, so quality really matters. At the lower price point, about $2.50 per square foot, the cheapest sheet vinyl floorings tend to be thin.

“If your vinyl floor is glued down and the underlayment gets delaminated, say, by water seeping from your dishwasher or refrigerator, you’ll get bubbles in your floor,” Holloway warns.

Compare that with luxury vinyl tile (LVT) that costs about $5 per square foot.

It’s still usually glued down, but it’s a little more forgiving than its less classy cousin — and it can come in tiles, which you can grout so they mimic the look of higher-end stone, Polidor says.

#3 Some Laminated Cabinet Fronts

Holloway suggests staying away from lower-end thermofoil cabinet fronts. What is thermofoil? Contrary to its name, there’s no foil or any metal-type material in it. It’s actually vinyl, which is heated and molded around fiberboard. If the cabinet is white and the price is waaaaay affordable compared with other cabinets, think twice. Cheaper thermofoil has three critical issues:

1. It’s not heat resistant. If near a dishwasher or oven, it could delaminate.

2. It can warp and yellow with age, revealing its cheapness.

3. The “wood” underneath the thermofoil is also poor quality and won’t hold up over time.

But just like with plastic laminate, science has made great strides, and now there are a host of new cabinets that are remaking thermofoil’s reputation. “New European laminates have become all the rage for the clean-lined, flat-panel look,” Polidor says. “It’s budget-friendly and can look like wood or high gloss. It’s not your grandmother’s thermofoil.”

And it doesn’t come at grandma’s prices, either. But still, the new thermofoil is much more affordable than custom cabinets, and still satisfies with its rich look and durability.

#4 High-Gloss Lacquered Cabinets

A nice shine can be eye-catching. And spendy. About 20 layers of lacquer go on a cabinet for the high-gloss look. Ding it or scratch it, and it’s costly to repair.

“It’s a multi-step process for repairing them,” Polidor says. A better option for the same look is high-end thermofoil (see? We said there were good thermofoil options!).

Thermofoil has a finish that’s fused to the cabinet and baked on for a more durable exterior. And it’s way more budget-friendly, too. High-gloss can be in the thousands of dollars, whereas thermofoil can be in the hundreds or dollars.

#5 Flat Paint

Flat paint has that sophisticated, velvety, rich look we all love.

But keep it in the bedroom.

It’s not KF (kitchen-friendly). Flat paint, also known as matte paint, has durability issues. It’s unstable. Try to wipe off one splatter of chili sauce, and you’ve ruined the paint job.

About the only place to use flat paint in your kitchen is on the ceiling (unless, of course, you have a reputation for blender or pressure-cooker accidents that reach to the ceiling, then we suggest takeout).

Instead, you want to use high-gloss or semi-gloss paint on your walls. They can stand up to multiple scrubbings before breaking down.

#6 Trendy Backsplash Materials

Tastes change. So avoid super trendy colors and materials when it comes to permanently adhering something to your kitchen walls. Backsplashes come in glass, metal, iridescent, and high-relief decor tiles, which are undoubtedly fun and tempting. They can also be expensive, ranging from $5 to $220 a square foot, and difficult to install. And after all that work and expense, if (er . . . when) your tastes change in a few years, it’ll be mighty tough to justify a re-do.

Stick with a classic subway tile at $2 to $3 square foot. Or, even more budget friendly, choose an integrated backsplash that matches your countertop material. “If you want pops of color, do it with accessories,” Polidor suggests.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Programming your Thermostat

Owners of programmable thermostats are misusing the devices, according to research from Energy Research & Social Science journal. About 40% don’t use programming features, and 33% had programming features overridden.

But it’s really not that hard, and it’s definitely worth doing because it can save at least 10% a year on heating and cooling costs.

The U.S. Department of Energy says you can achieve that 10% by turning your thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees F from it’s normal setting for 8 hours a day.

The first step is to pick the thermostat that best suits your scheduling needs so you can “set it and forget it,” an approach the Energy Department advocates to get the most savings.

Pick the Right Thermostat

There are four types of programmable thermostats, each with a distinctive scheduling style:

7-day programming. Best for individuals or families with erratic schedules, since this is the most flexible option. It lets you program a different heating/cooling schedule for each day of the week.

5-1-1 programming. One heating/cooling schedule for the week, plus you can schedule a different heating/cooling plan for Saturday and Sunday.

5-2 programming. Same as 5-1-1 programming, except Saturday and Sunday will have the same heating/cooling plan.

1-week programming. You can only set one heating/cooling plan that will be repeated daily for the entire week.

You’ll need a program for both the cooler months and the warmer months.

TIP: Before buying a programmable thermostat, identify the type of equipment used to heat and cool your home so you can check for compatibility. For example, do you have central heating and cooling, or just a furnace or baseboard heating? Otherwise, you may not reap the rewards of energy savings and may risk harming your heating and cooling equipment.

Change the Factory Settings

Most programmable thermostats have a pre-programmed setting that’s supposed to be for the typical American family. But what family is typical these days? You need to adjust the thermostat’s settings so it’s in sync with the life you and your family lead instead of some mythical family.

Programming options are based on:

  • Wake Time
  • Sleep Time
  • Leave Time
  • Return Time

The Department of Energy suggests the following settings as an energy-saving rule of thumb:

Winter months:

For the hours you’re home and awake, program the temp to 68°F.
Lower at least 10 degrees for the hours you’re asleep or out of the house.

Summer months:

For the hours you’re home, program air conditioning to 78°F.
For the days you don’t need cooling, manually shut off the AC. Keep in mind, it will kick back on if the house gets too warm.
Program it to be warmer than usual when you’re out of the house.
Here are a few programming timing tips that can help you create the best set-it-and-forget-it heating and cooling schedule for your home:

  • Shut down heat or air conditioning 20 to 30 minutes before you leave home each day.
  • Turn on heat or air conditioning 20 to 30 minutes before you come home each day.
  • Reduce the heating or cooling 60 minutes before you go to sleep each night.
  • Increase heating or cooling about 30 minutes before you wake up each morning.
  • Spend time tweaking your program for a few days to make sure it feels right.

TIP: With a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat, you can control your home’s temperature while on the go. That way, you’re not wasting energy if you’re running late or forgot to create a new program before going on vacation.

FYI: A furnace does NOT have to work harder to warm a house after the temperature has been set low during the day.

Use a Wifi Thermostat to Make It Super Easy

Want something that’s simpler? Newer more high-tech models have simplified the process:

The Nest Learning Thermostat: It creates a custom heating and cooling schedule for your home based on motion detection technology. Plus since it is Wi-Fi, it can be controlled remotely. Price: Ranges from $120-$229.

Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat: This device makes it easy to create a custom heating and cooling plan. Unlike conventional programmable thermostats, it has a large color interface that displays a simple menu that walks you through all the programming steps. It also “learns” your home and will send you personal notifications if the temperature is not right, or if there’s a power outage. Price: Ranges from $68 to $234.

FYI: Thermostats made prior to 2001 may contain mercury. To see if your programmable thermostat contains mercury, check with the manufacturer. If you decide to dispose of a thermostat that contains mercury, check out how to do so safely in your area at Thermostat Recycling Corp. (Not sure why mercury is so bad? Here’s the skinny: It’s toxic and it never breaks down. When it enters the waste stream, it permanently damages the ecosystem.)

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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