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Popcorn Ceilings: What They Are, How to Get Rid of Them & Are They a Health Hazard?

Popcorn is great for lots of stuff. You can enjoy a big bucket with family and friends while at the movies, string it on a thread to give Christmas that old-fashioned touch and even turn it into questionable “treats” for Halloween. One place that it’s a lot less welcome is on the ceiling. Unfortunately, too many homes still have popcorn ceilings. They often create a lot more questions than they answer. What Is a Popcorn Ceiling? Back in the day, someone had a brilliant idea. What would happen if there was a cheaper alternative to meticulously applied plaster ceiling coating and decoration for homes? This person asked themselves. Well, that would be just lovely! And that person wasn’t wrong in concept. It was practice that turned out to really be the killer. Popcorn ceilings, the solution to the problem, are still around, largely haunting homes built between the 1930s and 1990s. The ceiling texture that oddly resembles cottage cheese far more than it does popcorn, was popular for its ease of application and, at the time, low maintenance requirement. Popcorn Ceilings: The Kicker Even if you don’t object to the generally dated appearance of a popcorn ceiling (hey, maybe retro’s your thing, we’re not judging), think twice before going all in because that house you’re looking at has one that’s still intact. So many popcorn ceilings contain some amount of friable asbestos that they are generally not a great idea to keep around. Even though popcorn ceiling mixtures containing asbestos were banned under the Clean Air Act in 1979, the remaining mixes that hadn’t been purchased were still allowed to be sold. In some areas, this means that new installations of potentially hazardous popcorn ceilings lingered well into the 1980s. If the asbestos wasn’t enough, many popcorn ceilings have been painted since they were installed, or were installed using paint as part of the initial mix. Lead-based paint was the norm until it was banned in 1978. It’s kind of a double-whammy. Friable Versus Non-Friable Asbestos There are two kinds of asbestos: friable and non-friable. Friable asbestos is the most dangerous kind, since any amount of disturbance can result in particles floating around in the air and being inhaled. This is not good news. Risks of free-floating asbestos can range from lung scarring to mesothelioma, an insidious and heartbreaking form of cancer. This is the kind in popcorn ceilings. While non-friable asbestos isn’t a picnic, it’s a lot safer because the asbestos is encapsulated within another material. For example, older homes often have siding made of cement fiber-board tiles. These often contain asbestos, but unless you’re cutting the tiles, it’s safely contained. There are very specific laws about dealing with both types of asbestos, but those surrounding friable asbestos are as much about protecting humans around the material as the environment. In most areas, homeowners are legally allowed to remove popcorn ceilings from their own homes, but it’s still a really good idea to at least have a test for asbestos before you try it. Before You Even Think About Scraping That Ceiling There are few things easier than removing a popcorn ceiling. A scraper and a lot of time will do the job, but the hazard to someone who goes in blindly cannot be understated. So, before you even think about scraping that ceiling, take some samples. Carefully. Send one to a lab for testing for asbestos. Send another for testing for lead based paint (or use a high-quality at-home test kit). Wait until you have results to move forward. If you test positive for either or both, consider calling in a pro. They have all the right equipment to ensure that asbestos doesn’t get loose in your home, where you, your family and your pets will be at risk of exposure. If you DIY this one, do not skimp on ventilators and other filters to keep any friable asbestos contained. This is Definitely One for Your HomeKeepr Community Usually, easy jobs are a slam dunk for DIY, but when it comes to one that can create such a significant risk to health and home, it’s really best to call on a home pro with the right kind of equipment to keep everyone safe.
 

How Much Is Too Much Gray in Home Design?

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine It’s been gray mania in home design over the last few years. We first saw grays grow as the base wall color in homes, then within flooring, furniture (hello, gray sofas!), and now gray colored kitchen cabinets are all the rage. Gray is everywhere! And while all these gray home décor items individually are certainly still trending, using them all together — well, it can be a little much. Remember, even Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” eventually opened the door to the delight of cheerful colors. Let’s not forget, gray isn’t exactly the happiest, most cheerful color. It’s a neutral, and it needs to be mixed with color to make it pop. So to liven up your grays, pair gray-colored walls with an accent color, like greens, yellows, or navy patterned accent chairs, pillows, or rugs. Here, the designer uses a blue velvet sofa to break up the gray.   Photo by Third Coast Interiors – Look for living room pictures Photo by Jennifer Brouwer (Jennifer Brouwer Design Inc) – More living room photos For the kitchen, avoid the temptation to pair gray walls, gray flooring, and gray colored cabinets. Instead, try a contrasting shade, like a different color kitchen island to offset some of the gray. Photo by Home & Stone – More kitchen ideas
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Addressing First-Time Home Buying in the First realtor.com Book

Venturing into home buying for the first time is full of exciting moments and often equally inundating moments. Learning the latest real estate rules about mortgage lenders, interest rates, down payments, real estate agents, disclosures, FHA loans, and other basics before going into the process can help make the process less overwhelming. That’s where our first book from the realtor.com® editors, “The Essential First-Time Home Buyer’s Book: How to Buy a House, Get a Mortgage, and Close a Real Estate Deal,” can help. I sat down with Judy Dutton, realtor.com deputy editor who managed the book’s publishing process, to learn more about the book, how it helps first-time home buyers, and insights from her own home-buying journey. Writing a book is no small feat. Can you walk us through how the book came to life? Here at realtor.com®, our editorial team produces a great deal of richly informative articles on News & Insights about the real estate industry, including advice pieces about home-buying. I noticed that there was a void in the book market — no book covering the first-time home-buying process by a real estate brand existed. Our team decided to change that. We know that spring is the kick off of the buying season and with the first-time home-buying experience as daunting as it can be, we wanted to make sure that buyers were armed with the information and tools needed before going into their own home-buying journey. We got to work sifting through our articles, working with other real estate experts to get the most up-to-date facts, and pulled together an A to Z home-buying guide that we are really proud to share. It is very exciting to be breaking new ground. What sort of details does the book cover? The book is designed to be an interactive and comprehensive experience. It is broken down into chapters covering details such as mortgage information so that home ownership is financially feasible; advice to clean up your credit score; finding the right mortgage lender and what it means to get pre-approved versus pre-qualified for a home loan; the difference between various types of loans; making and negotiating an offer; what takes place during a home appraisal, inspection, closing, tax implications, and much more. The book also features charts, a glossary with common home-buying jargon, and pop quizzes so that readers can check what they are learning along the way. Does the book offer advice on finding a real estate professional? Definitely. Selecting the right real estate professional for you who can assist you is critical. The book even has questions to ask them to identify if they are the right fit for you. Some home buyers commit to the first agent they meet and that is where they stop. However, it can be helpful to interview a few agents, ask them questions, see how they respond, and validate that it is the right agent relationship because he or she is going to be along the journey with you every step of the way. What pieces of advice in the book do you think readers would be surprised by? It may surprise readers to learn about some of the common pain points or mistakes made in the first-time home-buying journey. Take for example what a potential home buyer says in front of the listing agent. A home buyer should never gush about how much they are interested in the house in front of the listing agent as that may soften their leverage position when it comes time to negotiate. We also address things like the five types of homes to avoid, the pros and cons of writing a letter to the seller to go with your offer, and terms like pocket listing and escrow. How did your own home buying journey inspire the work of publishing the book? When I bought my first home — a converted milk factory in Brooklyn — I made a ton of mistakes along the way that I really regret. I learned the hard way that buying a home really is nothing like buying a blender, there’s just so much more to it than you would think. I wish a book like this existed back then. So, I hope this book helps others avoid the many costly home-buying mistakes I made myself. I hope this is the first of many books we do at realtor.com® — I’d love to expand and do coffee table-style books on “America’s 100 Most Unique Homes,” or “A Sneak Peek Inside Celebrity Homes,” books on home decor, home hacks, I think there’s so much we can do that people would love to read. Where can our readers find the book? The book is now available on Amazon and other major book retailers both as an ebook and a paperback version. I encourage both home buyers as well as real estate professionals to check it out. One of the things I enjoy about the print version is of course how tangible it is. Buying a home is immersive and having something you can reference whenever you need — something you can mark up with your own notes — is really special. And once you are in that new home, it is a reminder of everything you accomplished to get to that point.   Already read the book? Head over to Amazon to rate and review realtor.com’s first book. For more information about buying a home, visit our resource center. Happy reading.
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Eye-Catching Home Accents That’ll Make All the Difference

By Patti Stern, PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating You want potential buyers to remember a property from the moment they step though the front door. Think beyond just furnishings and décor and present a lifestyle that they can envision—all through memorable, engaging home accents. Add in Pops of Bold Hues For the gorgeous living room shown above, our design team chose versatile navy-blue as the primary accent color. The color really pops and makes a statement against the soft, neutral backdrop. Since this room is one of the first that guests will notice upon entering the property, the use of an eye-catching color creates a focal point to draw potential buyers into the space. The cozy velvet side chair, accent pillows, artwork, and pottery work together to create a sophisticated space. Set the Scene Once the furnishings and decor are chosen, set the scene. We arranged trays and baskets on tabletops to help immediately draw buyers into the space and emotionally connect. In the photos above, we chose a collection of coordinating accents with texture and personality, such as plants, flowers, colorful bottles, napkins, and wine glasses to convey a lifestyle and enhance the home’s unique style. Display Artwork Artwork is a great way to add a subtle touch of warmth. We’ve found that using simple imagery with soothing hues or text with a short message works best to add to the room’s style while not detracting from its best features. The canvas “Home Sweet Home” wall art and abstract art for the fireplace (shown above) were the perfect finishing touches in the farmhouse style kitchen we recently staged with soft creams, wired baskets, and pine furnishings. Invite in Textures Layering and mixing textures creates depth and visual interest in any space. In the rooms shown above, we started with beautiful area rugs that contrast well with the dark hardwood flooring and added a mx of textured accents, such as a faux fur throw, pillows in different fabrics, wood, gold and silver metallics, wire, glass and ceramics. The final result is an engaging space that will instantly get noticed by buyers. For more examples of interior decorating and home staging, visit www.pjstagingdecorating.com. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patti Stern is the principal, interior decorator, and professional stager of PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating. She has been staging and decorating homes for more than 13 years. She and her team provide turnkey, full service home staging and interior decorating throughout Connecticut and Westchester and developed an award-winning staging program for luxury homebuilder, Toll Brothers. Her company has received Houzz 2015–2019 Awards for Customer Service. Patti also has been featured as a staging and decorating expert on NBC Connecticut and FOX TV as well as a variety of local publication,s such as Connecticut Magazine, the Hartford Courant, and more. She is a regular contributor to the Styled, Staged & Sold blog. Email her at: patti@pjstagingdecorating.com
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Spring Shoppers Roll Up Their Sleeves for Home Renovations

May flowers are in full bloom and spring home shoppers are waking up from their hibernation to flock toward open houses in hopes of purchasing their very own home. But with tight competition and not many entry-level homes for sale, spring home buyers are channeling their inner HGTV and eyeing homes in need of a little tender-loving care. Home shoppers are ready to tackle home renovations According to realtor.com®‘s spring home buyer survey, nearly 60 percent of all spring home shoppers are ready to roll up their sleeves and consider a home that needs renovating. Just over half of home buyers considering a home that needs renovating are willing to spend more than $20,000 to spruce the place up to their liking, while 28 percent are willing to spend up to $10,000, and 22 percent are willing to spend between $10,001 and $20,000. That’s a lot of dough! But home shoppers are optimistic that all their time spent scrolling through Instagram and watching Chip and Joanna Gaines fix up homes will help them make the right renovation choices. The vast majority of people considering a home in need of renovation – 95 percent – are optimistic their hard work and eye for design will net them a positive return on their investment, while nearly a quarter – 24 percent – expect a positive return of more than 50 percent. That’s called having your cake and eating it too, or in this case, having your kitchen and baking the cake in it (okay that one was a stretch, but we tried). Don’t step in the kitchen, if you can’t handle the heat So what do some of these potential remodels look like? A kitchen upgrade was the No.1 home renovation chosen by nearly 30 percent of respondents considering homes that need to be renovated. This is not particularly surprising since both this year and last year an updated kitchen was one of the top three features sought by potential home shoppers. A kitchen upgrade was followed by a bathroom renovation at just over a quarter – 26 percent, and new wood flooring at 20 percent. Eighteen percent considered a hardwood flooring refinish, and the same share considered a complete overhaul kitchen renovation. That’s all well and dandy, but how much mullah are we talking about here? According to realtor.com data, a major kitchen remodel will cost around $66,000, while a minor remodel will cost around $22,000. Similarly, an upscale bathroom remodel will cost you around $64,000, while a midrange bathroom remodel runs about $20,000. Looking for ideas to fuel your renovation goals? Check out our Home Improvement resources, and let us know in the comments below what project you would consider tackling in a new home.
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Vignette Staging Doesn’t Cut It Anymore: Here’s Why

By Jennie Morris, International Association of Home Staging Professionals In the beginning, home staging was mostly focused on sprucing up vacant properties. In the late 1990s to early 2000s, when staging first started to gain traction, stagers and real estate professionals tended to have limited furniture resources and focus on “vignette staging.” Vignette staging is where small groupings of furniture and décor are used for adding some visual appeal and in helping to define the purpose and size of a room. It was a technique widely used at the time. But in today’s staging world, vignette staging does not work. Vignette staging–THEN Staging–NOW
Photo credit: IAHSP A vignette lacks proper size and scale of furniture that give buyers an idea of how large (or small) a room is.  It makes it difficult for a buyer to visualize when furniture items aren’t used or only surface décor or art is in the space. A buyer viewing images of the property online will not have a sense of the true size or the purpose of the room. Buyers nowadays expect more from their property search experience and are more sophisticated as a result of watching programs on HGTV and TDN.  Vignette staging cheapens the look and feel of the house. Today’s professional home stager follows industry trends for furniture styles, colors, and understand the demographics of the buyer they are working to attract with their staging results. They do not rely on old furniture in a property. They carefully curate an overall cohesive look that will resonate with buyers online and in person. Stagers help create the potential for a buyer, often highlighting a lifestyle with the selections of furniture, artwork, and décor. Just as real estate professional services have evolved to include higher quality marketing, photographs, and processes that help best market a home, home staging has progressed as well. The idea of just putting a few towels in a bathroom, placing greenery on counters, and leaning a piece of art on a mantel and calling it a “staged” property is about the same as a seller thinking FSBO is the same as using the services of a professional REALTOR®. They are not the same.  Not by a long shot! Which property do you think a buyer will want to purchase? Photo credit: IAHSP Photo credit: IAHSP Photo credit: IAHSP Photo credit: IAHSP   ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennie Norris is the chairwoman for the International Association of Home Staging Professionals® (IAHSP®), the president & CEO of Stagedhomes.com, and the owner and principal stager of Sensational Home Stagingserving the greater Denver region. As a Master ASP® Stager, she and her teams have staged 5,000 properties for sale since 2002. For more information on staging or to locate a professionally trained and credentialed stager near you, visit www.Stagedhomes.comorwww.iahsp.com.
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Determine Your Buying Power with Price Perfect

Finding the right home that fits your criteria and budget is one of the biggest pain points for most home buyers. Perhaps having an extra bedroom is a non-negotiable, but an additional bathroom is also great. Will the wishlist of features all fit within your budget? That’s where our new tool, Price Perfect, can help. We assembled a team at realtor.com with a straightforward goal — help home buyers zoom in on their ideal home, within their affordable price range, in their neighborhood of choice. Using this tool powered by live listing data, home buyers can understand the average market rate for each home feature and adjust their target home criteria based on the features they value the most to fit within their budget. After entering a basic search of bedrooms, bathrooms and location, you are able to view how much adding or subtracting specific features would impact the price of your home and adjust your search accordingly. For example, when searching for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Madison, Wis., the cost of expanding the search to include another bedroom would add $62,500 and another bathroom $24,045 to the median listing price of $369,900. However, subtracting a bathroom could save you $10,000, and considering a condo instead of a single family home could save another $5,000 off the median listing price. Once you decide on your desired features, Price Perfect will give you an idea of the monthly cost for the median-priced home broken down by mortgage, property taxes and insurance. With a quick click of the “See Homes” button, you can view all the homes on realtor.com that meet all of your specific search criteria. Price Perfect assigns costs to individual home features based on an algorithm of listing prices and characteristics of homes currently on the market in a specific neighborhood. This ensures costs reflect market conditions in real time, making these insights incredibly relevant to home buyers currently in the market.   Identifying your needs versus wants is an important step in the home-buying process. Even more essential is taking that list and selecting what criteria are realistic must-haves and knowing what those features will cost. Hearing consumers say during our user research phase “I hadn’t thought about this approach before, but this is the way to do it,” was exciting. Solving for the key pain point simply and elegantly was the priority. — Going into the home-buying journey knowing exactly what you want and what you can afford not only makes you a more prepared and confident home buyer, but also shows your real estate professional that you know your buying power and are that much more committed to buying. Perhaps you have learned that an upgraded kitchen in your search area adds $58,000 to the listing price and you would prefer to in fact have that additional bathroom instead. With this knowledge, your real estate professional is better-equipped to help you find the right home and you are one step closer to buying it. I invite you to explore Price Perfect and see how it enables a smarter home search with an understanding of what home features you want truly cost. Check your readiness, know your buying power, and be confident in your home buying journey. Realtor.com’s Price Perfect tool is available on mobile web and the realtor.com website. Keep an eye out for its expansion on realtor.com’s iOS and Android app.
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Sewer Line Repair for Homeowners

Your basic household drain pipe is a fairly simple device. It has one job: to take liquids away to the sewer, where water treatment experts somehow magically turn those contaminated fluids into clean ones again. The circle of inside plumbing is really kind of magical. Until, of course, something causes the system to grind to a halt. If your sewer isn’t sewering, you’ve got big problems. Signs Your Sewer Line Needs Attention When your sewer line is working, you barely notice it. But when things start to go wrong, well, life gets pretty interesting. A failing sewer line can be a huge mess and a big expense that just gets worse the longer you ignore it. This isn’t a problem you can handle yourself, you will need an expert to help. Watch for these signs if you suspect there may be a problem with the sewer line: Gurgling noises in your pipes Water backing up in the lowest drain in your home. Slower drainage house-wide. Water from one drain backing up into others. If these things happen occasionally, you may not have a real problem, but it’s still a good idea to call a plumber to check out the sewer line to ensure that any issues are addressed before they become nightmares. Causes of Sewer Line Failure Sewer lines fail for many different reasons, often depending heavily on where your property is located. For example, you’d be more likely to have sewer problems due to ground shifting in an area prone to earthquakes. That’s just one cause of line failure, though. Here are some others: Material Failure. Although there are some clay sewer lines from Ancient Rome still intact and theoretically functional, your sewer lines are probably going to reach a tipping point where the materials begin to erode, corrode or weaken until they fail entirely. Modern materials like PVC may be able to outlive older pipes made of cast iron or bituminized fiber, but even PVC can and will fail eventually. Tree Roots. If you have trees and you have a sewer line, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Large trees often have a very wide root zone that can eventually penetrate anything in the way. Roots in sewer lines is a very common issue in areas hospitable to large trees. If this is the heart of the matter, you may find that you only have intermittent problems with the line backing up. You still need to call a plumber. Shifting Earth. As previously mentioned, earthquakes and other natural events that cause the ground to shift can also cause your sewer line to shift. Even very heavy rains could result in pipe shifting, depending on your local soil makeup. A pipe that has shifted may end up with too little slope to carry water reliably to the sewer. Crushed Pipes. Although it’s uncommon, you can actually crush a sewer pipe that’s installed and actively functioning. Again, the soil makeup matters here, but you should never drive heavy machinery over your sewer lines — that extra weight is felt below the surface, too. These are the most common causes for sewer line failure. Other very rare situations do occur and ultimately, the only way to be sure what’s going on with your sewer line is to send a camera inside to look around. Replacing Your Sewer Line is a Big Deal If your plumber determines that your sewer line has failed, it’s going to be a big deal. There’s no sugar coating this. Depending on what type of solution you and your plumber decide on, you may have deep trenches dug across your yard and a lot of chaos until the work is complete. However, at the end of the process, you’ll know your sewer line is in working order, so you’ve got that going for you. There are two main methods that are used to repair sewer lines: total replacement of the old line (or the part that has failed) and relining. Total Replacement: The Scorched Earth Approach Having a brand new sewer pipe is worth a lot of agony, especially when you consider that most plumbers have the equipment to dig up your old sewer line, inspect it and replace the damaged bits. This is generally a less expensive method of sewer line repair, but it comes with a lot of hassle and mess. Relining the Pipe When your sewer line issues are minimal and involve cracked or root-invaded sections of pipe, it’s possible to reline the pipe using one of several methods, including cure-in-place and pull-in-place pipes. Essentially, what your plumber will do is recoat the inside of your sewer line with a stabilizing material. Digging is minimal, but the price is often substantially higher and not every plumber has the training and equipment to perform this task. Paying the Plumbing Bill Many homeowners are under the impression that the sewer line coming from their homes is the municipality’s responsibility. Those people get a very rude awakening when they learn that they are actually footing the bill. The city will absolutely fix anything going wrong in the main, a larger sewer pipe that your whole neighborhood drains into. But any drain lines from your house to the junction of your sewer line and the main sewer line is on you. It’s a big purchase, no matter how you slice it. Right now, the national average cost for repairing a sewer line is about $2,570, with a typical range running from $1,071 to $4,078. What you’ll actually pay is based on how much work it takes to get to your sewer line, as well as the remedy you choose, from partial replacement to cast-in-place pipe.
 

How to Drain Your Water Heater

Of all the things that civilization has brought us, including sliced bread, hot water may be the very best. It’s certainly up there, without a doubt. So, it would follow that if you really value that hot water, you’d want to care for and protect the equipment that makes it possible. Whether you’re doing it as a bit of regular maintenance or because you’re leaving a vacation or rental home unoccupied, draining said water heater is one of the easiest things you can do to keep that particular appliance in tip-top shape. Why You Should Drain Your Hot Water Heater Most water supplies contain lots of random minerals in various quantities. Get enough of them together and you get “hard” water, which really just means it has a lot of minerals in suspension. Over time, these minerals settle out and land in the bottom of your hot water heater. Given enough time, a layer thick enough to interfere with the function of the appliance will develop. Before you reach that point, a maintenance flush is in order. How often you flush depends on a lot of factors, including the size of the hot water heater and how often it’s used. A good rule of thumb is to flush your water heater every six to 12 months, whether you think it needs it or not. It’s better to wash those particles out before they become a problem. Of course, draining your water heater isn’t just about flushing particles. If you’re going to leave a house sitting empty for a significant period of time, you should empty the hot water tank. Draining the hot water heater is an important part of winterizing vacant homes, it helps to protect the heater itself from damage due to low temperatures. When the water lines are also drained, emptying them completely keeps them from freezing and bursting. How to Drain a Water Heater Draining a hot water heater is a really simple process. In fact, the hardest part is working with water hot enough to scald you. Before you even get started, snagging some thick dishwashing gloves or other heavy, insulated and very importantly, non-absorbent, form of hand protection.If you’re wearing thick cotton gloves, for example, they’ll just hold that extremely hot water against your skin. With your skin adequately protected, draining or flushing your hot water heater is a piece of cake. Just follow these steps: Turn off the water heater. If it’s electric, flip the breaker; for gas units, turn the gas off or set the unit to “pilot.” Wait patiently for the water to cool a bit. The longer you give it, the safer you’ll be. (You can skip this step, but do so with caution) Turn the cold water off. You can’t drain a water heater that’s constantly filling up! Open some faucets. Pick a faucet or two close to the water heater and turn the hot side on and leave it on until you’re totally done with the draining portion of the show. This helps speed up the draining and prevents vacuums from forming in the pipes. Attach a water hose. It’ll screw onto the brass drain valve near the bottom of the unit. Pick a spot to dump the water. There’s a lot of water about to come out of that hose, so choose your disposal option carefully. Outdoors is a good place to run the hose (just not too close to the house), but if you can’t reach that far, a sump pit, floor drain or big bucket will do. Open the valve! This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Open the value (you may need a screwdriver). If you’re flushing the hot water heater, then let it run a few gallons at a time into a bucket so you can tell when the sediment has finished coming out of the unit. If you’re draining your hot water heater because you’re leaving the house empty for a while, you’re essentially done with the water heater now (winterizing a home is a whole different blog). If you’re flushing sediment, keep going until you see the water run clear, then do all those steps in reverse for a hot water heater with shiny clean insides and hot water. Hot Water is Pretty Cool, But Flushing the Heater Safely Can Be Tricky… Need a recommendation for a local plumber? We are here to help with all your home needs, even giving you great referrals !   
 

Water Filters And You!

There’s something you should know about your water: it’s not as clean as you might think. In fact, depending on where it comes from, you could be having that skinny half-caf latte with extra primordial soup. Lots of little living things are in your drinking water right now, right in this moment. There are also plenty of minerals and more complicated compounds floating around in it, maybe even agricultural waste, if you get the drift. It’s a pretty unpleasant picture, there’s no doubt about it. But without water, we mere mortals won’t last long. Just how do you keep from drinking a slurry that would potentially give you superpowers if you were in a comic book? Water Filters for the Masses Anyone who has a well should understand the need for regular testing and heavy filtration to protect their families from the things that can concentrate in the water supply, but most people who are on municipal water don’t give it a second thought. And why should they? Water goes to a treatment plant and it comes back as pure and glistening as new fallen snow. Except that’s not really true. There are always contaminates that can’t be filtered out, no matter how hard you try. The technology is getting better all the time, but until it’s perfect, you may want to take some of the work of cleaning your drinking water into your own hands. What Can a Water Filter Do? There are plenty of water filters on the market today, mostly because many can only cover a portion of the contamination spectrum. It’s a lot to ask of one filter, though. The way you capture protozoa and eliminate them is completely different from how you’d get rid of excess calcium. Unfortunately, this isn’t made very clear by those filter manufacturers. What ends up happening in many cases is that homeowners buy a single filter and are disappointed that their water is still kind of dirty. For most whole-home filtration systems, using more than one type of filter will get you the best results possible. You will not get water that is perfectly free of anything but a couple of Hs and an O, but it will be much better overall. Types of Filters As mentioned above, there are several types of filters out there, most of which only cover a limited range of impurities. Some remove biological contamination from your water, but will not remove chemicals. These include: Ceramic Mechanical Ozone Ultraviolet Others are really good at getting the chemicals, but don’t do much for things like cysts and bacteria. A few popular filters and techniques on that list are: Activated Carbon Deionization Distillation Ion exchange Then, you have reverse osmosis. Reverse Osmosis for Household Water Filtration This particular filter technology as it’s regularly deployed to homeowners is a multipart system that not only includes a semipermeable membrane that prevents water contaminants like arsenic, hexavalent chromium, nitrates and perchlorate from entering your faucets, a carbon filter comes along with most standard systems to catch chlorine and other materials. Part of what makes a reverse osmosis system so effective at cleaning your water are the multiple filtration stages. Of course water’s going to be cleaner with several polishes rather than the single pass your Brita pitcher gets. The typical reverse osmosis filtration system uses pre-filtration to eliminate sand, dirt, silt and other sediments, carbon filters to remove chlorine and organic compounds, as well as the reverse osmosis membrane. By installing a reverse osmosis system, you are really installing multiple water filters that work together to create very clean water. The Flip Side of Reverse Osmosis Mostly, reverse osmosis systems are really pretty amazing. They do a lot of work without complaining much and need minimal maintenance if they’re installed properly. However, nothing in this world is perfect and the reverse osmosis filtration systems do have a few drawbacks to consider: Not all systems are the same. Just because many reverse osmosis systems include multiple pre-filters, it should not be assumed that the one you’re looking at on Amazon does. The quality of reverse osmosis systems varies dramatically, make sure you read the reviews and invest in a good system that will last. You need decent water pressure. Because the water has to be forced through what is essentially a super fine mesh, you need decent water pressure for a reverse osmosis system to work. If you’ve had water pressure issues in the shower, it’s a good bet you need a plumber out to take a look before you spend the money on a reverse osmosis filtration system. They use a lot of water. Many homeowners are surprised to see how much waste water their reverse osmosis system produces. How much discharge water is collected will vary based on local water conditions and the number and types of filters you use, but you can expect something like three to five gallons of discharge water per gallon of reverse osmosis purified water. The waste water, however, is totally usable for anything you’d use the purified water for, aside from consumption by humans or animals. Hook it up to your gray water discharge system and water your trees with it — it’s not wasted anymore!  
 

Garbage Disposal Care – Tips and Tricks

The modern world has so much to offer, from microwaves that can talk to your favorite smart home assistant to refrigerators that can remind you you’re out of milk. It’s amazing that something as innocuous as the garbage disposal remains relatively unchanged since its inception. Time marches ever on, leaving the garbage disposal essentially untouched and easily ignored. This is why it’s so important to take proper care of the indispensable kitchen appliance that spends most of its time being wholly overlooked. Garbage Disposals: Safety First Before you begin to do anything with your garbage disposal, it’s important to understand how much potential for disaster it represents. You can grind bone, ice and other hard objects with this appliance, don’t think for a second that it will somehow spare your fingers and hands should you stick them inside. Instead of risking digits, always use tongs or other long grabbing tools to retrieve things that have fallen inside. It doesn’t matter if it’s your wedding band or your keys, your garbage disposal can become a very seriously dangerous machine if you just go poking around in there. Caring for Your Garbage Disposal After that cautionary section, you may be wondering if your garbage disposal deserves to be maintained, especially if it’s just going to turn on you. Garbage disposal accidents are generally the result of a lack of care and improper use. So, go on, check out these tips for keeping it in prime shape: A clean disposal is a happy disposal. When you’ve run your disposal, put a little dish soap inside and run the cold water. This will help keep smells down and also flush out any remaining food particles. Dropping citrus peels inside and grinding can also improve the situation. Only put food in it. Only biodegradable items should go inside the disposal. Really, only food and not even every type of food. Lots of fats, for example, will clog the disposal faster than anything. Pasta, rice and other expanding foods can also be a problem for your disposal and plumbing. Grind some hard things to keep the blade sharp. Bones and ice are hard enough to sharpen the blades, so don’t forget to toss a few in from time to time. Do not feed your disposal fibrous foods like celery, even though they are sometimes thought of as hard food items. The fibers can tangle around the moving parts and interfere with function. Always use cold water. Flushing with hot water will melt fats inside, making it hard for your disposal to do much with them. Instead, always use cold water, which will cause those fats to solidify, so they can be broken up and flushed away. A little fat in the disposal is ok, don’t pour lots of fat into the plumbing, though, unless you want to call a plumber. Avoid harsh chemicals. Although a degreaser can help your disposal stay clean and live longer, other harsh chemicals should be avoided. Drain cleaners in particular are very hard on disposals, They can and will damage your disposal. Best to use a plunger or hand crank the disposal to break up jams. If that won’t do it, call in a pro
 

Neon Colors in Staging?! You’ll Be Surprised How Much You Like It

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey In a throwback to the 1980s, neon colors are popping up in more home decor. The flashiness of neon colors is a sure-fire way to brighten up your home’s interior, and the way fluorescents are being worked into a room isn’t as nauseating as you might at first imagine. Adding in neon-green bath towels or a neon-colored pink or yellow ottoman or accent chair may sound too bold for your home staging. But as long as you mix it with the right colors, it may be just the pop of color a room needs. The neon accent trend was on display in this year’s New American Home, a model home of innovation presented during the 2019 International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas. Designers used neon-green and yellow colors throughout the home’s otherwise neutral colored backdrop. Photo credit: Jeff Davis / Jeffrey A. Davis Photography Neon color pops can actually make a room look sophisticated and luxurious. But of course, moderation is key when adding in neon accents. (Remember, you’re not going for some black light retro effect!) Designer Justin Riordan with Spade & Archer Design Agency in Portland, Ore., told realtor.com® that the neon trend works best when it’s mixed within a room decorated in mostly whites and grays. He suggests avoiding neon accents when working with Earth tones, such as creams, beiges, and browns. For those looking for a more daring staging style, you’ll be well on-trend if you reach for those neon yellow pillows or that hot pink, nailhead accent chair. Check out these pictures from Houzz to see how the neon trend is being shown off in stylish ways. Photo by Chan Architecture Pty Ltd – Look for living room pictures Photo by Elad Gonen – More dining room photos Photo by ALX Interiors, Inc, Alexandra Fernandez – Discover bathroom design inspiration Photo by OSMOND DESIGNS – Browse bedroom photos Photo by Jessica Dauray Interiors/Elements Of Style – Search kitchen design ideas
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Get on Mom’s Good Side: Staging Fit for the Female of the House

By Sarah Anderson, VHT Studios Let’s face it: Moms work hard! Besides juggling their own work schedule, they are integral to keeping the family on track, from changing diapers to helping with homework to shuttling kids to and from school and assorted extracurricular activities. Because of that, when moms are looking for a property, they tend to be drawn to homes with features that work for the entire family: Large, open, and spacious kitchens, family rooms that double as playrooms and homework havens, bedrooms that can be converted to craft dens when the kids fly the coop, and designated mudrooms for sports equipment, shoes, and coats. Highlighting these family-friendly features could be paramount in appealing to mom buyers. Photo credit: VHT Studios Photo credit: VHT Studios It’s also creative and smart to appeal to mom’s desire for creature comforts to help her envision her next lifestyle in that new home. What mom hasn’t dreamed of having a luxurious en suite bathroom, a reading nook, or a well-organized walk-in closet to indulge in at the end of the day? Or, having a space all to themselves in the form of a trendy “She Shed” or “Mom Cave”? And let’s not forget about a poolside chaise where the only voices heard are those of the birds! Photo credit: VHT Studios Photo credit: VHT Studios Photo credit: VHT Studios This Mother’s Day, let’s take a closer look at how real estate pros can leverage beautiful photography and even some digital virtual staging tech tools to appeal to both the practical and dreamy side in a mom’s home search. What do Moms Need in a Home? A great way to get on a mom’s good side is to show how a home can appeal to the whole family and how the home could even make her busy life a whole lot easier. To clearly display how a home will work for the entire family, real estate pros need to showcase high quality, gorgeous photographs of family-friendly spaces and features within the home. Also, VHT Studios offers tools like Virtual Paint and Virtual Redecorate to help present a room in many different ways and functions–to help moms envision that picture perfect image too. Children’s bedrooms: Show the current fully decorated child’s room that provides a fun, kid-friendly space for play, homework, and sleep. A child’s bedroom or playroom also can be transformed in photographs into a new office, den, or craft room by using virtual staging tools. (Just be sure to clearly mark the images as “virtually staged” so there are no surprises when they visit the property in-person.) Photo credit: VHT Studios The backyard: Show off how there’s enough room for children to play outside. Also, consider giving the home’s exterior a romantic look with a twilight photography session or a Virtual Twilight digital enhancement. Capture that blue and pink glow in the sky and the soft reflective light off the windows to convey a warm and welcoming, homey feel. What’s Really In Mom’s Dream Home?  All too often, moms delay their dreams to stick to a family budget. Although it’s important to take the entire household’s happiness into account when making a large purchase like a home, moms should also consider what they individually want in a house as well. What mom doesn’t want to escape to a spa-like bathroom with a glass of wine at the end of the day? Photo credit: VHT Studios Real estate professionals need to show how that dream of relaxation and the ability to unwind can become a reality for moms by highlighting these types of home features in a listing. Professional photography can certainly help with that. Photo credit: VHT Studios Crisp, clear, high-resolution professional photography with rich, brilliant colors appeal to what moms really want in a home and draws their attention to potential indulgences such as luxurious bathrooms, open and fully updated kitchens, and relaxing, spa-like master suites, or an at-home gym where a mom can go to do yoga in peace. The smartest real estate professionals follow that reliable old, but oh so wise adage: If Mom’s happy, everyone’s happy! ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sarah Anderson is vice president of marketing at VHT Studios, a national real estate photography and visual marketing firm.
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Hot Home Trend: Countertops Making Waves

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine The speckled, spotted styles of granite countertops that have dominated kitchen design in recent years are moving out of the mainstream. In fact, those brown speckled granite countertops may even start to now age kitchens. Instead, countertops are blending in more to the kitchen design. A polished, solid colored countertop, like in all white or black, is trending. Or one design really growing in popularity lately: Veined countertop designs. These countertops feature soft waves that resemble the look of marble. Photo by – More home design ideas   Check out how some of these countertops are blending in more with the design and creating a clean, polished look in kitchens. Photo by Arizona Tile – Browse kitchen photos Photo by SGDI – Sarah Gallop Design Inc. – Look for kitchen design inspiration
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Part 2: Answering Your First-Time Home Buyer Questions with BuzzFeed

As part of our partnership with BuzzFeed, now for the second year, we are taking on the questions many first-time home buyers face. In Part 1, we covered questions the BuzzFeed Community asked about preparing for the home buying journey. Now, let’s tackle the next phase – the home buying process itself. What is a down payment exactly? –VinaLane A down payment is the cash money you put toward the purchase of a house.  It’s often referred to as a percent of the home purchase price. The remainder of the price of the home is typically paid by taking out a mortgage loan. For example, if you’re buying a $200,000 house and you are making a 10 percent down payment, you’ll bring $20,000 toward the purchase price to closing in cash (or more realistically a cashier’s check) and then you’ll take out a loan of $180,000 from a lender.  One point to remember, in this example, I’ve simplified real life to ignore closing costs. In real life, you’ll have costs associated with closing, including paying for various inspections and maybe even some transfer taxes. These costs will be in addition to your home purchase price. -realtor.com How much is an appropriate offer for a house (percent of the overall asking price)? –Katherineberry00 Writing an offer involves many moving parts, including market conditions, the strength of your pre-approval, finance options, down payment, and contract terms. Understanding the strength of your offer from a seller’s perspective as well as the buyer’s is where an agent’s expertise is front and center. There is no simple response, but with proper consideration of all the above, a real estate agent will help you weigh the best options. –Max Diez, realtor.com REAL Ambassador There is never a magic number, sometimes terms outweigh a higher purchase price. A local real estate agent will be the best guide for navigating this consideration. –Jennifer Hisey Wauhob, realtor.com REAL Ambassador How do you get down payment assistance? What are some of the programs states have to offer for first time home buyers where they can put little to no money down on a home? I heard of one called the NACA program that helps out but I’m curious to know if there are any others. Currently looking for our first home here in Chicago! –Katherinek49852f55b ; Joseg92 The best way is just by looking for it. You can search online. Look for county or state programs that may be geared to help first-time or low- to moderate-income home buyers. Your lender or real estate agent, who are likely local, also are likely to know about programs relevant to your area, so ask them. In addition to down-payment assistance, you might look for home buyer education programs that can give you information on down payment assistance resources and the overall home-buying process with particularly insight on any quirks or programs unique to your area. -realtor.com   Are there programs to either help with down payments or with accessibility upgrades for people with disabilities? Can I/should I get an additional loan for this type of home improvement? If it helps, I am talking about wheelchair-accessible improvements like a ramp, bars in bathrooms, disability bathtub, etc. –Angels4d4906ef4 There are two national programs that can help lower-income disabled people become homeowners. Habitat for Humanity builds accessible homes. It also provides affordable mortgages to those approved for their program. Another program is Rebuilding Together AmericaCorps. This agency prides itself on building homes for families with one or more disabled members. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has housing counselors in every state who can assist individuals with special needs and they may be able to guide you to other programs that help fill any gaps. Check out the state-by-state listing of HUD-approved counselors.  –Dara Delgado (NMLS #1510172)   How do you shop around for the best mortgage rates and how do you choose a lender? Does this process count as a hard inquiry on your credit report? –Jvalle2 The best way to shop around is to call several lenders on the same day, and give them the details of the loan you’re pursuing. Provide details such as the estimated purchase price, down payment amount and your credit score. With this information, the loan officer can tell you what the interest rate would be and what the loan fees would be. Every rate comes with either a cost or a credit for the interest rate. The reason you want to get quotes from different lenders all on the same day is because rates/pricing changes daily and sometimes even throughout the day, if there’s a mid-day price change.  –Dara Delgado (NMLS #1510172) Does this process [of running your credit] count as a hard inquiry on your credit report? –Jvalle2 If the lender needs to run your credit to provide you with a rate and fee quote, then yes, it would count as a hard inquiry on your credit. –Dara Delgado (NMLS #1510172)   When should you do this [find a lender] in regards to the before, during or after finding a home you like? –Jvalle2 You should shop around and then choose the lender you plan to go with before you find the home. This way, once you find a home, your loan person can hit the ground running to ensure your loan closes on time. –Dara Delgado (NMLS #1510172)   What if you are wanting to buy new construction? How does that change things? Help! –Jvalle2 Often times when you buy a new home, the builder will encourage you to use their in-house lender. You want to get a quote from the in-house lender just like the other lenders and see who provides a quote with the best rate/pricing. –Dara Delgado (NMLS #1510172) To learn more about the first-time home buying process, visit our resource center. Want to start running the numbers to see what things may look like for you? Make sure to check out the home affordability calculator and mortgage calculator. Have more questions? Add them in the comments below and subscribe to the blog to stay on top of the latest information. Special thanks to realtor.com’s Danielle Hale and Brad Sivert, as well as to the third-party real estate professionals who shared their expertise: Jeffrey Chalmers (NMLS #76803), Dara Delgado (NMLS #1510172), Faramarz Moeen-Ziai (NMLS #342090) and all of our realtor.com REAL Ambassadors: Thai Hung Nguyen, Rita Tayenaka, Jennifer Hisey Wauhob, Alexa Sanchez, Max Diez, Gonzalo Mejia, Darryl Macha, Drew Coleman, and Hagan Stone. The above responses are general in nature and not based on anyone’s specific circumstances and is not intended to be comprehensive.  Please consult with experienced professional advisors on any home or financing opportunity.  Lenders, mortgage brokers and other loan professionals are not recommended or endorsed by realtor.com®, and are not the only providers of mortgage loan services of the kinds they offer. Responses provided by third-party professionals do not represent the opinion of realtor.com® or its operator, Move, Inc.
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Part 1: Answering Your First Time Home Buyer Questions with BuzzFeed

At realtor.com, we know buying a home is an exciting journey that can also be complicated and daunting, especially for first-time home buyers. For the second year in a row, realtor.com has partnered with BuzzFeed to help demystify the home-buying process. As part of this year’s partnership, we asked first-time home buyers to send us their questions. The BuzzFeed Community posed some great questions about the first-time home buying process and we wanted to help provide answers to more of those questions. Many of the questions we received fell into two buckets — preparing for home buying and home buying itself. Working with our internal experts, and third-party real estate and mortgage professionals, this blog post answers your questions related to creditworthiness and preparing for the home buying journey. My wife and I made not so great decisions in regards to our credit. We recently have been given the opportunity to save quite a bit. How much will our credit affect our ability to get a mortgage if we have a hefty down payment? –Facebook_10208645960081437 Depending on what your credit score is, there might not be a big effect on your ability to get a mortgage. Most lenders require a minimum 620 credit score for the various loan programs. However, there are some niche loan products out there that will allow a lower than 620 credit score, if there are compensating factors. For instance, placing a large amount down and/or having a low Debt-To-Income ratio. We would suggest contacting a mortgage broker who has access to a wide variety of loan products. –Dara Delgado (NMLS #1510172) What is the lowest credit ratings most banks will take? –Hafers85 While FHA will go down to 500 and Fannie/Freddie will go down to 620, many large retail banks have overlays on the guidelines which push those minimums up. If you’ve been turned down by a large retail bank due to credit score, it would improve your chances to work with a mortgage bank with direct access to conventional and government products. –Faramarz Moeen-Ziai (NMLS #342090) What type of credit score do you need to buy a home? What should your credit be? –Aleed; Colmita This really depends on the specific loan structure that you’re targeting.  If you’re looking for a standard conventional loan, you will be eligible for financing with a credit score as low as 600.  FHA will go down to 500 but other factors could come into play.  If you’re looking for jumbo financing (over $480,000 across the country and over $726,500 in high cost areas), you will need a minimum credit score of 700 for most programs.  Community Development Financial Institutions have special jumbo programs available for applicants with credit scores down to 640, but that is very rare.   –Faramarz Moeen-Ziai (NMLS #342090) If your credit is bad can you realistically qualify for anything to help buy a home? if you don’t qualify for anything, how long does it take before you can? –Aleed FHA offers programs that allow for extremely low credit scores. Borrowers with low credit scores should consult with a mortgage professional because qualification might really depend on the exact reason for the low score. Things like bankruptcy, foreclosure, and short sales could result in specific time constraints based on guidelines, but even in cases of the aforementioned events, borrowers could be eligible for some alternative types of financing that have recently become available.  –Faramarz Moeen-Ziai (NMLS #342090) I live in an area with lots of tourist properties/rentals as well as lots of big, expensive homes. Housing stock for starter homes (e.g. 2-bed, 1-bath and a yard) is very limited. How can I navigate being a first-time home buyer who is constrained by limited options? –Snail First stop, have an in-person meeting with a reputable lender. This will help you get on the right path for purchasing a home especially in a competitive market. –Gonzalo Mejia, realtor.com REAL Ambassador Purchasing a home can be a daunting prospect, becoming familiar with a trusted search portal, like realtor.com, is a great place to start. Consider expanding your search criteria and, more importantly, your geographical region. Write a list of “must have’s” and a list of “would like’s”. This will help you set manageable priorities when you meet with an agent. –Drew Coleman, realtor.com REAL Ambassador My area has suffered several consecutive years of natural disasters (floods and hurricanes). This might be the new normal for where I live, given climate predictions for sea level rise, storms, and floods. I’m a young adult looking at buying a home for the first time. I’m worried that at some point in my lifetime the scales will tip for insurance and property values. I’m worried property where I live will become a liability rather than an investment. Advice? –Snail The fact that you’re thinking ahead is a huge plus! We have already seen evidence of slower home price growth in coastal areas prone to hurricanes, so these changes truly can impact the real estate market. One option is to move to an area that’s less prone to these risks. Of course, if you’re committed to staying in the area you currently live, look into ways to reduce the risk. You might consider buying a home in an area that’s less risky–further away from the coast and not as low lying. You can also look into property upgrades that can help reduce your property’s risk (and potentially your insurance rates as well). -realtor.com Is it better to have a higher down payment or a higher credit score? –ShondaLeigh   That’s a great question, but also a tricky one. Many lenders would consider someone with a lower credit score a better candidate for a government-insured loan program, because it allows for lower credit scores and down payments. However, this type of loan program comes with higher closing costs including a program fee (i.e. FHA/VA Funding Fee). On the other hand, someone with a higher credit score and lower down payment would receive the benefits of Fannie and Freddie’s LLPA risk-based pricing adjustments, which naturally reward lower-risk consumers with higher credit scores better pricing for market rates and can aid them in securing a lower monthly payment for mortgage insurance (MI) should they have less funds to use toward a down payment. In fact, those with higher credit scores typically are able to access better interest rates, subject to the type of property being financed (i.e. primary residence, single-family) down payment and DTI. –Jeff Chalmers (NMLS #76803) Want to learn more? Head over to the realtor.com first-time home buyer resource center and stay tuned for Part 2 where we’ll respond to questions about down payment programs and making an offer. Special thanks to realtor.com’s Danielle Hale and Brad Sivert, as well as to the third-party real estate professionals who shared their expertise: Jeffrey Chalmers (NMLS #76803), Dara Delgado (NMLS #1510172), Faramarz Moeen-Ziai (NMLS #342090) and all of our realtor.com REAL Ambassadors: Thai Hung Nguyen, Rita Tayenaka, Jennifer Hisey Wauhob, Alexa Sanchez, Max Diez, Gonzalo Mejia, Darryl Macha, Drew Coleman, and Hagan Stone. The above responses are general in nature and not based on anyone’s specific circumstances and is not intended to be comprehensive.  Please consult with experienced professional advisors on any home or financing opportunity.  Lenders, mortgage brokers and other loan professionals are not recommended or endorsed by realtor.com®, and are not the only providers of mortgage loan services of the kinds they offer. Responses provided by third-party professionals do not represent the opinion of realtor.com® or its operator, Move, Inc.
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How often does your credit report get updated?

Your credit report is a record of your payment history of your financial accounts. Banks, credit card companies, auto lenders and mortgage companies that you do business with report your payment history monthly to one of more of the three main credit reporting companies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. However, all these companies may not report data at the same time in the month.
 

Waiting For A Good Time To Purchase A Home? Now may be it!

Mortgage rates might start to increase again soon, and this can easily overwhelm any drop in home prices that might happen in the future.   In other words, if you’re looking to buy a great house at a fair price, now might be a unique moment.   To a prepared home buyer, there's often a vibe on the time to purchase a home - conditions like cash and opportunity are optimal, the seller of an attractive property is willing to sell at a good price, and the buyer's personal life (i.e., newly married, expecting a new baby, or just got a big bonus, for example) is in a place where the time to pull the trigger on a new residence is now - and not next month, or even next week.      
 

An Affordability Boost for Prospective Homebuyers?

An Affordability Boost for Prospective Homebuyers? December delivered a significant holiday housing affordability boost to prospective home buyers, according to Mark Fleming, Chief Economist at First American. The December 2018 First American Real House Price Index (RHPI), released on Monday, revealed that real house prices decreased 2.4 percent between November 2018 and December 2018. On a year-over-year basis, the real house prices increased 11.8 percent year over year. The report found that consumer house-buying power—how much one can buy based on changes in income and interest rates—increased 3.1 percent between November 2018 and December 2018, and declined 5.0 percent year over year. An increase in average household income was recorded at 3.1 percent since December 2017 and 55.0 percent since January 2000. On the other hand, real house prices are 12.0 percent less expensive than in January 2000. On an unadjusted basis, house prices are now 2.0 percent above the housing boom peak in 2006, real, house-buying power-adjusted house prices remain 37.2 percent below their 2006 housing boom peak. “Housing affordability is a function of three economic drivers: nominal house prices, household income, and mortgage rates. When incomes rise, consumer house-buying power increases. Declining mortgage rates or declining nominal house prices also increase consumer house-buying power,” Fleming said. Addressing other factors that have been driving affordability, Fleming pointed out that rising wage growth and lower mortgage rates are primary contributors. “In December, the labor market remained impressive. Annual hourly wage growth increased by 3.5 percent compared with a year earlier, and the labor market’s record streak of job gains continued. The labor market has increased average household income by 55 percent since January 2000,” Fleming added. Fleming also noted that affordability trend shifted toward buyers in December, as mortgage rates fell and household income continued to grow. He said that the December decline in mortgage rates from 4.87 to 4.64 percent “boosted house-buying power by an impressive $10,000—which means a homebuyer with a 5 percent down payment and a mortgage rate of 4.6 percent saw their house-buying power increase from $354,500 to $364,500.” The monthly increase in household income was reflective of an increase in house-buying power to $365,600. Overall, house-buying power increased by $11,100 in December compared with the previous month—the second largest monthly increase in house-buying power since the beginning of the millennium. According to RHPI, the five states with the greatest year-over-year increase in the RHPI are District of Columbia (+19.1 percent), Ohio (+17.0 percent), Montana (+16.7 percent), Nevada (+16.6 percent), and New Jersey (+16.4 percent). No states recorded a year-over-year decrease. The five markets among the Core Based Statistical Areas with the greatest year-over-year increase in the RHPI are Cleveland (+20.1 percent), Las Vegas (+19.9 percent), Orlando, Fla. (+19.8 percent), Charlotte, N.C. (+19.5 percent), and Columbus, Ohio (+18.2 percent).

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

The Week Ahead: Holding Credit Bureaus Accountable

The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Who’s Keeping Score? Holding Credit Bureaus Accountable and Repairing a Broken System” on Tuesday, February 26, 2019, at 10:00 a.m. EST in Room 2128 Rayburn House Office Building. This will be a two-panel hearing with Mark Begor, CEO, Equifax; James M. Peck, President and CEO, TransUnion; and Craig Boundy, CEO, Experian North America in the first panel. The second panel will consist of testimony from Lisa Rice, President and CEO, National Fair Housing Alliance; Chi Chi Wu, Staff Attorney, National Consumer Law Center; Jennifer Brown, Associate Director, Economic Policy, UnidosUS; and Edmund Mierzwinski, Consumer Program Director, U.S. Public Interest Research Group.   According to the House Committee memorandum,  in 2017, Equifax experienced a cybersecurity breach that affected approximately 148 million consumers, which, in addition to releasing the personally identifiable information of these consumers, also highlighted deficiencies in the credit reporting. The hearing will also discuss two legislative proposals towards consumer credit reform aimed at making numerous changes to the existing credit reporting system, including increasing consumer rights to report and appeal credit report disputes. Author: Radhika Ojha Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Tres Chic!Timeless French Decor Secrets You Should Steal for Your Home

By Jane Chertoff | Feb 12, 2019 From those silky Hermès scarves to Chanel No. 5 to the iconic black-and-white-striped tee, French style is always, well, in style. So it should come as no surprise that the French approach to home decor should be something to aspire toward as well. One reason their homes look so fantastique is that the French don’t do cookie-cutter, explains Siham Mozouz, a French blogger, photographer, and author of "French By Design." “The French have a particular affection for old and for antiques, and they despise total looks,” she says, referring to the matching sets so commonly seen in U.S. big-box stores. Most importantly, the French take time to imbue their spaces with items that are distinctively them, Mozouz stresses. “The French approach to decor is very intuitive and personal ... just like you would pick your favorite outfit in a clothing store,” she says. “It’s not about creating a perfect space to impress your guests; it’s about setting up the ideal refuge and nest for you and your loved ones.” Ready to give your home that je ne sais quoi? Here are six decor secrets to steal from the French.  Make the most of a midcentury modern touch
Photo by be-attitude 
Don't fix it if it ain't broken, right? French style has spent centuries at the forefront of fashion and culture, so there’s no reason to veer far from this aesthetic, explains Lauren Lozano Ziol, a Chicago-based interior designer and former Parisian who often works with clients in France. “French people stay rooted in their classic sensibility,” she says. “The grandness of their heritage is important, so they like French antiques and fabric." But you don't have to be 100% old-world to get the authentic French feel. "The modern generation also loves contemporary, midcentury design and clean lines to incorporate into their classic and ornate architecture," Ziol says. "It always adds for a fun mix to see midcentury pieces paired with Louis-classic furniture, toning down the seriousness of a traditional and classic French home.”  

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Straighten Up Without Breaking Up: 4 Ways for Couples to Avoid Clashing While Decluttering

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about Marie Kondo's new Netflix show, "Tidying Up." Known for her best-seller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” the organizing guru has made decluttering a phenomenon on the small screen. So with all the buzz, there's a good chance that the early weekends of 2019 have seen you diving headfirst into decluttering. But if you’re doing it with a spouse or a significant other, sorting through your shared possessions can be a relationship powder keg. Disagreements about what to keep and what to ditch can get heated, especially when you start tossing sentimental items. “Opposites do seem to attract when it comes to people’s thoughts and feelings about their belongings,” says Lisa Zaslow, founder and CEO of Gotham Organizers in New York. “Clutter is more stressful for some people than it is for others.” So how do you keep the (life-changing) magic, and tidy up with your partner without killing each other? 1. Talk through your decluttering goals beforehand When it comes to decluttering, it's easy for conflict to fester before you even get started. There's a good chance that you and your partner have very different ideas of what a tidy space looks like. “With one couple I worked with, the husband wanted the kitchen counters entirely clear, with not even the coffee maker in sight,” Zaslow says. “His wife didn’t even notice, or care, if the counter was strewn with bags of chips, a fruit bowl, a pile of mail, and four appliances.” Keep the magic: The key to identifying and working through these differences is to talk through your goals. Decide what you both want out of the process before the first garbage bag comes out. “Setting goals and determining functional needs of your space together is an essential part of beginning this process and honoring both of your needs and desires,” says Jessica Salomone, interior designer and owner of Lotus and Lilac Design Studio. Salomone suggests asking yourself the following questions: What isn’t functioning in the space due to the clutter? What do you need to keep in the space? What would you like to be hidden, but still accessible? “Be realistic in your goals,” Zaslow says. “This is about creating a functional, pleasant home for both of you, not about being Instagram-perfect.” 2. Start by focusing on your own stuff Once you’re aligned in your approach, the fun part (for some of us) begins: purging. But before you go nuts tossing out your partner's wagon wheel coffee table, take a step back—along with a good look in the mirror. You'll want to ease into decluttering by focusing on your own corner of the room, not your partner’s. “Since people are so different, it’s definitely helpful for each person to start by decluttering their own things,” Zaslow says. Keep the magic: Think of it as a warmup: You can each begin with the stuff that's clearly yours before you move on to work through common areas together. But what if you’re raring to go and your partner hasn’t caught KonMari fever? Kondo herself recently told fans the best way to convert a skeptical partner into a tidying die-hard: Simply start decluttering your own possessions and let your S.O. witness the benefits. After all, who can resist the urge to organize after beholding the beauty of perfectly folded socks? 3. Withhold judgment on sentimental items Eventually, you’ll begin to notice what your partner is (or isn’t) putting in the “purge” pile, and you might want to chime in with your 2 cents. Resist that temptation. “The expression ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ often applies to couples,” Zaslow says. Keep the magic: Even if you can’t comprehend why someone could possibly want to keep that ratty bar crawl T-shirt from college, remember that it can have sentimental value. Avoid accusatory language, and be mindful of the way you talk about items that are close to your partner’s heart. “It’s not helpful to say, ‘You have too many CDs,’” Zaslow says. “It isuseful to point out, ‘With the bookshelves filled with CDs we rarely listen to, there’s no room to display our photos and travel mementos.’” 4. Set limits to your decluttering—and make it fun Finding the right pace for decluttering can be rife with potential conflict. Maybe you want to clean the entire garage in a day, but your partner needs a whole day to focus on one corner of it. Keep the magic: Give yourself a time limit for decluttering; try not to go more than a few hours at a time, to avoid burnout. Keep your favorite snacks and beverages stocked, and turn on some music or a podcast you both love. (Shameless plug: Check out realtor.com's "House Party.") You can also plan a fun, nontidying activity for the two of you to enjoy after you finish decluttering a space—it never hurts to have a light at the end of the tunnel. If things do get tense, remember that your stuff is just stuff—at the end of the day, your relationship matters more. Don’t lose sight of your love for each other over a disagreement about a box of Beanie Babies. “Really listen to your partner to find out why certain things are important to them, paying attention to the needs and values that are connected to the stuff,” Zaslow says. “You may learn things about them that will make you fall in love all over again.” Lauren Sieben is a writer in Milwaukee. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, Washington Post, Milwaukee Magazine, and other outlets.   Follow @laurensieben

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Flipping a House? How to Flip a House the Right Way

Stephan Zabel/iStock Wondering how to flip a house? In real estate, flipping houses has become all the more popular thanks to TV shows such as HGTV's "Flip or Flop" and "Masters of Flip." The goal is to buy a run-down home, put money into renovations, list it on the real estate market—and profit, big-time! For real estate investors, flipping houses may have hit its peak in the bubble years leading up to the 2007 housing market crash, but this is one dream that definitely hasn't died. Many investors are still making money. However, just because you've watched a lot of HGTV shows doesn't mean that you know how to flip a house for a profit. Earlier this year, RealtyTrac reported that investors who had flipped a property in the first quarter of 2016 had yielded the highest average gross flipping profit—the difference between the property purchase price and the flip price, not counting the cost of renovations—in 10 years. The magic number: $58,250. But just how much money you make will hinge on taking the right approach—so be sure to check out these pointers on flipping houses. For real. How to flip a house in real estate to make money "Stick with the age-old adage of buying the cheapest property in the nicest neighborhood," says Eric Workman, senior vice president of marketing at Chicago-based Renovo Financial, a private lender specializing in the real estate house-flipping space. But don't pick just any old shack—look for a home with  "good bones,” Workman says. Translation: Look for a property that's structurally sound and has a decent roof, newer windows, and an HVAC system that's less than 10 years old, as well as modern electrical and plumbing. Next, an ideal flip should need only cosmetic changes such as new cabinets, countertops, flooring, and paint. Any other renovations will be more costly and cut into your profit on the property. "These renovations can usually be done without the delays of permits, plus the upgrade costs will be relatively fixed, helping to eliminate unforeseen expenses," says Workman. And always look for a house in a neighborhood close to public transportation or in a good school district as these properties tend to sell quickly. How much should you pay for a house you'll flip? Investors should set a goal of making a 10% to 20% return on their investment. So how do you crunch the numbers? For starters, find out what your fixer-upper will sell for once you're done with it by looking at the sales price for similarly sized real estate in the same neighborhood that are move-in ready, says broker Bobby Curtis at Living Room Realty in Portland, OR. Let's say, for instance, that homes in tiptop shape in the area sell for $300,000. To get a ballpark figure for a run-down property, cut that price by three-quarters (75% of $300,000 = $225,000). Then subtract the cost of repairs (if repairs cost $30,000, that would be $225,000 – $30,000 = $195,000). That's about the most you should pay for your flip without cutting too much into the money you'll walk away with. As for financing a flip, it isn't that different from buying a regular home. You'll either pay cash or take out a mortgage—just consider going for a 10- or 15-year mortgage, which will offer a lower rate. If you're right on the money, odds are you won't own this house for long anyway. Hard money loan You can also acquire a hard money loan, which is simply a short-term loan secured by real estate. “It’s synonymous with a private investor,” says Don Hensel, president of North Coast Financial, which specializes in hard money loans. “A lender could be an individual, a group of investors, or a licensed mortgage broker who uses his own funds. This differs from a bank that uses money from its depositors.” Getting a hard money loan is generally less of a hassle than a standard mortgage, and they're especially popular with people flipping houses who prefer not to go through the hassle of taking out a 15- or 30-year mortgage on the property. How fast should you flip a house? Don't kill yourself (or more accurately, flip yourself into an early grave) to rush your real estate flip. But also note, you don't want this house sitting around for long. Curtis recommends looking for a property that will take four to six weeks to renovate. A short deadline ensures you'll buy and sell the house in that same housing market. Plus, owning a house for less than two months keeps costs like interest and taxes at a minimum. This means that finding contractors who do quality work quickly is key to your success. For that reason, it's crucial that you do your due diligence before you hire one: Make sure to meet with at least a few contractors, and get their license number, references, and real estimates of what they think renovations on the property will cost. Keep an eye out for red flags—e.g., contractors who ask for money upfront or in cash aren't playing by the usual rules, and might be trying to take your money and run. That said, you should accept the fact that the cost of repairs will almost always run over. As such, "you absolutely, positively must overbudget" so you have a financial cushion for those inevitable overruns, says Joseph Chiera of The Realty Cousins of Poughkeepsie, NY. Design backups will also help you solve your money problems. "If you’re planning to use high-end hardwood flooring priced at $5 per square foot, have a nice backup at $2 per square foot," he adds. Here's a list of renovations and how much they pay off at resale. Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine.

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

What Is My Home Worth? The Number Every Homeowner and Seller Should Know

By Daniel Bortz | Feb 15, 2019     Have you ever wondered "How much is my house worth?"? If you're hoping to sell your home, knowing your property's value is essential for pricing it right to make buyers bite. Or, maybe you don't want to sell your home right now, but are just curious whether your real estate investment has risen in value (which would merit some much-deserved back-patting). In either case, having an accurate grasp of your home's estimated market value can come in handy. And there are a variety of ways to do that, many of which are free and easily within reach online. Here's how to find that magic number, and why having an accurate estimate matters whether you want to sell your home or own it for the long haul. How to find home value estimates online One easy starting point with a home valuation is to enter your address into an online home value estimator, which will, within seconds, present you with a free estimate of what your home is worth, based on data such as its square footage and recent home sales in the area. How real estate experts determine their own home value estimates Real estate agents specialize in answering the question "what is my home worth?" for their clients, which they do by running a comparative market analysis. This process involves finding similar properties (“comps”) that sold within the past 90 days. The most accurate comp is a home that’s nearby, similar to yours in square footage, and has the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms. (Ideally, the lot size is also equivalent, but that's more important in rural areas, where homes are set on multiple acres.) Once your agent finds a few comps, then she averages those figures to come up with a baseline of your own home value.   So if you are looking for the answer to how much your home is worth, contact us today! 

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

What’s New With Existing Home Sales?

On Thursday, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) will release its monthly data on existing home sales for January 2019. The report includes existing home sales of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops and is based on transaction closings from multiple listing services. According to NAR, this report differs from the U.S. Census Bureau's series on new single-family home sales which are based on contracts or the acceptance of a deposit. The data for December 2018 that was released last month indicated that existing-home sales declined in December with completed transactions decreasing 6.4 percent month-over-month from November to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.99 million in December. Year over year, sales declined 10.3 percent from December 2017. "The housing market is obviously very sensitive to mortgage rates. Softer sales in December reflected consumer search processes and contract signing activity in previous months when mortgage rates were higher than today," said Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist, NAR about the decline in December existing-home sales. "Now with mortgage rates lower, some revival in home sales is expected going into spring."   About Author: Radhika Ojha Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Pune, India, where she received her B.A. in Commerce with a concentration in Accounting and Marketing and an M.A. in Mass Communication.

Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

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