Category Archives: Tips and Advice

4 High-ROI Home Updates

Do you have a list of changes you’d like to make to your home this year? Completing cosmetic updates is easiest when the weather’s in your favor. In honor of May’s National Home Improvement Month, here are four upgrades ranging from curb appeal projects to large-scale expansions that often yield high returns.

  1. Replacing doors and windows: Homeowners are often encouraged to consider projects that boost overall curb appeal. Swapping out a wooden front door for a steel model or replacing front-facing windows can pack more of an ROI punch than renovations made inside the home.
  2. Constructing a deck: Create a beautiful transition from your back door to the outdoors by building a deck. The update turns into a major selling point that can recoup your initial investment when it’s time to move on.
  3. Adding insulation: Of all the projects listed in Remodeling magazine’s 2017 Cost vs. Value Report, adding loose-fill insulation to your attic is the only one with returns that exceed 100 percent of the cost. It can also help reduce year-round heating and cooling costs.
  4. Building a second-story addition: Even with a slight increase in construction costs, completing a significant two-story addition resulted in a substantial year-over-year increase in value from 2016 to 2017. Adding the extra space will likely catch the attention of buyers.

Home renovations and repairs are on the rise and expected to peak this year. Now’s the time to start planning your investment-savvy home improvements.


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The Top 6 Latest Trends in Home Design

Whether you’re a prospective seller or a longtime homeowner, revamping your space may be on your to-do list. Before you begin, preview these design trends and learn how to make them your own.

Quick Decorating Touches

  • Add the latest color. From deep emerald to the lime hue of Greenery (the Pantone Color of the Year), verdant shades are instant hits. To incorporate the trend, sprinkle in a few eye-catching accessories or splurge on a plush, room-filling rug.
  • Bring in bronze and brass. These of-the-moment metallics look luxurious, but they have economical price tags and complement a variety of colors and styles. Spruce up your kitchen cabinets with brass handles or use bronze light fixtures to warm up a room.
  • Toy with texture. Whether you’re drawn to fabric wallpaper, a decorative wall hanging or a collection of well-placed throw pillows, texture is an easy way to make a space more inviting. And don’t shy away from mixed materials like leather and wool.

Trendy Upgrades

  • Enrich your entryway. You have only one chance to make a first impression. For a small investment, you can transform your home’s entrance with an artisan-crafted credenza or an oversized mirror that amplifies the natural light.
  • Update your countertops. Laminate options fashioned from recycled granite or glass are easy on the wallet and the environment. Want to go all out? Lighter shades in quartz, marble, and wood are popular upgrades in today’s kitchens.
  • Establish a shedquarters. Whether you work from home, want a relaxing retreat or host houseguests regularly, a separate on-site structure aptly dubbed a “shedquarters” may be a worthy addition.

From a quick, low-budget change to a well-planned build-out, homeowners have several options when it comes to implementing the latest home design trends.


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Featured Image Credit: “IMG_7709” by angi231700 © 2012 (CC BY 2.0)

Tips for Writing a Listing That Sells

House and neighborhood characteristics can positively influence the sale of your home, but what about the words used in the listing? The right turn of phrase could help your property sell quickly, but choose less descriptive terms and you may find it on the market indefinitely. Write an effective listing with the following tips:

Choose Your Words Wisely
One analytics firm reviewed the word choices of a million listings that closed in 2016. Phrases like “open concept” and “natural light” closed more quickly, while listings with “ceramic tile” and “two story” stayed on the market longer. Analysts also found that four word pairs associated with quick closings included “fence” references, indicating that privacy may be a top priority for buyers.

Tell Stories With Emotion
Capture potential buyers’ senses with your words, and try to paint a picture of what it would be like to live in the home. A claw-foot tub becomes a place of solace from the daily grind, and a large yard transforms into a buyer’s new outdoor respite. Need help? Consider enlisting a professional who is familiar with what’s selling to help write your listing.

Highlight Brand Names
Don’t focus solely on basics such as square footage and the number of bathrooms. Instead, identify brands that will stand out from the competition. Everything’s fair game — from appliances to fixtures to interior designers or architects who helped with your last renovation. You can feel comfortable name-dropping here.

Create Longer Listings
The 2015 book “Zillow Talk” found that listings as long as 250 words tend to sell at higher prices. And to help grab a potential buyer’s eye, give particular attention to the first 10 words.

Before putting your home on the market, take some time to craft a well-worded listing. A sale may hinge on it.


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Featured Image Credit: “DSC00227” by Andrew_Writer © 2010 (CC BY 2.0)

Preparing for a Spring Home Sale or Purchase

Spring has sprung, which means the housing market is in full bloom. Each year, roughly 40 percent of real estate transactions occur between the months of May and August. If you’re feeling inspired to buy or sell a home soon, make sure you’re prepared. Use these checklists to catch anything you may have missed.

When You’re Ready to Buy a Home
Purchasing a house is one of the biggest transactions you’ll ever make. Whether it’s your first time or the fifth, tackle the following prep work:

  • Calculate what you can afford. Use a home affordability calculator to make sure you’re ready for the mortgage payments.
  • Check your credit score, and fix any inaccuracies you discover ASAP. Errors can impact your ability to get a good interest rate.
  • Save up for a down payment. Most lenders require 5 to 20 percent, and larger down payments can lower the amount you pay each month.
  • Be ready for additional closing costs. Plan to have approximately 4 percent of the home’s purchase price on hand to cover taxes, fees and other necessary charges.
  • Re-evaluate your insurance coverage and update all of your policies, including life and car insurance.

When It’s Time to Sell
Putting your home on the market is a process that can take months. Before you do, complete this home seller to-do list:

  • Declutter, clean and get your home ready to show. You only have one chance to make a first impression.
  • Take inventory of what needs to be fixed and make a schedule to complete any updates, such as roof work, new paint or landscaping.
  • Decide on an appropriate selling price. Pulling comps in your area can give you a better idea of your home’s value. Or click here to request a free, personalized home value report!

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Featured Image Credit: “Home For Sale Sign” by Guy Kilroy © 2014 (CC BY-SA 2.0; Edited)

Urban Homesteading: 3 Ways to Produce Your Own Food

From backyard and rooftop gardens to community plots in parks and vacant lots, urban agriculture has become a nationwide movement, and more homeowners have taken an interest in producing their own food. For many urban homesteaders, it stems from a desire to know where their food comes from and live more sustainably.

Are you interested in participating? These three small-scale projects are great places to start.

Raising Backyard Chickens
Chickens provide a relatively inexpensive, low-maintenance way to feed your family, plus they act as complimentary fertilizer and chemical-free pest control. Before you buy baby chicks, make sure you research and follow local laws, city ordinances and homeowner association rules. Get inspired by the luxe chicken coop design above and then check out these DIY tips to build the perfect home for your feathered friends.

Taking Up Beekeeping
In the 1940s, America had five million beehives, and today, roughly half of those remain. A growing awareness of this drastic decline has led to an increase in urban beekeeping, to the tune of approximately 120,000 backyard beekeepers.

Becoming a beekeeper starts with a lot of research, followed by choosing the right equipment and bees. Don’t want to care for an entire colony? Plant native flower and weed varieties that help encourage bee pollination and reproduction.

Gardening and Canning
Whether it’s a large plot or a small section, a personal garden gives you control. Plus, you can preserve fresh fruits and vegetables via the canning process. While many homesteaders use yields from their garden, others buy extra produce in its peak season. Canning veggies and fruits is a family-friendly activity that lets you enjoy seasonal produce all year long.

Though urban homesteading may seem intimidating at first, it’s easier to start small. The projects above can help minimize your impact on the environment and allow you to take part in your own food production.


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Featured Image Credit: “Chicken coop” by SoniaT 360. © 2015 (CC BY 2.0, via Flickr)

6 Ways Real Estate Agents Add Value in a Home Sale

Just because you can buy and sell property on your own, it doesn’t mean you should. Real estate agents remain essential when making these pivotal financial transactions.

There are many ways agents add value during the purchase or sale of a home:

  • Handle the technical nuances — Whether you’re the buyer or the seller, a home sale includes a dizzying amount of paperwork. Skilled agents know how to fill out what documents and when, saving you time and helping you avoid mistakes.
  • Speak the lingo — The industry uses an astonishing number of acronyms. Working with a real estate agent gives you the opportunity to better understand the conversation.
  • Can negotiate without emotion — It’s easy to get triggered when a potential buyer picks apart your home. Let the agent handle criticisms or requests that could set you off or scare away an interested party.
  • Help you look beyond the property’s walls — Agents have expertise beyond the sale, including insight on everything from utilities to neighborhoods to quality schools.
  • Are well connected — It takes a village to complete a home sale. Whether you need a trustworthy home inspector, an efficient mortgage broker or a creative interior designer, turn to your agent for credible recommendations.
  • Keep up with the most recent laws and regulations — You may only complete a few real estate deals in your lifetime, whereas an agent often signs off on several each year. Experienced real estate agents know as soon as something in the industry changes and can save you from a liability headache.

Whether your aim is to net money from the sale of your home or spend wisely on a new one, a real estate agent has your best interests in mind and can make the process as seamless as possible.


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2017’s Top Kitchen Design Trends

While a home’s curb appeal may draw buyers in, its interior matters just as much, if not more. Several features are high on the wish list of today’s homebuyer, including a modern kitchen. Whether you’re thinking of starting a remodel or you’re just curious about what the future holds, check out these trends that turn kitchens into buyer bait.

Hidden appliances: Upgrading appliances is one of the quickest ways to add value to a kitchen. If you’re looking to impress a buyer with deep pockets, look into hidden appliances. What’s the appeal? Less obvious appliances keep the eye on the kitchen’s overall flow and design.

Personalized pantries: The utilitarian kitchen pantry has evolved into a trending design element. Whether you choose a pocket door and complementary light fixture or a rustic barn door and wallpaper, there’s no shortage of ways to express your personal style.

Creative countertops: Looking for a revamp with an immediate impact? Upgrade the counters. Quartz and butcher block, both easy to maintain, are quickly replacing traditional marble and granite surfaces. You can dress up your kitchen further with sleek waterfall-edge countertops that extend vertically to the floor.

Mixed-up metal accents: Accessorizing with different finishes is a trendy, cost-effective way to update your kitchen. In addition to stainless steel and gold, homebuilders are seeing copper accents emerging as the metallic detail of choice.

Don’t let a dated kitchen cost you when it’s time to sell your home. Incorporating a trend or two could be enough to give your kitchen the face-lift it needs to entice buyers.


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Featured Image Credit: “The Kitchen: Chapter Six (Final Reveal!)” by Emily May © 2014 (CC BY 2.0)

Credit Score: What It Means and How to Improve It

Are you considering making a major purchase, like buying a home, this year? If so, your credit score will likely come into play. An understanding of the basics can help you effectively monitor and manage it.

Credit Score 101
Your credit score will usually range from 300 to 850. It’s derived from an algorithm that takes into account several factors, including payment history, the total debt owed and length of credit history.

Lenders use this three-digit number to predict risk and the likelihood that you’ll repay your debt on time. The higher your credit score, the less risk you are and the lower your loan terms will be. For example, a person with a “good” credit score of 700 may have a lower interest rate and smaller required down payment than someone with a “poor” credit score of 400.

How to Improve Your Score
If you don’t have much credit history or you have a few negatives on your report, consider these strategies to increase your score.

  • Pay all of your bills on time. Late payments can negatively impact your score.
  • Pay off debt where you can. The less debt you have, the lower your debt-to-income ratio.
  • Keep your credit card balances as low as possible, aiming to use no more than 30 percent of your available credit. And pay off as much as you can each month since higher balances can sink your score.
  • Review your credit report at least annually, and keep an eye out for mistakes and identity theft.

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Featured Image Credit: “Excellent Credit Score” by CafeCredit.com © 2016 (CC BY 2.0)

How to Be Prepared for an Emergency

Do you know what vital information to have on hand in the event of a natural disaster or family emergency? When an unexpected situation arises, there’s no time to sort through paperwork, no matter how essential it may be. Having everything you need in an organized emergency binder can streamline the process and give you peace of mind.

What to Include in an Emergency Binder
While there’s no shortage of important family documents and household records, a true emergency calls for a few must-haves:

  • Vital records like birth certificates, driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, naturalization documents, passports and child custody papers.
  • Insurance policies, including homeowners, renters, auto, life and health.
  • Property records such as real estate deeds, rental agreements, and vehicle titles and registration.
  • Financial documents like wills, trusts, powers-of-attorney and funeral instructions.
  • A family emergency plan with contact information and predetermined meeting places.

Safely Storing Other Important Information
Some items, such as account passwords and a backup of critical computer files, aren’t suited for a portable binder. Instead, house them in a secure location like a safety deposit box or lockbox. You can also include a home inventory list, contracts, business paperwork, tax returns and investment records.

Play it safe and include a recent photograph of every family member, along with fingerprints and dental records. You may also want to store valuable memorabilia, jewelry, and priceless family photos, letters and documents here as well.

There’s no way to predict when misfortune will strike, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared. Set aside an afternoon to create an emergency binder that can help protect your family when time is of the essence.


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Featured Image Credit: “Better work flow: get organized” by Jodimichelle © 2011 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Top Three Methods for Clearing Clutter in 2017

The new year represents a clean slate and the chance to begin again. It’s also the ideal time to clear out unwanted items and organize your home for the year ahead. If you want a fresh start to 2017, let these decluttering approaches inspire you.

Organizational Apps
Decluttering apps are plentiful, and they provide an effective way to complete the purging process. Some, like Snupps, let you digitize your belongings and organize them into simple categories or “shelves.” From there, you decide what to keep, sell or give away. You can also reach out to other users for organizational inspiration, discover items you may be interested in acquiring or show off your personal collection.

Room-by-Room Schedule
To systematically remove clutter over time, try monthly organization that’s broken down by room. For example, you can tackle the kitchen in January and give the home office a deep clean in February. Make a schedule that works for you. This method may feel less overwhelming and rushed.

Single Purge
Prefer to declutter your entire home all at once? Designate a few days or a weekend to devote to the process. The secret is to stay focused on one task at a time and avoid getting sidetracked. Work your way through each room one by one until you’ve cleared out all areas of your home.

The new year is fast approaching and now’s the time to eliminate your clutter. Whether it’s an app, a 12-month schedule or one big purge, there’s no shortage of methods to help you have a more organized 2017.


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Featured Image Credit: “an organized craft room” by alison headley © 2010 (CC BY 2.0)