Easy ways to add more color to your home

Home improvement projects are missing from the list of Americans’ top 10 New Year’s resolutions for 2019. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t undertake one or two this year, especially if what you do makes living in the home more relaxing. And changing up the color, even if it’s in small ways, can do just that.

Intimidated?

Intimidation is usually what stops homeowners from experimenting with color in the home. Despite learning the color wheel and all about complementary colors as kids, many of us still clench up when it comes time to choose a color that we’ll live with.

We scoured the internet for advice on how to choose a color you can not only live with but enjoy as well.

A good place to start

Looking at paint chips can be overwhelming if you do it for too long. Some industry professionals say the best way to start your search for a paint color is by doing so in short stretches of time.

Whether you’re standing in front of the paint chip rack at Home Depot or perusing colors on Pinterest or other online sites, don’t dwell on the process.

When you see a color that speaks to you, grab the swatch or save it to a color folder that you create on your computer. Don’t’ overthink the process. The idea is to go with your first reaction.

If it’s “I kind of like that one,” save it. You’ll revisit it later when it’s time to narrow your choices. Then, take it a step further and choose a lighter and a darker shade of that same color.

“Colors look brighter on the walls than they do on a tiny chip. You may be surprised by which you ultimately go for,” color expert Amy Krane tells Houzz contributor Tiffany Carboni

What to do with your new color

The choices are plenty. Consider:

  • Painting an accent wall. Remember, this wall will become the room’s focal point, so choose your wall carefully.
  • Accessorize with it. If you choose to start small with your new color, consider choosing fireplace mantel or coffee table accessories in the hue. Other ideas include sofa pillows, a throw or an area rug. The latter is especially useful in a smaller room because rugs make small spaces appear more inviting.
  • Painting just the trim with your new color. Unexpected pops of color are fun.

Color is the wonder drug for home interiors. It can make a space feel clean, new and energized or it can calm it down. It all depends on which you choose.

Find inspiration online at HGTV.com, BHG.com and, for ideas on how to add color to your home without picking up a paintbrush, head to ApartmentTherapy.com.

Be a smart homebuyer: Attend open houses

The National Association of Realtors tells us that 44 percent of homebuyers visit open houses. While most don’t end up buying the home, it gives them an idea of what homes in their price range offer.

And, that’s a brilliant strategy. Even if you don’t plan on buying the homes you tour, it helps you get acquainted with neighborhoods and homes.

If you’re about to embark on the Great American House Hunt, do yourself a favor and commit to attending an open house (or several) but to be prepared before arriving.

It’s for sale and nobody should be offended if you treat it as such

“Open house etiquette.”

Yes, there are actually articles online dictating to homebuyers how they should and should not act at an open house.

One online advice-giver suggests that potential buyers touring a home for sale should “stay away from their medicine cabinet and don’t open any drawers.”

So, when we shop for a car, should we stay away from the glove box and not open the trunk?

Absolutely not – kick those tires, throw open the trunk and even (dare we say it?) lift the carpeting to check out the spare tire.

The same holds true when attending an open house. This house is for sale and, like any savvy buyer, you need to satisfy your curiosity about all aspects of it.

Besides, a good listing agent will prepare the homeowner for the marketing process. This includes letting the seller know that his or her privacy is a thing of the past.

Especially when storage space is in such high demand, the homeowner should expect that potential buyers will open closets, cupboards and, yes, even drawers.

This isn’t to say there aren’t some common courtesies and etiquette “rules” that we hope open house attendees will offer.

We never want a home seller to come home to doors left unlocked, rumpled bed covers and personal items out of place. Those aren’t part of the unspoken deal. It’s a violation of privacy that potential buyers need to avoid.

What to bring with you

If you haven’t compiled a home-shopping wish list yet, do it before you attend an open house. Even jotting down some quick notes on what you absolutely must have in your new home will help keep you focused.

  • Don’t forget your smartphone or a camera. Photograph the exterior of the home and make note of the address. When you’ve toured a number of homes it will be challenging to recall which home had which features without something to jog your memory.
  • Bring a measuring tape. You may just fall in love with the home but have no idea if the master bedroom will accommodate your California king bed or if the living room wall is of sufficient length for your sectional sofa.
  • Bring a can. It doesn’t matter if it’s a can of deodorant or a can of beans, it will be especially important when looking at older homes. If you suspect a slope in the floor, lay the can down on it. If it rolls, there may be foundation or structural problems.
  • Finally, don’t go to open houses solo. Bring a friend or family member. Two sets of eyes are better than one when shopping for homes.

Someone may be watching

Ah, the age of technology. In London, it’s a given that your every move is being captured on CCTV. While it’s not that bad here, at least not yet, surveillance cameras are becoming more common.

And you should expect there to be at least one in any home you tour.

And they aren’t always evident

Even if you can see the camera, you may not have any way of knowing if it captures audio as well as video and it’s the former you need to be cautious of.

A good rule of thumb is to not say anything in an open house or a home tour that you wouldn’t want the seller to hear. Don’t insult the seller’s decorating taste or lack of housekeeping skills.

More important, if you love the home and will pull out all the stops to become the owner, wait until you’re outside to say so. Don’t say anything that will give the seller leverage during negotiations.

The open house tour

The person who greets you at the open house is the homeowner’s real estate agent – the “listing agent.”

This  agent represents the seller and your agent represents you, as the buyer. This is much like a court case situation, where each party has their own attorney, or representative.

The agent may ask you if you have representation. Even if you don’t, it’s a good idea to fib and say that you do. Using the seller’s agent isn’t typically a wise move.

Since the seller pays both of the agents’ commissions, your agent’s services cost you nothing. It’s worth it to have your own agent who will protect your interests during the purchase process.

The seller’s agent may allow you to tour the home by yourself or he or she may want to accompany you.

If it’s the latter, don’t allow the agent to distract you from viewing the features that are important to you and never allow yourself to be rushed.

Ask any and all questions that come up. This is a huge purchase you’re contemplating, so no question is a stupid question.

Most of today’s home buyers prefer to shop for homes online. Virtual visits, however, are no substitute for the open house experience.

There’s no reason at all that you can’t do both.

Your 2019 home, according to Pinterest

As huge fans of Pinterest, we’re always eager to read the year-end wrap-up and predictions of what will be trending on the platform in the new year ahead.

The beauty of Pinterest is that so many of the projects on display are DIY-able, meaning huge savings over hiring someone to do the work for you.

In fact, searches for DIY projects on Pinterest made up 83 percent of all home searches in 2018. Remodeling and landscaping were popular as well.

So, what are Pinterest’s prognostications for 2019? Read on and find out.

Your walls

Pantone is the undisputed leader when it comes to showing us the Color of the Year. In 2019, it’s “Living Coral,” so don’t be surprised if your neighbor paints her dining room a peachy orange.

Pinteresters, on the other hand, are opting for yellow. And, not just your standard sunny yellow, but “bold mustard yellow walls,” according to the platform’s “Pinterest 100-The Top Trends for 2019.

Searches for “mustard yellow” were up 45 percent.

But new wall covering doesn’t necessarily have to be of the latex variety. “People are wrapping up their walls – and themselves—in fabric for a textured, artsy aesthetic,” according to the report.

They may just be onto something with that. Many designers are predicting the return of wallpaper in 2019. Today’s wallpaper, however, should be one with bold patterns and bright colors.

Consider geometric patterns for the kids’ rooms (searches on Pinterest for geometric décor are up a whopping 1,178 percent).

Once you’ve decided on wall covering, it’s time to turn your attention to what to hang on those walls. Naturally, Pinterest offers their 2019 obsession: textile art. Searches for the term have increased nearly 2,000 percent and you’ll find inspiration here.

Or, if you prefer green, consider a vertical indoor garden. There are lots of ways to approach this trend. Check out some of the ideas at Decoist.com.

Under foot

There’s no need to rip out the old vinyl flooring; just paint right over it. Keep the colors bold (the theme for 2019, apparently) and consider mosaic patterns.

The secret is in the stencil you choose and, thankfully, there are many. Check out what some of Pinterest’s DIYers are doing with stencils and paint on a dated floor.

Succulents have been at the top of the must-have list for a couple of years now, but 2019 sees the trend moving more niche, to cacti. Searches for cactus arrangements have more than doubled at Pinterest and here’s a sample of what they find.

The great outdoors

Outdoor living spaces are popular with homebuyers and homeowners alike. The outdoor fireplace, as long as it’s “modern and sleek” is what they’ll be clamoring after in 2019, according to Pinterest.

This trend is, of course, useless to homeowners whose beloved garden is of the cottage or other less-modern style.

So, turn your attention instead to the aforementioned vertical garden. Whether you intend to cover an entire wall or create a privacy screen, you’ll find gorgeous inspiration on Pinterest.

We’ve saved the best trend (in our opinion) for last. If you’re considering the addition of a swimming pool, forget the chemicals and consider a natural swimming pool.

This trend has been simmering on the back burner for a year or so now and trendwatchers expect it to move front and center this year.

These low-tech alternatives offer not only that luxurious sensation of swimming in the wild but can be tailored to your particular landscaping style and the size of your yard. From huge ponds to plunge pools, we hope the natural swimming pool is a trend that’s here to stay.

Get ideas at AquaMagazine.com, HouseLogic.com and HGTV.com.

 

 

How to buy a house: 5 tips to get the best deal

So, you’ve heard that home prices are falling, the inventory of available homes is beginning to grow and, if you look closely, you’ll see a crack beginning to form in that once-fiery sellers’ market.

Whereas in the recent past, homebuyers were a dime a dozen, you may just be on the precipice of being an in-demand commodity and, with that status, comes power.

It’s already begun in the new-home market, with builders and developers offering buyers (and their real estate agents) attractive incentives. The resale market is expected to catch up, so let’s get you prepared to get the best deal possible when you buy a house.

1. Why are they selling?

There are a number of reasons people sell their homes and a seller’s reason, or motivation as it’s known in the real estate industry, is powerful information in the hands of the buyer.

It’s not easy to learn a seller’s motivation, but it’s not impossible either. The key is to be face-to-face with the seller, a situation often discouraged by real estate agents.

If you or your agent can arrange a meeting, however, (perhaps during a tour of the home), strike up a conversation. “How long have you lived here?” can lead to an opening for the “and why are you moving, if you don’t mind my asking?”

If you can’t meet with the owner in person, try asking the neighbors. Take a weekend walk through the neighborhood, stopping to chat with folks working on their cars, in their yards or playing with their kids.

Let them know you’re thinking of buying the neighbor’s home and ask if they’d mind answering some questions about the neighborhood. During the conversation, ask if they know why their neighbor is selling. You’d be surprised how much neighbors know about one another.

If the homeowner is selling because of a divorce or job relocation they may be in a bit of a hurry to sell. This is information we can use in structuring your offer (offering a quick close, for instance) to soften the blow of a lower price.

2. How long has the home been on the market?

This is information that we can get for you from our MLS. Why is this information important?

Recently listed homes are still in their “honeymoon” phase with buyers and agents. There is a lot of activity surrounding a new-to-the market home so the seller has very little motivation to accept a low offer.

As the home sits on the market with few offers, the seller may become more desperate to sell and, thus, more likely to entertain a lower sales price.

We can also let you know the average number of days homes in the neighborhood remain on the market. If the home you have your eye on has been listed for longer than that, you may be dealing with a very motivated seller, putting you in a strong negotiating position.

3. Study the pricing history

We’re happy to look up the pricing history of homes you’re interested in. From the time the home is first listed, the MLS will show us how many price changes have occurred, whether they were price hikes or reductions.

A seller who has reduced the home’s price more than once is a seller who needs to get the home sold.

4. Soften the blow of a low-ball offer

Ask for everything in the offer to purchase. That’s right, EVERYTHING. Even if you don’t want their furniture and appliances, ask for them.

Ask for the drapes, the barbecue, everything you can think of to put the sellers in overload. You want to divert their attention away from the low price you are offering and toward all their “stuff.”

Once the bartering begins all of their focus will be on trying to hang on to their backyard furniture, not that you’ve offered several thousand dollars less for the home than what they are asking.

Compromise with them; you didn’t really want all those items anyway. Keep your eye on what it is that you really want: your price.

No, it doesn’t always work, but in the end, you might get that price and maybe even a few appliances as well.

One more tip about what to include in the purchase offer: make sure you don’t give the sellers too much time to think about it. A 24-hour acceptance request is quite common and a strategic move in your position as a bargain hunter.

5. Get help with your closing costs

Getting the best deal on a home doesn’t always mean getting the home for a discounted price. If the seller won’t budge on price and you truly want the home, we’ll find ways for you to save money in other parts of the transaction.

One of the easiest is to negotiate closing costs by asking the seller to pay them. Sure, some will balk at this. Others might raise the sales price of the home to absorb the costs.

The danger in the latter scenario is that the new price may exceed market value and not meet the bank’s appraisal amount.

Put yourself in the seller’s shoes. The sale of a home is often an emotional event. The right real estate agent in your corner will be able to negotiate on your behalf while appealing to the sellers’ emotions.

3 of the Best Home Organization Blogs

If you’ve just purchased a home, putting all your “stuff” away is something you’re most likely not looking forward to. Unpacking boxes and then finding a place for everything can take a while.

The good news is that if you make a vow to get organized now, instead of promising to do it later, it will make the unpacking a lot easier.

Home organization isn’t just for new homeowners, however. In fact, the longer you’ve lived in a home, the more you most likely need a little help in getting things sorted.

It wasn’t easy choosing “the best” home organization bloggers but we found two criteria that helped us whittle down the list: the blog must be primarily about organizing (recipes and decorating tips tolerated, but not if they dominate the blog) and the blogger must actually BLOG at least once a week.

With a little input from friends and clients, we give you our list of 3 of the best home organization blogs on the internet.

It apparently takes a village to produce the Unclutterer blog and, judging by the volume of posts every week, we get it.

Canadian Jacki Hollywood Brown is the woman in charge and writes from Winnipeg, Manitoba. The site also has an editor at large, Erin Rooney Doland, in the D.C. area and a staff of writers.

You’ll find advice here from how to organize just about everything in the home, from prescription medication bottles to books, computer data, closets and more.

We love this post, with brilliant advice on speed decluttering (breaking the task down into five, 10 or 15 minute sessions).

Visit Unclutterer online at Unclutterer.com or connect with them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Canadian Laura Wittman is a self-professed “organizing junkie,” while many of us can be described as “clutter junkies.” If the latter describes you, this is your new favorite blog.

Laura and staff not only offer up brilliant solutions for decluttering but helps us dig deep into why we hang on to so much stuff and why we’re so disorganized.

You know those nights (at our house it’s almost every night!) when you can’t figure out what to make for dinner and when you finally hit on something, you’ll need to head out to the market for missing ingredients?

Laura fixes that for you by not only advising that you create a weekly menu, but posts sample menus for you as well. It doesn’t get any more no-brainer than that!

Find Laura and her amazing tips online at orgjunkie.com or connect with her on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube

While we’re north of the border, take a look at Laurence MacSween’s storage solutions blog, Storage|Glee. Once you get on the organization bandwagon, you’ll need these solutions and MacSween has plenty of them.

While she doesn’t offer how-to advice, you’ll find no shortage of inspiration. Take a look at the right sidebar to get started. You’ll find storage solutions for everything from salsa to vodka and from utensil to photos.

Prefer room-specific suggestions? You’ll find those as well.

Visit Storage|Glee online at storageandglee.blogspot.com.

Honorable Mentions:

Clutter Bug

If you can stomach the huge push to buy products, you’ll find that Clutterbug offers brilliant organizing tips.

They’re a bit challenging to find, nestled in among the products for sale, but if you scroll down the home page, just under the book for sale you’ll find her tips, organized by room.

A lot of what’s on the site is in video form (who has time for that?). Your mileage may vary. Visit them online at Clutterbug.me

A Slob Comes Clean

Again, lots of podcasts, videos and “please buy my stuff” to wade through, but we love her decluttering and organizing tips. Find them online at ASlobComesClean.com.

Be proactive: head off problems in the home sale before they happen

Too many home sellers feel that their listing agent is responsible for everything that comes after signing the listing agreement. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The homeowner is an active participant in many aspects of the sales process, from settling on the listing price to preparing the home for the market and being flexible when buyers’ agents request a tour.

While the 2019 real estate market will not likely be moving at the warp speed of last year and the year before, it’s still a prime time to sell a home so expect lots of activity when you list your home.

Then is not the time to prepare – that time is right now. Taking certain steps right now ensures smooth sailing through the entire process.

“If you’re proactive, you focus on preparing. If you’re reactive, you end up focusing on repairing,” according to American author John C. Maxwell. And, we agree.

Clear up clouds on the home’s title

When the buyer opens escrow, his or her lender will want a thorough examination of the home’s “title.” It’s a word you’ll hear frequently during that period of the transaction and it refers, simply, to the party or parties who have legal ownership and the right to use a piece of property.

The title examiner may find a problem with the home’s title. For example: Joan passed away, leaving the home to her three children. They put the home up for sale and instantly got an offer.

Then, the title examiner found a lien against the property. Joan had fallen behind in her payments, and the lender had been threatening to foreclose. Her kids had been working with the lender and were granted 90 days to sell the home.

Since the home was under contract to the new buyer, and the escrow company had instructions to pay the lender the past-due amount (plus fees, naturally) the lender agreed to release the lien and the transaction proceeded.

But, all of this took time, as you can imagine. You’ll find a list of other common title defects (also known as “clouds on the title”) online at First American Title.

A brilliant proactive step to take, if you suspect there may be a cloud on the title, is to order a title search before listing the home. We’re happy to help you do this.

Consider a pre-sale home inspection

When we live in a home for some time we naturally assume we know about all of its problems. Wrong.

We often see homeowners who are caught completely by surprise when the home inspector’s report turns up problems.

Depending on the scope of the problems, the deal can end up significantly delayed or even derailed.

Knowing all of the home’s problems prepares you for what is to come. And, should you decide not to make the repairs, it can help you more appropriately price the home for its condition.

Make the repairs that lenders/insurers commonly demand

If your buyer is using an FHA- or VA-backed mortgage, the lender may require certain repairs before agreeing to lend money to the buyer.

Typically, the lender will take issue with any problems dealing with the health and safety of the home’s occupants.

Some problems that don’t meet the FHA’s “minimum property standards” include:

  • Debris in the home’s crawl space
  • Lack of a fire door between the home and the garage
  • Missing handrails on stairways and decks
  • Cracked glass in windows
  • Minor plumbing problems (such as dripping faucets)
  • Ratty floor finishes or coverings (worn flooring, badly soiled carpeting)
  • Evidence of previous termite or other wood-destroying pest damage if there is no evidence of previous repair work
  • Worn countertops

This is only a partial list but it gives you an idea of some of the repairs the lender may require, depending on the buyer’s loan program.

The buyer’s homeowner insurance company may stick its nose into the deal as well, demanding that certain repairs be made or it won’t insure the buyer

Plan on making these repairs before listing the home for sale to avoid holding up the transaction.

Sure, it sounds like a lot of work, but being proactive saves you time and helps you make more money on the sale of your home.

Questions? We are happy to help.

Decorating on a budget with sofa slipcovers

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a new sofa whenever you wanted? Good news: when the seasons change and the urge to update your living room accordingly strikes you, you can have that “new” sofa, or at least one that looks new, with sofa slipcovers.

Couch covers are a wonderful way to update your home’s decor. With the variety of fabrics, colors and styles offered by manufacturers you are sure to find a way to create sizzle in your home redecorating project.

Fabric slipcovers have become so affordable that it would be easy to change your decor with the seasons.

Tips for choosing sofa slipcovers

The folks at Calico Corners caution against choosing linen or linen blend slipcovers because the fabric is wrinkle-prone.

Instead, opt for couch covers in textured fabrics, such as denim, cotton duck and twill – any fabric that is tightly woven. For inspiration, check out some of the fabric choices at Ikea.com, BallardDesigns.com and MyBluPrint.com.

Of course, it’s easy to get excited about a certain fabric or pattern, but keep in mind how heavily the sofa is used.

If it’s used often, choose a slipcover that has stain resistance and is washable. If you have pets and kids, choose a fabric that won’t tear easily. Durable poly blends are ideal.

Avoid slipcovers with a latex backing. “Latex backing causes the fabric to buckle and wrinkle instead of sliding over the fabric beneath it,” according to the pros at Calico Corners.

Then, there is style to consider. Do you want a tight, tailored fit or something looser and more casual?

“A fitted slipcover provides a seamless look where it is nearly impossible to tell that the furniture has been covered,” according to the decorators at Overstock.com.

Measure your sofa accurately to get the proper fit. Huffpost offers a walk-through of how to do it.

If you’re more of a DIYer and handy with a sewing machine, head over to BigDuckCanvas.com for a yardage estimator

 Winter sofa covers

It’s winter and folks tend to spend a lot more time indoors. Our homes become somewhat of a haven from the harsh elements. Therefore, a winter home should provide warmth and an air of coziness.

When deciding the fabric for your slipcovers in your winter redecorating scheme look to the heavier more textured types of fabrics. Corduroy, brushed suede, soft chenille, are all fabrics that provide a feeling of warmth. 

Recover your sofa in spring

Spring is, of course, a time of renewal. If you decide to renew your sofa to match the season, choose from lighter, airier fabrics in floral prints or soft solid colors.

Think “Easter,” and you’ll be on the right track.

 Summertime color

Summertime sofa slipcovers tend to be a bit more casual and your choice of fabric a little broader. Since we spend so much time outdoors in the summer, your slipcovered furniture won’t be getting as much use, and abuse, as in other times of the year.

This affords you the opportunity to go with a lighter-weight fabric such as cotton and cotton blends and silk-like polyester.

Color choices are fun – turquoise, peach, sunny yellow and crisp white. 

Fall ideas

Fall marks the transition from summer into winter. It’s harvest season, offering you a ton of color and print choices. If you opt for a solid colored couch cover, you can get more creative with accessories, such as pillows.

If you imagine colors associated with all of the seasons you can probably come up with more connections to fall than any other season. Brown, auburn, gold, and orange are the predominant colors of the season. Prints can range from botanical to plaids.

Where to shop for sofa slipcovers

Some of your favorite brick-and-mortar stores carry couch covers, including WalMart, JC Penney, Kohl’s, Target, Macy’s, Pottery Barn and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Shopping online for sofa slipcovers is a snap with lots of retailers from which to choose. These include Overstock.com,  Wayfair.com, SureFit.com, Hayneedle.com and even Amazon.com (check out this gorgeous Micro Fiber slipcover).

With sofa slipcovers you truly can provide a whole new environment in your home each and every season.

What makes a neighborhood “kid-friendly?”

It may seem like an understatement, but life completely changes when you have kids. They’re so tiny, yet so powerful that they impact our lives more than anything that came before.

Years ago, you may have lived in an apartment, never thinking about buying a house. With kids, that changes, doesn’t it? They need room to grow, to play and to build memories.

So, Mom and Dad, today we take a look at what constitutes a “kid-friendly” neighborhood.

Safety is at the top of the list

Parents’ concerns about their child’s safety are reflected in the popularity of the cul-de-sac.

“From the beginning, builders noted that  . . . they prevented strange cars from speeding by on their way to somewhere else. Ads for cul-de-sacs often pictured children riding bikes and tricycles in the street,” claims NPR’s John Nielsen.

He goes on to state the irony in those statements because “cul-de-sac communities turn out to have some of the highest rates of traffic accidents involving young children.”

Rather than a home on a cul-de-sac, consider a home on a street located away from a major thoroughfare and one that lacks an exit that allows drivers to use the area as a shortcut.

But safety from vehicles isn’t the only concern when we have kids; there are human predators to consider as well. We aren’t allowed to address that concern directly, but we can point you to the local police station for crime rates.

And, the FBI’s Sex Offender Registry is online, so you can learn if there is a dangerous predator living in a neighborhood you have your eye on. The U.S. Department of Justice also offers an online database.

Are there opportunities to socialize?

Are there other children living in the neighborhood? Kids need to socialize and use their imagination in play with their peers.

If there are few or no other children in a neighborhood, your child’s opportunities for this critical developmental milestone are curtailed.

Sure, they can socialize and play at school, but, let’s face it, a neighborhood without other kids to play with just isn’t kid-friendly.

You’ll know there are other children in a neighborhood by checking out the other homes. Look for basketball hoops, bikes and other toys that children sometimes leave outdoors.

The best time to tour a neighborhood is on weekends or just when school lets out on a weekday.

Kid-friendly amenities nearby

A neighborhood within walking distance to a park is ideal for children, and their parents.

Parks are handy places for socializing, whether it’s parent-on-parent or kid-on-kid. Barbecues, birthday parties and other get-togethers at the local park are signs of a kid-friendly neighborhood.

What recreation you enjoy as a family? Bike rides? Look for bike paths. Swimming? A community pool nearby will be handy.

Does a kid-friendly neighborhood have to be in the suburbs?

You’ll find fabulous, vibrant neighborhoods in urban centers, many with a surprisingly suburban vibe. In fact, many parents prefer city life for their children.

“I grew up in a small apartment sharing a room with my sister so it never fazed me to live in a small space and not have a backyard—the city is our backyard,” mom of three Amy tells Michelle Cohen at 6sqft.com.

If many of your family’s favorite activities are located downtown, by all means, search for a kid-friendly neighborhood nearby.

No neighborhood offers everything a family wants but when considering whether the one you have your eye on is kid-friendly you can’t go wrong if it’s safe, walkable and has lots of playmates for your children.

Are you ready to move up?

Funny thing about houses – we often outgrow them. Especially in the throes of family-building, pretty soon a house is like our kids’ shoes – it gets tighter and tighter until it’s time for a new one.

The new year promises to bring a different real estate market than we’ve grown accustomed to. Hopefully, multiple offers on homes are a thing of the past and homebuyers can slow down and take their pick from among several homes, priced attractively.

If you’re considering moving up, we think 2019, especially the early part, before the Feds hike interest rates again, will be the ideal time to sell that cramped home and set your family free in a larger space.

Naturally there is more to moving up than merely needing to. So, let’s take a look at some of the factors you’ll want to consider.

Consider the financial aspects

“Bigger,” when it comes to homes at least, generally means “more expensive.” That in and of itself shouldn’t scare you away from your hunt for more room.

The equity you’ve built up in your current home may surprise you. Consider using it to make a larger-than-20 percent down payment on the new home. This may just bring your monthly mortgage payments close to what you’re paying now.

But, as we both know, there’s more to homeownership than a house payment.

  • Larger homes cost more to heat and cool.
  • Your property taxes and homeowner insurance may be higher
  • More space comes with the cost of more money spent on home maintenance.

If it looks like a larger home may negatively impact your budget, take a look at where you can cut expenses. Put your budget on paper (or created digitally) to make it easier to scrutinize every penny you spend.

Good credit will help you afford the larger home

Depending on when you bought your current home you may find that the lending landscape has changed. Rates are still relatively low, although they aren’t expected to remain this way for long.

While lending standards tightened significantly in the wake of the housing implosion, over the past few years they’ve become more relaxed.

Credit scores, however, are still relied on when it comes to the rates offered to homebuyers.

Order your credit reports from all three major credit reporting agencies. By law, every American is entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com.

Because mistakes are common, financial experts agree that even those of us who aren’t planning on buying on credit should check their reports annually.

Check yours for discrepancies in your name, address, date of birth and other personal information. Then, go over each account, looking for errors. ConsumerFinance.gov has a walkthrough of what to look for when checking your report.

If you find mistakes, file a dispute with the credit reporting company. Learn how to do so at USA.gov.

There’s more to financing than a credit score

Lenders use what is known as a DTI, short for debt-to-income ratio when calculating how much you can safely pay each month for a house payment.

You can determine your DTI by adding up how much you pay in debt payments every month. This includes items such as your car payment, the minimum amount due on your credit cards each month and all other recurring monthly debt payments.

Take the sum of these payments and divide it by your monthly gross income and then multiply that result by 100.

The last step expresses your DTI as a percent, which is what lenders look at, and, as a rule of thumb, it should never exceed 43 percent, although some experts say that the ideal DTI is no higher than 36 percent.

If yours does, consider ways to lower it. These include raising your income (taking on a part-time job) or paying down debt.

Learn more about the importance of your debt-to-income ratio at the U.S. government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website.

Your current home

Lucky you if the home is paid off because you’ll have lots of equity to spend on the new home. It is estimated that 63 percent of U.S. homeowners have a mortgage payment, however, according to Lending Tree.

We’ve come a long way since the housing bubble burst. In fact, “homeowners gained more than $15,000 in home equity between the fourth quarter of 2016 and the fourth quarter of 2017,” according to CoreLogic, a property analytics provider.

Most economists expect 2018’s numbers to be even more stunning, but we’ll have to wait until spring for study conclusions to be published. The bottom line is that you may be pleasantly surprised by just how big of a nest egg you’re sitting on.

As we move into 2019, we’re facing a changing real estate market. Home prices have slowed their previously skyward trajectory, the tight inventory of homes for sale is easing and the year looks like it will be far kinder to buyers as we move forward.

Upsize your home before the Feds raise rates again and you’ll have made one of the wisest financial moves of your lifetime.

Speaking of which, we aren’t tax or financial experts, so consult with yours about upsizing.

Tiny kitchen? Let’s fix that cramped feeling

Our clients often tell us that it was their dinky kitchen that prompted their decision to sell their condos to buy a house. While the kitchen may not be the “hub” of a home any longer, it is the room that most Americans spend the most time in, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And, those with tiny kitchens end up spending even more time in them. From meal preparation to clean-up, everything is more challenging when there is minimal storage and work space.

We’ve scoured advice from home décor and design experts to come up with ways for you to ease that cramped feeling in your kitchen.

Declutter 

“If you’re the only one in your apartment and you wash everything by hand, you might not need to stock a few dozen glasses in your cabinets,” suggests Ayn-Monique Klahre, lifestyle editor at TheKitchn.com.

How often do you use a vase? Often enough to own a collection of them? Pare down these collections to two or three favorites and donate the rest to charity or have a garage sale.

When you rid yourself of the excess in your cupboards and on your counters, your small kitchen instantly feels less cramped.

Get tips on downsizing the clutter at apartmenttherapy.com.

 Go up

Take a tip from your gardening friends – when life throws you a small yard, go vertical. Consider installing the following to the kitchen walls:

  • Magnetic knife strips (out of the reach of little ones, of course)
  • Hooks for everything from towels to small kitchen implements
  • Hanging pot racks (think of the cupboard space you’ll free up)
  • Shelves to hold anything from your dinnerware to vase collection

“You could free up whole cupboards by hooking everything and anything that has a handle,” suggests Laura Wheat at Houzz.com.

You can even go vertical within the kitchen’s cupboards, creating even more space, according to Regina Yunghans at TheKitchn.com.

She suggests storing common kitchen items, such as cupcake and other mold-type tins, baking sheets and racks “standing up instead of lying down.”

Check out the photos on the website for ideas.

A final thought on going vertical: If you can afford new cabinetry, ditch yours if they don’t go completely to the ceiling. That’s wasted space up there that could be put to better use.

Install “drawers” in deep cabinets

Even the tiniest of kitchens has an under-the-sink cabinet and it’s typically quite deep. Which means, the back of it holds rarely-used items. Consider installing slide-out drawers, like these from Home Depot.

You’ll find this same concept for use in your pots and pan cupboard at Amazon.com.

Of course you could go even thriftier by using bins or baskets instead. These can be slid out of the cupboard to find what you need. Amazon.com offers solutions in both wire and plastic. Get ideas on how to use these containers at GoodHousekeeping.com.

If you fancy yourself an ace DIYer, check out The Family Handyman’s walkthrough of how to build your own “kitchen sink storage trays.”

Invest in new lighting

Even if you have lots of natural light in your dinky kitchen, consider adding under-cabinet lighting.

“The light will fill in the shadows under the cabinet and reduce the contrast, giving the impression of a larger kitchen,” Dave Lincon, Director of product management and business development for Sears Home Services tells BobVilla.com’s Glenda Taylor.

Under-cabinet lighting solutions range from hard-wired to battery-operated to those you plug into an outlet. For the latter, check out these at Amazon.com. You’ll also find a large selection of all varieties at Lowes.com and HomeDepot.com.

Wall colors

It may be boring, but white is the best paint color for a small kitchen, according to Ann Wilson at bhg.com. “White walls, ceilings, and backsplashes reflect light and make the perimeter of a small kitchen recede, which causes the room to appear larger,” she suggests.

She goes on to suggest that you add a splash of robin’s egg blue and cheery yellow in accessories (or even one accent wall or pantry door) to bring a bit more interest to the room.

Regardless of how tiny your kitchen is, it doesn’t have to feel cramped. Find solutions to help you feel less claustrophobic so you can enjoy the time you spend in the kitchen.