3 types of home valuation

Whether it’s a car, garage sale items or you’re selling on websites such as Ebay, successfully selling “stuff” has one major requirement: you need to know how much it’s worth.

After all, price an item too high and it most likely won’t sell. Price it too low and you’ll lose money on the deal.

The same holds true for houses, but there is a lot more money involved and the stakes are far higher.

There are several different home evaluation models, depending on the purpose for which the value needs to be ascertained. Let’s take a look at these and the differences between them.

Your home’s assessed value

Homeowners can’t get around paying property taxes and they’re based on your home’s assessed value. Your county or other municipality official, most commonly known as the “assessor,” will come up with the number for this evaluation.

He or she will use many of the same resources as a professional appraiser, from public records to recent sales. After deducting any exemptions available to you, the assessor multiplies the value by the assessment rate for your municipality to come up with the tax value for your home.

You’ll notice that the assessor’s value is often quite different than your home’s actual market value. Again, this evaluation is for tax purposes only and does not express your home’s current market value.

The market value of a home

The market value of a piece of property is based on what a buyer is willing to pay and a seller will accept. It is reflected in the recent sales prices of similar homes, or “comps,” short for “comparable homes.”

Most home sellers rely on the skill and experience of their real estate agent to determine their home’s current market value. And, although they don’t call their determination an “appraisal,” real estate agents use many of the same valuation techniques as appraisers.

They will base their determination on the following, when comparing your home to the comps:

  • The size of the home
  • Age of the home
  • Condition of the home
  • Location of the home
  • Special features

Then, if the agent is familiar with your neighborhood, he or she will use any knowledge of recent home appraisals in the area to help narrow down a price for your home.

This is what knowing market value does for homeowners: it helps them determine a competitive price for their homes.

A home’s appraised value

The appraised value of a home is that which is determined by a professional home appraiser. Typically hired by a buyer’s lender, this is the value determination that can make or break a home sale.

The appraiser will visit the home, taking measurements and notes. Back at the office, she will use many of the same techniques that real estate agents use, with the addition of public record information and other assistance.

Whether or not your agent’s evaluation matches that of the appraiser depends largely on current market conditions. In a recovering market, such that we saw after the recession ended, it may be challenging to pinpoint value.

When purchasing a home, it’s a smart move to look at a home’s property tax burden. But, for sellers, this type of value means little. It’s the market value and the appraised value that are important.

Still have questions? Fee free to reach out to us.

The Right Way to Remove Wallpaper

If you think wallpaper is something only your grandmother would love, think again. “Wallpaper is back with a vengeance,” Brook Anderson with Bay Hill Design in Austin, TX tells Studio 512.

Celeste Randolph, a designer in Los Altos, CA concurs “Geometric prints in wallcoverings … are huge right now.”

Today’s wallpaper would blow gramma away. Carnegie Fabrics, for instance, offers a line of thermoplastic olefin wallcoverings or you could consider cellulose wallcoverings or artisan-crafted, handmade wallpaper, like these from Benjamin Moore.

Whatever you choose, to be successful with a DIY wallpaper hanging project requires careful and thorough preparation of the wall to which you hope to stick it.

“Wallpaper can’t cling to greasy, dirty walls, old wallpaper or paint,” claim the experts and WallpapersToGo.com. “That’s why we can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to have your walls properly prepared.”

If the wall is currently covered with wallpaper, you’ll need to remove it. Not a fun job, but we’ve rounded up some tips to make it easier.

The tools you’ll need to strip the old wallpaper

As mentioned above, understand that stripping wallpaper is not a fun job. And, it will take longer than you want it to. Don’t plan to get it all done in one day, even if you are working in a small room.

Then, head out to a hardware or home improvement store to pick up the supplies you’ll need. These include:

  • Drop cloths
  • A wallpaper scoring tool
  • A wallpaper scraping tool
  • Wallpaper removal solvent
  • A spray bottle

Let’s get that wallpaper removed

Push the furniture into the center of the room and cover it with drop cloths. Then, lay a few of them down on the floors where you’ll be working. Finally, put some old towels or rags along the baseboards, lay drop cloths over them and tape it to the baseboards.

Examine your walls to determine if they are made of plaster or drywall. If your home was built more than 50 years ago, the walls are most likely plaster. Homes built since then typically offer drywall.

Not sure? Knock on the wall. If the sound is dull, it’s plaster, according to home improvement experts at Lowes.com. Drywall sounds hollow when you knock on it.

You’ll need to approach drywall with caution, being “careful not to damage the cardboard facing when using a wallpaper scraping tool,” say the pros at Lowes.

Next, pull off all the paper that comes off easily. Yes, you will be left with plenty of glue on the wall and patches of wallpaper. Score all the remaining wallpaper so that solvent can get through the paper and into the glue.

Beginning at the top of the wall (the area closest to the ceiling), spray a small area of wall with the wallpaper removal solvent (prepared according to package instructions). Allow the solvent to sit for a few minutes to ensure it has soaked in. Then, use the scraper to gently scrape the wallpaper and glue from the wall until it’s smooth.

Occasionally, especially with old wallpaper, the solution won’t be absorbed. Use coarse sandpaper to scuff up the area or use the suggested scoring tool. Soak the area again and allow it to sit for 30 minutes.

After all the glue and backing has been removed, clean and dry your walls before applying your new finishes.

A note about washable wallpaper

Washable wallpapers include a top layer, typically a plastic-like film. This is where the scoring tool comes in handy; use it to break holes in the wallpaper. Use the spray bottle, filled with water, and squirt the water into the holes you created.

Wait 10 minutes and then scrape the wallpaper from the wall.

Is this a good time to buy or sell a home?

Social distancing. Self-quarantine. Hand sanitizer, soap and water and elbow-bumping instead of shaking hands.

In our efforts to deal with a world-wide pandemic, not only are our priorities changing, but our vocabulary as well.

There was no warning, really, so it naturally caught many of us by surprise. We’re getting a lot of questions from our clients, worried about whether or not they should continue to close on their transactions, continue searching for a home or for a buyer for their current home.

We aren’t medical experts, so we can’t field medical questions. But we are real estate experts and are happy to offer our opinion of what is happening in the housing market and what experts expect in the coming weeks and months.

Uncertainty reigns

While there are plenty of rumors and much guessing from the experts as to how the U.S. economy will be impacted by the safety measures federal, state and municipal governments are enacting, nobody is certain.

We agree with those who claim that it all centers on how long the virus takes to get under control. The longer Americans are out of work, the longer retailers and other businesses remain closed, the bigger the impact on the economy.

Yes, President Trump is working on a stimulus package for both individual taxpayers and businesses. Hopefully, it can be pushed through Congress soon.

Will our deal close?

If you have already signed a purchase agreement, as a buyer or a seller, lenders are taking extra steps to help speed up the process.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, for instance, is allowing VA buyers and sellers to participate in meetings with title companies, appraisers, lenders and VA personnel via phone or “other electronic methods,” according to the experts at Military.com.

Newly constructed home sales are still quite strong and closings are running smoothly. “During the first two weeks of March, new orders were up 16%, closings continued on schedule and traffic in home sales centers was strong,” Stuart Miller, Lennar Corporation executive chairman told the South Florida Business Journal.

The real sticking point to be aware of is that with municipal buildings closing down, the sale may not be recorded when you expected it to. Some municipalities are offering alternatives, such as closing remotely, through e-recording (thank goodness for technology!) and even by mail.

Is this an ok time to buy a home?

Within the real estate industry there’s a well-known saying that the best time to buy a home is when you can afford to buy a home.

While mortgage interest rates have edged up a bit over the past few weeks, we’re still at historic lows. Borrowing money has rarely been so inexpensive.

When rates are higher you won’t get nearly the size or type of home you can right now.

If you’re worried about exposure while house hunting, understand that touring homes for sale is a bit different now but still quite doable. Much of the process can be done online via virtual open houses, 3-D home tours, floor plan drawings and more.

Even in-person tours can be accomplished in a safe, healthy way.

What about selling? Is this an ok time?

While spring is typically the best time of the year to put a house on the market, this spring is going to be quite different.

There are buyers in the market, however, so if you need to sell, by all means, let’s get that home on the market.

As mentioned in the buying section, above, we can employ a number of methods to keep your home and your family safe during and after showings.

Remember, the inventory of available homes is still quite low, so you will have little competition for homebuyers’ attention. We’re even seeing bidding wars still happening, across the country.

If the home is in good condition and priced well, it will sell.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or concerns. We’re happy to help.

A day in the life of a real estate agent

Some jobs look so easy, don’t they? Take writers, for instance. They not only work when they feel like it, all they do is sit at a keyboard and kick out words. And, they make the big bucks for this life of leisure.

Many people feel the same way about real estate agents. Most misunderstand how little we actually earn out of that commission check for the work we do. In fact, let’s clear that one up right now.

The commission check for real estate agents is typically split in half, with 50 percent going to the buyers’ agent’s broker and 50 percent to the listing agent’s broker.

All agents negotiate what is known as a “split” with their brokers. This split can range anywhere from 20 percent of the broker’s half of the commission up to 100 percent in some cases. Most, however, range from 50/50 to 60/40.

Assume your agent has negotiated a 50/50 split with his or her broker. This means that the agent will receive half of the broker’s commission. Or, 25 percent of the total commission.

From this amount, the agent deducts his or her costs of the transaction, such as gas, wear and tear on her vehicle, marketing costs, MLS fees, lockbox fees and more.

In the end, we receive a far smaller piece of the pie than the general public assumes. Especially when one considers what a day in our shoes involves.

Here’s a list of what we do in a typical day at work:

  • Check the MLS every morning for new listings that fit buyers’ criteria
  • Preview new listings in person
  • Consultations with new clients
  • Set appointments to show homes to clients
  • Show property to clients
  • Navigate the purchase agreement with buying clients
  • Present offers to purchase to sellers and their agents
  • Schedule inspections (whole home, pest, etc.)
  • Analyze inspection reports
  • Negotiate contracts, repairs, etc. with listing agents
  • Schedule repairs
  • Meet service technicians at homes, wait while the technician inspects a system and while the technician writes up a price quote.
  • Inspect repairs
  • Shepherd transactions through escrow to closing
  • Attend the final walk-through with buying clients
  • Analyze the market for sellers to determine a likely market value for their homes
  • Navigate the listing agreement with selling clients
  • Schedule for sale sign installations
  • Install lockboxes on listings
  • Schedule photography session for listings
  • Create and execute a marketing plan for selling clients
  • Find buyers for listings
  • Plan, schedule and execute open houses
  • Plan, schedule and execute broker’s open houses
  • Compile pro forma financial statements for income property sellers and buyers
  • Attend broker’s open houses
  • Attend broker’s sales meetings
  • Attend MLS meetings
  • Coordinate closing with title companies and client
  • Attend closings with clients
  • Coordinate simultaneous closings for clients who require them
  • Make phone calls

Calls are a big part of a real estate agent’s workday. In fact, a typical day in the life of a real estate agent will include phone calls to or from:

  • Lenders
  • Inspectors
  • Appraisers
  • Clients
  • Other agents
  • Title company representatives
  • Escrow companies
  • Repair people
  • Pest control companies
  • Contractors
  • Vendors

Then, there are the phone calls related to marketing our services, to prospect for new clients and to follow up with leads.

Finally, we must set aside time each day to return the many voicemails, text messages and emails we receive.

Yes, these tasks make for long days. But, we wouldn’t trade what we do for  any other job.

What you need to know about carbon monoxide in the home

Violence sells and “If it bleeds, it leads” has been the media’s strategy for the past decade or more. The gorier, more brutal the death, the more it’s hyped.

What we rarely hear about are the less dramatic, less clickbait-worthy ways we can die. Which is sad, because some, such as carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, are preventable with just a little basic knowledge.

Think CO poisoning isn’t common? Think again: it’s the leading cause of accidental poisonings in the U.S. according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claim that it’s responsible for the deaths of more than 400 Americans and the medical treatment of an additional 50,000 each year. Half of these deaths, they say, happen between November and February.

What exactly is carbon monoxide?

Known as “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas which can cause sudden illness and death” and it is “produced anytime a fossil fuel is burned,” according to the CDC.

Sources of carbon monoxide in the home include:

  • Charcoal grills
  • Clothes dryers
  • Fireplaces, both gas and wood burning
  • Furnaces or boilers
  • Gas stoves and ovens
  • Lawn equipment
  • Motor vehicles
  • Portable generators
  • Power tools
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Water heaters
  • Wood stoves

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, “Identifying CO poisoning can be difficult because the symptoms are similar to the flu … people will ignore early signs and eventually lose consciousness and be unable to escape to safety.”

Early symptoms include a mild headache and a feeling of breathlessness after moderate exercise. The difference between these symptoms and those of the flu include:

  • Symptoms ease when you are out of the house
  • Symptoms are more pronounced in family members who spend the most amount of time in the home.
  • Pets may exhibit signs of illness.
  • Your symptoms do not include body aches, a fever and other common flu symptoms.


The CDC offers up plenty of tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in the home. Here are just a few.

  • Don’t use your gas oven for heating the home.
  • If you use your fireplace, have the chimney swept annually.
  • Don’t leave your car or motorcycle’s engine running in a closed garage.
  • Have your water heater and heating system checked annually.
  • Ensure that all rooms are ventilated adequately.
  • When using a generator, keep it at least 20 feet away from a vent, door or window.
  • Install CO alarms in the home. The CDC recommends one in each bedroom and one on each floor of the home, including the basement. If the alarm sounds, leave the home immediately and call 911.

Learn more about carbon monoxide in the home and how to prevent poisoning at the CDC website.

The cost vs. benefit of buying a new-build home

You have to admit that the real estate industry is way out in front of the auto industry when it comes to marketing lingo.

The latter, for instance, gives us a choice between “new” and “used” cars while the former offers new and “existing” homes.

Unless we’re contemplating buying a priceless antique, it’s safe to say that most of us prefer new to used, whether it’s cars or homes.

In fact, a 2014 Harris Poll survey found that 41 percent of Americans prefer a newly-built home.

Can you blame them? You won’t get that “new car smell” in an old beater any more than you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that nothing in a new home has ever been touched or used by anyone else. No grease on the appliances, smudges on the walls or pet or kid odor in the carpet.

It all boils down, like many things in life, to how much we can afford to spend. For instance, remember that survey I mentioned earlier?

The 41 percent of Americans who would prefer a new home over an existing one went on to claim that they weren’t willing to pay the extra money required to buy a new home.

Now, notice I said “buy” one; it’s not necessarily more expensive to own a new home but may be more expensive to purchase one. I’ll clear up that confusion in a minute.

Price considerations

Most of the homebuyers that we have worked with have one overriding concern when looking at homes: The price.

As a general rule, you’ll pay more for a newly-built home than you will if you buy an existing home.

Nationwide, for example, the median price of a newly-constructed home was $330,800 in the third quarter of 2019 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The median price of an existing home was $274,000. That’s a $56,800 difference, which is slightly more than the so-called 20 percent “new home premium.”

Keep in mind that the list price of the new homes is for the basic model and doesn’t include upgrades, which can cause the price to rise significantly.

One final note when it comes to the price of a new home: Negotiating on the price, an option when you purchase an existing home, is typically not an option available to you when you purchase new construction.

Ongoing costs

A mortgage payment is comprised of the loan’s principal, interest, property taxes and homeowner insurance. While all aspects of the payment should be considered when purchasing a home, we’ll take a look at the two most significant.

Property taxes

Taxes levied on an older home are typically lower than those for a new home. But, that doesn’t tell the whole story because for the first year to two years, taxes on a new home may be significantly lower.

Why? Because current-year taxes are based on the value of a home as of January of the previous year.

For example, if a home was completed in June 2020, the taxes for the property will be based on its value in January 2019. Most likely, at that time, there was no home, just a dirt lot. So, for the remainder of 2020, the homeowner would pay property taxes based on the value of a plot of dirt.

In 2021, the homeowner will pay taxes on the home’s value as of January 2020. Remember, the home wasn’t completed until June, so the property’s value was still quite low, ensuring another year of low property taxes.

This difference can be significant, possibly saving the new homeowner up to $250 a month for up to two years. We aren’t tax professionals, though, so this is an issue to run by your accountant.


Consider that fourth “leg” of the mortgage payment — insurance. The new home definitely wins when it comes to homeowner insurance, generally being less expensive to insure.

The primary reason for this is that, with newer and more cost-effective building methods, new homes cost less to rebuild or repair.

There are additional factors to consider, however. These include:

  • The home’s location – homes built in areas with weather risks (floods, wildfires, etc.) will cost more to insure than new homes located outside these areas.
  • Proximity to a fire department – insurance rates are typically less for homes located in close proximity to a local fire station.


No, home maintenance costs aren’t a part of a monthly mortgage payment, but they do factor in to comparing the cost of owning a newly-built home vs. an existing home.

Although new homes can have problems, many builders offer a home warranty. As a general rule, you can plan on almost a decade of repair-free ownership when you purchase a newly-built home.

One aspect of the new-home purchase not often addressed is the home’s energy efficiency – a true money saver over the purchase of an existing home.

New homes are built with newer, better insulation and energy-efficient windows, for example. This significantly cuts the cost of heating and cooling the home.

As homes age, the need to repair things happen more frequently. This is why older homes in a managed community, such as townhomes and condos, typically have higher HOA fees.

There are a number of other benefits to purchasing a newly-constructed home, including that you can choose the floorplan that best fits your family’s lifestyle, you can choose the location within a neighborhood and, if you can afford it, you can choose upgraded features for the home.

If you’re interested in viewing newly constructed homes, reach out to us. We’re happy to help you avoid some of the more common pitfalls in the process.

It’s almost spring and time to plan the perfect flower bed

It’s that time of year when the sun starts feeling a little bit warmer and the air a little less frigid. It’s almost gardening season and if you have high hopes of a bounty of colorful blooms in the garden, it’s time to get started.

Start your seeds

If your flower garden will include plants that you’ll start from seed, now may be the time to get them going. We say “may” because seeds have differing requirements. Some need to be sown indoors eight weeks before the last frost date, while others may require a shorter or longer time period.

Check the back of your seed packets to ensure you get the timing right.

Then, there are some seeds that need to be sown directly outdoors (because the plant doesn’t tolerate transplanting).

Consult this chart at Iowa State University Extension’s website for a list of popular seeds and their germination requirements. The University of Missouri Extension’s website offers a walkthrough of the seed-starting process.

Get the bed ready

A successful garden, whether it produces vegetables or flowers, starts with the soil. Cleaning up debris from last season or junk that the weather brought in is the first step.

Pull weeds and then rake up all the debris and dispose of it. Then, go through the soil to remove rocks and anything else that may impede tender young roots.

Your plants will thank you if you incorporate some well-rotted manure or compost into the soil. Typically, about 2 inches of the material mixed into the top inches of soil is just about right.

Then, give it a good, deep watering.

Plants from the nursery

Many flower gardeners leave the seed-starting to professional growers. If you’re among them, wait until after the last frost date to head to the nursery to choose the flowers for your garden.

Not sure when you can expect the last frost? Navigate to Almanac.com to find out.

Choose a day when you have few other errands to run or make the nursery the last stop on your list. This way your new plants won’t be sitting in the car, subjected to heat and a lack of air.

Don’t plan on planting your new flowers right away because they require a gradual introduction into the garden.

This is a process known as “hardening off.” Allow the plants you bought at the nursery to sit in a shady area for about a week to gradually become accustomed to the new environment.

The hardening off process is a bit different for those plants you’ve grown from seed. Find a sheltered outdoor area for them. On the first day, leave them outdoors for about two hours. Increase the amount of time outdoors each day for about a week.

Almanac.com offers a video on the hardening off process.

Get them into the ground

When planting, allow enough space around each plant to account for its eventual height and width. This should be listed on the back of the seed packet.

Planting holes should be the same depth at which the plant is currently growing, but twice the width.

Carefully remove the seedling from its pot by turning the pot upside down over your open hand. Never pull on the plant to get it out of the pot. If it’s stuck, press the sides of the pot to loosen it and tap the bottom of the pot.

Place the seedling into the planting hole and fill the hole with soil. When its full, use your hands to gently press the soil around the base of the plant. Then, water well to help the plant settle and to remove air pockets from around the roots.

One last step

While the weather may be mild right now, summer will be here before we know it. To cut back on how often you’ll need to water and to insulate the plants’ roots, apply a layer of mulch over the soil.

Spread a 2-inch layer throughout the flower bed, keeping it at least 6 inches from each plant to avoid rot.

There you go – your new spring flower bed. As long as you keep an eye on the moisture in the soil (don’t under- or over-water), you’ll have a blanket of color all season long.

Yes, you can over-improve a house and lose value in the process

It’s one thing to hope your house is the nicest on the block and another thing entirely to own the nicest home on the block. And, the latter isn’t what you should aim for when preparing the home to sell.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

Not when you know how the market value of a home is determined. In a nutshell, your home is worth what a willing buyer will pay for it. Now, this isn’t necessarily what they offer you for the home.

The proof of what a buyer is willing to pay is what he or she actually pays. It’s what homes like yours have sold for in the recent past.

The reality is that if you make improvements to the home that bring the value to more than the neighborhood average, your home might not sell.

Would you pay $500,000 in a neighborhood of $200,000 homes?

Even individual rooms can be overimproved and return zilch on your investment

The two rooms Americans choose to renovate most often are the kitchen and bathroom. If you plan on joining them, ensure that you’re doing it for your enjoyment and not to add value to the home. Because, depending on the surrounding homes, it may not.

If you plan on moving soon, and the rooms need minimal work, go for it. Otherwise, “Save the million-dollar kitchen for a million-dollar home,” warns Katie Severance, co-author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Selling Your Home.”

Even if you aren’t planning on moving in the near future, some renovations will haunt you when the time comes that you want or need to sell.

Take the couple who decided that a walk-in closet was more important than a bedroom. So, they converted the small bedroom adjacent to the master into the dream closet.

Which changed his home from four bedrooms to three in a neighborhood of four- and five-bedroom homes – a value killer.

The opposite holds true under certain conditions. Adding square footage would seem to be a good thing, right?

And, it typically is, unless you add a room so large that it eats up the backyard or unless that excess square footage figure swamps that of neighboring homes.

Call us before you make improvements

Before one hammer hits one nail, you should know the current market value of your home and that’s something we can help you with.

It’s a free service, and we offer it to you regardless of whether or not you plan on selling your home soon.

Once you’re clear on its present value, you’re better able to determine which improvements will give you the best return on your dollar and which might put you over the top when it comes time to sell.

If the improvements you want to make are for your own use, and you plan on staying in the home for the long-run, then go for it. If, on the other hand, you’re hoping to improve your home’s value, be careful. Remember:

The most expensive home in the neighborhood often intimidates homebuyers.

Maintaining your home is far more important than upgrading it. That said, if you’ve kept up the home and it needs cosmetic upgrades, we suggest making them.


Give your kitchen some love

After the holiday company leaves and life’s pace gets back to normal, the last thing most of us want to do is a deep-clean the kitchen. Here it is March (almost spring) and the post-holiday mess still lingers.

Since we’re on the spring-cleaning doorstep, this is the ideal time to bust out the rubber gloves and cleaning supplies and roll up your sleeves. Like eating an elephant, take this project one bite at a time.

We suggest starting in the center of your kitchen’s greasy universe – the stove.

Start at the top

Professional house cleaners know to start at the top of a room and work down as they clean. This avoids having the “muck” from the upper surfaces end up on freshly-cleaned areas below.

For instance, clean the range hood before cleaning the stove (unless the built-in microwave is above the exhaust vent. If it is, start there – we explain how, below). This is most likely the greasiest area of the kitchen, so you’ll need heavy-duty-type cleaners for this task.

Start with the filter. If you have a metal filter, remove it and place it in a sink or bin full of degreasing solution – either commercial or homemade.

“Using degreasing dish soap and hot water, by itself, is as effective in cleaning stuck-on grease as anything sold in the aftermarket,” suggests the experts with Gold Star Maids. They go on to recommend boiling water and a long-handled scrub brush to avoid being burned by the water.

Personally, we’ve tried that solution, to no avail. If you don’t mind using ammonia, substitute the smelly stuff for the dish soap in that boiling water.

After scrubbing, rinse the filter in warm water and allow it to dry before replacing it in the hood.

Next, tackle the range hood. Never use abrasive materials on stainless steel. Wipe it down with soap and water, dry it and then use your shine product. Try WD-40® on a soft cloth, rubbing in the direction of the grain.

Microwave and stove

Microwave cleaning isn’t as daunting as it may appear, regardless of how dirty it is.

Slice a lemon in half and place it in a large bowl of water. Place the bowl in the microwave oven and allow the water to boil for about five minutes.

This will create a lemony steam to loosen dried bits of food on the walls and ceiling of the oven. The bonus is that it also creates a much more pleasant scent than last week’s dried up food.

Wear heavy waterproof gloves and use a plastic scrubby dipped into the hot lemon water to wipe down the interior of the oven.

Next, remove the burner grates, drip pans and knobs from the stove. Danny Lipford with Today’s Homeowner suggests using a solution of dish soap and baking soda for the grates and drip pans, allowing them to sit in the solution. Then, use a citrus-based cleaner on the stove.

Ew, the oven

Self-cleaning ovens. They seem heaven-sent, don’t they? Unless you’re one of the unfortunate who has experienced a blown fuse or other damage caused by the self-cleaning process.

The “science” behind the reasons that ovens often fail after the self-cleaning cycle is a bit complicated, but Faith Durand, at TheKitchn.com does a brilliant job explaining it.

If you’re among those of us who refuse to use the self-cleaning function of our ovens, or Durand has talked you out of it, it’s time to get back to the old-school ways of cleaning.

This might include the use of a commercial oven-cleaning product, but it doesn’t have to. The experts at FamilyHandyman.com give instructions on how to clean the oven without chemicals.

  • Use a scrub brush to remove burned-on debris.
  • Combine baking soda, a squirt of dishwashing liquid and enough water to create a paste.
  • Use a sponge to apply the paste, covering all areas of the oven (except for the vents).
  • Allow the paste to remain on the surfaces overnight.
  • Spray the paste-applied areas with a mixture of equal parts of water and vinegar, allow it to remain for 15 minutes and then wipe clean.

There you go – one spring cleaning chore out of the way.

Your handy real estate glossary

Once you enter the realm of real estate, whether buying or selling, you’ll hear a lot of language that may sound foreign.

Keep this decoder handy – you’ll most likely need to refer to it often in the beginning.


Addendum – Any time a change is made in the original purchase contract the party that makes the change must submit an addendum to the other party. Some of the changes that may be made include an extension of the closing date, additional time for inspections or changes in the purchase price to reflect the seller’s payment for repairs.

Appraisal – The buyer’s lender will have the house appraised by a professional appraiser to determine its current market value. This ensures the lender that it is lending the appropriate amount of money for the home.


Closing costs – An umbrella term for the fees paid at closing. These include lender charges, the down payment and others.

Closing disclosure – A five-page document detailing the exact terms of a mortgage, provided by the lender, by law. The borrower is entitled to receive this form no later than three days before closing. It includes, among other items, the fees required to close (closing costs).

CMA (Comparative Market Analysis) – A CMA is the determination of the home’s value by a real estate agent and is used to determine a fair asking price. It is similar to the appraisal but does not take the place of it.

Comps – Short for comparables, it describes homes that have sold within the last six months, typically within one mile of a subject property. Real estate agents and appraisers study comps to determine a home’s current market value.

Contingency – When certain conditions must be met before the buyer is locked into the contract the buyer’s agent will insert these conditions into the contract. Common contingencies include those for the sale of the buyer’s home, the successful procurement of financing at certain terms and inspections.

Contingency Release — When the contingency requirements are met, both parties to the transaction will be asked to sign a contingency release form to acknowledge that fact.

Counteroffer – If you are not in agreement with the price or terms of the buyer’s offer we’ll file a form known as a counteroffer, eliminating or changing the parts of the offer to which you don’t agree.


Debt-to-income ratio – You may hear this referred to as your “DTI.” It is a ratio of a borrower’s debts to his or her gross income.

Deed – A document used for the transfer of real property.

Disclosures – Full disclosure is the seller’s most important duty. Not only is it required by law, but it protects you as well as the seller.

Down payment – A percentage of the purchase price paid to the lender, typically at closing.


Earnest Money Deposit – Often 1 percent of the purchase price, the earnest money deposit is to show your good faith in following through on the purchase. The funds are held by either the escrow company or the broker’s trust account and applied to the purchase at closing.

Escrow – Escrow is a process that ensures the purchase funds are distributed and the transfer of the house is completed. It is overseen by an escrow company, which is a neutral third party.

Escrow Impounds – Escrow impounds include prepaid taxes and insurance. The impounded funds provide insurance to the lender that taxes and insurance payments will be made. The lender can request no more than two months payments.


Final Walk-Through – The final walk-through is performed by the buyers. They have one last chance to view the house to ensure that it is in the same condition as when they agreed to purchase it. The final walk-through generally happens during the week leading up to closing.


Loan estimate – The loan estimate is a document that the lender is required to send you within three days of applying for a mortgage. It details the terms of the loan, estimated closing costs and an estimate of the monthly payment. Consumers use this 3-page document to compare lenders when shopping among them. Learn more about it ConsumerFinance.gov.

Loan-to-value ratio – A mortgage formula that help lenders assess risk in lending to borrowers. It is realized by dividing the value of the home by the price. Some real estate agents are under the impression that the “price of the home” is the figure used, but it is not. The higher the DTI, the riskier the borrower. Borrowers with LTVs below 80 percent typically get more favorable loan terms.


MIP – Short for “mortgage insurance premium,” it’s FHA’s version of PMI (see below). Unlike PMI, MIP is payable for the life of the loan, in most cases.

MLS – Short for Multiple Listing Service, the database of properties for sale, sold, pending sale, withdrawn from the market and expired listings.


PITI – Short for principal, interest, taxes and insurance, the four parts of your mortgage payment.

PMI – Short for “private mortgage insurance,” it describes the fee charged to homebuyers who pay less than 20 percent down on the home. The fee is a percentage of the annual loan amount, and it varies.


Title Insurance – An insurance policy that protects against damages due to defects in the chain of title.

Title search – A search of public records to determine who owns the title of a piece of real estate and if there are any encumbrances on it, such as liens. These are known as “defects” or “clouds” on the property’s title and must be cleared before the sale can close.

Transfer taxes – Fees imposed by the federal, state, county or municipal government whenever there is a transfer of title of real property.