How to prepare your pet for a natural disaster

It’s hurricane season and even the most prepared among us may have let something fall through the cracks. Typically, it’s the pet’s needs during a natural disaster that are left unconsidered. We’ve seen the videos of dogs left chained in a yard, the flood waters quickly surrounding it.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is urging pet owners to include their pets in the natural disaster preparations and we’re sharing some of their tips with you today.

Come up with a plan

If your pet isn’t microchipped, this should be your first step. In lieu of a chip, ensure that your dog has identification tags securely attached to its collar. If your dog is chipped, it’s still a good idea to collar it (with an i.d. tag attached). Taking a found pet to a veterinarian to be scanned for a chip is impossible in many disaster situations.

If your dog is chipped, is your contact information up-to-date?

Then, make a plan for where you will stay if you have to evacuate. Not all emergency shelters allow pets so call your city leaders to find out if the one in your area is pet-friendly. Or, download the FEMA app, which provides a list of open shelters in your area.

If not, consider other places you might go during an evacuation. Some hotels allow pets, so call the ones in towns where you may end up to find out.

HSUS offers the following list of online sites that can help you locate pet-friendly hotels:

For help identifying pet-friendly lodgings, check out these websites:

If all else fails, start contacting boarding facilities and veterinarians to find one that will take your pet in during an emergency.

Create a pet disaster kit

An emergency medical kit for your dog or cat is essential. You can purchase pre-packed kits or make your own. Use the list provided here.

Then, set aside the following supplies in an area that provides you easy access during an emergency:

  • A 7-day supply of food and water for each pet.
  • Food and water bowls
  • Can opener
  • Cat accessories (litter box and litter, scoop, etc.)
  • Leash or harness
  • Pet carrier
  • Photos of each of your pets
  • Medications your pet needs

Prepare the entire family for a possible evacuation, including your pets, by following the advice from the pros at Ready.gov.

Home inspections aren’t just for older homes

A few years ago, RealtorMag put out a list of the “Top 10 Most Common Home Inspection Problems.” They range from faulty wiring to roof problems to foundation flaws.

Whether caused by deferred maintenance or just the aging of the home, the older a home is, the more likely it is to have issues.

Most buyers of newly-built homes breathe a sigh of relief over their assumption that they’ll be escaping having to fork over large chunks of money for someone else’s problems. And, they typically decide to forego a home inspection.

Yes, new homes don’t have deferred maintenance. Yes, all the components in these homes are new. That doesn’t mean, however, that the home is without an entirely different set of problems.

And that Certificate of Occupancy issued by the local municipality only guarantees that the home is livable, not that everything is in working order.

New doesn’t equal perfect

Not everyone who works on new homes during the construction phase is a master craftsperson. Laborers and contractors have varying sets of skills and experience. While most are conscientious, others cut corners.

Additionally, most of the construction tasks, such as framing, plumbing, foundation and electrical, are subcontracted out – usually to the lowest bidder. Speed, not quality of work, is the most important consideration for the builder.

Errors and omissions in construction, while not overly common, do occur. Bruce E. Holmes, an engineer based in Florida, tells Bankrate.com that he looks for fit and finish problems, such as crooked walls, connections that aren’t tightened and reversed hot and cold water lines.

Municipal inspectors aren’t enough

Don’t assume that county inspectors will find all problems that may exist. Bankrate relates the story of a private inspector that went through a custom-built home during construction, but after the county inspector performed his inspection.

He found cracked floor joists, missing fireblocks and what he describes as “tons of stuff” wrong with the construction.

Reuben Salzman, with Structure Tech in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area of Minnesota, wrote a five-part series, with photos, of problems he has found in newly constructed homes. It’s well worth a visit to his blog, if only to view the eye-opening photos.

Too late?

Because some problems require seasonally-unique conditions to become apparent, most builders offer their buyers a warranty. For example, water intrusion into a basement won’t be apparent until the first big rain.

Warranty terms vary, but most offer terms for different types of work. For instance, you may receive a one-year warranty for faulty labor and materials, two years for mechanical defects and ten for structural problems, according to Ilona Bray, legal editor for Nolo.com.

“The result is that the best parts of the warranty expire quickly — your carpeting, tiles, paint, and roofing, for example, may not be covered after the first year,” she said. Bray also suggests that you obtain an independent, professional home inspection before each warranty expiration date.

Since homeowner insurance typically doesn’t cover construction defects, get to know the warranty. Consult with your attorney, if you must, but ensure that you understand all aspects of it.

Whether you have a home inspection during construction (do so before the drywall goes up) or upon completion, the peace of mind it offers is worth the price.

The landlord’s guide to 3 maintenance emergencies

It’s 2 a.m. and the phone is ringing.  You know before picking it up that within ten minutes you’ll be fully dressed and in your car, on the way to take care of an emergency repair at your property. It’s the nature of the beast, right?

No matter how well you maintain your rental property, water heaters leak, air conditioning units fail and pipes burst. But, what constitutes a true emergency may be a matter of differing opinion – yours and your tenant’s.

If it affects the habitability of the property, or if it’s a health or safety issue, rest assured that it’s an emergency.

1. Roof emergencies

If you get a call from a tenant that the roof is leaking, it’s an emergency. The experts at HomeAdvisor.com suggest that most roof leaks stem from some common problems such as missing shingles and faulty step or pipe flashing.

Take the steps to prevent small roof problems from mushrooming into disastrous failures.

Professional roofers offer these maintenance tips:

  • Inspect your rental property’s roof twice a year, in fall and spring. Immediately replace shingles that are buckled, cracked, curled or missing.
  • Then, inspect the area around the chimney, pipes and anywhere else that is attached to and extends from the roof. Look for looseness or wear.
  • When you clean the gutters, look for large amounts of shingle granules that have been blown off or worn away from the shingles. Large amounts in the gutters is a sign that some of the shingles may need to be replaced.
  • Inspect the ceiling in the attic, looking for signs of moisture intrusion.
  • Cut back tree branches that extend to within 6 feet of the roof.

Roof repairs can cost between $150 and $4,000 but the average cost to a homeowner, nationwide is $784. If you, as the landlord, don’t make the repairs, and allow the problems to continue, you can look forward to paying between $2,000 and $12,255 (or an average of $6,637) to replace the roof when it’s no longer functional.

2. Plumbing emergencies

A leaking toilet can waste up to 90,000 gallons of water in just one month and can add $500 to a single water bill. Still think a minor toilet leak isn’t an emergency?

Ok, so maybe it isn’t the drag-you-out-of-bed-at-a-ridiculous-hour type of emergency, but since even minor leaks affect your bottom line, they require prompt attention.

What does constitute a plumbing emergency?

  • Broken pipe
  • Flooded room
  • Overflowing toilet
  • Sewage leak

In fact, anything that causes immediate water damage should be considered an emergency. After all, the average insurance claim for the water damage caused by a burst pipe, for instance, is about $5,000, according to House Logic.

How to prevent plumbing emergencies

Again, routine inspection and maintenance goes a long way in the prevention of plumbing emergencies. Here are a few ways to prevent some of the more common ones:

  • Insulate outside taps and pipes (drain pipes too) and pipes in unheated areas of the property (lofts, garages, basements) to prevent burst pipes.
  • Remind tenants to allow at least one faucet to drip during periods of extreme freeze and to never pour grease or coffee grinds down the drain.
  • Inspect the toilets at least once a year for worn toilet flappers, wax rings and bolts.
  • Check for signs of wear in the screens over tub and shower drains.
  • Install a pressure reducer if the water pressure on the property is above 85 psi. High water pressure puts stress on pipes and valves.
  • Install a water softener in regions with hard water. Mineral deposit buildup is corrosive and can shorten the life of the plumbing system.

3. Electrical emergencies

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that in 2011, 47,700 home fires were caused by electrical failure or malfunction. Not only did these fires result in 418 deaths, but 1,570 injuries and property damage in excess of $1 billion, or about $13,000 per incident.

So, what constitutes an electrical emergency? Sparking outlets or an outlet that is hot to the touch, and flickering lights may sound minor but they are also symptoms of a larger, more dangerous problem.

Prevent electrical emergencies

  • Hire a certified electrician to check the circuits and wiring on the property. The cost of an inspection will vary, depending on region, but as long as the electrician’s bill isn’t as high as replacing the home after a fire, it’s money well spent, don’t you think?
  • Inspect the electrical system on your property at least once a year. Buy an outlet tester (as little as $4.99 online) and use it to determine if the electrical outlets in the home are wired properly and grounded.
  • As you walk through the property, inspect the light switches and electrical outlets for charring or discoloration. While the problem may be minor, have an electrician check for faulty wiring in the circuit.

When an emergency does occur, it pays to have established relationships with reliable vendors. Cultivate these relationships so that common maintenance emergencies are handled smoothly, safely and professionally.

Do Open Houses Work?

“In my experience, there is no correlation between houses we hold open a lot and houses we do not hold open at all and how fast or at what prices they ultimately sell for,” claims an unnamed real estate broker at zillow.com.

Then, there is real estate “scientist” Tim Ellis’ analysis of a study performed by a large real estate conglomerate. In San Francisco, he claims, “holding an open house is so expected there that homes that don’t hold an open house are a full seven percentage points less likely to sell than those that do.”

So, which is it? Do open houses help sell homes or are they a waste of time? Let’s take a look at both sides of the question.

Opposing Goals

Home sellers and their listing agents often hold opposing views on whether or not to hold an open house. The homeowner believes that holding the home open to the public exposes it to a broader pool of potential buyers.

The real estate agent, on the other hand, will typically hold an open house not only to lure in potential buyers but to attract more clients as well. In fact, skeptics of open houses will say that the real purpose of the guest register by the front door is part of the agent’s attempt to pick up new clients.

Then, there are others who claim that busy agents with lots of clients generally feel that open houses are a waste of time.

The stats

A hunt for research into the effectiveness of the open house as a home sales tool highlights the lack of available information. The National Association of REALTORS® finds that 45 percent of buyers use the open house as an “information source,” but fails to mention the percentage of these folks who actually purchased the home.

The study that Ellis analyzed finds that geographic location has a lot to do with whether an open house will sell a home. As mentioned earlier, San Francisco homes that are held open are more likely to sell than those that don’t have an open house.

In Las Vegas, on the other hand, only 3 percent of homes are held open, so naturally, homes here are more likely to sell without an open house.

“Everywhere else, the picture gets a little more fuzzy. In the other eight markets we examined, there was virtually no difference in the percentage of homes that sold, whether they had an open house or not,” Ellis claims.

One additional finding is worth noting: Homes that are held open during the first week of the listing period are 13 percent more likely to sell than homes not held open at all.

Furthermore, the likelihood of a sale doubles if the agent skips the first week and holds an open house later during the listing period.

Overall, this particular study shows that an open house is a must if you live in San Francisco and it’s a waste of time for Las Vegas homeowners. What about everywhere else? “It likely doesn’t really matter. . .” says Ellis.

The reality

Just as some hair stylists cut hair better than others and some lawyers are brilliant in front of a judge while others fall apart at the thought of it, some real estate agents are better at holding open houses than others.

Therefore, whether an open house “works” or not depends not only on the agent’s skill set, but on geography, seasonality and a host of other conditions.

Overall, it is effective marketing that sells a home and the most potent weapon in your marketing arsenal is your real estate agent. Whether or not he or she lists open houses in the marketing plan should have less to do with the agent’s effectiveness than their overall marketing chops.

Cheap and easy autumn home decorating ideas

This year we usher in the autumn season beginning on September 22. And, as we all know, autumn typically brings more than falling leaves. Many of us get lots of company as well.

Instead of digging out the same old décor that you’ve used for the past decade (or more), let’s take a look at some of what the pros recommend when it comes to decorating your home this fall.

Pumpkins

They’re ubiquitous this time of year. From the mini varieties to the gigantic, pumpkins fill supermarket bins, roadside stands and are even for sale at the big home improvement stores.

There are a lot of creative ideas for pumpkins that don’t involve carving scary faces on them.

Mini pumpkins, for instance, can be transformed into candle holders or even vases. To make a luminaria out of a tiny pumpkin, cut “a 1-inch-wide circle into each pumpkin, scooping out the centers with a tablespoon,” recommends the decorating geniuses at Southern Living.

Then, stick a votive candle into each pumpkin. See a photo of the finished product at southernliving.com.

Martha Stewart offers a brilliant idea for an autumn party – a pumpkin party cooler to hold bottles of beer or soft drinks. Chose an oversized, wide pumpkin, cut off the top third and discard it. Scrape all the junk out of the pumpkin, insert a glass or plastic bowl, fill the bowl with ice and insert bottled drinks.

Get the full instructions at marthastewart.com.

Create an autumn wonderland to welcome your guests

There is no shortage of ideas on how to decorate your porch for the season. If it’s pumpkins you want to use, line the walkway with them.

Place hay bales on either side of the front door to hold yet more pumpkins. Since pumpkins and gourds come in various shades, choose as many different colors as possible for added interest.

If pumpkins are a little too obvious for your tastes, consider putting on a fall floral display. Head to the nursery and grab flowering plants in autumn colors. Some to consider include:

  • Chrysanthemum (choose bronze, yellow and orange varieties)
  • Marigolds
  • Helenium

Pot them up in terra cotta pots and line the walkway with them or create an attractive porch display. Or, use a combination of potted flowers and pumpkins and gourds, like this stunning version at countryliving.com.

Make the front door pop

It doesn’t make sense to spend all the time and energy it takes to spiff up the walkway and front porch if your front door isn’t equally as enticing. Take some tips from the pros and spruce it up with festive fall colors.

While many homeowners opt for a seasonal wreath, your choices aren’t that limited. Consider a garland around the door, like this one at homedit.com. You’ll find additional fall garland inspiration on Pinterest.

Whether you decide to DIY the project or purchase one ready-made, you can’t go wrong with an attractive wreath. Countryliving.com offers instructions on creating several fall wreaths and Woman’sDay lists more, with links to the tutorials.

Purchase wreaths and other door hangers online at Walmart, Amazon.com, Kirkland’s, Overstock.com and Pier 1.

Need more ideas? Visit Pinterest boards that feature autumn décor, such as this one and these.

How to stage your home’s closets to make buyers swoon

Ah, to be a fly on the wall as potential buyers traipse through your home for sale. You could watch them peer into your cupboards and closets and peek into the drawers in the kitchens and bathrooms.

Don’t worry – most of them aren’t being snoopy; they are merely trying to figure out where they can store their “stuff” if they decide to buy the home.

If you are like a lot of Americans, your closets don’t represent your best foot forward. If shoes are spread across the floor and clothing randomly crammed in any available space, the chances are good that your closet looks smaller than it is.

The good news is that with a small amount of money and a couple of organizational hacks, the closets in your home will be screaming “Buy Me!” to every potential buyer who peers within them.

Start with the walls

Staging a closet involves changing your mind-set about it. Don’t consider it a place to hide junk, store items you no longer use or even it’s true purpose – to keep your clothing.

Instead, think of it as an additional room in your home, at least for staging purposes. This means, removing the clutter and organizing it.

It also means creating the illusion of spaciousness, regardless of how tiny the space is.

Paint color and sheen can go a long way in creating this illusion. The most common advice is to choose the whitest shade of white you can find and slap it on the closet’s walls and ceiling.

Many architects and professional designers claim that’s hogwash – that white actually makes a room seem smaller. And, really, when you think about it, isn’t it better to get color advice from a professional than from a freelance writer who specializes in crafts or personal finance?

More important than paint color is sheen. “Painting in a flat, matte or satin finishes [sic] will soak up light, while semi-gloss, high-gloss and lacquer finishes tend to reflect light, which make a darker room feel brighter and lighter,” Edith Gregson, partner in a Washington D.C. design firm, tells the Chicago Tribune’s Danielle Braff.

No doors on the closet? Debbie Zimmer, spokesperson for the Paint Quality Institute suggests painting the closet’s interior the same color as the room or, perhaps a lighter shade of the same color

Give the paint something to reflect

Closet lighting seems to be an afterthought for most home builders. Unless you own a luxury home with a super-sized walk-in closet, you most likely are greeted by a lone, bare bulb when you go to hang your clothes up after work.

You also know how frustrating it is to have to drag two pairs of pants into the light of day to determine which is black and which is Navy blue.

So, the next task in the closet makeover is to get more light in there so the paint can do its job.

Lighting solutions don’t necessarily require rewiring. Check out some of the LED lighting options at large home improvement stores or online at lighting retailers.

Add storage items

One rod with a shelf above it – that’s the layout of the typical American bedroom closet. Sure, some are blessed with larger closets, but even those typically contain the lone-rod-and-shelf setup.

Adding additional rods below the current rod is always an option, as is adding additional shelves.

Find shelving and other storage ideas online at Houzz, Remodelaholic and Apartment Therapy.

Declutter and organize

Removing overly large and bulky items from the closet is winning half the battle when it comes to making it appear larger. Winter coats, blankets and anything non-clothing related should be moved to the appropriate area within the home or, better yet, to a storage facility.

Then, pare down what’s left to only those items of clothing and accessories that you actually wear. The jeans you’re saving for that day when you finally lose enough weight to fit into them? Get them out of the closet.

Purchase enough hangers so that they all match. Whether you choose metal or plastic, the most effective way to appear organized is by having them all match. Then, group your clothing along the rod, hanging all pants together, all shirts and blouses in one spot and so on.

If you really want to go for the “I’m the greatest housekeeper” award, follow this grouping by sorting everything in each category by color.

Finally, get the shoes off the floor by storing them in a rack or shoe bag.

A well-lit and organized closet not only offers the buyer the perception of additional storage space but gives him or her the impression that the entire home has been equally as impeccably maintained.

 

September in the garden

It’s been a long, hot summer, and, we don’t know about you, but we can’t wait for fall. The cooler weather makes it more enjoyable to do the things we like to do, such as gardening.

The only problem is that the days are starting to get shorter. But, hey, that’s a small price to pay to be rid of the heat.

September ushers in a host of gardening chores, so let’s get to them.

September lawn care

Treat your lawn to a spa day by aerating and dethatching it. In fact, September is the ideal time for this task because “lawns are less susceptible to weeds and crabgrass,” at this time, according to Andrew LeVahn with Levahn Brothers in Maple Grove, MN.

A core aerator can be rented at the big home improvement stores. A core aerator will provide more oxygen to the lawn’s roots.

Not all lawns require dethatching. You’ll know if yours does by checking the thatch layer. “Poke around the grass until you find the brown layer near the bottom of the grass blade,” suggests Robert Pavlis, author of “Garden Myths.”

“With your finger or a stick, poke a hole through the brown layer to the top of the soil. Measure the thickness of the thatch,” he concludes. The ideal thickness of a thatch layer is ½ inch.

Remove excess thatch with a vertical mower or power rake. Then, give the grass a good soaking (with at least ½ inch of water) after dethatching and aerating.

If the lawn is looking a bit thin, consider spreading fresh seed. A thick lawn helps deter weed growth. Then, at the end of September or early October you can throw some 3-1-2 fertilizer down. Wait six to eight weeks and then apply more fertilizer, according to LeVahn.

Clean up the planting beds

Get rid of dying or dead annuals and replace them with fall-hardy varieties, such as pansies, snapdragons and ornamental kale.

Perennials, such as canna, can be divided now unless you plan on storing them. If so, wait until after the first frost to dig them up.

In the vegetable bed, clear any debris from the soil. This includes fallen fruit and vegetables, leaves, and other items under or in which pests and disease organisms can overwinter.

Add compost to the soil if you’ll be planting late-season vegetables. Otherwise, this is a good time to apply a weed-control product.

“ … weeds are storing up nutrients in their roots and quickly absorb the herbicide where it counts,” according to Julie Day at todayshomeowner.com. The site offers a helpful video on targeting weeds with weed killer so that you don’t damage nearby plants.

Shrubs and Trees

Fall is an excellent time to plant many types of trees and shrubs. Anything you’ll be growing in a container can be planted now as well.

Then, turn your attention to the existing trees and shrubs in your yard. Get rid of any that are dead or dying. Avoid pruning and fertilizing now as you want to avoid new growth that may be damaged when the weather turns frosty.

Clean up the beds under the trees, removing twigs, branches, fruit and flowers.

Busting the 3 biggest private mortgage insurance myths

One of the most frustrating issues we’ve dealt with over the past few years is the confusion over private mortgage insurance (PMI). Folks on the internet aren’t helping clear the confusion; instead, many are feeding it with misinformation.

The truth is, the average down payment on a mortgage is around 11 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. That’s a whole lot of homebuyers who are required to purchase PMI. Because of that, we’ve decided to help smash the prevailing myths about this despised yet necessary program.

What is PMI?

Private mortgage insurance protects the lender if the buyer defaults on the loan and it is generally required of borrowers who pay less than 20 percent as a down payment.

There are exceptions to this that we’ll explore, below.

PMI typically costs between 0.5 percent to 1 percent of the loan amount, each year. “At 5 percent down, private mortgage insurance (PMI) costs $150 per month on a $250,000 home,” according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

 

Myth Number 1: “Government-backed loans don’t require PMI”

This one is partially true. The VA loan doesn’t require PMI. However, the loan does require most borrowers to pay what is known as a “funding fee” which helps mitigate the burden on the taxpayer should the borrower default on the loan.

FHA does require that borrowers purchase mortgage insurance, although theirs is called MIP, for Mortgage Insurance Premium. There is both an upfront fee and a monthly premium payment required.

The former is typically the same for all borrowers (1.75% of the base loan amount), while the latter depends on a number of factors, including the loan amount, the term and the loan-to-value ratio. The premium amount changes annually, so check with your lender to learn about current MIP rates.

Myth Number 2: “You cancel PMI when you reach 20% loan-to-value”

This myth is partially true. If you have a conventional loan you can cancel the PMI premium when you reach the 20 percent equity level.

By law (Homeowners Protection Act of 1998), however, your lender must cancel the policy when you accumulate 22 percent of the home’s original purchase price in equity.

If, on the other hand, you have an FHA-backed loan, you can’t cancel the MIP unless you sell or refinance the loan.

Myth Number 3: “PMI is tax deductible”

This was true a year ago, but for 2018 tax returns, at least as of September 2018, this deduction is no longer available.

The ability to deduct PMI is one of those tax code provisions that expire every December 31st. Since its inception in 2007, Congress has renewed the deduction every year, sometimes at the last minute.

Hopefully, it will be again, but most tax specialists aren’t holding out hope. So, for now at least, “PMI is tax deductible” is a myth.

We aren’t mortgage professionals so we urge you to contact your lender or financial advisor if you have questions about private mortgage insurance.

Tips to help you paint like a pro

Paint is the miracle cure for a home that needs freshening. It not only adds color, but, if the color is chosen strategically, it can make rooms appear larger, smaller and even cleaner.

The best part of painting as a home improvement project is that you can control costs by doing it yourself. The worst part is how much preparation is involved before you can put roller to wall. But, it’s critical that you prepare properly – it’s what sets you up for success.

Don’t head out to the paint store just yet. First, take a look at our list of what you’ll need.

What you’ll need:

Depending on the condition of your walls, you may not need to purchase this entire list.

  • Measuring tape
  • Plastic tarps
  • Canvas drop cloth or rosin paper
  • Painter’s tape or liquid masking tape (for windows and trim)
  • Spackling compound and spatula
  • Fine grit sanding paper
  • Sanding pole (optional)
  • Bucket of soapy water
  • Paint primer (optional)
  • Paint
  • Paint brushes and roller or paint sprayer
  • 5-gallon bucket with roller grid or a paint tray
  • 4- or 8-foot painter’s pole (for ceiling work)
  • Paint brushes

Preparation is key

You’ll need to know how much paint to purchase, so measure the area carefully. Start with the longest wall first, and “square that number for the ceiling,” recommends James Glave, of This Old House.

How to measure

Then, take that longest wall’s measurement and multiply it by its height, then multiply the result by four. Glave suggests that you double the number if you’ll be applying two coats. Or, you can wing it and use the rule of thumb (one gallon for each 400 square feet) or use a paint calculator, like the one at glidden.com or lowes.com.

Then, figure out whether you’ll use a roller or sprayer. To help you decide, read the results of Popular Mechanic’s “Brush & Roller vs. Paint Sprayer” tests.

Now you’re ready to go shopping for all the supplies you’ll need (see the list, above).

Pre-painting prep

On painting day, push any furniture that you won’t be removing to the middle of the room and throw the tarp over the top, ensuring that everything is covered. For extra protection, tape the bottom of the tarp to the floor.

Then, use the canvas drop cloths to cover the floor. The pros recommend canvas over plastic for several reasons:

  • They remain in place better
  • Paint spills dry quicker
  • They aren’t as slippery as plastic drop cloths

Canvas can be slippery, however on vinyl, hardwood and tile floors, so the pros at familyhandyman.com recommend rosin paper (available at home centers) to cover hard floors.

Next, you’ll want to protect any areas of the wall that you won’t be painting. This is where the painter’s tape comes in. Use it to cover electrical outlets and baseboards. The pros recommend that after you apply the tape “… over the wood, then run a putty knife over the top to press down the tape for a good seal,” according to Brett Martin at popularmechanics.com.

Discover the different uses for painter’s tape and how to use it with Ace Hardware’s handy video.

Liquid masking tape is ideal for protecting the glass in windows from spattered paint. Watch Mauro Henrique, painter for This Old House, apply it in this video.

Fill in holes and indentations in the wall with spackling compound. True Value Hardware offers a spackling walkthrough on its website.

Now it’s time to use that sanding paper to even out the spackle and other rough surfaces on the wall. Sanding also helps the new paint to adhere better. Attach the sanding paper to a sanding pole to make the job easier. Although these tools can be pricey, there are inexpensive ones available at the large home improvement stores.

The pros recommend that you sand the wall from the baseboards up to the ceiling and then horizontally at the baseboard and the ceiling.

“Don’t put a lot of pressure on the sanding pole or the head can flip over and damage the wall, Martin cautions.

Finally, use that bucket of soapy water to wash down the walls, ridding them of dust and any grime left after sanding. Allow the walls to dry completely before painting.

If you’ll be using primer, which is recommended if you need to cover crazy colors, stains or block odors (KILZ is one brand that is popular for odors), now is the time to apply it. By the way, Consumer Reports claims that their highest-rated paints include primer, so priming the wall before painting has become an unnecessary step.

Let’s get painting

What type of paint will you need?  Choosing the color is just the first step. You’ll also need to determine the best sheen for your situation. Consumer Reports offers a tutorial on the various paint sheens and the best projects for each.

Then you’ll be faced with a choice between oil-based and latex paint. Learn the differences at hgtv.com.

Most painting pros recommend that you start your painting project with the ceiling. From there, you’ll find varying recommendations ranging from saving the trim for last to doing it before the walls, right after or just before the ceiling is painted.

The pros at familyhandyman.com are among the paint-the trim-first gang, claiming it’s much easier to paint the trim before the walls. Since you will be covering anything you slop on the walls with wall paint later on, “you don’t have to be neat” when painting the trim, they say.

Know which types and sizes of brushes are appropriate for your situation. Once you get to the paint department the selection will boggle your brain. Sherwin-Williams offers a paint brush selection guide that will help you choose.

Tip: Pour paint from the can into a bucket or other container. This avoids transferring dust and dirt from the brush to the fresh can of paint.

“Once the trim is completely painted and dry (at least 24 hours), tape it off (using an ‘easy release’ painter’s tape),” they conclude.

If you’ve opted for using a roller rather than a paint sprayer on the walls, you’ll need either a 5-gallon bucket with a roller grid or a paint tray to hold the paint. Pros recommend the former and you can learn why at thisoldhouse.com.

Learn how to choose a roller at purdy.com.

If you need additional DIY painting tips, check out this brilliant video produced by This Old House.

DIY staging tips that won’t break the bank

OK, so you don’t have a warehouse full of designer furniture, accessories and home décor items or a degree from an interior design school. Don’t let that stop you from fashionably staging your home before you put it on the market.

Staging isn’t merely the act of decorating a home; it is primarily an appeal to emotions. A lot of psychology goes into determining colors, textures and furniture arrangement.

You can see this psychology in action in model homes. Every element of each room is thoughtfully chosen to evoke an emotional response from the potential homebuyer.

Overall, the designers hope to create desire – they want to create a sense of longing for the home. How they get there is by making homebuyers see themselves living in the home.

The first rule of home staging

There’s a reason that most articles you read about home staging start with the admonishment to “clean the home.” Studies show that clean homes sell faster and for more money than dirty homes.

And, by “dirty,” we don’t necessarily mean slovenly. Something as everyday as a pile of laundry, dishes in the sink or children’s toys scattered about can turn off a potential buyer.

“You’re asking people to forgive the mess and still pay top dollar,” stager and interior decorator Darrow Samberg tells Lena Katz at forbes.com.

By “clean,” we mean from-the-ceilings-to-the-baseboards immaculate. Yes, it’s challenging to keep it that way while the home is on the market. But, it will help the home sell quicker than it would if you don’t take the time to clean.

Another hot topic among those who write about staging is “depersonalizing” the home. Most will advise you to remove family photos, certificates, diplomas, kids’ artwork, collections and anything else of a personal nature from the shelves, walls and surfaces of every room.

By doing so, you not only allow potential buyers to more readily see themselves living in the space, but you’ll also be taking steps toward decluttering the home (the third step in the pre-staging process).

Get rid of clutter. This includes the aforementioned collection of items on countertops in the kitchen and bathroom, stacks of newspapers and magazines and anything else that isn’t decorative. 

DIY staging on the cheap: Start with your furniture

The best way to make a small room appear larger is to remove overly-large furniture. Then, rearrange what’s left so that it advertises the purpose of each room.

In other words, move the baby’s changing table out of the master bedroom and ditch that exercise equipment that clutters the family room.

Next, arrange the furniture that’s left to maximize space and create a cozy feeling. Pull the living room and family room furniture away from the walls and reposition chairs, sofas and coffee tables to create a conversation area.

The pros at Better Homes & Gardens suggest “arranging the seating pieces to face each other over a shared coffee table …”

Spiff up kitchens and bathrooms

For years, surveys of homebuyers have shown that the most important rooms in a home are the kitchen and the bathroom. It only makes sense, then, that your attention should be focused on these two rooms.

Thankfully, there are easy, inexpensive DIY projects that require nothing more than a bit of energy. Start by removing everything from the drawers and cupboards, thoroughly cleaning the interior of all of them and then returning to them only what is absolutely necessary.

Arranging the contents neatly gives the impression of roominess and storage space is a hot button for many buyers.

“Turn all coffee cup handles facing the same direction,” suggests Elizabeth Weintraub at the balance.com. “Buyers will notice and think you are meticulous about the rest of the home, too.”

Speaking of cupboards and drawers, consider purchasing new hardware for them if yours are dated.

Bathrooms are easy to update on the cheap. A fresh coat of paint (even on the cabinets, if needed), new lighting and fresh, matching linens will help add a wow factor to a dated bathroom.

Additional ideas

Here are some inexpensive ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Tour model homes to get staging ideas. Don’t forget to take your camera to snap photos so you can copy the décor.
  • Go through the attic, basement and garage, looking for anything you can use in staging.
  • Shop for decorative pieces, if necessary. Craigslist.org, flea markets, garage sales and second-hand stores are great places to find inexpensive decorative items. Look for art work, vases, baskets, rugs, mirrors, pillows and any other items you need to stage the home.
  • Create focal points by adding colorful accents.

Some additional tricks of the trade include painting, which gives every room and instant makeover,  and replacing faucets in the kitchen and bathrooms.

Use the internet for more ideas: HGTV’s “Designed to Sell,” Better Homes and Gardens and A&E’s “Sell this House.”