4 types of neighborhoods

After the boring stuff is out of the way – the loan application process, choosing a lender and then hiring a real estate agent, it’s time to go shopping, the truly fun part of buying a home.

Have you started your wish list yet? The first section should be all about location – where you want to live, right down to several neighborhoods that you find appealing.

We believe in the “Google Earth” method of finding anything – start wide and then narrow down the search radius.

At the wide end of the spectrum, you’ll need to decide whether you want to live downtown, in the suburbs or a more rural area. Let’s walk through some of the terminology you may see while shopping for a neighborhood and the pros and cons of each.

1. Urban Core

The most common name for living in the heart of a city is “downtown,” but the media have introduced another term, “urban core.”

In some areas of the country, such as Austin, Texas, the word “central” might be placed before the name of the city. So, if you live in an apartment in downtown Austin you would most likely tell folks you live in “central Austin.”

Housing choices in the urban core also depend on region. They can range from luxury penthouse condos to warehouse conversion lofts and apartments that sit atop businesses.

Your neighbors will be diverse as well, including a mix of low-to-middle income folks, the affluent and seniors.

Urban core residents like their neighborhoods because the housing is affordable (again, depending on region), it’s typically easy to get where you need to go on foot, they’re close to nightlife attractions and these neighborhoods generally lack the shopping malls so prevalent in suburbia.

Drawbacks to downtown living include trying to find parking, more crime and lots of transients.

Popular urban core neighborhoods include downtown Los Angeles, Battery Park City in Manhattan and downtown Seattle.

2. Suburbs

There are as many different descriptions of the suburbs as there are neighborhoods within them. One thing most can agree on is that the suburbs are located outside of the urban core.

Sometimes called “bedroom communities,” the suburbs offer a quieter, slower pace yet lack the uber-close proximity to many conveniences and entertainment venues.

Zillow.com finds that more than half of millennial homebuyers are choosing the suburbs, so if you plan on selling your suburban home, you may want to target this group of buyers.

Money magazine studied suburbs and, in February 2018 came up with a list of “the best” in the U.S. They include:

  • Peters, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis)
  • Vinings, Georgia (outside Atlanta)
  • Schaumburg, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago)
  • North Arlington, New Jersey (a New York suburb)
  • New Berlin, Wisconsin (outside Milwaukee)

You can find the rest of the list at cnbc.com.

If you count yourself among those who dream of buying a home in the suburbs, plan on having a wide choice of home styles from which to choose: apartments, condos, townhomes and single-family homes.

Tip: Consider your commute before settling on the suburbs.

3. Subdivisions

Whether you long for the small-lot subdivisions that became popular in the Los Angeles area a few years ago or are seeking a large lot with manicured lawns and mature landscaping, subdivisions are still in great demand – especially among families.

They may be located in the suburbs or near the urban core.

Subdivisions typically offer residents amenities and what is offered depends on region, developer and the price of the homes.

Larger subdivisions may have a park or three for residents, a clubhouse, community pool, and bicycle or pedestrian trails. But the sky is the limit – literally – in some subdivisions.

Just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina you will find Aero Plantation, home to 90 families. It’s what is known as a fly-in subdivision and light aircraft have the right-of-way on all the roads. Lots are huge – 2 acres minimum – and there’s also a forest and lake in the community.

Trying to describe the typical subdivision home is futile as the variety is huge. Those with cul-de-sacs, however, typically house lots of families with children.

4. Rural areas

If you’re seeking a sense of community and want to put down “roots,” choose a rural area in which to buy a home. According to Pew Research, 40 percent of rural residents know their neighbors.

Only 28 percent of suburban dwellers can say the same while 24 percent of urban core residents know their neighbors.

This is a surprising finding, considering the sparse population of most rural communities.

Choose a rural setting for your new home and you’ll find that your neighbors exhibit a sharp divide in values and politics from the urban core dweller, according to Pew Research.

The populations of rural communities have been on the decline, so many are using incentives to attract new residents, according to a Zillow study. For instance, Tribune, Kansas, in its desire to attract new college graduates, offers the Rural Opportunity Zone program.

“They’ll help you pay off your student loans — up to $15,000 over the course of five years,” according to Brittan Jenkins at Business Insider.

Once you’ve decided on the type of “developed human settlement” (as Wikipedia calls them) that best appeals to you, narrow your home search to the neighborhoods that include the type of home you want and the price range.

Contact us, we’re happy to help.

The cure for wet basements

Pretend, for a moment, that it’s spring (yes, it will come). Although snow is still deep, temperatures are rising.

What happens?

The snow will melt, sometimes rapidly, creating lots and lots of flowing water. Add a spring rainstorm to the scenario and you may be facing a serious problem.

Where will all this water go? Since the earth is still frozen, it won’t go down. It will follow the path of least resistance, according to Waters Basement Services in Buffalo, NY.

That path typically leads to the home’s foundation and, eventually, to the basement.

Rainwater isn’t the only type of moisture that seeps into basements, however, something as simple as condensation can build into puddles.

Just as condensation forms when cold outside temperatures meets warm window glass, so can that same warm air hitting a cold pipes or a concrete foundation create condensation.

Think you’re safe because your home is relatively new?

Think again. The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) claims that most new homes experience basement leaks within 10 to 15 years of being built.

Worse, excess moisture leads to the development of mold. ASHI experts claim that 60 percent of homes in the U.S. have moisture in the basement and nearly 40 percent of these basements will develop mold.

More than 60 percent of basements in existing homes have basement moisture.

The key to fixing the problem is to figure out where the moisture is coming from.

Searching for the source

First, you’ll need to determine if the moisture is seeping into the basement from the outside or if it’s a result of condensation.

Thankfully, this is easy. When you find moisture on a wall, tape a piece of foil to the location. Leave it on the wall for 24 hours and then check the foil for signs of dampness.

If it’s wet on the outside, then the source of moisture is coming from inside the basement (condensation, most likely). If the underside is wet, suspect moisture intrusion from outside the home, according to John D. Wagner at ThisOldHouse.com.

Now you’ll need to pinpoint exactly where the moisture is coming from. Wagner suggests that the most likely areas are where the floor joins the walls. Then, check the ceiling for signs of water intrusion (flaking paint, discoloration, etc.).

Other areas to check for leaks include:

  • Beneath buckled floor boards or lifted tiles
  • Rotten wood
  • Near rusty metal surfaces, such as nails and screws
  • Powdery-looking deposits on concrete, stone and stucco surfaces

 Fixing the Problem

The fix for your wet basement depends on the cause. If it’s condensation, airing out the basement may be the cure.

If the source of the moisture is coming from outside the home, the solution may range from filling foundation and wall cracks with epoxy to more expensive tasks, such as:

  • Re-grading the yard to direct water away from the home
  • Installing drains
  • Installing a sump pump
  • Replacing downspouts and gutters

Kevin Brasler of Washington Consumer’s Checkbook and HouseLogic.com offer DIY solutions to try before calling in a professional.

If that doesn’t work, don’t give up. Moisture can damage the home’s structure and cause mold. If the DIY suggestions don’t cure the problem, call in a pro.

Are you brave enough to buy a home while engaged?

Whoever coined the phrase “Bridezilla” must’ve been referring to the bride (or groom) who was juggling wedding planning with homebuying.

Believe it or not, many couples avoid the chicken and egg scenario (what comes first, the wedding or the house?) and decide to do both processes simultaneously.

It sounds crazy, but if you have a system and some professional guidance,  you can be successful.

Read on for our tips to get you from chaos to homeowning spouses.

It all comes down to money matters

Since the first step in a home purchase is getting a loan, you’ll need to decide if you should both apply or just one of you.

If you go for the joint mortgage, the lender will combine both applicants’ income, assets and debts. If one of you has a lot of debt, it will weigh down the application.

If, on the other hand, you’re like the average couple, where one of you looks better on paper than the other, perhaps that one should apply for the loan.

In many cases, one half of the couple has good credit but a lower income than the other. The lower income limits the amount of loan you’ll qualify for, while the high credit score may help you get a better mortgage rate.

You may want to sit down with your financial professional for the best advice on how to approach the mortgage application process.

You must consider the unthinkable

Although it may be unthinkable right now, there is a chance that you may not make it down the aisle. If you don’t, you will be among the nation’s 25 percent of failed engagements (according to Time magazine).

So, even though it’s unthinkable, you should be prepared for it, just in case. The best way to do this is to meet with an attorney about how you should divide the property, should a breakup occur. This is especially important if only one of you is on the home’s title.

To be extra safe, have your lawyer prepare a written agreement that both of you can sign.

While it’s not nearly as romantic as planning a honeymoon, planning for the successful purchase of a home before you tie the knot is important.

Feel free to reach out to us with any questions you may have. We love to talk about real estate!

Is your wood-burning fireplace ready for winter?

 Winter brings images of getting cozy in front of a crackling fire. Whether your image also includes a steaming cup of cocoa or a glass of crisp Chardonnay, it’s definitely something to look forward to.

A house fire most likely doesn’t factor into your dreams of hearthside dreams. But the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) lists fireplaces as one of the top 10 causes of house fires.

Make fireplace maintenance a priority before touching a match to even one piece of kindling.

Inspect the fireplace and chimney

 You may only need to have the chimney swept. Or, you may need additional maintenance work before your first fire of the season.

While it’s always best to hire a pro to inspect and clean the chimney (we’ll get into the how-tos of that in a minute), many homeowners prefer to perform their own inspections. If you are among them, keep the following in mind:

  • Begin your inspection inside the home, at the fireplace, checking for cracks in the firebox. Use a flashlight to shine up the flue to check there as well.
  • Open and close the damper to ensure it is in working condition. Then, check the metal for signs of damage. Keep in mind that “replacing a damper is not a do-it-yourself job; if the damper is in bad shape, hire a professional to replace it,” according to the pros at Better Homes & Gardens.
  • You’ll also need to check the exterior of the chimney for cracks. If you find them, consult with a licensed mason. If, on the other hand, you find faulty flashing, call a roofer.

We can’t recommend that you drag out the ladder to climb on the roof to inspect the rest of the chimney. It’s always best to hire a professional rather than risking bodily injury.

Call in the chimney sweep

Most experts recommend a professional clean of your chimneys about once a year (or every 80 fires). The Chimney Safety Institute of America offers advice on how to hire a chimney sweep. Also, be sure to check reviews on Yelp.com and similar review sites.

Additional safety precautions

  • Cut away tree branches that hang over the chimney.
  • If you suspect critters have settled in the chimney, call animal control.
  • Ensure your smoke detectors are working properly and consider installing a carbon monoxide alarm.
  • Keep the little ones and pets at least three feet from the fireplace and always supervise them while a fire is burning.
  • The same goes for holiday décor – three feet from the fireplace to be safe.
  • Don’t burn wrapping paper in the fireplace.
  • Use only seasoned firewood.
  • Don’t forget to clean out the ashes about once a week, or whenever they’re about an inch thick. Allow the ashes to cool completely before disposing of them.If you’re up for it, why not store those ashes in a bucket until summer? They make a delicious treat for flower and vegetable beds, according to the Oregon State University Extension Service.

Now all you need to do is stock up on firewood.

What you absolutely must know about HOAs

A Sacramento area HOA created a requirement that insisted homeowners keep their garage doors open from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. If they refused, they would be fined $200.

Apparently, the HOA hoped this invasion of homeowners’ privacy would prevent them from renting out their garages as living spaces. The requirement was later rescinded.

An Orlando area HOA ordered Robert Brady, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran who has lived in his current home for 45 years, to get rid of his dog.

Brady, who has a letter from the VA stating that the dog is a mental-health therapy dog and helps keep the man’s problems in remission, was told that “Bane” exceeds the HOA’s weight restriction of 35 pounds. The dog weighs 40 pounds.

Say the words “homeowners association” and most of us come up with an image of a gang of power-hungry, nosy, petty despots.

The reality

Despite what we read in the media, 63 percent of Americans who live in communities managed by homeowners associations say they are satisfied with their communities, according to the Community Association’s Institute 2018 Homeowner Satisfaction Survey.

Only 38 percent of those surveyed, however, say members of their elected governing board “absolutely serve the best interests of their communities.”

Obviously, there is a distinction with one being satisfied with a community overall yet dissatisfied with their HOA.

Whether their reputation is over-hyped or well-deserved, HOAs offer both disadvantages and advantages to their members.

 

Dues: the most obvious disadvantage

One of the most obvious disadvantages of buying a home in a HOA-governed community is the monthly fee you’ll be required to pay. Don’t pay it and the association can (and most likely will) slap a lien against your property and, possibly, push your home into foreclosure.

These payments are a lot easier to tolerate if you consider them as helping to ensure your property’s value.

A 2017 Trulia study puts the average HOA fee, nationwide, at $331. Of course, the fee varies, depending on the services provided by the HOA and the community’s amenities.

When you pay the fees also varies, from monthly to yearly and, sometimes, quarterly or semi-annually.

The HOA uses this money to maintain and improve the common areas, to pay for taxes and insurance on the common areas, to enforce the rules and to pay legal fees. They will also use a portion to fund the reserve account – monies put aside to pay for unexpected major expenses or planned long-term projects, such as roof replacement or landscape upgrades.

 

Then there are the special assessments

Sometimes the HOA doesn’t have the funds to remedy an unexpected expense. Ideally, the reserve fund will have sufficient money in it, but, when it doesn’t, it falls to the homeowners to fork over what’s needed.

How the assessment is determined depends on the HOA’s governing documents. Most often, the governing board will make the decision while some HOAs require that the membership be given a vote before the imposition of a special assessment.

 

If you are considering buying a home in a managed community

Once your offer is accepted, you’ll receive a package of HOA documents to examine. It’s often a huge stack of paperwork, filled with legal terminology.

We urge our clients to consult with an attorney to help them decipher the documents. Once you accept them, you have no recourse but to abide by what’s in them.

Pay special attention to the Declaration of the Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions, or the CC&Rs for short. This document outlines how you can use the home, and how you can’t. For instance, it may contain a weight limit for pets, it may dictate your front yard landscaping and what window coverings are allowed.

The meeting minutes might also be of interest to you. Look for homeowner complaints. More important, look for the same complaints repeated over a number of meetings. This is an indication of an unresponsive HOA.

The financial documents can give you an idea of how the board handles the HOA’s finances. How much money is in the reserve fund? Check the history of special assessment impositions and the HOA budget as well.

When you buy a home governed by an HOA, you’ll not only pay a fee each month, but your use of the home and the property on which it sits will be decided by people you may not even know.

For those reasons, it pays to read the documentation carefully and see an attorney with any questions you may have.

 

Be Prepared for Winter Storms

There is a 65 to 70 percent chance that El Nino will be visiting this winter, so look for it to be a warmer than normal, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This doesn’t mean we won’t be seeing winter storms; we just may not see as much snow in certain areas of the country.

Take steps now to ensure that you’re prepared for a wicked winter storm or two and the inevitable power outages that accompany them.

Stock up in advance

Watch the news just before and after a hurricane hits and the need to stock up in advance becomes abundantly clear. Yet, amazingly, many people don’t bother.

In fact, two days after Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle in October, the New York Times’ headlines screamed “Hurricane Michael Leaves Florida Residents Desperate for Aid.”

After only two days

You know what that means, right? Residents of a disaster-prone area, where there is almost a guarantee of at least one annual hurricane, didn’t have an emergency supply of even the basics, such as water.

Thank goodness for early warning systems because you’ll have advance notice of a hurricane or other weather-related event. But, so does everyone else and we’ve all seen the decimated grocery store shelves when one of the warnings goes out.

Promise yourself, right now, that you won’t be like those residents who stand in the long lines at the stores or moans to the media that nobody is helping you.

Stock up now. Put aside enough bottled water and non-perishable food items to feed all family members for at least one week (more is better). And, don’t forget your pets; stock up on food for them as well.

Do we need to remind you to keep a mechanical can opener with these supplies?

The planning doesn’t stop with food and water. If you take prescription medications for high blood pressure or anything else, ensure that you have a weeks’ supply of those as well.

While you’re at the pharmacy, pick up the over-the-counter products you use frequently, such as pain relievers, antacids and allergy meds.

Place all of these items in a waterproof bag, up high, in an easily-accessible area. Next, know where your flashlights are. In fact, keep them all in one spot that is above where floodwaters may intrude and stack up some batteries next to them. LED lanterns are a wise buy as well.

Emergency power supply

The average severe weather-induced power outage lasts more than six hours, according a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

That’s just long enough to defrost the food in your freezer. Then, you can kiss goodbye most of what’s in the refrigerator.

Some refrigerated food held above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours will have to be thrown out, according to FoodSafety.gov. This includes:

  • Raw or cooked seafood, poultry, meat
  • Salads that contain tuna, chicken and egg
  • Soups, stews and casseroles
  • Hot dogs, lunchmeats, sausage and bacon
  • Soft, low-fat and shredded cheeses
  • Dairy products, such as yogurt, milk, sour cream, half-and-half, cream buttermilk, evaporated milk and even soy milk.
  • Eggs
  • Creamy salad dressings
  • Spaghetti sauce, opened

This is but a partial list. See the entire list at FoodSafety.gov.

Avoid this by buying a generator to supply emergency power. And ensure that you buy one with enough watts to power your home, or at least your appliances.

“Homeowners can often power most household appliances using between 3000 and 6500 watts,” according to the pros at Honda.

If your home has a smaller furnace and city water, you can generally expect that 3000-5000 watts will cover your needs. If you have a larger furnace and/or a well pump, you will likely need a 5000 to 6500 watt generator,” they conclude.

A 3,800-watt or above generator is required to power a well pump, and 4500 watts for an electric heater. Find other requirements and useful information about generators at honda.com.

Another helpful online tool is the Generator Size Calculator at Cummins.com. Enter your ZIP code, the square footage of the home and answer a few other questions about your power needs, and it spits out the size of generator you should consider.

Protect your family and your home during winter storms by acting now.

3 Tips for selling your home when it’s snowing

It may not be snowing just yet, but you can count on the white stuff in the near future. If your home is going to be on the market during winter snow storms, the time to prepare is now.

Sloppy, slushy conditions are not only dangerous to folks trying to get to your front door, but they create messes – while you’re trying so desperately to keep the home clean.

Here are our best tips to help you sell your home when it’s snowing.

1. Keep them safe

Can you imagine a prospective homebuyer (or one of her children) careening down your walkway on her backside? Yikes.

Prevent this from happening by being extra-diligent in your ice and snow removal. Pay close attention to walkways, driveways, sidewalks near your home and stairways. If you have a deck or patio, ensure it’s snow-free as well to entice potential buyers to explore.

Then, follow up the shoveling with ice melt or rock salt. ConsumerReports.org has a handy piece about how to use ice melt and which is best.

Cut back any tree branches that appear precarious. The last thing you need is a potential buyer with a concussion (or worse) from a fallen tree branch.

Finally, clear out the gutters to avoid overflow.

2. Entice them to come inside

Do whatever you can to add pops of color to the exterior of the home. Potential buyers will notice and, hopefully, be enticed to get out of the car and into the home.

Add some color to the exterior of the home with plants, such as cold-weather loving pansies in pots on the porch or holly, with its colorful berries.

Consider painting the front door a cheerier color, such as red (evoking a holiday spirit). You’ll need to do this now, before it gets too chilly, according to the pros at houselogic.com.

Oil-based semi-gloss exterior paint needs to be applied in temperatures that are no lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the limit is 50 degrees for acrylic-based paint.

Then, add a decorative door wreath (find ideas on Pinterest.com) for added curb appeal.

Paint the mailbox while you’re at it – anything to add contrast to the oh-so-white landscaping at this time of year will act as an invitation to enter the home.

3. Make them want to stick around

Offer up a place for visitors to hang their coats and shoe coverings to keep them from tracking the outside through the home. They’re quite inexpensive and will save you having to clean up after them. Check out Amazon.com if you prefer ordering online.

If you’ll be at work while the home is being shown, you’ll need to prepare the home before leaving. Set the thermostat so that the air temperature is comfortable. Turn on all the lights and, if it’s a particularly gloomy day, switch on your landscape lighting and porch light.

Since all homes look better in natural light, open all the window coverings as well.

Tori Toth offers a brilliant idea at USNews.com: a hot chocolate station. Since you won’t be home during showings, use an urn to keep water hot, a basket full of envelopes of instant hot chocolate mix, another full of cookies, a bowl full of mini-marshmallows and a container of stir sticks.

Or, use your crock pot, like Ashlie at Sugar Rushed does. You can find additional hot chocolate station ideas here.

Don’t forget to leave a note inviting visitors to help themselves.

Give Thanks for these 6 Websites and Apps this Thanksgiving

From recipes to timers, this year’s crop of Thanksgiving websites and apps are just about guaranteed to keep you from wishing you had five extra hands and three fewer kids while trying to get the Thanksgiving feast from the kitchen to the table.

1. The Bon Appétit Thanksgiving Headquarters

Although Bon Appétit Magazine has been helping foodies navigate the kitchen since Baby Boomers were kids, it has managed to remain hip and relevant. Proof? The Bon Appétit Thanksgiving Headquarters, offering recipes, tips on how to survive, step-by-step videos and more.

Is there a vegetarian in the family? Bon Appetit also offers “41Thanksgiving Vegetarian Recipes for a Meatless Holiday.”

 

2. Food Network “In the Kitchen” App

What would meal time be without Food TV? Even better is the Food Network’s amazing website where you can get the recipes you see being made on the shows and from America’s top chefs, celebrity and otherwise.

The Food Network “In the Kitchen” app brings it all to your mobile device to ensure you don’t miss a trick on Thanksgiving.

The app was updated just last month and you can download it for both iPhone and iPad in the iTunes store and for Android here.

 

3. Epicurious Everywhere

While it’s not Thanksgiving specific, the Epicurious Everywhere app is full of recipes for all holidays as well as basic every-day meals. That it’s been downloaded more than 8 million times has to be some sort of testament to its usefulness, right?

Last updated in August 2018, not only will you get recipes but shopping list builders (you haven’t done your shopping yet?!), tips on how to use your leftovers and timers.

Download for Android, iPad, iPhone, B&N Nook Color, Windows Phone and Kindle Fire here.

We actually like the website better. Offering tips on everything from how to prep a turkey to vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes and how to smoke a turkey, you’ll find just about everything you need, at Epicurious.com.

 4. For the vegans in the family

If the photos are any indication, a “Plantsgiving” feast awaits you at VeganHeaven.org. In fact, we almost ate the photo of Sina’s “Festive Falafel with Cranberry Pear Dip.”

You’ll find 24 additional yummy vegan holiday recipes at VeganHeaven.

Need more? The folks at SeriousEats.com offer some brilliant Thanksgiving recipes for vegans. We’re sure that the “Vegetables Wellington” will rival the meat-eater’s turkey as the table’s centerpiece – it’s that impressive.

 

5. Timer+

One of the trickiest things for anyone new to preparing Thanksgiving dinner (aside from not having a stove with three ovens and 12 burners) is timing all those dishes so they are finished at roughly the same time.

This is where the genius of the Timer+ app comes in. It allows you to set a different alarm for each dish and even add time if it looks like the turkey will need some extra time or the Brussels sprouts are still a bit crunchy.

This free app is available for iPhone (at itunes.com) and Android (at Google Play).

 

6. BigOven

“Discover, share, plan and shop all in one place,” is what you’ll find when you download the BigOven app. More than 350,000 recipes (not Thanksgiving specific, but it does offer a “seasonal collection”) is reason enough for us, but you’ll also get a meal planner and the ability to make and share a grocery list.

We also love this feature: “simply type the three ingredients you have in your fridge and the app will pull up information on what you can prepare with them.”

Download it for Android, here and for iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, here.

What is the earnest money deposit in a real estate transaction?

First-time homebuyers know that they’ll need a down payment if they hope to get a loan.

What they often don’t know is that they will also need cash to use as what is known as an “earnest money deposit” to submit with the offer to purchase when they find the home they want.

This deposit takes its name from its purpose: It shows the sellers that you are earnest about following through with the transaction to purchase the home – you are, in essence, “putting some skin in the game.”

Although the amount of the deposit isn’t set by law, it varies according to region and the real estate customs within that region.

Something called “liquidated damages” typically determines how much a savvy listing agent will counsel her clients to demand.

Liquidated Damages

Buried within most pre-printed real estate purchase agreements is a clause known as “Liquidated Damages.” This concept is defined well by Bob Hunt at RealtyTimes:

“A liquidated damages clause sets in advance – at the time of contract formation – what the monetary value of damages shall be in the event of contract breach by one of the parties.”

In other words, should the buyer fail to hold up her end of the bargain, the seller agrees not to sue but to keep whatever amount of money the parties have determined will cover damages.

The amount of liquidated damages is stated as a percentage. In California for instance, that amount in most cases is 3 percent of the sales price of the home.

So, what do liquidated damages have to do with your earnest money deposit? If you default on the purchase of the home, this deposit may be forfeited as liquidated damages.

The liquidated damages clause must be initialed by both parties to be valid and the release of the money must be agreed to as well. Then, there is the issue of trying to prove that you suffered damages.

How Much?

The amount of earnest money you’ll need to deposit will vary by region and also by homeowner dictates. One percent of the purchase price is standard in Northern California but the buyer is typically asked to increase the deposit after the removal of contingencies.

As mentioned earlier, smart listing agents will counsel their clients to ask for an increase that will make the deposit equal to the maximum amount of liquidated damages.

Like many aspects of the residential purchase agreement, the amount of earnest money to deposit is negotiable so – whether you are the buyer or the seller — ensure that you’ve hired a knowledgeable real estate agent that can counsel you wisely.

Don’t Wait until spring! There’s plenty to clean right now

It’s almost winter (it starts on December 21 this year) and that’s the perfect time to tackle some chores that you may typically put off for spring cleaning. Do them now, however, and you’ll not only be better prepared for the feast-heavy winter holiday, but ahead of the spring-cleaning game as well.

Why now?

Think about it: spring cleaning is a generations-old ritual begun when homes were heated by fireplaces. They had to be buckled up tight to keep the heat from escaping, so by the end of winter, homes were filled with soot.

Winter cleaning, on the other hand, has a two-pronged purpose. It’s about preparing all the spaces you’ll deep clean in the spring and getting the home ready for holiday guests.

Closets

This is a perfect time to clear out all those clothes you’re never going to wear again, those that need repairs you know you’ll never make and those that have gone out of style.

Make piles to keep you organized, one for dry cleaning, one for things you want to give away and one for those items that are beyond help and should end up in the landfill.

While you’re in there, organize everything in a manner that makes sense to you. Some folks do better when their clothing is organized according to colors, others group like items together (blouses, slacks, etc.)

Get the shoes up off the floor, even if it means having to buy a shoe rack or hanging holder. If there are folded items on shelves, organize those as well.

Then, stand back and check out your handiwork. Not bad for an hour’s work, right?

Tackle the kitchen cupboards and drawers

Getting more organized in the kitchen is something you won’t regret once the holidays roll around and you’re preparing a feast for company. Plus, getting it done now leaves plenty of time to donate what you don’t need to the local food bank or soup kitchen.

Kitchen cupboards tend to overfill quickly right around Thanksgiving. Then, many people tend to stock up a little more because they don’t want to feel forced to hit the grocery store when the weather turns.

Start with the pantry, since that is the most-used storage area in the kitchen. Be honest about what you will and won’t consume in the near future and donate any canned items that will expire before you can use them.

Then, go through the rest of the kitchen cupboards, organizing your cooking utensils, pots, pans and spices. A good rule of thumb is to place frequently used items toward the front of cupboards.

Paperwork

Didn’t they tell us we were headed toward a paperless world? Obviously, it hasn’t happened yet because many of us are buried in paper.

Take some time to go through that home office and all of the papers you need to scan, file or toss. You’ll find it’s the perfect way to get a jumpstart on your taxes (your accountant will thank you for it).

And, perhaps you can even schedule those annual appointments (such as visits to the dentist and car services).

These days, there’s very little stopping you from a complete spring clean in the middle of fall or winter. We think you’ll find that spreading the work over the course of the year makes each task just that much easier.