3 amazing kitchen designs

In 2015, more than 10 million American households spent nearly $50 billion renovating their kitchens, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Organization.

Since the kitchen is the most-used room in the home, and the most popular among homebuyers, it’s money well-invested

If you plan on joining the renovators it’s time to learn about various kitchen design concepts so that you’re better able to choose the one that fits your lifestyle. You can never over-plan your new kitchen, right?

From color schemes to layouts, windows to lighting, here are some brilliant kitchen concepts from top designers.

The contemporary kitchen

If you fancy yourself on the cutting edge of technology and love new gadgets you may just be the type that will enjoy a contemporary kitchen.

Think “sleek” when choosing appliances and anything you can have built-in, by all means do so, even the coffee maker.

Speaking of appliances, a “smart” refrigerator is right up your alley

Forget about granite and even quartz for the countertops and head straight for concrete.

Look for patterned backsplashes (such as glass tile) and don’t forget under — and inside — cabinet lighting.

HGTV suggests the best places to shop for contemporary kitchen items include West Elm, Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn. They also offer a style guide for contemporary kitchens on their website.

Go Mediterranean

The Mediterranean kitchen can be summed up in two words: Warm and cozy. Oh, go ahead and throw in “romantic” as well because the iconic rich colors of this style positively drip with amour.

Houzz’s Lisa Frederick suggests using “a blend of spicy red, bright yellow, terra cotta and ocean blue” as your color scheme. Then, add dark cabinets and upholstery fabrics that connotes the sun and sea.

Top it all off with ceramics anywhere you can put them, from accessories to backsplashes.

For ideas on how to create a Mediterranean kitchen in your home, visit Decoist and Houzz. The latter also offers an accessory buying guide for your Med kitchen.

The cottage kitchen

Although cottage-style design may seem more suited to a vintage home, such as a bungalow, if done right it can be quite attractive even in a newly constructed home.

As you approach the design, think homey, cozy, utilitarian and down-to-earth.

Color schemes are typically heavy on the white, but “pretty painted base cabinets in pastel blue make a room shine bright,” according to Kathy Barnes at Better Homes & Gardens.

Speaking of cabinets, you can also forget the traditional and opt for attractive, vintage-looking shelves instead. Then, throw in a farmhouse sink, hardwood floors and pendant lights.

See examples of cottage kitchens at Southern Living, This Old House and Better Homes and Gardens.

Tips on financing the luxury home

The luxury home purchase process is different from buying a conventional or tract home. There’s more money passing hands, so naturally the risk escalates.

The process is slower as well, so if you plan on purchasing a luxury home, and you won’t be paying cash, you’ll most likely need to obtain a jumbo loan.

What is considered a luxury home?

You might be surprised to know that it isn’t merely the price that defines the luxury home. While the concept can best be defined by perception, here are some additional characteristics of luxury homes:

  • Desirable location
  • Distinctive architecture
  • Amenities

Since everything concerning real estate depends on location, a basic defining point of a luxury property is “a home that goes above and beyond what’s typical for the market,” according to Devon Thornsby, real estate editor at U.S. News.

What typically doesn’t differ in the luxury home market is the financing of the home

If you’ll be pursuing a jumbo loan to purchase your luxury home, you’ll need to start the loan process well in advance of shopping for homes.

What’s a jumbo loan?

A jumbo loan, also known as a non-conforming loan, is what you’ll need to purchase a property that is priced higher than Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s conforming loan limits. For 10 years, the conforming loan limit has stood at $417,000 for a single-family home.

That changed last year, when markets heated up and prices began to soar. The limit is now $424,100 for most regions across the country (it is higher in certain high-cost counties, such as some in California).

Find your county’s loan limit at Bankrate.com. Click on your state and you’ll be taken to a list of counties and their corresponding conforming loan limit.

Qualifying for a jumbo loan

Jumbo loan requirements are more stringent than those of the conventional loan and they vary by lender.

You will usually need a higher credit score (typically 700 or higher). Generally, a 10 percent down payment is required, although borrowers with high credit scores can find mortgages with a 5 percent down payment requirement.

The good news is that, in their pursuit of wealthy clients, some lenders are willing to waive the private mortgage insurance (PMI) requirement on these low-down payment loans.

Like all loans, however, you’ll need to prove that you can make the monthly payment

This means proving:

  • A stable employment history – at least two years with your current employer or two years of tax returns to prove self-employment.
  • An explanation of what you do for a living if its “value” isn’t as obvious as, for example, a physician or CEO.
  • Proof of your income – Lenders want to see not only pay stubs, but bank statements as well (even the blank pages, believe it or not).
  • Proof of your down payment funds.

In a nutshell, you will need to be able to document your assets, show a high credit score (the average score for the jumbo loan in the first quarter of 2017 was 771) and show proof of a responsible credit history.

Jumbo loan expenses

As of the first quarter of 2017, jumbo loans were actually cheaper (by 21 basis points) in the long run than conforming loans, according to a report released by Core Logic.

In August of this year, for instance, interest rates on these loans tumbled to where they were “13 basis points lower than the conforming rate, the largest spread between the two since March 2016,” according to CNBC’s Diana Olick.

Be prepared for closing, however

Because there are additional steps in the qualifying process, jumbo loans tend to carry higher closing costs. An example of an extra step is a lender who may require two appraisals of the property.

It may even out in the end, however, with the aforementioned sweetening of the pot to attract wealthy clients.

Not only are some lenders waiving the PMI requirement for low-down payment jumbos, but also accepting borrowers with low credit scores.

If you’re interested in pursuing a jumbo loan, contact us and we will put you in touch with local lenders who can answer all your questions.

Black Friday! 8 ways to save money when buying appliances

Black Friday – it’s right around the corner. If you’re in the market for new appliances, this may be the day for you to find a good deal, according to consumer expert Andrea Woroch at Clark.com.

Yes, September and October are typically the best time to buy major appliances, but Black Friday deals abound. Before shopping, get clear on what you need, hone your negotiating skills and get out there and save!

Do you really need ALL the bells and whistles?

The so-called “smart” appliances are cool, aren’t they? But, do you really need a refrigerator that tells you you’re running low on milk or to keep track of your shopping list?

Doing without the high-tech and high-priced bells and whistles can save you a ton of money.

Do your homework

Learn about the different models and read reviews to help you determine what you really need and what you can live without.

Consider pre-owned appliances

You know exactly what you want (if you followed our advice, above) so why not check the used appliance stores in your area or on Craigslist.org to see if someone just happens to be selling the exact model?

Items on Craigslist may not work as described, so ask the owner for a demonstration to ensure that it’s in good working order.

Although some sellers offer to deliver to your home, most don’t, so factor in the cost of transporting the appliance as well.

It’s just a little dent

The “open box” concept means that the appliance is in some way not fit to be sold as “new.”

Sometimes they are customers returns and others contain cosmetic defects.

The defect may be glaring or it may be minimal

Whichever it is, the appliance will be discounted – sometimes up to 50 percent off the regular price – because of it.

Display models are typically the least defective but are sold at a discount because they are “missing original packaging or instruction manuals,” according to Laura Harders at U.S. News & World Report.

You’ll need to do some driving around, from store-to-store, for the most part, although some dealers, such as Best Buy and Sears Outlet, list their open-box inventory online.

Look for rebates

Many manufacturers are offering rebates as well as other special promotions for Black Friday 2017.

Check the manufacturer’s website to learn the offerings. For instance, GE Appliances lists their specials here and you’ll find Frigidaire’s specials and rebates here.

In addition, Appliancesconnection.com offers a database of rebate offers by manufacturer.

Learn the art of the deal

Consumer Reports surveyed 2,000 adults and found that only 33 percent of them tried to bargain down the price of an appliance. Of those who did, 89 percent were successful.

One of the tactics hagglers use includes finding the item online or at another retailer for less and asking the store to price-match. If they won’t budge on price, ask for a free extended warranty, accessories (hoses, etc.) or complimentary delivery and setup.

Consider future costs

Woroch reminds us that quite often the lowest-priced appliance won’t save you money over the long haul. Sure, you’ll pay more for an energy-efficient model, but the future savings may make up for the extra dollars spent now.

Find out how much you can save each year with an energy-efficient model at energy.gov.

Skip the extended warranty

Consumer Reports cautions appliance shoppers not to pay for the extended warranty that will most likely be offered.

“Extended warranties can have many gotchas, relying on contract fine print to deny coverage for almost any reason,” they caution. “You’d be smarter to set aside the money you’d spend to cover repair costs yourself.”

There’s money in that old appliance

As handy as Craigslist.org is to buy items, it’s even better when you need to sell something. If the old appliance still works, consider selling it to offset the cost of the new appliance.

If it’s junk, consider parting it out to an appliance repair shop or sell it as scrap metal.

Learn how much your appliance may be worth as scrap metal and how to sell it at recraigslist.com.

By the way, Consumer Reports offers a handy buying guide for Black Friday appliance shoppers.

Tips to consider when buying a home with family members

The industry that brought you the iconic “location, location, location” has a new one for you: “multigenerational housing.” No, it’s not a new concept, but housing that caters to several generations under one roof is gaining in popularity.

We started seeing the demand during the recession, when unemployment propelled younger workers back to Mom and Dad’s house. Then, there’s the fact that millennials are tending to put off marriage and remain at home longer, according to Diana Olick at CNBC.

Immigration is also a driver of the multi-gen housing market. “In Asian and Hispanic cultures, multigenerational living is usually the rule. As these immigrants move to the U.S. in greater numbers, they bring the trend along with them,” Olick suggests.

Burns Consulting surveyed 20,000 homebuyers last year and found that 44 percent said they wanted room for their parents. Forty-two percent were parents wanting room for their adult children.

Thinking about moving in with your kids or your parents? Read on for some tips gleaned from the 51 million Americans who have done it.

Home shopping tips

The most important aspect to consider when shopping for a multi-gen property is privacy. Each member of the family should have some space to call his or her own that provides a place to retreat. This may mean building an “in-law” unit or constructing new walls to divide rooms.

You’ll need to look into the local zoning laws if you choose the former or find a large home to take advantage of the latter.

Lucky you if you choose a community in which home builders are catering to the trend. Lennar, for instance, offers NextGen homes, also known as The Home Within a Home®. They’re currently offered in 13 states (Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Minnesota, Florida, North and South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland).

The money stuff

Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but the financial aspect of the home purchase and ongoing costs are a discussion that needs to take place early in the process. And, the discussion should not be “a parent-kid thing,” according to John Graham, co-author of “All in the Family: A Practical Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living.”

He goes on to caution that families should aim to “level the hierarchy of the family,” treating each member as adults. Some of the topics of these conversations should include:

  • Who will buy the property?
  • How will title be held? It’s important to understand the different ways of holding title. For instance, what happens to the home upon the death of the primary buyer?
  • How much will each adult contribute each month to the mortgage payment?
  • Lists of each family member’s must-haves in a home and those he or she can’t tolerate.

Talk to your attorney to ensure you’ve discussed all the ramifications.

Talk to one another

Some families excel at open communication while others find it challenging. “The biggest factor in successful arrangements is communication,” Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United tells Sue Campbell, author of “The Aging Well Revolution: How new communities and technologies help us live.”

“You need to sit down before someone moves in and talk about expectations and parameters, including how you’ll divide up food, utilities and responsibilities. Another important question to ask is whether the situation is permanent or temporary,” Butts concludes.

Get clear on mutually-agreed upon house rules, preferably before everyone moves in together.

Dysfunctional families may find the thought of multigenerational living intolerable, but for those families who enjoy close ties and harbor respect for one another, it may just be the ideal lifestyle.

Get Help With Your Down Payment

It’s frustrating to have a decent-paying job, a bright earnings future and acceptable credit and still not be able to buy a home because you lack the thousands of dollars in cash needed for a down payment and closing costs.

The dreaded down payment stops more potential homeowners cold than any other aspect of the loan process.

To read articles about down payment headaches one would think it’s only millennials who have trouble coming up with the funds.

In reality, most would-be first-time homebuyers, regardless of age, find saving up 20 percent of hundreds of thousands of dollars challenging.

Sure, you may qualify for a loan with a lower down payment, but do you really want to add to your monthly house payment by purchasing the mandated private mortgage insurance policy? That’s what’s required if you don’t have 20 percent equity in a home you purchase.

Today, we’ll explore ways you can get help with the down payment on your new home.

Crowdfund your down payment

Enter, HomeFundMe CMG Financial, which offers a brilliant way for you to come up with that down payment: Crowdfunding – with the approval of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Before the crowdfunding concept came into being, lenders stipulated that your down payment and closing cost funds must come from your savings (mutual funds, stocks, IRA and 401(K) included), proceeds from the sale of another property, assistance from government programs or non-profits, union, employers or gift money from an immediate relative.

HomeFundMe allows anyone to donate funds to help you buy a home and CMG Financial provides the online platform.

While many crowdfunding endeavors offer a return on investment, the HomeFundMe program returns nothing to those who give. Money given is considered a gift, although they can make the gift conditional on the money eventually going to fund a home purchase.

The program offers incentives to savers, however. Attend credit counselling and education classes and you may receive a grant of up to $2,500. Then, the crowdfunding platform will match donations “$2 for every $1 raised, up to $2,500,” according to CNBC’s Diana Olick.

Get help from the government

The government, from local to county, state and federal, offers programs to help Americans get into home ownership. Some of these programs are geared toward the low-income applicant while others are open to all.

Federal Home Loan Bank

The Federal Home Loan Bank offers three programs to help homebuyers with their down payments and closing costs:

  • Home$tart® — Assistance up to $7,500 for borrowers who take the homebuyer education program and earn up to 80 percent of their area’s median income (find yours on HUD’s website). Unlike the aforementioned programs, these funds come in the form of a grant.
  • Home$tart Plus — $15,000 to borrowers who are currently receiving public housing assistance. Borrowers must complete a financial literacy program and be income qualified.
  • Native American Homeownership Initiative (NAHI) — $15,000 to eligible Native American households to help with a down payment and closing costs.

Good Neighbor Next Door

This program falls under the auspices of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and offers a discount (typically 50 percent) off the asking price of a home. The program is open to applicants in the following professions:

  • Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Emergency medical technicians
  • Firefighters

Be aware that this program only covers homes in HUD’s revitalization areas that are listed for sale through this program.

Learn more about the program and how to apply on HUD’s website.

State and local programs

FHA offers state-wide down payment grants through a variety of programs. Search for them here.

Search for local programs at Freddie Mac’s website.

The National Association of Local Housing Finance Agencies (NALHFA) suggests using downpaymentresource.com to find information on local assistance programs.

provides local-level program information.

Finally, several labor unions, such as the Culinary Union, offer homebuying assistance programs for members.

“Real Heroes Don’t Wear Capes. They Wear Dog Tags”

Sure, it’s a slogan on a t-shirt, and nobody has yet to take credit for it, but it sums up how we feel.

And, since Veteran’s Day – the day we celebrate our heroes in dog tags — is November 11, we’d like to take this opportunity to remind our current and former service members about the amazing VA home loan that is part of their benefits.

It’s curious that of 21.8 million veterans in the U.S., only 6 percent use their VA benefits to purchase a home.

So, we thought we’d take this time to remind active service members, veterans and qualified widows and widowers about this money-saving, homebuying program.

In fact, we feel that the VA loan might just be the best mortgage today.

Not only will you not be required to make a down payment, there’s also no mortgage insurance requirement, making the loan even less expensive. Then, there is the fact that veterans using this loan guarantee often get lower interest rates than they would with a conventional loan.

It does this not by directly lending money but by guaranteeing conventional lenders that a portion of the loan will be repaid should the buyer default. Since lenders are thus assured, they are able to offer our veterans more attractive rates and terms.

The Many Uses Of The VA Home Loan

Although purchasing a home is the most common use of a VA loan, the administration also offers programs for veterans to build homes, to simultaneously purchase and improve a home and to improve a home’s energy efficiency.

To be eligible for a VA-backed loan:

While many of the eligibility requirements for the VA loan are similar to conventional loans, others are less stringent.

  • The VA wants you to have “suitable credit.”
  • Your income must be enough to cover both your mortgage payment and your monthly bills.
  • The VA loan is only for borrowers who intend on occupying the home as their primary residence.
  • The borrower must obtain a valid Certificate of Eligibility, or COE for short. Many lenders can use the online ACE system and can provide the certificate almost instantly.

The borrower must also have a certain amount of residual income left after paying monthly credit debt. The amount is determined by region and family size.

For instance, in Minnesota, a family of five must have $1,039 left every month after paying their debt payments. If this family’s debt-to-income ratio (DTI), however, is higher than the maximum allowed, they will need more residual income to qualify.

Now, these are the VA’s eligibility requirements. Since the loan will be granted by a lender, you may face other requirements.

Here’s How Much You Can Borrow

The VA doesn’t set a maximum on the amount of money an eligible veteran can borrow but it does limit how much of the borrowed amount it will guarantee.

“In 2017, a qualified borrower generally can buy a home with a value of up to $424,100 with no down payment, though the actual amount varies by county,” according to Hal M. Bundrick, CFP at nerdwallet.com.

Now, this doesn’t mean you’ll automatically qualify for the maximum. The amount you’ll qualify for depends on a number of factors, including your debt ratio.

Determine your ratio by adding up your monthly debt payments (exclude items such as phone bills, utility bills and groceries) including your mortgage or rent, and dividing the sum by your gross monthly income. The maximum acceptable debt ratio is 41.

There’s a lot more to know and love about the VA-backed loan, so feel free to contact us. We’re happy to point you to a VA loan specialist who will walk you through the process.

How To Hire A House Cleaner

Outsourcing. Big corporations do it, so why not households? Delegating the mundane, routine household chores to an outside source may just be the key to a happy household.

Whether you’re looking for some temporary help around the holidays or part-time or full-time household help, hiring a house cleaner requires a bit of preparation and a whole bunch of interviewing.

Finding A House Cleaner

“House cleaner and housekeeper — they sound the same, but they actually involve two very different jobs and duties,” Jennifer Troyer, founder of Seattle Green Cleaner, LLC writes at Angie’s List.

“If you think in terms of light-duty work with some organizing thrown in, that’s for a housekeeper,” she explains. Think Alice, on TV’s “The Brady Bunch,” for example.

“If you’re looking for a top-to-bottom cleaning of your home, that’s for a house cleaner,” Troyer concludes.

Aside from asking friends, family and co-workers for a referral to a house cleaner, check online at sites such as Craigslist, Angie’s List, Yelp and Groupon. If all else fails, use Google to find “house cleaners in [the name of your city].” 

Prepare For The Interviews

Naturally, before interviewing anyone you’ll want to check for online reviews. Do this at Yelp.com, AngiesList.com or, again, Google the company or person’s name with the word “reviews.”

Then, make a list of questions to ask those you will interview. Following are a few suggestions:

  • If you’re hiring a company, ask if they perform background checks on their employees.
  • Is the cleaner or company licensed and bonded?
  • Is there room in his or her schedule to accommodate you?
  • Ask for references from current and former clients
  • What is the longest period of time the cleaner has held a client?
  • The money stuff – how much will each service cost, when and how will you be expected to pay? Will they bill you monthly? Are there extra fees required for certain tasks?
  • If it’s important to you to have the same cleaner every time, ask the representative if that is a possibility if you hire them.
  • Will the cleaner bring his or her own supplies or are you expected to supply them? Is there an extra charge if they bring their supplies? If the cleaner will use yours, ask for a list of what is commonly used so that you can shop for these items.

Next, make a detailed list of what you expect every time the cleaner visits and another for occasional tasks. For instance, “dust the furniture” is a task most homeowners want performed on every visit. But, “wipe down the top of the refrigerator” may be one that can be done once a month or so.

Finally, make a list of any special considerations, such as what to do about pets, surfaces that require special care or areas that are off limits.

The Interviews

Always request an in-home interview. This way, you can conduct a thorough walk-through of your home, pointing out exactly what you want done. Not only will the price quote be more accurate than if it were given over the phone, but you’ll have a chance to judge the company’s or individual professionalism better as well.

When you’ve narrowed it down to one or two cleaners, and if they don’t work for a company that conducts criminal and background checks, you’ll need to do some research. Check out ConsumerAffairs.com’s list of online background check companies with reviews from users.

Do let the candidate know that you will be running a background check on him or her.

Red Flags

All of us get gut feelings about someone when we first meet them and many of us end up chiding ourselves for not paying attention to those feelings. Pay attention to what you’re feeling about the potential hire during the interview.

Then, reconsider hiring any house cleaner who:

  • Can’t or won’t supply you with at least three references from current or past clients.
  • Refuses a background check
  • Has no long-term (more than at least 6 months) clients

Finding the right employee for any job is challenging but when that job is going to be performed in your home – while you may be away – it’s even more important to be extra cautious.

Budget-Friendly Ways To Get Your Guest Bedroom Ready For The Holidays

The winter and summer holidays are the two seasons we tend to get the most overnight visitors, with the former decidedly the busiest. Before you know it, the gang will be descending on you so take some time now to ready the guest room.

Be A Guest In Your Own Home

No, we’re not suggesting you pack any bags, just that you pad down the hallway and spend a night or two in the guest bedroom. Only by actually using the room the way your guests will can you know what needs to be changed.

Sleep in the bed (are there enough blankets? Has the mattress seen better days?), lounge in the chairs, watch TV and use the guest bathroom (and check out our bathroom tips, here). Use the lights – try to read by them.

The Bed

Depending on how busy you plan on keeping your guests during their stay, they may spend little time in the room. The bed, however, is the centerpiece, so let’s get it looking and feeling like something out of a five-star resort.

Start with the linens – crisp sheets and pillow cases, both a heavy and a light blanket and the bedspread. Throw pillows are a nice accent, but Euro pillows (26” by 26”) should serve as the backdrop for them. Alhough they can be quite pricey, you can find less expensive versions at Target and Walmart. You’ll find an example of how to use them, here.

Lighting

That overhead light, although a necessity, shouldn’t be the only source of light in the room. Consider adding a bedside reading lamp and wall sconces on either side of the bed.

Professional decorators suggest that the light sources should be in scale to the room. For example, in a large room, the overhead light fixture should be large as well.

It’s The Little Things

Don’t count on your guests remembering to bring the small essentials because they will invariably forget something. It’s why hotels supply them for their guests. Look for trial or travel-sized items at the local grocery store.

Pack a basket or bin with the following:

  • Toothpaste and toothbrushes
  • Hair spray
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Band-Aids
  • Shower cap
  • Disposable razors
  • Pain medications, such as aspirin and acetaminophen
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • A small flashlight (for power outages)
  • A notepad and pen
  • And, if there will be children along, an assortment of small toys, crayons and coloring books.

Cleaning

Unlike other rooms you’ll tackle to get holiday-ready, a deep clean of the bedroom should occur a few days before guests arrive. Especially if you shampoo the carpets, the room will smell extra fresh when they arrive.

Your Home’s Particulars

Leave a note in the room in which you’ve outlined anything your guests may need to know about the home, such as the Wi-Fi password, the alarm code and details about smart home devices.

If you need inspiration on how to get your guest room ready for the holidays, you’ll find plenty online. Pinterest has lots of brilliant ideas as does Elle Décor and HGTV.

 

Selling Your Home? Make Sure It Appraises For Maximum Value

There are two phases of the home selling process that throw most homeowners for a loop: The home inspection and the appraisal. Both can have a major impact on the home’s market value and, thus, how much money can be realized from the sale.

Repairs suggested on the home inspection report can be negotiated between the buyer and seller.

While both can break the sale, the appraised value isn’t something you can negotiate. This is why it’s so important to work with a real estate agent to determine the current market value of your home. Then, do everything you can to ensure that the appraiser agrees with that value.

What Influences Value To An Appraiser?

Real estate consumers, for the most part, don’t really understand the appraiser’s role in the home sale process. For instance, although the buyer pays for the appraisal, it belongs to the lender, not the buyer.

By law, however, a copy of the appraisal must be given to you if you request it in writing, according to the Federal Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.

Residential appraisal professionals take a multi-pronged approach to determining a home’s value. Items considered, over which a homeowner has no control, include local housing market trends, which are impacted by economic, social and other forces. Supply and demand is an example of this.

In other words, the current real estate market.

The appraiser will use all of these factors as a backdrop when he or she studies the neighborhood, your home’s characteristics and competitive properties to arrive at the home’s appraised value.

There’s Value In A Well-Maintained, Clean Home

If you’ve maintained your home over the years, it may sail through the home inspection. And, a well-maintained home will also impress the appraiser. Making small repairs, revving up the home’s curb appeal and meticulously cleaning the home will help you in both instances.

While some appraisers say that clean properties don’t result in higher values, others, along with many real estate industry insiders, beg to differ.

The home’s condition, however, will have a direct bearing on its appraised value – known as the Condition and Quality rating in the appraisal industry. The condition rating can range from C1 (for new homes) to C6 – for homes with severe deferred maintenance issues and defects that may impact the home’s habitability.

During this phase of the evaluation, the appraiser will consider all the improvements you’ve made to the property.

Supply The Appraiser With Accurate Data

Don’t assume that the appraiser will notice the upgrades you’ve made to the home. Make a list of them, the dates they were performed and by whom.

Get specific in your explanations. Rather than “Bathroom remodel,” be more specific. “Bathroom remodel: new tub; travertine tile work; cherrywood cabinetry; Kohler sink, faucet, etc. …/Installed 2009/$15,000 cost,” says Ryan Lundquist, certified residential appraiser in Sacramento, California.

In fact, Lundquist offers a handy information sheet you can download, fill out and offer up to the appraiser when he or she visits the home.

Don’t assume the appraiser is familiar with your neighborhood

As a result of the Dodd-Frank reforms, appraisers are typically assigned jobs by an Appraisal Management Company, or AMC for short. And, these jobs are assigned “essentially at random,” Phil Huff, CEO of a real estate appraisal data company in California tells Market Watch’s Daniel Goldstein.

Which means, the appraiser may have little to no knowledge of your neighborhood.

Make a neighborhood description (quick and to the point) part of the data you supply to the appraiser. Lundquist suggests a bulleted list to make it easier for the appraiser to read quickly.

Tell the appraiser what you appreciate about the neighborhood, about your HOA (and fees you pay), anything important about its location within the town or city, anything in particular that makes your neighborhood among the “in-demand” areas of town and any information you have on pending projects that will have a positive impact on your area’s home values.

Do mention the school district if it is of high enough quality to positively impact home values in the neighborhood.

Other items to point out to the appraiser include:

  • If your lot is more desirable than others nearby, include a copy of the property survey.
  • Home features that the appraiser may not notice, such as energy efficiency.
  • Any information you may have on why a nearby home sold for less than it should have, such as a divorce or a sale to a member of the homeowner’s family.

Sure, there may not be anything you can do to change the economic forces that influence your home’s value in the eye of the appraiser, but taking care of the items that are within your control will help a great deal.

Are Your Bathrooms Ready For The Holiday Spotlight?

As retailers are so fond of reminding us, the holidays will soon be upon us. That means parties and family visits. If you start getting the house ready now, the run-up to your soirees will be less chaotic and you can focus on the finer points.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be offering you tips to get various parts of the home holiday-ready and today, we start with the one room most of your guests will use, the bathroom.

Pretend You Are Selling Your Home

Approach your bathroom makeover as if you were readying it for a steady parade of potential homebuyers. This means starting with a deep clean, top-to-bottom – literally. Start at the ceiling and work your way down.

  • Before you start, remove everything from the counters and any shelving in the bathroom. Take down the shower curtain and remove the throw rugs.
  • Next, use the vacuum or a duster to get the accumulated “fuzz” out of the ceiling fan grate. Then, check the walls (especially where they join the ceiling) for cobwebs.
  • The light fixtures come next. If you have the Hollywood-type strip vanity lighting, your bulbs may be dusty so remove each one, dust them and replace them.
  • If you have windows in your bathroom, tackle those next. Clean the glass and then clean out the tracks. Vinegar and water, and old toothbrush and a rag work well for this task.
  • Mirrors come next. There are lots of ways to do this – from using ammonia and water to vinegar and water or commercial window cleaners.
  • Vinegar and water also works well on counter tops and shelves.
  • Next, clean the sink and shower/tub. We asked several of our friends and clients to tell us about their favorite products for these tasks: a mixture of Dawn dishwashing soap and vinegar; Ajax cleanser; Tide laundry detergent. The last one we were a bit skeptical about until we tried it ourselves. Used like a scouring powder, it truly does get off the toughest bathtub grime better than anything else we’ve tried.
  • Toss the shower curtain, window curtains and rugs in the washer
  • Wash the floors

If you have shower doors, clean those with a mixture of warm distilled vinegar and a few drops of Dawn dishwashing liquid. Don’t use this on stone, though. Instead, try a paste of baking soda and the dish soap and use a non-scratching sponge.

De-Clutter

Now it’s time to bring back all the items you removed from the shelves and countertops. Unless something is decorative, hide it away in the cupboards and drawers.

Throw out anything you don’t use and those empty shampoo bottles that tend to collect in the bathroom.

Get ideas on what to leave on the counters and what to hide from online sites such as Pinterest, HGTV and Better Homes & Gardens.

Bring Back The Linens

But, check them first and get rid of rugs, towels, mats and curtains that are frayed, faded or torn.

Replace them with new items that coordinate with the rest of the bathroom’s décor.

In fact, beautiful towels can double as attractive accessories if folded in clever ways. Check out these amazing towel display ideas on Pinterest.

Extras

Wall treatments can improve the look of a bathroom instantly. Again, Pinterest can serve as inspiration. Houzz.com offers 260 photos of bathroom artwork and more inspiration can be found at Apartment Therapy and Brit.co.