Energy efficient windows can help sell your home

Regardless of who or what is to blame, the hard truth is that Americans are paying dearly for energy this winter.

In fact, “… residential gas prices are expected to be 22 percent higher this winter compared to last year’s, and residential electricity prices are expected to be 6 percent higher on average, according to energy analyst Paul Arbaje.

This and other predictions have so far missed the mark. Anecdotal evidence across the country from everyday Americans shows that, in some parts of the country, energy prices have doubled.

That said, it’s hard to imagine anyone looking forward to receiving their monthly energy bills. But, if you have a home ready to go on the market, and that home happens to be energy efficient, you’ll want those power bills included in open house and other marketing materials.

The folks at claim that 25 to 30 percent of the air in our homes, whether cool or warm, escapes through the windows. This, in turn, forces the HVAC system to kick on, creating high energy bills.

If you’re just now toying with selling your home or you’re a homeowner who wants to save money on your energy bills, consider replacing your windows.

Need another great reason to consider swapping out those old windows?

Homebuyers are willing to pay more now to save money later

The National Association of Homebuilders’ (NAHB) most recent release of their annual study “What Homebuyers Really Want” shows that ENERGY STAR® windows are in high demand.

Out of 200 features from which to choose, ENERGY STAR windows came in at number four among the homebuyers surveyed. Thirty-nine percent of homebuyers rated them as “Essential, must-have.”

Windows showed up twice when homebuyers were asked for their top 5 green features. ENERGY STAR® windows came in at number one, while triple-pane insulating glass windows came in at number five.

“… significantly more buyers are willing to pay extra for a home if they understand it will lead to annual savings in utility costs,” claims the study’s authors. In fact, 57% are willing to pay $5,000 or more, on top of the price of the home, in order to save $1,000 a year in utilities.

How to choose new windows

From the choice between vinyl, aluminum, wood and wood clad frames to comparing the ratings, shopping for new windows can be overwhelming.

The folks at Consumer Reports have put various window types to the test and come up with a few tips for consumers.

First, don’t assume that the higher the price, the better the window. When it came to keeping rain and cold air out of the home, their tests found that a $260 window vastly outperformed the much pricier ones. They offer a brilliant guide what to look for when choosing new windows for your home at

Finally, when comparing windows, these experts recommend that you check “… the overall scores in our window Ratings, then zero in on test results that apply to where you live. If your home is exposed to high winds and cold temperatures, look for windows that were excellent at low-temperature wind resistance.”

Share with your real estate agent any improvement you make to your home that improves energy efficiency. It’s an incredible marketing tool he or she will use when marketing your home.

Hey Veterans: Learn all about the VA Construction Loan

World War II defined the 1940s in the U.S. With the return of our soldiers came the Boom – the Baby Boom generation. Our men required homes to house all those kids and President Roosevelt came through for them by creating The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, more commonly called the GI Bill.

The bill generated college tuition and home loans for the men who served this country on the battlefields. In fact, $33 billion in home loans were issued to veterans.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs is one of only two government entities that provide guarantees for no-down payment home mortgages (the other is the United States Department of Agriculture).

The VA doesn’t directly loan money; it guarantees conventional lenders that a portion of the loan will be repaid in the event the borrower defaults. This assurance allows lenders the ability to offer our veterans more attractive mortgage rates and terms.

November is when we celebrate both National Veterans and Military Families Month and Veterans Day (November 11).

What better time to dive into the housing benefits provided to our nation’s heroes?  And, although the VA has a number of loan programs, one of the more difficult to obtain is the construction loan.

The Challenge

Although they are allowed by law, many lenders hesitate to make construction loans for VA loans because of the risks involved, such as construction disputes.

If you want to act as your own contractor you’ll most likely need to find construction financing outside of the VA and, when construction is complete, obtain a VA loan to refinance the construction loan.

This is not to say it’s impossible to find a lender willing to underwrite a construction loan, but it may be challenging.


Like all government programs, the VA home construction loan has specific requirements about who can receive the guarantee. The program also has specific builder tasks.

To qualify for the VA construction loan program, an applicant must be any of the following:

  • A United States veteran
  • Active duty service man or woman
  • Current Reserve member with at least six years of service
  • Current Guard member with at least six years of service
  • Surviving spouse
  • A current or former Commissioned Officer of the Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Additionally, the applicant must have:

  • Separated from the service under other than dishonorable conditions
  • Decent credit
  • Sufficient income to make the mortgage payments
  • A valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE)

Finally, the veteran or surviving spouse must intend on living in the home.

The Construction Loan

There are two types of VA construction loans:

  • One-time close (or single close) loans which is “… used to close both the construction loan and permanent financing at the same time, according to the VA’s Circular 26-18-7. “The permanent financing is

established prior to construction, and the final terms are modified to the permanent terms at the conclusion of construction,” they conclude.

  • Two-time close construction loans. As the name implies, this loan includes two closings, one before the start of construction of the home and “… a second closing where permanent financing is used to take out, or replace the initial loan.”

The beauty of the loan, other than the fact that it doesn’t require a down payment, is that the veteran doesn’t begin making payments until the home’s construction is completed.

Builder Responsibilities

The builder of your new dream home has certain VA-mandated fees to pay during the home’s construction. These include:

  • Paying the interest while the home is being built
  • Commitment fees
  • Inspection fees
  • Title fees
  • Insurance

Application Process

Just as veterans who apply for an existing home mortgage, those planning on building need to get their Certificate of Eligibility (COE). Many lenders can obtain the COE for you, so check with your lender first. You can also get a COE through the VA website by clicking here.

You’ll also need proof of military service. DD/214 separation documents are the best way to provide this proof and you can submit your request for the records online or by fax or mail.

The process is a little different for surviving spouses. They need to use VA Form 26-1817, Request for Determination of Loan Guaranty Eligibility – Unmarried Surviving Spouses which can also be found at the VA website.

If you have questions about the VA construction loan, contact the VA Regional Loan Center nearest you.

How to choose a buyer’s agent

Although Americans continue to be smitten with the DIY craze, buying real estate is not a do-it-yourself project. Sure, it’s fine to surf the Internet to search for your dream home, but when it comes time to actually view the homes, make sure you are fully represented by your own real estate agent.

Many new homebuyers don’t understand that although it may be perfectly legal in your state for the seller’s agent to also represent the buyer, it isn’t wise. This situation is known as “dual agency,” a type of transaction that at one time was outlawed in all 50 states, and here’s why:

The seller’s real estate agent has a duty to his or her client to act in the client’s best interests.

Now, how can this happen in a dual agency situation when the seller’s interests and the buyer’s interests are the exact opposite? Although agents feel they can offer the same ethical treatment to both parties, it doesn’t always happen.

To protect your interests during the purchase process, secure your own representation. It costs you, as the buyer, nothing. The seller pays the buyer’s agent’s commission out of the proceeds of the sale.

Do I Need a “Buyer’s” Agent?

Some real estate agents specialize in working only with buyers. That said, most agents have experience working on the buyer’s side of the transaction.

When looking for an agent to represent you in your home purchase, don’t feel that you need to restrict yourself to an agent who professes to work solely with buyers.

That said, there are several situations in which you should seriously consider working with an agent who not necessarily works strictly with buyers, but who is a bona fide specialist in the following:

  • The mobile home purchase
  • Buying a short sale
  • The purchase of ranch property
  • The purchase of a farm

Aside from these situations, pursue the best agent for your needs. Read on to find out how to go about finding this needle in a haystack.

Get Referrals

Whether you need a real estate agent to list your home for sale or to assist you with buying a home, a referral is the best way to find one. Ask everyone you know, including family members, co-workers, neighbors, friends and local business people.

The checkout lady at the grocery store may have just purchased a home and adores her agent. So don’t neglect to ask everyone you come into contact with and start compiling a list of names.

What if you’re relocating to an area and don’t have a network of contacts there? There are several other ways to find the perfect real estate agent for your needs:

  • Online: Check reviews at and
  • Relocation Representative: If you work for a large company and find yourself relocating as a result of this employment, consult the employee relocation representative for a list of agents to interview.
  • Chamber of Commerce: Call the Chamber of Commerce located in the area where you are moving. The folks there typically have a directory of members and will be happy to refer you to several agents in the area.

Ask the Right Questions

Most guides to choosing the right real estate agent will counsel you to find out if the agent is full-time or part-time and suggest that you go with the full-time agent. The thinking behind this suggestion is that the full-time agent will have more time for you.

Not so fast. Ask a follow-up question: How big is your staff? The superstar agent with a staff of 15 is the agent you will probably never speak with or see until closing, if then. That’s not to say this person isn’t a good agent, but to remind you that if you’re looking for personal, one-on-one interaction with the agent you hire, don’t hire the superstar with a huge staff.

Ask the agent how many other clients he or she is currently working with. The more clients the agent has, the thinner his or her attention is spread. If you find a house online that you absolutely love, time is of the essence in a fast-moving market. Will the agent have time to accommodate your last-minute showing needs?

If it’s important to you that the agent has a certain amount of experience, by all means ask how long he or she has been in the business. Keep in mind, however, that new agents typically work securely under the wing of their brokers, so you are actually getting the wisdom and benefit of a highly experienced real estate pro, although second-hand.

As important as it is to ask the right questions, listening to the agent is equally as important. What types of questions does the agent ask? One of the most important is whether or not you have loan pre-approval.

The savvy real estate agent understands that until you have seen a lender, looking at available homes is a waste of time, both yours and hers. Reject any agent who doesn’t pose this question.

Should I Sign an Agreement?

Many agents who consider themselves buyer specialists will ask that you sign a broker’s agreement.

This document commits you to working exclusively with the agent for a pre-determined amount of time. Broker’s agreements typically state that the agent will be compensated in the event the buyer switches to another agent and ends up purchasing a home shown by the original agent.

If the agent insists that you sign an agreement, ask for a short-term commitment. This way, should you decide the relationship between the two of you isn’t working out; you’re only locked into working with her for a short time. Agents typically ask for a 90-day commitment but the terms are negotiable, so choose a time period that you are comfortable with.

You are also within your rights to ask for a guarantee. Request that a clause be inserted into the agreement stating that if either party decides the business relationship isn’t a good fit, they will be released from the agreement.

Getting your finances in order and securing funding for the purchase of your home should always be the first steps in your home buying process. Finding the right real estate agent, while second on the to-do list, is no less important.


What you need to learn about a home before committing to buy it

Here’s something we find fascinating: 90% of diners researched a particular restaurant online before dining there. That is more than any other business type, according to a survey by

It makes sense at first glance. Let it sink in, though, and you’ll begin to wonder why physicians, dentists, hairstylists, plumbers and others aren’t at the top of the list.

By the same token, why doesn’t what may become the biggest investment we ever make, a home, deserve such careful scrutiny?

Homebuyers are a trusting bunch which can lead to remorse after they purchase.

The market is thankfully changing and you will be able to take time to consider your purchase. Ask your agent the questions he or she can get the answers to. Then, do your own research on the remaining.

Here’s a list to get you started.

  1. How old is the home? This is an easy question for your real estate agent because the year built is typically stated in the MLS listing.


  1. How old is the water heater, HVAC system, roof and other systems in the home? For instance, the average life expectancy of a water heater is 10 years. If the one in the home you have your eye on is going on 11 years, you may want to negotiate for a new one or a credit to purchase one.


  1. Ask about any renovations that have been done to the home, if the work was permitted and ask for copies of the permits. Who did the work? Is the contractor licensed?


  1. Ask your agent to request a CLUE report from the seller. “The report generally contains up to seven years of personal-auto and personal-property claims history,” according to the Washington State Office of Insurance Commissioner. The Fair Credit Reporting Act entitles Americans to a free copy of the CLUE report. Your agent can point the seller to this website on which the report can be ordered.


  1. Ask your agent to find out what the average utility bills amounted to over the past year. This should include electric, gas, water, trash and sewer.


  1. You will be given a packet of information from the Homeowners Association if the home is in a managed community. We urge you to read everything and, if possible, run it by your attorney. These are sometimes complicated documents but what is in them impacts how you will live in the home.


  1. Visit the local planning department to determine if there is potential property development planned for the area near the home. For instance, will a Walmart be built on the vacant parcel behind your home?


  1. Are any of the non-built-in appliances included in the sale? This might include the refrigerator, washer, dryer, etc.


  1. Contact the local police department to find the answers to your questions about crime in the area. You can also plug in the address of the home at and get its Livability Score, find crime stats for the neighborhood at and do check the National Sex Offender Public Website.


  1. If schools are important to you, check them out online at, and Education Consumers Foundation.






3 critical tips when selling your home during a market transition

You’ve no doubt heard that the housing market in changing. In fact, one expert claims that “We’re in a housing recession right now.”

While he is a lone voice on that front, there’s no doubt that the market is transitioning.

For instance, first-time homebuyers are putting their plans on hold for the time being. The pool of these homebuyers has shrunk from 34% to 26% since this time last year, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Does this mean that you’ll have trouble finding a buyer for your home?

Not at all.

What it does mean is that you should forget about the wonders of yesterday’s housing market. Tales of multiple offers, homes selling for more than the asking price, homes flying off the market within 24 hours and being able to call most of the shots during the transaction.

In other words, the market will, hopefully, correct to a normal real estate market.

There are a few other aspects of selling a home that you would do well to keep in mind right now.

1. Understand how market value is determined

Even if his home is identical to yours, it doesn’t matter what neighbor Joe’s home sold for 6 months ago. Yours isn’t worth that now. In fact, your home is only worth what a willing buyer will pay for it.

At this point in the market transition, that price is a moving target. You should certainly not rely on what the big online real estate portals (Zillow, etc.) suggest. Even professional appraisers will have to crunch more numbers to come up with a suggested value for their clients, the lenders.

Homes for sale in your neighborhood don’t dictate market value either. List prices are a bit like Fantasyland. They represent what the seller is hoping to get for the home. Only the prices of recently sold homes can help us determine current market value.

It’s important to be realistic when entertain a list price for your home. You are no longer selling at the height of the market, regardless of how much we all wish you were.

2. Most improvements don’t add significant value to a home

Many homeowners are surprised that the improvements they’ve made to the home won’t raise the value of the home. “For cost recovery, remodeling projects generally must fix a design or structural flaw to earn back the cost of construction,” warns Rebecca Baldridge, CFA, at

She goes on to caution homeowners that “The return on investment (ROI) of any given renovation project is a function of local market characteristics, the condition of the residential real estate market when the property is sold, and the quality of the work performed.”

Each year, the pros at Remodeling magazine research the average costs of a number of remodeling projects and determine how much the projects add to a home’s value.

In 2022, none of the projects studied result in a 100% or greater ROI. A garage door replacement, with specific products (which you can find here), comes closest with an ROI of 93.3%.

Again, it’s important to remain realistic about your home during the selling process.

3. Never be afraid or embarrassed to ask questions

Knowledge is power. It is therefore imperative that you understand every part of the home selling process. We are happy to help you with this.

Never allow fear of the unknown to overtake you at any point during the sale process. Ask questions and demand answers until you find your comfort zone.


The pros and cons of gas vs. electric ranges (and the best time to buy them)

When a homeowner needs a new range (or stove, whichever you choose to call it), he or she typically buys a replacement that fits the fuel source of the old appliance. In other words, they’ll replace a gas stove with another gas stove or an electric one with an electric stove.

It’s easier and less expensive this way, right?

If you’ll be starting a kitchen from scratch or if you don’t mind the expense of swapping out gas for electric (or vice versa), you’ll need to make a decision.

As usual, we’re here to help.

Here’s what you need to know about gas ranges

Currently, 35% of Americans cook with gas in their homes, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

A February 2022 Morning Consult survey asked respondents what type of range they would purchase, if they needed one, in the next decade. While half the respondents stated they would choose a gas stove, slightly more than 60% chose electric.

Professional chefs prefer gas ranges both at work and at home. “Flames are at the heart of what makes cooking visceral and fun,” chef Andrea Reusing told Tom Philpott at

Even the everyday cooking enthusiast with a gourmet kitchen at home would balk at giving up the gas stove.


  • They heat up immediately
  • Cooks have more control over a flame than an electric coil
  • Gas stoves are typically easier to clean
  • “Gas stoves are easier to maintain and troubleshoot,” according to Sarah Kellner at
  • Gas is typically less expensive to use than electric

The disadvantages to using a gas range

Gas stoves create nitrogen dioxide which has been linked with childhood asthma, according to Wynne Armand, MD at the Harvard Health Publishing website.

He goes on to admit, however, that “While observational studies can’t prove that cooking with gas is the direct cause of asthma, data also show that the higher the nitrogen dioxide level, the more severe the asthma symptoms in children and adults.” Additional ventilation in the home can prevent these elevated levels.

Let’s compare the gas stove to the electric stove

Currently, Americans prefer electric stoves. And here’s why:

  • Electric stoves cost less than comparable gas stoves.
  • Installing an electric stove is typically easier and cheaper than installing a gas stove.
  • Electric ranges don’t heat up the kitchen as much as gas ranges.

The disadvantages of electric ranges

Here are some of the potential and most commonly noted downsides to cooking with electric stoves.

  • Food cooks slower than it does over a gas flame.
  • The burners remain hot for a longer period of time than those of gas ranges.
  • Electric stoves won’t function during a power outage.
  • Electric ranges use more energy.

The best time of year to buy a new range

“The best time to buy appliances is when new models roll out: washers, dryers, and dishwashers in September and October, refrigerators in May, and ranges/ovens in January,” according to Manasa Reddigari at

That means that the best time to get that new gas or electric range at a decent price is right now.

Happy shopping!

Can’t make the payments on your VA home loan?

From the high (and going higher) cost of food to escalating energy bills, budgets are being destroyed across the country. And being able to shop at the commissary doesn’t offer much of a break to our military heroes either.

While inflation is impacting most Americans, veterans are being particularly hard-hit. More than 25% of veterans who purchased a home with a VA mortgage in 2022, are underwater on that mortgage, meaning they owe more than their home is worth. (Black Knight, Inc.)

Should you fight to stay in your home or throw in the towel and give it up? This is just one of the many questions faced by millions of homeowners who, for a number of reasons, find themselves at the end of the month with not enough money to pay the mortgage.

If you have a mortgage backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and you can no longer make your payments, you have several options.

Your lender should notify you as soon as you go into default. This is the time to work with the lender to bring your loan up to date. Once you’ve missed two payments, the lender is required to notify the VA.

Before that occurs, call a VA Loan service representative for assistance. The best number to call is 1-877-827-3702, between 8:00 am to 6:00 pm EST.

Be prepared to tell the representative why you are in default, your current financial situation, who occupies the property and whether or not you wish to keep it.

The VA offers several suggestions on ways to avoid foreclosure:

  • Sell the home – You may be granted additional time to sell the home.
  • Pay the delinquency.
  • Deed-in-lieu of foreclosure – If you have exhausted all other possibilities, the VA may consider taking back the deed to your house instead of pursuing foreclosure. You may be released completely from future liability, or you may have to agree to repay the government in the future.
  • Forbearance – A plan that allows you to repay a portion of the delinquency every month, on top of your mortgage payment. If your financial problems are temporary and you expect them to end sometime in the near future, the lender may suspend these additional payments for a time.
  • Loan modification.
  • Short sale.

Consider a refinance

One of the more common ways veterans avoid foreclosure is through a refinance. This is the ideal situation for those who would be able to hang on to the home if the payment is lower.

The VA has a program known as the IRRRL, the Interest Rate Reduction Refinancing Loan. To qualify, the mortgage must be a VA-backed loan and you are not allowed to receive any cash out from the refinance. Fixed-rate mortgage refinances must lead to a lower interest rate, and the VA cautions that an adjustable-rate refinance may result in a higher mortgage rate.

Benefits of the IRRRL include:

  • No appraisal is required by the VA.
  • No credit check is required by the VA.
  • You won’t need a certificate of eligibility.
  • The refinance can be performed with no cash out of your pocket, rolling the cost into the new loan.

The above are VA-supplied benefits only. Since a lender performs the refinance, you will most likely still be required, per lender standards, to submit credit information and have the home appraised.

The loan amount cannot exceed the outstanding balance of your existing mortgage, plus fees and closing costs. The VA cautions that, depending on your current loan balance, these fees may raise your balance to more than what the home is worth.

For more information on the IRRRL, see the Department of Veterans Affairs website.

Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act

If you are on active-duty and being threatened with foreclosure, the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA) may protect you.

Enacted in late 2003, the SCRA mandates that lenders acquire a court order to proceed with a foreclosure on property purchased by military personnel prior to entering the service if it is secured by a deed of trust or mortgage. This protection extends throughout the time of service or up to nine months after completion.

SCRA’s provisions apply to both conventional and government-backed mortgage loans. A lender’s failure to comply with the act voids the foreclosure or sale. To find out more about the SCRA, visit

14 tips to keep you safe during fireplace season

Home fire statistics are scary. Knowing how not to be among these statistics, however, is critical.

Let’s take a look at some of these statistics and then dive in to some safety tips to ensure your home’s fireplace keeps on cranking out that toasty heat while ensuring its occupants are safe.

Statistics you need to know

  • “Home heating equipment is the leading cause of U.S. home fires during the months of December, January and February, when nearly half (48 percent) of all U.S. home heating equipment fires occur.” (National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA)
  • While space heaters cause the most home fires, fireplaces and chimneys rank second, causing three in 10 residential heating equipment fires. (NFPA)
  • Fires considered “confined” (those in chimneys, flues and flue burners), make up 87% of heating fires in homes. (US Environmental Protection Agency)

The anatomy of a fireplace

“Fireplaces rely on the simple technology of air being drawn in from your home to feed the fire and then rising up and out of your chimney thanks to the heat generated by the fire,” according to the pros at Fluesbrothers Chimney and Fireplace in Kansas City, KS.

They go on to list the basic parts of the unit:

  • Hearth: The floor of the fireplace and the extension to the area in front of the fireplace (made of non-flammable material, such as tile or brick).
  • Firebox: The part of the fireplace in which the fire is contained.
  • Lintel: “The fireplace lintel … is a horizontal beam that runs across the length of the fireplace and supports the chimney,” according to the experts at Burlington Fireplace and Solar in Burlington, WI. Although it may look decorative, it’s most important purpose is to support the chimney’s weight.
  • Damper: Most homeowners are familiar with the fireplace damper. It consists of a flap that, when adjusted, allows smoke to rise up the chimney and exit the home. When closed, it will reduce drafts and heat loss.
  • Smoke Chamber: Located above the firebox, the smoke chamber starts wide and narrows to the chimney’s opening. Its purpose, rather like a funnel, is to direct smoke from the firebox to the chimney.
  • Flue: The passageway for exhaust gasses to the outdoors. “A flue may be a duct, pipe, vent, or chimney,” according to High’s Chimney Service in Gaithersburg, MD.

All of these parts work together to draw the air into and out of the fireplace and chimney.

Fireplace safety tips

  1. Ensure your home has working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors/alarms. Test each one on a monthly basis and change out the batteries annually.
  2. Purchase a fire extinguisher and service it at least once a month during fireplace season. You’ll find tips on the process online at
  3. Don’t use a fireplace without a screen in place.
  4. Never use an accelerant (acetone, Coleman fuel, kerosene, gasoline, etc.) to start a fire in a fireplace.
  5. Keep all combustible materials (fabric, wood, paper, plastics etc.) at least three feet away from the fireplace.
  6. Dirty fireplaces and chimneys account for 25% of all home heating equipment fires. Ensure that both are routinely cleaned. Never allow more than 1 inch of ash from a previous fire to accumulate.
  7. The NFPA recommends that you hire a chimney professional to inspect the fireplace and chimney annually and have everything cleaned by a chimney sweep.
  8. Repair any cracks found during the chimney inspection.
  9. Shine a flashlight up the chimney before lighting a fire to ensure there are no critter nests or other blockages.
  10. Burning small pieces of dry and well-aged wood contributes less soot in the chimney.
  11. Hot ash and coal can remain hot for several days after a fire. Dispose of the material safely by transferring it to a metal bucket or other container. Pour water over the ash and coal then dispose of it.
  12. Don’t close the chimney damper until the fire’s embers are completely extinguished.
  13. Never retire for the night while a fire is still burning in your fireplace.
  14. The experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics urge parents to “Talk with children as early as possible about the dangers of fires and the heat coming from them.”

Post-holiday storage and cleaning hacks

With the winter holidays in the rearview mirror, all that remains is the cleanup. Depending on how festive your get-togethers were your home may need just a light going-over or you may be feeling the need for a full-on hazmat suit.

From the grease-spattered range to drips on the backsplashes, the kitchen typically takes the brunt of the holiday messes.

But, today we focus on all that decorative stuff that needs to be taken down and stored and the needle-dropping tree to de-trim and dispose of.

We’ve checked with some of our favorite organization experts and scoured the internet to bring you some brilliant post-holiday hacks to get your home back to its old self again.

Wrapping and ribbons and ornaments, oh my!

If you haven’t yet taken down the holiday décor, it’s best to do so before tackling any other cleaning jobs.

We found a brilliant hack for storing tree ornaments. Here is what you’ll need:

  • Large plastic storage bin
  • Tissue paper or newspaper
  • Large red Solo-brand cups
  • Cardboard, cut to the interior dimensions of the bin

Fill the bottom of the bin with the plastic cups, standing with the open side up. Wrap each ornament individually in the newspaper or tissue paper and place each in a cup. When you’ve filled all of the cups, lay a piece of the cardboard over the cups and start another layer.

Add a wrapped ornament to each cup and repeat the layers as needed. For extra protection, add fabric ornaments and accessories (such as the tree skirt) to the top of the bin.

If you lack the plastic bin made exclusively for rolls of wrapping paper, no problem!

Head to the nearest Dollar General Dollar Store, or its equivalent, and pick up a tall, plastic trash bin. The rolls can be stored in it, upright and out of the way.

What to do with all those rolls of ribbon? We found a genius hack at Use an old (or buy one at a discount store) paper towel holder. “Pick up your largest spool of leftover ribbon and toss it onto …” it, instructs Molli Carlson.

“Repeat the process in order of largest spool to smallest spool, and then tape the ribbon ends to their spools to keep them tidy until your next gift-wrapping marathon.” Check out the photo at

The folks at suggest winding your tree lights around empty wrapping paper tubes. “Loop the cord around the roll, starting with the side opposite to the plug, then insert the plug into the tube’s opening.”

The cleanup

Cleaning up the tree debris is often a death knell for a vacuum cleaner. Instead, use a rubber broom to sweep needles and other debris into a dust pan. They are also, by the way, amazing for picking up pet hair from carpet.

You can purchase inexpensive rubber brooms at, Lowe’s and Home Depot.

Glitter has a tendency to land and stick to anything upholstered. Use that rubber broom to remove from carpet and a lint roller to remove it from other fabric items – even from lamp shades!

Should you buy a house before you sell the current one or wait?

If you are a homeowner who wants to purchase another home you’re most likely asking yourself a question common to folks in your situation: should I sell before I buy?

The answer to that question depends on several factors.

Your personality

Just the thought of having two mortgage payments – even for a short period of time – can cause massive anxiety in some folks. Despite assurances from your lender of a simultaneous close on the two homes, the uncertainty may linger.

Then there is the pressure to accept an unattractive offer on your current home just to ensure the home sells. On the other hand, if you wait to purchase, you’ll have the luxury of being able to negotiate offers as they come in.

If you crave certainty, you should probably wait until the current home sells to take on the purchase process.

There are, however, those who deal with uncertainty better than others. If that describes you, then going through the home purchase process before you sell your current home probably won’t faze you.

Your finances

Regardless of your personality, if you just don’t have the money to support two mortgage payments then you should sell your home before you purchase another or attempt a simultaneous close (we explain that process later on).

The market

A seller’s market is the ideal situation when you’re selling your current home.

In a seller’s market, when there are few homes available and lots of buyers competing for them, sellers are in the driver’s seat. This is great news when you go to sell the current home, but it may be a tougher process on the buying end.

With multiple offers, not many of sellers will accept an offer that is contingent on another home selling. Thankfully, the overheated market is beginning to correct, so this may not be that big of an issue.

On the flip side, in a hot seller’s market, homes in good condition, located in decent areas, sell quickly.  If yours is among them, you take on little risk if you purchase a new home before selling your current one.

Ascertain if the current market caters to sellers or buyers before making the decision. We are happy to share what we know so feel free to reach out.

The simultaneous close

Selling one home while purchasing another is a bit of a balancing act. If you try to time the closings to occur during the same time period you run the risk of ending up with two house payments.

If you allow sufficient time between closings, on the other hand, you may find yourself renting a home and, thus, moving twice.

The ideal situation is to plan for a simultaneous closing, where both transactions occur on the same day. However, this process too comes with risks. If anything should go wrong on the first transaction you could end up not being able to close on the second.

Not only will you not have the new home, you may be in default of the purchase contract and lose your earnest money deposit.

It’s important to choose the right buyers for your current home. How much do you know about their finances? How firm is their offer? What do you know about their motivation to purchase? How badly do they want the home?

Since the process is a bit like a string of dominoes, and the buyer of your home is the lead domino, it’s important to choose a buyer you know will consummate the deal. Otherwise, if he falls, he takes everyone else down with him.

The key to success is hiring an experienced, professional real estate agent. Your agent can guide you through the process, steering the transaction to keep it on course.