8 Costly Missteps New Homeowners Make in Their First Year!

By: Amy Howell Hirt

How not to make money mistakes as a fledgling homeowner.

The negotiations are over. Your mortgage is settled. The keys to your first home are in hand.

Finally, you can install your dream patio.

You can paint the walls without losing your security deposit.

Heck, you could knock out a wall. You’re soooo ready to be a homeowner.

So ready in fact, you’re about to make some costly mistakes.

Wait, whaaat?

“You have to rein it in and be smart,” says Daniel Kanter, a homeowner with five years under his belt. Especially in your first year, when your happiness, eagerness (and sometimes ignorance) might convince you to make one of these eight mistakes:

#1 Going With the Lowest Bid:

The sounds your HVAC system is making clearly require the knowledge of a professional (or perhaps an exorcist?).

But you’ve been smart and gotten three contractor bids, so why not go with the lowest price?

You might want to check out this story from a Michigan couple. Rather than going with a remodeler who’d delivered good work in the past, they hired a contractor offering to complete the work for less than half the cost, in less time.

A year later, their house was still a construction zone. You don’t want to be in the same spot.

What to do: Double-check that all bids include the same project scope — sometimes one is cheaper because it doesn’t include all the actual costs and details of the project. The contractor may lack the experience to know of additional steps and costs.

#2 Submitting Small Insurance Claims:

Insurance is there to cover damage to your property, so why not use it?

Because the maddening reality is that filing a claim or two, especially in a relatively short period, can trigger an increase in your premium. “As a consumer advocate, I hate telling people not to use something they paid for,” says Amy Bach, executive director of nonprofit United Policyholders, which works to empower consumers. But, it’s better to pay out of pocket than submit claims that are less than your deductible.

Save your insurance for the catastrophic stuff. “You want the cleanest record possible,” Bach says. “You want to be seen as the lowest risk. It’s like a driving record — the more tickets you have, the more your insurance.”

Some insurance groups, like the Insurance Information Institute and National Association of Insurance Commissioners, say it’s hard to generalize about Money TipEven claims on your house by the previous owner can count against you if the issues haven’t been fixed; insurers fear the home is likely to have more claims.premium increases because states’ and providers’ rules differ. But this stat from a report by UP and the Rutgers Center for Risk and Responsibility at Rutgers Law School is pretty sobering: Only two states — Rhode Island and Texas — got top marks for protecting consumers “from improper rate increases and non-renewals” just for making:

  • An inquiry about a claim
  • A claim that isn’t paid because it was less than the deductible
  • A single claim

Your best protection? Maintaining your home so small claims don’t even materialize.

#3 Making Improvements Without Checking the ROI:

Brandon Hedges, a REALTOR® in Minneapolis-St. Paul, recalls a couple who, though only planning to stay in their home for a few years, quickly replaced all their windows. When the time came to sell, he had to deliver the crushing news that they wouldn’t get back their full investment — more than $30,000.

New windows can be a great investment if you’re sticking around for awhile, especially if windows are beyond repair, and you want to save on energy bills.

Just because you might personally value an upgrade doesn’t mean the market will. “It’s easy to build yourself out of your neighborhood” and invest more than you can recoup at resale, says Linda Sowell, a REALTOR® in Memphis, Tenn.

What to do: Before you pick up a sledgehammer, check with an agent or appraiser, who usually are happy to share their knowledge about how much moola an improvement will eventually deliver.

#4 Going on a Furnishing Spree:

When you enter homeownership with an apartment’s worth of furnishings, entire rooms in your new home are depressingly sparse. You want to feel settled. You want guests at your housewarming party to be able to sit on real furniture.

But try to exercise some retailing willpower. Investing in high-quality furniture over time is just smarter than blowing your budget on a whole house worth of particleboard discount items all at once.

What to do: Live in your home for a while, and you’ll get to know your space. Your living room may really need two full couches, not the love seat and a recliner you pictured there.

#5 Throwing Away Receipts and Paperwork:

Shortly after moving in, your sump pump dies. You begrudgingly pay for a new one and try to forget about the cash you just dropped. But don’t! When it comes time to sell, improvements as small as this are like a resume-builder for your home that can boost its price. And, if problems arise down the road, warranty information for something like a new furnace could save you hundreds.

What to do: Stow paperwork like receipts, contracts, and manuals in a three-ring binder with clear plastic sleeves, or photograph your documents and upload them to cloud storage.

#6 Ignoring Small Items on Your Inspection Report:

Use your inspection report as your very first home to-do list — even before you start perusing paint colors. Minor issues that helped take a chunk of change off the sale price can cause cumulative (and sometimes hazardous) damage. Over time, loose gutters could yield thousands in foundation damage. Uninsulated pipes? You could pay hundreds to a plumber when they crack in freezing temperatures. And a single faulty electric outlet could indicate dangerous ungrounded electricity.

What to do: Get the opinion and estimate of a contractor (usually at no charge), and then you can make an informed decision. But remember #1 above.

#7 Remodeling Without Doing the Research:

No one wants to be a Negative Nancy, but there’s a benefit to knowing the worst-case scenario.

Homeowner Kanter tells the time he hired roofers to remove box gutters from his 1880s home. Little did he know, more often than not aged box gutters come with more extensive rot damage, which his roofers weren’t qualified to handle.

“We had to have four different contractors come in and close stuff up for the winter,” he says. Had he researched the problem, he could have saved money and anxiety by hiring a specialist from the start, he says.

What to do: Before beginning a project, thoroughly research it. Ask neighbors. Ask detailed questions of contractors so you can get your timing, budget, and expectations in line.

#8 Buying Cheap Tools:

You need some basic tools for your first home — a hammer, screwdriver set, a ladder, maybe a mower.

But if you pick up a “novelty” kit (like those cute pink ones) or inexpensive off-brand items, don’t be surprised if they break right away, or if components like batteries have to be replaced frequently.

What to do: For a budget-friendly start, buy used tools from known quality brands (check online auctions or local estate sales) that the pros themselves use.

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81 Staging Tips That Help Buyers Fall in Love!

By: Natalie Burg

Their agent won’t have to say, “Picture this.” Buyers will see your home at its best.

Staging your house can make you money. Seventy-one percent of sellers’ agents believe a well-staged environment increases the dollar value buyers are willing to offer, according to the National Association of REALTORS® “2015 Profile of Home Staging.”

Just take this real world tale of two condo listings from Terrylynn Fisher, a REALTOR® with Dudum Real Estate Group in Walnut Creek, Calif., who also stages:

Both units were in the same complex. One hadn’t been staged or updated since it was built; the other was staged and had been slightly refreshed (a little paint here and there and one redone bath). Otherwise, both units were the same size and layout. The staged condo sold for about $30,000 more than the unstaged unit, she says. “People couldn’t believe it was the same model.”

Before your eyes turn into dollar signs, keep in mind staging isn’t guaranteed to get you more money. But it’s an important marketing tool to help you compete at the right price, which means you can sell faster. (A study from the Real Estate Staging Association bears this out.)

Helping buyers fall in love with your property takes more than running the vacuum and fluffing the pillows: It’s all about decluttering, repairing, updating, and depersonalizing, say real estate agents and stagers.

With help from Fisher and other sources, we’ve compiled the ultimate home staging checklist.

Jump to a specific room or area of the house:

Living Room:

  • When placing anything from accent pillows and table lamps, go for symmetry, which is pleasing to the eye.
  • Light it up with lamps. Chic lamps provide both added lighting and appealing decor.
  • Make that fireplace glow. Scrub away soot stains and replace the old screen.
  • If you’re using staging furniture or buying slip covers, choose light colors for an airy, inviting feel.
  • Whatever amount of furniture you have in your living room, remove a few pieces to make the room feel spacious.
  • Use bright, coordinated accessories like accent pillows and throw blankets for a chic splash of color.
  • Help buyers imagine their life in your home. Set the scene by displaying a board game or tea service on the coffee table, and arrange furniture in conversational groups.
  • Let a slideshow of beautiful images play on your television like a screensaver.

Kitchen:

  • Clear everything from countertops except one or two decorative items, like a vase of flowers or bowl of fresh fruit.
  • Pack up all the dishes except one attractive, matching set. Do the same with glassware, flatware, and cookware, and pare down all other cupboard and drawer items down to the minimum.
  • Freshen up and modernize those cabinets with a fresh coat of paint or stain and new hardware.
  • Seriously evaluate your appliances. Can they look new again with a good scrubbing? Give it the old college try or consider replacing with new models. The Real Estate Staging Association strongly recommends stainless steel. Tip: You can get the look of stainless for the cost of a cheap dinner with stainless films.
  • Remove those fridge magnets and give the door and handles a good cleaning.
  • Scrub dirt, grime, and stains from walls, cabinets, and backsplashes.
  • Clean cabinet interiors, especially under the sink.
  • Clean and organize the pantry, leaving some empty space to make it look bigger. Store items in decorative baskets and display a few jars of fancy jam and other upscale condiments.
  • Empty all trash cans and move them out of sight.

Bedrooms:

  • Go gender neutral in the master bedroom. Ditch those dainty, floral pillow shams or NASCAR posters.
  • Pack up all but the clothes you’re wearing this season to make you closets look larger.
  • Swap out the motley crew of mismatched hangers in your closet for a set of wooden ones to create a classy, boutique look.
  • Put jewelry and other valuables in a safe spot.
  • Consider giving extra bedrooms a new identity as a home office, sewing room, or another interesting function.
  • Remove televisions or video game consoles from bedrooms to depersonalize and create a serene setting.

Dining Room:

  • Let buyers entertain the idea of entertaining. Set out some chic place settings around the table, or a few wine glasses and a decanter on the buffet.
  • Strike a balance between overly formal and too casual with an attractive runner and a few fun, decorative elements — think small floral vases or short candle holders.

Bathroom:

  • It’s de-grime time: Scrub and sanitize the walls, floor, shower door — virtually every surface that comes in contact with steam.
  • Spend extra time scrubbing that tile grout and re-caulk around the tub if necessary.
  • If your bathroom tile is dated, try paint instead of replacing it. Start with a high-adhesion primer and either epoxy or latex paint.
  • Remove clutter from the countertop, tub, and top of toilet. Clean surfaces until they gleam.
  • Pack up and hide all your personal products — from medicine to razors.
  • Create a luxury spa look with a fancy soap dispenser, fluffy white towels, decorative baskets, candles, plants, a white shower curtain, and a new bath mat.
  • Fix leaky or running toilets and replace toilet seats.
  • Remove hard water stains on faucets and shower heads. (Try vinegar!)
  • Take a daring sniff of the drains. Odorous? Clean them out, and deodorize with baking soda, boiling water, or vinegar.
  • Time for a new sink anyway? Try a pedestal sink to optimize precious bathroom space.

Walls, Windows & More:

  • Have a dark corner or hallway? Brighten it up with a decorative mirror.
  • Neutralize the walls. If any rooms are painted in dark colors, repaint white or beige.
  • Paint adjacent rooms the same color to make the whole space feel larger.
  • Fill nicks and holes in walls, and touch up with paint.
  • Sorry, wood paneling. It’s time. Paint over paneling with a neutral color. To really cover your tracks, use wood filler between panels and paint over the entire thing.
  • Make sure every switch plate and outlet cover matches and looks brand new.
  • Wash the windows, inside and out. Repair any holes or tears in screens.
  • Replace those family portraits with interesting art placed strategically throughout the house. Avoid leaving dead space on walls.

Throughout the House:

  • Declutter! Consider it pre-packing for your move. Box up books, clothes, and personal items and place them (neatly!) in the garage or — better yet — a rented storage unit.
  • Don’t forget to include memorabilia in those decluttering bins. Family photos, diplomas, and the kids’ artwork should all go.
  • Keep closets, basements, and attics as empty as possible to maximize the appearance of storage space.
  • Transform underused areas of the house — the alcove under the stairs or the end of a hallway — into functional spots. Add a desk to create a mini office, or a chair and small bookshelf for a reading nook.
  • Swap dim lights for high-wattage bulbs.
  • Check every door, drawer, and cabinet to ensure they open and close easily. Swap out any faulty — or dingy — hardware.
  • Damaged or aging hardwood floors? Replace damaged boards with new wood, sand down the entire floor, and re-stain.
  • Do a deep (deep, deep) clean. Hire a professional cleaning service to clean your home from top to bottom — including carpets — before viewings.

Exterior:

  • Hang attractive house numbers that are legible from the road.
  • Brighten up your porch with fresh paint or stain.
  • Add a fresh coat of paint to the front door, preferably red, black, blue, or wood stain, so long as it complements the trim and doesn’t blend, says The Real Estate Staging Association. Steer clear of unconventional colors like purple.
  • Buy a new doormat to welcome home buyers.
  • Power-wash the house exterior, walkway, steps, driveway, and porch until everything sparkles.
  • Make sure the locks and doorbell function.
  • Make that mailbox look clean and welcoming, or get a new one.
  • Plant lots of colorful blooms in attractive pots and planter beds.
  • Trim back trees and shrubs from the approach to the front door.
  • Whip that yard into shape with fresh sod or new seed
  • Store yard equipment and children’s toys out of sight.
  • Repair shaky banisters.
  • Get a hammock (or bocce ball game or raised fire pit) to show off how fun your yard can be.
  • Dress up any imperfect planting area with mulch.
  • Make sure entryway lights function and are free of cobwebs and insects.
  • Hide trash cans, recycle bins, and garden hoses.
  • Don’t forget your outdoor living space. Stage your patio like a second living room, with fashionable furniture, accent pillows, an outdoor rug, and other patio-friendly decor.

For Pet Owners:

  • Scrub those pet stains on the carpets and rugs until totally gone or replace them if necessary. Try cleaning formulas made especially for pet odors.
  • Pet odors soak into your best friend’s favorite things. Completely remove pet beds (or Fido’s most-loved couch), blankets, toys, play structures, food bowls, and the like.
  • Use air fresheners that eliminate odors, rather than simply mask them. There’s nothing worse than the smell of artificial pine with kitty litter undertones.
  • Repair or remove any furniture that’s been scratched or gnawed on.
  • Clean all pet “presents” from the yard.
  • Keep cat boxes immaculate and hidden away, or — better yet — see how your feline-loving friends feel about a temporary houseguest and remove litter boxes altogether.
  • Remove any dog or cat doors. Pets? What pets?
  • When you leave the house for a viewing, take all the furry (or feathery or scaly) residents along with you.
  • Make a pet hair sweep the last thing you do before you leave the house.

Day of Showing:

  • Add a seasonal touch. Simmer cinnamon sticks in the fall and set out fresh cut lilacs in the spring.
  • Tidy like you’ve never tidied before.
  • Avoid cooking any food for your own meals, but do bake some cookies or other baked goods to leave a welcoming aroma behind.
  • Take off. After all that staging work, you deserve a trip to the spa while potential home buyers are busy falling in love with your house.

Super-Busy People Reveal Their Habits for a Tranquil Home!

By: Amy Howell Hirt

Three young entrepreneurs give tips on staying organized and calm while living hectic lives.

Life is crazy. Cah-ray-zee. And while you wouldn’t have it any other way from 9 to 5 (OK, more like 8 to 7), the insanity should stop at your front door.

That’s why you bought your home, right? To have a place to rest, recharge, and come up with your next trailblazing idea. A few inspirational ideas for your home may be all you need to put it on the path to tranquility.

Three super-busy entrepreneurs — a brewery owner, website founder, and organic farmer — know exactly how important a tranquil home is to achieving personal success. Here, they share how they created Zen-like havens in their homes to foster stress-relieving routines.

A Nook to Bliss Out In:

When hanging out at the local brewpub loses its appeal because, well, brewing is your business, home becomes your place for a mini getaway.

Tim Bullock, who co-owns St. Elmo Brewing Company in Austin, Texas, and his wife, photographer Heather Gallagher, created a perfect spot to chill in their own home with a little wallpaper and a daybed.

In the morning before his young son wakes up, Bullock often lounges on the daybed, reading the news, sending a few emails, or just listening to piano music before the madness of the day ensues.

The brightly colored tropical wallpaper mural covers an entire wall next to the daybed. Compared to the crisp black-and-white color scheme in the rest of the house, the vibrant space “really feels like a vacation room,” Bullock says.

Your blissful nook doesn’t have to be indoors: HypeGirls.com founder Nichole Dawkins created a tropical escape on her balcony. More than 20 strategically placed potted plants — including aloe, vegetables, herbs, small palm trees, cacti, and orchids — block out the neighbors and frame a calming water view from her Miami home.

Given the space’s appeal, Dawkins doesn’t have to remind herself to take a break throughout the day. She meditates there every morning, soaks in the sun while enjoying an afternoon cup of tea, and often reads or colors while her son naps. Sign us up!

A No-Fail System for Organization:

With a young toddler running around, Dawkins is constantly battling toys that threaten to take over her living room. So the creative director and founder of the site for “millennial mamas,” invested in DIY shelving and deep decorative bins.

Because every bin houses one category of items — like puzzles, coloring books, games, and toys — she can easily clean up throughout the day, allowing her more time to enjoy that sense of adult orderliness every evening.

Instead of a mess facing her at the end of the work day, “I spend much more time relaxing in the space than I do cleaning it up,” she says.

A Drop Zone to Separate Work From Home:

Is it difficult to leave the literal “mess” of work at the front door? Andrea Davis-Cetina, an organic farmer and owner of Quarter Acre Farm in Sonoma, Calif., can relate.

A one-woman operation, she might spend the day planting and harvesting, and then return home after dark to post social media updates, order seeds, or book guests for her radio show. She needed a place to stow her dirty farm boots and jackets, but her home doesn’t have a foyer.

So she carved out a small foyer drop zone at the front door, with a wall-mounted coat rack above a simple, three-level shoe stand.

“It stops the mess at the door,” she says, and helps draw that elusive line between work and personal life — even if there’s more work to be done after a long shower and an episode of “Scandal.”

For homeowners with devices instead of dirty gear: A charging station is a must-have for a drop zone. Plug ‘em in, and leave ‘em there.

An Easy Way to Spend Time Outside:

Bullock says both his home’s location and his home’s yard help him de-stress simply by encouraging him to get outside.

Since his home is in a walkable neighborhood, Bullock says that encourages both him and his family to interact with nature, instead of watching it through car windows — either by walking to the local pizzeria or riding their bikes through the park. Their home’s locale makes it all possible.

But his favorite just might be the small herb garden in his front yard. He and his son routinely spend a few minutes most days watering or weeding it.

“That definitely is a big stress relief, and it’s right outside the front door,” he says.

Windows will get you a dose of nature, too: Dawkins says the abundance of windows in her home is a natural mood-booster — and a significant reason she chose her home. She leaves the windows uncovered during the day to get as much of the benefits of daylighting as she possibly can.

A Focal Point to Find Peace and Motivation:

“The power of visualization is very important when you’re trying to get focused, or relax,” Dawkins says, by way of explanation for the “inspiration board” in her home.

She gives her board a very personal touch. Every year, she takes a blank canvas and paints it with a new theme (this year, it’s reggae), then adds her visions and dreams to it.

It works as artwork in her home, but it also helps her to see her goals clearly — and let go of the day’s less consequential stressors.

You don’t have to be an artist to have an inspiration board: Davis-Cetina uses a simple bulletin board to hang her motivational messages and personal and professional mementos. In the evening, when she’s handling the office end of farm work from an extra bedroom, she likes to visit her board. “I like to hold onto things and look at them. It’s a reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing,” she says.

How to Choose New Windows and Not Worry You’re Wasting Money!

By: Teresa Mears

Find out how much windows cost — and whether you really need to spend the dollars.

You knew your windows weren’t in the best shape when you bought your home, but now they’re really starting to get to you. They’re making your home look — and feel — well, dumpy.

Not only that, you feel drafts coming from your windows in winter, then they jam shut when summer rolls around. Talk about frustrating.

Maybe it’s finally time for new windows, but can you afford it? And what if you make a mistake that makes your house look even worse? It can, and does, happen.

“You put the wrong window in and, boy, it will stick out like a sore thumb.” That’s what window expert Larry Patterson, president of Glass Doctor of North Texas in Dallas, says.

Here’s how to choose new windows without making mistakes — and avoid spending money you don’t need to:

First Ask, “Do I Really Need New Windows?”

It may be that not replacing them is the smart thing to do, especially when you factor in the cost of new windows: $10,000 or more on the average home.

And while manufacturers may tout the energy savings new windows can provide, it could take yearsto recoup that 10 grand. The most significant energy savings you’d see is $583 annually (says the U.S. Energy Star program).

Do the math: It’ll take 17 years (!) for you to save enough to make up the cost. Perhaps a little window caulking and weatherstripping will do?

Even if your windows are broken or damaged, you might not need to buy new. Older wood windows can last more than 100 years (for real) because the old-growth wood used back then is super durable — still!

So in many cases, especially if your home has original windows, they may just need new glass or some simple repairs, which will save you a bundle.

But if your windows are a lost cause, and it really is time to replace them, here’s what to know:

How to Choose New Windows:

For better or for worse, new windows can change the look of your entire home. Let’s aim for better, yes?

It starts with picking the right material, says Dan Bawden, president and CEO of Legal Eagle Contractors in Houston and chair of the National Association of Home Builders’ Remodelers group.

Vinyl windows might look fine on a Colonial house, but they would never work with a Tudor-style home, he says. That’s because wood trim is what makes a Tudor a Tudor (try saying that three times with a straight face, ha!).

“The windows need to match the quality and price point of the house,” says Bawden.

Choose From 5 Types of Window Materials:

  • Wood — Very durable and energy efficient with classic good looks. Needs regular care (AKA painting).
  • Composite — Made of modern wood products such as particleboard. More resistant to moisture than wood.
  • Vinyl — Easy to maintain and affordable. The frame can be filled with fiberglass for more insulation.
  • Fiberglass — Very strong, sturdy. Can also be filled with insulation.
  • Aluminum — Probably the most affordable. Not good for energy savings in cold climates because it conducts heat.

You’ll probably hear about wood-clad windows, too. They’re real wood on the inside of your home, but vinyl, fiberglass, or aluminum on the exterior. Choosing wood-clad will add to the cost, but their easy-to-maintain classic style might make you overlook the bottom line.

Match Your Home’s Window Style:

Of course, the material your windows are made of isn’t the decision you’ll have to make. Two more things help determine which style of window to choose:

  • Windows with grids or without?
  • Windows that open from the top, bottom, both — or side?

Windows with grids that divide the glass into what looks like smaller windows (really old, single-pane windows actually are made up of individual panes of glass held together by wooden grids) are the more traditional classic windows, while those without grids are more modern in style.

So a sleek, contemporary home would look just right with grid-less windows, but a red-brick 1800s Georgian would look near naked without grids on its windows.

The most common window-opening styles are:

  • Single-hung windows. Only the bottom opens. The least expensive option.
  • Double-hung windows. Both the top and bottom open. The most common and easiest to clean.
  • Sliding windows. They slide open to the left or right. Great for hard-to-reach places, like over the kitchen sink.
  • Casement windows. They crank open from the side, allowing more air in.

If you love a stiff breeze, casement windows could be your answer. “If you open that thing, it’s like an aircraft wing,” Patterson says.

Be Cautious About Add-Ons If You Want to Save Money:

Like everything from cars to toothbrushes, windows can come with features ranging from standard to “OMG-why-would-you-need-that?!” Here are the most common ones with a little sensible advice about each:

Argon gas-filled windows

  • Can only be used with double-pane or triple-pane windows.
  • Save about $10 a year in energy, says “Consumer Reports.”
  • Cost about $30 to $40 per window, so they can be pricey.
  • Don’t work forever. The gas leaks out over time.

Triple-pane windows

  • Recommended only for extremely frigid climates.
  • Add about $100 to the cost of each window.

Impact-resistant glass windows

  • Are only necessary if you live in a hurricane-prone area.

Low-E-glass

  • Has an invisible coating that keeps the home cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
  • Helps prevent sunlight from fading your furnishings.
  • Can make your home seem dim inside if you opt for too much coating. If you pick 40% light transmittal versus 72%, “it’s significantly darker, and you’re going to notice that,” Patterson says.

U-factor

  • It’s a rating (from 0.2 to 1.2) that measures a window’s insulation.
  • The lower the rating, the better.
  • Not usually worth the cost to pay for a rating below 0.3.

Tips for Choosing a Window Manufacturer and Installer:

Quality naturally varies from brand to brand. Who can you trust?

Look for lifetime warranties and/or certifications from:

  • Energy Star
  • The National Fenestration Ratings Council
  • The American Window and Door Institute
  • The American Architectural Manufacturers Association

An expert installer may be even more important than choosing the window itself. A poor installation of a high-quality window will result in poor window performance. Read online reviews, ask for references, visit window showrooms, and ask about manufacturer certifications. And as always, consider multiple bids.

“Anyone can screw a window in,” Bawden says. “I want someone who really knows how to seal that window well.”

11 Habits for a Totally Chill Home!

By: Amy Howell Hirt

Create a peaceful home with these best practices for eliminating stress.

Your home should be your refuge. It should clear away the day’s distractions and help you feel organized, focused, and calm. Ooooooommm.

So why does it feel less like a yoga studio and more like the middle of a five-lane intersection?

Maybe a different perspective on your habits and routines is all that’s needed to fix it.

That’s what a couple of psychologists — and anxiety experts, to boot — say. Here, they share some stress-nixing habits that can make your home a source of solace. Consider this your prescription for a totally chill home.

#1 Regularly Ditch What Annoys You:

A few times a year, look over everything sitting out in your home. If it doesn’t serve a present-day purpose or make you feel good, it’s got to go.

Keeping things around out of guilt — the Pilates mat you haven’t touched in months or the handmade quilt from grandma that isn’t quite your style — only crowds the eye and brings on stress, says Perri L. Zinberg, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles.

#2 Use a Drop Zone Every Time You Walk in the Door:

Avoid the distress of searching for your keys (OMG, again) by designating a bowl or cubby for items like sunglasses, your wallet, or your phone that you frequently need to grab on the way out the door. Oh, and use it. On the way in. Every single time.

#3 Delegate the Chores Everyone Hates:

No one has ever reached nirvana while being their household’s chore martyr. Distribute chores among family members, and rotate them weekly so no one feels stuck with the same task.

If it’s an option, schedule a housekeeper to stop by once a month. It could be way more therapeutic than you expect. “Having a house cleaner of some sort has saved a lot of marriages, because that’s one of the major things people fight over,” Zinberg says.

#4 Fill Your Home With the Sounds You Love:

Tune out the literal (and mental) noise of the day by turning on whatever music or sounds that make you happy or calm. A playlist that speaks to you can motivate you to sit back and enjoy your home’s peace or fire you up to do a deep clean, which satisfies both your body and soul.

#5 Enjoy the Silence, Too:

A TV or radio droning on in the background keeps your brain buzzing. “Make sure there are times when there’s no noise in the house,” says Amy Wood, Psy.D., a psychologist in Portland, Maine.

“It’s very soothing and healing and meditative.” Create a set time — during dinner prep or right before bed, perhaps — for pure, luxurious quiet. Ahhh …

#6 Put Out-of-Season Items Out of Sight:

Twice a year — or quarterly, if you’re a true clothes horse — put out-of-season clothing and bedding into storage. You won’t believe how luxurious it feels to effortlessly browse through your clothing options with more elbow room in the closet. If you’re short on storage space, get a few under-bed containers or inexpensive vacuum-seal bags.

#7 Make Your Bed:

Turns out your mom was right. Sorry. Research has found people who adopt this habit are happier overall. And it’s much more pleasant to slip into a neatly made bed at the end of a long day, Zinberg says.

#8 Take Tech Time-Outs Daily:

You can’t unwind if you never unplug. Find an outlet near the door and create a charging station where you can drop your phone, laptop, and tablet when you get home.

You can even set your phone to airplane mode for a set period of time every day, Zinberg suggests.

And while Google, Siri, and Alexa can be helpful tools, artificial intelligence can distract from relaxation, bonding, and learning time with family, Wood points out, so include them in the nightly blackout.

#9 Dim the Lights Every Night:

Turning down the lights sends a visual cue to your brain that it’s time to chillax. So install dimmers on your bedroom and family room outlets, and make sure your bulbs emit relaxing warm light (around 2,700K) rather than cool light, which tends to energize instead of chill.

Every night, perhaps after dinner, take a second to dim your home into evening mode. For the soothing glow of candlelight, Zinberg recommends dimmable Edison bulbs.

#10 Make Time and Space for Your Hobby:

Hobbies aren’t an indulgence: They’re a necessity for good mental health. “You must make room for the things that feed your soul,” Zinberg says.

This can be as simple as assigning a chair as your reading nook, Wood recommends, or outfitting the corner of a room for crafting. That makes it much easier to nestle into the thing that gives you respite.

#11 Pause Before You Purchase:

Get in the habit of pausing — for 24 hours — before you hit “buy” on a new home item. Consider how that new dresser or rug could affect your overall stress level.

Will you go mad trying to keep it clean? Is it so flimsy you’ll be buying a new one next year? Then it’s not worth the anxiety, no matter the low, low price. Zinberg recommends buying old, well-built furniture and having it refinished. “It costs about the same as the pressed-board stuff, which you have to put together yourself, and doesn’t last as well over time,” she says. And, it should be said, you deserve high-quality things.

Super-Busy People Reveal Their Habits for a Tranquil Home!

By: Amy Howell Hirt

Three young entrepreneurs give tips on staying organized and calm while living hectic lives.

Life is crazy. Cah-ray-zee. And while you wouldn’t have it any other way from 9 to 5 (OK, more like 8 to 7), the insanity should stop at your front door.

That’s why you bought your home, right? To have a place to rest, recharge, and come up with your next trailblazing idea. A few inspirational ideas for your home may be all you need to put it on the path to tranquility.

Three super-busy entrepreneurs — a brewery owner, website founder, and organic farmer — know exactly how important a tranquil home is to achieving personal success. Here, they share how they created Zen-like havens in their homes to foster stress-relieving routines.

A Nook to Bliss Out In:

When hanging out at the local brewpub loses its appeal because, well, brewing is your business, home becomes your place for a mini getaway.

Tim Bullock, who co-owns St. Elmo Brewing Company in Austin, Texas, and his wife, photographer Heather Gallagher, created a perfect spot to chill in their own home with a little wallpaper and a daybed.

In the morning before his young son wakes up, Bullock often lounges on the daybed, reading the news, sending a few emails, or just listening to piano music before the madness of the day ensues.

The brightly colored tropical wallpaper mural covers an entire wall next to the daybed. Compared to the crisp black-and-white color scheme in the rest of the house, the vibrant space “really feels like a vacation room,” Bullock says.

Your blissful nook doesn’t have to be indoors: HypeGirls.com founder Nichole Dawkins created a tropical escape on her balcony. More than 20 strategically placed potted plants — including aloe, vegetables, herbs, small palm trees, cacti, and orchids — block out the neighbors and frame a calming water view from her Miami home.

Given the space’s appeal, Dawkins doesn’t have to remind herself to take a break throughout the day. She meditates there every morning, soaks in the sun while enjoying an afternoon cup of tea, and often reads or colors while her son naps. Sign us up!

A No-Fail System for Organization:

With a young toddler running around, Dawkins is constantly battling toys that threaten to take over her living room. So the creative director and founder of the site for “millennial mamas,” invested in DIY shelving and deep decorative bins.

Because every bin houses one category of items — like puzzles, coloring books, games, and toys — she can easily clean up throughout the day, allowing her more time to enjoy that sense of adult orderliness every evening.

Instead of a mess facing her at the end of the work day, “I spend much more time relaxing in the space than I do cleaning it up,” she says.

A Drop Zone to Separate Work From Home:

Is it difficult to leave the literal “mess” of work at the front door? Andrea Davis-Cetina, an organic farmer and owner of Quarter Acre Farm in Sonoma, Calif., can relate.

A one-woman operation, she might spend the day planting and harvesting, and then return home after dark to post social media updates, order seeds, or book guests for her radio show. She needed a place to stow her dirty farm boots and jackets, but her home doesn’t have a foyer.

So she carved out a small foyer drop zone at the front door, with a wall-mounted coat rack above a simple, three-level shoe stand.

“It stops the mess at the door,” she says, and helps draw that elusive line between work and personal life — even if there’s more work to be done after a long shower and an episode of “Scandal.”

For homeowners with devices instead of dirty gear: A charging station is a must-have for a drop zone. Plug ‘em in, and leave ‘em there.

An Easy Way to Spend Time Outside:

Bullock says both his home’s location and his home’s yard help him de-stress simply by encouraging him to get outside.

Since his home is in a walkable neighborhood, Bullock says that encourages both him and his family to interact with nature, instead of watching it through car windows — either by walking to the local pizzeria or riding their bikes through the park. Their home’s locale makes it all possible.

But his favorite just might be the small herb garden in his front yard. He and his son routinely spend a few minutes most days watering or weeding it.

“That definitely is a big stress relief, and it’s right outside the front door,” he says.

Windows will get you a dose of nature, too: Dawkins says the abundance of windows in her home is a natural mood-booster — and a significant reason she chose her home. She leaves the windows uncovered during the day to get as much of the benefits of daylighting as she possibly can.

A Focal Point to Find Peace and Motivation:

“The power of visualization is very important when you’re trying to get focused, or relax,” Dawkins says, by way of explanation for the “inspiration board” in her home.

She gives her board a very personal touch. Every year, she takes a blank canvas and paints it with a new theme (this year, it’s reggae), then adds her visions and dreams to it.

It works as artwork in her home, but it also helps her to see her goals clearly — and let go of the day’s less consequential stressors.

You don’t have to be an artist to have an inspiration board: Davis-Cetina uses a simple bulletin board to hang her motivational messages and personal and professional mementos. In the evening, when she’s handling the office end of farm work from an extra bedroom, she likes to visit her board. “I like to hold onto things and look at them. It’s a reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing,” she says.

Some tips to consider to help you buy smart!

By: Ari Taylor

Let’s face it: We all fall victim to pretty pictures and the right price when searching for a new home. But, how do you know if you really like the area? Buyer’s Remorse happens when you are stuck for two years and have made a substantial investment, and it goes without saying that it is a tough place to be stuck in. The right agent can help you to avoid this, but there are things you can do independently that will greatly improve your chances of loving what is on the inside of your home, as well as the outside. There are no guarantees, of course, but it is worth a shot!

Facebook — Most communities have their own Facebook group(s)/page(s). Ask the moderator of the group(s) to become a member. Once you are added, ask the group as a whole what they love and what they would like to change about the community.

Google — Do a Google search to see what comes up for news articles about the community, local events, the school system and other things of that nature.

Visit The Community — Once you have gathered your intel, get out and see it for yourself! Take a ride after work to check out what your new commute would be like and try doing your shopping there. One way to successfully scout out a new area is to see what it would be like to do your regular errands there. On a Sunday afternoon, do some driving around the neighbourhood and see what the locals are up to.

Local Events — Check to see if there is anything happening in the area and experience the community that way, or grab lunch and/or coffee at a local spot in the area.

Make A List — Make a list of the things that are most important to you such as: Can I walk to and from wherever I am shopping? Is there a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts nearby? Are kid-friendly activities available? What is the nightlife like? Will I be T-accessible?

A lot of times, we focus on just the house and not enough on the location. Being smart about both aspects will help you to be and stay happy in your new home!

Lighting tricks designers use for awesome curb appeal!

By: Dave Toht

Easy outdoor lighting ideas to bathe your home in a warm glow.

Think about it: most people you invite over, come in the evening, right?

So maybe they don’t see that lovely japanese maple, or that subtle pattern you just painted on your porch floor to hide the ugly gray concrete underneath.

Maybe it’s time to consider an outdoor lighting plan.

And come to think of it, that single porch light is a more of a bug attractor than a burgler deterrent.

But where to begin?

Hang around lighting designers long enough and you’ll hear a lot of talk about “moonlight effect.” That’s a naturalistic look that features light no more intense than that of a full moon, but still strong enough to make beautiful shadows and intense highlights.

Here’s how designers get that natural moonlight look:

7 Ways to Mimic Moonlighting in Your Yard:

  1. Highlight trees. Whether illumined from below or given presence by a light mounted in the tree itself, trees make stunning features.
  2. Use uplights. Uplighting is dramatic because we expect light to shine downward. Used in moderation, it’s a great way to highlight architectural and landscaping features.
  3. Have a focus. The entryway is often center stage, a way of saying, “Welcome, this way in.”
  4. Combine beauty and function. For example, adding lighting to plantings along a pathway breaks up the “runway” look of too many lights strung alongside a walk.
  5. Vary the fixtures. While the workhorses are spots and floods, designers turn to a wide range of fixtures, area lights, step lights, and bollards or post lights.
  6. Stick to warm light. A rainbow of colors is possible, but most designers avoid anything but warm white light, preferring to showcase the house and its landscape rather than create a light show.
  7. Orchestrate. A timer, with confirmation from a photocell, brings the display to life as the sun sets. At midnight it shuts shut down everything but security lighting. Some homeowners even set the timer to light things up an hour or so before dawn.

How Moonlighting Helps Security:

Soft, overall landscape lighting eliminates dark areas that might hide an intruder, exposing any movement on your property.

Overly bright lights actually have a negative effect, creating undesirable pockets of deep shadow.

The Best Outdoor Lights Designers Recommend:

Once disparaged for their high cost and cold, bluish glow, LEDs are now the light source of choice for lighting designers.

“They’ve come down in price and now have that warm light people love in incandescent bulbs,” says Paul Gosselin, owner of Night Scenes Landscape Lighting Professionals in Kingsland, Texas.

Although LED fixtures remain twice as expensive as incandescents, installation is simpler because they use low-voltage wiring.

Another advantage is long life. LEDs last at least 40,000 hours, or about 18 years of nighttime service. With that kind of longevity, “why should a fixture have only a two-year warranty?” asks Gosselin.

He advises buying only fixtures with a 15-year warranty — proof that the fixture’s housing is designed to live as long as the LED bulbs inside.

The Cost of Outdoor Lighting:

Total outdoor lighting costs will vary according to the size of your home and the complexity of your lighting scheme. Expect to pay about $325 for each installed LED fixture. LEDs also require a transformer to step the power down from 120 volts to 12 volts, running about $400 installed.

A motion detector security light costs about $150 installed. Porch lights and sconces range from $100-$250 installed, depending the fixture and whether running new cable is necessary.

Contractor-installed outdoor lighting for an average, two-story, 2,200 sq. ft. house might add up as follows:

  • 7 fixtures to cover 100 feet of LED pathway lighting: $2,275
  • Transformer: $400
  • 4 LED uplights to dramatize the front of the house: $1,300
  • 2 LED area lights for plantings: $650
  • 2 motion detector security lights: $300

Total cost: $4,925

5 Reasons You’ll Regret Painting Your Brick House!

By: Stacey Freed

The best paint for brick? No paint at all (in most cases). Here’s why.

Brick, brick, brick. All the homes in your neighborhood are brick. You’re itching to paint over that red-orange-brown color palette so your home’s personality can shine through.

Although painting brick is doable — and sometimes even necessary (more on that later) — it’s not an easy DIY paint project, and it can be a huge risk to your biggest financial asset.

In other words: Tread carefully, homeowner. Although painted brick might be aesthetically pleasing today, it could be a big, fat regret in just a few years.

Here are five reasons you shouldn’t paint brick (plus a few exceptions when it’s OK):

#1 You’ll Probably Destroy the Brick:

Brick “breathes.” Unless it can’t. Trapped moisture is the main issue in the relationship between brick and paint. “Once you put a membrane [like paint] over the brick, it can no longer breathe,” says Mike Palmer, a masonry contractor and president of the upstate New York chapter of Mason Contractors Association of America.

Brick is the ultimate “coat” for your home, protecting it from all the elements while letting it breathe, too. Much like your beloved four-legged family member, your home’s “brick coat” adjusts as needed to protect your home from rain, sleet, snow, heat, etc. (but without all the shedding, ha!).

Putting paint on it is like encasing it in plastic. It’ll breathe no more.

#2 It Can Cause Serious Structural Damage:

If you paint the exterior brick and there’s moisture trapped in it, “once you go through a freeze-and-thaw cycle, [the brick can] degrade as moisture freezes inside it,” Palmer says.

When exterior brick erodes — and if the mortar between the brick erodes — your home’s structural integrity is at risk.

#3 It Can Look Really Bad, Really Fast:

As the bricks begin to degrade, the paint starts to peel and flake away — making your house look neglected and nasty. That’s bad news. Really bad news. That means the damage mentioned above is well under way — and it’s showing up on your home’s face.

#4 You Might Be Destroying a Bit of History:

How old is your home’s brick? If your brick is considered historic, painting it could be considered a sin against history.

If you have an older home with decorative features, such as dog-toothing, you might have brick that should be preserved in its natural state.

“Old brick was handmade in a kiln, and some … has a harder surface. It weathers better, and was used on the face of buildings because it’s more impervious,” says architect Ashley Wilson with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Since today’s bricks are machine-made, these handmade varieties are worth preserving. Paint will only destroy their historic value, and if done incorrectly could result in structural damage to your home.

#5 You Can’t Easily Go Back to Unpainted:

The time and money it takes (plus the risk to the brick’s integrity) to remove existing paint makes it a very challenging task. Power-washing or sandblasting can damage the brick, so it all has to be painstakingly stripped away using chemicals.

Technically, this is a chore you could do yourself, but do you really want to get to know every square inch of your entirehouse’s exterior? Even if it’s a little one?

As comedian Steven Wright used to joke, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.

4 Exceptions That Make It OK to Paint Brick:

#1 If It’s Already Been Painted

Most painted brick needs regular repainting, and compared to removing the old paint, it’s typically the lesser evil. Just be sure to use the right paint.

The right paint to use for exterior brick:  Use a mineral-based paint or a silicate paint that’s designed to be breathable, and is recommended for brick, such as the brand KEIM.

Should you DIY it?The long and short of it is this: There is so much critical, tedious prep work required, like cleaning and repairing damage, you’re better off having it done by a professional. According to Homewyse, the average cost for a professional to paint your brick home is $1.70 to $3.27 per square foot. That adds up fast.

#2 If the Brick is Severely Damaged

Let’s say you’ve got an older home and the “the grout between the brick is old, and may have turned to sand,” says Chris Landis, partner/owner of Landis Architects/Builders, who sits on the board of Washington, D.C.’s, Historic Preservation Review Board. Painting could be the solution.

Sure, you could have the brick repointed (replacing/adding new mortar), but that can be costly — as much as $25 a square foot — depending on where you live and the degree of damage. (Cha-ching!)

If you try fixing it yourself, “You’ll likely get cement all over the brick, which is really messy. The best thing to do in that case is to actually paint it,” Landis says. Dried cement all over your brick isn’t a good look.

#3 If the Brick Was Meant to Be Painted

There’s a slim chance your home might have an old type of brick that actually needs to be painted to protect it. A few rules of thumb to help determine if that’s the case with your home’s brick:

  • It was built before 1870.
  • The brick was handmade, not machine-made.
  • It has traces of paint that looks faded or whitewashed.
  • The home lacks ornamental brick decoration.

The paint, however, for these bricks isn’t your typical latex paint. The paint must be all-natural, such as milk paint or lime-based whitewash. Modern paints will only damage the brick, potentially causing structural damage.

Because these bricks are more delicate, homes using them are less likely to have ornate brick architectural features such as dog-toothing. If you see features like those, then you have the more durable handmade bricks, which should never be painted.

#4 If the Brick is Inside

Indoor brick isn’t subject to harsh outdoor elements. If you were to paint your fireplace surround, for example, Palmer says you won’t have the issues of moisture and humidity. So have fun with it!