How To Buy A House Without Going House Poor

How much house can you really afford? Is it the amount the bank tells you when pre-approving your loan? That’s what most people go by, oftentimes spending up to their max approval amount to get as much house as possible – or to be able to afford something at all in tight markets.

The debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, along with your credit score, is what is used by lenders to determine your loan approval and amount. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) efforts to keep this number low notwithstanding, it has been rising to levels that are concerning to industry insiders who fear a widespread wave of home buyers overextending themselves and becoming unable to support their mortgage payment and other obligations.

The CFPB’s Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule went into effect in 2014, intended to curb over leveraging by capping a borrower’s debt-to-income (DTI) ratio at 43 percent. “This means that a borrower’s total debt expense (including total mortgage payment) does not exceed 43% of their gross income (before taxes are withheld),” said the National Association of REALTORS (NAR). The rub: Many loans Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), are exempt from the 43 percent DTI limit.

The impact higher DTIs are having on the market is clear; a new WalletHub report “analyzed data from 2,533 U.S. cities and ranked all of them on the basis of a ‘WalletHub Home Overleverage Score,'” said 24/7 Wall St, finding that, in many cities, over leveraging is becoming the norm. “The score was derived from a city’s median mortgage debt, median house value, median income, mortgage debt-to-income ratio and mortgage debt-to-house value ratio.” The top 10 are all well over the 43 percent threshold, with the top three – San Luis Obispo, California at 59.62; Williamsburg, Virginia at 58.76; and Brooksville, Florida at 57.44) pushing 60 percent.

Getting in over your head with a house, either from the get-go when first purchasing, or later on with a home equity line that increases your monthly payments, is a dangerous scenario for homeowners (and for the market in general). So how do you keep yourself in check to make sure the house you’re buying is one you can actually afford and that you’re not in danger of becoming house poor?

Do your own calculations

The bank may be telling you that a $350,000 house is within your means, but are you OK with the monthly payment attached to that price? No one is more familiar with your spending habits than you. Are you really going to be able to cut $500 a month in discretionary spending (eating out, movies, clothes shopping, morning lattes) to comfortably make your new house payment?

Don’t forget about the extra expenses

If you’re buying your first home, you may not be estimating your new monthly expenses accurately. Did you include the HOA fee, if the community in which you’re looking to buy has one? What about any special assessments, if there are any? And private mortgage insurance (PMI) if you have an FHA loan and are putting less than 20 percent down on your home. That couple hundred dollars could put you over the top.

Have you also considered your utilities? You may not be accustomed to paying gas and electricity and water and trash if you’ve been living in an apartment. There could also be an increase in the cost of electricity if you have more square footage to heat and cool.

Watch out for HELOCS

A home equity line of credit (HELOC) can seem harmless. I mean, it’s your money, right? And you’re using it improve your home, which will only raise its value, right? But what seems like a great idea can also get you in trouble when you tap your home equity. You may be calculating the additional payment for now, but what happens later?

That’s the conundrum thousands are facing right now, as “HELOCs are resetting higher rates and over leveraging homeowners,” said Inman. “An analysis by Black Knight Financial shows that 1.5 million home equity lines of credit will see interest-only draw periods end this year with outstanding unpaid principal balances that average $62,500 per HELOC. The data reveals that average borrowers whose lines of credit reset will face an additional cost of $250 per month, more than double the current average payment.”

Keep an open mind

Finding a house you can afford may be challenging – especially for first-time buyers and those in competitive markets that push the affordability index. If you have tight parameters for your house hunt that are making it hard to find something within your budget, consider:

  • Extending your area search. You may not be aware of (but your Realtor probably is!) adjacent cities or communities that offer a similar lifestyle at a lower price or up-and-coming areas that provide a great value because they’re still slightly under the radar.
  • Buying a condo or townhome instead of a single-family home. Some buyers have an automatic aversion to condos and townhomes because they don’t like the idea of living attached. But your real estate agent may know of properties that are end units, that have private yards, and that are two-story units with no one above or below you. It may be that this is your best bet for homeownership you can really afford at this point, and you may find you like it far more than you expected – especially because so many of these communities come with great amenities like a pool and gym, plus front-yard landscaping that is taken care of, saving you time and money.
  • Looking at fixer-uppers. A little-known loan called an FHA 203(k) mortgage may be your “in” to a home you can afford and make your own. The bonus is that it’s also great for borrowers who may not have the credit and/or down payment to qualify for conventional loans. “The FHA requires a credit score of at least 580 if you want to make the minimum down payment; if you have 10% down, your score can be as low as 500,” said Interest.com. “You can borrow more than the home is worth, as long as the repairs will increase its appraised value. The most you can borrow is 110% of what an appraiser estimates it will be worth after renovations, or the cost of the home plus the estimated renovation cost, whichever is less, minus your down payment. The minimum down payment on an FHA loan is 3.5%.”

Written by Jaymi Naciri

 

New Advances In Technology Make Going Green A Breeze

Did you know that an automatic dishwasher uses less hot water than doing dishes by hand, which equals an average of six gallons less per cycle, or more than 2,000 gallons per year? Considering that an individual American uses about 2,000 gallons of water per month, that’s a pretty significant number.

The idea of “going green” has come a long way in recent decades. In the 1950s, some kinds of energy efficiency weren’t really a choice. From drying your clothes on a clothesline, to cutting your grass with a mechanical push mower, people often lived green without ever consciously considering their carbon footprint. These days, the story is a little different; you can’t turn a corner or pick something up without seeing some kind of “save the earth” signage or packaging.

Reasons to Go Green

There are a plethora of reasons to go green, most falling into either the money-saving or the earth-saving categories. On one hand, you could seriously put some green back into your wallet with things like energy-efficient appliances, and green building tax credits and rebates. Also, simple things like carpooling, limiting eating out, and starting your own vegetable garden are great ways to save money and help the environment.

On the other hand, eco-friendliness means making your community and the planet a better place to live not only for us, but also for future generations. Examples of things you can do in your home are unplugging unused electronics to prevent “phantom” energy consumption, switching to LED light bulbs, conserving water by taking shorter showers, and using reusable items like Tupperware and canvas shopping bags rather than plastic.

Home Automation Technology

New advances in technology are taking much of the guesswork out of going green. With home automation systems like the Wink Hub and free app, you can control the settings on many of your home devices with the push of a smartphone button or even just with your voice. The Wink ecosystem interconnects all of your smart home devices either first through the Hub, or directly to the app. Wink’s simplicity is one of its most attractive features: according to Home Depot technology professional and Wink test user, Ramesh Chaparala, “It’s very, very simple and self-explanatory,” continuing, “Installing the Hub is a no-brainer; in five steps you’re connected.”

What Can You Control?

With the Wink home automation ecosystem, you no longer have to “set it and forget it” when it comes to your home devices. You can control many of your smart devices from your couch, bed, work, or anywhere you are in the world. Here are just a handful of devices you can install in your home that will not only bring you into the 21st century, but also make your home a smoothly running, highly efficient machine.

Smart Thermostats

Thermostats are a great way to control your home’s energy consumption, and when you apply smart technology, you can control it from anywhere. One Wink App Ready device is the Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat, which not only adjusts to your schedule, uses automatic energy-saving settings, and Smart Response technology for precise temps, but also has a full-color, customizable screen to match your decorating scheme. You can be sure your home is aesthetically pleasing and at your exact desired temperature at all times.

Custom Window Shades

Motorized window shades allow for a clean, uncluttered look, are safer for pets and children with cordless technology, and help insulate your home with the setting of a timer or the push of a button. One quality option, Bali Custom Blinds and Shades with Somfy® automation & controls, utilizes a single control, wall switch, remote or programmable timer to operate single or multiple window coverings. Keep the shades drawn during summer to keep your home naturally cool, or leave them open in cooler months to let the sunshine warm your space.

Remote-Access LED Lights

Huge energy and money savings start by simply swapping out incandescent and even compact fluorescent light bulbs in your home for LED bulbs. LED solutions outlast incandescent and halogen bulbs up to 35 to 1, consume 85% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and emit less heat, which altogether drastically reduces replacing costs and landfill waste. Once you’ve decided to install LEDs, take it to the next level by installing smart light bulbs, like the TCP Connected Smart LED Light Bulb Kit with (2) A19 LED light bulbs. With this kit, you can remotely control lighting, dimming and smart lighting features from anywhere in the world with any computer, tablet, smart phone, or connected remote control. They have an estimated yearly cost of $1.32 and a life expectancy of 22.8 years (both figures based on three hours of use a day.)

Home Automation Technology is an Environmental No-Brainer

When it comes to eco-friendly new gadgets, it’s clear that home automation takes the cake. Having nearly complete control of your energy-consuming home devices right at your fingertips is certainly a big step forward for earth-conscious homeowners. In addition to these devices, several other smart green products are energy sensors, HVAC systems, irrigation systems, and outlet controls.

Which environmentally friendly automated devices will you install in your home?

Written by Sarah Kellner

How Green Can You Go? Eco-friendly Solutions For Every Commitment Level

It’s hard to ignore the influence of big oil in Texas. Thirty-five miles to the Southwest of Frisco, TX, this year’s second-fastest-growing city in the nation and home to thousands of suburban families like my own, whose electric bills climb up into the $300-plus range while cooling their 3,000-square-foot house, Irving-based Exxon is the biggest oil producer in the world – and that’s just the tip of the oil well. Frisco is also among the Texas cities where deregulation among power options is still not a thing, BTW. Oh and there’s also a fun Texas law that “allows builders to restrict solar-energy devices while a housing development is under construction,” said the Dallas Morning News, and when they would be most convenient, and most cost-effective to install, in most cases.

This is not the place you’d expect to see, oh, I don’t know, a luxury community of eco-friendly homes with features including grass rooftops.

But that’s precisely what is being proposed by architecture and design firms Stantec and Total Environment, who presented the concept “for a 57-acre, single-family home development” with luxury homes featuring low-energy, environmentally friendly products” to the Planning and Zoning Commission this week, said Frisco Community Impact. “These types of homes are popular in other countries such as India and Dubai, and, if approved, would be the first in the U.S., according to developers.”  

 

It begs the question: Did green living just move from the fringe to the forefront? If eco-friendly homes can come to oil-rich, fracking-loving Texas, are we talking game-changer? Could be.

We’re still a long way from hiring landscapers to manage our rooftops en masse. But, in the meantime, it’s easier and more rewarding than ever to live a leaner, greener life. So it might be time to ask yourself: How green can you go?

Here’s our breakdown of some of the best ways to incorporate a more eco-friendly way of life into your world, no matter your commitment level.

Green “lite”

You may already have thought of some of the easiest ways to go green, like recycling at home, watering plants early or late in the day when the sun is not at full strength, and doing laundry and dishes during the coolest part of the day to save your air conditioning from working overtime.

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL) are probably already on your radar, which is a great thing, since, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CFLs use as much as 75% less energy than those old incandescent bulbs and can also last up to 10x longer.

Here are a few easy changes you can make that you may not have considered:

Replace nonstick pans with cast-iron. “To create the slick surface of nonstick cookware, manufacturers apply chemicals called fluoropolymers, which are released into the air when you cook at high temperatures, according to the Environmental Working Group,” said Prevention. “Worse, the chemicals break down into compounds such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a likely human carcinogen that’s also been linked to heart disease, and can get into your food.”

Do your wash in cold water. Energy Star says that close to 90 percent of the energy used for laundry goes to water heating. Buy some cold-water detergent and you’re good to go.

Set your TV picture to “normal” instead of the manufacturer setting. “Many flat screens are shipped from the manufacturer with a picture setting that makes it stand out in retail displays, but are brighter than you need at home and consume 10 to 20% more energy (and cash) at this setting, reports the NRDC,” said Prevention.

Ditch your regular house cleaners. Many of them can include toxic ingredients that can harm the environment and are also potentially dangerous to members of your household. The only things you really need to clean just about everything in your house: baking soda, white vinegar, and lemon.

Trade your regular mulch for rubber. Mulch is great for your yard because it keeps moisture in and also makes it look nice and tidy. But rubber is a step up from the bark-like texture you’re probably used to seeing. “Made from 100-percent recycled tires, rubber mulch is suitable to use on most landscapes,” said HGTV. “It has several benefits: a safe play surface for children, prevents weeds, does not attract insects and water and air can easily flow through it.”

Green medium

Looking to make a larger commitment to green living? There are changes you can make outside of daily efforts like watching your water and electricity usage and choosing products with a more eco-friendly profile for everyday use.

Seal it up. Sealing up any leaks can make a big difference in the heating and cooling loss that’s driving up your bills – as much as a 20 percent difference, according to Energy Star. It’s also a pretty DIY-friendly task, but to get the best results, you may want to hire a professional Home Energy Auditor who can give you the lowdown on where your home is deficient and recommend changes.

Start composting. “Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead,” said the EPA. “Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.” Their easy composting guide will give you all the info you need to for a DIY compost.

Replace your appliances. That old fridge is working hard to cool what’s inside, and that’s costing you – literally. It, and its friends the old dishwasher and washer and dryer, are sucking up energy and dollars. Swapping them out for newer, Energy Star versions, is good for the environment, and your bank account. Whether you get a new refrigerator or not, these tips from Prevention will help you save even more: “Keeping your fridge pushed tight up against the wall limits circulation and makes the unit work harder, increasing your energy use and costs. Keep it a few inches away from the wall, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to safely keep the fridge’s coils clean. If you’re one of the 25% of U.S. households using a second, older fridge, considering recycling it. Running an older – model fridge – ones commonly used in basements or garages – could cost your family up to $300 a year. Temperature makes a difference, too. Proper fridge temp should fall anywhere from 35 to 38 degrees – anything lower wastes energy.”

Hardcore green

Window replacement falls here because it can be a big dollar commitment. “All-new vinyl windows for an average 2,450-square-foot house run about $15,000, according to the ‘Remodeling Impact Report’ from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®,” said Houselogic. But, the good news is that you’ll save “$126–$465 a year when replacing single-pane windows, according to Energy Star. And, “For average-quality vinyl windows, you can recoup 80% of the project cost in added home value, according to the ‘Remodeling Impact Report,'” said Houselogic. Based on the vinyl window replacement projects in the report, that’s a value add of about $12,000 if you should decide to sell your house.”

Other “major commitments” include:

Use spray foam insulation. Give that old pink stuff the heave-ho. “An alternative to traditional fiberglass and cellulose insulation, spray foam traps more conditioned air within the home, allowing for significantly less leakage and consequently, reduced energy use year round,” said CBS. “Containing rapidly renewable material, spray foam insulation does not produce harmful emissions and is also water and shrink proof, which translates into zero framing distortion over time — a huge construction plus. A study done on side-by-side homes, one with traditional insuation, and one with spray foam, “found that the use of spray foam to create an unvented attic (Home CP2a) lowers the HERS (the industry standard by which a home’s energy efficiency is measured) score from 84* to 79, and results in a net annual energy savings of 16%. When spray foam is used to provide an unvented attic and insulate the exterior walls (Home CP3a), the HERS score is reduced from 84 to 78, and the annual energy savings increases to 22%.”

If you’re building from scratch, consider the material. You already know that bamboo is a top choice because it is renewable. But have you thought about recycled steel? “Two out of every three tons of new steel are recycled from old steel, making it the most recycled material on the planet,” said CBS. “According to the Steel Recycling Institute, steel also uses less energy and emits fewer harmful CO2 emissions than many other building materials, making it an optimum green choice. You also can’t beat steel for durability.”

Choose sustainably harvested materials. You can get a natural wood look without the guilt by looking for eco-friendly options. “Put in formaldehyde-free cabinetry to avoid releasing environmental toxins,” said Nolo. “Better yet, go for wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which will be sustainably harvested.”

Go solar. Forget those ugly solar panels. Elon Musk and Tesla are in the process of upending the roofing industry with their Solar Roof glass tiles, which are “offered in four styles of Tuscan, Slate, Textured, and Smooth” and which “look like regular roof tiles from ground level, but embedded with photovoltaic solar cells underneath,” said Teslarati. The first installations are expected soon, and are also said to be less expensive than many traditional roofing materials.

Reclaim your water. Water reclamation is an easy enough undertaking that it could go in the medium category above. But, for many, people, the idea of recycling water is slightly traumatizing, so it’s going here instead. The thing is, you don’t have to recycle all the water in the home to reap the benefits from an eco-friendly perspective. If the idea of blackwater, which includes wastewater from toilets as well as dishwashers and garbage disposals,gives you the shivers, you’re not alone. Companies are busy working on black water recycling systems, but, for now, you only need to concentrate on gray water, “which is tap water soiled by use in washing machines, tubs, showers and bathroom sinks,” said How Stuff Works. “Gray water reclamation is the process by which households make use of gray water’s potential instead of simply piping it into overburdened sewage systems with all the black water.

The advantages of gray water reclamation for your wallet include lower water and sewage bills. Additionally, reusing gray water’s otherwise wasted nutrients from soap (nitrogen and phosphorous) and food (potassium) can sustain plant life and recharge topsoil.”

Written by Jaymi Naciri

The Do’s And Don’ts Of Tapping Your Rising Home Equity

If you bought a home recently, it may already have increased in value. Equity growth goes hand-in-hand with pride of ownership (and fun stuff like tax breaks) when it comes to homebuyer goals, so say a big, “Yay!”

“Nearly 91,000 homeowners regained equity in the first quarter of 2017, according to real estate data firm CoreLogic’s latest housing report, said Realtor.com. “Since the end of the most recent housing crisis, 9 million owners in total have regained equity, the report notes. About 63 percent of all homeowners have seen their equity increase since the first quarter of 2016, with the average owner gaining about $13,400 between then and the first quarter of 2017.” According to Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic, that’s the “largest increase since mid-2014.”

But, before you go making plans for all that equity, either by doing a cash-out refinance (if possible and prudent) or getting a home equity loan, take a pause. That money may be best left right where it is. If you still want to tap that equity, here are some of best – and worst – ways to use it.

Home renovations

When your home has equity, it can be tempting to use it for home renovations, which, presumably, will further raise your home value – or at least make your home prettier or more functional. Knowing which renovations pay you back is key to making smart choices. Review Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report, which “compares average cost for 29 popular remodeling projects with the value those projects retain at resale in 99 U.S. markets.” You can then take your research further, viewing data for your regional area. This will help you decide if that $50,000 kitchen is a good investment, or if that attic renovation you were considering will be a bust from an ROI standpoint.

A new car

That fancy new car is calling your name, right? Does it make sense to use some of your home equity to finance or buy it outright? Ask yourself this: Is this a car you can’t afford without using your home equity? Can you afford to pay the difference in your current monthly payment and what will be your new payment – plus the monthly cost of the car?

“During the housing bubble, consumers used home equity borrowing to pay for everything from boats and gambling junkets (clearly bad) to cars and kitchen renovations (not so bad), said Interest.com. “The problems these homeowners experienced during the financial crisis and recession taught us that even some ‘not so bad’ spending should be scratched from our list of acceptable uses. So, while we used to say that financing a car with a HELOC was OK, we no longer believe that. Besides, auto loans are now one of the few types of consumer loans that are cheaper than home equity loans or lines of credit.”


Additions

Adding on to a home can be a great way to make it more livable, especially if the space is inadequate for your family. The Cost vs. Value Report can be useful here, too. You might be surprised to learn that a midrange bathroom addition typically only pays back an average of 53.9%. But, if you bought an older home that only has one bathroom, adding another could have a much higher ROI that makes the addition worth it.

When it comes to larger undertakings, “Studies show that nearly all of the cost of a mid-range two-story addition may be recovered at the time of sale,” said The Spruce. “The key here is ‘may be recovered,’ as there is no predicting the real estate market years in advance. While this might seem like a ‘no-brainer,’ it needs to be mentioned. More space means higher heating and cooling costs, more windows to wash and gutters to clean, increased property taxes, and more house to clean. Even though additions offer the potential for higher cost-value ratios than other renovation projects, you still may not recover the full cost of the addition when you actually sell.”

Vacation

That European cruise or trip to Machu Picchu sounds like a great idea, especially because you’ve got some cash to pay for it with the rising equity in your home. But consider this: You may be paying back the money you spend on that vacation long after you return home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Jaymi Naciri

Simple DIY Projects That Will Increase the Value of Your Home

Looking to boost the value of your home without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars? You can! Making changes in certain rooms, like the kitchen and bathroom, is more beneficial than in others. These simple DIY projects will help increase your home’s value the most.

Modernize FixturesChildren in the Kitchen

 Replacing outlet covers can cost less than a dollar each, but if they have paint or other things on it, it’s a good change. While you’re at it, consider updating the outlets themselves. For about $25-$30 you can buy an outlet that also includes two USB charging ports. With all the smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices lying around, just a few of those, well-placed, can make a big difference. Think about the rooms in your home that don’t have enough outlets and the rooms that are most used for charging.

A less expensive upgrade? Doorknobs. Mismatched, broken, and dingy doorknobs can be a major deterrent. For a small amount of money per knob, you can update the look and make the whole house more visually appealing.

Lighten It Up

The more light you can add to your home, the better. Freshening up or removing curtains can brighten your home and make it more inviting.

curtains for living room picture window

Replacing windows is also a great way to add value to your home, particularly true if you live in an older home that has a lot of windows that stick or that let in the heat or cold. Installing energy efficient windows can also get you a nice tax break. However, poorly-installed windows can let in water, which can lead to mold and cracked foundations, so this isn’t for everyone.

Old light fixtures, or light fixtures that are dim or unappealing should be replaced to brighten the house.

Makeover the Bathroom

Bathrooms consistently get a high return on the investment. If you have a small budget and you’re DIYing, start small. A new vanity. New sink. A nice ceiling light. A spa-like shower head. A nice towel bar. None of these things have to cost over $100, but they all add value to your home by freshening it up, providing simple conveniences, and making it nicer. Who doesn’t want one of those fancy shower heads?

If your bathroom floor is falling apart, suffering from water damage or is just outdated, you can restore it yourself pretty inexpensively. Many home improvement stores offer a class so you can learn what you don’t know, which might enable you to choose a more expensive flooring. Stick with a neutral shade to add the most value.

Freshen Up the Kitchen

The kitchen is one of the biggest things that will turn potential buyers on or off to a house. It’s also one of the places where you can get the most money back for your investment. What’s the single best DIY change to make in the kitchen? A fresh coat of white paint on the cabinets. Go ahead and change out the knobs, too.

Storage is another change to consider. Add more shelves, possibly with space underneath to hang coffee mugs. Kitchen islands are in demand now and building one with storage will add value.

Keeping Up on Maintenance

A home in good repair is always going to be more valuable than one with a leaky roof. If the siding is old or falling apart, replace it. Consider getting a home warranty, to ensure the value of your appliances. Also make sure to maintain the appearance outside, sweep up the leaves, trim the bushes, and keep fences in good repair.

Adding value to your home doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. Sometimes, the simplest DIY can be the best place to start. Start by considering your budget and your home’s most pressing needs, and update from there.

 Written by Damien Justus

6 Materials to Never Use in Your Kitchen Remodel

Here’s what to avoid, what to choose for your kitchen remodel.

Ready for a kitchen remodel? Unless you’re cool with treating the hardest working room in your house like a museum exhibit, resist the temptation to buy the cheapest or shiniest materials available and go for durable options that can stand up to regular abuse. Trust us: Although it may be tough to leave that raised, tempered glass bar top (ooo!) in the showroom, repairing its first (and second, and third) chip will get old. Very fast.

Picking the right materials is easy if you do your homework. “There are amazing products out there,” says Jeffrey Holloway, a certified kitchen designer and owner of Holloway Home Improvement Center in Marmora, N.J. “You’re looking at price point, sanitation, how easy it is to clean the product, its durability and maintenance.”

Keeping those all-important features in mind, here are some materials to avoid during your next kitchen remodel.

  1. Plastic Laminate Counters

 

Great KitchensFirst off, there’s plenty of great laminate out there. It’s the entry-level, plastic laminate to stay away from, Holloway says. These are the ones that look thin and dull, as opposed to richly textured. They scratch easily, and if the product underneath the laminate gets wet (say, from steam rising from your dishwasher), it can delaminate the countertop, which means the edges will chip pretty easily. Also, one misplaced hot pan on the plastic will result in a melted disaster zone you’ll remember forever.

But if you’re watching your budget, plastic laminate at the next level up is a good choice. “It’s got good color consistency, and there are a lot of retro and trendy patterns available,” says Dani Polidor, an interior designer and owner of Suite Artistry, and a REALTOR® in Pittsford, N.Y.

New laminate counter technology offers scratch resistance, textured surfaces, and patterns that mimic real wood and stone. “There are even self-repairing nano-technologies embedded in some laminates,” says Polidor, “and others have antimicrobial properties.”

For an average 10-by-20-foot kitchen, the next-level-up laminate will cost about $3,000, Polidor estimates, and those super cool technology options add another $200 to $300. For durability and longer life, the investment is well worth it.

 

  1. Inexpensive Sheet Vinyl Flooring

     

You spend all day stepping on your floor, so quality really matters. At the lower price point, about $2.50 per square foot, the cheapest sheet vinyl floorings tend to be thin. “If your vinyl floor is Tigerwood By Jcwalker3rd (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commonsglued down and the underlayment gets delaminated, say, by water seeping from your dishwasher or refrigerator, you’ll get bubbles in your floor,” Holloway warns.

Compare that with luxury vinyl tile (LVT) that costs about $5 per square foot. It’s still usually glued down, but it’s a little more forgiving than its less classy cousin — and it can come in tiles, which you can grout so they mimic the look of higher-end stone, Polidor says.

  1. Some Laminated Cabinet Fronts

Holloway suggests staying away from lower-end thermofoil cabinet fronts. What is thermofoil? Contrary to its name, there’s no foil or any metal-type material in it. It’s actually vinyl, which is heated and molded around fiberboard. If the cabinet is white and the price is waaaaay affordable compared with other cabinets, think twice. Cheaper thermofoil has three critical issues:

  1. It’s not heat resistant. If near a dishwasher or oven, it could delaminate.
  2. It can warp and yellow with age, revealing its cheapness.
  3. The “wood” underneath the thermofoil is also poor quality and won’t hold up over time.

But just like with plastic laminate, science has made great strides, and now there are a host of new cabinets that are remaking thermofoil’s reputation. “New European laminates have become all the rage for the clean-lined, flat-panel look,” Polidor says. “It’s budget-friendly and can look like wood or high gloss. It’s not your grandmother’s thermofoil.”

And it doesn’t come at grandma’s prices, either. But still, the new thermofoil is much more affordable than custom cabinets, and still satisfies with its rich look and durability.

  1. High-Gloss Lacquered Cabinets

Lacquer Cabinets

A nice shine can be eye-catching. And spendy. About 20 layers of lacquer go on a cabinet for the high-gloss look. Ding it or scratch it, and it’s costly to repair.

“It’s a multi-step process for repairing them,” Polidor says. A better option for the same look is high-end thermofoil (see? We said there were good thermofoil options!). Thermofoil has a finish that’s fused to the cabinet and baked on for a more durable exterior. And it’s way more budget-friendly, too. High-gloss can be in the thousands of dollars, whereas thermofoil can be in the hundreds of dollars.

 

 

  1. Flat Paint

Flat paint has that sophisticated, velvety, rich look we all love. But keep it in the bedroom. It’s not KF (kitchen-friendly). Flat paint, also known as matte paint, has durability issues. It’s unstable. Try to wipe off one splatter of chili sauce, and you’ve ruined the paint job. About the only place to use flat paint in your kitchen is on the ceiling (unless, of course, you have a reputation for blender or pressure-cooker accidents that reach to the ceiling, then we suggest takeout).

Instead, you want to use high-gloss or semi-gloss paint on your walls. They can stand up to multiple scrubbings before breaking down.

  1. Trendy Backsplash MaterialsTrendy Backsplash

Tastes change. So avoid super trendy colors and materials when it comes to permanently adhering something to your kitchen walls. Backsplashes come in glass, metal, iridescent, and high-relief decor tiles, which are undoubtedly fun and tempting. They can also be expensive, ranging from $5 to $220 a square foot, and difficult to install. And after all that work and expense, if (er … when) your tastes change in a few years, it’ll be mighty tough to justify a re-do.

Stick with a classic subway tile at $2 to $3 square foot. Or, even more budget friendly, choose an integrated backsplash that matches your countertop material. “If you want pops of color, do it with accessories,” Polidor suggests.

Written by: Stacey Freed

 

How To Know If Your Home Is Making You Sick?

Is Your House Making You Sick?

Between flu season and spring allergies and surprise summer colds, it can be difficult to stay healthy. But what if the biggest culprits aren’t high pollen counts or people who don’t cover their mouths when they sneeze? It could be that your house is making you sick.

“Toxins, pesticides, gases, mites, and molds are everywhere, and the more you’re exposed to them, the greater your risk for developing the health problems they can cause,” said WebMD.

And the numbers are a bit staggering. According to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, “More than 30 million homes have significant health issues,” said the Washington Post. “The trouble is that many homeowners and renters aren’t aware of the link between their housing and their health. Carbon monoxide poisoning can initially resemble the flu. And exposure to some toxins may be confused with seasonal allergies.”

Here are some of the biggest offenders and what to look out for:

Dirty Rug

 

Dirty carpet

Every step you take through your house can be spreading dangerous germs. Tracking in dirt and animal waste can pose health risks, while using rugs in areas that are damp has been shown to exacerbate asthma symptoms. Vacuuming frequently and having regular deep cleanings is recommended for carpeted spaces.

But, your vacuum could be doing more harm than good.

“This essential household item, which we are recommending to take care of most household allergens, could actually be spewing them all back into the air,” said Huffington Post. “The best vacuum has a HEPA filter, (which) filters more than 99 percent of the particulates in air. And if you use a cleaning service, make sure they use a HEPA-filter vacuum, as well, so your home isn’t being contaminated from allergens in previous houses.”

Mosquito Health Hazard

 

Open trashcans and other standing water

Mosquitoes are attracted to water and will seek out the little bit that collects in the bottom of your open trashcan or kiddie pool. Keeping an eye out for potential problem areas can help keep mosquito bites at bay and help prevent more dangerous conditions like West Nile and the Zika Virus.

 

 

Critters

Leaving dog food in the backyard can attract rats and mice, and even bobcats and coyotes. Keeping a vigilant eye out can help ward of predators and nuisances, but bringing food in promptly if you’re feeding your animals outdoors is a better way to keep them safe.

Dust mites

Just the term alone is enough to make us cringe. But that’s nothing like having to deal with a dust mite infestation. The best way to keep them away:

  • Keep cool – dust mites need a warm, humid environment to survive.
  • Clean frequently – limiting dust and dirt in your home is key.
  • Wash your bedding – bedding and mattresses are among dust mites’ favorite spots to hang out. Washing them in hot water can help kill them off. A special mattress cover that protects your sleeping area can also help.

Gases

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning every year. Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that is colorless and odorless. Installing a carbon monoxide monitor, which you can pick up for under $100, is the easiest way to prevent a tragedy.

Carbon monoxide is perhaps the most well-known combustion gas that can be a danger in the home, but it’s not the only one. Nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide “can cause flu-like symptoms, respiratory illnesses, or even death,” saidWebMD. “Don’t use unvented combustion appliances (such as portable kerosene heaters) indoors. Use an exhaust hood over a gas stove. Clean and maintain your chimneys and furnace every year, making sure that they are properly vented.”

Water pollutionDirty Water

“The U.S. has one of the safest water supplies in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s failsafe,” said WebMD.

The Fiscal Times

Indeed. The critical situation in Flint, Michigan, which has poisoned thousands of residents with its unsafe water, is unusual – thankfully – but that doesn’t mean we all shouldn’t be vigilant about our drinking water. “To check the water quality in your area, call the EPA’s Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 246-4791, or visit the web site atwww.epa.gov/safewater/dwhealth.html. If you use a private well, test your water every year for nitrates and bacteria.”

Lead and radon

In an older home, lead and radon could be a dangerous issue.

“More than 20 million housing units have a lead-based paint hazard. And more than 6.8 million homes have radon exposures above the level at which remedial action should be taken, as determined by the EPA,” said the Washington Post. There’s an easy test to check for lead paint and radon – important since both can cause illness or even death.

Mold

One of the most dangerous substances you can be subjected to in your home is mold. Often, mold is unseen because it’s behind walls. Checking for the nasty black stuff that you can see with the naked eye and then doing a leak check are the first steps toward eradication.

“Unseen leaks may be causing mold growth in your home, which can be problematic for people prone to asthma and allergy induced breathing problems,” said Huffington Post. “Check pipes, closets, basements, and attics to ensure all is dry. If you find any leaky areas, clean and dry where the water has accumulated, and contact a plumber or roofer to fix the situation.”

The air conditioner can also be a culprit. “When air-conditioning cools your home, for example, it often leaves traces of water in the ducts that become the perfect breeding ground for mold and bacteria,” they said. “That microbial growth is often the cause of respiratory issues—asthma, allergies, coughing, and headaches. But it should also be said that not all air ducts become contaminated, and not all people become symptomatic from those that do.”

Having air ducts cleaned out by a professional every few years can help, and will also keep your machine running better.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

How To Create A Classic Home That Never Goes Out Of Style

You want your home to look updated and stylish, but you don’t want to have to get rid of everything every year – or every season – when trends change.  “Americans update, redecorate or completely renovate a room, or the whole house, about every 10 years,” said the Herald-Tribune. “Most homeowners do small remodeling projects in a space more often than 10 years. Usually, the projects involve trading in one trend for another, which has the effect of freshening up a space and making it current and lively. But it also dooms the room to fade out of fashion like last year’s hemline. Follow decorating fads and you’re on a track to refurnish, paint and select new accessories on an almost continuing basis.”

So how do you put together a look that sticks around?

Stick to classics

Swapping out all your furniture to meet a current style fad could get tiresome. Not to mention expensive. Staying with classic styles and updating with accessories is the easiest way to keep a space fresh without having to overhaul it on a regular basis.

“Reliable ways to refresh a traditional style are to change the art work, bring in new lampshades or toss pillows,” said the Herald-Tribune. “These are generally small and budget-friendly changes to a design style that endures through the decades.”

The kitchen

The kitchen is one of the most important places to consider since changes can be expensive and cumbersome to make. Keeping countertops and cabinets classic can keep your space looking good long after it’s time for neighbors to renovate their outdated kitchens. The experts’ choice for classic kitchen color: white, of course.

2.18.16 white marble kitchen

Lonny

“Whether outfitted with traditional details or sleek, modern accents, a white kitchen will stand the test of time,” said HGTV.

When it comes to cabinets, many designers recommend going with a shaker style. “These stile-and-rail cabinet doors instantly impart a classic look,” said Apartment Therapy. And to finish the look, a farmhouse sink that “elegantly recalls kitchens of the past,” they said. Farmhouse sinks are having their day right now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t still look great when the trend has passed – especially since they’re available in so many different materials, shapes and sizes.

The floors

2.18.16 dark flooringUnlike some other flooring choices that fade in and out of style, hardwood floors are always a go-to. If you’re having trouble choosing a color, keep in mind that dark wood and light wood have each had their day; mid-tones tend to be more classic, while lighter woods and gray tones suit a modern aesthetic.

Interior Design Gallery

Built-ins

A great built-in provides function and can give a space dimension and architectural interest. And, you can easily alter a built-in to suit different architectural styles or support current trends with minimal effort. Adding molding or painting them in a different color can give you a whole new look.

Vintage finds

Adding a vintage piece to a space can give it a timeless feel, and antiques never go out of style. “A design rule that’s sure to remain true? Every room in your home needs a unique vintage piece,” 2.18.16 clear plastic chair with desksaid HGTV. “Even in newly-decorated spaces, distressed or worn pieces create a collected, designer look.”

 


Apartment Therapy

Worried about how a dark wood sideboard will work with your modern décor? Transforming an antique with a bold paint finish is a favorite way to help the piece fit seamlessly into your space.

One great piece

Keeping your style classic may sound boring, but it doesn’t have to be. Incorporating one great piece into your space can help give it some life while also helping it withstand the test of time.

“There are some things, once introduced, never go out of style,” said Leedy Interiors. “No matter how much your tastes may change, invest in one of these timeless pieces and you’re sure to love and appreciate them for years to come.”


Signature Hardware

 

Claw foot tubAmong their recommendations:

  • A clawfoot tub – “The ultimate bathtub icon…this spacious and nostalgic tub can add charm, appeal and sense of luxury in a wide variety of bathroom interiors.”
  • A chesterfield sofa – imparts luxury and comfort, a difficult combination to achieve. And, it works as well in a family living space as it does in a man room, depending on the fabric used.
  • A Louis XVI side chair – A “truly timeless and classically French” chair that brings some style and flair to your dining room and is also a great accent chair if you’re going for an eclectic look around your table.
  • An Eero Saarinen table – the classic modern shape remains a favorite of interior designers and chic consumers. If the Saarinen table isn’t in your budget, try the IKEA version, called DOCKSTA, and priced at just $179.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

5 Steps Towards an Energy Efficient Home

The Energy Efficient Home

Your home is your place to rest, play, and spend time with your family. It should be a place of comfort, and this comfort need not come at a high cost. Many homes, however, waste a lot of energy in ways that can be prevented. Here are five ways to make your home more energy efficient.

Replace or Weatherize All Windows        Energy Efficient Window

Windows are one of the biggest sources of heat gain and heat loss in a home. Both heat gain and heat loss rob you of comfort and keep your energy bills higher than they have to be, whether during the summer or winter months.

Windows rank high on the list because of air leakage around the frame and the heat that transfers through windowpanes. Old single-pane windows provide little protection against heat transference. If you replace these windows with energy efficient windows you should see immediate savings and improved climate control in your home.

When choosing windows, consider the frame and not just glass. Frame material and frame design matters. Hinged windows allow less air leakage than sliding, single-hung or double-hung do. Avoid metal because these conduct heat. Choose insulated vinyl frames or insulated fiberglass frames for the most efficiency and durability.

Pay attention to glass efficiency ratings such as the U-factor and the solar heat gain coefficient. The right windows to choose depend largely upon regional climate. If you live in an area with hot summers and mild winters, you want glass that blocks out as much solar heat gain as possible.

Low-emissivity coatings on windowpanes reduce heat conduction through the glass, which benefits you by keeping hot air inside in winter and hot air outside in summer. There are other coatings and tints available, but you should still look for the Energy Star label. Only products that have met strict requirements by the EPA qualify for this special certification.

Seal the Home’s Thermal Envelope

Air leakage through your home’s exterior is another source of energy waste. Air infiltration makes your heating and cooling system work harder to maintain climate control. In order to find all of the hidden leaks, schedule an energy audit with an HVAC company. Until you do, seal the noticeable leaks. These can usually be found in the following areas:

  • Around window frames and doors
  • Beneath baseboards
  • Around flues and chimneys

When sealing leaks in most areas, you can use caulk, weather-stripping or expandable spray foam insulation. Another method to control air leaks is to replace poorly fitting doors or other features and to use hardware with a type that creates a better seal. One example is barn door hardware. This kind of hardware can create a better air seal in some cases because the door slides into place instead of swinging open. This creates fewer opportunities for gaps between the door and the frame.

Energy Efficiency SavingsUpgrade Your Home HVAC System

If your home’s HVAC system is older than ten years, consider replacing it with a new energy efficient system that is Energy Star certified. Improvements in design make these systems far more energy-efficient than any in the past. If they are sized correctly and installed correctly, you should see lower bills and improved comfort and improved air quality.

Upgrade Insulation

Most homes have only the minimum required insulation. Older homes might even fall far short of the minimum simply because the insulation has become too wet, or it has become compressed or it has shifted.

Adding insulation to the attic will have the largest effects. It doesn’t matter which kind of insulation you use as much as it matters that it is properly installed, with no gaps, and that you use the recommended quantity for your region.

Adding insulation to exterior walls doesn’t have to be a big remodeling project. Much of the time, it can be blown into walls by a contractor.

Use a Programmable Thermostat

These thermostats make a home more energy efficient in the following ways:

  • You won’t have to remember to set the temperature lower or higher before you run out of the house each the morning, because you can program the thermostat to do it for you each day.
  • You can program different energy-saving temperature settings for special occasions, such as vacations, and you can still come home to a comfortable house.
  • Some new thermostats even allow you to check them remotely, sparing you from worrying about whether the home is getting too hot or cold while you are away.

By implementing these ideas, you have little to lose and a lot to gain in terms of comfort and savings. If it feels overwhelming or it is hard on your budget to make all of these changes at once, try to do them in steps. Each time you take even one step towards more , you will start saving money on energy bills.

 

Written by Mikkie Mills

Kitchens Sell A House

Kitchens are the heart of the home.

 

Kitchens are integral to entertaining and in today’s age of open floor plans, they’re a focal piece of many family rooms. It’s because of this that kitchens play such an important role in the buying and selling process.  

This one room is the showpiece of the house.  You’ll see it every day and your guests will see it during most visits.  This means buyers want homes with up-to-date kitchens.  

Kitchens, however, can be one of the most expensive rooms to renovate. These projects can also be the most labor and time intensive of all home renovations.  It’s not just a new layer of paint.  

WHITE KITCHEN REDInstead you find a complicated array of flooring, tiling, cabinets, and counters.   This means buyers may want a home with an up-to-date kitchen but they aren’t willing to tackle this problem themselves.  Most buyers want a kitchen that is ready to use the day they move in.  

What do buyers look for in up-to-date kitchens?  A lot of this depends on what price range your home is in.  

The main thing to remember as a seller is to not price yourself out of your market.  If homes in your neighborhood are selling for $100,000 with tidy, but not luxury kitchens, then this is no time to upgrade to granite, travertine, and marble at the price tag of $40,000+.  You simply won’t find a buyer.  

Scope out the competition.  Use open houses in your area or MLS listings to find out what your competitions’ kitchens look like.  

Do area homes have new solid wood cabinets and granite counters in today’s designer colors?  You’ll be wise to consider making the same move.  Are they including new stainless steel appliances and add-ons like dishwashers, wine-coolers, and trash compactors?  

Are you in a higher-end neighborhood? It’s time to think high-end.  Your older home may have a highly functional kitchen, but a buyer will take one look at your Formica counters and white appliances and become lost in the stress of how much money and time it would take to remodel.  If you don’t want to put in the time yourself to make upgrades then you’ll have to make concessions in the price.  

Don’t become overwhelmed, though.  Sometimes a kitchen update can mean doing just a few minor changes.  Change the paint color to a warm, neutral tone.  Get rid of any clutter.  Update your appliances, paint your cabinets, change the pulls, or get a high-end looking counter for a fraction of the cost (faux-granite or lower end granite).  You might even save a bundle by doing much of the work yourself.  

The bottom line is a kitchen can sell a home.  Do a little research and find out what your kitchen needs to make it competitive with area listings.  And sometimes it may be nice just to update your kitchen so you and your family can enjoy a new space even if you are not selling your home.