How The Equifax Hack Affects Homebuyers And How You Can Protect Yourself

Half of the country is freaking out. That’s about how many people are potentially affected by the unprecedented Equifax hack. If you’re the average person who’s afraid of having your data stolen – and by data, we mean your name, Social Security number, birth date, addresses, credit card numbers, and driver’s license number that were reportedly involved in this breach – you may have already taken some steps to limit the damage. But what if you’re in the process of buying a home or are getting ready to do so? How does this hack affect you, and what can you do to make sure you are protected?

Potential fallout for homebuyers

“Take this scenario: Say your Equifax file was looted but you’ve done little or nothing to detect fraudulent activity on one or more of your credit accounts. You sign a contract to buy a house, and you apply for a mortgage. The lender pulls your credit and confronts you with shocking news: Your FICO credit score is too low for you to qualify for the loan because you’ve been running up too much debt on one or more accounts. Your ‘utilization ratio‘ on your available credit is too high, and that has depressed your score,” said the Washington Post.

“Or there’s a newly established account in your files that has put you deep in debt, even though you had nothing to do with it. It turns out that financial thieves have been racking up thousands of dollars in debts at your expense, and now – smack in the middle of a major lifetime investment – you’re stuck with having to get the file corrected, which takes time and can be a pain. In the meantime, what happens to your purchase contract? Will the sellers bear with you, essentially putting off the transaction indefinitely and possibly blowing up their own plans to move into another house on a specific date? It could all get really messy.”

Those who are already in escrow could also be derailed when the lender runs your credit before the loan closes and discovers fraudulent new accounts or charges that raise the debt-to-income ratio beyond what is allowed. “At the very least, whatever rate locks you had could be blown as you scramble to get your files corrected,” they said. “Or your entire loan transaction could be jeopardized if the process takes too long.”

Steps to take now

Have you still not checked to see if you were potentially impacted by the hack that affected as many as 143 million people? Not having dealt directly with Equifax doesn’t guarantee your safety. “You may have never used Equifax yourself, or even heard of it,” said CNN. “Either way, the credit reporting agency could still have a lot of your personal information. To find out if your data was compromised by the hack, go here.”

Keep in mind that you’ll have to enter your last name and the last six numbers of your Social Security number to check. Regardless of whether or not they believe you were impacted, you’ll be prompted to enroll in their TrustID Premier credit monitoring service, which will be free for a year. Despite earlier concerns, “Equifax has confirmed that signing up for TrustID Premier will not prevent you from joining a class-action suit over this issue,” said PCWorld.

Armed with this information, you can go about taking further steps to protect your credit and prevent thieves from stealing your identity. Pull your credit reports for free once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com. Look them over carefully to make sure there are not any fraudulent accounts and/or charges. If you see anything, get on the phone with the creditor right away and start the dispute process. If you’re in the process of applying for a home loan or are under contract, you’ll also want to call your lender immediately to alert them to what you found.

To freeze or not to freeze

There has been quite a bit of discussion about credit freezes since news of the breach broke, with some consumers concerned that “turning off” their credit could potentially damage their score or negatively impact them in some other way, especially during the homebuying process. The fact is that a credit freeze is “the most extreme method, but it’s also the most effective” at preventing your information from being stolen and used to open new accounts, credit expert Barry Paperno, who blogs at Speaking of Credit, told NerdWallet. And, it can be turned on and off as needed for, say, a mortgage application or credit re-check before a closing.

“There are no downsides to this: You can still use your credit cards with the freezes on,” said Realtor.com. “But no one will be able to check credit scores and personal information without your permission—so no bad apples can open up fraudulent new cards or get loans under your name. And you can undo the freezes at any time – typically for a small fee.”

That fee varies depending on the state, and Equifax has said it will offer free freezes for 30 days, but the need for freezing will extend long after that is over. “Because a freeze can prevent fraud, it’s better than a credit monitoring service, which only alerts you that fraud might have happened,” said NerdWallet. “It’s the difference between using a deadbolt to keep thieves out rather than a security camera to catch them after the fact.”

You can easily request a freeze online for the three credit unions: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Fraud alerts

“If you don’t want to lock out all creditors – perhaps you’re in the middle of mortgage shopping or refinancing – you can place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit,” they added. “This tells potential creditors to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name.” A fraud alert is a good idea whether or not you freeze your credit. In this day and age, when hacks are more frequent and more damaging to more people, ongoing monitoring just makes sense.

“The biggest fears of identity theft “center around identity theft on an epic scale. It isn’t tough to conjure up worst-case scenarios,” said Realtor.com. “Think about it: Bad guys with all of someone’s information could, at least theoretically, try to buy a home under that person’s name. It’s more likely, though, they would use those stolen credit card numbers – or use SSNs to open up new credit cards – and rack up lots of debt in that unsuspecting victim’s name. And that damage could make it much harder for someone to qualify for a mortgage or refinance an existing mortgage.”

Consumers have largely been turning to ID theft protection company LifeLock, who the Los Angeles Times said could be “one of the big winners from the big data breach suffered by Equifax.” Not surprisingly, the firm has upped its advertising outreach in the wake of the breach. The result: “An executive of Symantec, LifeLock’s parent company, told Bloomberg that since the Equifax breach was reported, LifeLock’s Web traffic has increased sixfold and enrollments per hour are running 10 times ahead of the pre-Equifax era.”

But, there’s a rub: “Here’s what LifeLock isn’t advertising so widely: When you buy its protection, you’re signing up for credit reporting and monitoring services provided by, yes, Equifax. LifeLock signed a four-year contract with Equifax in December 2015,” and the relationship is still active.

If any (or all!) of that makes you queasy, there are alternatives to LifeLock you may want to consider.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

Is This The Ultimate Example Of ‘What Not To Do’ When Listing Your House For Sale?

There’s a new home listing that’s been making the Internet rounds this week, and it’s a must-see for anyone who is selling their house, considering selling their house, or just wants to do a little point-and-stare. Oh, and for mannequin lovers. Let us explain.

The house in question is a large, gated estate on Jones Creek in the desirable Houston-area city of Richmond. I’ts listed for $1,275,000. At five bedrooms, five baths, and 7,406 square feet, with two acres of pastoral grounds backing to a scenic creek with a cattle ranch on the other side, and features including an art studio, game room, trophy room, swimming pool, outdoor kitchen, and a garage apartment, it’s seemingly a gem.

But that assumes you can actually see any of what the home has to offer. The owner of the home, whose identity is undisclosed, is an artist. And the home is her canvas. Oh, and her tools aren’t paint, they’re…well, see for yourself.

Did you notice the figure hanging on the stair railing? That’s a mannequin. And he’s not alone. In fact, one notable real estate insider has even teased a contest to guess the number of mannequins in the home. “Our team has been chatting about this house now for a few days,” said CandysDirt. “Home stagers are running for Xanax.”

It definitely begs the question, “What is art and what is clutter?” It also makes you wonder what the initial conversation was like between RE/MAX FINE Properties agent Diana Power, who’s listed the home, and her seller. We assume it, at least, included the words, “de-cluttering,” and “staging” and “storage.

It goes without saying that this array of art and accessories may be just a tad excessive and perhaps also a little bit distracting. And maybe also kind of weird, or at least eccentric. It makes for a great spectacle – and certainly brings a lot of attention. But will it sell the home? “She has lots of collections,” Power told Huffington Post. “It’s not hoarding or clutter; it’s art.”

But that’s hardly the end of the discussion, and it brings up a few more keys for selling your home.

Mind your curb appeal

A house that’s picture-perfect on the inside but questionable from the street isn’t doing a seller any favors. It takes just a few seconds to form a first impression. If the mannequin standing at the front gate (presumably, the community’s HOA either limited the number of mannequins to one or made sure it was inside the gate, or both) doesn’t raise an eyebrow, perhaps the knocked-down and haphazardly restacked mailbox will. I mean, we presume it was knocked down and haphazardly restacked. It could be “art,” after all.

 

Don’t creep people out

Yes, the clutter in this master bedroom is overwhelming. But beyond the sheer amount of stuff in the space, why is there a mannequin at the foot of the bed? Even more curious: all the dolls stuffed into the bookcases. One look and I’m heading right back out the door. You?

Bonus question: Where do you even get all those mannequins?

 

 

Wait. Foot-of-the-bed mannequin has a friend. Or two? Who’s that climbing under the table?

Show off the goods

Most sellers, and, certainly their agents, would insist on framing that view out to the pool and creek. But, between all the taxidermy (real or faux), pelts, knickknacks, dolls, blankets, and furniture, it’s hard to even focus the eye, even with that grand expanse of glass.

 

Maybe this serene view of Jones Creek makes it all better? Is that a mannequin riding the lawnmower?

 

This home has great features throughout. In the living room, there are beautiful built-ins, gleaming hardwoods, an elegant fireplace, and detailed dental molding all around. But you have to look hard to notice any of it.

“You can see the charm of the house underneath it all, from its $300,000 foundations to the way the windows are framed in cement and stone,” Powers told ABC13. “I think that the person who will end up buying this house can see the forest from the trees.'”

Let’s test that theory in the kitchen. This gourmet space has professional grade appliances and a huge island – and every inch of it has been covered with something to distract potential buyers from the great features.

At least the seller staged a mannequin at the island to showcase the eating bar. That is a mannequin, right?

 

 

 

Look at the features in this library. Behind all the books, papers, rugs, birdcages(?), and a mannequin that is WALKING ON THE CEILING, there are some stunning bookcases, and French doors that lead out to a patio and pool – if you can manage to get to them.

Does it make you more interested in seeing the home, and, if you do want to see it, is it only to count the mannequins?

And, P.S., don’t get any ideas about trying to buy the home with everything in it. The owner has stated she’s “taking everything” with her when she moves on.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

Easy Ways to Make Your Patio Look Great This Summer

Summer is the perfect time of year to be outside with family and friends. The cold weather, snow and rain are gone, and you see bright, sunny days ahead of you. If you’re getting ready for a season full of pool parties and barbecues, here’s everything you need to make your patio look great:

Update Your Furniture

It’s a new season with new trends, so you might be in the market for new patio furniture, or your old furniture just needs some updating. Chances are your cushions and pillows are looking faded, worn out and tattered from last year, so replace them with new cushions or fabric covers to match the rest of your decor. Don’t be afraid to go with bold and bright colors or big designs because they won’t dominate the area since it’s an open space.

You also need enough furniture and seating to fit your family and friends. Get a large round table or a long rectangular table for your guests to eat, snack and set down their drinks. Add extra chairs or a love seat around your table so you can add more people than your immediate family when you host a party. Go for items that are easy to clean so dust, dirt and spills don’t permanently ruin your furniture.

Make Some Shade

The summer sun can be intense, so you need shady areas to give yourself and your guests a break. Get a table with an umbrella in the middle to provide some shade while you’re eating dinner on the patio. Or add an umbrella on the top step of your pool or behind lounge chairs to stay cool.

If you want a larger shady area, set up a pavilion with a canopy roof in a section of your yard. Add chairs, side tables and a reading area underneath. You also can build a pergola and cover the top and sides with growing vines or climbing plants. This will add some color and nature to your patio as well as provide you with shade.

Light It Up

Transform your patio into a summer wonderland by lighting it up at night. Once the sun goes down and the temperature drops, you’ll want to relax on your patio with a nice cocktail or dessert with a lovely glow around you. For a touch of glamour, install an outdoor chandelier or light fixture over your patio table and chairs. String up hanging lights from the roof and side of your pergola to light up your ivy or plants. Put a few candles in translucent vases on side tables surrounding your other furniture or in the middle of your table. This is a great place for you to include some of your accent colors and add a delicate touch to sometimes bulky furniture.

Make It Party Ready

Now that you have the necessities, it’s time to get to the fun part. You want people to see your beautiful summer patio, so give them an excuse to come over for a party. Set up a grill, cooler for drinks and counter space to prepare and display your summertime treats. If it tends to get cool at night, get a table with a fire pit in the middle or build your own fire pit where you can roast s’mores and tell ghost stories. You also should invest in some lawn games and board games that you can play well into the night.

Written by Realty Times Staff

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

Saying Good-bye to Your Garden

You can make parting easier by taking ideas and plants with you

Moving is a fact of life for most Americans. About 12 percent of us, or 1 in 9 – will move in any given year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Leaving the gardens we have lovingly designed and tended is a difficult part of any relocation. How do we make it easier on ourselves? What plants can we take with us? Is it best to dig them up, take cuttings or harvest seeds? These 10 tips will ease the transition and will help you take some of what you love with you – plants, ideas and inspiration for a new garden.

  1. Make a record of the garden you’re leaving. You can use a loose-leaf notebook, a bound garden journal or an online filing system that accepts notes, digital images and other information. Pick whichever form of record keeping appeals to you; you want an easy system that you will use.

Collect whatever details you have about what you’ve planted: how it succeeded (or didn’t), which plants or combinations you loved best, hardscape materials and any designs you’ve made. Gather seed packages, plant catalogs (add notes), plant labels, seed stakes, garden journals and photographs. If you’re using a digital filing system, scan the papers and file them with notes attached. If you’re using a notebook or bound journal, file them in pockets in the notebook or tape them to the pages of the journal.

  1. Take photos, videos or both. If you haven’t been shooting photos or video of your garden all along, start before you leave. Don’t forget to capture plant combinations that worked particularly well, such as this Pikes Peak Purple penstemon (Penstemon x mexicali), still blooming in southern Colorado in October, backed by the upright form and lovely fall color of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium).

  1. Gather images from all seasons and from various times of day. You’ll want to remember how plants looked at different times in their lives and different times of the year. For example, the orange-scarlet autumn color of the skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata) in this photo is lovely paired with the golden blossoms of rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa).

Take photos at different times of day to show what was blooming at what hours, how the light fell, those great shadow patterns at sunset and the pools of shade at midday.

 

  1. Describe design elements and hardscape. Make sure to note things that you’re really pleased with, including design elements and hardscape. Did a patio come out especially well, both the materials used and the shape? Did you build raised garden beds you really loved? Take photos and make notes of a particularly successful (or unsuccessful) design element’s materials, dimensions and relationship with other elements. Don’t think you’ll remember – chances are you won’t.

 

  1. Document projects in progress. Didn’t finish a project? You can record it anyway. What did you like about it? What would you change? What was the process of planting and construction? Is the project specific to that particular site or are there elements you could use again?

Those details of how the project flowed and how it fit your expectations and what you can take away from it will influence what you do in your new garden, so make sure you record as much information as you can.

  1. Note relationships and what you’ve learned about wildlife, desirable or not. Which plants attracted the most butterflies? What was the late-blooming flower that the migrating hummingbirds focused on every year, returning to sip its nectar? What about the bulbs that were always full of tiny native bees in early spring? Which plants did the cottontails munch to the ground? What did the deer avoid?

Blossoms of the native bractless blazingstar (Mentzelia nuda var. stricta) in this photo, for instance, open in the evening and attract bumblebees to gather their pollen. Bumblebees are larger and heavier-bodied than most native bees and, thus, are more chill-tolerant and able to be active in the cooler hours of early morning and late evening. Planting flowers that attract certain pollinators is one way to ensure those species’ survival.

 

These common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are another example of a plant that is critical to a certain kind of wildlife. They never fail to attract goldfinches, called “wild canaries” for their chiming, bell-like calls and sweetly melodic songs. Goldfinches clamber over the flower heads and pry out the fat-rich sunflower seeds with their pointed beaks. The seeds provide critical calories and vitamins for goldfinches in their migration.

  1. Research your new planting zone and garden site. Before you move, get an idea of how different your new location will be from your current one. Is it in the same USDA plant hardiness zone? To learn more detail about climate, substrate and ecological conditions, look up what ecoregion you’ll be in on the Environmental Protection Agency’s maps. An ecoregion map is a map of an area’s natural communities, including their biological, geologic, soil and climate attributes – all useful information for gardeners.

To find your ecoregion on the EPA’s general map of the U.S., click on the region that includes your state, and then find your ecoregion from the more detailed map. (Level III ecoregions are probably the most useful for gardeners.)

 

  1. Identify favorite plants in your existing garden. Once you have an idea of the conditions in your new site, decide which favorite plants in your current garden will thrive in your new place. Then do some research. Familiarize yourself with any restrictions on transporting plants from one region to another (the National Plant Board is a place to start). Next, learn the best way to bring them to your new place: as whole plants dug up and potted, as cuttings to root, as bulbs or tubers, or as seeds. If you have time to prepare, make a spreadsheet, a list or a calendar with times of the year that are best for preparing each plant for the move.

For tough English irises, like the ones in this photo, it’s best to dig their tubers in the fall after the leaves have turned brown. If you’re not moving right away, store the tubers in breathable bags in a cool, moist place so that they won’t dry out or sprout.

 

  1. Label your selections. This seems self-evident, but in the rush of preparing for a move, you may assume that you’ll remember what those seeds are in the pill bottle or envelope. You think that you’ll remember what’s in that pot with a dormant plant and no identifying characteristics, or the zip-close bag containing cuttings wrapped in a wet paper towel, or the paper bag full of papery bulbs. Maybe you will, and maybe you won’t.

To be sure, note the name, species or variety and the date collected on a label or right on the container with a permanent marker. That way you’ll be sure you’re planting what you intended to.

  1. Take care of your selections before and during the move. If you’re bringing plants in pots, keep them watered and comfortable – not too hot or too cold. Most moving companies won’t take live plants, but they will move pots with dormant plants, so make sure your plants have what they need to survive the trip.

If you’re moving seeds, cuttings, bare-root plants, bulbs, corms or tubers, package them appropriately for their journey. Cuttings, bare-root plants, bulbs, corms or tubers need to stay moist and in the dark. Don’t allow them to freeze or broil. You don’t want them to sprout or break dormancy before you get them into the ground, and you also don’t want them to dry out. Seeds come in their own natural packaging in the form of a seed coat. But even these embryonic plants need cool and dark conditions to stay alive.

Good luck with your move and your new garden.

 

 

Written by Susan Tweit

Easy Decluttering Tips To Give You Your Life Back

Cluttered Closet

Clutter doesn’t just make your space feel cramped and crowded and chaotic. It can also have a negative effect on your mental state and make you less productive. A cluttered space has been shown to raise stress levels, create anxiety, and be a contributing factor to sleepless nights.

Clutter can play a significant role in how we feel about our homes, our workplaces, and ourselves,” said Psychology Today. A few reasons why: “Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important. Clutter distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on. Clutter makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally. Clutter inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brain storm, and problem solve.”

Whether you’re looking to move and need to pare down your stuff before you list your house or are just looking to streamline your environment, these tips will help you get it done with the least amount of pain.

Phone a friend

So you’re sitting in your closet, surrounded by clothes you haven’t worn for years and you just can’t seem to make a move to get rid of anything. It’s time to call a good friend. Or three (Cue the scene from Sex and the City when Carrie et al hold an impromptu fashion show while cleaning out her closet.). A good friend will be honest with you about clothes that just don’t do it for you, which should make it easier to make headway.

Research shelters in your area

If you’re finding it hard to get rid of clothing and shoes or rarely- (or never-) used housewares, reading about some people that might really be in need of the things that have been packed in the back your closet or cabinets for years can help you get some perspective. When your need to hold onto something butts up against someone’s need to clothe themselves, packing up those donation boxes may get a whole lot easier.

Consider sizing

The average woman has a range of sizes of clothing in her closet, some for those inevitable times when a few pounds creep on, and some that were purchased as incentive to lose a few. If you can’t get rid of anything in your current size, maybe there are a few outdated items in the far upper and lower range that can hit the box.

Hit the linen closet

Have any hole-filled towels and sheets back in that linen closet? Tell yourself this: If they’re not good enough for guests, they’re not good enough for you. Shred a few of the towels into cleaning rags and dump the rest. Imagine how much better you’ll feel when there’s space for the stuff you do use.

Now, take a look at any blankets that have rips, tears, and holes. Maybe it’s time to upgrade? Beyond those obvious imperfections, what’s going on with the texture? Do you have blankets in there that aren’t soft enough for you or that you consistently overlook because you don’t like the way they feel? Donate them and treat yourself to something new as a reward for your decluttering efforts. Feel better?

Pilfer the pantry

When your pantry gets to be a cluttered mess, it can become an overwhelming task to get it cleaned out. Start small and take one thing at a time, like your canned goods. Chances are you have at least a few cans that are expired; those are easy enough to toss, which will make you feel better by creating space on a crowded shelf. Now, check for things that you know you’ll never eat, like those four cans of sweet peas you bought on sale. As long as they’re still good, these would be great to donate to a local food pantry. Good deed done, and you’re on your way to a nice, clean pantry.

Tackle those drawers

Out of sight, out of mind is the mantra many of us when it comes to clutter. If it’s in a drawer, you don’t have to worry about it, right? Until you do. Let’s be honest: How many of us have not just one junk drawer in the kitchen, but several. Guilty! And how many of us go to clean them out, only to create a much larger mess because we were trying to do too much in too little time and got overwhelmed and gave up. Guilty again. Starting small here, too, is the key. There’s no need to organize everything at once. Have expired coupons in one of those junk drawers? Get rid of them. You’re eating away at the mess. Do you have a bunch of nails and screws and thumbtacks just kind of strewn about in one (or more) of the drawers? Take them out and organize them into their own little box. That’s progress.

Get your papers in check

For many of us, the main clutter culprit is paper. Having stacks of papers in your kitchen or office (or both), or, even worse, stacked in multiple areas of your house, can be a stress-producer. Start by designating “a spot for incoming papers,” said Zen Habits. “Papers often account for a lot of our clutter. This is because we put them in different spots – on the counter, on the table, on our desk, in a drawer, on top of our dresser, in our car. No wonder we can’t find anything! Designate an in-box tray or spot in your home (or at your office, for that matter) and don’t put down papers anywhere but that spot. Got mail? Put it in the inbox. Got school papers? Put it in the inbox. Receipts, warranties, manuals, notices, flyers? In the inbox! This one little change can really transform your paperwork.”

You can also decrease the amount of mail you receive by setting up email-only correspondence with your creditors. Ecocycle also has some great tips for getting rid of a lot of that junk mail.

Give it a few minutes

Trying to attack the clutter from a macro perspective is what many people find overwhelming. If it seems like a massive project, that could be enough to cause frustration, increase anxiety, and cause you to quit. If you set aside a couple of minutes on any given day, you can make an impact without taxing yourself.

“When your home is filled with clutter, trying to tackle a mountain of stuff can be quite overwhelming,” said Zen Habits. “So here’s my advice: start with just five minutes. Baby steps are important. Sure, five minutes won’t barely make a dent in your mountain, but it’s a start. Celebrate when you’ve made that start! Then take another five minutes tomorrow. And another the next day. Before you know it, you’ll have cleared a whole closet or a room and then half your house and then who knows?”

If you don’t like the five-minute tip, try the five-thing tip. “Pick up 5 things, and find places for them,” they said. “These should be things that you actually use, but that you just seem to put anywhere, because they don’t have good places. If you don’t know exactly where things belong, you have to designate a good spot. Take a minute to think it through — where would be a good spot? Then always put those things in those spots when you’re done using them. Do this for everything in your home, a few things at a time.”

 

 

 

Build A Deck For Backyard Appeal

Outdoor appeal is a key piece to the home selling process. What better way to increase the exterior appeal than having a beautiful deck? Decks are living, natural additions that effectively blend into the landscape while adding extra entertaining space for less money than a porch or addition.

Need more convincing? Here are some of the key advantages to why decks seal backyard appeal and convince sellers to look at your home longer than others on the block:

How much you save: The cost to build a deck might average $6,600 to $9,400 depending on square footage and materials. However, a deck costs far less than an addition – almost $50,000 – so why invest more when you can get something just as beautiful for less?

An outdoor living area is less expensive because you don’t need electrical wiring or plumbing. Plus you can recoup at least 85% of that investment during the resale.

How it adds to the house: Adding a deck onto your home increases the exterior appeal without all the extra work. It means extra room for entertaining, relaxation and grilling during the summer.

It can adapt to any kind of landscape, whether you need a raised platform deck for a sloping hill and multi-story home or a short deck for a flat backyard.

How it blends with the landscape: Unlike a porch, a deck is natural. Made of wood or plastic to look like wood, decks blend into the landscape seamlessly. It’s simple to add bushes, trees and flowers around the edge of the deck. By the end of the whole process, your deck will have a warm, homey feel in the yard.

How easy it is to maintain: Depending on the type of material you use to build the deck, maintenance should be simple. One treatment of staining and regular cleaning should take care of any pests or dirt. Decks can handle most weather conditions, and you can even build an awning to help it endure the climate better. Just keep an eye out for termites, mold or other things eating away at the wood and treat them quickly.

 

So don’t wait! Add this beautiful, natural addition to your home and get those sellers flocking to your backyard.

 

 

 

 

Written by Andrea Davis

10 Totally Free Tips For Getting Your Home Sold Quickly

Sell Your Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staging your home is a critical step in getting it sold, but all the recommended updates and upgrades can get pricey. Thankfully, there are tricks you can use to make your home look bigger, better, and brighter, without spending a dime.

  1. Fix up your floors

Don’t want to pay to replace or refinish your floors? No prob. Grab a brown crayon to fill in divots. A one-to-one mix of olive oil and vinegar rubbed directly on scratched areas will also help make it look new. You can also use canola if you don’t have olive, but then use a one-part vinegar, three-part oil mixture. Or, try this hack that uses walnuts to fix scratches. No, seriously.

Floors look great but don’t sound so hot? “Fix creaky wood floors with a generous dusting of baby powder,” said One Crazy House. “Work it into the cracks until the floor is no longer noisy.”

 

  1. Make it sparkle

Presumably, you already have cleaning supplies, sponges, and paper towels in the house. Now all you need is some elbow grease to make your home look shiny and new.

When selling your home, you need to take the cleaning beyond your typical weekly run-through. Think “Spring cleaning” turned up a notch or two. Remember that potential buyers will be looking everywhere, including inside drawers and cabinets. Make sure they’re crumb-free and well organized. They may also open your refrigerator. While this can seem intrusive, you don’t want to give them a reason to walk away, so make sure to tidy up the inside, wipe up any spills, throw away rotten food, and put a nice big box of Baking Soda in there to absorb any leftover smells.

  1. Let the light in

Everyone is looking for “natural light,” so show off what you’ve got by opening up those blinds and drapes. Did you just reveal a bunch of dirty windows and sills? Ewww. Grab that cleaning spray and make them shine. An old toothbrush is a great way to get gunk out of corners and in window tracks.

If your place isn’t light and bright, even with all the blinds and drapes drawn, you’ll need to depend on artificial lighting. This is no time to have lightbulbs out. Go hit that stash in your laundry room cabinet and switch out for fresh bulbs.

  1. Declutter

Home stagers will tell you there is no more important step when preparing your home for sale. “If you are serious about staging your home, all clutter must go, end of story,” said Houzz. “It’s not easy, and it may even require utilizing offsite storage (or a nice relative’s garage) temporarily, but it is well worth the trouble.”

Do a walk-through with an outsider’s eye, or ask a friend or family member to help since they’ll be more objective. Anything that isn’t used regularly or is taking away from the open feel of the house can be packed away. Small appliances and anything else hanging out on countertops can be put in a cabinet if you’re not ready to stick it in a box. You want people to see the bones of the house, not your blender.

 

  1. Depersonalize

While, you’re decluttering, keep personalization in mind. Buyers want to be able to picture themselves living in the home, and they might not be able to do so if they can’t take their eyes off your wall of taxidermy.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Create closet space

Even if you have the world’s largest walk-in closet in the master bedroom, you can give buyers the impression that there isn’t enough space by overfilling it. Stagers recommend taking half of your clothes and shoes out and packing them away to create some airiness. Does the idea of packing up your stuff freak you out? You’re going to have to do it when you move, anyway. This is just giving you a head start.

  1. Remove the stink

Does your home greet guests with a big whiff of cat box? Potential home buyers might just turn right back around and get in the car. You also want to make sure your animals aren’t irritating those who are touring or impeding them from entering certain rooms. Don’t want to board them? Surely you have a friend or family member who’d love to watch your pets during showings, right?

  1. Pull those weeds

You really can’t overestimate the importance of curb appeal today. Even if you don’t want to spring for a few bags of mulch and some colorful flowers to frame your door, there are easy and free steps you can take to give buyers a great first impression. Dispose of any visible weeds, leaves, and other unwanted stuff hanging out in the yard. Give your bushes a trim and mow the yard. If you can’t power wash your home, at least wash the outside of the exterior windows that are within eye level.

And don’t forget about the area closest to your front door. Sweep that stoop and make sure your welcome mat is actually welcoming, instead of dusty and dirty

  1. Address your furniture

Some of the most common problems in homes when it comes to furniture: 1) It’s ugly; 2) It’s old; There’s too much of it; The arrangement is uninviting. Ugly and old might be hard to overcome when you’re trying not to spend money, but the rest you can do something about.

“Sometimes when sellers are trying to make a small room seem like it’s more spacious, they have a tendency to push all of their furniture against the walls to leave a big open space in the middle. This type of arrangement may leave a lot of open space, but ultimately leaves the interior design looking unfinished — a big turn off for buyers. In this situation, it’s better to create furniture groupings. First, envision the way the space should be used,” said Freshome. “Do you have a huge flatscreen TV that requires a lot of seating? Is there a corner in your living room that would serve perfectly as a reading nook? Group the furniture in ways that would make sense for the intended use. Then, make sure that there are clean and direct pathways through the room. You want potential buyers to be able to envision themselves living in your home and one of the quickest ways to do that is by creating a cozy seating area that’s fit for conversation.”

If the problem is that you’ve created a crowded space by using too much furniture, ditch a few pieces in a friend’s garage for the time being (or, even better, donate them!) to create an intimate seating area. You can always bring those pieces back into your new home.

  1. Borrow stuff

If, at the end of the day, your home still isn’t looking show-ready, maybe it’s time to raid a friend’s house. Have a loved one who has an extra couch that’s more neutral than yours or a couple of great accessories? It’s time to test their love for you.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

 

The First Offer May Be The Best Offer

Versions of this column have appeared before. It is still true. And for many, still relevant.For Sale Sign

Sometimes when everything goes right we have trouble accepting that fact. Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon more clearly illustrated than in the case where a seller receives a good offer right away.

The annals of real estate are well stocked with stories of sellers who refused to take a good, but not perfect, first offer, and who then waited a long, long time before finally accepting something else at a considerably lower price. And most agents who have been around for a while know to shudder when a good strong offer is made almost at the outset of a listing; for the seller’s reservations are almost inevitable. “Did we list it too low?” “If someone will offer this much so soon, maybe we should wait a while and see if we can get more.” Etc.

When we read of Silicon Valley listings routinely selling at above list price, and while we are still in a period when multiple-offer situations are commonplace, it is understandable that such thoughts come to mind. Nonetheless, they are generally unfounded, especially if the market is anywhere near “normal”, as ours is today.

As an antidote to the ill effects of the “curse of the first offer”, a couple of observations might be kept in mind.

First, the fact that an offer is received early in the listing period — even in the first few days — doesn’t mean that the property has been listed too low.

It is easy to overlook how very efficient the residential real estate marketplace has become. Modern multiple listing systems (MLS) provide agents, and thus their buyer clients, with virtually instant access to information about existing inventory and about what has newly come on the market. In the old, old days a buyer’s agent did not become aware of new listings until “the book” (i.e. the compilation of MLS listings) was published. There might have been a lag time of ten days or more from the time the listing was taken.

Today, a good buyer’s agent will have electronically entered a “profile” of his client’s needs and price range into the system. Then, whenever he logs on to the MLS, he will be notified if a listing has been entered that matches that profile. In a low-inventory market such as we have had recently, buyers’ agents will log on a half-dozen times a day, or more, to see if an appropriate new listing has been entered. Moreover, in most systems the buyer’s agent is able to place the buyer himself on a similar notification.

The point is that potential buyers learn quickly of the existence of an appropriate new listing. Thus a flurry of activity at the outset of the listing does not necessarily imply a too-low price; rather, it reflects the efficiency of the system.

Secondly, an early first offer does not imply that the seller should hold out for full price.

We all know that there is typically a bit of a dance in the pricing and negotiating for a property. Sellers, with the concurrence of their agents, will usually list their property for an amount that is both higher than what they believe its value to be and higher than what they would be satisfied to receive. Why? Because they know that buyers almost always want and expect to pay less than the listed price

However, when an otherwise acceptable offer comes in near the outset of a listing period, sellers are frequently tempted to hold out for full price, or much closer to it than would normally be expected. Caution should be exercised in this regard.

For one thing, as we have noted, exposure of the property to buyers occurs pretty quickly nowadays, and sellers shouldn’t assume that there are going to be more, much less higher, offers as the listing period progresses.

Secondly, there often can be a transactional benefit to “leaving something on the table.” A real estate transaction is a process. These days, with inspections and disclosures, there are almost always “second negotiations” during the course of escrow. A buyer who feels ground down in the purchase negotiation may well be more difficult to deal with as other issues arise.

Written by Bob Hunt

The Third Rule of Home Staging: Add a Splash Of Color

When it comes to staging a home for sale, the classic advice to keep color schemes neutral is still spot-on. White or pale hues make a space feel simple, serene and more expansive. These unobtrusive colors act as a blank canvas; they allow potential buyers to imagine themselves living in the home.

But many homeowners who already have colorful walls or furniture may wonder if it’s possible to keep some color in their staged home. The answer is absolutely yes. You can maintain – or even add – just a pop of color to create the right amount of personality and style in your staging. In fact, a splash of color can make a space feel designed, perhaps allowing it to linger in the memories of prospective buyers. As a bonus, color can also brighten your listing photos. Remember, you’ll want to add the color only after you’ve done the first two steps of home staging, paring down and freshening up. Here’s a game plan for strategically adding color to each staged room of your home.

Brighten the Living RoomThrow pillows

Throw pillows are easily found and often cost-efficient. On a sofa, they’re a terrific way to add a burst of color. Select throw pillows that complement the sofa and room. You might go for a bright contrast, like royal blue against white, or bright yellow on a beige sofa. It’s all right to choose patterned, floral, solid or metallic versions. The key is to look for a color or combination of colors that will add visual interest without taking over the room.

 

Color-coordinating your display shelves is another smart and budget-friendly way to infuse your living room with a little color. When editing your bookcase or shelves, try keeping books of the same color or combinations of colors together. You might be surprised how a simple stack of brightly colored red or blue books can transform a shelf or an accent table.Orange chairs

If the thought of parting with that pair of brightly colored armchairs gives you trouble, rest assured that you might not have to let them go. Once you’ve given the room a neutral and soothing palette overall, try reinstating that colorful furniture piece or accessory. Perhaps balance it out with a paler counterpart, as with a light-colored throw on a chair, or white books on a colorful table.

Teal Ottoman

 

The rule of thumb is that if it’s a visual distraction, you should remove it. But if your punchy piece complements the space and adds just the right amount of personality, it can stay. A buyer might remember the cool house with the interesting blue velvet ottoman, especially among a sea of all-white homes with nothing memorable about them.

 

 

 

Bring a Splash of Color to Your Kitchen

Look to surfaces such as a countertop, an open shelf or a stovetop as opportunities to add a pop of color here and there in the kitchen. You don’t want to introduce clutter, but you could replace necessary items — teakettle, dish towel, cookie jar — that are neutral with colorful equivalents that tastefully brighten the space.Red bar stools

A terrific option for adding color to a kitchen is to highlight colorful seating options. Bright bar stools or dining chairs can really make a kitchen come to life.  Another great idea for adding temporary color that many stagers use for both photos and open houses is a simple bowl of fruit on the counter. Try using a single color, such as all green or all red apples. For a warm personal touch at your open house, you might leave a note offering the fruit to your visitors.

A Bedroom That Oozes Calm

A well-staged bedroom should feel like a relaxing hotel room, with nothing too personal showing. Pale or white bedding and minimal accessories will contribute nicely to a soothing scheme.

Adhering to a hotel-like feel for your bedroom, however, doesn’t mean that you can’t add a color or two. Your bed wall is the perfect place to feature a different hue. Stick to peaceful or classicCozy bedroom colors that will work nicely with your neutral bedding. White or ivory bedding looks sophisticated against a navy wall. Similarly, a soothing aqua or pale blue painted wall would freshen up a drab or dark space, making it more inviting and relaxing. Add a mirror to your painted bed wall to help create an elegant and calming retreat.

 

 

 

Bathrooms Are for Color

Fresh and clean is how you want your bathroom to read to any prospective buyer. Crisp white towels and a sparkling shower or tub do wonders to brighten an outdated or worn bathroom. Surprisingly, so does a little color on the walls. Aqua bathroomSo if your bathroom still feels a bit drab after cleaning and updating the space with new hardware and a fresh glaze on the tub, try painting one or more walls in a classic or fresh color. This can add a bit more style to the room, with the added perk of helping to conceal aging walls and distract the eye from other outdated features.

Look to classic colors like navy or charcoal gray to pop against your fluffy white towels or help make white tiles look brighter. Alternatively, a refreshing color such as pale aqua can evoke the palette of clean water, resulting in a soothing feeling.

Colors you might steer clear of for a painted bathroom wall are nonsoothing brights such as orange or emerald green. While these primary colors can make a fun statement, they don’t evoke a serene or clean feeling for the purposes of a bathroom.

 

 

 

Dress Up Your Exterior

Last but not least, it’s time to address accenting the exterior of your home with a burst of color. Painting your front door and shutters in a color that coordinates with the rest of your house will add curb appeal.  Blue front door

Bright and classic colors such as red, green and blue are great options, especially to coordinate with planters and brightly colored flowers.

 

Written by Neila Deen