5 Awesomely Easy Landscaping Projects

Landscaping next to a home's drivewayImage:

It’s your yard — yours to do with as you wish. And while that’s great, that doesn’t mean you have to be one of those people who spends every spare moment in their yard, sprucing it up.

But, still, your landscaping could use a little something. But something easy.

Here are five totally doable projects that your budget will barely notice, but your neighbors definitely will:

#1 Add Some (Tough) Edging

Rigid flowerbed edgingImage: Paul Gerritsen/Shutterstock

Tell your grass who’s boss with edging that can stand up to even the crabbiest of all crabgrasses.

But don’t make the mistake that many homeowners make of buying the flexible plastic stuff, thinking it will be easier to install. It’ll look cheap and amateurish from day one.

Worse, it won’t last. And before you know it, you won’t be able to tell where your garden bed ends and your “lawn” begins.

Instead buy the more rigid, tough stuff in either fiberglass, aluminum, or steel.

Tips on installing edging:

  • Lay out a hose in the pattern you want.
  • Sprinkle flour or powdered chalk to mark the hose pattern.
  • Use a lawn edger (or spade) to make an incision for the edging.
  • Tap the edging into the incision with a rubber mallet.

The cost? Mostly your time, and up to $2.50 a square foot for the edging.

#2 Create a Focal Point with a Berm

Berm built in front yardImage: Jon Jenks-Bauer

Plus, they’ll give you privacy — and diffuse street noises. What’s not to like about that? Especially if you live in more urban areas.

For most yards, berms should max out at 2-feet high because of the space needed to properly build one.

They need a ratio of 4-6 feet of width for every foot of height. That’s at least 8 feet for a typical 2-foot high berm. So be sure you have the room, or decrease the height of your berm.

Popular berm plantings include:

  • Flowering bushes, such as azaleas
  • Evergreens, such as blue spruce
  • Perennials such as periwinkle
  • Tall, swaying prairie grasses
  • Lots of mulch to keep weeds away

Soil costs a whole lot less in bulk — $20 / cubic yard vs. almost $70 for the same amount in bags from a big-box store. Even with a delivery fee, you’ll come out ahead. The cost?  Usually less than $300, depending on how big you make it, how much soil you need to buy to get to your desired height, and what plants you choose.

#3 Make a Flagstone Wall

Aim to build a wall no more than 12 inches tall, and it becomes a super simple DIY project — no mortar needed at all!

How to build an easy flagstone wall:

  • Dig a trench a couple of inches deep and wide enough to accommodate the flagstones.
  • Fill with pea gravel and/or sand and tamp to make level.
  • Lay out the flagstones to see their shapes and sizes.
  • Stack the smaller stones first.
  • Save the largest, prettiest flagstones for the top layer.
  • Backfill with gravel.

Choose a stone of consistent thickness. Flagstone might be limestone, sandstone, shale — any rock that splits into slabs.

The cost? About $300 for stones and sand (a ton of 2-inch-thick stone is enough for a wall 10 feet long and 12 inches high).

How To Build a Stone Wall

Video: Stoneyard.com

#4 Install a Path with Flagstone or Gravel

There’s something romantic, charming, and simply welcoming about a meandering pathway to your front door or back garden — which means it has super-huge impact when it comes to your home’s curb appeal.

You can use flagstone, pea gravel, decomposed or crushed granite, even poured concrete (although that’s not easy to DIY).

A few tips for building a pathway:

  • Allow 3 feet of width for clearance.
  • Create curves rather than straight lines for a pleasing effect.
  • Remove sod at least 3 to 4 inches deep to keep grass from coming back.
  • If you live in an area with heavy rains, opt for large, heavy stones.

The cost? Anywhere from a couple of hundred bucks to upwards of $500 depending on the material you use, with decomposed granite being the least expensive, and flagstone (also the easiest of the bunch to install) the costliest.

How to Build a Flagstone Walkway

How to build a flagstone walkway.

#5 Build a Tree Surround

Installing a masonry surround for a tree is a two-fer project: It looks great, and it means you’ve got less to mow. Come to think of it, it’s a three-fer. It can work as extra seating when you have your lawn party, too!

All it takes is digging a circular trench, adding some sand, and installing brick, cement blocks, or stone. Just go for whatever look you like best.

The trickiest part is getting an even circle around the tree. Here’s how:

  1. Tie a rope around the tree, making a loop big enough so that when you pull it taut against the tree, the outer edge of the loop is right where you want the surround to be.
  2. Set your spade inside the loop with the handle plumb — straight up and down. Now, as you move around the tree, the loop of rope keeps the spade exactly the same distance from the base of the tree, creating a nice circle.

Then build the tree surround:

  • Dig out a circular trench about 8 inches deep and 6 inches wide.
  • Add a layer of sand.
  • Set bricks at an angle for a saw-tooth effect or lay them end-to-end.
  • Fill the surround with 2 to 3 inches of mulch.

The cost? Super cheap. You can do it for less than $25 with commonly-available pavers and stones. 

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Fix Layout Problems Without Changing Walls

open floor layout in home

It’s no secret that builders, developers, and architects have favored open-plan layouts in the past decade or two. Bigger kitchens that spill out into family and dining rooms are the new norm, and the aesthetics and healthfulness of outdoor living space often extends inward, thanks to seamless glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows.

The shift toward openness is due to several factors. Technological advancements in construction permit longer open spans as steel has replaced wood in supporting headers or beams, says Orren Pickell, whose eponymous building firm is located outside Chicago. Also, he notes that an open plan adds a feeling of greater square footage without having to actually add physical space to a home’s footprint.

Sandy Owens, CRS, with RE/MAX Commonwealth in Midlothian, Va., credits a cultural move toward less formal living and entertainment spaces as a reason for the popularity of the open plan. In casual, multipurpose rooms, larger TV screens can be mounted and visible from several vantage points inside the room and out, says Connecticut architect Duo Dickinson, author of Staying Put: Remodel your House to Get the Home You Want (Taunton Press). Newer audio equipment has also enabled sound to be heard throughout larger spaces.

However, after years of clamoring for more open-plan layouts that resemble cool artists’ lofts, the pendulum seems to be settling in the middle with a desire for both striking airiness and cozy corners. Owens says many homeowners who have actually experienced living in reverberant, fishbowl-type spaces find that level of transparency doesn’t always work well. They often want at least one quiet nook or separate room that’s designated tech-free, what “we used to call the living room,” says designer Susan Brunstrum, owner of Sweet Peas Design in Chicago. And Pickell notes that many may feel stressed out by being able to see their messy kitchen from every room on the main floor.

But adding or subtracting walls can be expensive in existing homes. Dickinson notes that putting up full or partial walls is usually less costly than taking one down, but the cost increases if the wall incorporates HVAC ducts, electrical wiring, or plumbing. And while a partial wall may seem like an easy compromise, they generally require support at each end. Removing all or part of a load-bearing wall can cost three times as much as removing a partition (a wall that carries no weight), says Dickinson. “But beware,” he adds, “since even walls that don’t support roofs or floors above may carry ceiling framing, so costs need to be scoped out before demo begins.” If a header—the horizontal beam that is inserted overhead to support a big span when walls are removed—is required, the cost may run to $20,000, depending on length. Homeowners also should keep in mind ancillary costs, such as laying and patching flooring, that comes with such projects.

As real estate pros know, it’s almost impossible for a listing’s layout to work for everyone. Your clients will need to decide how much openness they want and whether they want to be able to reconfigure space again as their needs or tastes change. These ideas for opening up closed spaces and separating layouts that are too open range in complexity, price, and permanence, but they’ll give you a solid ground from which to help buyers and sellers decide on a space that can work for them.

Strategies to Close Up Wide-Open Space

  • Build in an architectural feature. If construction seems like the best solution, homeowners can consider building a bookcase, banquette, fireplace, soffit, glass door, or column into the home instead of a wall. In one project, Pickell repeated stone used on the exterior of a house in columns in a kitchen. It extends from the counter to the ceiling, setting off the area without obstructing views. Other strategies he’s used to make an area more intimate include lowering ceilings; installing beams, coves, or coffers; and adding an interior glass door that keeps the line of sight open between areas but still dampens sound. Los Angeles designer Lori Gilder, owner of Interior Makeovers, often suggests banquettes to section off an eating space, rather than adding a table and chairs, which tend to float in the middle of a room.
  • Dickinson notes that newer gas or gel capsule fireplaces are easy to vent and don’t require a chimney, making them simpler to place and less costly to install than with traditional log-burning fireplaces of years past.
  • Differentiate areas with flooring, paint, and wallpaper. Changes in material, color, or texture on a floor, wall, or ceiling are more visual than structural but still can fool the eye into thinking there’s separation. Deep intense hues that some manufacturers are debuting as their 2018 Colors of the Year—Sherwin-Williams’ rich oceanside blue and Benjamin Moore’s deep barn-red caliente—help make rooms feel smaller and more nurturing. Certain dark wallpapers and paneling have a similar effect. The upside is that these choices can be changed fairly easily to reopen space; the downside is that they won’t deflect noise as well as structural changes.
  • Use furniture to create vignettes. This also doesn’t involve a permanent, structural redo, just positioning existing furniture to suggest a distinct room within a larger space. Simply pulling sofas, chairs, and tables away from walls and setting them atop an area rug can accomplish the intended effect. An edgier option could include floating curtains from the ceiling rather than at windows and doors.
  • Use light effectively. Lighting can make a big difference in how open or closed rooms appear. With the advanced controls LEDs and smart fixtures offer, homeowners can adjust bulb color and temperature (lower and warmer light conveys small, intimate space, while cooler and brighter lights accomplish the opposite). Recessed lights are a more permanent, costly option but new longer-lasting, energy-efficient LEDs help keep costs down in the long run.

Methods for Opening Up Separated Rooms

  • Remove doors, walls, and cabinetry. An easy, affordable solution—even for DIYers—is to remove doors and jambs, then patch and paint so there’s a clear view between adjoining rooms, says Maria Elena Holguin with Robb & Stucky Interiors (though homeowners should save the doors for future buyers who may want them restored to their former location).
  • Raise the ceiling. Raising a roof is “crazy expensive—starting at $50,000 and up from there,” says Dickinson. A more affordable approach to add height and openness is to raise angled ceilings when there’s a pitched roof. This option can range from between $3,000 and $6,000, Dickinson says. However, he cautions that adding insulation, lighting, and HVAC can double that cost. “You’ll need an experienced builder or architect. For larger projects, these professionals would bring in an engineer,” Dickinson says. Before any major change is done, your clients should consider having a plan drawn to visualize the possibilities and drawbacks.
  • Install skylights or add windows. Less involved, these treatments can still make a room feel larger and more open. But the price can add up quickly. Nathan Kipnis, principal of Kipnis Architecture + Planning in Evanston, Ill., suggests three, five, or six windows, depending upon the room. “One will bring in light and ventilation, but won’t open up the space sufficiently,” he says. Kipnis likes to group several windows in a grid, and perhaps adding a transom above. A project like this may run clients anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 just for the windows, plus several thousand more for the structure around them. But even just two windows can run far higher. Oldenburg reported a recent project where just two windows cost around $20,000, mostly due to the need to punch openings out of a brick facade. Skylights themselves may run between $1,000 and $1,500 each, according to Kipnis, but the ancillary costs vary there too. “If you need to rework the structure, then it will add $5,000 to $10,000,” he says.
  • Blur room lines with furniture groupings and design choices. Separate rooms can feel more like one entity if lines are intentionally blurred between them. The trick is to use floor materials, wall colors, and even furniture groupings to bridge the spaces, says Mary Cook, principal of Mary Cook Associates, a national commercial interior design firm based in Chicago. Be sure to use furniture that’s finished on all sides since it’ll be viewed from all around, advises Kipnis.
  • Use mirrors. Reflective surfaces that extend vertically up to ceilings and horizontally along entire walls have an effect of opening up space and allowing light to bounce around more freely, says Dickinson. Even using mirrors along smaller expanses—say on bookshelves or backsplashes—can help.
  • Go light and repeat. One of the reasons white remains one of the most popular colors in design is that it opens up space more than deep intense hues and woods do. And today there are literally hundreds of white and off-white paint shades to consider, as well as light beiges and grays. Repeating the same wall, ceiling, and trim color offers an even more effective approach.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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You Only Think It’s True: 10 Myths Costing You Time & Money

Save your cash for more important things, like, you know, your mortgage.

You can’t swing a tool belt without hitting a website or TV network offering tips on taking care of your digs. Save money by watering your lawn at night! No, water it in the morning! No, dig it up and replace it with a drought-hardy meadow!

Throw in the info you pick up from well-meaning friends and there’s a sea of home care truisms out there, some of which can sink your budget.

Myth 1: Stone Countertops Are Indestructible

Fact: Even rock can be damaged.

Marble, quartz, travertine, soapstone, and limestone can all be stained. Regular household cleaners can dull their surfaces over time. And marble is maddeningly fragile — it’s the prima donna of stone.

It’s easy to scratch. It’s easy to stain. Here’s the worst part: Mildly acidic substances like soda, coffee, lemon juice, even hard water will eat into marble, creating a cloudy, dull spot in a process known as etching.

“Spill a glass of wine on a marble counter and go to bed without cleaning it, the next morning you’ll have a problem,” says Louwrens Mulder, owner of Superior Stone in Knoxville, Tenn.

And while stone counters won’t crack under a hot pot, such direct heat can discolor quartz or marble, says Mulder. So be nice to your counters, no matter what they’re made of. And note that the best rock for your buck is granite. “It doesn’t stain or scratch. It’s tough because it’s volcanic rock,” Mulder says. Which means it can stand up to all the merlot and barbecue sauce you can spill on it.

Myth 2: Your Smoke Detector’s Test Button Is Foolproof

Fact: The test button doesn’t tell you what you really need to know.

Yes, check your smoke detector twice a year. But all that test button will tell you is whether the alarm sound is working, not if the sensor that detects smoke is working. Pretty key difference there.

The best way to check your device is with real smoke. Light a long, wooden kitchen match, blow it out, and hold it near the unit. If the smoke sets off the alarm, it’s working. If not, replace the batteries. If it still doesn’t work, you need a new smoke detector. And replace those batteries once a year anyway, because dead batteries are the No. 1 reason smoke detectors fail.

Myth 3: Gutter Guards Are Maintenance-Free

Fact: You gotta clean gutter guards, too.

Gutter guards keep out leaves, but small debris like seeds, pine straw, and flower buds will still get through.

Gutter guards can lessen your work, though — sometimes a lot. Instead of shoveling out wheelbarrow loads of leaves and other crap twice a year, you might just need to clean them every two years. But if there are lots of trees in your yard, once a year might be necessary.

Myth 4: A Lemon Is a Great Way to Clean a Disposal

Lemons ready to be added to a disposalImage: Anne Arntson for HouseLogic

Fact: While wanting to use natural cleaners is admirable, all of them will damage your disposal and pipes over time.

The lemon’s acidic juice will corrode the metal parts of your disposal. The mixture of salt and ice contains metal-eating acid, too. The coffee grounds are abrasive enough to clean the gunk off the blades and make it smell like a cup of americano, but they’ll accumulate in pipes and clog them.

The best natural cleaner for your disposal is good old baking soda. It’s mildly abrasive so it will clean the blades, but it’s a base, not an acid, and won’t damage the metal. Best of all, a box with enough baking soda big enough to clean your disposal twice costs less than a buck.

Myth 5: Mowing Your Lawn Super Short Means You’ll Mow Less Often

Fact: You might not have to mow as often, but your lawn will look like awful.

Cut that grass under an inch high, and you’ll never have to mow again because your grass will die. Mowing a lawn down to the root — a screw-up known as scalping — is like cutting all the leaves off a plant.

Grass blades make and store your lawn’s energy. Removing more than 1/3 of the length of the blade will leave your grass too weak to withstand weeds and pests. It also exposes the roots to the sun, causing the lawn to dry out quickly. Leave 1 to 3 inches of grass above the roots to keep your lawn lush.

Myth 6: CFLs Cost Too Much, and Are Dangerous

Fact: CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) have come down in price since they first hit the market and don’t contain enough mercury to cause any harm.

You can buy one now for as low as $3. And replacing one incandescent bulb with a CFL will save nearly $60 a year for the lifetime of the bulb, says Consumer Reports. CFLs last an average of 5 years, so one bulb can save $300. A houseful of them, say 20, will save $600 each year.

And CFLs are a safe option. They actually lower your exposure to mercury indirectly, because they use 70 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs. That means the coal-fired power plants that spew 340 million pounds of mercury into the air each year won’t have to run as long to keep our houses lit. Fewer toxins, lower power bills. What’s not to love?

Myth 7: A Trendy Kitchen Re-Do Will Increase My Home’s Value

Avocado green kitchenImage: Tate Gunnerson

Fact: Décor trends come and go as fast as viral videos.

Remember those Tuscan-style kitchens with mustard gold walls, ornate cabinets, and medieval-looking light fixtures that were the must-have of the late ‘90s and early aughts?

Today, they’re as dated as flip phones. Instead of remodeling in the latest look, which costs $22,000 on average, try repainting in on-trend colors, which costs $1,700 on average. If you do opt for a full remodel, choose elements like Shaker cabinets, wood floors, and subway tile, a timeless style you’ll love 10 years from now.

Myth 8: A Contractor Recommendation From a Friend Is Good Enough

Fact: Good contractors have more than just your buddy to vouch for them.

Your neighbor’s rec is a good start, but talk to a couple of sources before you hire anyone. Check the contractor’s reviews on Angie’s List or other online rating sites.

Ask a local building inspector which contractors meet code on the properties they inspect. Ask the contractor for the names of past clients you can talk to, how many other projects they have going, how long they’ve worked with their subcontractors, and if they routinely do projects the size of yours.

Look at this as a job interview where the contractor is an applicant and you’re the hiring manager. Make them show you they’re the guy or gal for the work.

Myth 9: Turning Off Your AC When You Leave Saves Energy

Fact: Turning off the air conditioner when you leave could actually cost you money.

That’s because when you turn it back on, all your savings will be lost as the unit works overtime to cool your hot house. A better way to save on utilities is to turn the thermostat up or down (depending on the season) 5 to 10 degrees when you leave, says home improvement expert Danny Lipford of todayshomeowner.com.

And the best option? “Install a programmable thermostat,” he says. Even better, buy one you can control remotely with your smartphone and adjust the temperature before you get home. Because thermostats you have to touch are so 1998.

Myth 10: Permits? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Permits

Fact: You do.

Let’s say your neighbor’s brother-in-law, Cecil, is an electrician. Cecil can rewire your kitchen in a weekend because he won’t inconvenience you with a permit. Should you hire Cecil? No. Building codes protect you. From Cecil. Getting a permit means an inspector will check his work to make sure he didn’t screw up.

Plus, if your house burns down in an electrical fire and your insurance company finds out the work was done without a permit, they won’t cover your loss. Check with your local planning or building department to find out if your project needs a permit. If it does, get one.

Leanne Potts is an Atlanta-based journalist and serial home remodeler. She’s tackled five fixer-uppers and is working on a sixth. She’s written about everything from forest fires to dog-friendly decor and spent a decade leading the digital staff of HGTV.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Realtors® Midyear Forecast

WASHINGTON (May 17, 2018) – A stronger economy, wage growth and an improving job market are expected to march home sales and prices higher in 2018, but low supply and weakening affordability will tamper the rate of increases, according to speakers at a residential real estate forum during the 2018 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors®, presented his 2018 midyear forecast and said despite headwinds a moderate and multiyear increase in home sales is likely ahead. After accelerating 3.8 percent in 2016, existing home sales rose only 1.1 percent to 5.5 million in 2017 and are forecast to finish 2018 at a pace of around 5.6 million (up 1.8 percent). He projects 5.7 million sales for 2019.

“Overall fundamentals remain solid, driven by a growing economy and steady job creation, which will sustain home sales in 2018 slightly above last year’s pace,” said Yun. “The worsening housing shortage means home prices are primed to rise further this year too, hindering affordability conditions for homebuyers in markets across the country.”

Yun said the widespread shortage of homes for sale is the major factor limiting sales from being higher. While home sales have risen modestly since the start of the year, Yun said without more supply to fully satisfy demand and alleviate the upward pressure on prices, contract activity is likely to remain flat and will more or less continue sideways through the end of the year.

Total housing inventory at the end of March was 1.67 million existing homes available for sale, which is 7.2 percent lower than a year ago (1.80 million). Inventory has trended down steadily for the past five years, said Yun, and the country is now experiencing the lowest inventory levels in a generation; unsold inventory is at a 3.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 3.8 months a year ago.

Yun was joined onstage by Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com®, who agreed there is an acute shortage, especially of affordable inventory. According to realtor.com® data there are 250,000 fewer starter homes, those priced under $200,000, now than there was two years ago, in May 2015. Millennials, boomers and investors may all be going after the same affordable inventory of homes, so competition is great, said Hale.

“There is reason for optimism ahead though. We are starting to see new listings grow in recent months; the inventory shortage isn’t over, it took us years to get into an inventory rut, so it’s going to take us years to get out of it, but we do see signs of a turnaround,” she said.

Home price growth, up 48 percent from 2011 to 2017 and likely to rise an additional 4 percent in 2018, is far outpacing income growth, up only 15 percent during the same timeframe. Increased home prices on top of rising mortgage rates – Yun anticipates rates will rise to 4.6 percent in 2018 and 5 percent in 2019 – puts affordability at a six-year low, according to NAR’s Housing Affordability Index, and will likely continue to fall in coming months.

“Challenging affordability conditions have prevented a meaningful rise in the homeownership rate after having fallen to a 50-year low a few years ago,” said Yun. “To increase homeownership, more home construction is needed, which could be boosted by delivering regulatory relief to community banks, removing the lumber tariff, re-examining stringent zoning laws and training more workers for the construction industry.”

On the topic of homeownership rates, Jessica Lautz, NAR’s director of demographics and behavioral insights, presented findings during the forum from her thesis from Nottingham Trent University: “Is the Dream Still Alive? Tracking Homeownership Amid Changing Economic and Demographic Conditions”. According to Lautz’s doctoral work, the affordability crisis has impacted some segments of homebuyers more than others, specifically African American and Hispanic/Latino buyers and those with student debt.

Student loan debt has risen dramatically and is a massive barrier to homeownership, said Lautz, and it is delaying home purchases among millennials who are paying their debt by a median of seven years. Her research found that consumers with student loan debt who were successful in buying purchased a home costing 17 percent less than those without any student debt.

“The homeownership rate amongst some ethnic groups hasn’t rebounded since the recession, and the ongoing affordability crisis has hampered potential buyers under 35, especially those with student debt, from accessing mortgage credit and making home purchases,” said Lautz.

Yun said consumer optimism that now is a good time to buy a home has fallen the past two years, according to data from NAR and other industry consumer sentiment surveys. While the lack of supply and challenging affordability conditions is chipping away at homebuyer optimism, Hale said buyers aren’t giving up their dreams of purchasing a home. New survey data from realtor.com® found three-fourths of recent shoppers started their home search in 2017 and are still in the market in 2018.

“Buyers know it’s tough, 35 percent of shoppers anticipate a lot of competition, but they remain optimistic, and more than 70 percent expect to close in 2018,” she said.

Yun said affordability conditions would improve measurably if homebuilders increased their production of homes, especially in the affordable price ranges. He forecasts starts to come in around 1.3 million in 2018 and reach 1.4 million in 2019, but that is barely above year-ago levels and well below demand.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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How Older Homes Can Gain an Edge

The 4,200-square-foot lakefront property Mark Parrish listed last August seemed like any home buyer’s dream. Twenty minutes outside of Minneapolis, it was more spacious than most comparable homes in the neighborhood, with four bedrooms and four baths, and had unobstructed water views. Though the basement was unfinished and the kitchen needed some updates—the cherry wood cabinetry and flooring had fallen out of fashion—Parrish felt confident the home’s attributes would overshadow its weaknesses. Still, it took eight months and about 20 showings for his sellers to get their first offer in March—and it was $45,000 below the $629,900 asking price. In a market where homes in good condition generally sell quickly, the sellers, relieved to have found a buyer, accepted the offer.

It would be easy to blame a seasonal slowdown in the market for the languishing sale. But Parrish, GRI, a sales associate at Lakes Sotheby’s International Realty in Edina, Minn., says the sale became more challenging because of a development of about 200 newly constructed homes a couple of blocks away. The properties in the brand-new community reflected the latest styles in flooring, lighting, and countertops, among other items. And that made the outdated look of his sellers’ home, built in 2004, even more noticeable to buyers, Parrish says. “People are blinded by the white plank floors, gold light fixtures, and quartz countertops you often see in new construction,” Parrish adds. “If buyers look online at your listing and see dated cherry cabinets and flooring, and they go to the next house and see white marble—if you’re not willing to make that change, it will be reflected in your price.”

Though a home’s design and style is not always a make-or-break issue for the sale, most buyers likely will factor it into their purchase decision, especially when choosing between resale and new construction. When you help sellers in areas with alluring, newer units nearby, you’ll be battling a common perception that existing homes aren’t as desirable as new ones—even if your listing is in pristine condition. So it’s wise to help sellers modernize their home’s look to make it more competitive.

Small upgrades, such as adding a fresh coat of paint, switching out old kitchen and door hardware, or incorporating aesthetic details specific to your region, can give listings a newer feel, says Josh McNair, broker-owner of Geist Realty in Indianapolis. But big-ticket items, such as energy-efficient appliances, new countertops, and bathroom remodels, may be the most important upgrades sellers can make because most buyers can’t afford them on top of a home purchase, adds Terrylynn Fisher, CRS, GRI, a professional stager and associate broker with Dudum Real Estate Group in Walnut Creek, Calif. Sellers also can add smart-home features that enable owners to control thermostats, lighting, and door locks from their smartphone to draw buyers’ interest, since those amenities are becoming standard in new developments.

Not all sellers, though, are willing or able to pay thousands of dollars for improvements. In that case, lowering the list price may be the best way to gain an edge over newer homes. “Everyone knows you pay a premium for new,” says Christine Rae, founder of the Certified Staging Professionals International Business Training Academy. “You pay not just for the property itself but also the developer’s costs and marketing investment. So new generally means more expensive.” And that could be the most important factor in a budget-conscious buyer’s decision-making process.

Still, don’t underestimate the impact aesthetics can have on the value of both resale homes and new construction. Here are some top considerations for marketing older homes in areas where sparkling newcomers are springing up around them.

Advantages

Investment in curb—and backyard—appeal. Many sellers have added amenities, such as pools, decks, and porches, and worked with professional landscapers, painters, and contractors to make the look of their home more upscale, Fisher says. This means buyers won’t have to spend extra money on these items. Developers of new homes, on the other hand, often make a barebones investment in curb appeal to control costs, she adds. “Buyers sometimes have to landscape the backyard and add window treatments, which can give them sticker shock.” These extra costs may include planting grass or laying sod as well as planting trees and other shrubbery.

Better lifestyle options. Many resale homes are closer to schools, shopping, restaurants, and public transportation, which is a big plus, McNair says. “New construction usually takes place on the outskirts of town, where agricultural land is being developed into housing subdivisions,” he adds. Clients who strive to live in a neighborhood with a certain feel may find more options in existing communities with a developed sense of community.

Individual charm. “Older properties usually have character that is lacking in new builds,” Rae says. Many resale homes have historical features and flourishes that add extra appeal, as well as more mature trees and larger lots that offer more privacy. New homes tend to be built closer together on smaller lots, where “your neighbors are looking into your yard,” Rae adds. Construction shortcuts sometimes result in flaws that come to light after the owner moves in. Much of the time, adds Fisher, “You’re going to have a more substantial house in an older home because it’s had owners that have cared for it.

Disadvantages

No customization options. Buyers may have to compromise more on a resale home, McNair says, because major details such as floor plan, lot size, and interior finishes often can’t be changed. And if they can, it will require a sizable investment. With new homes, however, buyers can work with the builder to customize these options before and during construction. Customization may come with added costs, McNair points out, but it likely won’t be as expensive as doing a major remodel on an existing property.

Difficulty retrofitting green features. Demand for eco-friendly homes is growing quickly, and features such as energy-efficient appliances, HVAC and electrical systems, and windows are becoming standard buyer expectations. While more developers are including these items in their builds, many resale homes may not be able to be outfitted with entirely new systems, Rae says. So buyers who are looking for ways to lower their utility bills may find better options in newer communities. Another benefit: New-home buyers won’t have to worry about wiping a previous owner’s data from a smart product.

Stale design. Some sellers won’t keep the style of their home current. Despite the best advice from their real estate professional, these sellers won’t remove dated carpeting or add fresh details such as new ceiling fixtures, kitchen backsplash, countertops, hardware, and bathtub glazing, Rae says. While an incoming buyer can fix these issues, it’s a burden. New homes, by contrast, hew more closely to trends and won’t require cleaning up a previous owner’s design disaster, Rae adds.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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6 Easy Projects to Personalize a Cookie-Cutter Home

Value-boosting ideas for your home’s interior to make it really yours.

There’s so much to love about a brand new home! No worries about an aging furnace or the source of a stain in the carpet.

Yet, it can also feel a little, well, uninspired. Like that neighborhood in “The Truman Show.” Your home can feel like a carbon copy of everyone else’s.

But just like Truman, you don’t have to succumb to the sameness. It’s quite easy to take something ordinary in your home and make it a little bit special, something unique. Some examples to get you started:

#1 Paint Your Ceiling Fan

Wood ceiling fan bladesBefore
Dry-brushed wood ceiling fan bladesAfter

Image: Nicki Decker

Homeowner Nicki Decker and her husband banished a ‘90s-era builder-grade brass fan from their master bedroom by simply spray-painting the metal with an antique finish. Decker lightly dry-brushed two shades of mineral chalk furniture paint onto the medium-toned wood blades — delivering a whitewashed effect that enhances the room’s rustic, beachy mood.

“I got to use my creativity to turn a dated eyesore into a beautiful and functional centerpiece that really brings the room together,” she says.

#2 Frame a Window

White window bracket in a kitchenImage: Amy Chalmers

A window over the kitchen sink is a common feature in homes new and old, but it doesn’t have to be ordinary.

Seeking to “add some cottage-style detail to our very standard builders’ kitchen,” interior designer Amy Chalmers fastened vintage cast iron brackets to the cabinetry on either side of her window to create a framing effect.

The brackets support a stamped tin-covered plywood shelf, heightening the room’s one-of-a-kind charm.

#3 Add Classic Molding

In this new San Francisco home, Geoff Gibson, a partner with Winder Gibson Architects, installed molding inspired by the city’s classic architecture. “To keep it from being too busy or too boring,” his firm carefully selected the 5-inch-wide window and door casings and 6.5-inch-high Baseboards should be taller than casings are wide. Be sure all molding won’t feel squeezed by electric outlets, light switches, or adjoining walls. – Geoff Gibson, architect baseboards.

 

#4 Paint the Door

When the blah, beige-gray paint on his front door began to show signs of wear, homeowner Paul McLandrich says, “I figured I may as well use it as an excuse to spice up the outside of the house a little bit.”

Three coats of Behr’s “Red Pepper” semi-gloss exterior paint, and no one has trouble spotting his house from his neighbor’s.

#5 Upsize Your Cabinets

Like many people, Detroit-based home stylist Sarah Macklem had dreams of replacing the basic birch cabinetry in her kitchen with tall, custom creations, but had a budget that required more modest measures. To achieve the look, she capped her existing wall cabinets with 1-by-4-inch boards and thick, decorative crown molding.

“Adding height to the top made my short cabinets look taller and more like expensive, custom cabinetry,” says Macklem. “It was a small detail that made a huge difference in the feel of my kitchen.”

#6 Paint the Floor

When you’re seeking to create a big personality in a space, don’t stop until it’s got the right look from head to toe — including under your toes.

This adorable retro kitchen still had floors just like everyone else’s. Thankfully, Dallas-based interior designer Janet Gridley righted the wrong. She lightly sanded and primed the laminate floor, then applied white porch paint and in striped layers to create a whimsical, checkerboard pattern.

The peacock blue is unexpected, Gridley says, while the overall design does something that average laminate flooring likely never would: “It makes everyone smile,” she says.

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Midyear Forecast: Home Sales, Prices to Rise Despite Inventory, Affordability Challenges

WASHINGTON (May 17, 2018) – A stronger economy, wage growth and an improving job market are expected to march home sales and prices higher in 2018, but low supply and weakening affordability will tamper the rate of increases, according to speakers at a residential real estate forum during the 2018 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors®, presented his 2018 midyear forecast and said despite headwinds a moderate and multiyear increase in home sales is likely ahead. After accelerating 3.8 percent in 2016, existing home sales rose only 1.1 percent to 5.5 million in 2017 and are forecast to finish 2018 at a pace of around 5.6 million (up 1.8 percent). He projects 5.7 million sales for 2019.

“Overall fundamentals remain solid, driven by a growing economy and steady job creation, which will sustain home sales in 2018 slightly above last year’s pace,” said Yun. “The worsening housing shortage means home prices are primed to rise further this year too, hindering affordability conditions for homebuyers in markets across the country.”

Yun said the widespread shortage of homes for sale is the major factor limiting sales from being higher. While home sales have risen modestly since the start of the year, Yun said without more supply to fully satisfy demand and alleviate the upward pressure on prices, contract activity is likely to remain flat and will more or less continue sideways through the end of the year.

Total housing inventory at the end of March was 1.67 million existing homes available for sale, which is 7.2 percent lower than a year ago (1.80 million). Inventory has trended down steadily for the past five years, said Yun, and the country is now experiencing the lowest inventory levels in a generation; unsold inventory is at a 3.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 3.8 months a year ago.

Yun was joined onstage by Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com®, who agreed there is an acute shortage, especially of affordable inventory. According to realtor.com® data there are 250,000 fewer starter homes, those priced under $200,000, now than there was two years ago, in May 2015. Millennials, boomers and investors may all be going after the same affordable inventory of homes, so competition is great, said Hale.

“There is reason for optimism ahead though. We are starting to see new listings grow in recent months; the inventory shortage isn’t over, it took us years to get into an inventory rut, so it’s going to take us years to get out of it, but we do see signs of a turnaround,” she said.

Home price growth, up 48 percent from 2011 to 2017 and likely to rise an additional 4 percent in 2018, is far outpacing income growth, up only 15 percent during the same timeframe. Increased home prices on top of rising mortgage rates – Yun anticipates rates will rise to 4.6 percent in 2018 and 5 percent in 2019 – puts affordability at a six-year low, according to NAR’s Housing Affordability Index, and will likely continue to fall in coming months.

“Challenging affordability conditions have prevented a meaningful rise in the homeownership rate after having fallen to a 50-year low a few years ago,” said Yun. “To increase homeownership, more home construction is needed, which could be boosted by delivering regulatory relief to community banks, removing the lumber tariff, re-examining stringent zoning laws and training more workers for the construction industry.”

On the topic of homeownership rates, Jessica Lautz, NAR’s director of demographics and behavioral insights, presented findings during the forum from her thesis from Nottingham Trent University: “Is the Dream Still Alive? Tracking Homeownership Amid Changing Economic and Demographic Conditions”. According to Lautz’s doctoral work, the affordability crisis has impacted some segments of homebuyers more than others, specifically African American and Hispanic/Latino buyers and those with student debt.

Student loan debt has risen dramatically and is a massive barrier to homeownership, said Lautz, and it is delaying home purchases among millennials who are paying their debt by a median of seven years. Her research found that consumers with student loan debt who were successful in buying purchased a home costing 17 percent less than those without any student debt.

“The homeownership rate amongst some ethnic groups hasn’t rebounded since the recession, and the ongoing affordability crisis has hampered potential buyers under 35, especially those with student debt, from accessing mortgage credit and making home purchases,” said Lautz.

Yun said consumer optimism that now is a good time to buy a home has fallen the past two years, according to data from NAR and other industry consumer sentiment surveys. While the lack of supply and challenging affordability conditions is chipping away at homebuyer optimism, Hale said buyers aren’t giving up their dreams of purchasing a home. New survey data from realtor.com® found three-fourths of recent shoppers started their home search in 2017 and are still in the market in 2018.

“Buyers know it’s tough, 35 percent of shoppers anticipate a lot of competition, but they remain optimistic, and more than 70 percent expect to close in 2018,” she said.

Yun said affordability conditions would improve measurably if homebuilders increased their production of homes, especially in the affordable price ranges. He forecasts starts to come in around 1.3 million in 2018 and reach 1.4 million in 2019, but that is barely above ye

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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17 Things to Never, Ever, EVER Do to Your House

What may seem like a good idea, often isn’t.

Here are 17 common mistakes new homeowners often make that prove it.

#1 Get Rid of Your Only Tub

If resale value is important to you, don’t get rid of your only bathtub no matter how dreamy that walk-in shower looks.

It will make it harder to sell when the time comes. You’ll flat-out lose buyers who love a good soak or need a tub to bathe little ones (both human and four-legged).

#2 Leave Cabinet Doors on While Painting

Painting your kitchen cabinets pays off big at resale — it’s a small investment for a big “wow.” But the job’s time-consuming, so it’s tempting leave the doors on.

RESIST. At all costs.

Because no matter how hard you try, it’s not going to look good. Even the pros don’t do it. That should tell you something.

#3 Put Starchy Food Down the Disposal

Today’s garbage disposals can handle more challenging foods than earlier models, but starchy comestibles like potatoes, rice, and oatmeal still stump them.

Fun fact: Every Halloween, plumbers see an increase in calls because people are dumping pumpkin guts into the disposal.

Starchy foods clump when they hit water, clogging disposals and pipes. Instead, put them in the garbage can or, even better, your compost pile.

#4 Plant a Tree Close to Your House

Large tree planted too close to a houseImage: Blend/Offset

That young sapling just a few feet from your door seems so harmless. Until it grows up.

In addition to the risk of falling limbs, tree roots from mature trees can weaken your home’s foundation and clog plumbing and sewer pipes.

Plant medium and large trees at least 30 to 50 feet from the house. Put small trees (30 feet tall or less) at least eight, preferably 10, feet away.

#5 Flush “Flushable” Wipes

Sewer systems are facing a growing menace: flushable wipes. Despite the name, most don’t disintegrate, even after 10 minutes (compared to a few seconds for toilet paper).

Until a truly flushable wipe exists, don’t flush them — or anything non-organic, for that matter. Stick with good, old TP instead.

#6 Cover Wallpaper with Water-based Paint

You don’t have to remove that dated wallpaper – simply paint over it. But don’t do it with water-based paint. It can reactivate wallpaper glue and cause the paper to peel. Instead, use oil-based primer, let it dry completely, and then apply your latex paint over it. Oil-based primer has long been the industry standard and works well with oil and latex paints.

#7 Paint Exterior Brick

Painted brick on a home exteriorImage: Vera Lair/Stocksy United

Brick needs to breathe. Paint chokes it.

Paint can destroy the brick and mortar, and even cause the foundation to crumble. Talk about a hidden cost!

If you’re itching for a new exterior look, try new shutters, paint the front door, or update your landscaping. Those moves can scratch your itch and boost your curb appeal. If you just can’t live with your brick color, try brick stain, which bonds with the brick, allowing it to breathe.

#8 Skip the Last Mow Before Winter

Tempting as it is to skip that last mow before winter, leaving the lawn too tall in cold months gives mice and other rodents good cover from predators, like hawks. Which means they’ve got safe passage to work their way into your warm and cozy home for the winter. Plus, keeping grass short, keeps it healthier.

#9 Let Ceiling Fans Run Forever

Ceiling fans don’t decrease the temperature in a room; they increase how quickly your sweat evaporates, making you feel cooler.

Since it’s only beneficial to run the ceiling fan when people are in the room to enjoy the breeze, save money by turning them off when you’re out.

#10 Tear Out Original Architectural Features

Historic home with stained glass windowImage: GreenRose Fine Homes, Glen Ridge, NJ

Custom millwork, tin ceiling tiles, and mid-century modern brick give your home its character, so keep them if you’re remodeling (assuming they’re not in awful condition). Buyers appreciate these one-of-a-kind details, and preserving them sets your home apart. They can put your house at the top of house-hunters’ lists when it comes time to sell.

#11 Change Your Mailbox Without Checking with Your HOA

Or make any other change to your home’s exterior, such as replace your front steps, add shutters, etc. Homeowners associations work to keep neighborhood elements maintained and consistent in an effort to protect everyone’s home value.

That often includes seemingly small details, so let your HOA know of your upgrade plans. Otherwise, you could risk a citation or fine. Or worse, be told to undo it.

#12 Leave Hoses Connected in Winter

When you retire your lawnmower each fall, disconnect hoses and store them, too. Leaving them attached during cold weather can trap water in the pipes, causing them (and possibly the faucets) to freeze. BTW, it also ruins the hose.

#13 Keep an Old-Fashioned Thermostat

Vintage wallpaper with outdated thermostat in a homeImage: T.S. Berry, photo

Install a programmable thermostat, stat. One in the $150 range saves a typical household $131-$145 annually, so it’s practically free.

#14 Put a Brick in Your Toilet

To decrease water use and save money, many people put bricks in their older, high-water-use toilets. But bricks crumble in water and can damage or clog pipes.

Replace the toilet ($350 or less) or fill a half-gallon milk jug with sand and drop it in the tank instead (saving about half a gallon per flush).

#15 Water Grass at Night

It may seem smart to water in the evening – especially if you have a sprinkler system, because electrical rates are lower. But without sun to evaporate it, water is more likely to cling to grass at night, promoting fungus. Instead, water in the morning when the air is cool, the sun is arriving, and there’s less wind than midday.

#16 Clean Windows on a Sunny Day

Doesn’t a warm, sunny day seem like the perfect time to wash windows? Counter-intuitively, it’s the worst because the sun dries windows too quickly and causes smears. Instead, save this chore for a cloudy day.

#17 Pour Bleach or Drain Cleaner Down Pipes

Bleach seems like a great agent for keeping pipes unclogged and smelling fresh — and drain cleaner is literally for pipes, right?

Unfortunately, bleach can react with substances in your pipes, and cause more clogs than it prevents. Even drain cleaner is rough on pipes — and both are environmentally awful (plus, as little as a teaspoon of drain cleaner can destroy a septic field).

Instead, use a pipe snake, or augur, to keep pipes running smoothly.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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7 Household Expenses You’re Probably Wasting Money On

There are better ways to spend.

The washer/dryer combo was perfect! Such a delightful way to brighten laundry day — with a cheerfully colored front-loader set. They could actually make laundry fun!

“They were this gorgeous, greenish-teal, and they looked great in my laundry room,” says Eliesa Prettelt, avid DIYer and author of “A Pinterest Addict” blog.

But after barreling through three sets in four years, she knew she’d made a mistake. “They looked so pretty, but I had nothing but problems with them,” she says.

She eventually gave up and got nondescript, white, commercial-grade top-loaders she scored for less than half the cost of her original machines. They may be plain, she says, but “I’ve had no problems since.”

Lesson learned. The hard way. Now for learning the easy way. Here are seven common money mistakes homeowners make — and now you won’t.

1. Contractor House Calls

Think you need a pro to fix that leaky toilet? You’d be surprised how easy it can be to fix it yourself — and save the typical $45 to $150 per hour plumbers can charge (and don’t forget the boost in your can-do attitude!). You can often find home remedies for small jobs like a leaky faucet or broken garbage disposal on YouTube. Just be sure it’s a reputable source. And check out several videos on the same repair. That’ll help make sure no crucial step is missed.

“We save a couple hundred dollars per year by doing small home repairs ourselves,” says Lauren Greutman, frugal living expert and author of “The Recovering Spender: How to Live a Happy, Fulfilled, Debt-Free Life.”

For those who prefer an expert, Greutman suggests smaller, local retail appliance stores. “It’s a little-known secret that they usually have repair men that are very inexpensive,” she says.

2. Extended Warranties

It’s tempting to insure your new, big purchase, but according to Consumer Reports, you’re probably already as covered as you need to be.

How’s that? Most major appliances come with at least a 90-day manufacturer’s warranty. Buy with a major credit card (Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or American Express) and it will likely double that standard warranty.

Combine that with the fact that “Consumer Reports” found most products won’t break during the standard two- or three-year service contract period. When they do, the repair cost is usually just a few dollars more than the cost of the warranty.

Instead of paying for an extended warranty, stash the cash in a savings account earmarked for home repairs. When you need it, it’ll be there.

3. Flashy Feature Appliances

The newest appliances come with super fun features. Who wouldn’t want an oven that talks, remote access to your A/C, or bottle jets in the dishwasher (paging new parents!)? Still, it may not be financially wise to replace a fully functioning older model just to gain modern perks. So says Arthur Teel, owner and operator of The Handyman Plan in Asheville, N.C.

Circuit boards break, and energy efficiency numbers don’t always add up,” he says.

Yup. That’s even true for some energy-efficient appliances that boast cost savings. “Spend $1,000 on a new, energy-efficient stove and it could take 10 years of energy savings to offset the cost of the new stove,” he says. “Unless you have a really old appliance, it’s probably efficient enough for your needs. Also, putting the appliance into the landfill isn’t exactly great for the environment.”

4. Budget Bulbs

Incandescents may be easy on your everyday household budget, but they’re tough on your energy bill. Start replacing them now with LEDs. To help swallow the initial costs, just replace them as they die out. A typical LED bulb can recuperate its cost in a little over a year (at least according to manufacturers, so in reality it’s probably a bit longer, but not enough to quibble about). Even better, since LEDs can last a decade or more, you won’t have to buy bulbs as often, and your energy costs will be lower!

5. Commercial Cleaning Supplies

Even if you’re buying off-brand products to save costs, you’re still wasting money. You don’t have to spend anywhere near the cost of commercial products.

“Vinegar will clean a lot of things, and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than buying pricey cleaning supplies,” says Prettelt. She also likes baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, each of which can be found for just a fraction of the cost of their popular store-bought equivalents.

“You can use these natural products in your dishwasher, in your garbage disposal, in your wash,” Prettelt adds. Easy peasy. And it’s super cheap.

That’s right. You can make dishwasher soap from a cup each of borax and washing soda, a half-cup kosher salt, and five packets unsweetened lemonade mix. Or whip up your own window cleaner with these simple ingredients:

  • half-cup white vinegar
  • rubbing alcohol
  • two cups of water
  • two tablespoons of cornstarch

All those ingredients cost pennies. And to think you were paying $2-$4 for the commercial kind.

6. A Storage Unit

If it doesn’t fit in your home, is it really worth keeping? Ditch nostalgia and think with your bank account: At a cost of between $50 and $300 per month, it may be time to purge the junk.

If you can’t bear to part with something you don’t use regularly — say, great-grandma’s heirloom china — rethink your home’s organizational storage. Clean out the closet, craft shelves beneath the stairs, or build window seats with drawer storage. You’ll be investing in your home instead of giving money to a storage vendor.

7. Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

Bought your house with less than 20% down? You’re probably paying for PMI (a type of insurance that guarantees your mortgage lender will be covered if you default). It costs between $600 and $1,200 per year for a typical home. But once your loan-to-value ratio drops to 80%, you’re not required to pay it. But the lender isn’t required to drop it until it reaches 78%.

That 2% difference could cost you hundreds, even thousands of dollars, depending on your home’s mortgage balance. So, keep an eye on your statement and whip out that calculator when you’re getting close. Then, if you’re feeling really savvy, keep paying that amount every month — but apply it to your mortgage principal instead. Do that, and you could recoup your PMI fees. Because as you pay down your principal, you’ll pay less in interest, potentially saving thousands. Now how savvy is that?

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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