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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7 Projects That Make Your Backyard Staycation-Worthy

But not all are equal when it comes to investing in your home.

Mow the grass, weed the garden, seal the deck, rake debris. You may spend plenty of time in your backyard, but if it’s all boot camp and no getaway, you may not be feeling the love for your home you once did.

Time for a second honeymoon with these ideas that’ll turn your labor-loving yard into a leisure-loving one. Some will even enhance your home’s value. Others, at least, won’t ding it. (You definitely don’t want to do that.)

Let the backyard staycations begin with these ideas:

#1 Al-Fresco Dining

Ample, built-in seating and wood-fired pizza on-demand. And while wood-fired ovens are famous for pizza, this isn’t a one-note investment: You can serve up any meat, veggie, or bread — making this a full-on outdoor oven. Low-maintenance hardscaping means you can focus on your party, instead of mowing grass.

Or go for the full farm-to-table concept:

Pluck some veggies from some chic, metal raised beds (easy to maintain), prep them in an outdoor cooking island with a built-in grill (and green roof, which keeps it cooler underneath), and treat yourself to the freshest cuisine around for your backyard staycation.

Even better, since the entire ground area is pea gravel, you can spend less time mowing and more time dining.

But does it add value? Outdoor living and cooking spaces (rooms, really) almost always do. As do low-maintenance hardscaping features — like the patio. Raised steel garden beds, not so much, though.

#2 An Outdoor Room Just for Leisure

Spend Saturday afternoon napping in your outdoor space — not laboring over it. Easy-care plants look lush with minimal intervention, including ground cover and stone to replace grass.

Install horizontal privacy fencing, and you’re ready for one legendary siesta (adorable dog recommended, but not required).

But does it add value? See above about outdoor rooms (and the lovely plants definitely boost it, too). Win-win.

#3 A Yard for Playing

You don’t have to give up playing in the backyard just because you’re an adult. Make your yard a grown-up rec center with a fire pit and bocce ball court (or cornhole, ladder ball, even giant Jenga).

Wood-paneled privacy fencing elevates the adults-only aesthetic, and low-maintenance gravel keeps the focus on fun instead of maintenance.

But does it add value? Seriously doubt it (except for the fence). But it’s your yard. Remember, joy is an ROI of a different sort. Plus, the court is easy enough to erase with some basic landscaping (always a good value add).

#4 A DIY Pool and Pit

A stock tank pool and a fire pit with seating in a backyardImage: John and Caley Duffty of Home Wood Designs

An affordable, stock-tank soaking pool paired with a DIY fire pit and seating is everything good about a Funny how something most of us love can actually make a house harder to sell. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.Read More InDo Swimming Pools Add Value to Homes? pool (laps, shmaps, right?), without all the cost and maintenance.

Add a little wood-fired heater, and it’s a hot tub, too (just make sure it’s one designed for hot tubs — for obvious reasons).

But does it add value? Only to you. And since it’s easy enough to remove, it’s not hurting it either. If you love it, then you’re getting a whole different kind of ROI — where dollars don’t apply.

#5 A Me-Only Retreat

A Malibu spa day may not fit into your schedule (or budget) this year, but stealing away to this hideaway for 30 minutes at a time can be easily penciled in. Now where’s the “Do not disturb” sign?

Colorful backyard shedImage: Megan M. Greene, photo/Amber Lee Garrison

But does it add value? Not really, especially since the shed isn’t plumbed and lacks power. But backyard sheds-as-rooms never seem to disappoint buyers.

#6 An Epic Slide

A modern treehouse with a purple slideImage: Ryan Garvin

Jack up a playhouse with a slide that makes their friends go “Whoa.” And while they’re spending a few hours running up the stairs (or climbing up a cargo net) and racing down the slide, you get some much-deserved “me” time: not a lousy ROI.

But does it add value? The slide, no. The playhouse? Again, no plumbing, no electricity, probably no gain — but the landscaping is a sure-fire win.

#7 Lighting for After Dark

A backyard with pool and covered patio at nightImage: Donny Mak

Do resorts shut down at dusk? They do not. To make your backyard an all-hours destination, incorporate outdoor lighting into your vision. Forget tiki torches; opt for permanent overhead, task, and mood lighting — just like you would indoors. Efficient solar and LED lights are great for outdoors. With the right glow, you can squeeze even more hours of delight out of your backyard staycation.

But does it add value? Oh, yeah. A no-brainer. Outdoor lighting is great for curb appeal (and safety).

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

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Metro Home-Price Growth Quickens to 5.7% in the 1st Quarter

WASHINGTON (May 14, 2018) – Inventory levels hovering at all-time lows weighed down home sales and fueled faster price appreciation during the first three months of the year, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors®.

The national median existing single-family home price in the first quarter was $245,500, which is up 5.7 percent from the first quarter of 2017 ($232,200). The median sales price during the fourth quarter of 2017 climbed 5.3 percent from the fourth quarter of 2016.

Single-family home prices last quarter increased in 91 percent of measured markets, with 162 out of 178 metropolitan statistical areas1 (MSAs) showing sales price gains in the first quarter compared to a year ago. Fifty-three metro areas (30 percent) experienced double-digit increases, up from 15 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says record low inventory levels caused the housing market to get off to a slow start in 2018. “The worsening inventory crunch through the first three months of the year inflicted even more upward pressure on home prices in a majority of markets,” he said. “Following the same trend over the last couple of years, a strengthening job market and income gains are not being met by meaningful sales gains because of unrelenting supply and affordability headwinds.”

Added Yun, “Realtors® in areas with strong job markets report that consumer frustration is rising. Home shoppers are increasingly struggling to find an affordable property to buy, and the prevalence of multiple bids is pushing prices further out of reach.”

Total existing-home sales2, including single family and condos, decreased 1.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.51 million in the first quarter from 5.59 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, and are 1.7 percent lower than the 5.60 million pace during the first quarter of 2017.

At the end of the first quarter, there were 1.67 million existing homes available for sale3, which was 7.2 percent below the 1.80 million homes for sale at the end of the first quarter in 2017. The average supply during the first quarter was 3.5 months – down from 3.7 months in the first quarter of last year.

The national family median income rose to $74,7794 in the first quarter, but overall affordability decreased from a year ago because of rising mortgage rates and home prices. To purchase a single-family home at the national median price, a buyer making a 5 percent down payment would need an income of $55,732, a 10 percent down payment would require an income of $52,779, and $46,932 would be needed for a 20 percent down payment.

“Prospective buyers in many markets are realizing that buying a home is becoming more expensive in 2018,” said Yun. “Rapid price gains and the quick hike in mortgage rates are essentially eliminating any meaningful gains buyers may be seeing from the combination of improving wage growth and larger paychecks following this year’s tax cuts. It’s simple: homebuilders need to start constructing more single-family homes and condominiums to overcome the rampant supply shortages that are hampering affordability.”

The five most expensive housing markets in the first quarter were the San Jose, California metro area, where the median existing single-family price was $1,373,000; San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California, $917,000; Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, California, $810,000; urban Honolulu, $775,500; and San Diego-Carlsbad, $610,000.

The five lowest-cost metro areas in the first quarter were Decatur, Illinois, $73,000; Cumberland, Maryland, $86,200; Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio, $91,300; Elmira, New York, $100,800; and Binghamton, New York; $103,000.

Metro area condominium and cooperative prices – covering changes in 61 metro areas – showed the national median existing-condo price was $231,700 in the first quarter, up 5.9 percent from the first quarter of 2017 ($218,800). Eighty-five percent of metro areas showed gains in their median condo price from a year ago.

Regional Breakdown

Total existing-home sales in the Northeast slipped 8.5 percent in the first quarter and are 8.1 percent below the first quarter of 2017. The median existing single-family home price in the Northeast was $267,400 in the first quarter, up 4.6 percent from a year ago.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales fell 6.9 percent in the first quarter and are 1.8 percent below a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the Midwest grew 5.9 percent to $187,100 in the first quarter from the same quarter a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South increased 3.7 percent in the first quarter and are 0.7 percent higher than the first quarter of 2017. The median existing single-family home price in the South was $220,400 in the first quarter, 5.5 percent above a year earlier.

In the West, existing-home sales in the first quarter declined 1.1 percent and are 2.2 percent below a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the West increased 8.2 percent to $371,300 in the first quarter from the first quarter of 2017.

The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1.3 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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

 

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