Protect your Home from Wildfires

How do most homes ignite during a wildfire? A floating ember or piece of burning wood touches down on a roof, gutter, in a vent, under a deck, or on a porch and ignites leaves and debris, says the National Fire Protection Association. Or else, a surface fire simply takes the fast lane to your home via dry vegetation.

With that in mind, fortify your home like the castle it is with these 13 wildfire-repelling steps. But keep in mind that no product or technique is a failsafe against a raging fire.

#1 Check Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you don’t already have working smoke detectors or haven’t tested them recently, make that your No. 1 job. Now.

#2 Check Fire Extinguishers
And if you don’t have them, get them.

#3 Get a Bucket, Shovel, and Hose Ready
Have an easily accessible bucket, shovel (to dig a trench to protect against encroaching ground fire), and connected garden hose to help you defend the area around your home.

#4 Invest in Rain Barrels
An extra source of water can’t hurt. And rain barrels save on your water bills, too.

#5 Clear Yard of Debris
Keep gutters, porches, and the lawn free of debris, leaves, and fallen branches. If a fire threat is imminent, remove furniture and decorations from decks and porches, including welcome mats.

#6 Plant Fire-Resistant Shrubs and Annuals
Like irises, rhododendrons, hostas, and lilacs, which have high-moisture content. Your local Cooperative Extension Office can advise you on appropriate species for your area.

#7 Remove Tree Branches Lower Than 6 Feet
Fires tend to start low and rise. For that reason, don’t plant shrubs directly under trees; they can combust and cause the fire to rise up the tree. By the way, spacing out all plants and shrubs is a good practice, too.

#8 Remove Tree Limbs Near Chimneys
Keep them at least 10 feet away. Embers from burning limbs could fall in.

#9 Set Up a Protective Perimeter
Create a 100-foot perimeter around your home, free of dry leaves, grass, and shrubs that fuel wildfires. Keep petroleum tanks, cars, and wood piles outside of this safe zone.

#10 Use Rocks Instead of Mulch Next to the House
Lay a six-inch swath of decorative rocks closest to the home and then use mulch from there. This also helps repel insects, like termites, (bugs like wood) and facilitate rain water drainage.

#11 Use Non-Flammable Fencing
If you have wood fencing around your home, replace any three-foot sections that attach to the home with metal or other non-flammable fencing material. A metal gate or decorative fencing piece is stylish as well as fire-unfriendly.

#12 Cover Chimneys and Vents With Flame-Retardant Mesh
And it’s cheap to do. They cost just few dollars from hardware or home improvement stores.

#13 Check Your Siding
Fire-resistant or non-combustible siding like stucco or brick provides the best protection against fire. Make sure your siding, whatever type, is in good repair, because if the plywood or insulation are exposed, the home is more vulnerable to flames.

Some experts recommend spraying homes with fire retardants, which can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the product, region, and size of the project. But some of the chemicals used to make flame-retardants have toxic properties. Although you might have less exposure to chemicals used on your home’s exterior than those inside, toxicity issues could still be a factor.

Most important, if a wildfire is on its way, evacuate. And have an evacuation plan worked out with your family before the worst happens.

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

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Why is my Grass Turning Brown?

Grass turns brown when roots can no longer grab nutrients or water from soil, or when soil doesn’t contain enough food or water.

Here are the typical culprits, and tips on how you can green up your grass again.

During periods of high heat and low water, many turf grasses go dormant. This is a normal condition; your grass will recover when the temperature drops and rain resumes.

To determine if drought is leading to brown grass, look for prematurely dropping tree leaves that are folded up like they’re praying for rain, says TV host Jason Cameron, a partner with TruGreen lawn care service.

To sustain a drought-dormant lawn, apply ½ inch of water every two or three weeks during the drought. To green it up again, apply 1 inch of water every 6 or 7 days — about 2 hours of sprinkler use. Or wait until temperatures drop and rain resumes, when it will turn green again on its own.

Sprinklers Misadjusted
If your lawn sports brown patches during heat waves, make sure your sprinklers are reaching all areas. Most sprinkler heads are easily adjusted with a small screwdriver. Low-to-the-ground pulsating (sometimes called impulse) sprinklers are easier to fine-tune than oscillating sprinklers.

Common weeds can win the competition with your lawn for water and food. Controlling these weeds is tricky. Apply a pre-emergent herbicide in spring to prevent weed seeds from germinating. Or, hire a professional lawn care company that will customize an annual lawn maintenance and treatment plan.

Dozens of diseases and fungi can turn your lawn brown. If your grass is covered with white, black, or brown substances, then lawn disease is probably your problem and should be diagnosed and treated by a lawn specialist ($280-$700). Proper lawn care — sufficient water in early morning, regular mowing, good lawn aeration, and thatch management — will raise a healthy lawn more likely to resist lawn disease.

Cinch Bugs
These drought-loving bugs drain plant juices like tiny vampires. First your lawn will look wilted, then yellow, and eventually brown. Pull back a wilted patch and look for small red, orange, brown, or black bugs (1/32 to 1/5 inch depending on life stage) with white markings.

Thatch removal and consistent moisture are good preventative measures; insecticides are a last-ditch effort because many contain harsh chemicals that run off into the watershed and can harm beneficial insects.

These beetle larvae feast on turf roots and mimic drought damage. Use a shovel to undercut a 1-by-1-foot square of turf, then peel back the patch and look for more than 10 grubs/square foot, which indicates a problem.

To control grubs, let your lawn dry out thoroughly before watering again. Or, plant low-maintenance turf grasses that are more grub-tolerant than Kentucky bluegrasses or perennial ryes. Also, you can try spreading milky spore powder (40 oz., $76, treats 10,000 sq. ft.), a natural organism that controls grubs.

Pet Waste
Round patches of dead grass indicate animals are peeing (urine contains acid) on your lawn. If you know a pet has a favorite spot, flush the area with water to dilute the acid.

If Necessary, Call in the Experts
Diagnosing the problem can be tricky, and your local extension agent or a lawn care company can help you determine exactly what ails your lawn.

Ounce of Prevention
Here are some prevention tips that will help your grass stay green, courtesy of Kevin Doerfler of Grass Seed USA.

-Aerate and inter-seed (add seed to existing grass) in fall when weather has cooled and rain is likely.
-Fertilize in spring and fall. Don’t fertilize when your grass already is stressed or during drought.
-Water in the early morning to combat fungal diseases. Water deeply to nourish roots.
-In summer, raise mowing height to 3 inches or above. The taller grass will shade roots and reduce water loss from evaporation.
-Perform a soil test to determine what amendments your lawn might need.

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

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Wind Resistant Trees

Don’t spend your time during a storm side-eyeing the towering elm beside your driveway, worried it might fall.

These five arborist-approved trees stand sturdy through the strongest winds and drenching rains — and give your curb appeal extra oomph.

Tulip Tree

George Washington loved these towering trees (pictured above) and their (surprise!) tulip-shaped petals: The babies he planted at Mount Vernon are now 140 feet tall.

Although skinny, tulip trees are surprisingly strong, with a narrow profile and strong wood structure that resists powerful winds.
Thin leaves with slender petioles — the stalks joining leaf and stem — provide an added bad-weather bonus: Wind slides right on by, says Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist at the Tree Care Industry Association. “They just flutter.”

But keep your tulip trees svelte. “The bigger it gets, the more likely it could fail in a higher wind,” says Andersen.

Bald Cypress

This stately conifer was born to survive serious flooding: it thrives in the Louisiana bayous (it’s also the state tree).”They have an amazing tapered trunk that’s exceptionally thick at the base,” and an extensive root system to match, says Woody Nelson, vice president of marketing and communications at the Arbor Day Foundation. “They’re super tolerant.”

But you don’t need waterlogged land to please a bald cypress. Hardy through zone 4, these trees will happily serve as your backyard centerpiece even when it’s dry.

Eastern Redbud

Beastly trees are best at surviving storms, but a yard filled only with tall trees is a dull yard indeed. Give your property a rosy hue with this small, decorative tree, whose pink buds attract butterflies and songbirds. (Coincidentally, another George Washington fave.) This small, sturdy option can fit into any yard, no matter how tiny. “We have members who will ask for 10 at a time,” says Nelson. “There’s always room.”

No tiny tree can withstand hurricane-force winds all by its lonesome, but the Eastern redbud is the best of the little guys. With a few taller trees to absorb the worst of the wind, your redbud will stand sturdy all storm season, says Andersen.

River Birch

Like the bald cypress, the river birch loves water — but it will survive just fine if your yard is clay, loamy, well-drained, soaking wet or anything in between. Unlike other birches, this variety resists pesky borers, keeping trunk and branches sturdy.

But the river birch isn’t simply flood-tolerant. Strong winds won’t topple this 70-foot beast. “It has a real dainty limb structure that bends, not breaks,” says Nelson. Just keep the limbs trimmed; otherwise, its gargantuan size may become a drawback.

Oak Trees

“A slower-growing tree is a stronger tree,” says Andersen. “When wind blows on a small tree and the tree bends, it creates additional structures on the inside of the tree.”

No matter your style or yard needs, you’ll find an oak that suits. Live oaks feature curvaceous exposed branches, and the overcup oak is a gorgeous puff of green. As a rule, oaks tend to be slow-growing — a huge boon to storm-prone homeowners.

The result? Strong, supportive branches able to withstand serious storms. And with most oak trees topping out at around 60 feet, “the tree itself is not a giant sail,” Andersen says. To ensure sturdy oaks, buy small, not large. “If you’re transplanting a larger tree where the majority of the roots have been severed, it’s more susceptible to failure,” she says.

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

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The History of the NAR

The National Association of REALTORS® was founded as the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges on May 12, 1908 in Chicago. With 120 founding members, 19 Boards, and one state association, the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges’ objective was “to unite the real estate men of America for the purpose of effectively exerting a combined influence upon matters affecting real estate interests.”

The Association’s founding boards included the Baltimore; Bellingham, Wash.; Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Detroit; Duluth, Minn.; Gary, Ind.; Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; Omaha, Neb.; Philadelphia; St. Louis; St. Paul, Minn.; Seattle; Sioux City, Iowa; and Tacoma, Wash., boards and the California State Realty Federation (now the California Association of REALTORS®).

Since 1908, the Association has held its annual conference in numerous U.S cities. View historic convention booklet cover images from each one.

The Code of Ethics was adopted in 1913 with the Golden Rule as its theme.

In 1916, the National Association of Real Estate Exchange’s name was changed to The National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB). That same year, the term “REALTOR,” identifying real estate professionals who are members of the National Association and subscribers to its strict Code of Ethics, was devised by Charles N. Chadbourn, a past president of the Minneapolis Real Estate Board.

The collective marks REALTORS® and REALTOR® were registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office on Sept. 13, 1949, and Jan. 10, 1950, respectively, under Registration Numbers 515,200 and 519,789. Since then, the association has maintained a vigilant defense of the trademarks, prevailing in numerous cases. Most recently, in Zimmerman v. NAR (2004), the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board denied a request to cancel the trademarks.

In 1972, the name of the National Association of Real Estate Boards was changed to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). The block “R” logo was adopted by the Association in 1973.

In 1989, the Association adopted “The Voice for Real Estate” as its theme and as part of its official logo. Along with this theme, the Association encouraged its members to include the REALTOR® emblem on their business cards and stationery.

In 1991, NAR formalized its international programming with the creation of the International Section to administer the Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation and other programs for international specialists. Today there are more than 2,800 CIPS REALTORS® and NAR continues to support International REALTORS® with dynamic global programming and partnerships.

In 1998, a national Public Advocacy Campaign was launched to educate consumers about the vital role REALTORS® play in the real estate transaction.

In 2008, NAR celebrated its centennial anniversary(link is external) as the preeminent organization for the nation’s real estate professionals.

Early in its history, the Association recognized the need for specialization in the real estate industry, and had created seven specialty divisions by 1923. Over the years, many of these divisions have evolved into the following institutes, societies and councils currently affiliated with the National Association of REALTORS®:

Institute of Real Estate Management (founded 1933)
Women’s Council of REALTORS® (founded 1938)
Society of Industrial and Office REALTORS® (founded 1941)
REALTORS® Land Institute (founded 1944)
Counselors of Real Estate (founded 1953)
Council of Real Estate Brokerage Managers (founded 1968)
CCIM Institute (founded 1969)
Council of Residential Specialists (founded 1976)
Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council (1996)

In addition, several other national real estate organizations also began as specialty divisions of the National Association of REALTORS®, including the National Association of Home Builders (originally NAREB’s Home Builders Division, established in 1925), Urban Land Institute (1936), and Appraisal Institute (established in 1922 as NAREB’s Appraisal Division).

The Association became the largest trade association in the United States in the early 1970s, with over 400,000 members in 1975. Today, the National Association of REALTORS® has over 1.3 million members, 54 state associations (including Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands) and more than 1,130 local associations.

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

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Curb Appeal Choices w/ Staying Power

Improving your home’s curb appeal brings immediate satisfaction. Plus, the financial benefits can be fabulous, too. Good curb appeal increases your home’s value, making your property easier to sell — and easier to love.

The challenge? Spending too much limits your ROI (return on investment), yet going cheap could cost you more in re-dos. The key is to choose durable materials that’ll save you money over time while making your house look fab.

Here’s how to make that happen:

#1 Non-Porous Rocks

A gorgeous rock bed “is a great way to introduce low-maintenance beauty to your home,” says Minnesota landscaper Joe Palumbo. But don’t throw just any rocks on the ground.

Palumbo recommends avoiding limestone, which “breaks down quickly and will soon become rubble.” Instead, choose a non-porous stone, like decomposed granite, which costs $100-$300 for a 400 square-foot area, or trap rock, which gives you that classic “rock” look and costs about the same.

When you’re choosing larger individual stones, look for smooth, round ones, which last longer and don’t produce rock dust — the irritating, gritty rock-garden debris beloved by weeds.

And BTW, if the gravel look is what you’re going for, pea gravel is a great, permeable option — but only in areas without a ton of runoff because its small size makes it easy to wash away.

#2 Fiberglass Front Door

A fiberglass front door doesn’t just look good — it also recoups some of its cost when it’s time to sell. Homeowners spent an average of $2,700 on a fiberglass door and earned back 74% of the cost during the sale, according to the Remodeling Impact Report form the National Association of REALTORS®.

Fiberglass doors offer other benefits, too. Like steel doors, they’re more energy-efficient than standard wooden front doors. But unlike steel doors, they’ll look good for a long time. Fiberglass resists weathering and damage and won’t suffer from ugly dents and rusting.

#3 Insulated Steel Garage Door

Wood and steel are the two most common garage door materials. While wood does have an undeniable classic appeal, insulated steel doors, which start at $750, offer the most bang for your buck — and fill up less time with irritating maintenance tasks like repainting or staining.

Plus, a new garage door snags a fantastic 87% return on investment.

Choose steel garage doors with 24- or 25-gauge panels. But don’t go higher — the higher the gauge, the thinner the metal, and you don’t want to go too thin or you’ll compromise durability.

Don’t skip the insulation, either, especially if your garage is attached to your house. Garage door insulation is sandwiched between two layers of steel, helping with durability, as well as saving on energy costs.

#4 Concrete or Brick Edging

Edging transforms your garden from a blah blob of mulch to an intentional, purposeful, and beautiful space. And edging does more than look great: When you have a line to follow, mowing and trimming become much simpler.

Edging “does a phenomenal job of containing the mulch and keeping it from spilling onto your lawn,” says Palumbo.

He recommends using concrete or brick edging, which survive the elements better than plastic and offers a more permanent, planned look than cheap weaving around your landscaping.

#5 Concrete Pavers

In a perfect world, you’ll choose your paver material based on your landscaping and home.

“The architecture should, ideally, drive the selection of hardscape materials,” says Cassy Aoyagi, a landscaper and board member in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Los Angeles chapter. “Flagstone with foliage joints looks so compelling at a French Provincial home but would feel out of place as an approach to a seaside cubist design.”

There is a one-size-fits-most solution for pavers, though: concrete. Not only can you find enough sizes, colors, and designs to mimic almost any style, but the material is also more durable than brick.

Concrete’s permeability is a big selling point, too, especially if you live in a drought-ridden region. Sprinkler and rainwater pass slowly through the concrete, keeping grass and plants damp for longer.

Aoyagi lives in Los Angeles, where landscapers “prize materials that allow water to permeate the soil and reduce runoff,” she says.

#6 Acrylic Latex Exterior Paint

When painting your home, latex paint is the savvy choice.

Why? Your home’s exterior will settle over time — and latex is designed to accommodate that shift without cracking.

Oil-based paints are a common alternative to latex, but they tend to turn yellow after a few years. It also takes significantly longer to dry, requiring nearly a day. However, if the previous homeowners used oil-based paint on your home’s exterior, you’ll want to stick with oil because latex may peel.

Unlike oil-based paints, latex covers vinyl, aluminum, fiber cement, stucco, brick, and metal equally well.

Expect to pay between $35 and $55 per gallon for a quality paint, depending on whether you choose low- or no-VOC paints.

#7 Composite Decking

Wood decks look lovely, but keeping them weatherproof requires hard work and regular sealing. Instead, consider composite decking with a good warranty.

Composite decking starts at around $9,000, which is a large investment upfront. A wood deck will start at about $5,000. But with composite decking, the most maintenance you’ll have to do is sweeping — no sealing, staining, replacing of rotten boards, or risk of termites, giving the deck a longer lifespan and saving you thousands over the years.

The three types of composite decking:

  • Polyethylene-based — it’s the least durable.
  • Polypropylene-based — a good mid-grade choice.
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-based — the most durable, but also about 20% pricier.

Bonus: Composite decking means no feet splinters, ever.

#8 Native Plants

The quickest, landscaper-approved route to long-lasting curb appeal: native plants. Because they’re uniquely suited to your location’s natural rainfall and temperature range, you’ll spend less money running the sprinkler and less time nurturing finicky out-of-their-element trees and bushes.

They not only keep maintenance costs low, “They need no toxic pesticides or fertilizers to thrive,” says Aoyagi.

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

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4 To-Dos for Hot Summer Days

When it’s hot outside, smart homeowners focus their energies inside on these four tasks.

You know: Like taking advantage of your nice, cool basement.

#1 Organize the Basement

The two most common types of clutter? Old clothes and seasonal items. Just the kind of stuff that winds up in the basement. So this month, face your messy basement head on. Not only will you regain space, but you’ll also save time and could even knock back clutter-related depression. (Yeah, that’s a thing.)
Now that you’ve got it organized, maybe it’s a good time to consider this next project:

#2 Finish the Basement

The solution to a cramped house could be right under your feet. Transforming an unfinished basement into a media room, home office — or even a rentable space — builds equity, upping your home’s resale value. Start this project now, and you can kick back and enjoy your new space all winter long.

#3 Buy Paint on Sale

July. Not really the time of year you think of painting, right? It’s usually too hot and humid. Probably why so many places put paint on sale this month. Stock up now, and you’ll be ready for that painting project on your fall to-do list. (P.S. Latex and acrylic paint can last up to 10 years; oil-based, up to 15.)

#4 Hit Up Recycling Centers

Summer is home improvement season. That also makes it the savvy buyer’s time to seek out deals at recycling centers and home improvement resale stores. Since this is project time — not to mention moving season — lots of folks are ditching their old stuff. Take advantage, and grab it up at super-low prices.

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

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What is the Fair Housing Act?

We’ve all heard about the Fair Housing Act or the Fair Housing Administration, but not everyone knows what exactly they are for or when they came about.

In 1948, the Supreme Court heard the case Shelley v. Kramer and ruled in favor of the Shelley family, who had purchased a home in a neighborhood with a ‘covenant’ which provided that “no part of said property or any portion thereof shall be, for said term of Fifty-years, occupied by any person not of the Caucasian race. . .” They purchased this home without knowledge of this rule, and the neighbors tried to prevent them from taking possession of the home by taking them to the Missouri Supreme Court, which ruled against the Shelley’s.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case once again, and determined that even a private ‘law’ such as the aforementioned neighborhood covenant which violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is unconstitutional, as the state aids in enforcing covenants. (source: Cornell Law School)

Although this case and others like it were decided in favor of equal housing opportunity for people of all races, discrimination continued to run rampant in the real estate market. From “Meanwhile, while a growing number of African American and Hispanic members of the armed forces fought and died in the Vietnam War, on the home front their families had trouble renting or purchasing homes in certain residential areas because of their race or national origin.”

Finally, after the efforts of Clarence Mitchell Jr., Senator Edward Brooke, and many others aided the Fair Housing Act in passing the Senate, the House of Representatives met to vote on the legislation on April 4th, 1968. This was the day that Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated, and President Lyndon B. Johnson increased pressure on Congress to pass the new civil rights legislation. It passed on April 10th and was signed into law by Johnson on April 11th.

The amendment to Title VIII of the Civil Rights act included several things, most notably prohibiting “discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin and sex.” In 1988 this was expanded to prohibit discrimination based on disability or family status.

This legislation has not ended housing discrimination entirely, although that would be a lovely bow to tie the story up in. While discrimination still happens in housing, the National Association of Realtors has made it a top priority to ensure that reporting discrimination is easy and effective, that enforcement happens at a local level, and most importantly that all people have equal opportunity to purchase and live in a home they love. At Distinctive Properties, we daily strive to act with integrity while serving every family or individual who entrusts their real estate needs to us.

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First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Buying your first home is a really big deal. How do you know which loan is right for you? How do you swing the down payment? How do you ensure your offer isn’t too low or too high? What don’t you know that you don’t know? Ack!

Breathe, friend. The process doesn’t have to painful.

To prep you for the journey, HouseLogic hosted a Q&A series on Facebook. Here are the top-10 Q&As from the first event, which was hosted by Meg White, the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine — and a homeowner, herself.

#1 Getting Started

Q: Where should a prospective home buyer (and their significant other, if applicable) start their buying journey? What do you do first?

A: The first step should be to look inward and have some super-honest conversations. This worksheet is a great way for you and your buying partner to get on the same page.

Talk openly about your priorities: Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years? Create a checklist of must-haves in your new home and neighborhood. Hash out a budget, and talk about the kind of lifestyle changes you might be willing to take on (and the ones you won’t be willing to do).

Finally, check your credit, correct any errors in your report, and start taking steps to build a positive financial profile.

#2 The Down Payment

Q: Is there any wiggle room on the 20% down payment, or should I just plan on making that?

A: It’s actually quite common to put less than 20% down. My family only put down 10%, and many other buyers put down even less. (For example, FHA borrowers might put down as little as 3.5% on the purchase price.)

Keep in mind that when you put down less than 20%, you’ll probably have to pay PMI, or private mortgage insurance; it’s a monthly fee the bank charges to secure their investment in you, since you have less skin in the deal.

So while it’s true that buyers who don’t put 20% down generally have to pay mortgage insurance until they reach 20% equity, that fee usually gets bundled into your monthly payment, so it’s not a huge deal. Also, when that mortgage insurance requirement is lifted, your payments should go down. When’s the last time that happened to your rent?

#3 Agents and Listing Sites

Q: How should a first-time home buyer work with an agent? What do agents do that property sites don’t?

A: Your real estate agent is your rock in what can be a really confusing, stressful, and involved experience. They’ve been through a lot of deals, so they know what can go wrong and have seen many of the mistakes buyers make most often.

But more than that, they’re your sounding board. Sometimes it’s hard to know which direction to go during the home buying process, and just being able to talk it out with a third party who has your back is huge.

Listing sites are great; they have tons of useful information. But agents are on the ground in your community every day, and because of that, they know a lot more than what you see online. Sometimes they’ve seen the same listing in person many times, or they know about geographic considerations you’d never think of.

Every time our agent warned us about a listing (“That one has been on the market forever because . . ” or “Yeah, it’s nice to be that close to the train, but don’t forget that you’ll also hear the station announcements going on all day,” etc.), he was totally right.

#4 Finding a Lender

Q: Getting a mortgage is a big deal for most buyers. How should they get started on securing a loan? And what about online lenders like RocketLoans? Is there a disadvantage or concern with using this type of lender rather than a local or traditional bank?

A: The very first thing is just getting all your financial documents in a place where they’re easily accessible — or figuring out how to access them, i.e., what’s your username and password for this or that account? You also need to know where your credit history stands in general. The most common stuff banks will ask you for is W2s, your last couple years of tax returns, bank statements, and pay stubs.

But even before you start looking at houses, you should try and get pre-approved. That might seem premature, but you need to know what kind of loan you’re going to be able to get in order to determine your price range, which is obviously a big part of the home search for those of us who don’t have unlimited cash.

Now, pre-approval doesn’t mean you’re applying for a mortgage — just getting an idea of what you’re approved for.

Basically, you give a lot of info about your financial situation to a lender and see what they think. You’ll get a document back that’s like a preliminary idea of what they might lend you. These documents vary from bank to bank and are generally free of charge, and you can usually apply for them online these days.

Having that pre-approval letter will help sellers see you’re a serious buyer backed by a real financial institution — and that’ll help make your offer stronger.

When it comes to lenders, whether online or otherwise, your choice will depend on your personal situation. We recommend starting out with HouseLogic’s mortgage lender guide.

#5 The Loan

Q: Do you suggest a government loan over a private bank?

A: It depends on your situation. If you have time and a lower credit score, consider a government loan. If you have a higher credit score and are in a really competitive market, consider private.

Most first-timers are going to be looking at the fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage. But even if you go with this super-common type of mortgage, there are different rules depending on whether you go with a loan from the government or from a private bank.

But there are tons of loan options out there for different situations. For example, if you need to do significant repairs on a place before you can move in, you can get help specifically for that with a 203(k) from FHA. And there might be special savings, down payment assistance, or grant opportunities that apply to your situation.

The best plan: Talk to a number of financial institutions and mortgage brokers to see what they recommend specifically for you.

#6 Open Houses

Q: How can I make the most of open houses?

A: Open houses are a great opportunity to learn about the sellers, their home, and the neighborhood. But they can also be stressful, especially when they’re packed with a bunch of other people looking to buy.

If you’re really serious about a place, it’s good to try to schedule a showing so you can see it at your own pace with your agent beside you. Obviously when the market is hot, that’s not always possible.

But there’s actually a fair amount you can do to maximize your experience. If you’re hitting the circuit, check out our best advice on what to do at an open house.

#7 Finding the Right One

Q: How many houses should I look at before I make an offer?

A: Agents who have been around the block a few times say it used to be that buyers would look at, at least 20 to 30 homes even in the best of circumstances. Now with online listings, it’s easier to narrow down what won’t work and save some time.

That said, it took my husband and I many months to find the right fit, and I can’t even remember how many places we looked at!

Ultimately, you should trust your gut about whether you want to keep looking, reassess your wish list, or make an offer.

#8 Making an Offer

Q: When making an offer on a home, what are the top things a buyer should keep in mind?

A: The three most important factors are:

1. The market. What are other people willing to pay for this house, and how does that fit with your offer? If you can’t offer top dollar, what other things can you do to be more competitive (e.g. being flexible with the closing date)?

2. Your budget. In this crazy market, it’s easy for first-timers to get caught in a bidding war and push themselves to their financial limits. But you’re going to have to live with your decision for a long time, so make sure you’re OK with any and all sacrifices you might need to make.

3. This might not work out, and that’s OK. Your offer might not be accepted. Or maybe your offer is accepted, but structural damage is uncovered in the inspection, or the seller has contingencies that don’t work with your timeline, or you have to walk away from the deal for some other serious reason. That’s OK! It’s not uncommon, and there will be other fish in the sea.

#9 The Inspection

Q: What happens at the inspection? If the inspector finds issues, what does that mean for the buyer?

A: An inspection is a stressful time. Think about it: You’ve kind of fallen in love with a house, right? And then you have to pay some person to come in there and tell you all the reasons you don’t want to buy it. It sounds slightly insane when you put it that way.

But this information is super important to have, and it’s in your best interest to have the most comprehensive assessment possible of the place you’re thinking about buying.

Follow the inspector around and take your own notes. Ask questions about what it takes to fix this or that.

And if there are serious problems, it’s not the end of the world. It might strengthen your negotiating position, or it might mean you choose not to buy the house. But either way, you’re more informed!

#10 Mistakes to Avoid

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes first-time home buyers typically make?

A: Because I work at REALTOR® Magazine, I was surprised by how challenging it can be to keep one’s emotions in check. Buying your first home can be a real roller coaster. It’s the excitement of seeing a great listing online and then the crash of being disappointed in person; the challenge of the offer and negotiation process; or the ups and downs of the inspection and appraisal.

One big mistake to avoid is not being on the same page as your partner, if you’re buying with someone else. Talk everything through; it can cause real heartache later on if you don’t.

Finally, it’s important to step back and keep things in perspective. No matter how sideways things go, remember how lucky you are to be in a situation where you can own your own little kingdom. Not everyone has that opportunity — especially when you look internationally — and it’s an amazing feeling.


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

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How to Keep Bugs Out of Your Home & Yard

A lush spot for outdoor entertaining? Great. Perfect. A constant swarm of insects that invade your patio and home? No, thank you. Here’s 7 ways to keep bugs away from your patio and yard, and from getting inside your house.

#1 Install Patio Fans

Mosquitos may have a tough sting, but they’re wimps when it comes to standing up to a breeze. Patio fans can keep your outdoor entertaining space free from mosquitoes (and other little flyers) with the flip of a switch.

And- you’ll get the benefit of a cool breeze!

(Image: Designed by Emily Klapkowski of You-Neek Designs)

#2 Don’t Mulch Too Much (or Too Little)

While mulching is generally a good thing for curb appeal, overdoing it can cause problems.

It could give cockroaches and ants the ideal environment to nest and find their way into your home, says Brittany Campbell, an entomologist with the National Pest Management Association. As mulch decomposes, it generates heat while providing cover for brooding pests. It can even help mice tunnel into your home.

So keep mulch at least 12 inches away from the foundation — or use inorganic mulch, such as rock or gravel.

But don’t go in the opposite direction and forgo mulching altogether, leaving the ground essentially bare. Yellow jackets make their nests by tunneling into bare dirt.

#3 Get Rid of Standing Water
You probably know this one already. But did you know your gutters and downspouts may harbor multiple mosquito maternity wards?

Clean out gutters and downspouts regularly to prevent clogs that can trap water and give those nasty stingers a place to breed.

Also make sure to keep kiddie pools, buckets, and watering cans empty when not in use.

Even your beloved birdbath can be an issue. “Make sure you get one with running water, so you don’t inadvertently create a mosquito breeding ground,” says Kevin Esperitu, home landscaping expert and author.

#4 Keep Your Yard Trimmed, Mowed, and Tidy

Pull out that lawnmower regularly, and keep your garden shears sharpened.

“Ticks like to hide in tall grass and wait for a passing human or animal, while bushes or tree limbs touching the home can provide easy access for pests to get indoors,” says Campbell.

Plus having a tidy yard makes for good curb appeal.

#5 Add Landscaping Plants That Bugs Hate
Bugs hate strong scents of mint or citrus. Mix plants with those scents into your landscaping, especially near the porch, patio, or deck for added beauty and functionality.

Here are some pest-repelling plants and the bugs that hate them:

Basil: flies, mosquitoes
Catnip: mosquitoes, ticks, flies, cockroaches
Chrysanthemums: roaches, ants, ticks, fleas, bedbugs
Lavender: moths, fleas, flies, mosquitoes
Citronella: mosquitoes
Geranium, lemon scented: mosquitoes
Lemon thyme: mosquitoes
Marigold: mosquitoes
Rosemary: mosquitoes

#6 Paint Your Home Lighter Colors

Studies show that bugs see dark and bright colors more easily, which is why people are often advised to wear light-colored clothing to repel them. The same principle may work for your home.

Choose lighter shades of paint color for your home’s siding, doors, trim, and other features such as fencing, patio, and decking to make it less attractive to mosquitoes.

And if pesky birds are a problem, avoid paint that is the same color as their favorite foods.

Just be sure the paint job fits into the neighborhood and enhances your home’s beauty. Bugs are a pain, but hurting your home’s value is more painful.

#7 Build a Bat House

If you live in an area where bats are local, lucky you. Really. Harness their appetite for insects to control pests in your yard. You can invite them to be your permanent guests by building a bat house. According to Bat Conservation International, one small bat can consume up to 1,000 mosquitoes per hour! (Image: Axel Bueckert/Getty)

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

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